One thing I'd been intending to do since the New Year was to get to Slimbridge, having joined the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. Slimbridge is the nearest site to where I live and I had never been there. I was keen to get there before the end of February as I wished to catch the Bewick's swans (named after the illustrator Thomas Bewick) that winter there before they migrate back to the arctic Russian tundra. However, a combination of lack of free full days and atrocious weather had kept me from going. Checking the website, I thought I was too late as most of the two hundred and fifty plus had taken off the previous Tuesday.
However, the swans are clever and having got indications of rough weather ahead, they had turned around and done a reverse migration, reappearing at Slimbridge a few hours later instead of the expected eight months. By this Monday there was still around 160 on the site, mostly on the far side of the Rushy Pen, and so I set off in the morning.
By the time I arrived, the weather had deteriorated considerably. It was below freezing and there was an eye-wateringly biting wind, accompanied by occasional snow and sleet. Grain was being fed to the mute swans on the main pond when I arrived and almost at once I got my first ever sighting of a Bewick's, as there were four or five among the throng. There was only one other spectator at the feeding, a lady called Jenny who had come over from Monmouth and was whiling away a few hours while her car was being fixed, and she kept me company afterwards very pleasantly.
Amongst the swans and ducks were some unfamiliar looking geese that I asked about, and discovered that they were Nene Geese from Hawaii, one of Slimbridge's success stories. They were famously saved from extinction by Sir Peter Scott, when their population had fallen to only 30 birds in 1951, and he had decided to bring back three of them to breed at Slimbridge. He was able to release back into the wild the first Slimbridge-reared Nene in 1962, marking the start of a remarkable recovery of the world's Nene population, although it remains the rarest goose in the world.
As well as birds, Slimbridge is also home to three North American river otters, Flo, Minnie and Ha Ha, and I met up with them (and Jenny again), for their afternoon feed and learned all about them. Flo's brothers live at Bristol Zoo, and the other two girls are her daughters. Ha Ha is a mummy's girl, whilst Minnie is the largest of the three and the alpha female of the group.
The Bewick's swans feeding time was at 1630 hr and a large congregation of them had gathered ouside the heated Observatory, providing me with my blip. Several of them were cygnets. These are born in June and make the 2,500 mile journey from the frozen tundra in late-September with their parents. By the time they are three they are making the migration on their own and starting their own family groups.
Each side of each Bewick's swan's bill is unique and can be used to identify individually named Bewick's, each with their own characteristics. Humbug was the first to arrive last October, followed by Lucius and Aoki, and new cygnets include Alex, Ed, Zara and Zac - all named after Gloucestershire Olympians.
Consecutive Blip #005
Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, 11 March 2013 (Flick set)
Lenses: Pentax 17-70mm, Sigma 70-300mm
Lozarhythm Of The Day:
Kate Bush - Lord of the Reedy River (1981)
Donovan wrote this song that Kate Bush put on the B-side of Sat In Your Lap.
One year ago: The Bath And Bristol