Wednesday, 21 January 2009

A Trip to Slimbridge

I'd been vaguely thinking about another trip down to Slimbridge for a few days in order to pick up some year ticks. Currently as well as the usual geese there were two bonus ones present in the form of a brent goose and 6 tundra bean geese. With the arrival of a green-winged teal there (which I still need as a lifer) and with a great-grey shrike showing in Cirencester, all these birds were too good to pass up so I decided to make the trip down there. My plan was to head to the Zeiss hide first where the green-winged teal was supposed to be and then over to the Holden tower for the various geese that were about. I would then make the return journey via Cirencester to see if I could find the great grey shrike. The journey down to Slimbridge was rather atmospheric, with a bit of a frost on the ground and quite foggy in places though with some nice sunshine. However it took a bit longer than it should have as I was stuck behind a slow lorry on a single carriage way road for a fair while so I arrived there at around 10am.

I arrived at the Zeiss hide to find only a couple of other birders, neither of whom had found the green-winged teal so I was going to have to work for this bird. The warden had informed me that there were about 1200 teal on the reserve so that was a good number to search through. I diligently worked my way through them all first right to left and then back left to right without finding it at all. I was, however, struck at how great a birding location it was though: there were teal, wigeon, shoveler, a few gadwall, some shelduck and a few tufted duck and mallards present on the duck front. There were numerous lapwings with some dunlin mixed in. In the background a few dozen white-fronted geese and some bewick's swans could just be seen in the neighbouring field. Added to that, a bittern flew in from the nearby South Finger hide where it had been showing off and dropped into a reed bed before soon flying back again, giving me a good view of it in flight. A flock of curlew flew in and settled in front of the hide as well and I thought that I briefly heard a cetti's warbler singing in the reed bed immediately in front of the hide. All in all a marvellous location even if it wasn't yielding up any vagrant teal.

I next went over to the Holden hide to find a lot of birders and a warden present. Fortunately the warden was able to give a summary of what was present so it saved a bit of time on scanning. The party of 6 tundra bean geese were present on their own on the Dumbles slightly to the left of the hide. Immediately in front on the Dumbles were a large number of lapwings, dunlin and some bewick's swans. To the right in the Tack Piece (which I also viewed from one of the other hides) were large numbers of geese including: the white-fronted, barnacle, grey-lag, canada and the single brent. There were also good numbers of redshank, curlew, dunlin, most of the different duck species and a few spotted redshank. I spent only a short period of time doing some digiscoping as the light wasn't that good any more.

A Bewick's Swan on the Tack Piece

A Sleeping Spotted Redshank on the Tack Piece

At the Robbie Garnett feeders, someone had just seen the water rail so I hung around for some 20 minutes or so to see if it would re-emerge but it didn't. I then headed back to the Zeiss hide to have another try for the green-winged teal. There were lots of birders in the hide there and quite a chatty atmosphere. Apparently someone had come into the South Finger hide (where the bittern had been showing extremely well) and said that the teal had be "showing well" back at Zeiss, leading to a mass exodus. As we all scanned the flock we wondered what "showing well" meant in this context when there are over one thousand birds to look through. Despite our massed efforts no one could find it and on the Slimbridge web-site that evening it was reported as not having been seen all day.

I decided to head off towards Cirencester and the great grey shrike before it got too dark. Some half an hour or so later I pulled up in a layby off a busy dual carriage way where I could see a couple of birders staring into the neighbouring field. On asking I was informed that it had been seen some ten minutes ago. We all started scanning and walking along the layby till someone found it again. It was quite distant and rather dark by now but I had a go at digiscoping it, getting at least a record shot. I then headed back home, tired but most pleased with the day.

The Cirencester Great Grey Shrike taken in near darkness at IS0 1600 at about 75 yards.

Despite dipping out on the green-winged teal, a very successful trip to Slimbridge with a good number of year ticks. I now have the full compliment of geese (excluding rarities). It would be great to get some of them in Oxon as well for the county list but geese are not an Oxon birding strong point. Amazingly, with the national list I have already reached the 100 mark in just 21 days, whereas last year it wasn't until mid March that I managed to reach this total. I think that this is largely coming from experience in knowing now where to go to get different ticks and also in having spent more time out and about birding so far this year though that tends to fluctuate accordingly to my work schedule.

2009 National Year List
092 shelduck 21/01/2009 Slimbridge
093 curlew 21/01/2009 Slimbridge
094 white-fronted goose 21/01/2009 Slimbridge
095 Bewick's swan 21/01/2009 Slimbridge
096 bean goose
(tundra) 21/01/2009 Slimbridge
097 brent goose 21/01/2009 Slimbridge
098 barnacle goose 21/01/2009 Slimbridge
099 spotted redshank 21/01/2009 Slimbridge
100 great grey shrike 21/01/2009 Cirencester

2009 Oxon Year List still stands at 88

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