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Spotted Redshanks, Slimbridge

Mute, Bewick's & Whooper Swan

Yes, I know this a picture of a whooper swan but at five feet in length it’s so much easier to take than one foot of wader. It’s even easier to fill the frame if a mute and a Bewick’s are nearby. And who could resist snapping a rare conjunction of our three wild swans?

The whooper is not a frequent visitor to Slimbridge and indeed became my 102nd species there. It’s neck-and-neck with Chew Valley. A peregrine and a goodly flock of golden plovers completed the scene at the Wetlands Centre but the spotshanks stole the limelight. My last sighting was over six years ago at Minsmere and this was my third attempt lately to find the Slimbridge birds.

And there they were as obvious as anything with the blackwit flock on South Lake. Except not quite so obvious: there was one big one and a small one. Was I looking at a common redshank too? But the smaller one had the clearer spotted markings. Both were showing a pale face and a supercilium.

Whooper Swan

The key to the mystery lies in the size range for the species – anywhere between 29 and 33 centimetres. It really showed with these two. And it happens a lot in bird world. Size isn’t everything. But numbers are and my year list has hit 198. It’s been slow going recently and I’m beginning to doubt I can beat my 2004 total of 204. 210 would have had nice symmetry to it but I think that’s right out now.

A propos of nothing: as I passed over the Avon Bridge on my way north, an odd train was pulling in to Portbury Dock. It wasn’t carrying coal and in any case coal comes out of the Dock. It was carrying cars. I had no idea they were railed in, or out for that matter. Hmm, looks like the line carries steel too. No wonder they don’t want passengers from Portishead messing it all up!

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