Saturday, 30 April 2016

A Barnstorming Great Day Out! *

WWT Barnes - 23rd April, 2016

Weather: Sunny with slight cloud. Light rain showers.

Bird Total: 77
Plus: Asian Short-clawed Otter; Water Buffalo.
Plus: Bluebells; Daffodils; Hawthorn; Lesser Celandine; Primrose; Snake's Head Fritillary.

Late April nowadays means another long train journey down to the London Wetland Centre at Barnes. However, this time I was accompanied by my good friend, Andrea, who wanted to practice on her new camera.

After a surprisingly easy journey down, where I arrived about 25 minutes before opening time, we met up and entered the Reserve. Earlier, on the train, all I managed to spot were a few pairs of Great Crested Grebes, out on the lakes.

Barnacle Goose
I don't usually 'do' weekends because wildlife reserves are usually packed with people, especially families. However, I was hoping that an early start would mean that we would be among the first to arrive. This, happily, was the case, as not too many people were around, a kind of wild justice.

We decided to walk the West Route first, as it was still sunny. This is the area where all the 'captive' birds are. And I knew that if we were the only visitors around, at this time, the birds wouldn't move off too far.
Red-breasted Goose

Happily again, I was proved right. Only most of the birds were in 'sleep mode'. This didn’t make for a good photograph.

The first birds we came across were the long-staying captive geese, Red-breasted, Barnacle, Egyptian and Emperor. Who were all asleep. So we moved on.

To an area which held Smew, Goldeneye and Hooded Mergansers. Followed by Bufflehead, Wood Duck and Canvasback. Some were close, some were distant.

We soon found ourselves in the 'Wetlands of the World' area. Here we found, among others, Nene Goose, Laysan Duck, Radjah Shelduck and Southern Screamer.

We then sat down in the first of the Hides, the Headley Hide. There were a few families in here, so we didn't stay too long. Outside, on the main lake, we could see all the usual birds in attendance. Gulls were both numerous and loud, mainly Black-headed Gulls. However, we did see at least one Great Crested Grebe and plenty of Coot, a few Shoveler and plenty of Geese.

Although I kept one eye out for any passerines, notably any Warblers, I didn't see too much about, other than Cetti's and Chiffchaff. I figured that they were keeping their heads down, because of all the noisy families. However, a bonus for me was the sight of a pair of Garganey; Scaup and several Pintail.

The Wildside area was next up. '...lose yourself in this wild area of meandering paths and rustling reedbeds - a haven of peace and quiet...' So quiet in fact, we didn't see anything.

We continued the circular route, heading back towards the Visitor Centre. Here, we encountered Red-crested Pochard, White-headed Duck, Marbled Duck and Ferruginous Duck, followed by a pair of White-naped Cranes, Mandarin Duck, Falcated Duck and Baikal Teal.

Ferruginous Duck
We stopped off to see the Smew and Goldeneye again, as the sun had come out, before breaking for lunch. Just before we reached the Cafe, we took a quick look to see if the Asian Short-clawed Otters were active. Sadly, they weren't.

After a hot cup of tea and a tasty slice of Carrot Cake (I was as hungry as the sea), we were on our way around the South Route.

This area is mainly a bird-watchers area, with plenty of Hides. Although a pond dipping and play-area for children is also around here - the 'Explore Zone'. We passed on that, as we could hear lots of screaming and shouting.

The sun kept disappearing behind the ever-increasing cloud cover, making it difficult to get any decent photos. At one point, we even had a short rain shower, with the sound of thunder. This time there was no triumph of the sun. And, of course, by now, more and more families had turned up and it was starting to get quite noisy.

Fulvous Whistling Duck

Hooded Mergansers

Reed beds were plentiful in this area and so I was a little surprised not to hear any Warblers about. Probably because of all the mayhem going on. There were hundreds of Martins flying around the area, some House but mainly Sand. I also thought I saw an eagle in the sky, but I was mistaken. There were no birds of prey.

We stopped off at a couple of Hides - the Dulverton and the WWF, not seeing a great deal out on the main lake, other than the usual.

Ring-necked Parakeets screeched by, overhead. A few Great Tits and Chaffinches started to appear. A Grey Heron posed on a post for us. Then we arrived at the 3-tier Peacock Tower Hide.

Where we found several hardened 'Birders', mostly staring through Scopes. Outside we spotted several Redshanks, a couple of pairs of Lapwing, a Little Ringed Plover and a few Yellow Wagtails. I could have stayed a while here, but I knew that Andrea would be rolling her eyes at the banter between the Birders, so we moved on.

Actually, I was a little concerned that Andrea might be flagging a bit by now, knowing that she was more into visiting ancient historic sites. However, she persevered and kept a brave face on, following me around the Reserve and keenly listening to me ramble on about which bird we could see. I think it was going in one ear and out the other. I'm a bit like that when I listen to people talking about ancient historic sites.

Soon, we were sitting in the Wader Scrape Hide, where a pair of Redshank eventually walked up close to the Hide, allowing a few modest photos. This made a nice change, having Redshank in close, for once.

We carried on with the walk, passing the 'Sand Martin Nest Bank' and the 'Berkeley Bat House' until we started the return route; again back to the Visitor Centre.

Here we paused for breath, before taking another gander at the Goldeneye and Smew area. This time the birds were all up close and personal, as one of the Wardens had just fed them. This made them all a bit livelier and so we walked a little further, to see the White-naped Cranes again. All the birds here were a bit livelier too.

Snake's Head Fritillary
Encouraged by this, and the fact that the sun was out again, we moved further in and managed to get a few more photo sessions in. On the walk back, we also found that the Otters were showing well and afforded good photo opportunities. There were only two of them this time, but both were cute enough to make the angels weep.

By now, it was approaching 4pm and we were both flagging. So we decided to head off for a well-earned couple of drinks at the local hostelry. But before that, I spotted some Snake's Head Fritillaries flowering just outside the Reserve. These, together with lots of Bluebells earlier, were a delight to see. After another easy journey, I was home by 8pm.

Great day, great company!

'Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?' David Attenborough

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.