Sunday, February 17, 2008

Slimbridge

We decided earlier in the year we wanted to visit Slimbridge again (http://www.wwt.org.uk/centre/122/slimbridge.html, and had agreed to meet up with family there mid-morning on the Saturday. The weather was fantastic; cold, crisp and beautifully clear skies, with no breeze to speak of. We arrived early so I could have a go with my new lens. I've bought a 'super-telephoto' lens specifically for bird and wildlife photography, though it weighs a ton (11kg actually) and so does the tripod, as that needs to be sturdy enough to support the lens. I've also bought a tele-extender so the 600x and the 1.4x give an effective 840x zoom! It's going to take me some time to learn to get best use of the camera and lens combinations but it's something I intend getting to grips with over the coming years.

We arrived at Slimbridge shortly after it opened and decided to head through the main wildfowl enclosure (for the captive/display birds) and out to the wild section of the reserve. En route I couldn't resist taking a few photographs of the genuinely wild birds, including this 2nd winter Herring Gull:














The zoom makes a huge difference, I really like crispness of the bill and eye for example (as always click on the picture for a enlarged view). For this photograph I actually used a monopod as we weren't planning on really stopping in any one location. It is a much more manoeuverable approach and still provides a level of stability. In the same area, this adult Herring Gull, in full summer/breeding plumage:














One thing that did catch our eye was a serious fight between a couple of male (Common) Moorhens. The fight was sustained and aggressive. Here they are posturing:












soon though they started fighting, lots of kicking, jumping, pecking, etc:














In this shot one bird looks to be delivering a 'ninja' style kick to the other:


















There were two other Moorhen onlookers, I presume females. It's funny that the drake Shelduck is just not at all interested in the Moorhens' activities. We saw a number of Moorhens with limps, etc, presumably after similar contests.

Also in the display area, we spotted this leucistic Moorhen, showing very pale colouration throughout:














We headed out to the hides on the South Finger, spying some feeding Oystercatchers:













From the last hide a small group of (Greater) White-fronted Geese were feeding:















We first saw these birds in January at the WWT reserve at Caerlaverock and were delighted both to see them again and this time to be close enough to photograph them. The white patch around the bill and the chest markings are very distinctive. Something spooked the geese and they took off, also the time was approaching when we were to meet-up with our family guests (one of Helen's sisters and family), so we headed back to the visitor centre both to meet-up and to swap the lens for my usual 100x-400x.

Back out in the display part of the reserve, I spotted this (Eurasian) Coot, there's nothing uncommon about the bird or the individual, but I've never really noticed their feet before:














Very strange! The WWT encourages visitors to feed the captive birds with grain, which is sold at the visitor centre. The constant supply of food being scattered everywhere attracts lots of other birds. In the excellent light, this (Western) Jackdaw shows greys and purples as well as the black I associated with the bird:
















In addition to the Jackdaws there are of course plenty of gulls about. I got excited about this individual, as the orangey legs were unfamiliar. The black head spot though should have given it away, a quick look at the bird guide, it's a first winter Black-headed Gull:














Contrast this with the adult below, moulting into summer/breeding plumage:














We had an excellent time seeing the various exotic species of wildfowl in the collection. As the day drew long we headed out to the other wild section and the tower hide. From the top floor, we spotted the flock of (Greater) White-fronted Geese again, this time in sunlight, you can see some individuals here:














The last stop of our visit to Slimbridge was the Peng Observatory to see some of the remaining Bewick's Swans (the majority have already headed back towards their breeding grounds on the Tundra towards the Artic Circle - hence the alternative name Tundra Swan):














Those individuals remaining engaged in regular calling and displaying, such as here:
















The light was fading and the shadows lengthening so it was time to head for home. A fantastic day, really thoroughly enjoyable. Slimbridge WWT has excellent facilities and really does make a full day out. As we headed to our cars, a (European) Robin was singing his beautiful lilting song to finish the day:













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