When watching these graceful swans, it is hard to swallow that less than a century ago this stately species mentioned in many folklore tales was regarded as a game bird. Times were tough in the early 20th century and swans were hunted to provide an occasional good meal for many a sad family around here as well as elsewhere, I believe.
Because of this, the population of the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) (laulujoutsen) native to the Eurasian northern hemisphere declined rapidly. In the 1930s, it was declared a protected species here but that didn’t turn the numbers uphill. Finally, some 60 years ago there were no more than one dozen or maybe two dozen pairs left in the whole country, a wilderness of almost the size of the present-day Germany 10% of which is lakes.
Thanks to the tireless awareness-raising campaigns of a few individuals, especially the veterinarian and author Yrjö Kokko, the population started to revive and the reputation to return to its former glory. In 1981, the whooper swan was voted the national bird of Finland. The current population is estimated to amount to some 6000 pairs. Every spring and autumn we are fortunate to sight hundreds of them flying straight above our plot in V formation on their way north or south.
|Swans mate for life and are most often seen in pairs.|
Each migrating season, hundreds of birds also land on a particular stretch of field not far from our place. Again this October, flocks of up to 50 birds – of both whooper swans and Canada geese (Branta canadensis) – sometime stayed on the field for several days preparing themselves for the next leg.
|The grey ones are offspring from this summer migrating with their parents.|
More recently, the swans have only been stopping for a few hours to feed the grain spilled amid the stubble of the harvested field. We have seen them flying away just before sunset, probably to spend the night at a nearby swamp lake.
In the last few weeks, I have driven by this field many times stopping to take a few photos whenever there has been anything to see. On the weekend, when we finally had a couple of sunny days, there was nothing there but I knew where to head. Rainfall has been so heavy the small stream in the next village is flooding just like every autumn at least for the last five years or so. As the field by the stream turns into a lake also every spring, hundreds of swans, geese and perhaps even a few common cranes (Grus grus) can be spotted there during migration each time. (I have posted photos on one of the spring floods here and here.)
The revival of the whooper swan is a delightful proof of the fact that with determination positive changes in nature can be achieved even within a relatively short period. Thanks to the efforts of a few wise men, nowadays also poor amateurs like me can (try to) shoot swans in passing. If only I had a camera with a better zoom. If only I had had any kind of a camera at hand at least once when a flock was making a low fly-by over our place. Seeing swans from below is a sight I’d call majestic.
PS The Canada goose was introduced here in the 1970s. Its current population is about 10,000 pairs. We also have some 8000 pairs of mute swans (Cygnus olor) (kyhmyjoutsen), which were introduced here in the 1930s.
|Common cranes flying close by our place. He was lucky to capture this bird's-head-like V formation in Sept 2012.|