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Tracking the super Whoopers as they fly to Ulster

By Linda McKee

Seven intrepid Whooper Swans have been fitted with transmitters so that the 800km odyssey from their Icelandic summer breeding grounds to their winter home on Lough Neagh can be tracked.

Around 30,000 Whooper swans are beginning to leave their summer haunts just below the Arctic Circle and by mid-winter around two-thirds will have reached the island of Ireland, with 2,000 staying in Iceland and the rest scattered from Scotland to Norfolk.

The new 'Super Whooper' research project aims to track the progress of the magnificent snowy birds from now until mid-November.

Seven of the Whooper Swans were fitted with satellite transmitters in Iceland in August by researchers and scientists from the Irish Whooper Swan Study Group (IWSSG) and the Wetlands & Wildlife Trust (WWT).

Five had wintered in the Lough Neagh wetlands in recent years and have been named by local schoolchildren in Ireland and Iceland as Fiachra, Conn, Blidfinnur, Doon and Merlin.

And one particular swan is well ahead of the flock, according to researchers.

"One of our birds, Fiachra, has just arrived at the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, and has moved north and east to Caithness in mainland Scotland," Dr Kendrew Colhoun, of the IWSSG, said.

"By coincidence he was observed yesterday at Lough Meikle as part of a 25-strong flock of newly arrived whoopers. It will be interesting to see where he goes after that.

"His journey there from south-east Iceland took around 17 hours and he took the shortest route - a 510-mile (800km) trip between the very northern tip of the Hebrides and the major staging area at Lón in south-east Iceland.

"His arrival and the migration of Merlin (who is also in the mid-Atlantic) was obviously part of a major arrival in Ireland and Scotland. In excess of 1,000 Whooper Swans arrived at Lough Foyle on Wednesday.

"The purpose of this project is to find out exactly how the swans get to Britain and Ireland and what obstacles and difficulties they meet on their flight path."

The project is funded by Lough Neagh Partnership via DARD/EU, the Environment Heritage Service, The Heritage Council, NIE, and the seven councils which border on Lough Neagh.

The project will be featured on the BBC's Autumn Watch programme starting on November 5.

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