Sunday, 17 February 2013

Bittern, Bean Goose, Bewicks Swans and a Broken Camera - Slimbridge, 11th February 2013

Having been very disappointed at missing my trip to Slimbridge due to the bad weather David very kindly offered to drive me up to Slimbridge for the day. It was sunny and cold and frosty on leaving Plymouth but by the time we got to Slimbridge it was cold and grey and murky.

I headed off to The Holden Tower first to have a look for the 3 bean geese that have been found amongst the 200+white fronted geese but on arriving at the hide there were only around 20 white fronted geese feeding very distantly on the saltmarsh with the feral flock of barnacle geese. As I began to curse, the rest of the flock flew in as if on cue but they still remained very distant. I decided to cut my losses and after a quick count of 86 Bewicks swans roosting distantly on the saltmarsh (including 10 juveniles) I headed off to The Zeiss Hide. Walking through the collection gave some great views of smew, lesser scaup and ring necked duck along with a flyover flock of around 20 redpolls. A Ne-Ne (Hawaiian goose) took a dislike to me and had a go at my jeans much to my amusement and the "ooooo"-ing of the male eiders made me chuckle too.

Bewicks Swans roosting on the saltmarsh in the gloom

On reaching The Zeiss Hide I realised the goose flock was actually a little nearer than from The Holden Tower so I began to search through them for the elusive bean geese. They were still some distance away and the light was still poor but I finally found one amongst the feeding flock. Just as I was getting my eye in somebody in the hide shouted "Bittern!" and there right in front of me was a bittern moving through the sparse reeds. I have seen many bitterns over the years but always flight views, never on the ground, but this one showed amazingly well for around 10 minutes before disappearing into a thicker stand of reeds. It moved stealthily through the reeds and when it stood still it did appear to disappear against the vegetation. It hunted for aquatic morsels by extending its neck forwards while holding its bill just underwater and waiting, standing stock still, and it did catch something but it swallowed it before I could see what it was. Unsurprsingly when I then turned my attention back to the distant goose flock I couldn't refind the bean goose but the views of the bittern were more than compensation.

Bittern hunting in the reeds

 Bittern hunting with neck outstretched and bill just underwater

The usual birds showed very well around the reserve - pintail, gadwall, pochard, tufted duck, teal, wigeon, shoveler, mallard, 2 trilling and summer plumaged little grebes, black tailed godwit, lapwing, golden plover, dunlin, redshank, 1 little egret, a male reed bunting, 2 snipe and a very smart male bullfinch.

Camouflaged Snipe

A very dark backed gull had my heart racing briefly as I thought it may have been a yellow legged gull until it waded out of the water and showed very pink legs. 2 lesser black backed gulls were also seen being very vocal and aggressive with a pair of herring gulls.

Dark backed Herring Gull

Disaster struck however on entering The Martin Smith hide. I dropped a glove on the floor and put my camera down on the ledge (with zoom fully extended) to pick the glove up. The camera slid off the ledge, crashing to the floor. It seemed to be ok but the lens has been damaged and now it won't extend at all and so I will have to buy a new one! I have had no luck with cameras in the last 6 months, having lost one and now writing off another one. I blame the hide - it was dark, the ledge has a slight slope on it and everybodys elbows rubbing on the ledge have polished it smooth and made it slippery. It is the same hide I damaged my binocular doubler lens in when it rolled off the ledge too. Note to self - avoid The Martin Smith Hide!

It had been a cold but great day but knackering my camera did put a bit of a crimp on things - maybe I should look at insuring my cameras against accidents!

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