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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Bewick's Swans and Water Rail in the Arun Valley (at Burpham and Arundel). 05.02.22

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

I went to Burpham because I saw that Bewick's Swans had been reported on bird guides. I had only seen domesticated Bewick's Swans in reserves before (e.g. those the Arundel Wildfowl and Wetland Trust) and I waned to see "wild" migrant over-wintering Bewick's Swans.

The Northwest European population of Bewick’s Swan has fallen from around 29,000 birds in 1995 to fewer than 18,000 at present. As a result, Bewick’s Swan was classified as Endangered on the European Red List of Birds, produced by BirdLife International in 2015. Currently, it is unclear whether this population decrease has been caused by lower productivity or lower survival or a combination of both. Monitoring – WWT » What is driving the Bewick’s Swan decline?


Orange: Arundel Station to Burpham

Yellow: Arundel Station to the Arundel Wildfowl and Wetland Trust

Arundel rail station to Burpham, along the east bank of the River Arun

Arundel Castle, from the beginning of route.

Many of the original [1067] features such as the Norman Keep, medieval Gatehouse and Barbican survive. Between the 1870s and 1890s the house was almost completely rebuilt and the magnificent architecture in Gothic style is considered to be one of the great works of Victorian England. Arundel Castle & Gardens for the history of the castle see: Castle history - Arundel Castle & Gardens

A Red Kite flying over the Arun

Burpham in the distance

Canada Geese on the flood planes of the river

A ruined and overgrown boat

Mute Swans

Herring Gulls and Carrion Crows

Little Egret

The Bewick's Swans, by the east bank of the Arun (marked S on satellite image above)

I vied the Swans from the top of the Burgh at Burpham, image from Pictures Past & Present (

When the Arun was a major highway, the burgh would have been an important strategic point to command, only a few miles inland from the sea and with a great view along the valley as it opened itself up to the coastal plain to the south. It is thought that Burpham was one of the many fortified villages built during the reign of Alfred the Great to help repel Vikings who visited Sussex for booty and bloodlust. Burpham, West Sussex | Burpham guide

These images were taken at 400mm zoom on a three quarte- format mirrorless camera, with post shooting digital enlargement (through cropping); so they are not that clear

Bewick's swan adults are white all over and young birds greyish with a pinkish bill. Compared to the similar whooper swan, these swans have proportionally more black and less yellow on their bill. They're also smaller than both mute and whooper swans and have faster wingbeats. Bewick's swans are a Schedule 1 species. UK wintering: 4-5,000 birds; Europe:>23,000 birds (winter). Bewick's swans arrive in the UK in mid-October after breeding in Siberia. They spend the winter here in our comparatively warm climate, before departing in March. Bewick's Swan Facts | Cygnus Columbianus bewickii - The RSPB

Every autumn, Bewick’s swans face a dangerous migration to the UK from northern Russia. Along their 3,500km route between the breeding and wintering sites there are predators, fewer wetlands and the risk of hitting power lines, but if they don’t migrate, they will be caught in the ice and snow of the arctic winter. In spring, they do it all again as they fly back to Russia. We also fear the rapidly changing climate of the Arctic will affect them.

They are illegally hunted – often mistakenly because their small size makes them resemble geese in low winter light. They are also susceptible to eating the lead ammunition sprayed from shotguns, which poisons, weakens and often kills them. Monitoring Bewick's swans | WWT

The walk back from Burpham to the Arundel

Mute Swans

A Kestrel

Grey Herons (four)

All four

Canada Geese and the Norman keep of Arundel Castle

Four Cattle Egrets on the west bank of the Arun

Arundel's 19th-century Victorian Gothic Catholic Cathedral

On the road to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust.

Greylag Geese

Female pheasants

Gadwall and Mallards

Another Grey Heron (Greylag Geese in the background)

A Greylag Goose

A Song Thrush

A Moorhen

Wildfowl and Wetland Trust


A Water Rail (one of three) outside the Scrape Hide

Smaller and distinctly slimmer than the moorhen, the water rail is a fairly common but highly secretive inhabitant of freshwater wetlands. It has chestnut-brown and black upperparts, grey face and underparts and black-and-white barred flanks, and a long red bill. Difficult to see in the breeding season, it is relatively easier to find in winter, when it is also more numerous and widespread. Although usually secretive they can become confident but are still far more often heard than seen. Water Rail Bird Facts | Rallus Aquaticus - The RSPB

The cacophony of highly unbirdlike noises from reedbeds in winter indicates the presence of ever secretive water rails. These distinctive calls, most often heard at dawn and dusk, are a mixture of squeals, grunts and groaning screams likened to the cries of an animal in mortal agony Water Rail, Rallus aquaticus (

Mallards (at feeding time)

A Robin

Swanborough Lake

Male and female Tufted Duck

Lots of Tufted Ducks



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