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Goodbye Russia, hello Estonia

It’s been all change for Sacha and the Flight of the Swans team this week as they headed towards the Russian border finally making it into Estonia yesterday lunchtime (Thursday).

Sacha had a knee brace fitted in St Petersburg before heading back to Vytegra to continue her journey by paratrike. She flew in tandem with her Russian paramotor partner, Alexander Bogdanov, down towards the Estonia border.

It would be one of Alexander’s last flights with Sacha, as he headed back home to Moscow when the team left Russia. Dan Burton, paramotorist and aerial cameraman, has also left the team and is back in the UK. Sacha will be joined by two new paramotor partners, Stuart Savage and Ott Maaten in Estonia.

After spending two days getting to grips with her newly adapted paramotor - now a paratrike with wheels – Sacha was ready for flight.

‘I’m a bit nervous, I’m new to trike flying and the take off and landing techniques are completely different,’ said Sacha.

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On the trail of the swans

Her first flight in the newly adapted paramotor was on the trail of one of our tagged Bewick’s, Maisie, who had stopped off on Lake Pihvka, just ten miles away from the airfield where Sacha was training. 

Setting off with a local paramotorist as guide they headed off and found hundreds of swans sheltering from the strong winds in two large flocks.

‘It was amazing to see the satellite data as real landscape and real birds, even if the air was really rough to fly in,’ said Sacha.

The team have been seeing mixed flocks of birds all the way along the flyway, which just highlights how important the flyway is for all migratory birds, not just swans.

A warm welcome

Arriving in Estonia was a big moment for the team, it marks the end of the first leg of the expedition and, although they won’t miss some of the challenges they’ve faced whilst travelling through one of the remotest areas on the planet, they were sad to leave the beauty and hospitality of Russia behind.

There are around 3,000 Bewick’s in Estonia at the moment. It is one of the most important places on their migratory journey, so the Flight of the Swans team is in the right place. Sacha will fly to Lake Peipsi, which is one of the key staging sites for the Bewick’s along the flyway, to film the birds in their wetland habitats.

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Government support

Estonia is a big supporter of the project and the only country along the flyway that has its own national Bewick’s action plan in place. The plan aims to protect not only the swans, but also the wetland habitats within Estonia that provide such important staging posts on the long migration.

The minister of environment, Marko Pomerants, has been very supportive of the expedition, saying: ‘We are worried about the declining trend of this species and we encourage our neighbours to analyse the reasons for it, and if necessary to create a plan of action the way Estonia has done.’

The Flight of the Swans team headed straight to Tartu, where they have media events and school visits planned this week.

And the swans?

Our first Bewick’s have been spotted in the UK at WWT Welney. The family group (an adult pair and a cygnet) were seen on Thursday.

Another of our tagged Bewick’s has set off. Eileen is now on her way, following her usual pattern and taking her time to leave but then flying a very direct route through Russia. Leho and Daisy are still in Lithuania and Charlotte is resting and refuelling on the Gulf of Finland. Maisie is still on Lake Pihvka, where Sacha has been flying.