Slimbridges Tern for a visit from the Oculus

I first visited WWT Slimbridge in February this year and marveled at the reserve and the fabulous birds that can be observed. Ever since I have been planning for a return visit but somehow every time I get on the M4 I end up turning right at the Coldra and end up at a reserve you have probably never heard me write about before called Goldcliff :)

Yesterday however I really did fancy a change of scenes having already put a few hours in at Goldcliff earlier in the week. So there I was heading over the Seven estuary and heading up the M5 to Slimbridge.

I am a WWT member so on arrival I was able to use the side access gate to go down to the hides a little earlier than the usual 9.30 am opening time.

The hides were relatively quite. If I am a little honest I tend to get lost at Slimbridge. From a birder's perspective, I think the guide maps need updating to reflect the names of the hides and to make them easier to find. The hide next to the Optic shop was the busiest of the main hides I could access. There was a small flock of Black Tailed Godwits, a Lapwing and lot of ducks such as Teal, Pochard and Tufted Ducks.

By 9.30 am the weather was brightening up and the rest of the reserve was open. I headed straight to the South Lake. There had been reports of a Black Tern frequenting the lake and I had never seen this species.

Black Terns very rarely attempt to breed in the UK so any sightings at this time of the year are likely to be birds on passage migrating south to the African coastline.

The South Lake was full of Teal, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, a few Black Tailed Godwits and a big flock of Black Headed Gulls.

I got set up in the hide which is more akin to a spacious living room with comfy seating as well as the typical hide shutters and windows.

Then a veteran birder by the look of him very kindly pointed out to me the Black Tern that was flitting about the lake.

Black Tern rolling into a dive

Lighter underneath

It looked very delicate compared to the Gulls and was flying across the lake and every now again diving down rapidly to take some sort of food  ) probably insect life and small fish of the surface of the water. It was a nightmare to track and capture in a photo. The window shutters are small at Slimbridge so trying to maneuver a big lens through them is not the easiest.

Eventually after taking hundreds of pictures I managed to get some in focus. I think the Tern is a juvenile and maybe a 1st-year winter bird. It does not look very black at this time of year as it's in winter plumage that is a light slate grey and white mainly.

It was great to see and a lifer for me to add my records.

Slatey grey on back

Side profile

Next stop for me was a visit to one of my favorite places at Slimbridge. There is an enclosure where injured birds recuperate and eventually where possible get reintroduced to the wild. It makes a great opportunity to get up close the waders that normally in the wild would be only visible through a telescope and would never tolerate you being a couple of meters away from them.

I sat there in the enclosure for a while just enjoying seeing Avocet, Redshank, Ruff and Black-Winged Stilts up close. One of the WWT staff was very informative and told me and another visitor some great information about how to tell the difference in sexes and how they look after the birds.


Black-Winged Stilt



After being enchanted by the waders I moved on to the Zeiss Hide. This is a great hide with a good view of the marsh and estuary.

It was high tide and out there on what looked like a lagoon area was a good gathering of species of birds. I could see a big flock of Black Tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Knot, Ruff, Lapwings and hundreds of Teal.

Black-Tailed Godwits (mainly)

Perched upon a fence line in the distance was a big Peregrine. It looked like a female. Its head was bobbing and it looked ready to go and get its dinner.

The Teal were super skittish. Just about anything set them off and they would noisily erupt into the air causing a huge commotion of feet slapping and wings beating as they launched themselves off the water.

Then from nowhere like a guided missile streaked a juvenile Peregrine. Everything went up and birds were all over the place. The Falcon appeared to miss and careered off into the distance.

A short time later, the adult Peregrine decided to get in on the action and drive the waders crazy. She dived in amongst the Balck Tailed Godwits but again came away empty-handed.

Peregrine hurtles in at the Black-Tailed Godwit flock

Next up was a new protagonist. A Marsh Harrier  ( possibly a juvenile) stepped into the arena having been on the periphery of the marsh for a while.

The Marsh Harrier with Lapwings trying their best to stay off the dinner menu.

Flock of Teal. 

The UK's smallest duck can move at hell of a rate when they need to.

The teal went beserk. There was complete pandemonium and then the Marsh Harrier dropped on an unsuspecting Teal and had it by the neck. The Marsh Harrier tugged it up into the air and just about got it to a nearby bank and some thick grass.  The duck looked like a goner. The Marshy waited, stood there and then unbelievably flew off empty-handed. Did the Teal somehow waddle away and escape or did the raptor get spooked by bigger "badder" raptors that may have been around e.g a Buzzard? Who knows but it did make a great spectacle to watch. Another outstanding visit to Slimbridge.

Marsh Harrier grapples the Teal by its neck. But it may have escaped and survived.


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