Wednesday 19 October 2011

Slimbridge Wetland Centre

A slight change of pace for this post: more of an annotated photo album, with an anecdote about being bitten by birds. I came home from Dorset and Devon via Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire; a convoluted route, yes, but worth it for the places I visited whilst there. Whilst in Gloucestershire (staying in Newent in the Forest of Dean), I visited Slimbridge Wetland Centre. Slimbridge is the birthplace of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT), the organisation I work for. I’ve mentioned the site and some of its inhabitants in previous posts, but briefly, the reserve at Slimbridge, located by the River Severn, was created in 1946, along with the WWT itself, by Sir Peter Scott. Scott, the son of Antarctic explorer Robert Scott, devoted much of his life to the conservation of wildfowl and wetlands, for which he was knighted in 1973. Slimbridge has become a world-renowned centre for the breeding of rare and endangered birds, some of which, like the Hawaiian goose or nene (Branta sandvicensis), Laysan teal (Anas laysanensis), and spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)* were saved from extinction due to the efforts of the WWT.

* This species, a small wader breeding in northeastern Russia, is being raised in captivity at Slimbridge and Moscow Zoo, and is critically endangered in the wild.

Here follows a few photos I took during my last visit to Slimbridge. All photos by Mo Hassan, taken at Slimbridge Wetland Centre, Gloucestershire, September 2011. Those that are wild are indicated as such, otherwise the animals are part of the captive collection.

Albino xenopus toad, or African clawed frog
Xenopus laevis Daudin, 1802
Pipidae; Anura; Amphibia; Chordata

Pied avocet
Recurvirostra avosetta Linnaeus, 1758
Recurvirostridae; Charadriiformes; Aves; Chordata

Garden spider (wild)
Araneus diadematus Clerck, 1758
Araneidae; Araneae; Arachnida; Arthropoda

Puna, or James’, flamingo
Phoenicoparrus jamesi Sclater, 1886
Phoenicopteridae; Phoenicopteriformes; Aves; Chordata

Eurasian harvest mice
Micromys minutus (Pallas, 1771)
Muridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; Chordata

Female (above) and male lesser Magellan geese
Chloephaga picta picta (Gmelin, 1789)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata

Swan goose (foreground) with lesser white-fronted goose
Anser cygnoides (Linnaeus, 1758); A. erythropus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata

Lesser snow goose
Chen caerulescens caerulescens (Linnaeus, 1758)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata

Crested duck
Lophonetta specularioides (King, 1828)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata

West Indian whistling-duck
Dendrocygna arborea (Linnaeus, 1758)
Dendrocygnidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata

Magpie goose
Anseranas semipalmata (Latham, 1798)
Anseranatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata

Black swan (cygnet)
Cygnus atratus (Latham, 1790)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata

Male Baer’s pochard
Aythya baeri (Radde, 1863)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata

Common crane
Grus grus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Gruidae; Gruiformes; Aves; Chordata

European eel (elver)
Anguilla anguilla (Linnaeus, 1758)
Anguillidae; Anguilliformes; Actinopterygii; Chordata

Common mudpuppy
Necturus maculosus (Rafinesque, 1818)
Proteidae; Caudata; Amphibia; Chordata

This odd-looking creature is similar in appearance to the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), a popular pet and one of my favourite creatures ever, but is not closely related. It is, however, in the same family as the olm (Proteus anguinus), a non-pigmented blind cave salamander from eastern Italy and former Yugoslavia, and is called a mudpuppy probably cause of those immense fluffy gills that look like dog ears.

Black-tailed godwit (wild)
Limosa limosa (Linnaeus, 1758)
Scolopacidae; Charadriiformes; Aves; Chordata

To wrap this post up, hear me out whilst I tell you about ducks that bite. One way in which Slimbridge trumps London (over all, I prefer London) is that you can feed most of the birds in the World Wetlands area. Being eager to get closer views of many species, and also, I won’t lie, to be bitten by as many species as possible so I can run a phylogenetic analysis based on how it feels to be bitten by them (if I get bitten by a bittern I can die happy), I invested in some bird seeds and set about walking around the reserve. In total, I fed twelve different species*, and attempted several others. I can say that the throats of the smaller geese are so soft and are the gentlest feeders, feeling like a gently vibrating game controller. That’s in contrast to the Toulouse goose, a big beefy variety of the domesticated greylag, that practically hoovered up the grains I offered it, as well as most of the epithelial cells of my palm. It has a big powerful beak, but didn’t actually bite me (I’m using the term ‘bite’ although none of these birds have teeth). The most bitey bird was the swan goose, interestingly also domesticated as the Chinese goose, which actively nipped my palm and fingers as it picked up seeds. I guess it’s difficult to manipulate fine objects when you have a bill the size and shape of a children’s shoe. I expected the magpie goose to have a vicious bite, as the residents formerly at the London Wetland Centre used to bite my shoes and camera whenever I got anywhere near them, but it was surprisingly gentle in feeding.

* Those were: magpie goose, Bewick’s swan, swan goose, greylag (domestic) goose, lesser white-fronted goose, emperor goose, Ross’ goose, snow goose, barnacle goose, Hawaiian goose, red-breasted goose, and mallard.

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