Last weekend I managed to make a trip to one of my favourite birding places – WWT
Slimbridge. This is one of the first reserves I started visiting when I moved to Bristol and it’s still somewhere I regularly go back to.
Slimbridge is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), and is a 325 hectare reserve next to the Severn Estuary. It has something for everyone – plenty of wild birds and excellent hides for keen birdwatchers, a large collection of waterbirds from around the
world, and lots for children and families too. It also has lots of activities and events, and – always a good thing – a lovely cafe and gift shop! The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust also undertake a lot of important conservation work around the world – you can read more on the WWT website.
One of my favourite things about Slimbridge is just how close you feel to all the wildlife. Of course, there are the captive species, many of which are rare or endangered – in particular, it’s a real privilege to be able to hand feed one of the world’s rarest (and possibly cutest!) geese, the ‘nene’ or Hawaiian goose, which WWT helped to save from the brink of extinction. However, there are also hundreds of wild species to see, and there are always great views from the hides, as well as birds like the moorhens, woodpigeons and jackdaws who always seem to be milling around at your feet!
The changing seasons at Slimbridge
I mentioned in a previous post that I’m always struck by how different the countryside can be in different seasons, and Slimbridge is one place I really notice it. At this time of year, it’s awash with baby birds, fluffy ducklings and all the summer migrants, but visit in winter and it’s a totally different place – full of hundreds if not thousands of wintering waterfowl, plus the beautiful Bewick’s swans, a really unmissable sight (and sound!).
Last weekend, it was the turn of the baby birds. I started the day off by noting down which species had young, but gave up in the end as just about everything seemed to! Most noticeable were the young coots and moorhens, the latter in particular which kept wandering about underfoot. The shelducks also had lots of ducklings, with one family having an impressive 13 youngsters, and there were also lots of fledgling reed and sedge warblers flitting about in the reeds. At other times of year, there is an incredibly noisy rookery at one end of the reserve, always full of rooks and jackdaws, but it was unusually silent this time, with the fledglings all out of the nests and busy demanding food! There were also lots of other species still busy nesting – including a pair of swallows nesting in the ladies’ loos.
Other notable species I managed to spot included cuckoos, a common tern, a couple of singing reed buntings and my first ever Mediterranean gulls. I finally also managed to see a kingfisher from the Kingfisher Hide – I spotted one near the visitor centre back in January when much of the reserve was frozen over, but this is the first time in years that I’ve actually seen one from this hide, which overlooks a nesting bank. When I was a
student, well before the current hide was built, we did a week-long field course at Slimbridge and I spent three whole days watching the nesting kingfishers from that spot – so always love to see them there again! I’ve also seen my first ever water vole from this hide – these lovely mammals have made a dramatic comeback at Slimbridge, which is great news. You can read more about these water voles on the Slimbridge website.
The final bird count for the day (obviously not including the captive birds as that may just count as cheating…) was about 47 species, so a good day’s birding, especially considering much of it was spent sheltering from torrential rain! As I always seem to do at Slimbridge, I somehow managed to take several hundred photos (one of the advantages of the wildlife all being so close, although they then take a lot of sorting through…), so I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of them to put just a few of my favourites on here. Hopefully I’ll manage to work out how to format them on here as I want soon too – any tips most welcome!