2022 Day Visits

A Visit To Brandon Marsh

A Visit To Brandon Marsh9th November 2022

Brandon Marsh is a special place.  Less than three miles from the centre of Coventry, it feels like another world, with a mixture of pools, reed-beds, woodland and secluded paths meandering between the nine hides.  It also has a very good tearoom and that is where the seven of us met on an unseasonably mild, bright November morning.  Although the feeding stations there offer excellent photography and sketching opportunities, the focus was on food and chat and the plentiful parties of Tits, Chaffinch and Dunnocks were largely ignored!

Cake consumed, tea drunk and lunch ordered, we set off around the reserve to see what wildlife was around.  Whilst the main party decided to wander in and out of the various pool hides, I sought the seclusion of my favourite woodland walk and ambled as silently as possible along the sun-dappled path.  The large groups of mixed Tit species were very active in the branches above my head, whilst Wrens scolded angrily from the various bramble and ferny scrub patches.  I reached the pool at West Marsh which was eerily quiet – a feeding Mute Swan and a pair of squabbling Moorhen being the only visible signs of life.  A Kestrel hovered over the marsh, a flock of Jackdaws flew raggedly across the sky and a Water Rail squealed loudly from deep in the reed-bed.  Life in the slow lane….

Meanwhile, over at East Marsh, the others were busy photographing and sketching the inhabitants of a much more vibrant community.  A large flock of Wigeon whistled continuously, groups of Shoveler swam around in tight little circles, heads down a’shovelling; a Little Egret flew over, a Heron stood motionless and a group of Cormorants of different ages stood drying their bedraggled wings. Alongside all this activity, it was distressing to see a number of dead Geese, victims of the Highly Pathogenic Avian ‘Flu epidemic.  The reserve staff had to leave them where they had fallen until suitably protected DEFRA staff could arrange for their removal.  One opportunistic Moorhen was standing on one of the carcasses, pecking away like fury.  It had clearly not listened to Government advice!

Suddenly it was lunch time and our meals were being put on the table exactly on time.  Eating and chatting took up the next half hour or so and then we broke up into small groups and went back out to explore the rest of the reserve. Sarais walked through the woodland area to a hide she hadn’t visited before, to find a solitary moorhen, and was charmed to see plenty of small woodland birds, including a little group of long-tailed tits, and some interesting lichens on the trees. Lesley produced some lovely quick-fire sketches from various points of the reserve and she, Chris and Sarais managed to get some decent photos, considering the distances that most of the birds maintained.  Although I did manage to find one Kingfisher, huddled down in some tangled branches, low by the water, we didn’t see

Otters, Muntjac, Barn Owl or other reserve specialities.  But then, rarities would have just been the icing on a lovely day.

David Knight

TWASI Day Visit to Twycross Zoo – 18th September 2022

A small group of 6 of us went to Twycross Zoo, and enjoyed a day observing the animals. It was rather an autumnal day, with cloud, drizzle and cold winds around lunch, followed by warm sunshine in the afternoon.

The Sumatran tigers were not active early, and we feared the only sighting might be on its photo, but luckily later on at least one walked around the enclosure, giving us good views. We all looked round the enclosures, meeting up from time to time to compare our experiences, and dodging the very busy places, as there were plenty of families there. Perhaps a mid-week visit would make it easier to get good views.

One of the Amur Leopards walked around several times, and I was fascinated to watch his lithe beauty amongst the various plants. Some of the enclosures were roomy and obviously well planned for the animals’ comfort, with some new work having been done since I had last visited.

It was a pity that several of the enclosures are empty or closed though, and areas which previously were open, enabling visitors to walk freely from area to area, have been closed off, making moving around the zoo rather difficult & frustrating.

I was concentrating on watching the big cats, but others found the Prairie Dogs were their favourite, and the antics of the Orang-Utan entertaining.

We hoped to see the Snow Leopards in the large glass-walled enclosure next to the café, but whilst waiting for one to emerge, enjoyed watching the small birds and animals who have taken up residence around the large pond – including Grey Wagtail, Wren and Water shrew.

Then we realised that one Snow Leopard had been there all along, so well camouflaged against the stone that we hadn’t noticed it!

