The na­ture of things

Bewick’s swan

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston

FOUR swans an­nounce their ap­proach, honk­ing to each other in an­i­mated con­ver­sa­tion as they fly past, the whoosh, whoosh sound of their wing beats sug­gest­ing the power with which these mag­nif­i­cent large birds propel them­selves. De­spite the vis­ual ad­van­tages of be­ing some 70ft in the air, they use the river as their guide and take the trou­ble to fol­low its me­an­ders, in­stead of sim­ply trav­el­ling ‘as the crow flies’.

The num­bers of swans at large in Bri­tish wa­ters are sub­stan­tially swelled over the win­ter months as our year-round res­i­dents are sup­ple­mented by whoop­ers and Bewick’s, so­journ­ing here in­stead of the in­hos­pitable Arc­tic tun­dra. We have to thank Sir Peter Scott, wild­fowler-turned-con­ser­va­tion­ist and founder of the Wild­fowl and Wet­lands Trust, for dis­cov­er­ing that Bewick’s swans, the smaller of the win­ter-vis­it­ing species, can be iden­ti­fied by the mark­ings on their bills; in draw­ing them from life, he no­ticed that the bill pat­terns (which show a good deal of black against the yel­low around the face) are as unique to them as fin­ger­prints are to us.

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