Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Slimbridge.... in November

Here is the promised Slimbridge blog, in lieu of anything more recent as I have been mainly staying in working. I have missed Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes AND a Smew at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve - though they may still be there if they find an unfrozen corner I suppose. If we get a nice day this week I'll go down and have a look. Anyway. Here's Slimbridge, from November. We called in on our way home from a trip to Cornwall (a bit of a detour but not that much). Weather was horrid at first but got better.

It wasn't the best time of year to visit. Slimbridge is best known for its Bewick's Swans and White-fronted Geese but numbers of both peak later in the winter. There was a good mix of wildfowl around though, including plenty of Pintails. This one was among vast crowds of Pochards on what I think is called the Rushy Pen. There were also a few Bewick's here.

As we made our way to the wilder parts of the reserve, flocks of ducks and geese sped overhead, including Pintails, Wigeons and... Mallards. Note gloomy weather, don't be fooled by those scraps of blue sky.

The summer walkway was shut, but from the nearest hides there were large flocks of Wigeons on view. The sun came out briefly against a backdrop of stormy skies and something panicked the Wigeons into flight. We didn't see what had alarmed them but got some photos of the resultant chaos.

From the Kingfisher hide, there were no Kingfishers but nice close views of a feeding station, though there wasn't much actually feeding on it.

A female Chaffinch. demonstrating that the sun had come out again.

One of two Grey Squirrels that were monopolising the hanging feeders, and having little squeaky rows with each other.

On the way back to the visitor centre, we passed an exhibit of Cranes, some destined for reintroduction to the UK. I assume this guy knows what he's doing...

More sunshine, though the skies still looked ominous (and indeed it rained really hard most of the way home). Slimbridge, like most other WWT centres, has lots of captive birds like these Greater Flamingoes which no doubt help pull in the punters, and some of the birds are here as part of conservation projects. It's certainly a good place to learn your wildfowl. Wild wildfowl-wise, plenty to see - it's good for waders too when the tides are right. I would urge, beg and implore the people in charge to do something about the hides though - they are well sited but bench and window position/size makes them a real pain to use for those of us under 6ft tall.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snowy deer fest

We woke to more snow than ever. I really don't think I've ever seen more, anywhere, ever.

It was pretty obvious we wouldn't be going anywhere in the car (in fact we were lucky even to find the car), so we decided to walk to Knole Park.

This is our road, looking down towards the station. No-one attempting to drive anywhere. Many of the people we passed were pulling sleds, loaded up with shopping and/or children.

There are some fine icicles around. This icicle-appreciating Blue Tit made me curse the fact that I'd set out with the 18-200 on my camera, and so could not get a very good shot of him.

So did this Redwing - one of a couple of dozen working over the holly trees, alongside several Blackbirds.

The main entrance to Knole Park. Unsurprisingly the house and tearooms were shut, but there were a lot of people there, sledging or just enjoying a wintry stroll. We had only a short walk, and found next to no wildlife around unless you count the deer.

An assortment of Fallows. They weren't happy (unsurprisingly). Off the main paths the snow was thigh-deep in places. Hard for them to find food - the doe above was eating dead leaves from a tree. I suppose they will be provisioned with hay or something.

This was the only Sika we saw. She looks to have a pretty serviceable winter coat on. As this species comes from Japan, I suppose it is well adapted to severe winters.

There's sunshine forecast for tomorrow (!) so I expect we'll walk somewhere - probably back to SWR.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


I do have an excuse for not blogging lately, but it's pathetic. It's because I've switched to shooting in RAW, after some very insistent advice from a friend who knows what she's talking about. Now I have to severely edit my existing photo library to free up some disk space, before going through the huge backlog of photos I have to file, and working out how best to file them, given that .NEF images don't give you a preview in Windows XP. Anyway, that's my problem, not yours. Today Rob was off work because of stupid quantities of snow everywhere, and we waded down to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve to see what was about.

 This gives you a pretty good idea of the depth of snow, and only a couple of walkers before us had disturbed it.

Going into the wildlife garden to look at the feeding station there was difficult (snow jamming the gate shut), treacherous (you couldn't see where the pond was) and ultimately pointless (the feeders were empty). However, several Song Thrushes were visiting the guelder rose tree, and I also saw a Mistle Thrush high in one of the tall trees. No 'winter thrushes' though.

About six Dunnocks were at the Grebe Hide feeding station, rubbing shoulders with the tits and Chaffinches, and doing a bit of singing and displaying at each other in between amateurish attempts to take food from the hanging feeders.

While the Dunnocks sat around posing in full view, this Wren was much more furtive and refused to pose nicely in the open. It didn't look very happy - the smallest birds suffer most in weather like this.

The big lake was unfrozen (though it looked damn cold). We walked up towards Willow hide, stopping on the way to photography a group of snow-covered Canada Geese. Otherwise, the walk up was very quiet. The occasional sneeze of a Siskin overhead, and we flushed a Green Woodpecker from the ground. That may be a site tick for me (or a site sight tick at least, have definitely heard them here before).

From Willow hide, there wasn't much to see. The lake was mostly frozen, I guess because it is smaller than the main lake, with a bit of clear water around the island. In this small pocket of water swam a pair of Wigeons, a few Gadwalls, one Teal, two Great Crested Grebes, a bunch of Coots and a juvenile Mute Swan. It looked pretty crowded. On the edge of the ice lay a dead something (possibly a Canada Goose, but it was half covered with snow) being picked at by a Magpie and a Carrion Crow.

We went back to Tyler hide and enjoyed the sight of lots of wildfowl and gulls on the water and islands. I'd been chuckling at Lapwings falling over in the snow for some minutes before I noticed something unexpected - a tight-knit group of swans, not the regular Mutes. They were Bewick's - nine adults and two juvs. I don't recall seeing this species in the sightings book before, so I'm guessing this is quite a notable record.

A fast-flying group of ducks went over. I grabbed a couple of shots - zoomed in I could see they were Goosanders, which was nice as I hadn't managed to find the two females that were supposed to be on the lake.

There's been a Bittern about lately, apparently seen from the Tower hide. We went into the bit underneath the tower and from there had quite close views of a nice Snipe. However, the light was disappearing already and we were both freezing, so we opted not to continue the Bittern search. Maybe tomorrow... meanwhile, if I get my act together and sort out those old photos, there should be a belated post about Slimbridge coming soon.