Luckily we were able to watch it then as it sat in the sunshine, and marvelled at the wonderful patterning and size of its feet and long tail.

Sarais Crawshaw

Tropical Bird Park Desford, Leicestershire – Sunday 10th July 2022

Five of us Sarais, Hazel, Chris, Neil and myself met up at the Park mid-morning on a very sunny and warm day. 

The small Park is home to Parrots, Macaws, Toucans, Cockatiels, Cockatoo, Hornbills, Owls and many more.   It was noticeable since my last visit that some areas had been redeveloped, and all the birds seemed well cared for.  One change was an area soon after entering the park with Flamingos, and open viewing frames in front of the water which gave good opportunity for photographs and observation close up. 

The aviaries and walkways provided shade on such a hot day for the birds and ourselves, and again it was possible to get reference photographs even through the cages.

There is an open area towards the far end with some free flying birds.

Macaws of various species, Military, Blue and Gold, Scarlet, Hyacinth, Cockatoos and other smaller parrots were perched in an area where they could sit and walk along connected raised walkways and ropes or climb trees.  There were volunteers on hand to talk to visitors with any questions or assistance.  The birds were free to move around at will in this area, and were frequently kept cool by sprays of water by the staff. 

We joined up at lunchtime for a coffee and snack from the café, and there were ample places to sit inside or outside in the shade.  After cooling down we spotted a Harlequin Macaw sitting in the tree above us.  It flew back and forth from one tree to another eyeing up our meal.   A Harlequin is a cross between a Blue and Gold and Green wing and unusual in colour. 

The day was warming up and some of us returned to the open area to spend a little more time with the birds before departing.  We were joined after lunch by some members of our family from Rugby. 

The Park was getting rather busy in the afternoon sunshine, and the Hyacinth Macaws were on the lookout for anything they could try to take from unwary visitors.  The volunteers were close by keeping an eye on the birds. 

It is possible to purchase bags of food from the entrance to feed the birds, and this can enable close contact with the parrots, and the chance to make a new friend for the day.

 It was an enjoyable visit and a place you could spend quality time photographing or sketching, especially in the open area where the birds were content to sit perched for longer periods.

Joy Roberts

TWASI Chester Zoo Visit 11.06.22

We may have been low in numbers (there were just the 4 of us) but we certainly made the most of the day at Chester Zoo.

Myself and Jackie are both TWASI members, Michelle and Nev were the (very) willing ‘groupies’. The weather was also glorious, so that was a great start to the day.

First stop was the Sumatran tiger enclosure. It was at the very top of Jackie’s list and we were all hopeful that we would get to see this beautiful, yet elusive, creature. Unfortunately, after 3 attempts, we had to admit defeat and return home without any views, or photos. Next time …hopefully!

Although the tiger remained hidden, many more animals did not, and we were treated to some fantastic views of the elephants, cheetah, chimpanzees and African Painted dogs, to name but a few. The mischievous young orangutans also put on a bit of a show from their indoor enclosure.

We were also delighted to see the stunningly colourful flamingos sitting on their eggs.  Nev and myself, on a subsequent visit, were thrilled to see the result of those eggs, in grey, downy attire.

We visited one of the food outlets for lunch – The Manado Street Kitchen – and chatted about what other animals we wanted to see, and what photos we wanted to take.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Chester Zoo quite a few times now, and every time is a different experience. As there is so much to see, you almost need the whole weekend to take it all in. My advice would be to have an idea of what you really want to see, and head for those first (with a photo of the map to hand).

As the weather stayed beautiful all day, we had a pit stop for an ice cream, before fitting in a few more enclosures before the end of the day. I would highly recommend a visit, if you’re ever in the area, and you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re also contributing, in some small way, to the work that they do towards conservation.

By Karen Markham

TWASI  Visit to Peak Wildlife Park, Saturday May 7th, 2022.

On Saturday May 7th, members Sarais Crawshaw and Karen Markham (accompanied by Karen’s hubby Nev) met at the entrance to Peak Wildlife Park, Leek, at 11am. Although they were few in number, it certainly didn’t stop the enjoyment and success of the trip.

