23 Feb 2015


I had the opportunity to ring some Whooper Swans in N Wales at the weekend with the SCAN ringing group. What a fabulous day out! The Swans had been attracted to a baited field and the idea was to catch and colour ring a sample. The project has been stop / start for awhile due to either poor weather or, initially, the Swans not finding the bait. Saturday all the planning came together and  I found myself up at 04.30 making sandwiches and flasks of tea ready for the drive into Snowdonia.

Things didn't look promising when I hit a 'weather bomb' on the A55. At one point there was 5 cm of hails stones covering both carriageways and the traffic slowed to 25 mph as trucks struggled on the slippery surface. Eventually it cleared and I made good progress to the designated pick-up point near Bangor where after meeting two more of the team we carried on to our destination.

Unfortunately when we arrived the Swans were in the wrong field. As they were shooting nearby they were a bit spooked and promptly departed towards the estuary.

I drove off in the Landrover looking for them without much success. After walking several miles along a private track I was just returning to the Landrover when  I saw a small party flying back towards the fields where we'd set the nets. These were followed by other small groups and luckily this time they settled in the baited field. They still weren't in the catching area though and there ensued a fairly stressful hour or so with me walking closer and closer to the birds to get them to walk closer to the nets but not fly off again. With Steve talking to me on the radio we eventually got birds in the safe catching area and Rachel was primed the firing box........

A few seconds later the canons were fired and we'd caught a small number of Whooper Swans. Once safely extracted from the nets they were put in sacks to keep them calm before processing.

Below: ringing team

Swans take special clip rings that can be closed with ordinary engineering pliers. They're relatively straight forward and easy to close but care has to be taken to ensure the clip can't come undone again.
See below:

Each Whooper was weighed, aged, wing length taken along with tarsus & bill length, colour ringed and sexed. Photo's were taken of each birds bill by Steve as these birds can also be identified by their individual bill patterns like Bewicks Swans.

Adults have completely black and yellow bills and the difference in the markings can be seen on the two photos below:

As well as having a lot of retained juvenile feathers juveniles have much paler bills.

Adults have much blacker soles to their feet with juveniles having pink speckles.

Below: Juvenile (2nd calendar year, Euring 5) Whooper showing extent of juvenile feathering on body and in wings.

As Whopper Swans migrate and stick together in family groups all the birds were released together to ensure the these family groups didn't get split up.

A fantastic but ultimately very tiring day and a real privilege to get close up to these magnificent birds. Getting home about 17.00 the first thing  I did was bung all my waterproofs into the washing machine as they were covered in an fruity combination of liquid Swan pooh, cow pooh and mud. The Landrover was also covered in such a layer of muck I could hardly see the wing mirrors through the side windows so that was also given a hosing down before I was able to grab a shower and sit down to a well deserved curry with Jan.

Hopefully our Swans will be returning in subsequent winters and possibly even seen on their breeding grounds. It would be interesting to see if these Welsh birds are from the Russian or Icelandic breeding populations.


Sharon Whitley said...

what a wonderful blog post - was trying to figure out from the background hills where you may have been! THanks for sharing this experience and the great photos of the day

Phil Woollen. said...

Thanks Sharon. It was a great privilege as they are such beautiful birds. We were on a private site near Garreg