Saturday 8 January 2022

A Day out at Slimbridge WWT 7th January 2022

A sunny morning heralded a pre-arranged visit to Slimbridge WWT with Mark (P). Both of us are members so we planned to take advantage of the fact we were allowed in before the normal 9.30am opening time to the general public.

However, our first stop was on the approach road to the WWT visitor centre, stopping on the verge immediately after crossing the bridge over The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. Our reason was to view a Glossy Ibis that has been a virtually constant presence for some days now in 'Shepherds Patch', a field immediately on the right after the bridge. 

Stopping by the side of the road we left the car on the muddy verge and crossed over the road to view the field.The ibis was, as usual, close to the road, feeding avidly with a small flock of Greylag Geese. It stalked around the muddy wet field, probing its long curved bill into the grass and mud seeking, presumably worms and other invertebrates.

They look such outlandish birds, this one seeming so very out of place in the pastoral surrounds it had chosen. Generally they are becoming increasingly frequent in Britain, doubtless due to the warming climate. Like Little, Cattle and Great White Egrets they are moving northwards from their traditional southern European haunts and are now able to tolerate our milder winters and may soon be joining the list of southern European birds that are colonising and breeding in Britain.

Even in  my home county of Oxfordshire they are a regular, albeit scarce visitor, often remaining for extended periods. I can recall going to see a single individual at Otmoor RSPB that remained from the 2nd of May until the 20th of June 2004 and then again three at Radley Gravel Pits that stayed for over a week in May 2021. They are now also to be encountered the length and breadth of Britain, with one on Shetland, in the far north of Scotland, that arrived in December 2021 and is still there, while at the other end of Britain in Cornwall, ten were counted coming into roost at a reservoir in late December 2021.

This bird at Slimbridge has naturally become extremely popular, being just a few hundred metres from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's headquarters that welcomes thousands of visitors every year. Many birders and photographers have already paid homage to the ibis, stopping off to admire it before moving on to visit the grounds and hides of Slimbridge WWT, that lie at the end of the road.

My initial impression of the ibis was of a dark brown, medium sized, hunch backed bird with a noticeably long, grey downcurved bill and long grey legs. However, when it moved into the sunshine one could see how it got its name, as the brown feathering of its upperparts took on a dull gloss of green, chestnut and purple.The only other variation from its overall brown plumage was the feathering on its head and neck which was closely streaked with white. 

Having had our fill of the ibis we drove the few hundred metres to the  WWT car park and getting our gear together went in though the member's gate and commenced visiting the various hides.

We had two other birds that we particularly wanted to see: Bewick's Swans, which are annual winter visitors to Slimbridge, though sadly in decreasing numbers and a juvenile Spoonbill that had been discovered here earlier this month but was erratic in its appearances, spending much of its time on the nearby River Severn. We felt we would be lucky to see it.

Of course there is much else to see, and we concentrated some of our time on the ducks and particularly three of my favourites, Northern Pintail,  Eurasian Wigeon and the diminutive Eurasian Teal. The drakes of all three species are in their finest plumage and thus particularly attractive, at this time of year

Here are some of the images I took during what was a very enjoyable five hours wandering the grounds in the company of Mark.

Bewick's Swans

Eurasian Spoonbill

We were really lucky to see this bird as whatever hide we visited we seemed to have just missed seeing it. Almost ready to leave, we visited the Rushy Hide for one last time and there was the Spoonbill feeding quite close to the hide. It was obviously very wary and within the space of a few minutes it flew off. I got the impression it was visiting the various areas of water in the grounds while the tide was full on the River Severn, which reportedly was where it preferred to feed.

Northern Pintail

Eurasian Teal

Eurasian Wigeon

Common Crane

Naturally one cannot ignore the Common Cranes which are now such a feature at Slimbridge WWT. Slimbridge is probably the easiest place to see wild cranes in Britain as birds that have been bred in Somerset as part of the Great Crane Project often fly up the Severn Estuary and some have now made Slimbridge their permanent home where they are to be seen flying over the grounds or feeding and socialising on the wide open spaces of The Dumbles that lie beside the River Severn.

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