Trip reports

December coach trip to Slimbridge

December coach trip to Slimbridge
Peregrine Falcon by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The house is still there, as are large numbers of the Bewick's swans he studied, identifying individual birds by the distinctive patterns on their beaks. Slimbridge is always a popular destination for the group and this trip was well booked. Despite a slow start due to an early morning accident blocking the A4 and causing gridlock for vehicles travelling west of London, once onto the motorway we made good progress, arriving around noon on a bright and pleasant day.

Slimbridge has something for everyone. It has excellent visitor facilities, including a restaurant, art gallery and shops. Around this are collections of water birds, mammals and reptiles from around the world including many of conservation concern. These include several species of flamingo, nene geese, cranes, and otters. Valuable work is done at Slimbridge captive breeding cranes and spoon-billed sandpipers. Outside this protected area, extensive grasslands leading down to the River Severn are managed for breeding waders in the summer and for the 35,000 wildfowl that winter there, particularly Bewick's swans and white-fronted geese.

It's amazing how quickly a coach full of people can disperse in a place like Slimbridge as everyone sets off in different directions. I headed down to the Holden Tower, which gives extensive views as far of the banks of the river. Along the way we saw large flocks of golden plover and lapwing, occasionally swirling into the air. A possible reason for that could be seen from the tower. A peregrine was perched on the riverbank, showing well in the sunlight, and we had a brief glimpse of a sparrowhawk. A couple of common cranes stood tall in the meadow and it was possible to pick out the white foreheads of the white-fronted geese among the greylags. We also saw brent and barnacle geese, and ducks including pintail, wigeon, teal, shoveler, gadwall and pochard. Waders included curlew, redshank, snipe, dunlin and black-tailed godwit.

The enduring memory of the day for me is of sounds. As the light failed, the atmospheric calls of the wildfowl in the collection were overlaid with the raucous chatter of the jackdaws in the trees - unforgettable. On a past trip here we have seen an impressive murmuration of starlings here, swirling around the reserve before roosting in the reedbeds. There was no sign of them on this trip, as they had chosen to roost elsewhere. For most of us, the day ended in the café with an excellent cake, or watching the evening swan feed. We were able to stay a little late to make up for the delays en route and piled back on to the coach just as the weather broke, and drove home in pouring rain.