TWASI VISIT TO LONDON WETLAND CENTRE, 12 May 2019
We had a beautiful spring day, perfect for a bit of light sketching, with plenty of ducklings, goslings and cygnets herded along by proud parents. Bird highlights included sand martins, a wood sandpiper, black-tailed godwit and ringed plover.
There was a spectacular loud mating chorus of marsh frogs that were on top form, although they swiftly disappeared underwater when the heron made an appearance.
Marsh Frogs on non-native species found in South East England with populations in Devon, Bristol, Isle of White, Norfolk and Cornwall. It’s thought they were introduced from Hungary in 1935. The jury seems to be out on whether they cause harm, but there is some suggestion they are a predator species, that might have a negative effect on native wildlife and possibly carry disease to local frog populations.
TWASI VISIT TO MARWELL ZOO, 10TH JULY 2019
We thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Marwell Zoo, having a great time observing the animals and meeting up with other TWASI members. As we have had some really lovely weather lately, and the day again was quite hot, we were concerned the animals would hide away, but that was not the case at all.
Marwell is a 140 acre well-maintained wildlife park with amenities for everyone. As there are hundreds of animals, too many to see in one day, we first targeted those that Marwell is famous for, namely the snow leopards and the Amur tigers.
The snow leopards have an attractive enclosure that mimics, as well as it can, their natural environment, enabling good views of the animals when they are outside their cave-like dens. So when prowling, they clambered around and over rocks and when resting they were either high up on a rock edge or sheltered ground level under their favourite over-hanging rock. Seeing the snow leopard is always a real treat.
The Amur tigers have a large enclosure with two pools to play in. There are a lot of trees and bushes so it would be easy for them to hide from us, but on the day, they were both very visible and they are massive.
The male shown here was a really handsome animal. On the way to the tigers we passed the rhinos and ostriches who were quite happy with the warm day. And, further on, so were the giraffes and zebras, well nearly all the animals we came across. However, it was the red panda and Amur leopard who seemed to wish for a cooler rainy day. The red panda was curled up in a corner of his tree when normally he is actively walking, tightrope like, from tree to tree. The Amur leopard was also flaked-out but on a grounded tree trunk right in front of the viewing window. So beautiful, and trying to snooze while us noisy visitors were ‘shushing’ one another and vying for position to take the best photo.
We were so much luckier than the animals, we could go to one of the many kiosks around the park and order a drink or an ice cream to cool down, or jump on the tractor road-train when the walking got too much.
Finally, we couldn’t leave Marwell without seeing Pip McGarry’s paintings – they are always well worth seeing – wonderful.
TWASI VISIT TO COTSWOLD FALCONRY CENTRE, 24TH MARCH 2019
I don’t get to attend many of the TWASI visits for one reason or another, but Birds of Prey are ‘my thing’ and the Cotswolds aren’t too far away from where I live, so I was really happy to be able to go along and meet up with other TWASI members for a wonderful day out.
Once I left the M5, the journey was through beautiful countryside…so pretty that at one point I stopped the car to take a few photos!
Our group met in the arboretum cafe, which is at the opposite end of the car park to the falconry centre. After a catch up and a coffee, we made our way to the Falconry Centre. Adult entry for the day was £10.00 which was great value considering the huge range of species to be seen and the informative flying displays. There are over 60 species which include falcons, hawks, eagles, owls and vultures.
I’d prepped my cameras the night before (charging batteries, emptying memory cards) and now took a moment to check my settings before ‘clicking’ began. On entering the courtyard, I felt a rush of excitement as I always do when I see birds of Prey!! Golden Eagle, Tawny Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Bateleur Eagle…..OH MY!! I was in paradise!
The camera clicking commenced!! Not only were there eagles, but hawks, buzzards, and falcons too, all perched beautifully, posing for the cameras.
Before I got too carried away, we were called to see the first flying display so we parked ourselves on the wooden benches, our cameras at the ready. The falconer was very knowledgeable and gave an informative talk while flying the birds, giving us an insight into how the birds behave and why.
Throughout the day there were several flying displays where different birds were flown. Some of the birds we watched include a Lanner Falcon, a Snowy Owl, a group of Kites, a young Indian Eagle Owl, a Peregrine Falcon, a Barn Owl and for the final demo of the day, we were treated to a group of vultures both in the air and on the ground. (Ruppel’s Griffon Vulture, Hooded Vulture and Palm Nut Vulture) I enjoy watching their lollopy gait, which reminds me of the vultures in ‘Jungle book’. I particularly like these birds who sadly are seen my many as ugly, dirty and unruly. The truth is, they play a vital role in the wild, cleaning up the remains of dead animal carcasses, preventing the spread of disease. The sad reality is that many of these vulture species are becoming critically endangered due to poachers lacing carcasses with poison to kill them. (Vultures circling above a carcass are a giveaway to the poacher’s location).
In between the flying displays, we were able to wander around the many aviaries on site. Photography here was more challenging, trying to avoid the wire bars or netting. My tip here is to set a wide aperture (F2 or 4) or use portrait mode. These both set a shallow depth of field which, when holding the camera as close to the wires as possible, allows to camera to focus on the bird, throwing the bars/wires so far out of focus, they hardly show on the photo. This works best when the bird is distance away from the wires, if it is close, the wires will show.
A bonus sighting during the day was a herd of Red Deer grazing in the field beyond the aviaries.
Overall, it was a great day! An opportunity to sketch birds from life and gather some fab reference photos for future paintings. The majority of these birds, we wouldn’t be able to see in the wild in this country, and even those which are native to the UK, I doubt many of us would manage to see this clearly without spending days in a hide with the use of expensive optics!!
