Siberian swans signal start of Arctic winter

Heidi Blake – October 19, 2010

The birds fly 2,500 miles from Russia each year to escape the freezing winds blowing behind them. According to folklore, their early arrival signals the start of a long, harsh winter.

Eight Bewick swans touched down in Britain late on Sunday night, marking the earliest arrival since 2003.

They landed as a blast of cold air swept in from the Arctic, bringing frost and sub-zero temperatures to many parts over the weekend. The village of Benson near Wallingford, Oxfordshire, recorded the lowest temperature of 38.3 degrees Fahrenheit (-3.5C) on Saturday night.

The Met Office forecasts that it will get even colder by mid-week, with daytime temperatures as low as 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5C) in some parts and cold winds expected to bring a dusting of snow to higher ground in the north.

The birds landed at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust nature reserve at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, and will be followed by around 300 more over the coming weeks.

Last year, the first swans landed two weeks later but in much larger numbers, marking the start of the coldest winter for 31 years.

Staff spotted the Bewick swans, distinguishable by a bright yellow patch at the top of their beaks, at dawn yesterday.

James Lees, the reserve warden, said: “Forecasters have predicted it will be just as cold this winter as last and the Bewick’s’ early arrival could support this, and could even mean we are in for an even colder winter this year.

“If nothing else they have brought the Arctic weather with them as this week is set to be fairly chilly.”