Slimbridge & Somerset Levels - February 2017

The Group enjoyed a very successful trip to Slimbridge and the Somerset Levels. You can read the trip report in the Trip Report section. Here are some of my experiences and photos from the trip.

[click on a photo for a larger view]

On arrival at Slimbridge I headed straight out to the Robbie Garnett hide in the north east corner of the reserve. This overlooks a wet area with plenty of pools and usually holds a good selection of wildfowl.

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There were a good number of Wigeon present. Here is a group.

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A nice pair of Wigeon.

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A pair of Teal were resting on the marshy edge.

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Suddenly I noticed that there was a pair of Common Cranes present. We were expecting to see them on the Somerset Levels - I have never seen "wild" birds here before. They are heavily ringed, presumably part of the Crane release project.

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They were quite happy feeding away on the marsh.

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A closer view of one of the cranes.

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One of the specialities at Slimbridge is the Bewick's Swans that come here every winter. You can easily tell them from the similar Whooper Swan since usually there are no Whooper Swans at Slimbridge! Bewick's are slightly smaller and the yellow on the bill does not extend down to the tip.

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Did you know that the alternative name for Bewick's Swan is Tundra Swan? - alluding to the fact that they breed on the Siberian tundra.

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A male Tufted Duck surrounded by a group of females. The tuft on his head is showing well. Note that the females have just a very small tuft.

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A nice pair of Pintails.

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I had just moved on to the Holden Tower when another 3 Common Cranes appeared on the sea wall.

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They were only there for a few seconds before they decided to take off again.

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I was sure they would fly away, never to be seen again. Fortunately they flew even closer and landed in the field. Two flew together while one lagged behind.

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Eventually all three were reunited again.

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The bustle at the rear is not a tail. It is formed by elongated tertiary wing feathers.

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A nice male Pochard.

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Suddenly the cranes were airborne again, and this time they really did fly away from the reserve and out of sight.

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A big flock of Wigeon grazing on the grass outside the hide.

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This Common Buzzard was sitting on the fence overlooking one of the duck pools. No doubt on the lookout for an easy meal.

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There is usually a flock of Eurasian White-fronted Geese out on the marsh. Just a bit too far away for a good photo.

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Moved on to the Willow hide, the best place on the reserve to look for Water Rail. There was a bit of movement in the reeds but it turned out to be a Moorhen.

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However, with a bit of patience a Water Rail eventually turned up.

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A big close-up of the Water Rail.

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The Water Rail is surprisingly small. Here you can see how small it is compared to a Wood Pigeon and a Moorhen. It's quite a shy bird and was easily bullied about by the other two birds.

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A nice male Scaup. Note the lack of a tuft compared to male Tufted and the grey back.

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The female Scaup. It has a lot more white on the face compared to the female Tufted. Cheating a bit here -these are in the wildfowl collection. Although primarily a marine species, Scaup readily take to freshwater during the winter. There have been up to 5 Scaup present at Pennington Flash most weeks during winter 2017.

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Apart from Lapwings, Godwits and Curlews, there were not that many waders on the reserve. Out on the South Lake this Ruff was busy feeding in the mud.

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A better photo of a Ruff, showing the fine detail on the feathers. This one was easy to get - it was part part of the Wader Shore exhibit! You can just about make out the rings on its legs.

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There were a few Avocets out on the reserve but they were also much easier to photograph in the Wader Shore exhibit.

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Back to the wild birds. A Gadwall up at the Kingfisher hide. Sadly no Kingfishers seen here today.

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Little Grebe, also seen at the Kingfisher hide.

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Nearly time time to leave Slimbridge but just enough time to catch up with the Bewick's Swans in the Collection. Here we can have a really good view of the bill pattern.

Next morning on the Somerset Levels we did manage to find some Common Cranes from the Reintroduction Project but they were too far away for photos. We spent the afternoon at the Ham Wall reserve.

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As soon as we arrived at the reserve we had this Great White Egret fishing in one of the pools.

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However one of the wardens informed us that there were 2 Glossy Ibis just a couple of hundred yards further down the road. They were in a clearing fringed by reeds which made it difficult to get a clear view.

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They spent a lot of time very close together and seemed to indulge in some display behaviour. They also seemed very interested in sticks and debris that could maybe be used for nest building. I don't think that Glossy Ibis have nested in the UK in recent years but maybe a sign for the future?

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Just got settled into the Avalon hide when the bird we all hope to see but rarely do appeared -a Bittern! It was sitting on the front of the reeds in full view. A perfect oportunity! I managed to get a couple of photos then disaster! - the memory card in the camera was full. It took less than a minute to change it but by then the bird had gone. Drat! (or words to that effect).

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A view of the reed bed and the iconic Glastonbury Tor from the Avalon hide.

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Great Crested Grebes were now in full breeding plumage.

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What better way than to end the day than with a Kingfisher? This one appeared while we were waiting for the Starling display. It was now starting to get a bit dark and the bird was a bit far away but still nice to see.

Most of the final day was spent at Steart Marshes, a new reserve on the north Somerset coast.

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One of the main features was a very large flock of Golden Plover.

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Most of them were sleeping but just a few were active.

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This Mute Swan was in the ditch beside the path. It was so close that I could only get its head in the shot. Compare its bill pattern with that of the Bewick's Swan previously.

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Time to leave to return home. This Little Egret was in the field next to the car park, showing off its plumes very nicely.

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