“Schadenfreude Swan Supper”

No Entry, Perhaps...

“Or Surround Bird Sound, Decoy Dogs and A Boat Graveyard…”

Every year on the weekend closest to the “most depressing weekend” in the year, ie when the Christmas credit card bills come, we have a “Schadenfreude Breakfast” where we go out for breakfast and are thankful that we haven’t overspent in the way so many others in the country have! In fact it is really less “joy in other’s misfortune”, and more “joy in our own”. This year however we are celebrating in a slightly different manner and going to Slimbridge for a “Swan Supper” – after all swans (and most other birds for that matter) are well known for not worrying about the size of their (Visa) bills…

We arrive at The Tudor Caravan Park in pitch dark and follow the map that has been left for us. It is a spacious site with fewer than ten of us on it and we can hardly see our neighbours. It is a beautiful still night, no moon but a sky full of stars that seem close enough to touch. However we have hardly settled in before the Tawny Owls start…

It rains heavily in the night but the forecast winds don’t come and by morning it is still and cloudy. Noisy though. Wall to wall bird racket from the resident legions of rooks and several rowdy seagull gangs. We eat a suitably Schadenfreude breakfast of bacon and poached eggs before walking down the road to the wetland centre. We cross the canal and pass flooded fields full of fat, muddy sheep and huge flocks of yet more seagulls and rooks.

We go up the observation tower and I get talking to 67 year old identical twins sporting impressive looking cameras. I try to hide my phone and my novice birder status but they tell me that they have only just started and can now pick out a swan from a sparrow which is a feat even I can manage. One cheerfully assures me that he has been told by his wife to only photograph, “the right kind of birds!”…

I buy two bags of food, both for Darrell and we spend a couple of hours wandering among the birds. He of course is in his element scattering largesse to all and sundry, including the ever present pigeons.

We watch a demonstration of catching ducks by using a decoy dog. 5 month old Piper is new to the job but looking so fox like means they have caught ducks every time he has been out. Ducks will spot a fox or a dog masquerading as a fox and will swim towards it so they can keep it safely in view. What they don’t realise is that Piper is leading them into the Pipe or duck trap. Naturally here they don’t have their necks wrung but only have to suffer the indignity of being weighed, measured and ringed before being released back onto the lake. The main bar to success is that certain ducks have been watching the whole process every Saturday at three for years and know to swim rapidly in the opposite direction taking the newbies with them…

We start our evening with mulled local cider and a floodlit view of a lake full of swans and geese. They all get very excited when they hear the “food whistle” which lets them know that it is their regular feeder. Apparently they don’t like change and even if he changes clothes or goes a few steps off the expected route they are likely to fly off in a huff. Here whole generations of swans are known and certain families likened to the Mafia have ruled the roost for decades. It is also a well established scientific fact that “fat bottomed Bewicks are most likely to survive to breed!”. After a really fantastic meal we take a head torch lit walk back through the darkness. We hear Barn Owls on both sides and see spooky cow eyes looking at us from a canal side barn…

It is quite stormy in the night and Monty creaks and shifts like a sailing ship buffeted by waves.

Surround Sound...
Surround Sound…
Distant Neighbours
Distant Neighbours
On a mission...
On a mission…
Otters, why not?
Otters, why not?
Blue Beak...
Blue Beak…
Flamingo Flamenco
Flamingo Flamenco
Detail...
Detail…
Fat-Bottomed Bewick!
Fat-Bottomed Bewick!
Food? If you insist...
Food? If you insist…
Cheeky Chappie...
Cheeky Chappie…
Stilt...
Stilt…
Dinner, boys!
Dinner, boys!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

By morning it is quite still but rain clouds threaten. Undaunted we don several layers of wet weather gear and head out towards Sharpness along the broad but extremely muddy towpath that runs alongside the very wide waters of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. Opened in 1827 it allowed ships to reach Britain’s most inland port, Gloucester without risking the unpredictable sands and tides of the Severn.

Flocks of birds wheel over the wetlands and Cormorants and Grebes fish the brown, slow moving canal. We see no one but a couple of hardy fishermen huddled on the bank. The heavens open and the countryside disappears into mist. We arrive at the Severn and walk alongside it to Purton Hulks, a boat graveyard thought to be one of the largest collections of wooden boats in the world. Retired vessels were towed here and then beached in a bid to prevent erosion. On a wet day in January their bleached bones blend into the grey mud so seamlessly that it seems they are a natural part of the landscape.

On the way back we pass a canal side garden literally filled with gnomes. Darrell rolls a coin into the well. Over £3000 already raised for charity. The sun comes out and we see a rainbow over the fields. Somewhere in the distant woods I can hear a woodpecker…

Over the Wetlands
Over the Wetlands
3 Miles to Sharpness
3 Miles to Sharpness
Canslside Reeds
Canslside Reeds
Boat Graveyard
Boat Graveyard
Bare Bones
Bare Bones
Rust
Rust
Boat Bits...
Boat Bits…
Canalside Gnomes...
Canalside Gnomes…
Smiling Through the Rain
Smiling Through the Rain
After the Rain
After the Rain
Canal Reflections
Canal Reflections
Canal Boats
Canal Boats

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