Leaping with a flicker in it


This week's blog features a visit to Slimbridge again. Paul Joy and I were eager to return to enjoy the large numbers of birds that are now visiting the fantastic reserve. The whole visit was pretty much dominated by sightings of one species of wader in very large numbers.

Lapwings were everywhere. These fantastically colored waders were gathering in big flocks on the Tack Piece and the Estuary. We had amazing views throughout the day from the new Estuary Tower.

From a distance, Lapwings appear to be mainly black and white-colored, In fact, on closer examination, their black plumage in the right light reveals colors of green, purple and blue, very much like the colors you seen when light shines on spilled oil mixed with water. The underside of their tails is an orange.

Amazing plumage

 They are probably one of the most beautiful waders out there. They have strange fan-like shaped wings and plumed crests. Their Latin name  Vanellus Vanellus means "little fan". It is thought the name "Lapwing" is from old English and means "Leaping with a flicker in it". Apparently when the birds flock together and twist and turn they alternate between black and white causing a flicker effect ( ref https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/wading-birds/lapwing)

We certainly witnessed plenty of this flickering behavior all day as these iconic waders put on an amazing aeronautical display whilst calling "peewit" to each other.

The Flicker of Black White fanned wings

The Flock

There must have been a couple of thousand of them and I don't know where they had all come from to gather at Slimbridge. Lapwings breed in the United Kingdom but their breeding habitats - farmland, marshes, bogs, and heathland has been under significant pressure from human activity. At Goldcliff Lagoons ( my home patch) the reserve has been designed to try and encourage this species to breed. The Lapwings try but the fledglings have been by and large predated before they can fly. So the Lapwings at Slimbridge I would guess are from all over the United Kingdom and are likely to have a significant amount of birds from Eastern Europe and Russia.

The Lapwing flocks were very nervous and rarely settled fro long before exploding into the air. I only saw one predator all day - a Buzzard near the Estuary Tower but for the rest of it, I never caught sight of the main protagonist. I suspect a Peregrine Falcon was the culprit as another birder told me he had seen one hanging about at the back of the Tack.

I thoroughly enjoyed the huge flocks and did my best to grab some nice pictures.

The Peewit flock

Caught some of the morning sunrise glow. Not much but enough.

The Tack also had quite a few other bird species. A flock of about fifty or more Golden Plovers eventually descended from the skies and joined the Lapwings. They too were very skittish.

Golden plover mix it

Along the waters, margins were a nice little flock of Ruff and Redshank. Ducks, Swans, and geese were everywhere you looked. My favorite duck of the day was a rather dapper looking Shoveler who I managed to catch a picture of him in flight.

Shoveler Duck 

Up Up and away

Stand out Geese Species were four Egyptian Geese and eight Pink Footed Geese. The Pink Foot was almost a country mile away from the Estuary Tower but they were my first sighting ever ( Tick).

Egyptian Geese

The South Lake entertained us yet again with its bird delights. There was a nice flock of Black Tailed Godwits, Knots, Lapwing and Dunlins. They too were very skittish and on a couple of occasions, all launched into the air and put on a fine display of synchronized flying. What a great show it was. I really like waders in flight.

Knot perform synchronized flying

Black-Tailed Godwits showing off their distinctive tails which give them their name.

There was a contrast to all the excitement that was going on with flocks of bird flying around in panic. At the Willow Hide when it was quiet with few people in the hide and silence ( well whispers only from the birders) out would creep a Water Rail. It did not stay out in the open for long before being spooked but it stayed out long enough for some nice pictures.

A Water Rail creeps out of the undergrowth

It got very close before darting out of sight.

Yet again another fabulous day with good company at Slimbridge from dawn to dusk it had been an eventful visit and a memorable day. Birding at its best.


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