2015 claimed the earliest arrival of a Bewick’s swan since 1963 at WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. It prompted predictions about a cold and harsh winter ahead, but instead it turned out to be a very warm December with the MET Office stating the mean UK temperature for December as 7.9oC, a whopping 4.1oC more than the long-term average of 1981 to 2010. Despite this it was still cold enough for a scarf and gloves as I took a trip down to Slimbridge especially to see these beautiful birds.
On arrival the car park was unusually full and on entering the visitor centre staff passed on the information that a great grey shrike had been spotted. So I ‘casually’, who I am kidding I was dashing with extreme haste to the hide (which of course happened to be the one that was furthest away) to find that it had just flown off – typical. Never mind I was here to see the Bewick’s and there they were, with two swans characteristically head bobbing in front of me – now that’s what I came to see. There were also huge flocks of golden plover and lapwing to feast your eyes on as well as cranes majestically walking along, so lovely to see this. Unfortunately after waiting for a while the shrike didn’t come back so I went to indulge in some waterfowl watching instead, seeing shelduck, teal, pochard, wigeon, tufted ducks and the beautiful pintail. There were greylag and Canada geese about as well as waders. But most importantly, more Bewick’s.
A quick stop for lunch (perfect timing as it started to rain while I was chowing down on a sandwich) before a look around the ‘collection’ bird area, with the glorious flamingos taking centre stage, as well as the adorable otters of course. The winter wild bird feed is a must see as there are hundreds of birds preparing for the night as they congregate on the main pond. When the warden feeds them you can clearly see the birds feeding strategies as they take the feed from different water depths. You could really see the Bewick’s swan nicely and how it differs from the whooper swan (both pictured below, Bewick’s on the left and whooper on the right). Apart from the lack of yellow on the Bewick’s bill when compared to the whoopers they have a physically smaller and I like to say daintier head and look to them. An altogether beautiful bird, hard to believe it came all the way from Russia to spend the winter in our country, a lovely privilege for us. The rain starts to fall again so a quick dash back to the car park is required.
There were around 80 Bewick’s when I was there in December and the warden said they would be expecting more to arrive still, so if you haven’t gone yet there is still time to see these beautiful winter birds.