Whoop! A trio of my favourite birds ever

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

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.

Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

●● Whooper swan in flight

The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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