Chiloé Wigeon

An interesting contrast from my previous post on European wigeons are these Chiloé Wigeons, or southern wigeons, from South America, photographed in the spring at WWT Slimbridge. The similarities are evident, and yet they are rather different.

chiloe wigeons 1chiloe wigeons 2

Of course, these photographs were much easier to take as these birds are residents, presumably with clipped wings. It’s a strange facet of the modern world that it can be easier to photograph birds from the other side of the world than their local equivalents!

Falcated Duck

falcated duckThe falcated duck is a migratory Asian species with threatened survival status. Watching these beautiful birds at WWT Slimbridge, it was easy to see why they have been hunted by humans over the ages. Those stripy feathers over the tail have been particularly prized.

With so many people now on the planet, attitudes to such birds must rapidly change, or they will be lost forever. Places like Slimbridge provide a reminder of what is in danger of being lost.

Although the green head and neck with brown crown look a bit like a mallard, these ducks are actually closely related to the European wigeon, with which they have been known to interbreed.


Impressionist Peregrine

peregrine falcon 3

One of he highlights of our visit to WWT Slimbridge – a peregrine falcon landed to consume a bird (lapwing?) that it had just taken in flight. It was just visible to the naked eye and showed up reasonably in portable 8x binoculars, even better in the ‘scope someone had focused on it.

The best my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom could do resulted in the rather pleasing (to my eye) impressionistic image above. There clearly aren’t enough pixels to give a decent photograph.

Some birders have answers to this. Some carry SLR cameras with huge telephoto lenses, others have a fair sized spotting telescope, possibly with a ‘digiscoping’ attachment to take photographs on their mobile/cell – both have to also cart around a tripod. Three big issues – cost, bulk and weight.

We all have to make our own compromises. Maybe I’ll stick to impressionistic photography. Or what about those bridge cameras…

Svalbard Barnacle Goose

svalbard geeseThere was a suggestion of haughtiness about these Svalbard Barnacle Geese, sitting apart from the other wildfowl and well away from the human visitors at WWT Slimbridge. Like many black-white birds their plumage is nevertheless striking.

These birds have been a focus of WWT since the 1950s, when their worldwide population had declined to 300, an alarming level. Peter Scott began an activity that became one of the world’s longest running migratory studies, and WWT has provided winter refuge for these birds, most notably at WWT Caerlaverock in the Solway Firth. In summer they live in the Svalbard Islands (includes Spitzbergen) between Norway and the Arctic. By 2010 there were 35,000 of these birds – a remarkable success story. (Other populations of barnacle geese migrate between Novaya Zemlya/Baltic states and Netherlands, and between Greenland and Scotland/Ireland.)

It shows that the worldwide efforts of conservation organisations can be vital in averting possible extinction of highly visible species. But the pressures are increasing, the number of threatened species inexorably rising, so ever more efforts are needed to maintain nature’s diversity in the face of the relentless onslaught of modern human life.

And what about the smaller organisms where there is no such highly visible focus? Amazingly, it is requiring almost superhuman efforts to even protect the vital bees from ‘the system’. We really do need a step change in our attitude to the natural world. We and it are one interrelated ecosystem – there is no backup.


I loved watching these beautiful avocets, with their upturned beaks, at WWT Slimbridge the other day. This group tended to move together, creating constantly changing striking patterns, such as that above.

Avocets represent another UK bird conservation success story. These waders were on the verge of extinction in 19th century UK, as the wetlands that formed their habitat had mostly been drained. Since WW2 they have recovered significantly, much helped by the conservation efforts of organisations such as RSPB and WWT. Indeed this attractive bird was adopted as an emblem by the RSPB.

Tufted Duck

tufted duck 1At WWT Slimbridge the other day there was a largish population of tufted ducks. These ducks are pretty common in the UK, easily identified by the characteristic white side and the tuft at the back of the head. The female is much less distinctive, so is less easy to identify (see above link).

The pale blue-grey beak adds an attractive touch of colour to the otherwise essentially monochrome male. In the right light, there is also a suggestion of green on the head. You can see this and the tuft better in the following.

tufted tuft