Bewick's swans have finally arrived in Britain this morning, two weeks later than usual - heralding the latest start of winter since 1969.
Two swans and two cygnets reached WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire after completing their 2,500-mile journey from the Arctic tundra.
Their arrival at the centre is traditionally seen as the start of winter and is around two weeks later than usual this year. Words: PA
The small wild swans, which migrate from Russia each winter, normally make their first appearance in mid to late October.
But experts said that this year's mild weather and unfavourable wind directions dramatically delayed the arrival of the first family.
Julia Newth, swan expert at WWT Slimbridge, said: "It's the latest arrival date since 1969.
"It is no coincidence that their arrival has coincided with a change from the mild temperatures and south-westerly head winds that have dominated in recent weeks.
"We are excited to see that the first arrivals are a family because the swans desperately need more cygnets to bolster the dwindling population.
"Swan volunteer Steve Heaven quickly identified the adult pair from their distinct bill patterns as regular WWT Slimbridge visitors Nurton and Nusa.
"Their cygnets have now learnt the migration route from their parents and we are hoping that they will also become regular fixtures here.
"At the daily Wild Bird Feeds at WWT Slimbridge we really enjoy pointing out the swan families to visitors as they have such interesting histories and interactions on the lake."
The swans arrived with two cygnets in tow this morning.
Bewick's swans fly from their breeding ground in the Arctic tundra to Britain to rest and feed over winter, before they head back ahead of spring.
They are loyal to their winter sites so the same ones return to WWT Slimbridge every year.
Last week, WWT revealed that Bewick's swans had suffered a crash in numbers, with figures down across Europe by about a third since 1995.
The biggest concern was that the swans were not returning from their Russian breeding grounds with enough cygnets.
Experts at WWT identify Bewick's swans by their unique bill patterns, a method started 50 years ago when artist and naturalist Sir Peter Scott first recorded the facial marking of the birds at Slimbridge.
The work is now one of the most intensive single-species studies in the world and has recorded in detail the lives of nearly 10,000 individual swans.
Many more Bewick's are expected to arrive at WWT Slimbridge, with peak numbers generally reaching more than 300.
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