Wet & wild
Getting great photos of wildlife isn’t always easy. With an aspiring young wildlife photographer in tow we head to Slimbridge
Words by Penny Bunting. Photographs by Izzy Bunting
It’s a bright but freezing January morning, and as we head towards the visitor centre from the car park we can already hear the deafening cries of thousands of birds. Once inside the reserve, we see what’s making the noise: geese – lots and lots of them.
Slimbridge is home to the largest wintering population of European white-fronted geese in the UK. Around 500 of the species spend the winter here, having flown 2,500 miles from Arctic Russia to enjoy our relatively warmer climate.
Bewick’s swans also make the long journey from Russia to Gloucestershire each winter. The wardens are able to individually identify many of these birds – the swans can be recognised by unique patterns on their bills. This means that individual birds can be observed and tracked – and some of them have been wintering at Slimbridge for nearly 30 years.
The reserve at Slimbridge consists of 325 hectares of wetland alongside the Severn Estuary. January and February, when up to 35,000 wildfowl can be seen, is a great time to visit. Winter residents include tufted ducks, teals, spotted redshanks and ruffs.
Taking photos of birds at Slimbridge is a breeze. There are more than 10 hides strategically placed around the reserve, with uninterrupted views over the estuary, lakes and streams. Look out for pintails on the Rushy, gadwalls on the South Lake, and spot hundreds of lapwings from the Holden Tower.
As well as thousands of wild birds, there are many spectacular and exotic species from all around the planet – including the largest flock of flamingos in any collection in the world.
Some of these birds are pretty rare. The Baer’s pochards at Slimbridge – a small diving duck from East Asia – are amongst the last remaining of this species in the world. Other rare and endangered species include Hawaiian geese and spoon-billed sandpipers.
Another success story at the wetland centre has been the common crane – these have now been reintroduced into southwest England for the first time in 400 years. Look out, too, for the extravagant golden crest of the African black-crowned crane.
In the South American section of the reserve, there are more brightly-coloured birds – our favourites were Chiloe wigeons and black-bellied whistling ducks, with their loud, melodic calls.
Because of the constant flow of visitors many of the birds are tame and fearless – and will eat grain straight from your hand. So it’s easy to get great photos, and with a digital SLR and zoom lens it’s possible to take some stunning close-ups. But even with a basic compact camera – or smart phone – you’ll get decent results.
From the striking plumage of the red-breasted goose, to the flamboyant flamingo, to the elegant silhouette of the swan, there’s plenty of variety to keep photographers of all abilities happy.
Slimbridge Wetland Centre is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and is just off the M5 between Gloucester and Bristol. Open seven days a week, 364 days a year.
Green Adventures March 2015