Monday, 1 August 2011

Catching Up With Old Friends!

We’ve now moved to Northern Iceland, where we’ll be based in the capital of the North in Akyreryi. To give you some idea of where this is, if Iceland was a clock Akyreryi would be positioned at 12! From Akyreryi we’ll be travelling out to various known Whooper Swan locations and starting in the valley of Skagafjordur - one of three WWT Whooper Swan study locations.


Skagafjordur is a beautiful valley which is situated near the middle of the North of the land, about 40km long and 30km wide. The valley holds around 90 pairs of Whooper Swans, although you’d surprised at this number as you very rarely see the birds! They are very well hidden in the boggy vegetation!


One of the main differences of catching swans in Skagafjordur from other study locations is that most of the birds are out on the marshes, so therefore we can’t use a boat & we don’t have access to a hovercraft! So the team has to be prepared to do a lot of running & to get very wet – often chest deep in freezing cold water!


and of course we need a big team to surround the birds and to help bring the catch quickly under control. We are fortunate to have the help of Dr Olafur Einarsson’s family, many of them have been doing this since they were small kids & are now very well trained in catching and holding swans!



and so the catching began & the first bird captured was very well known to us! NA3 (above) volunteered his services to us two years ago, when we placed a tracking device on him! This bird is very experienced and has brought back many cygnets to the UK over several years. He’s been seen at three WWT wetlands centres across the UK – Caerlaverock (Dumfriesshire) Martin Mere (Lancashire) and Welney (Norfolk) and so is a well travelled swan & certainly knows the good feeding & roosting spots in the UK!!


We caught NA3 along with his new partner F67 and a bumper brood of 7 cygnets! Quite unusual for a Whooper Swan family to contain so many young!

All birds go through at least one annual moult. Of most kinds, the big wing-feathers used for flight are shed and replaced by instalments, so that the bird is always able to get into the air and fly. But among the geese, swans & ducks this is not so. All the flight-feathers are shed simultaneously, with the result that for an average of about three weeks in the year the adult birds are quite unable to fly. They can, however, run fast, swim & dive! The stage of flightless moult of adults coincides exactly with the period when their own young are between one and five weeks hatched. For most of this period the young can run fast in their first few days out of the egg - much faster than their wings!


Waiting for cygnets to surface after diving to evade capture!


In one of the bigger ponds that we waded through, quite a number of ducks were also moulting. This allowed us to catch and ring Wigeon (14), Mallard (2) and Teal (2).


and sharp hearing by Chris allowed him to listen and follow the calls of two Snipe chicks!



A moulting flock of non or failed breeding Whooper Swans led us onto a rather chilly glacial river!






On closer inspection of one of the recaptured birds from this flock, it seemed that it’s darvic ring contained several small bullet holes from where it had been shot at.



A fantastic few days with around 50 Whooper Swans captured, a mixture of new, recapped & controlled birds.

These Icelandics know how to do it!! There’s no better way of ending a day of chasing ‘big white turkeys’ in cold water, than spending it in a geo thermal hot tub!!


Cheers to Oli & the team for a very enjoyable few days!! We’re now getting ready to start catching Whoopers in the Myvatn area………

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