A team made up of staff from WWT and University College London (UCL) recently joined Russian colleagues on an expedition to the Russian tundra to catch and colour-ring Bewick’s Swans. This work forms part of WWT’s long-term study of the species, with re-sightings of ringed swans enabling researchers to gain further information on the movements, site fidelity, breeding success and survival of individual birds.
The aim of the trip was to catch and ring as many Bewick’s Swans as possible in the time available, to increase the number of individuals that can be identified in the field. Over nine days, the team travelled by boat to areas frequented by Bewick’s Swans, specifically targeting non-breeding pairs and flocks. In total, 86 Bewick’s Swans were captured and colour-marked with yellow and white leg rings. Each bird also had various body size measurements taken to assess its health and condition. A smaller number of Whooper and Mute Swans were also ringed; however, unlike the Bewick’s Swans these birds will not migrate to the UK but will likely migrate to the Baltic States, Netherlands and Germany.
During the trip, WWT and UCL scientists also took sediment cores and water quality samples from several lakes and ponds used by the swans in the region. They plan to analyse these samples to assess any changes in habitat and food supply for the swans in relation to variation in climate over time.
The expedition would not have been possible without the help and active participation of Russian colleagues from the Nenetskiy Nature Reserve, who have been protecting this important breeding and moulting area for the swans and many other waterbird species since the area was designated as a National Nature Reserve (known as a “zapovednik”) by the Russian Government in 1997.
Temperatures on the tundra have started to plummet in recent weeks, triggering a relatively early autumn migration of Bewick’s Swans and other arctic-breeding species from the Russian arctic to staging and wintering sites across north-west Europe. Birders are encouraged to check flocks of wintering Bewick’s Swans for any colour-marks and report these to firstname.lastname@example.org along with details on the location, date, habitat type, flock count and information on associating partners and/or cygnets. These data are invaluable for analyses to assess the conservation status of the Bewick’s Swan, as well as for keeping track of particular swans who have become “old friends” over the years, and we are grateful to all observers who report ring sightings to us.