Whooper Swans at Morcambe Bay, Feb 2017
It’s winter, and a biting bitter nor’easter blasts across Morecambe bay on a morning in early February. My old and close friend (Mr Birdman Wilson); the film-maker Rodger Jackman and I are out and about on the flatlands just south of Heysham and Lancaster in Lancashire. You could easily think you were in the Cambridge or Lincolnshire Fens were it not for a not-too-distant range of projecting curvaceous hills marking the Trough of Bowland, which in turn is ultimately dwarfed by The Pennines further east.
We drive through sometimes very narrow roads that seem to have been designed by farmers to delineate one cluster of fields from another. There are very few curves but a great many right-angles to navigate. At one point- not more than a kilometre from the Irish Sea at the bottom-end of Morecambe Bay- we see huge grounded flocks of curlew- there must be more than 1000 John guesses- standing stately and meditatively with a space of some 10 metres between each bird. In the distance there is a convoluting cloud of knot- shape-shifting with a mass but unified precision as though blown by a wind from a directional fan.
We have been looking for whooper swans for more than an hour now; driving from one ‘favourite location’ to another. The most we see are isolated filial groups of mute swans and more curlew; a lot of lapwing and a few golden plover stitched into the roosting flock.
Then it happens. We are all three scanning the flat horizons with scopes and binoculars when all at once (sounds like Keats!!) we hear the unmistakeable honk of whooper swans. John spots them first (as usual) and we climb back into the car to home-in on those swan-songs. There they are, in fields on both sides of the road. There are more than 600 of them (they remain static enough for even an amateur like me to be able to count them). Their necks are longer than a mute swan and they stand with their heads held erect and attentive.
All the way from Iceland, these virtual avian ice-flows of creatures look strangely exotic, especially when through powerful binoculars, you see the almost sulphur-yellow and black bills- not the orange-orange on the bill of a mute swan. What a fantastic polyphony! So frequent and dense are their voices that the amalgam creates a beautiful chord consisting of shards of microtones that weld and meld into a stunning winter canticle!