Two birders a rook and hoards of winter migrants
|Male Shoveler Duck hurtles past
Covid this year has really clipped our wings when it comes to travelling to do some birdwatching. In previous years I have been so used to spending time with friends at my favourite wildlife hotspots around the country. Even visiting what I consider to be my birding patch - Goldcliff Lagoons has been a real struggle or impossible at times due to the restrictions. I must admit I have come to value the times I spend with my birding friends alot more and have learned to savour every time I have the opportunity to get out with the camera in the fresh air.
This week there was chance for my friend Paul Joy and I to take a trip to Slimbridge due to the ease in the restrictions. I had a day off work so we seized the moment and booked a day at the reserve.
So on Monday Paul and I travelled up Slimbridge witnessing a fantastic sunrise as we drove across the Severn. There was a break in the heavy rain that we had been experiencing and things were looking good.
You have to book in advance now to visit Slimbridge and it does not open to 9.30 am. The side gate for members is off limits. There are also some bird flu measures in place so you have to sanitise your footwear on your way in and out.
Whilst we were waiting to enter, a huge flock of Lapwings and Golden Plovers flew over head. There must have been well over a thousand birds in the air at the same time. It really does get you excited on seeing this and made me really eager to get into the reserve. Its a shame that Slimbridge does not open earlier as I always feel like its a little late for me as I prefer to watch birds just after dawn as more often than not, you will see even more birds as many roosting birds often fly off to the estuary as soon as day breaks.
As soon as we were allowed in, Paul and I headed for the Rushy Hide. The birds had already been fed by the time we had got there and despite some good numbers of ducks and swans many of the waders were now heading off towards the Tack Piece.
We then moved on to see what was out on the flooded grasslands. The Tack Piece was absolutely full of birds. There were hoards of Wigeon grazing on the boarders of the water and the Tack had a huge flock of Lapwings and Golden Plovers.
|More Golden Plovers
|Golden Plovers on the Tack Piece
Everywhere you looked there was something to enjoy. In front of the hides it was like a runway at Heathrow Airport. Bewick Swans, Greylags, Shoveler Ducks , Teal and Pintail Ducks all too their turns to take off and land putting on some spectacular flight displays.
|Wigeon take flight
In one spot that is a favourite of waders was a nice flock of Redshank and Ruff's. A number of the Ruffs were showing in some nice looking mottled white plumage.
|Ruff and Redshank
The bird hoard was rarely settled for long before. Usually the Lapwings first would exploded up into the air in panic on seeing something threatening and then this would cause Mexican wave like a ripple that would move all over the different flocks of birds. Eventually the sky would be full of birds and produce a really spectacular sight and the sound of thousands of flapping wings and panicked alarm calls of birds is amazing.
I noticed that out on there was lots of geese around. Notably there were Barnacles, White Fronted Geese and Pink Footed Geese.
|Pink Footed Geese fly in
|Cropped picture of Pink Footed Geese
|White Fronted Geese
During some of the quiet interludes in activity I sneaked off and set up in the Willow Hide. Here I hoped if it was quiet enough , a Water Rail would put in an appearance. As I had the hide to myself I positioned my camera so that it would be as close to eye as I could make it using a small window in the hide wall.
|The Water Rail finds a sunflower seed.
I did not have to wait long before out from the reeds appeared a long bill and a red eye appeared. Nervously the Water Rail edged itself out of the cover of the reeds. Water Rails are nervous, skittish birds that spend most of their time hiding in thick undergrowth where they are safe from any predators. There are not particularly big birds are smaller than a Moorhen- which on occasions boss them about.
|Out in the open
The rail then darted out of the reeds carefully on its big feet and began to search the flood water that lies under the bird feeders. I had the bird to myself in good light for a few minutes and was well happy. A Blackbird then screeched out an alarm call and the rail sprinted back into the reeds. Eventually it nervously ventured back out and began to forage in the shallow waters finding sunflower seeds that had dropped down into the water from the feeders.
Paul had headed off to the new Tower and was busy getting some flight shots. As it was a little busy with "socially distancing and masked" birders I decided to take a walk around the reserve.
The South Lake was quiet with a flock of Black Tailed Godwits and Lapwings. Everything was back lit and not very good for photography.
I wandered a round the various pools and found some Goldeneye ducks that were busy preening themselves and made good photographic subjects.
|A male Goldeneye Preening
Later I met back up with Paul and we decided to take a break at the Café. As we sat down outside on the picnic benches were were joined by a very opportunistic stranger. A Rook landed on the bench , looked pointedly at our sandwiches and began opening and closing its beak repeatedly whilst edging very closer to our food. It if had been able to talk I am sure it would have said " feed me".
So we did. I was absolutely amazed how "tame" this crow was. We both hand fed it and savoured the moment of being so close to this bird. Many people consider birds to just have matt black coloured feathers. That description is so far from the truth. The dark plumage has a blue, green and purple sheen that looks stunning when the sun lights it up.
|The cheeky Rook
The Rook was making the most of the food and would very daintily take small amounts from my hand and fill its crop before flying off. Unbelievably it kept returning and we enjoyed its company for thirty minutes or so. An experience I will never forget. To some people they would say "what's the big deal", but to me it was great to share my Beef and Smokey Cheddar Cheese sandwich with a very intelligent beautiful crow.
|It was very fond of the cheese
|Paul feeding the Rook
After our lunch break it was back to business. The Tack Piece remained super busy. There was now notably more Black Tailed Godwits and a good flock of Curlews. One of the Curlews I noticed was a ringed birds ( and that reminds me I need to check that one out later and let my "Ringed Curlew Monitoring" friends know.
|Black Tailed Godwits
There was one species on the Tack I really enjoyed watching and that was the Bewick Swans. These birds have travelled thousands of miles from their breeding ground in the far North near the Arctic circle. A number had gathered on the grasslands and these swans are very vocal and sociable. There was a number of what looked like "disputes" where they started squabbling and displaying loudly at each other that was great to watch.
|Squabbling Bewick Swans
|The Bewicks announce their arrival.
During the rest of the afternoon we concentrated on some flight shots and just enjoying the bird spectacle. It was a target rich environment and a real vista for the eyes. On many occasions I just could not decide which way to look.
|Teal Ducks are one of the fastest flying species of ducks and a nightmare to photograph as they speed past the hides.
It really was a good day out, with great company and I guess by the looks of the dire Covid situation throughout the country will be our last day out birding certainly for 2020 and probably for the foreseeable future into 2021.
Stay safe readers.