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WELNEY — It’s about that time of year when folks start thinking about heading south for warmer temperatures and maybe a bit of sun.

But what if traveling to England means coming south for warmer weather?

Just a 30-minute drive up the A1101 and across the Norfolk County border lies a wetlands nature preserve that places visitors at the heart of one of Mother Nature’s great annual migrations.

Thousands of swans fly south to England from the Arctic Circle to descend on the Welney Wetland Centre each winter along with scores of other wild fowl.

The center estimates that roughly 3,000 Icelandic Whooper Swans join 4,500 Russian Bewick’s Swans in the center’s 1,000-acre animal sanctuary every winter.

The wetlands site, which is a man- made lagoon built to handle the overflow from canals channeling rain water away from Norfolk into the North Sea, recently constructed a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly visitor center.

The center, which includes toilets flushed with rain water, lights run by solar energy and heating produced by geothermal technology, boasts a typical learning center with multimedia interactive displays. It also has hands-on work stations that allow visitors to get a close-up view on plant life on the wetlands through easy-to-use microscopes.

A quick walk through the visitor center reminds guests of the aquatic ecosystem’s fragile nature, forever threatened by heavy rains, drought, climate change and human development.

From the visitor center, a quick walk over a flybridge connects the center with the wetlands.

There is an open-air observation point where visitors can enjoy an unobstructed view of the waterway and birds. A heated indoor observatory offers more information about the swans’ impressive migration.

For instance, the Icelandic swans can fly up to 60 mph and make the journey from Iceland to Scotland in less than 13 hours. Like ancient sailors, the birds use stars to navigate by night and landmarks like rivers, lakes and even roads by day.

While winter draws visitors eager to spot the migrating swans, the center is open year-round and offers unique natural attractions each season. The hours and entrance fee vary by day, so call ahead for the most accurate information.

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