Sunday, 16 December 2007

Slimbridge, Gloucestershire

I left on the evening of the 15th to go up on the train to Gloucester where I spent a night with relatives, in order to visit Slimbridge the next day.
After a great evening (comprised of James Bond, chocolate, and beer), I grabbed 3 hours sleep before rising at 6.30am to head off to Slimbridge.

The gates do not normally open until 9.30am, but as there was a guided walk, lead by reserve warden Dave, which allowed myself and a small group of birders to have a walk round the reserve before it became swamped with visitors.

First up was the Peng Obs, where I picked up the first two yearticks of the day (187 and 188) in the form of White-fronted Goose and Bewick's Swan. Large numbers of commoner wildfowl were on display, including Pintail.

Moving along what I think is called North Finger, we stopped in each of the hides, seeing a few bits and bobs such as Lapwing, large numbers of White-fronts, and masses of Wigeon and Teal, but nothing of great interest. A Robin came to feed from Dave's hand, and a Cetti's Warbler was heard in the reeds.

At the last hide along the North Finger before the Holden Tower (I don't recall the name), scanning the White-fronts produced the wintering Tundra Bean Goose (189), and amongst the 97 Barnacles was a Dark-bellied Brent.

We entered the Holden Tower hide, and in reply to the inevitable "anything about?" came the reply that a Great Bustard was showing along the seawall! The words "it's got a wing-tag" cut through the initial excitement, but we were all soon onto the bird, which was at least half a mile distant. The yellow wing-tag read either 15 or 18, confirming that the bird was the individual that had wintered on the Somerset Levels.

Little else was seen from Holden Tower at this point save a few Redwings, as the tide was far out, and most of the waders were feeding on the mudflats of the Severn Estuary. We headed back towards the main part of the reserve, and made our way to the Zeiss Hide. Here, after 15 minutes of little but Shelducks, I was scanning the reed bed and was delighted to pick out the wintering Bittern (190), the first sighting of it today. Luckily everyone got onto the bird, which eventually came out of the reeds and put on a great performance in the open.

While the Bittern was showing, a pair of Water Rails also fed in the open, giving excellent views and allowing me to have both the Bittern and them in the same view in my scope.So, after a very good morning, we walked back to the visitor centre, where after a huge breakfast the group disbanded, and I headed back towards the Holden Tower. Here I spent a substantial part of the rest of the day, and after an hour or so was rewarded with great views of a pair of Peregrines hunting over the marshes.
In time, the Great Bustard flew over again, crossing over the Dumbles and moving high and heavy into the west.I walked back through the reserve to the Zeiss hide, where the Water Rails were showing again, and a smart male Sparrowhawk sat and preened in the scope. Amazingly, after 5 minutes, the Bustard flew over again, this time low, and heading north.

I left, and after a fruitless check of every other hide in the reserve, I made my way back to Holden Tower. I spent the rest of the day in the tower, and was rewarded on my 8th scan of the marshes where the White-fronts were feeding with a Ruff (191). The Peregrines put on another brief appearance, and both the Bean and Brent Geese showed distantly again.

So ended a very good day, with 5 year ticks, 2 of them lifers (Bean Goose and Bittern).

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