PRISTINE POCHARDS & BRILLIANT BULLFINCHES @ WWT WASHINGTON
On Thursday I travelled up the A19 to visit the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust site at Washington a short distance west of Sunderland. WWT Washington was established in 1975 and its wildlife includes several rare species of Swans, Geese and Ducks as well as a large flock of Chilean Flamingos and a trio of Asian Short Clawed Otters. The WWT works towards the conservation of wetlands and a successful breeding programme for some of the worlds most endangered wildfowl.
The site also has a large nature reserve with several hides to watch the wildlife with a wide variety of habitats. It had been quite a wet drive up the A19 but as I arrived at the site the rain had ceased and a Robin was perched on a branch at the edge of the car park watching me put my walking boots on. I walked down to the visitor centre and after paying my entrance fee I stopped for a drink in the cafe which gives you great views over part of the site. From here I could see a group of Goldeneyes on the water just in front of me with several Shelducks and Barnacle Geese on the ground beyond.
Over to my left were a pair of Common Cranes and further out were several Ross's Geese at the edge of some water at the far side. A trio of Hawaiian Geese (also known as Nene Geese) walked across the ground and dropped into the water just in front of me. I now left the visitor centre and headed out along the west edge of the site and after around two hundred yards I reached a gate at the left side of the path. I opened the gate and walked into an area called "Close Encounters" where at the edge of the water on my left I could see a pair of Eider Ducks asleep.
There were also a few Chiloe Wigeons and a lone Mallard and as the path turned to cross a bridge over the water I could see several more Eider Ducks on the far side of the water. Once over the bridge the path turns to the right and a short distance further along the Eider Ducks were in the water right next to the path. At the far side of the water I thought I could see a male Smew and after a closer look I could see that it was with three female Smews close by. A Black Swan swam towards me as I walked along the path and hidden in the bushes at the edge of the water were four Mandarin Ducks.
The path now turned to the right and I crossed a bridge where another Black Swan was waiting for me. Once over the bridge I could see several Red Breasted Geese, three Hawaiian Geese and a pair of Ruddy Shelducks on the other side of the fence. The path now headed back down the other side of the water giving me fabulous close up views of the Smews before it turned and headed back towards a gate and the main path. Further along the path I came to an area called "Ganderland" where I could see White Headed Ducks, Marbled Teals and several stunning Red Crested Pochards swimming along the water towards me.
I watched the Pochards as they swam along and as they were halfway along the water I saw a trio of Ferrugnious Ducks stood on a wooden log protruding from under the surface of the water. At the next pool I could see White Faced Whistling Ducks and Rosy Billed Pochards both on the water and on the grass close to the path. At the next bit of water I saw a lone male Wood Duck with its beak tucked into its feathers with its eye open looking right at me. A little further down the path I came to an enclosure where there were more than sixty Chilean Flamingos at the far side of the water.
On the water just in front of the Flamingos were two Paradise Shelducks and on an island in the middle of the water were several extremely rare Baer's Pochards. I followed the path down the hill where I saw Trumpeter Swans and Andean Geese and as the path reached a stream at the bottom of the hill I could see the Otter enclosure. As I stood at the edge of the enclosure I could see all three Asian Short Clawed Otters as they were being fed by the site's Warden.
On the other side of the path there were two Bronze Winged Teals looking right at me through the fence and as I followed the path branching off to the left the Bronze Winged Teals followed me at the other side of the fence. As I reached a wooden cabin they turned back and at the other side of the building I could see several different ducks, geese and swans on a large pond. There were Bar Headed Geese, Combed Ducks, Black Necked Swans, a lone Coscoroba Swan and a trio of Bufflehead Ducks.
It was now quarter to twelve and the Flamingos were due to be fed by the warden so I walked back to their enclosure to see if they would come closer to the path and as I reached it a flock of more than 40 Siskins flew overhead. They remained at the far side of their enclosure and once feeding time was over I headed back along the path to the visitor centre cafe for lunch. The Goldeneyes were still right outside the cafe windows diving under the surface of the water and the Hawaiian Geese had joined them. The Common Cranes had moved a little closer and on the far side a trio of White Fronted Geese waddled along the ground.
After lunch I headed back out along the western edge of the site and once again calling in at the Close Encounters area. There were still plenty of Chiloe Wigeons, Eider Ducks and the four Smews visible and a pair of Black Swans on the bridge. I had another look at Ganderland where the stunning Red Crested Pochards were still swimming close to the edge of the water. Once past here I turned off the path at the Reedbed Viewing Shelter and headed through Hollowood onto the nature reserve part of the site.
