Friday, 15 December 2017

Winter Swans At Welney

It's all very well liking nature and the outdoors; enjoying tramping through fields and woodland; and getting home with muddy boots, damp clothes and cold feet. But every so often one craves a little bit of luxury. Nothing wrong with that.

So it was that yesterday my brother Les and I made our way to the Wildfowl And Wetland Trust's reserve at Welney to admire the spectacle of the Whooper Swans and other birds that congregate here during the winter months.

The picture of the modern visitor centre (above) doesn't really convey how luxurious the experience is: there are meeting rooms, a shop, video screens and an excellent cafe with views out onto the neighbouring fenland. Then there's a bridge which leads over to a heated observatory - far too swish to be called a hide.

And what can one observe from the observatory? Thousands of birds which make this place their winter home having fled the harsher climes of the Arctic. In the photo above you can see four Greylag Geese  swimming in the foreground; then behind them is a mass of Black-Tailed Godwits conserving their energy by standing one one leg and dozing with their heads tucked under their wings; and behind them an assortment of geese and ducks as well as some Whooper Swans.

The Whooper Swans are what most people come to see. They are only here during the winter, migrating down from Iceland. Exactly where in Iceland was something of a mystery at one time and I remember reading Sir Peter Scott's account of his pioneering trip to discover the remote valleys where they nested during the summer. It's fitting then that they come to Wildfowl and Wetland's centre in winter, as the Trust was founded by Sir Peter.

Also here in large numbers are the little Pochards, which always look a bit like bathroom toys. Nearly all the Pochards here are males, the females, very sensibly, winter down in the Mediterranean.

There are also some of our resident Mute Swans, recognisable by their orange beaks with a black knob at the top. 

We went for a stroll along to the other (unheated) hides where we were lucky enough to get good views of a Marsh Harrier gliding effortlessly over the washes, causing chaos among the other birds. There were also several Stonechats perching conspicuously as we walked between the hides.

But then it was time to return for a cuppa and a toasted teacake in the cafe before going back to the main observatory (above) to await the 3.30 swan feed.

The birds seem to have an uncanny sense of time and started gathering before the observatory in anticipation of feed time.

Then, as the sun began to set, (yes, it sets at about 3.45 pm at this time of year) the wheelbarrow full of grain was pushed along in front of the observation windows and the swans were fed.

The fading light made photography a bit tricky but a few pictures threw up interesting results like the amazingly blurred wings of this Mute Swan.

The commentary assured as that the birds actually have plenty to eat without this little treat. The mallards however, greedy as ever, didn't seem to agree!

It was beginning to get dark as the feeding concluded.

As night fell the distant lights of Welney village began to glow on the horizon, the sky darkened, and more swans flew in from the surrounding fields to roost for the night. Meanwhile the floodlights began to illuminate the birds in the foreground at the end of a memorable day.

Bird-watchers list of notable birds:

Whooper Swans, Mute Swans, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Pochard, Pintail, Shoveler, Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Redshank, Lapwing, Black-Tailed Godwit, Cormorant, Heron, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Pheasant, Stonechat, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow (many on the feeders near the cafe) and a Barn Owl flew from a post near the car park as we started for home. 

Take care.


  1. One of my favourite blog posts ever, John. A bit of heaven on earth in that place! Thank you for sharing.

  2. I love seeing the birds that winter there. I am surprised by how much this looks like our wildlife sanctuaries here. We see some of the same birds, although not those gorgeous swans. We do have lots of Marbled Godwits that winter here. And of course, Mallards. Beautiful photos.

  3. All that and a heated viewing area! I like the way the viewing area fits into the landscape.
    Nice bird list!

  4. What a wonderful place to watch the birds. Makes it an experience that you won't forget.

  5. Your 'feeding photos' are fantastic, John. It's a wonderful spot to watch birds!

  6. Wow, that looks like a fun time! I was just remembering this morning, that I heard of a spot not far from where I live where sandhill cranes spend the winter. I need to get out there sometime this week I think! The last photo is really neat, with the white swans in the foreground and black silhouettes in the sky. It reminds me s bit of an m.c. escher print.

  7. Spectacular photos of your visit and of all the birds. It's a wonderful place, I remember visiting to see the whooper swans many years ago, I don't think there were so many facilities then:)

  8. Wonderful captures taken in the lap of luxury.. bird watching in style John 😀

  9. How surprising that these swans come from Iceland to this specific place. I wonder why, and when that started? Beautiful photos!

  10. State of the art bird watching but what a great day's outing with such great photos of the Whooper swans!
    Pochard females are very sensible - are the males just plain lazy or in need of a break?

  11. Wow, I would love to visit this place...lots of birds to see, it appears. And would love to have the job of feeding all of those swans.

  12. Your bird photos are beautifully sharp and clear!

  13. What a lovely place, whooper swans and a nice cafe!
    All the photos are beautiful and interesting, but the two last ones are truly spectacular.

  14.! I went there once, years ago. It was wonderful, like watching a ballet when all the swans flew in at dusk. Your post brings it all back. (Even in those days, the main hide was quite comfy.) I'd love to go again.

  15. How fabulous! It sounds like the kind of place that I would enjoy. Your photos are fabulous. Merry Christmas to you and yours and hope for a wonderful new year!

  16. Hello,

    I'm not sure if this account is still active - could you please let me know if I'd be allowed to use some of your brilliant bird images for a music video? It's to accompany my piano pieces about the swans at Welney! I'll check this page in a week, or you can tweet @sottovocesounds Thanks.

    1. Yes, that's fine. A name check would be nice but not essential. I'd like to hear those piano pieces too and would be happy to put a link on my blog, especiallyif you use my photos. If you put Welney into the little search box at the top left of any blogpost you'll find more relevant photos if you need them. Take care.


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