After what has been a pretty decent summer in the UK this year, recent weeks have given us the first real taste of autumn. This has mostly been a benign combination of cooler temperatures and beautiful crisp, misty mornings, but two weeks ago the first autumn storm rolled in, with a cloudy morning giving way to gales and driving rain. Not the sort of weather that usually tempts people outside.
However, if you go out prepared and are dressed appropriately, there is no reason why you can’t still enjoy a bit of nature whatever the weather throws at you. Determined not to be defeated by the rain, I decided to take a trip to WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire and join the ducks and wading birds for a soggy few hours. After all, they don’t seem to mind too much if it’s wet!
Wrapped up from head to foot in full waterproofs and wellies, I arrived at Slimbridge mid-afternoon to find it pretty quiet, with only a few hardy birdwatchers still about. However, this was great from my point of view – it meant a nice peaceful walk around and a chance to think and reflect as I enjoyed the bird life from the shelter of the hides. It also meant that there was no one listening in when I had to politely apologise out loud to a group of mallards that I unfortunately didn’t have any food for them…
The rain did make it trickier to see some of the birds – in fact it was hard to see anything much beyond the edges of the fields – but one of the great advantages of Slimbridge is that there are plenty of tame wild birds to enjoy, as well as all the captive wildfowl. I managed to get a few photos of the ducks, but my attempts at moorhen photography were scuppered by the moorhen’s intense desire to run up close and peer down my lens. Where else can you get that close to a wild moorhen?! (Albeit one that is a bit too keen to have its photograph taken!) I did manage a quick picture of one of the many juveniles still hanging about though, as well as one or two of some soggy-looking woodpigeons:
With the autumn migration well underway, it was great to have some last views of dozens of swallows and house martins as they prepared to fly south for the winter. Watching them trying to stay airborne in the strong wind, I couldn’t blame them for wanting to leave!
It was amazing to see them shooting about in the air despite the weather. I suppose they’re a bird I’ve normally only seen on sunny summer days, so I was surprised that they were still valiantly braving the rain and flying around. They were keeping very low to the ground though, and even occasionally landing on it – perhaps they were taking insect prey from the grass, as there was little chance of many flying insects being around. Some also lined up on nearby wires and preened. It’ll be sad to see them go soon.
The centre’s captive flamingos were also out braving the rain, and taking the opportunity to have a good wash and preen. A good change to practice my photography and to try and capture these stunning birds as they brightened up a grey, wet day!
Autumn now feels well underway, and in the last week alone the leaves on the trees have suddenly started to show the first hints of yellow, red and brown. How has the year gone so fast?! I’m always sad to see summer and all its migrant birds go, but I’m sure there will be lots of autumn delights to enjoy in the coming months – whatever the weather!