Newest Review: ... is three miles off the A36. A narrow road, which is single track in places, leads up to the visitor centre but there are passing places and... more
Slimbridge - Twitchers paradise
Slimbridge Wildfowl & Wetlands Centre (Slimbridge)
Member Name: PaigeTurner
Slimbridge Wildfowl & Wetlands Centre (Slimbridge)
Advantages: A huge array of birds especially during the winter
Disadvantages: Get your warmest clothes on because it's cold in those hides
I even went on a date to Slimbridge. Tentatively I suggested to my boyfriend, who is now my husband, how about going to Slimbridge for a day out and he jumped at the chance. We both hadn't spoken up until then about our love of bird watching - it's not something you readily admit as a young person - but since that first visit together we have been many times, predominantly during the winter as it is the best time to see a whole variety of migratory birds.
Slimbridge is my all time favourite 'paid for' place to go for wildlife. Nothing beats spotting an unusual bird off your own back whilst walking out in the countryside but Slimbridge is not as contrived as some wetland centres. If you go at the right time of year, yes you are guaranteed to see a number of different varieties of duck, geese, swan and wader, but Slimbridge never fails to offer a few surprises as well.
We will usually spot some kind of bird of prey flying past the hide or sitting on a fence post in the distance. There is even a fox who can be spied prowling the fields viewed from the tallest hide. We have seen him on at least two separate occasions.
A bit of History
Slimbridge is one of nine visitor centres set up by the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust (WWT). The WWT is a charity primarily, which was founded by Sir Peter Scott, son of the Arctic explorer, in 1946. There is a bust of Sir Peter in the Swan Lake area.
In fact Slimbridge is the WWT headquarters. It was picked as an ideal spot for a visitor centre due to its position on the banks of the river Severn. Many geese naturally relied on the water and the surrounding area before the centre was built.
Slimbridge is open every day of the year except Christmas Day between 9.30am and 5pm. There are also special early opening times to see birds such as Bittern but you will have to keep an eye on their website for when these are.
Slimbridge is easy to find. It is signposted with brown duck signs from junction 14 and 13 of the M5, then is three miles off the A36. A narrow road, which is single track in places, leads up to the visitor centre but there are passing places and everyone is usually highly co-operative.
On arrival you park in a relatively large tarmacked car park. There are also two grassy overflow car parks. There are toilets on the right as you approach the centre, otherwise there are more inside the centre to use once you have paid.
A sweeping gangway leads up to the centre's door. There is a small desk inside the doors where people can sign up to be members of the WWT. There is also an area where people can hire a wheelchair. Otherwise proceed on through to the reception desk.
During busier seasons there can be a queue but it is usually well-managed by a member of staff who will endeavour to disperse the queue to the two or three cashiers as quickly as possible.
Entry costs £10.95 for adults, £8.45 for concessions, and £5.95 for children aged four to 16. A family ticket costs £30.70. All prices include a voluntary gift aid donation.
Before leaving the reception area make sure you check the sightings board for the day to see what it would be possible to see. You can also hire binoculars from the reception desk but I have not done this myself.
Down a further winding ramp is a darkened archway which leads to the educational area with information about the environment and conservation. During the school holidays it is in here that kid's activities are laid on, including crafts.
To the right of the entrance to the educational area is the grain desk. Before going outside make sure you pick up a bag of wheat grain to feed the birds. Bags are £1 each.
Waters Edge Restaurant
This restaurant is based in the visitor centre. Usually we make sure we get quite a bit of bird watching done before we head to the restaurant as it's good to feel you've earned one of the hearty meals they have on offer. Sundays are the best days as they lay on Sunday roast dinner. Alternatively there are a range of other hot meals, salads, sandwiches and cakes, all with a home cooked feel. You won't get much change out of a £10 note for a meal and a drink.
Otherwise you could take sandwiches and a Thermos flask. There is a picnic area near the play area. The restaurant is always clean and well-presented with views of the Caribbean flamingos outside.
The gift shop is also based at the visitor centre and sells wildlife books, bird feeders and boxes, home-ware, souvenirs and toys.
Time to go and see the birds
There are generally two types of people who visit Slimbridge - families who enjoy walking around and feeding the birds and those armed with binoculars and telescopes keen to do some serious bird watching in the hides.
We tend to fall into both groups. We'll happily buy a bag of grain and walk around the various lakes and ponds feeding the birds, but once the grain is gone it's time to hit the hides.
There is a useful refreshment kiosk if you follow the main path around to the left towards the picnic and play area. We usually fuel up on a cup of tea or coffee and a muffin before retracing our steps and taking the right hand path which leads to the hides.
The outdoor area is divided into regional areas - North and East Asia, South Asia, Europe, North America, Africa and the Tundra. There are information boards in each section detailing the birds you can expect to see. Some birds will be in their allotted areas but as you can imagine, others like to cross over the divide to a different section. The gates between the areas do little to keep them segregated off in their regional areas.
The best feeding areas are Swan Lake immediately outside the visitor centre and the Geese of the World area of the loop-way - next to Puddleduck corner.
Slimbridge is the only place in the world you can see all six species of flamingo - the Caribbean, the Lesser, the Greater, the Andean and the James. They are all part of a breeding programme.
These are the rarest geese in the world but the tamest at Slimbridge. They will happily peck grain out of your hand.
These are being reared as part of Crane School. This involves humans disguised as adult cranes teaching the cranes life skills such as how to feed, swim and avoid predators.
Make sure you check out the otters. This is best to do at feeding times when the warden also gives a talk about them. The set times for this should be available at reception. Otherwise you may see them out playing or snuggled up in their burrow, which can be viewed through a pane of glass.
The tropical house offers several species of tropical bird and fish. Trying to spot them all is a good game for children, and adults. Information boards outline what is available to see.
Serious bird watchers
There are 13 hides at Slimbridge
The South Lake Observatory Hide is soundproof with large windows and comfy seating. It is the best hide for beginners.
As the name suggests, looks out onto a specially created bank aimed at enticing Kingfisher breeding pairs. There are also bird feeders which attract a wide range of garden birds.
Multi-storey Holden Hide
This hide looks out on the Severn Estuary and is where the most serious of bird watchers camp out. It can be intimidating but the best bird spotting opportunities are here. This is where you are most likely to see birds of prey and also where we have spotted the fox.
The list of possible sightings are endless but ours include Avocets, Snipe, Oyster catchers, Curlew and Water Rail.
There is a great camaraderie in this hide as bird watchers will often call out when they have spotted any bird of great significance to ensure others don't miss out.
From this hide you also have the best views of the geese, ducks and Bewick swans. If you are lucky you may see one of the three Whooper swans they have return there each year.
The best time of year to visit
Winter is the best time of year to visit Slimbridge if you want to see a wide variety of birds. This is the time of year when hundreds of thousands of birds descend on the reserve. It is obviously the coldest time of year to sit in the hides for any stretch of time but is well worth getting chilly for. Just make sure you wrap up very warm with good shoes - walking boots or alternatively Wellington boots are best.
Alternatively, spring is when the courtship rituals begin and boxing hares can be spotted in the fields. The first chicks will also start to hatch later in the spring into summer and so this is probably the best time for families to visit.
It is a cliché, but there really is something for anyone who has the vaguest interest in birds at Slimbridge. It is a great place to take the family and get your youngsters interacting with birds for the first time. While the hides and variety of bird is unmatched anywhere else, making it the best centre for serious bird watchers to go.
A highly-recommended day out.
Summary: A great day out for families and serious bird watchers alike
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