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17 September 2014
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Wetlands - Welney and Ouse Washes

Whooper Swan c/o RSPB Images and Sue Tranter

Four hundred years ago Welney was a mass of shallow lakes and reedy straits but man's intervention changed its landscape forever.

Today it's a wetland haven for wintering birds.

Whooper Swan at Welney reserve.
Photo - RSPB Images/Sue Tranter

In 1630 the Duke of Bedford called in a Dutch engineer to drain the Fens by cutting two new rivers and creating a flood plain 22 miles long, now known as the Ouse Washes.

Welney was one of the newly drained areas and today, when it is allowed to flood in the winter, it provides a perfect wetland for over-wintering birds.

Fen landscape

Welney Whooper Swans c/o RSPB Images/Michael Selby)Welney's wild swans arrive every autumn from their breeding grounds in Iceland and the Arctic tundra.

In fact the reserve was established for Bewick's Swans, the smallest and rarest of the three species of wild swan found in the UK.

You can also see the other main types of Swan at Welney:

Mute Swans - can be seen year round in the UK. They are mostly silent - hence the name - but in flight the wings make a lovely 'whau-whau' sound.

Whooper Swans - bigger than the Bewick's Swan. Also distinguished by their 'whoop whoop' call. Most of the Whooper Swans that overwinter in the UK go to Scotland, but in the last 25 years their numbers at Welney have grown to almost 2,000.

Most of the Whoopers come from Iceland and are capable of making the 600 mile flight in a single journey.

These are referred to as wild swans to differentiate them from the resident Mute Swans in Britain.

Mute Swans

Mute Swan (Image: RSPB Images/Chris Gomersall)Mute Swans have orange bills whilst Bewick's and Whoopers have black, with some yellow patterns.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have tracked some pretty amazing journeys to Welney by the Whooper and Bewick Swans.

The swans don't stay on the reserve during the day - they fly into the neighbouring fields to feed on stubble and sugar beet tops.

They return in the early evening, gliding in over the marshes for an unforgettable wildlife spectacle.

During the late afternoon and early evening when the swans are all back, the reserve turns the floodlights on for an amazing feeding spectacle.

Ouse Washes

Ouse Washes c/o Andy Hay and RSPB ImagesJust down the road from Welney is Ouse Washes, another great place to watch nature in a very natural location.

The RSPB reserve is one of the British Isles' most important lowland wet grassland habitats.

In late October look out for the return of migrating birds including the first Bewick and Whooper Swans of the season.

It's also a good place for watching Marsh Harriers, Owls and sometimes Hen Harriers.

Black tailed Godwit (Image: David Featherbe/WWT) Photo credits

Ouse Washes and Mute Swan photographs are copyright and courtesy of Andy Hay, Sue Tranter, Chris Gomersall and RSPB Images.

Black tailed Godwit courtesy of David Featherbe and WWT. Whooper Swans at Welney copyright of WWT and Michael Selby.



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