Monday, 11 December 2017

Birds in winds of change

THE clouds lay low over Slimbridge and, as the wind had turned from north to east, a steady stream of swallows, house martins and a few swifts flew over to follow the Bristol Channel and up the east coast.

It has been an unusual migration period as the cold northerly winds held back our summer visitors.

When easterlies arrived the birds were forced down the Channel as they tried to cross from France and struggled over at low altitude beneath glowering skies, so that they could be observed and counted in their thousands.

The Wildlife and Wetland Trust site gave us cuckoo calls, cattle egret and ruff displaying on the scrape.

Kingfishers were taking turns to incubate their eggs in the hole in the bank.

When the partner arrived, the sitter popped out and immediately into the water below for a quick freshen up, before whizzing off to feed, all in a few flashes of turquoise and orange — the “blue hummingbird” was the highlight of the trip.

Cranes are also nesting on the marshy shores of the Severn Estuary, having been re-introduced after years of work by volunteers dressed in grey.

They trained the fledglings hatched from imported eggs, teaching them to feed, run and flap their wings to eventually fly.

For those not totally obsessed by birds and willing to sit in a hide for hours gazing through binoculars, waiting for a water rail to appear, there are cafés, playparks and Wellyland as well as canoes to steer through marshy glades where moorhens chirrup, goslings take grain from the hand and otters swim out sinuously to be fed.

Some birds are penned so that the bizarre marching behaviour of the flamingoes, the possessive posture of the cob swan hovering by the nest, and the comfortable wriggling of the oystercatcher settling on its eggs can be observed close at hand.

Meanwhile, small numbers of swallows and martins have reached the Thames, flying low to sip the water or scoop up an insect, searching for nest sites in boathouse eaves and hunting for flies during the day just as the Daubenton’s bats do as dusk falls.

Plenty of flies have hatched both by the river and in the woods but I have yet to hear the swifts screaming above Henley.

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