With the changing of the seasons the thousands of Barnacle Geese return from Greenland to winter on the Isle of Islay. Together with the Geese there are also around four hundred Whooper Swans migrating south from Iceland. The Whooper Swans don’t stay on Islay but continue further east and south to the Scottish Mainland and (Northern) Ireland where Islay is merely a stop to rest, feed and recover from the first, sometimes tiring, leg of their journey. This year a rather large group of Whooper Swans are occupying a stubble-field near Rockside Farm which is a great opportunity to observe them from a relatively short distance.
The Whooper Swans travel as a “family group” and in the fields it is easy to identify the adults and cygnets (young swans) as they form wee individual groups within the big group of swans. Whooper Swans can easiest be identified by their bills, they have a long bill which is mostly yellow with a black tip where mute swans have orange bills with a black base. The cygnets of the Whooper Swans have greyish bills instead of the yellow ones. An interesting detail is that some of the areas where the Whooper Swans feed in Iceland are rich in iron compounds which stain the head and neck feathers of the swans a rust colour – these are lost during their winter moults.