TWASI CHRISTMAS GET-TOGETHER 2018
Our annual visit to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands centre in Gloucester has become something of an institution, a day to catch up with fellow members old and new, and to enjoy the opportunity to see some wonderful birds both captive and wild. This year’s trip took place on the 15th December and the weather was particularly inclement, being very windy and with heavy rain forecast for the whole day. TWASI members are a hardy lot however and around 17 of us travelled to Slimbridge.
I arrived early and walked to the outermost hide to have a look at the Severn estuary to where there are usually large numbers of wildfowl feeding on the fields and mud flats. However today there was little bird life to be seen – perhaps (very sensibly) the wildlife was seeking shelter inland, although there were large numbers of greylag geese. After a thorough wetting I took sanctuary in the café to meet the other members, to chat, exchange news (and Christmas cards!) and have a much needed cup of tea. Some of us ventured outside again and took some photos, mostly of a very obliging and photogenic black-headed gull who allowed us to take close-ups.
Member Mandi Baykaa-Murray took the opportunity to get good reference photos of the webbed feet of various waterfowl – always useful! We also spent some time admiring the penned avocets – such elegant and beautiful birds. Not much chance to sketch today with the heavy rain, it was difficult enough to get decent photos!
We adjourned to the café for a pleasant lunch, following which we walked around the centre and admired the wonderful work of artists and TWASI members Jackie Cox and Chris Sinden, who were part of a joint exhibition, and had a chat to Chris who was demonstrating linocut technique in the exhibition space.
Most years the members stay until late to see the wardens feeding the wintering wild ducks, geese and swans (especially the Bewick’s) by floodlight from the comfort of the Peng observatory, a spectacle which we never tire of, but alas owing to the weather I had to forego the pleasure this time. This event, however, takes place nightly during the winter months and so here’s hoping for a crisp, sunny winter’s day for our 2019 get-together.
Photos: Black-headed Gull by Tracey-Anne Sitch
All others by Mandi Bakaa-Murray
VISIT TO WELNEY WILDFOWL & WETLANDS TRUST – Saturday 10th November 2018
A small group of us visited Welney Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in November. It was a lovely sunny day, but with quite a strong cold wind.
We had a good walk around some of the site, visiting several hides. Seeing a large bird flying about in the distance, we hurried to the farthest hide, only to be told that a Marsh Harrier had been quartering the wet marsh, but had now moved on!
Luckily, within a short while, we could see no less than three harriers and two kestrels, though not very close at hand.
After a warming lunch we settled down in the heated main hide, and were able to do some sketching of the birds on the water in front of us, which included Mute swan, Whooper & Bewick’s swans and a large group of black-tailed godwits, as well as many other ducks and geese.
As the sunset arrived, the weather turned to rain, but we saw the spectacle of many wild swans flying in in groups for the wild bird feed, including a Whooper swan family with no less than four well-grown cygnets, obviously giving them considerable prestige amongst the other birds.
The bird feed was the usual great spectacle as the birds jostled for advantage, and was worth the journey home in the rain!
TWASI Visit to the Cotswold Wildlife Park, 11th July 2018.
I am a fairly new member of TWASI, and this is the first organized visit I have been able to join. I thoroughly enjoyed socializing with other members and visiting the Cotswold Wildlife Park.
The Cotswold Wildlife Park is really lovely, with well tended grounds that are a pleasure to walk around. The planting scheme in some areas is cleverly designed to mimic the different habitats that the animals come from.
But of course it is the wild animals which live there that really attracts us to the park and it doesn’t disappoint. There is a wide range of animals to see (over 260 species). On the day of our visit the weather couldn’t have been better and the animals seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. The penguins had their pool to play in and the lions were seen paddling in their own one too.
There is a woodland walk where you can escape the sun and watch the wolves spying on the reindeer trotting around in the paddock next door. But if you prefer the heat, there is the humid Tropical House, lush with jungle plants, where you can try and spot the sloths.
There are also aviaries with beautifully coloured birds with mesmeric calls, and a large water fowl pond where the flamingos and pelicans can be seen. And there is so, so much more. The white rhinos are particularly impressive and they have access to a huge paddock. The animals all do look well cared for.
The park is very clean and well organized with the added attraction of a narrow gauge railway running around it, which the children love. Allocation has also been made for play areas. There were school parties on the day but there was plenty of space for us all.
This park is fun for everyone. Thank you TWASI for introducing me to the Cotswold Wildlife Park. I would definitely like a return visit.
TWASI Visit to The British Wildlife Centre, October 2018.
Despite the weather forecast, the promised thunder, lightning and torrential downpours failed to show.
The overcast and drizzly skies meant it wasn’t great weather for sketching or painting, but it was fine for a bit of light sketching and taking reference photos. The wet weather did bring out some fabulous autumn colours, with sloe berries, rosehips and autumn leaves in the wetland nature reserve.
The British Wildlife Centre has mainly UK mammals on display, alongside UK snakes and an Owlery.
