As promised, here’s my report of the Walsall RSPB trip to Slimbridge on 2nd February.
We arrived at about 9.15 and as usual at Slimbridge saw a good selection of birds from the car park. These included plenty of Lapwing in the adjacent field, Rooks and Jackdaws flying about noisily and our first Bewick’s Swans of the day flying over. As we walked towards the entrance a Greenfinch was singing.
As it was high tide we headed towards the Holden Tower first to look out over the Dumbles and the river Severn. On the way we stopped in the hides to see what birds were on the Tack Piece, which is a field at the north end of the reserve. There were certainly a lot of birds on there. Ducks included over 500 grazing Wigeon, about 20 Shelduck and small numbers of Shoveler, Gadwall and Teal. There were about 40 Bewick’s Swans split into small family groups. Also there were over 100 Lapwing scattered across the field, a Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit.
In contrast the Dumbles were a lot quieter, with only a feral flock of Barnacle Geese feeding. There was no sign of any White-fronted Geese – apparently they all left the area about a week ago. There were a number of gulls where the grass met the river, including about 10 Great Black-backed Gulls. Out on the estuary there were numbers of ducks and waders, but they were too far away to make out, and we only managed to identify one Curlew. A Raven appeared near the gulls, and then someone spotted two Peregrines sitting on the ground between us and the river. A Buzzard was then seen in a tree next to the Tack Piece, and finally a Sparrowhawk flew through just above the ground.
Returning back past the Tack Piece we stopped in the Martin Smith hide. A Grey Heron was here in the reeds, and then as we looked closely we could see about 8 Snipe tucked up on an island in front of the hide. In the Stephen Kirk hide, a very tame Robin was hopping around between peoples feet and eventually hopped onto the shelf looking for crumbs.
After a short walk through the wildfowl collection our next stop was the South Lake hide. This is a deeper pool and this resulted in a few new birds, especially a Little Grebe and a Great Crested Grebe. The Little Grebe was diving for food right in front of the hide giving everyone excellent views. Other birds here included 8 Cormorants sitting on a fence, about 50 Shelduck, 30 Pochards, 40 Tufted Ducks and 10 Pintails.
From here we walked down to the Zeiss Hide which is usually a good place to see geese, but as there weren’t any geese about we had to make do with some more large flocks of Wigeon. We then carried on down to the South Finger Hides which is usually a good area for passerines, both in the bushes and at the feeding station. However, the feeders were practically empty and the only new bird here was a male Pheasant.
We carried on again and arrived at the Hogarth Hide which is at the other end of South Lake. A couple of Long-tailed Tits were feeding in the bushes. As we looked out of the hide we could see at least thirty Snipe asleep in front of us. Then someone spotted a Kingfisher and we all managed to get a good look as it flew across the lake in front of us. A large flock of Lapwing had now arrived at the lake and also about a hundred Dunlins. In amongst the Lapwings I managed to pick out a single Ruff.
We then returned to the South Lake Hide to try and get a better look at the Ruff, but we couldn’t find it again. Then someone in the hide said that he’d found a Little Stint in the Dunlin flock. Just as I got the bird he was looking at in my scope all the waders took off, and after that we couldn’t find it again.
By this time it was after 4.00 and we started to make our way back towards the car park. We’d heard that there’d been a good Starling roost at Slimbridge this winter and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. At about 4.45 small flocks of Starlings were starting to join up in the car park area, perching in the trees and flying round over our heads. Numbers built up quickly so that by 5.00 there seemed to be hundreds of thousands of Starlings in the sky, circling round us and over the reserve. The sound of the birds calling took me back to when I was young when thousands of Starlings used to roost in the centre of Birmingham. This was certainly for me the highlight of the day.
Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable day. Shame we didn’t see any wild geese, but it gives me an excuse to go back again in the autumn.