Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Martin Mere Whooper Swans

A few years ago my main aim during any January was to get my year list of British birds off to a flying start (pun intended!). I would use every available weekend and lunch hour to go birding and try and see over one hundred species during the first month of the year; although this would be quite a modest total by the standards of today's keen birders.
Having said all that, these days, although I keep a list, my birdwatching is a lot more relaxed. Additionally at this time of the year I am usually building up my running miles for an annual Spring marathon.
So it was last weekend when I embarked on a fifteen mile run that took in a substantial section of the North Wirral coast. Naturally, for a birdwatcher this has its advantages. I saw five species that were new for the year including Ringed Plover, Shelduck, Stonechat and a beautiful Grey Plover that flashed its black axillary feathers as it took off from the beach. But the highlight was a sighting of two Snow Buntings on the strand line at Wallasey; I had had a possible sighting while running the previous week, but a veritable sandstorm had precluded positive identification, as mirage-like they disappeared in a gale. I must return there soon with my camera.
But I really needed to venture out on a proper bird watch, so that same afternoon I headed over to Martin Mere, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve in Lancashire. This superb wetland is the winter home to a fabulous variety of wildfowl including hundreds of beautiful Whooper Swans. On that afternoon there were over one thousand swans gathered on the mere, calling squabbling and displaying while they waited for their regular afternoon feed. Their proximity to the hide and their tameness make it hard to believe that these birds are truly wild. But a few years back I was fortunate enough to see these birds on their breeding grounds in Iceland. It made me realise the enormity of the autumn migration that they undertake, crossing the North East Atlantic Ocean on their angel wings.
The afternoon light was very changeable. I had hoped for some low winter sun for photography, but instead there was mainly a grey January gloom. But Whooper swans are very photogenic and I was pleased with the results.
(As always click on photos for larger images.)

Whooper swans in their first winter plumage lack the yellow bill of the adults.


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