Whilst most of the animals are ones you might be familiar with, it was great to see them up close and have the opportunity to photograph them.
There were also talks every 30minutes on the animals and conservation efforts of the centre.
The highlight had to be the hyperactive pine marten that never stopped moving – a member of the weasel family, with only 3500 in the wild in the UK, there are conservation plans to reintroduce them to more parts of England.
The Centre has a Scottish wildcat breeding programme which is crossbred with other populations at centres across the UK.
It is thought the captive population is now purer than the wild population.
The autumnal visit meant that some animals were starting to head into hibernation – the sleepy hedgehog was making one of its final public appearances for the season.
The Hedgehog now has an estimated population of only 1 million in the UK, down from roughly 40 million, 40 years ago.
The staggering population decrease is thought to be from a number of factors including roads, lawn strimmers, slug pellets and enclosed garden habitats.
It is thought it will be extinct in the wild in the UK, 15 years from now.
There were some success stories, including otters which can now be found in every county in the UK and the badger (despite culling), which has healthy numbers that are helped by a healthy earthworm population.
TWASI Visit to Linton Zoo, September 2018
TWASI members met at Linton Zoo on a lovely sunny Saturday in September.
Linton Zoo, located a few miles south of Cambridge, is a fairly small zoo with a somewhat old fashioned feel, but it is lovely and shady for a visit on a hot sunny day and has some interesting animals.
There are three lionesses and three lovely lions that spent most of the day sleeping in the sun with paws in the air in somewhat inelegant poses.
One of the beautiful Amur tigers strolled round its enclosure and then emulated the lions by snoozing whilst showing off its pure white belly.
There are also a number of types of lemur including white ruffed lemurs from north east Madagascar.
I was particularly pleased that the two resident binturongs woke up in the afternoon and we were able to photograph these strange looking animals from south-east Asia which usually spend most of their time in zoos fast asleep during daylight hours. Binturongs, also known as bear cats, are animals about whose life in the wild we still know very little.
Some of the enclosures, including those for the lions and many of the birds, have small mesh fences making photography difficult, but there are also some glass panels at strategic positions.
The tapirs, with their highly mobile noses, can be clearly viewed in their open paddock as can the giant tortoises which appeared to be feeling amorous during our visit.
The zoo has a small snack bar and we started our visit with a welcome cup of coffee, meeting there again for lunch when there was a reasonable choice of food, soup, sandwiches, burgers, pasties, chips, etc.
If you are in the Cambridge area, it is a pleasant place to visit for two or three hours.
TWASI Visit to Sandwell Valley, 20th May 2018
In May, a small group of TWASI members visited the RSPB nature reserve at Sandwell Valley, which is part of a larger reserve managed for nature on the outskirts of Birmingham.
For someone who doesn’t know this area, it came as quite a surprise, after driving through a suburban area and a housing estate, to arrive at this haven of peaceful river valley, woodland walks and lakes. The day we visited, the weather was perfect; a hot, sunny spring day, ideal to be out and about.
At this time of year, birds were nesting around the lake, including Canada geese, oystercatcher and lapwing. A pair of little ringed plovers were doing their best to imitate the rocks on their chosen small island.
The RSPB visitor centre serves hot and cold drinks and small snacks, but especially with the beautiful weather, we were glad to have taken picnic lunches. There were plenty of shady places to sit and admire the lush white and pale pink May blossom which seemed especially prolific.
If you are in the area, this is a lovely spot to visit and wander about.
TWASI Visit to Birdland, Bourton-on-the-Water, 8th August 2018.
If you like birds, then visit Birdland!
Opened in 1957 in nine acres of land, it is a lovely place, with the River Windrush running through it, and is very nicely laid out with paths and bridges over the river.
Birdland houses around 130 species of birds the most popular are the Flamingos and King Penguins.
There is a viewing window on the Penguins so you can see them in their element, although unfortunately when we went, they were refilling the pool after cleaning, so we didn’t see them swimming, and as it takes about a day to refill, there wasn’t much chance to see them even if we’d stayed longer. Not to worry, though, as they’re always worth going to see, even if they are only waddling about.
Talks on the penguins and flamingos are quite frequent, and you can get close to them, although best to try to get at the front, otherwise heads large and small can get in the way if you want to take photos or sketch.
Luckily we had good weather and it wasn’t too hot, so it was very pleasant to walk around.
There is also a Nature Reserve area to walk around with a couple of hides where you can see various wildlife if you’re lucky, and this incorporates a Jurassic Journey with some Dinosaurs plain to see and others hidden – very popular with the children!
There are temperate and desert houses for birds from hotter and drier areas, and a very nice café to get refreshments, and plenty of picnic tables throughout the park.
Bourton itself is a pretty village with plenty of cafes and shops, and is lovely to walk round with plenty of picturesque bridges over the river.
There is a model village of Bourton itself to walk around, a Dragonfly Maze, Motor Museum, Toy Collection, Perfumery which does tours and courses, and for those who like a pint, the Cotswold Brewery with sales and tours – lots to see and do.