Oldest known swan arrives back at WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre

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WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre’s oldest known Whooper swan is a lady called Virginia and she is at least 24 years of age. Last week she arrived back at WWT Martin Mere from Iceland to spend the winter at the wetland centre.

Virginia (VJA) has perhaps one of the most interesting life stories of all our swans. She was first caught on 15th December 1993 as an adult at WWT Martin Mere. She was seen around the reserve up until 9th of January 1994, but then did something a bit unusual – she decided to embark on a tour of the UK. Over the rest of the winter, she was sighted in County Londonderry and County Armagh, Northern Ireland and our Welney site in Norfolk.

In November 1997, she ceased her wandering ways, and spent the winter here at Martin Mere with her new mate and 3 cygnets. Virginia and her mate, returned every winter for the next 4 years, and raised a total of 12 cygnets together. Unfortunately, after departing Martin Mere early in 2002, her mate was never sighted again.

Virginia, however, did return the next winter, this time with a new un-ringed mate and 3 cygnets! Again, this pair made Martin Mere their base for the next 7 years, and in total, brought 26 cygnets into the world. When Virginia returned to Martin Mere in October 2010, she was alone, and it seemed that she had been unlucky enough to lose a second mate.

Virginia continued to visit Martin Mere each winter without a mate, and remained alone until March 2013, when she worked her magic on the male swan population once more, and returned to Iceland with yet another new mate! By this time, Virginia was a rather old swan, being at least 22 years old. Given that the oldest wild Whooper swan on record was 28 years old, this is quite an impressive age to reach, and we were concerned that this would be the last time we would see Virginia. However, our fears were unrealised, as a familiar face came up to have a look at our swan researchers in the Raines Observatory. Virginia is back, and she appears to have a mate and at least 1 cygnet in tow. Our oldest swan is back again, and still in breeding condition.

Despite all of the data we have accrued through the years on her movements around the UK, Virginia still holds the key to one mystery we have yet to solve – where exactly does she spend her summers? WWT works in partnership with organisations in Iceland to provide a full picture of what our Whooper swans get up to all year round, but Virginia has never yet been sighted outside of the UK. Perhaps that is one mystery we’ll never be able to solve – a lady is entitled to keep some secrets to herself, after all…

You can come and search for Virginia and a thousand other whooper swans at Martin Mere all winter. Visit www.wwt.org.uk/martinmerefor further information.

Martin Mere is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 9.30am to 4.30pm during summer months and parking is free of charge. Situated off the A59, it is signposted from the M61, M58 and M6.  The Centre is also accessible via the Southport to Manchester and the Liverpool to Preston line by train from Burscough Rail Stations.  Visit the web site http://www.wwt.org.uk/martinmere/ to find out what’s on all year round at Martin Mere and the other eight WWT Wetland Centres.

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