Tuesday 14th June, moored at Patch Bridge, Slimbridge
To be so close and not to have visited the Wildlife and Wetland Trust at Slimbridge would have lost the Cleddau crew credibility with green-minded, zoologically-qualified Techno Son-in-Law.
It was a mere fifteen minute or so walk from boat to birds. A school bus carrying pupils on a day trip overtook us on the approach lane. With no real idea of what we had come to see, but a determination to get as close to the estuary as possible, advice was sought. And so it was we made our own early introduction to the flamingos and the duck decoy system. At 11am we joined a guided tour and slowly became acquainted with the “ney-ney” birds, the Hawaiian geese which were Sir Peter Scott’s first conservation project. The site has many ponds and lakes of different depths, designed to attract and support native and migratory birds. Hides and observatories aid steady bird study – and indeed, present were many members of the bird-watching species, all equipped to a man(!) with enormous telescopes or binoculars or cameras – or all three!
A climb to the Sloane Tower above the visitor centre provided wide views across the entire wetland site and the estuary. We trudged out to the summer walkway, past a couple of WW2 pillboxes and up on to the embanked sea wall. The reward was a glorious viewpoint, on a high bench, or from inside the one-time ambulance, up and down and across the mudflats and river channel. Just the breeze in the reeds and the squeaky toy tones of the reed warbler – or was it a meadow pipit? Once an aircraft high overhead brought brief reminder of another world.
Other areas had to be visited: at the “Wader Shore” were avocets and redshanks; “Back from the brink” were tiny harvest mice, water voles (not spotted) and sleek otters. On a hot day perhaps it was folly to enter the Tropical House, but the fish, floral displays and the grey-winged trumpeter justified the temporary self-induced heat stroke …
Not surprisingly the visitor centre supplies refreshments and retail therapy, both on a large scale, and offers a range of educational activities. One wonders though whether its biggest income comes from the sale of bird food, much of which gets spilt – and the volunteers get the joy of sweeping it up! Toddlers and pupils, tourists and serious birders, the wheelchair-bound and disabled all seemed to derive great enjoyment from this special place.
A summer treat on the way back: ice-creams at The Black Shed (so it is and so it’s called), a sort of gongoozlers’ cafe by the canal right beside Patch Bridge.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, back to Gloucester.