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Friday, 23 January 2009

Slimbridge visit

I went up to Slimbridge this morning on a birding trip. For those readers who do not know it, Slimbridge is a bird reserve north of Bristol on the Severn estuary that was founded by Sir Peter Scott, the naturalist, painter, and son of Scott of the Antarctic.

The reserve is basically in two parts, a central area with a wildfowl collection, and a surrounding area managed to attract wetland birds, especially wintering wildfowl for which the area has long been famous.

Slimbridge has widened it’s focus from wildfowl to other wetland birds in its collection. It is working on the initial stages of a re-introduction plan for Eurasian Crane to the south west of England. These magnificent birds died out at least 500 years ago as a result of hunting and drainage of suitable habitat, but some years ago they naturally recolonised Norfolk in the east of England. The greatest birding experience of my life was when, on a birding holiday there, I was present when the first chick fledged. We had stopped to watch some golden plovers in a field on a very foggy day, when we heard a trumpeting sound through the mist. Our guide at once said “those are cranes!” and of course we all said “what?!” as we did not even know they were in the area. The pair came down and landed only a few hundred metres from us, accompanies by their chick, and at once went into their triumphant dance display.

Since then, the Norfolk population has slowly grown, but in any one year the available habitat can only support perhaps 5 pairs at the most, so it was decided to try to establish them elsewhere. Slimbridge is hand raising crane chicks from either wild nests or captive bred adults, and these birds will eventually be released into a fenced off area of suitable marshland. Although the adult birds are pinioned, the young will be left to fly free and hopefully establish themselves in the area.

Slimbridge is also currently developing a wetland mammal exhibit. This is due to open May this year, and will show a wetland as it was before human interference became significant. Among the animals on show will be Beaver, Otter, Water Shrew, Harvest Mouse as well as Common Cranes and other birds that will probably fly in on their own. There is also planned to be some larger land animals that you might find in such areas, possibly including Heck Cattle, which is a breed created in the twenties to resemble the extinct Aurochs. I will let you know once it opens and describe it then.

Well, back to today’s trip. It was only a few hours but the bird list includes these:

Common Buzzard
Lapwing
Great Cormorant
Shoveler duck
Common Shelduck
Mallard
Common Teal
Wigeon
Bewick’s swan
Pintail duck
European Robin
Dunnock
Chaffinch
Greenfinch
Great Tit
Blue Tit

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