I emerged from the woods as the path turned to the right and on the left was a reservoir with several Mallards, Tufted Ducks and Teals present. I followed the path round the reservoir to the Hawthorn Wood Hide where there were several feeders right across the front of the hide. There were huge numbers of Blue Tits right across the feeders with them even queuing up in the trees just to the left of me. I could also see quite a few Chaffinches and Great Tits with a pair of Coal Tits also making regular visits.
On the ground were a pair of Pheasants and a Rat also kept darting out from its hiding place whilst a Nuthatch landed halfway down a tree trunk to my right. The first of several Goldfinches flew between the tree branches and landed on a branch above the feeders on my left. More than half a dozen Goldfinches were now ransacking one of the feeders and hidden amongst the branches higher up in the trees was a lone Lesser Redpoll. The Lesser Redpoll flew down and joined the Goldfinches as a second one appeared near the feeders.
The second Lesser Redpoll dropped down onto a tall tree stump behind the feeders as two more arrived in the branches and the number of Goldfinches swelled to more than ten. A Willow Tit made a brief appearance closely followed by a Coal Tit which took its food back to a branch, holding it between its feet and using its beak to eat it bit by bit. A male and female Bullfinch now appeared at the feeders briefly before returning a couple of minutes later and they were followed by two more male Bullfinches.
A pair of Nuthatches were now making regular visits to a feeder filled with Nuts over to the far right hand side and the Goldfinches had now taken over two feeders, squawking at any bird that came near it. A Lesser Redpoll landed on a rod holding up one of the feeders but when it tried to descend to the feeders the Goldfinches gave it an earful and it flew off. I left the Hawthorn Wood Hide and when the path split I followed it to the right and headed downhill towards the Lagoon View Hide next to the river Wear.
I had just sat down looking westwards out of the hide over a small pond surrounded by a reedbed when I saw a flash of blue fly over the reeds and land on a small tree stump. It was a male Kingfisher and it stayed there for a few seconds before flying over the pond and landing halfway up a reed on the other side. Next it moved to a reed a bit closer and then onto the top of a narrow wooden pole for around thirty seconds. The Kingfisher flew round the hide and landed on a long perch hanging over the Saline Lagoon at the other side of the hide.
It had only been there a few seconds when it had to duck out of the way of a Sparrowhawk as it flew low over the perch and up into the trees on the hillside. The Kingfisher made a few unsuccessful dives into the water before flying along to the far end of the Saline Lagoon. On the lagoon itself were a few Shelducks and Teals whilst on the river itself were a few Mallards. I left the hide and climbed up the hill as a flock of Long Tailed Tits flew through the bushes and when I reached the top I turned to the right following the path along the edge of berry filled bushes.
Moving along the top of the bushes were Blackbirds and Redwings and as the path turned to the right and headed back down towards the river the flock of Long Tailed Tits flew over the path into the tall trees to the left of me. As I reached the river a Little Egret and a Grey Heron flew over along the river and a Wren was calling from the bushes. From here you can turn to the left and visit the Northumbrian Water Hide or back to the Otter enclosure. I went straight on the path with the River Wear to the right and to the left the Wader Lake.
There are three hides with views onto the Wader Lake and the first one is the Paddy Fleming Hide which was fairly quiet with just a couple of Tufted Ducks and Mallards at the far side. I walked on to the next hide where on the tops of the bushes were more Redwings whilst in front of the hide, on an island, I could see several Shelducks and Curlews. As I was watching the Curlews a Kestrel and Sparrowhawk flew over the lake, both chasing a Wood Pigeon. Both were unsuccessful and the Sparrowhawk flew back across the water whilst the Kestrel hovered over the waters edge briefly before disappearing as well.
I left the second hide (Diageo Hide) and moved on to the third hide (Prince's Trust Hide) which was very quiet. I continued on past the Amphibian & Dragonfly ponds and followed the path as it turned away from the river and headed up the hill towards woodland. I followed the path as it moved along the edge of the woodland before turning into it and eventually emerging near the visitor centre. The Goldeneyes were still just in front of the visitor centre as were a trio of Hawaiian Geese as I stopped for a quick drink from the cafe.
I decided to have one more look at some of the ducks and geese in the Close Encounters & Ganderland areas before I left as the sun was threatening to emerge from the clouds. I had just reached Ganderland and was looking at the Red Crested Pochards when it started to rain so I started to make my way back to the visitor centre again, taking a quick look at the Eider Ducks and then heading back to my car to drive home after a very successful first visit to WWT Washington.
I have attached a full sightings list and quite a few pictures from my first and definitely not my last visit to the superb WWT Washington site.