Saturday, 11 July 2015

My Cornish Holiday (Part 1)

On July 1st, it was the start of my holiday with my parents to Cornwall. We weren't heading straight to Cornwall right away though, we were to break the journey up with a couple of nights in Stonehouse near Bristol. It was a good job too, as our first day travelling from East to West was on the hottest July day ever recorded in the UK. It was extremely hot and was glad that day was over. Though, I did get to see some red kites while driving across the country.

Views of Slimbridge from the Observation Tower
Sir Peter Scott
We were to spend two nights in a hotel, but between nights, we had a visit to Slimbridge WWT to make. Slimbridge is the birth place of the WWT (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust), where conservationist Sir Peter Scott founded it in 1946. This place is like part bird zoo and part nature reserve. The captive birds here are from all over the world. One of the most noteworthy species in the collection is the nēnē or Hawaiian goose. This species was reduced to just 20-30 birds by 1949 in the wild. Scott brought them over to Slimbridge and bred them in captivity. They are still endangered, but they are thriving in captivity. The nēnēs here were quite tame and kept following us for food.

Scott's Bewick's Swan bill sketches
Another thing Scott was famous for was his work with Bewick's swans. In the 1960's, Scott noticed that every swan had a unique pattern on their bills which he used to identify for each individual. He would sketch each of the swan's bill patterns and would eventually memorize each swan every winter. This way of recognizing individuals has continued to this day and has helped scientists learn the life stories of each swan that has visited Slimbridge ever since. Bewick's swans are winter visitors and are in their breeding grounds in Arctic Russia at this time of year, but there were a few captive Bewicks here amongst the mute swans and other wildfowl feeding from the feed visitors were throwing out to them.

Bewick's Swan
There were other captive birds and animals in the collection too. Slimbridge seemed to have every species of flamingo here. There were also frogs, toads and newts in an exhibit called Toad Hall as well as otters and water voles.

Flamingo chicks
Great Crested Newt
White-fronted Goose
American ducks sitting in a row
Wet view from one of the hides
Apart from the captive creatures, there were many hides overlooking parts of the River Severn estuary. Unfortunately, the weather was awful with several spells of heavy rain while we made our way from hide to hide. The views were distorted by these cloaks of rain, but despite this we saw a lot of great birds. There were many baby birds around the reserve with a lot of ducklings, goslings, cygnets, moorhen and coot chicks as well as a few house martin and swallow chicks in their nests. We also saw avocets, oystercatchers, lapwings, black-tailed godwits, herons and a kingfisher.

Tufted Duck duckling
Mute Swan and Cygnet
Shelduck family
Shelduck chick
House Martin chick in nest
Swallow chick in nest
Grey Heron
From one hide, a pair of greylags were checking out who was looking at them from inside.

Our biggest sightings of the day were of a few Eurasian cranes from three to four hides. I saw two together from one hide. These large birds were once extinct in the UK, but then by the 1980's they returned naturally in Norfolk. Despite this, they had (at the time) never spread to other counties. So in 2009, as part of the Great Crane Project, they released hand raised cranes in Somerset. Some of these cranes had made their way back to Slimbridge and these are the ones I could see from the hides. Even though there are captive cranes on site, these were wild birds (at least that was what I was told) despite the rings on the legs and seemingly tame nature (as they were close to the hides at times). It was great to see these birds and to see for myself the success of the project.

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