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'The 3am stop at a remote station miles from home is a moment you will remember for the rest of your life.'
Jon Pearson (Telegraph Online)

Swan Lake soars in popularity in Siberia

By Olga Gertcyk
30 December 2015

Winter show time as birds flock to unique ice-free Altai waters.

Locals say the first swans appeared here in 1967, and only 15 birds were recorded then. Now they number 350 annually with the numbers rising each year. Picture: Alexey Ebel

This year some 600 Whooper Swans are wintering at Svetloe Lake in Altai region, a rise from the 350 two years ago. Recently, some 3,000 people came to witness the extraordinary phenomenon, almost unique in Siberia, of this remarkable performance of swans migrating here, in the steaming waters warmed by hot springs of a lake that never freezes. 

The visitors were attending a key event at the opening of the Altai Winter Festival, watching the birds from a viewing platform. The scene is understandably a favourite of photographers.  

But an official from Altai region said that efforts are now to be made to track the swans and understand their migration pattern to this remote spot. 'We were not only observing the birds in the viewing platform but also discussed tracking them,' said Igor Levitin.

Children on Swan Lake


Swan Lake


Dog race on Swan Lake


Lake Svetloye

The visitors were attending a key event at the opening of the Altai Winter Festival, watching the birds from a viewing platform. Pictures: Zakaznik Lebedi, The Siberian Times

The plan would be similar to the tracking of endangered Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East. 'It would be great to do something similar to find out more about the migration routes and even a schedule of the swans.'

The aim would be to find out 'how much time they spend in flight, where exactly they stop, and for how long, where they spend nights'. This could help to protect the birds. 'It will not only enrich us with new knowledge but also we will be able to arrange protected territories on their way'.

The majestic swans winter here in southern Siberia, flying to Altai region from their summer breeding grounds far to the north. Most Whooper Swans fly much further south in search of a less harsh climate, but as our pictures show, this lake is teeming with winter activity.

Photographer Alexander Tyryshkin has captured extraordinary images of the swans as they hole up here for the coldest time of the year. The nearby village - appropriately - is called Urozhainoe, which means 'Prolific'. 

Swan lake Siberia


Swan lake


Swan lake Siberia


Swan lake Siberia

Photographer Alexander Tyryshkin has captured extraordinary images of the swans as they hole up here for the coldest time of the year. 

'It was minus 25C when I was taking pictures of these beautiful swans,' said Alexander, 32, who lives and works in this part of Siberia. 'It is a very special lake, fed by many warm springs that keep the water always above zero. Even when the air goes down to minus 40C, the water in the lake stays at around plus 5C or 6C.

'The official name is Svetloe Lake - which means 'Clear Lake' and the the waters are pristine and so transparent you can see all the way down to its depths. There are only two places in Russia where these Whooper Swans come for winter. This lake in Altai and another in the Anadyr district of Chukotka in the extreme east of the country.

'These snow-white swans land here every December, though it is a fair recent phenomenon. Locals say the first swans appeared here in 1967, and only 15 birds were recorded then.' In 2013, there were 350 birds here, but now there are 600. 

Swan Lake Siberia


Swan Lake Siberia


Swan lake Siberia

'It is a very special lake, fed by many warm springs that keep the water always above zero.' Pictures: Alex Tyryshkin

'The birds leave for nesting to the northern polar areas of Siberia in March, and come back here with their young some nine months later,' he said. 'Whooper Swans are extra cautious birds. They need calm and quiet, so the access of people to the lake to see this remarkable sight is limited. 

'There is a special viewing point 10 metres high with a panoramic view of the lake, built in a way that it doesn't disturb the birds. There are also several floats designed specially for feeding the swans - they allow you to see these spectacular birds from a closer distance. 

'Locals from the nearby village are very proud to have their own Swan Lake and treat the birds with enormous care and respect, and in return have the most rewarding swan songs (the bird is famous for its deep honking call) and the joy of watching them fly. 

Swan Lake


Swan Lake


Swan Lake


Swan Lake

'Locals from the nearby village are very proud to have their own Swan Lake and treat the birds with enormous care and respect.' Pictures: Alexey Ebel

'The Altai Region authorities protect Svetloe Lake as a part of the Swans' State Wildlife Preserve, which also acts as a big resting zone for hunting birds and animals during the hunting period. There is a team of keepers ensuring the non-stop feeding and security for all birds and animals.' 

The Whooper Swans are not the only birds to winter here. Some 2,500 ducks also call this lake home in winter. They include Mallard, the Goldeneye, the Redhead and the Tufted ducks, two kinds of Teals and Northern Pintails. A lake in Chukotka, in the Far East of Russia, also sees a similar phenomenon. 

Comments (3)

Excellent article with exquisite photos.............and for those of us who love ballet, this was a pure delight......the real Swan Lake! Thank you for sharing this story!
Sharry Sprague, Luray, USA
09/01/2016 08:16
3
0
A much-welcome article! Such beautiful and magnificent photographs by Alex Tyryshkin and Alexey Ebel! What a bonus view for the attendees of the Altai Winter Festival!

I especially like the picture of that single swan who appears to be flapping his wings on ice amidst all that white and misty background. No wonder only Russia seems to have produced ballets like Swan Lake and the Dying Swan!

It is good to know that an annual count is made for these swans, and that their migration patterns will be studied. The more knowledge one gathers about them, the greater their survival. Right now, at least one can tell that they are thriving and certainly not "endangered".
E. Espinosa, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
31/12/2015 20:37
8
0
what i like with your articles, that you also put a map with the location of the happening or report on the site. most of us have no idea where what is. so at least we know that Siberia is not only ice and snow in Winter and Millions of Moskitos in summer.
now if you just could do something about your control code. i have not 20/20 eyesight. and most of the time i have to write 3 or 4 times before i can see the numbers clearly...
Benedikt, Moscow,Russia
30/12/2015 19:24
5
0
1

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