Straight necks, as opposed to the graceful ‘S’ shaped necks of resident Mute Swans, allow wild migratory Whooper Swans to be recognised even at the distance they typically insist on keeping from humans.
Another clue is the yellow and black rather than orange and black bill, though often they are too far off to see such detail.
Despite the distance, however, there is one obvious and unmistakeable characteristic which tells these are no mutes.
They bugle loudly, a lovely yet eerily wild sound which drifts across Lothian’s winter fieldscape as effectively as it travels over the far northern tundras which are their summer home.
Only in winter, when their homeland is shrouded in constant night, do these wild wanderers seek out our relatively frost free landscape.
How long they have been coming here is anyone’s guess.
Possibly they bred here during the last ice age, favouring the frosted plains revealed as the ice retreated.
Whatever their history, it is a long one, intertwined with ever changing climatic shifts and landscape changes both natural and man made.
To the countryman their annual appearance on their favourite wintering areas is an almost spiritual, much anticipated event.
No doubt our predecessors felt the same way, increasingly so the farther back in time you go.
Such is the way with long-standing natural cycles .
They have become embedded in the natural rhythms of our rural lives.
Sometimes birds are much more than just birds.
That certainly applies to the wild and far travelled Whooper Swan.
George Hogg, Hogg Estates Services, Wildlife Management