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Whooper Swans on Loch Pottie

April 4, 2018

Despite the recent wintery weather, there is a definite sense of spring in the air, and we are enjoying the longer days and looking forward to the increase in temperature which is forecast for next week – it is April after all! But there are a few things we will miss with the passing of winter.  A major pleasure of winter on Mull is the passage of migrant birds and in particular for us, the whooper swans that stop over on Loch Pottie for several weeks each way.

Mull is home to mute swans all the year round, but the whooper swans that visit us spend the summer breeding in Iceland and the winter in the UK. Almost the entire Icelandic breeding population of around 7,500 whooper swans winter in Britain and Ireland, most commonly in Scotland and northern England. We see groups of up to 50 whooper swans on Loch Pottie heading south in the autumn and again north in the spring. It’s a real pleasure to sit by the loch on a still evening and listen to the very vocal calls of the swans and watch them upending to feed in the loch.

So how to tell the difference between a whooper swan and a mute swan?

  • An easy one is that mute swans are not very vocal, whereas whooper swans are noisy with a distinctive call which is lovely to listen to at dusk
  • Whooper swans are smaller than mute swans
  • Whooper swans have square ended tails while mute swans have a point to their tails – this is easy to check when they are upending in the water in search of food
  • Whooper swans have long, mainly yellow bills with a black tip. Mute swans have orange bills with a black base and round lump.  
  • In flight the wing beats of whooper swans make a slight hissing sound, while mute swans wing beats make a much louder singing sound.

One of the most endearing features of whooper swans is that they stick together as families. The cygnets hatch in summer in Iceland and in autumn they all depart together to fly south, Cygnets stay with their parents over winter and for the return migration in the spring.

Tonight we have only three whooper swans on the loch and are sad to know they will soon be gone now until the autumn. However on a more positive note, we can now look forward to all the spring migrants, including listening out for the first cuckoo and corncrake.

Many thanks to guest Steve Willis for the brilliant photos