We had a good drive down to Gloucestershire yesterday and arrived at Apple Tree Park campsite at about 5pm.  It is close to junction 13 of the M5 and the dull noise of traffic was quite discernible whilst waiting to book in, but we chose a pitch at the further end of the well-kept grass area and the noise dulled considerably. The sun was still shining so we put up the awning.  This was quite tricky as a breeze was getting up and, even before we had finished securing it, it was billowing like a sail in a gale force wind.  So, we decided that it wasn’t worth risking and reeled it back in before we ended up like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

Today saw us up with the lark and enjoying one of the pleasures of camping – a cooked breakfast.  Odd that it always tastes so much better than at home.

The main reason for camping at Apple Tree Park was its proximity to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the daddy of all WWTs and the original, founded by Sir Peter Scott in 1948.

So, of course, this was our first (and only) port of call today.  It lies on the Severn estuary and a mile or so from the village which bears its name.  It covers a huge area and there is a fine Visitor Centre which has obviously been modernised over the last few years and is large, airy and extremely modern.  One look at the map tells you that this is not a place you can visit in a day to get the most out of it.  There are 13 hides for a start!  Just as well, then, we have allotted two days.

There are similarities with the WWT centre at Barnes in West London, somewhere we have visited often.  There are large areas devoted to parts of the world – Asia, Australasia, etc etc. where the birds are permanent residents and where you can see them up close and personal.  You can’t help feeling that these lucky birds have everything – a huge area of water to choose from and landscaping which gives them the most natural habitat possible.

Swan Lake, aptly called because Slimbridge is world-renowned for its collection of all breeds, was alive with the comings and goings of not only swans, but Eiders, Tufted and all sorts of ducks and geese.  A pair of Mute swans fascinated me – if ever birds could show something akin to human love it was these two – you could almost write the screenplay.

There was inevitably some (unseasonal?) hanky panky and watch out for tomorrow’s blog when the featured image will be a true “cigarette” moment, if ever I saw one.

There are many illustrated boards for the visitor, which makes it easier to tell your Pochard from your White Headed Duck etc and, even though, we regularly visit a WWT centre when we can, we do need reminding as there are so many species.

All the WWTs have been instrumental is saving endangered species and the rarest goose in the world, the Hawaiian Goose (or Nene) is a spectacular success story.  About 25,000 Nenes used to live on the Hawaiian islands but over hunting reduced their numbers to 20-30 birds by 1949.  They have been bred in captivity in Slimbridge since the 50s and many have been released back into the wild in Hawaii and numbers there now have risen to over 1,000. The Nenes at Slimbridge are everywhere you look and seem friendly confident birds and are the first to breed every March.

It’s not only birds here – there is a breeding programme for otters too and these charming creatures can be seen in an idyllic natural setting, playing and living in safety.  Beavers as well have been introduced – although we didn’t see any.

One of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen is the lake where the Greater Flamingoes live.  There are all six species of flamingoes at Slimbridge but walking down the wide steps of the covered lookout you are greeted with the most magical sight of a large sunlit lake filled with these elegant pink birds, ranging from the palest pink to deep coral. 

We spend a lot of time here, trying to capture the comings of goings of not only the flamingoes, but whistling ducks, teals and well, anything that congregated there, including the ever-noisy black headed gulls, fighting for food.  Occasionally, a stranger arrived, including a swan, which caused a bit of panic in the flamingo population, causing them to spread their magnificently coloured wings and fly across the lake.  What a sight!

On our way back, via the sweetly named Puddleduck Corner where there were the most unusual ducks and geese roaming about, we passed the lone flamingo we had seen earlier in another area.  Apparently this bird was over 50 years old and obviously preferred his own company away from the others.  A testament to the care that is given to the birds at Slimbridge.

We were footsore and weary by 4 o’clock and decided to call it a day, after only having covered about a third of the area.  Tomorrow we will return and devote more time to the hides which overlook the Severn estuary, although I can’t rule out another peek at those flamingoes! No 3g signal at all at Apple Tree Park (which is an extremely well-run and luxurious site and is otherwise excellent) so this episode was published at a nearby service station on the M5!