Trip reports

Coach Trip to Slimbridge, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. Sunday 25 February 2018.

Coach Trip to Slimbridge, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.  Sunday 25 February 2018.
Stuart Banks

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Coach Trip to Slimbridge, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. Sunday 25 February 2018.

Inevitably these days a drive west from London along the M4 or M40 will offer the birdwatcher good views of red kite, in ones, two's or threes and that was the case as we sped towards Bristol under blue skies. A good start to our day.
We arrived at our destination just after 10:30 and were soon being ushered through the reception area, past the queue of ordinary mortals, thanks to Stuart's planning and organisation. The part of the Slimbridge site that visitors have access to on foot, containing the pools for the pinioned birds of the wildfowl collection, is actually quite compact but the various hides placed around the perimeter look outwards across the surrounding fields and that's where we directed our attention, starting in the Peng Obseratory. This is no ordinary hide as the heating, carpets and the double glazing make it a very comfortable place in which to study the birds in the pool only a few feet from the large windows and we were soon listing them - shelducks, Bewick's swans, tufted ducks, coots, mallard, pintail, greylags and Canada's, teal, moorhen etc. The wildfowl we found at this pool are wild birds attracted by daily offerings of grain that have been provided for many years. A very small wader patrolling the edge of an island turned out to be one of the little stints that had been reported, and on the far bank a single dunlin joined some feeding snipe, with redshank, lapwing and oystercatcher completing the wader line-up. A short walk took us to the Martin Smith hide where we added black- tailed godwit, shoveler and wigeon, and as we watched a large and impressive common crane landed some way off. Further along the surfaced path some feeders were attracting great and blue tits, dunnocks, robins and a water rail that obligingly stood still so all could see it properly. The other hides along the path gave us dabchick, a very close snipe and some very distant golden plover, and, after most of us had moved on, a bittern that flew past at about head height!
At the end of the path sits the elevated hide called the Holden Tower, generally busy at weekends with birdwatchers studying the geese that habitually graze the grass between there and the south bank of the Severn. The goose flock was made up with barnacle geese and white-fronted geese, and just one red-breasted goose that had been around for some time and which we had hoped to find during our visit. After a lunch and toilet break at the visitor centre we walked between the pools containing the pinioned birds and spent a while enjoying close views of birds that we usually only see at a great distance. The fresh plumage of eider, goldeneye, smew and many others looked super smart, iridescent in the bright sunlight. This was a real treat for photographers in the group, one of whom confessed to taking 800 digital pictures during the day.
On to the Zeiss hide where birds were a bit sparse, but then further along the path we found Graham (one of Jay & Kay's coach drivers) photographing a nice salmon pink and black male bullfinch that was eating flower buds on the small trees just above us, a visual treat. Into the Kingfisher hide where the feeders attracted chaffinches, tits, a nice robin and a nasty rat, and away from the feeders some golden plover mixed with the more numerous lapwings. Time was running out so after a quick look at a buzzard sitting comfortably on a fence post we started back, stopping briefly at the South Lake Discovery Hide to take in a very busy scene of wild birds. Avocet and godwits waded in shallow water while a little stint fed at the edge with a dunlin, providing a really useful size comparison. And that was it, almost four hours of wall-to-wall birds of all shapes and sizes.
A few birdwatchers have told me in the past that they wouldn't go on a coach trip to Slimbridge because the Trust has a collection of pinioned birds, but I'm sure that many thousands of people, who aren't birdwatchers are turned-on to birds in particular, and nature in general by what they see there, which must be good. In my case the visits I've made to W.W.T sites over the years have provided me with experiences that have reinforced my meagre knowledge of birds, experiences I would never have got elsewhere.

Our total list for the day was 64 species, all wild, but some of them very well fed indeed! Tony Banks.