Wild Swans

Before my interest in bird watching grew, all wild swans looked the same, and I didn’t realise there were different species.

Mute Swans

In my defence, most of those I had seen were Mute Swans, as they are resident year round in Britain. This species is easy to identify as the adults have orange/red beaks with a black knob at the top and a black tip. Their legs and feet are black.

True to their name, they make little noise! They will hiss at you during the breeding season, and their wings make a distinctive “whoomp, whoomp” sound as they fly over, but vocalization is rare.

Whooper Swans

It wasn’t until 2017 that I spotted my first yellow and black billed Whooper Swans. 

In October we spent a weekend in Lincolnshire and visited RSPB Frampton Marsh. Since mid-April a lone Whooper with a damaged wing had remained on the reserve. At the time of our visit more birds had returned. 

Wild Swans at the Ouse Washes

On a cold, windy, morning the following month we took a trip to the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire. On route we noticed that many of the overhead electric cables had tags tied to them at intervals. This is to make them more visible to the swans hopefully avoiding collision and certain death for the birds.

Long before we reached our destination we heard a murmur of calls, rising to a cacophony as we drew closer. Beside the river on our left,  the flooded fields contained over 100 Whooper Swans! 

The windows of the hide looked over the river, towards Ely Cathedral in the distance. With the sun low and in front of us, getting good exposures of white birds meant being careful not to underexpose.

Being screwed to the floor, it wasn't possible to move the benches to allow more room for the tripod legs. The solution was to position myself in the corner of the hide. (Why do I always leave the hide clamp in the car when I need it?) I then had the corner post in the way, limiting my viewing opportunities.

We spent three hours in the hide, by which time my fingers were going numb despite my special gloves.

Designed for fishermen, just the thumb and two fingers are open to the air making them ideal for fly tying. They are perfect for photographers too. You can find them on Amazon, although mine came from a local reserve.

Time to review my images in the comfort of the car. You might enjoy the following short video that I took from the hide. You will see how the Whoopers carry their necks straight rather than in the graceful curve of the Mute Swans.


Bewick's Swan - my target for next year

I have yet to see the rarer Bewick's Swan of which there are only 18,000 world wide. Most of those that arrive to overwinter in the UK are found at the Ouse Washes from mid-October to March, but we were not lucky enough to spot them this time around.

Another yellow and black billed bird, they are smaller than the Whoopers. 

Black Swans

Not all swans are white!

In May 2017 we visited Dawlish, a South Devon town famous for its Black Swans which have been there since the early 1900s. Although wild swans,  the Dawlish Town Council manage them, along with other waterfowl. 

As you can see by my photos, Black Swans have bright red beaks with a white stripe. There are white feathers in the tail and wings. Their legs and feet are dark grey. Stunning!

The swans often breed in Dawlish.  The cygnets are  grey and fuzzy when tiny, but as their adult plumage grows in I think they resemble the fairytale Ugly Duckling. 

Our Local Swan

After an enjoyable Sunday morning walking in the countryside we stop for refreshment at The Swan, our village pub. In times gone by it went by the name The Black Swan. 


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