I thoroughly enjoyed the day at The Cotswold Falconry Centre and recommend a visit – I’d happily go again, even though I still haven’t edited all of the gazillion photos I took this time!!
TWASI VISIT TO CHESTER ZOO, 15TH JUNE 2019.
As the day approached, we were a little sceptical about the weather, as in the couple of previous weeks it had been atrocious, but in true Brit spirit, a small group of us got together to see the amazing animals at Chester Zoo.
Armed with cameras and sketch book (for one very dedicated new member), we set off. It possibly needs to be said that none of the members attending had been on a TWASI Visit before, and we didn’t know each other prior to the trip either, but that was part of the fun – new experiences and new friendships formed!
The weather was very kind to us, and not only did it stay fine, but we even saw the sun by the afternoon!
We saw an A-Z of creatures both large and small, from the aardvark to the zebra, and from the magnificent elephants to the tiny poison dart frog.
A particular favourite for us all, was seeing the Painted Dogs interacting with each other, and although our best shots were through the large glass windows rather than in the open air, we still hopefully managed to get workable images.
The baby orang-utan, having fun playing with a piece of sacking whilst its mother slept, was also a huge plus point.
A stop off at the street food bar saw a few of us eating curry, before carrying on our quest to fit in as much of the zoo as we could before closing time.
Although the zoo officially shuts at 6pm, a lot of the animals are returned to their enclosures for the night at around 5pm, so we began to work our way back to the exit, ably helped by members of staff when we weren’t entirely sure which signpost to follow!
For those considering making the trip at some point, a map is a very good idea. It is possible to see everything in a day if you get there early, but highlighting the must-sees means you won’t go home missing that favourite animal or bird.
Hopefully Chester Zoo will be on our 2020 itinerary, and we shall see you there.
TWASI VISIT TO STANWICK LAKES SSSI ON 5TH JUNE 2019.
Stanwick Lakes was a lovely place to visit. There were lots of different walks of varying lengths, and plenty of lakes and ponds with various wildlife. The height of my day was to see a Great Crested Grebe family with three youngsters, which were really lovely.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see any cygnets, although there were plenty of mute swans about. There were also plenty of insects, and we saw many Banded Demoiselle Damselflies flitting about, which were very beautiful. You could also hear loads of birds singing, but with all the foliage didn’t often see what it was!
Even though there were quite a few visitors there, there was plenty of room, so it didn’t feel crowded at all. You have to watch out for cyclists, especially on the narrower paths, but people do tend to be sensible and call or ring their bell to let you know. Horse riders were also about, but we only saw one.
There is a very nice café for refreshments, just next to the car park. Entry is free, and only car parking fees apply, which seems very good for all there is to be seen.
Dogs are allowed if kept on leads. Stanwick Lakes was a really nice place to spend as long as you like.
TWASI VISIT TO RYTON POOLS COUNTRY PARK
On Wednesday 24th April, four of us met up at Ryton Pools Country Park near Coventry. Originally, sand and gravel were extracted there and now the site has been made into lakes, paths and recreation areas for people to enjoy. There is also an area of ancient woodland, which is managed by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.
After coffee in the cafe, we set off to walk to the woodland. There was birdsong all
around us and the sound of woodpeckers drumming and calling in the woods, and we saw Peacock and Speckled Wood butterflies. There were many different kinds of wildflowers, including primroses, wood anemones, stitchwort, violets and cowslips and a very pretty little pink flower which we didn’t recognise but have since identified as common stork’s-bill.
However, the most spectacular were the bluebells, the woodland clearing was carpeted with them. The sun came out and showed them at their very best and their scent was lovely.
While we were enjoying the bluebells, we heard a cuckoo! This was an added bonus, as their numbers have plummeted in the last few years and they are now on the RSPB red list of birds that are critically endangered.
In the afternoon, we walked to see the lakes. On the big lake, there were swans, Canada geese, mallards, great crested grebe and moorhen. The birds here are used to being fed by visitors and so are easy to see. At the smaller lake, it is much quieter and we sat in the hide to watch the birds. As well as swans and Canada geese, which were on nests, there were several pairs of tufted duck, a little grebe and coots and we were treated to a female mallard with eleven ducklings!
We had a really good day despite a couple of heavy showers, the country park is well worth a visit. It’s our local nature reserve and we visit it regularly, there is always something different to see.
TWASI CHRISTMAS GET-TOGETHER AT SLIMBRIDGE, DECEMBER 2019
Despite some very blustery showers at times, and a very cold wind, for much of the day at Slimbridge, we had some sunshine, particularly in the morning.
A good group of 34 Members came for a Christmas Get-Together, and spent a very enjoyable day watching birds, looking at the artwork in the Gallery, and chatting together.
Some of us went round the Peter Scott House in the morning, others in the afternoon, and it was a real treat.The house seems just as it must have been when the Scott family lived there, very much a 1950’s time-warp, with furniture, books and pictures kept in place.
It was inspiring to see the wonderful view Peter Scott had of the water and birds outside his studio window, and his last painting there on the easel. It’s an experience well worth taking, though you need to book up for it beforehand.
We also had a look at (and from) the new Estuary hide, complete with lift for accessibility, even if someone managed to get stuck in the lift and had to be rescued by a warden!
There are wonderful views from the top floors, and we watched flocks of golden plover doing a “murmuration”, and lots of lapwing and curlew amongst other groups of birds.
Lunch together in the café gave us more chances to catch up with everyone’s news, meet some new members, and exchange Christmas cards, as well as warming up.
Later on some of us took the chance for some sketching in the heated hide, and then we watched the floodlit wild bird feeding, always an interesting sight, with some of the Whooper swans flying in at the last moment, although at that time, numbers were down on some years – possibly due to the milder weather.