A few snipeshots from Slimbridge
I do enjoy a trip to WWT Slimbridge. The reserve is fantastic at all times of the year but in winter its particularly good. Lots of species of birds spend the cold winter months at Slimbridge , many having migrated thousands of miles to reach the reserve.
One of the most obvious are the magnificent Bewick Swans. Huge bright white coloured birds that are like the avian equivalent of large passenger aeroplanes. They look fantastic in flight and I think are one of the most iconic species of birds associated with Slimbridge.
|A Bewick Swan come into land
The swans stand out a mile being very large and extravagant ,bold , noisy and have few predators to fear. There are other species of birds that inhabit the nature reserve that are harder to spot. In fact these types of birds spend lot of their time hiding away in the undergrowth from predators so are very difficult to spot indeed.
However occasionally they can be found more in the open and put on a bit of a show. There are two species I am focussed on in this weeks blog - the Snipe and the Water Rail. Both are very shy species that have amazing cryptic plumage that helps them blend into the background where they live to hide from any potential predators.
The Willow Hide at Slimbridge is a really good place to observe Water Rails.This shy species of rail is rarely seen and more commonly heard - it has a loud call that sounds like a squealing pig.
|A Water Rail sneaks up the edge of the reed bed and spots me.
Water Rails ( Rallus aquaticus) are omnivorous and have a very varied diet of fish, invertebrates, small birds, berries and seeds. The Willow Hide has two bird feeders which attracts lots of birds that take advantage of the free food on offer. The seeds that drop out fall to the ground and then get eaten by scavenging Moorhens, ducks and now and again a Water Rail will quickly scamper out of the nearby reeds and grab a some with its long beak. There was a pair of Water Rails on my last visit that were bold enough to venture out into the open. The rails tend to get bullied by the larger Moorhens but in general they are skittish creatures that will make a dash for thick undergrowth at any sign of danger.
|It plucked up enough courage and cautiously scampered out to search for fallen seeds.
Water Rails have amazing plumage. The upper parts of their head, backs and wings are cryptically coloured to enable them to blend in with the undergrowth so that they become almost invisible. However their lower bodies have this lovely blue grey colour and finish with black and white stripes. To finish it off they have a brightly coloured red beak. I am sure that most of it allows them to blend into the gloom of the undergrowth but some of the colours may be for courtship. They are quite comical to watch, they often cock their short tails upright and they can really stretch that neck.
|The Snipe at the waters edge.
The second species of bird that is a master of camouflage is the Snipe (Gallinago gallinago). Now this bird could be settled on the ground a few meters away and you would never see it before almost walking on it. The Snipe would then explode into their air like a rocket and zig zag across the sky pulling off aerial acrobatics that a fighter plane pilot would be proud of. I have learned whilst researching for this blog post that flocks of Snipe are known as "wisps".
I rarely have the opportunity to see a Snipe close up. They are very wary creatures - understandably so as they feature in the diets of several birds of prey and they have also been targets of the shooting fraternity so they have humans to worry about as well.
|Cryptic markings help it hide in the undergrowth.
Most of the time I get to see Snipe from a distance. Many a birdwatcher takes great satisfaction being able to spot Snipe as they are not easy birds to find. When they are seen its on those occasion's that they are roosting or feeding at the edges of the reeds or other thick vegetation.
Whilst at the Martin Smith hide with my good friend Paul Joy I remarked to him that I had not seen one during our visit and he then promptly spotted a Snipe that was foraging just on the edge of the pool in front of the hide. I could not believe how close it was. There is nothing wrong with Pauls eyesight thats for sure.
This particular Snipe was very accommodating and it was quite settled feeding and skulking around just at the waters edge and near some vegetation just in case it needed a quick dash for safety.
Snipe have wonderfully cryptic patterned plumage. Whilst we were watching the Snipe it suddenly did a quick display for us. It flashed its tail which possesses brightly coloured underparts and seemed to wave at us with one of its wings and legs.
|A flash of its tail feathers and wing.