By Sandy McNeil
Whooper swans have just arrived from their breeding areas in Iceland to spend the winter at Hogganfield Loch Local Nature Reserve in the east end of Glasgow.
This is one of only two places in Scotland where these magnificent birds can be seen up close and showing little fear of humans. When not at Hogganfield these swans immediately revert back to being wild birds.
The first arrivals usually appear in the middle of October with the majority arriving in November, and they’ll remain with us until March or early April.
With favourable winds the flight from Iceland to Glasgow can take as little as 20 hours without any stops. Though not normally migrating at high altitude, a flock of Whooper swans were tracked flying at 8,200 metres, where the temperature may have been as low as -48 C. This is higher than that recorded for any other wildfowl.
Previously only an occasional visitor to Hogganfield, in the winter of 1992 a pair arrived and started intermingling with the resident flock of Mute Swans, eventually coming in close to eat handouts of bread.
The following winter they returned with a brood, and every year since descendants of this original pair and their offspring have come back; now there are nearly 30 birds.
One of the founding pair is still returning, its mate, however, was sadly killed in a pylon collision two years ago.
All these swans recognise each other and it’s fascinating to watch their various displays and interactions between them such as the ‘water boiling’ display.
This behavioural sequence involves creating a pool of bubbling water as the swan raises itself from the water while paddling vigorously and producing a loud churning noise to maintain a feeding territory in crowded situations.
Mute swans respect the Whoopers, usually staying away from them. A few Whoopers sometimes remain for the summer.
They can be also seen on Gadloch near Lenzie, Loch Ardinning and Possil Loch, and over 100 swans spend winter around Inchinnan, feeding during daylight hours in the fields and roosting at night on the Black Cart Water.