Whoop! A trio of my favourite birds ever
EVEN I have to admit that Christmas came to mind yesterday, and it was nothing to do with the chunky guy in red, or even, to be honest, the Three Wise Men, but rather because three whooper swans flew over the Laughing Badger Gallery this morning.
“You beauties!” I shouted after them. These winter visitors from the High Arctic, down here for our relatively pleasant climate, have always excited me, and truth be known, may even be my favourite bird ever.
This trio of whoopers reminded me of a Christmas morning on Omey Island, a tiny speck of Connemara in the far reaches of Galway, one truly magical Christmas morning, I was hoping to replicate this year but got outvoted by the girls.
Near the cottage on the island, was a shallow lake, and 50 whoopers, a classy flotilla, greeted me as I walked towards the shore. The birds clocked me and moved away from the edges, but still close enough for me to see their eyes and hear the gentle call. They’re not called a ‘whooper’ for nothing.
As I was about to leave the swans to their business, a single bird came in from off the Atlantic, dipped towards the lake and aquaplaned to a steady glide amidst the throng.
That’s what Christmas is all about for me, and next year I know for sure the swans will be back, and hopefully so will I, depending of course, whether or not I get outvoted again.
The whoopers can be seen across the North West during the winter months; reservoirs, flashes and marshes, all provide ideal wintering grounds.
They have a more streamlined head than our native mute swans, and like their cousins, the Bewick’s, down from Siberia, they have yellow tops to their bills, each one with an a completely unique pattern.
It was the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust founder, Sir Peter Scott, who first noticed, in 1964, that Bewick’s and whoopers could be distinguished by the yellow and black pattern on their bills. The WWT has been studying Bewick’s for nearly 50 years and has unrivalled knowledge of the birds. In recent years Bewick’s have been radio-tagged to monitor their 1,800-mile migration journey over at least six countries. WWT is keen to learn which course the birds take between the Dutch and East Anglian coasts.
That stretch of water includes proposed sites for a number of windfarms. Dr Eileen Rees, WWT’s head of UK waterbird conservation, said: “Bewick’s are in decline and this data will help tell us whether North Sea development poses a threat.
“We don’t yet know the impact of windfarms on the swans but information we collect on their flight paths between Norfolk and the Netherlands could help determine the safest sites for them.
“Between 5,000 and 7,000 Bewick’s cross that stretch of water twice each year so safeguarding their passage as much as we can is paramount.” Julia Newth, species monitoring assistant, said: “We’re hoping not to have to make a mad dash to the Netherlands to download the data but if it gets to January and looks like some of the birds aren’t coming to Britain, we’ll have to go over there and find them.
●● Whooper swan in flight
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop