On Wednesday of this week I had a very unique and wonderful opportunity to make a visit to a place that I have never visited before but have wanted to for many years. Not being a car owner or able to drive does have its set backs, but fortunately for me this week a local coach company had a one-off day excursion on with a guided tour as well as some free time to wander around and take photographs.
As my regulars will know I have a deep interest in birds, especially wildfowl. I don’t by any means claim to be an experienced ornithologist, far from it in fact, neither do I claim to be a ‘experienced photographer’…..I am an mere amateur and simply have a passion for both of these subjects. But I have to say that there is something special about being around certain majestic winged creatures like swans, and even the large Canadian geese.
When you are close up to these birds, and can even see the center of their eyes, and their massive outstretched wings and huge webbed feet, I have a such a sense of awe. I’m always amazed at how a creature that is so big can fly, with what seems incredible ease and agility, and yet to look at them waddling around on the ground one has to wonder just how they do get themselves up in the air……and stay up there for such long periods of time.
Slimbridge Wildlife Wetlands Trust is situated in Bowditch, Gloucestershire which is in part of the Cotswolds. The reserve itself is set in excess of some 300 hectares of prime wetlands, and has international protection including what is known as a Sight of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI). In the winter time it is reported that there are in excess of some 30,000 wildfowl of all different species, and in addition to these there are pigeons, jackdaws, owls and birds of prey. This huge area encompasses the grasslands to the shores of the Severn estuary. The entire place is an absolute haven for wildlife, not just our British birds which some make their home all year round, but for all sorts of different species of birds from around the world which stop off here whilst travelling from one part of the globe to another. In addition to this there are dedicated bird watchers who keep track of some very rare species. Every single season is different!!
I take my hat off these people who all year round work with such dedication and enthusiasm in protecting, preserving the wildlife in these wetlands, not just the bird life but also other wildlife such as otters, butterflies. The conservation work they do is amazing.
I have to say that from the moment we stepped off the coach and went across the car park to the main entrance, we were not only greeted with such enthusiasm by our two appointed guides, but also by a variety of coots, moorhens and ducks. who didn’t seem the least perturbed by the presence of so many humans.
On being shown the various facilities the place had to offer, it was agreed we would all meet up again at 2 pm in the foyer to start the guided tour. In the meantime we had the opportunity to go off and do our own thing enjoy the reserve and all its beauty. The weather was extremely cold and overcast, but fortunately later in the day the sun came out for a couple of hours which helped to make this visit even more enjoyable.
As soon as I walked out of the foyer and across to the first pool and set of footpaths, I was amazed at the incredible sight before me. At an estimation ( as obviously I couldn’t stop and count them all!!) there must have been at least a thousand birds of all different species…..and this was only the first of many ponds, lakes and pools.
With my camera on and at the ready, and my binoculars at hand I set off to walk amongst the birds. And of course I have included a selection of photos in this post. Please feel free to visit my Facebook page( Sue Westwood …..Solihull) if you would like to see some more photos.
Almost all of the entire reserve is very easily accessible for the disabled in wheelchairs and there are also mobility scooters available for hire to make the journey more enjoyable for those who are less mobile on foot.
Having wandered off on my own for almost two hours I got my self lost…..not in the grounds…..but lost in the splendor of this beautiful and unique place and the numerous breeds of birds and their wonderful colours and markings.
I headed back to the foyer just in time to meet up for our guided tour. The guy who took our group round, was a volunteer and an extremely knowledgable one at that. He took us to some of the hides and pointed out to us a specific species of bird where there were just a couple of them in an area that consisted of thousands of birds of about 20 or 30 different species. At each lake or pool there was something different and unique about the last one. Halfway through the tour we had the opportunity to go and see a family of 3 female north American Otters……Flo the mum and Minnie and Ha Ha the two daughters (both who were 4 yrs old that day!!)
Just before 4 pm we all assembled in the Peng Observatory to watch the daily routine Swan feed on another one of the big lakes. On this particular lake (or pond as the one of the wardens called it!!) the routine happens daily from late Dec to late Feb each year, and the vast numbers of Bewick swans as well as many different species of ducks and geese and other birds to be seen is a marvelous sight. It was explained to us that the markings of the Bewick Swans beaks are each uniquely different on every single bird, in the same way human fingerprints are uniquely different, and over the years the wardens and staff have got to know the birds on returning each year to Slimbridge by those individual markings. By the time we left at 5 pm, I had taken well over 450 photos, and have such great memories of this incredibly beautiful place where nature really is at its best. Who would ever want to walk amongst dinosaurs when you can walk amongst so many birds. We were told by the warden here that only one pair of Mute swans were allowed by the Bewick swans to settle on this particular lake. Every time any other Mute swans tried to come on to the pool the dominant male of the pair allowed on there would chase all other Mute swans away, and whilst we were observing the feeding ritual this became obvious several times when the dominant male Mute swan would spread out his wings and give chase to intruders.
If you love nature, and especially birds this really is a place I would recommend a visit to. If you love photography, then it’s an even bigger bonus. I had the most wonderful day there, and as we were told we had chosen the best week as the number of birds there had reached its peak.
I have to say that of all the birds there, this pair were my favourite……I just completely fell in love them. They have the most wonderful combination of colours and were very willing to have their photos taken to show them off.
More information about this fantastic and unique wildlife conservation area can be found on their website the Wildfowl and Wetlands trust at http://www.wwt.org.uk