Sarais specifically wanted to see, and photograph, the Red Squirrels, so she headed straight to the walk-through enclosure. Unfortunately, the 3 resident squirrels within the enclosure were being a little shy, only 1 of them briefly appearing in the seclusion of a tree’s branches. Hopefully there would be better luck to be found at the nursery/breeding enclosures.

Meanwhile, I spotted what I thought looked like an injured sparrowhawk just outside the squirrel enclosure. Whilst waiting for a keeper to appear, a few reference pics were taken (the sparrowhawk didn’t seem to be in any distress, but allowed me to get quite close) and with much relief, just as I was mentioning it to someone, it calmly flew off, none the worse for wear.

I wanted more shots of pretty much everything (I’m not ashamed to say that I ended up with 60 photos on my phone, and 1000 on my camera! Multi shot is such a wonderful feature!)

I managed some lovely shots of all 4 species of lemur, the rather amorous Humboldt penguins, the sparrowhawk (as previously mentioned…… that was indeed a bonus!) zebras, a lovely family of Canadian geese, and, of course, the Red Squirrels.

We met up with Sarais at the Red Squirrel nursing/breeding enclosures, and, after a short while were treated to all 3 squirrels coming into view to say hello. Sarais managed to get the photos and also a good amount of film footage that she’d been after, and I got many great shots of them too.

The sun shone for most of the day and we enjoyed a chat and a picnic by the trees, watching the robins and sparrows trying to earn themselves a free lunch.

A very enjoyable day was had by all.

Karen Markham.

TWASI visit to Shapwick Heath NNR – April 24th 2022

Six of us attended the visit to the Shapwick Heath National nature reserve on the Somerset levels on the 24th of April. We were greeted by a warm, sunny day, with a light breeze, in fact, the perfect spring day for exploring this showcase reserve.

After a coffee at the Avalon Marsh visitor centre, we headed onto the reserve in the hope of seeing some of the wetland speciality species for which the site is justifiably renowned.

Together with the adjoining RSPB Ham Wall site, Shapwick has, in the last twenty years or so, undergone much habitat creation to turn it from a former site of commercial peat extraction, into the hotspot of biodiversity that we see today.

Noteworthy species include otter, water vole and roe deer, while the extensive bird list for the site includes: Great white, cattle and little egret, European crane, bittern and purple heron, marsh and hen harrier, barn owl and hobby.

Ducks and waterfowl are well represented, as are the smaller songbirds such as Cetti’s, reed, sedge, garden warbler, blackcap, willow warbler and chiffchaff.

The wet woodland supports great spotted woodpecker, cuckoo, nuthatch, sparrowhawk and buzzard. An abundance of invertebrates support the network of life in the wetlands.

The site represents a window on the past, a glimpse at an intact ecosystem, a landscape with echoes of a wilder Britain before the impoverishment of the countryside that we see today.

With regard to the loss of biodiversity, ‘shifting baseline syndrome’ is cited as the loss of wildife within one lifetime, it can only be measured by an individual’s memory; such is the richness of life at Shapwick and Hamwall that a walk through these reserves lets us see with the eyes of our ancestors, whose experience of the countryside would have been very different to our own.

The group decided to spend a few hours in the decoy hide which overlooks one of the bigger lagoons. Almost immediately we could hear booming bitterns; the sound being likened to blowing across the top of a milk bottle, (for those who remember milk bottles!) can carry for a mile or more.

The water was crystal clear, with large areas covered in water lily. A great crested grebe, sleek and silvered by the air trapped in it’s plumage, could be seen hunting underwater for small fish around the lily stems.

A shout of ‘purple heron’ focussed everyone’s attention and binoculars on the bird as it flew down the lagoon to alight out of sight in the reeds. Marsh harrier and hobby both drifted in and out of view, as did a number of great white egrets with their impressive 1.7m wingspans.

The explosive song of a cetti’s warbler would issue from the reedbed periodically, but only rarely were we offered a tantalising glimpse of the singer, such is their secretive manner.

