I'd promised Dad a day trip to Slimbridge WWT one day this winter, a reserve well-known for its accessibility. And seeing as spring was fast approaching, last Monday everything aligned (tides, weather, work schedule, Dad's diary, etc) so off we went for what turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable day.
I was worried I had left it too late in the season, and although we were told wader and wildfowl numbers had dropped off in recent weeks as to be expected, there was still more than enough to see. Bewick's Swan numbers actually increased on the day we were there, which is lucky as in other years all have departed by the end of February! The cold north easterly wind presumably the reason for their delayed return migration - the wardens at Slimbridge can tell they are ready to go through their behaviour and eating habits (apparently they diet before they migrate!).
The Bewick's Swans
were of course the stars of the show for me, being a huge fan of
waterfowl and birding a part of the country where we don't see many winter swans. There
were a handful on the Rushy in the morning, at least 46 resting on the
Tack Piece late morning, four on the Dumbles shortly after and then over
50 came back in to Rushy for the evening swan feed.
|Typical Bewick's bill pattern although they are all different!|
|They pair for life - the larger male on the left here|
|The young birds still showing grey plumage but bills have turned yellow (start off pink)|
|Strange colour due to taking this photo through glass!|
|Bewick's sleeping on the Tack Piece|
Another high point for me was seeing the Eurasian White-fronted Goose flock, numbering 172, feeding along the back of the Tack Piece. Amazing that this is still such a reliable wintering site for the species, considering how far south and west it is and how their numbers have declined here for decades...
|What a lovely sight, those stunning black belly bars|
|Always on the fair side of the field|
Living and birding on a patch where, except for Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck, we don't see ducks in any numbers, seeing so many Shoveler, Pintail, Tufted Duck and Pochard was just amazing! At least 700 Wigeon still present too despite the late date.
|Two dapper drakes|
|Couldn't stop photographing these to be honest!|
|A mass of Shoveler!|
I know many birders find the whole swan feeding-thing unappetising, but I love it! Such a great way of engaging the 'semi-interested' and for me it is just so novel to see so many wildfowl...
|Ready for their grub!|
However, the one thing about Slimbridge that does make me question myself and all things birding was nicely summarised by Scaup.
It was great to see the drake Greater Scaup that has been wintering onsite, showing distantly on the Rushy. A really smart bird but never came close...
|Drake Greater Scaup - what a looker!|
|Such a great looking duck!|
I then walked around the corner and took this photo with my phone...
Yes these are of course captive, but they unequivocally look exactly the same! Just not quite sure how to deal with this, as seeing that wild drake Scaup (albeit distantly) gave me such a buzz and then I clapped eyes on these! Not sure what to make of it, all I can say is I find it confusing for my (wild) bird-loving brain.
A drake Smew, lots of Eider and Goldeneye were in the same pen too, although we did see a wild Goldeneye on South Lake as well...
|Note the Avocet - a returning breeding pair|
Whilst on the subject of non-wild birds, nine Common Cranes were on the Dumbles. Although two weren't ringed so maybe these were of wild stock?
|All these were ringed|
|But the left hand bird here is unringed|
Also on the Dumbles a big flock of feral Barnacle Geese, containing a Ross's Goose and a Snow x Bar-headed hybrid. There were two single Barnacle Geese in with the White-fronts too, presumably also feral but who actually knows?
|Ross's Goose in with Barnacle Geese|
|And here's the Snow x Bar-headed|
There were heaps of Golden Plover, Lapwing and Dunlin here as well, and about 90+ more Pintail distantly viewable on the Severn...
|Waders on the Dumbles|
I have only been to Slimbridge twice before. Most recently in February 2003 on the way back from Norfolk to see a first-winter Lesser White-fronted Goose in with the White-front flock. My first visit was in 2002 when I was thrilled to see a Greenland White-front, two Bean and three Pink-footed Geese in with the 400+ strong White-front flock.
This was the holy grail of goose flocks as far as I was concerned,
although not a shadow on what Peter Scott used to record in the
40's/50's when he could count two thousand grey geese (mostly White-fronts) wintering on site.
I really do look forward to visiting this place for the fourth time. A great reserve and a truly memorable day out with Dad.
I thought I would add this little section at the bottom of my post, as Nature Reserve accessibility isn't something most birders need to think about, but it is absolutely critical for the ones that do need to think about it.
Am pleased to report Slimbridge ticks all the right boxes, a great network of flat paths, spacious and well designed hides (including a hide with a lift in it*), several accessible loos and a very clear and informative accessibility section on their website.
|Nature can't be much more accessible than this!|
*The lift in the Estuary Tower Hide wasn't actually working on the day we visited, although as you can see from the below screenshot the website told us this well before our visit. My only point to note on that would be that it would have been good for the member of staff on the welcome desk to mention this to us, just in case we hadn't been on the website pre-visit.
|A screenshot from the website homepage|