A GOS outdoor meet at Slimbridge
On Sunday I attended the Gwent Ornithological Society outdoor meeting at WWT Slimbridge. The meet up was open to anyone and led by GOS committee member David Brassey. There was a good turn out albeit a few people including myself got there at the crack of dawn so we could take advantage of the early access members gate but we did meet up throughout the day on the reserve.
I was joined by a few of my birding pals including my usual side kick , the Canon camera loving Paul Joy ( he is a great bloke but does have some minor failings ;) I have to put up with ).
What a great day to choose for a visit. The sun was shining the skies were clear and it was a lovely cold morning - the air was really fresh and crisp.
When Paul and I drove over the canal bridge and down the road to the reserve we were awe struck by the scene that was before us. The moon was massive and lit up with a hint of orange from the rising sun and big flocks of lapwings, swans and geese were flying around and sometimes passing in front of it.
At 8.15 am we were allowed in through the members gate and our days adventure at Slimbridge really began. I am always very excited walking into the reserve and can't wait to get to the first hide of the day - The Rushy Hide.
There were a lot of wildfowl on the ponds at the Rushy, I scanned the many birds for the elusive Greater Scaup that reportedly likes to hang around at the back by the duck tunnel. There was no sign of it however but to be honest there were so many birds - including the very similar Tufted ducks it was a nightmare trying to pick it out even if it was there.
Next stop was the Martin Smith Hide. I was on the look out for Snipe. These birds are difficult to spot being masters of camouflage - Jack Snipes are even worse ( During one visit a couple of years ago I needed serious help to see one from the same hide - you can read about it here.)
|The Jack Snipe I saw in 2019.
After scanning the little islands of grass on front of the hide a small flock was found of about four birds. Due to the distance I had to use my Nikon P1000's mighty magnification to get some reasonable photographs. The P1000 is now something I need to take every time I go out as I rely so much on it as my scope - the magnification is unrivalled in my opinion by any camera. Picture quality is ok but its great for records and is very good for video. In any case I am going off on a tangent talking about cameras.
As the morning got brighter and the light improved I was keen to visit the Willow Hide. This location is becoming an almost dead cert now for seeing a Water Rail under the bird feeders.
The hide did not let me down. Under the feeders was a single Water Rail skulking around the base of the tree foraging around for fallen sunflower seeds.
As the Water Rail furtively searched for food it moved in and out of beam of light from the rising sun. It made things interesting to take photos of it as sometimes only a small part of the bird was in good light and the rest of it was in shadow.
|Cloaked in shadow a Water Rail.
There must be thousands of pictures out there on the internet now taken by lots of photographers. The Slimbridge Water Rails seems to be getting less camera shy on every visit.
Throughout the day, I visited the Willow Hide several times and tried my luck. The light got better throughout the day and three Water Rails were reportedly seen.
I took probably a lifetimes worth of pictures and below are a few of my favourites from this visit.
|The light was perfect
I am using a Nikon D850 Camera with a Sigma 150-600mm c lens having migrated from a Nikon D500 last year. I must admit it took me a while to get used the D850, its not quite as quick as the D500 but the picture quality is awesome - it really does pick out the details of bird plumage.
The Tack Piece today had a huge flock of Lapwings on it. When they took flight the sky was filled with them and their squeaky toy calls.
|Great White Egret
Close to the hide at the Tack there were three Reed Buntings feeding in a clump of reeds. They were backlit by the mornings sun and really difficult to get a good photo of as they were feeding.
Considering how harsh the light was I think I made the most of it and managed to get some decent pictures with a golden hue to them.
|Bunting feeding on the reeds.
Paul and I were joined by our friend Sarah - the first time this year we have met up and she was on the hunt for some ticks - last year she broke the 200 species barrier in a year milestone which was pretty impressive.
The view from the top of the Estuary Tower was awesome and I must admit I enjoyed the fresh air and the Vitamin D rush of sunshine.
I heard a lot of honking coming in my direction and several waves of White Front Geese flew by in formation and landed on the Tack Piece.
|White Fronted Geese
|Flying up the Severn in formation.
We were having a lot of fun and it was only 9.30 am !
It was time to head back up to the Rushy and meet up with our GOS friends. En-route we bumped into the Doolan boys - who were incredulous at how showy the Water Rail was. It was good to see them both and their happy faces. At the Rushy we met up with the GOS outdoor meeting leader Dave Brassey who had turned up dressed looking like he was auditioning to go on a BBC wildlife expedition to the Arctic. Another Canon user - I was now surrounded by them in the Rushy Hide!
There were several members including our ex- Chairman Keith Roylance. Everyone was really enjoying the visit and impressed by the numbers of birds.
We headed to the South Lake , Discovery Hide and finally got lucky with a distant view of the Greater Scaup - a lifer tick for me.
|The Wild Scaup on the South Lake. P1000 at Max Magnification ( 3000 mm)
|One of the collection - Great Scaup
Later we would see a Greater Scaup much closer up, but this one was part of the wildfowl collection. Nice to see its plumage from a short distance.
We spent quite a bit of time in the Zeiss Hide. Panoramic views of hundreds of birds were to be had. A Buzzard, Peregrine and briefly a Marsh Harrier kept the huge flock of Lapwings, Dunlins, Wigeon, Teal, Ruff and Golden Plover busy as they would explode into the air any time the raptors took flight.
The Wigeon were quite funny as they would haul themselves out of the water and start grazing on the grass and then hit the panic button and splash back into the water only to repeat it over and over again.
|Snowdrops - signs of spring on the way.
Despite it being quite cold and fresh their was distinct feel of spring about the place. The Snowdrops which were found throughout the reserve were absolutely lovely.
I really enjoyed the visit. I think everyone had a good time and you could see in peoples faces that it had been a good days birding for all.
I used the BTO Birdtrack App on my phone to record our days sighting and by my count we had seen sixty species of wild birds. Not a bad days birding at all.