I received all manner of generous and splendid gifts for my birthday; an Open University course, a Kindle, two much-sought-after DVDs and even a rare action figure! But it was from relatives who live far away that I received a fair few pennies to treat myself. My immediate thought was to use this gratefully received birthday money to fund a trip to the Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetland Trust! So Friday night sandwiches were made, my wildlife diary tided up and I settled down for an early night.
Saturday morning; I looked out the window to see that the world was covered in frost! ‘I’m going to sit in a hide, so of course it’s going to be cold!’ I thought to myself and later tweeted.
I arrived as excited as a kid in a toy shop; grinning from ear to ear! I navigated my way through the bustling visitor’s centre as quick as I could, pausing only to purchase a bag of grain along the way and then deviating slightly from my determined course to grin at the cardboard cut-out of the BBC Autumn Watch team!
Once outside I paused to take stock of the vista only to have a Wood Pigeon sidle up to me. Holding out a handful of grain I got to inspect the shining colours to its neck feathers, not the usual view I get of these common birds! In the nearby waters there were so many more birds to be seen; Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, Moorhens, Coots… the list goes on, and I moved on!
I happened upon the Eider Duck enclosure, a place I visited and re-visited throughout the day! Eider Ducks are marvellous creatures; everything, from their shape to their call, makes them ever so slightly ridiculous and fantastic at the same time! Their crooooo call always brings a smile to my face! What added to my delight this day was that a number of wild Shelducks had found their way in to this particular enclosure and were squabbling amongst themselves with surprisingly high pitched calls!
Now, I could spend ages telling you of the in-and-outs of the other enclosures, but I think instead I will share a few photos before I continue with my tale…
At the first of the hides I sat bird watching for a while, filling out my diary to ensure I didn’t forget a single special sighting while warmed by a cup of reasonably-priced Slimbridge tea!
I had a very brief glimpse of a Water Vole while at the Kingfisher Hide; the sweet little rodent left quite a wake as it swam a stretch of water at a surprising speed. From there I returned to Lathbury hide as I could see that something had grabbed the attention of a gathered crowd; it was a Bittern… a bittern that I could not see! Bitternshave such brilliant camouflage, and even with the kind help of the gentlemen behind me I couldn’t spot it! I would have stayed much longer to find this illusive bird, but my watch said it was high time another bird had my attention and so on I went.
The Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetland Trust are at the forefront of a huge conservation project to save the very last of the Spoon-billed Sandpipers. The project is still at a very delicate stage and so the birds can only been seen by live web-cam during a short talk. Normally these birds like to sleep during the day, so we felt privileged to enjoy a very good look at these unusually-wide-awake waders as they dabbled in their pool while foraging for food. If you would like to know more about the project to save the spoon-billed sandpipers from extinction check out the WWT’s website on the link below.
I left the lecture theatre thrilled at having been able to see such wonderful little waders. On a more personal level it had brought yet more confirmation that I really had chosen the right interest, passion and vocation!
Lunch time, I wasn’t the only one hungry as a handsome looking Rook decided that he would sing for his supper; popping and woohooing to the crowd to win their affection. When no food was forth coming there was the occasion craw thrown in, just in case you’d forgotten the presence of this charming Corvus! The nearby Black-headed Gulls, who must have had their fill of the food, idly sat all lined up along a hand rail yawning!
As the temperature dropped outside I made the not so wise decision of visiting the Tropical House. The air was warm, slightly muggy and filled with the sound of falling water. A duck sat in the middle of the pool, it looked almost as if it was being a grump! Java Finches dashed around branches that were barely more than at head height, then settled for a short while in a nearby bush to perch and preen. Taking a short break, I was joined by a Grey-winged Trumpeter which sat next to me on the bench, giving me the chance to take a very close up look at its iridescent feathers and beak! Why was the decision to go into the Tropical House unwise? Leaving the Tropical House was like leaping out from under a warm duvet to the cold winter air! Brrrrr!
Of course, no visit to Slimbridge would be complete without mentioning the geese that eat the grain! And a Swan who knows how to get an easy meal!
As the light faded and the grounds drew quiet, I made my way back to the car park. My last sighting of the day was a small Starling murmuration sliding around the sky, eventually the whole flock swooped down to disappear into the hedge in front of me, the only clue to their presence was their quiet chattering to each other as they settled down for the evening.
I began my journey home looking forward to a warm fire, a hot cup of tea and a perusal of my photos.