After lunch, the group walked further into the reserve. Glastonbury Tor shimmered in the heat haze to the east as we watched a hunting kestrel, with a hobby hawking for early dragonflies in the higher air. Whitethroats and a garden warbler entertained the birders in the group, while blue damselflies and red darter dragonflies adorned the trackside vegetation.

Before long the day was getting old and it was time to head back for a final cuppa before departure. It was, I think the perfect day for recharging and resetting; the better still for having spent it with friends. Thanks for your company and I look forward to our next visit to this wetland gem.

Trevor Smith

TWASI visit to The Wildplace Project, Bristol, 5th April 22

The five of us: Gill Love, Denise Lonsdale, Jim Burnett, Rosemary Gowland and myself France Bauduin, met in the Wild Place Project car park as agreed and once everyone was there, I decided to give them a little tour of the place before lunch.  We were quite lucky weather-wise, with a mix of clouds and sun, a fresh breeze and temperatures around 12-14˚C.  Forecast was much nastier for the following days.

We started with the giraffes and could also see some zebras and eland from our platform.  From there, we went to see the red river hogs, passing besides the lemur’s enclosure.  Unfortunately, they were either indoors or fast asleep. 

We continued our visit towards the walled garden to spend a moment watching the meerkats, the minuscule Kirk’s dik-dik and the birds in the aviaries. From there we had a wonderful walk bordered by all kinds of spring flowers. 

Winding through beautiful ancient woodland on raised walkways, we first past the wolverine enclosure to then discover two young Lynx up in the trees.  They soon climbed down but then went off to find someplace to sleep.

We passed in front of the pygmy goats to stop at the cheetahs’ enclosure, one of the main attractions of the park.  The three brothers were active, and we were fortunate enough to have them to pass only a few feet from us before they ended up flopping at the top of the hill. 

It was then time for us to go to Bear Wood, which is no doubt the best attraction of Wild Place, featuring a couple of wolverines, a lynx family of four, four bears and four wolves in their natural environment.  

 There was some action below with the bears who had a little scuffle near the pool, then one of them decided to climb a tree which was rather fascinating to watch, as well as to see him climb down afterwards. 

A couple of wolves made a brief appearance but didn’t stay long.  We continued to watch the bears for a while and then went to have lunch in front of the geladas They had a bit of a scuffle in the middle of our lunch which made it all the more interesting.

 Afterwards we all went our separate ways to revisit our favourite areas, meeting again on occasion.

We all had a great time and I think that everyone agreed that it was well worth the visit.  Indeed, Denise liked it so much that as I predicted she got an annual pass afterwards.  Rosemary particularly enjoyed the cheetahs, bears, wolves, and lynx.  She also appreciated that it was a venue which is very easy to access. 

Jim’s favourite part was the walkway where you could see the Lynx, bears and wolves acting more naturally than you would normally. It was good to watch them making use of the space. 

Gill’s highlight was also to see the animals in Bear Wood living in such a natural habitat, bears and lynx climbing high up in the trees.  Seeing bears and wolves living together was also a delight to see!  To sum it up for all of us: A lovely day out! 

Hopefully we can have more TWASI members coming next time.

France Bauduin.

TWASI Day Visit to Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Wednesday 23rd March 2022.

The first TWASI Day Visit of the year got us off to a good start with the Yorkshire Wildlife Park.With TWASI members and guests, there were 9 of us, most of whom had not visited before and we were very impressed with the venue.

The Wildlife park covers a very big site, and is growing all the time, so there was plenty to see, though you need to be willing to walk a good deal to see it all. All the enclosures are large, and the animals looked relaxed, with plenty of space to move and structures to engage them.

We were able to see animals such as Red Panda, Amur Tiger, Painted Dogs, Sealions, Polar Bears, Hyena and African Lions amongst others, and a huge lake and areas of wetland had encouraged a range of local waders and other wildfowl to settle.

The Amur Leopards have a huge enclosure with a massive “climbing frame”, but we didn’t see the leopards – it was a warm and sunny day, so perhaps they were asleep!

It was good to eat our lunch outside under the shade of a woodland area, & catch up with each other.

I would certainly recommend the Yorkshire Wildlife Park to anyone who can get there.

Many thanks to Helen Rawlings for organising the day.

Sarais Crawshaw