Autumn visit to Slimbridge

Sir Peter Scott

On Sunday the "Three Amigos" had planned a visit to WWT Slimbridge. We had not been out on one of our birding trips for a while so we were all rather excited to get out and see some birds. Especially after a week of horrendous rain.

Unfortunately my friend Paul Joy was ill and very frustratingly for him and  too our disappointment  had to remain at home. So one "Amigo" down, Nicola Johns (The famed offical Newport County FC photographer - visit her blog here and see some amazing footy pics) and me headed for Slimbridge.

I had been monitoring some of the bird reports on Twitter all week and apparently the wader numbers and wildfowl in general were increasing especially on the South Lake. I've been missing seeing waders in large numbers at Goldcliff Lagoons was was eager to take a look.

The road at Slimbridge remains having some work done to it but was open fortunately on the weekends.

On arrival as we got our camera kit ready there was a huge commotion in the air and the sky filled with corvids. Hundreds of Jackdaws, Rook and Carrion Crows filled the sky all around the main entrance.

Corvids everywhere

A flock of about 20 to 30 Redwings passed through the car park and headed into the reserve. Great to see these winter thrushes starting to gather in greater numbers.

We headed into the reserve early using the members gate and checked out the hides as we went along.
From the Rushy Hide we had a view of the pools that were filled with various duck species most notably a good number of Pintail Ducks.

Progressing along to the Martin Smith Hide the numbers of birds out on the fields ( tack) were few and far between. I know that in Winter this will soon be full of birds and I look forward to that.

We walked out down the summer walkway for the very first time walking past the newly built Holden Tower which looks great. This was the last day of the year that the summer walkway was open and so for the rest of the year until spring it will remain closed to visitors.

Its at this point I had discovered I had left my phone behind in the car and would kind of regret it a little later.

The summer walkway leads up to some viewing points over the Severn. It was raining and a we came across a group of birders with their scopes in a huddle. One of them pointed out a Barnacle Goose to us. There was lots of bird activity as a Peregrine Falcon had caused a huge amount of crows, lapwings and Golden Plover to take to the sky in fright.

We left the birders to it as it was a little exposed and the birds too distant for photography.

On our return trip we popped our heads into a small hide near the Martin Smith hide. Its known as the "Water Rail" hide. They have some hanging bird feeders there and quite regularly it attracts Water Rails which feed off the seeds and various tit bits that the Great and Blue Tits leave behind.

Entering the hide a fellow photographer had his bazooka sized lens aimed at something and he whispered "Water Rail". My blood pressure rocketed and I padded into the hide with Nicola and took up a position at one of the windows. There stealthy walking out from behind some thick bramble bushes came a Water Rail. These shy, nervous birds are not easy to get sightings of alone a photograph.

Water Rail creeps in.

Out it crept and it began to poke about with its long beak for a morsel of food. Then a fourth person who joined us who shouted ( Yes shouted!) "Wheres the water rail?". At that the skittish rail made a beeline for the cover of the bramble bushes nearby. I could not help myself but say "shh quiet"!
That more or less put an end to our brief views of the Water Rail. I wish people visiting hides would keep their voices down and show a little more "field craft".

Nevertheless I managed to get some great pictures and these are probably the best I have had for while of this rarely seen bird. Its often detected in various locations by its very loud squeal call it makes, that sounds like a pig.

Cocking its tail as it starts to poke the water for food.

At 9.30 am the reserve was open and I was keen to get over to the South Lake to take a look at any waders that may be roosting there.

The South Lake discovery hide is more akin to being in a living room to some extent. Like Nicky said they could do with a coffee machine in there to go with some of the soft seating. I would improve it with some new window slats that are larger and open upwards. They are a little narrow for my liking in this modern era of scopes and large camera lens.

Out on the water gathered near a small island was a big flock of waders. Around 350 Black Tailed Godwits and 130+ knots with 10 Ruff and 1 Dunlin. There was also a good sized flock of Lapwings  50+ birds. Now I was really happy, I had some of my favourite species of birds to watch.

South Lake and the flock of waders

The waders were quite close in so it was looking promising for good photos if they decided to take to the air. I love aerial flock shots and things were looking good for this to happen.

The waders were showing signs of being nervous. Popping their heads up in alert regularly and fidgeting jostling for position. The Knots moved gradually to the centre of the larger Godwits which they seemed to think afforded them some protection from any predators perhaps.

Boom - suddenly like an explosion they all took to the air and swirled around the lake.

Black Tailed Godwits and Knots

The flock explodes.

The Knots

Some of the Lapwing.

We enjoyed the spectacle and took lots of pictures. The waders took flight on several occasions and seemed to be reacting to perhaps a Peregrine or a Buzzard in the area.

After spending a good time at South Lake it was time to move on and as we left the comfort of the hide was walked out into a lovely blue sky day.

The numbers of visitors had increased and we decided to make our way through the reserve check out a few of the exhibits and make our way to the Zeiss Hide for a view of the estuary over lunch.

I must admit I am impressed by the amount of wildfowl exhibits that Slimbridge has. Its great for people of all ages to get close to various species of wildfowl from around the world that normally you would struggle to get anywhere close it.

Its not just birds on show, they also have an amphibian exhibit, American Otters and small mammal enclosure where you can see Water Voles and Harvest Mice.

Common Toad

Poison Arrow Frog

Greater Flamingos

Carribean Flamingos

There is also several species of Flamingos which have truly stunning plumage.

When we eventually got to the Zeiss Hide we timed it just right. As we set up and sat down in came a group of size Cranes. These birds are truly massive and look amazing. A number of them were ringed and I will identify them later and provide an update to this post.

Cranes incoming

Cranes calling

From Ziess we saw lots of birds. Big numbers of Teal Ducks, Geese , Lapwings, Curlew and Black Tailed Godwits. A Sparrowhawk put in an appearance in but was chased off my a legion of Rooks.

Overall we had a great time at Slimbridge but at the same time missed the Third Amigo.

I must now return to my earlier point about regretting  leaving my phone behind in the car, I normally use it to check out Twitter feeds for recent sightings when I am visiting somewhere.

If only we had known whilst on site some keen eyed birders found a Richards Pipit ( that would have been a lifer) and a Short Eared Owl not far from the summer walkway where we had been earlier in the morning.

Oh well, they will have to come again as they say. It had been a great day despite not seeing those.


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