By Charlotte Owen
When it rains, it’s always tempting to grumble about it being lovely weather for ducks as you shake off your umbrella and drape soggy socks over the radiator.It turns out there’s truth to the old saying, which can now be backed up by science: as part of a recent three year study into the welfare of farmed birds, a group of ducks was provided with a pond, a water trough and a shower to see which they preferred, and they spent most of the time under the shower, enjoying the water raining down on them.
It’s not just ducks that enjoy the wet weather though, and if you look across a flooded field at this time of year there will be a wide range of water-loving birds happily foraging in the newly created wetlands. Among the wildfowl and waders there might be some extra special winter visitors, their big white bodies and long graceful necks standing out from the crowd – but these are no ordinary swans.They’ve survived a 2,500 mile flight from the frozen Arctic tundra to enjoy a paddle in our pastures and their bright yellow bills confirm their identity as Bewick’s swans.
These majestic birds usually arrive in Sussex from mid-November onwards and their numbers peak in January. They come here to escape the bitter cold of their Siberian breeding grounds, where winter temperatures can plummet to -25 C, and they tend to return to the same key sites each year. The Arun Valley is the most popular destination in Sussex, followed by the Adur and eastern Rother but Bewick’s swans can also be seen outside these hotspots occasionally, feeding on grain stubble, root crops and grassland. The same pattern is seen on a UK scale, with the entire overwintering population of around 7,000 birds faithful to just a handful of key sites, some of which are internationally important. Their epic migration is gruelling in itself, especially for cygnets embarking on their first long-haul flight, but they also face a range of hazards along the way, from power lines to illegal shooting, so the lucky ones that do arrive here are always a very welcome sight.