11 Jun 2012

City Wildlife - The London Wetland Centre in Barnes

A couple of weeks ago I came across a live webcam showing a peregrine falcon pair, Tom and Charlie, and their three chicks. A small shelter was built for the birds on a ledge at the top of one of Charing Cross Hosptital's buildings in Hammersmith. Inside the shelter is a camera, and a couple of other cameras have also been installed above the ledge. I've watched as the chicks have grown enormously from little white balls of fluff (one of which I was sure wouldn't make it) to proper birds of prey. They are now 49 days old and have started to fly short distances and spend a lot of time watching the world from the parapet. It's only a matter of time before they're off out catching their own pigeons for breakfast.

This got me thinking about how much wildlife there is in London. Apart from the foxes sneaking around and the parakeets squawking loudly as they flit around, there are some beautiful parks and wildlife havens, one of which is the London Wetland Centre in Barnes.
 I've been a member since my first visit about three years ago (I didn't really know about it before, in spite of having lived in the area for over 15 years. I only manage to get there about once a year, which is a bit pathetic, considering it's only a 45 minute walk. To be fair, it only opened in 2000, but it still took me a long time to get around to my first visit).

I've only visited in the late winter, spring and early summer so far, but hope to change that this year (and make the most of the free entry I get from supporting the WWT). I visited in winter last year, when I'd just got a new camera (Canon 60D) - it is a great spot for photography, especially if you like birds (and they also run a photography competition). The variety of ducks and geese (and indeed other birdlife) is very impressive, and I always come away struggling to identify the birds that I've seen. Here's a small selection of the birds I saw last winter: a shoveller, a pochard, a pair of male mallards and a sleeping female hooded merganser.

As well as stunning birdlife, the centre is also just a lovely place to wander around, especially once you get away from the main areas, which can be teeming with noisy school-parties. On the north side of the centre is a quiet zone called the "Wildside", where there are various hides, as well as peaceful waterways lined with reeds.

In spite of the peace, there's always a little bit of action somewhere. On a visit in early spring last year I witnessed a strange fight occurring between a heron and a jay. The heron was trying to stand its ground while it came under attack from the shrieking jay. Eventually the jay gave up and I moved on.

On a recent visit a couple of weeks ago the sun was shining and there were only a few hazy clouds in the sky. The birds weren't very active as it was so warm, and some have been moved for cleaning (the pens, I assume, not the birds). There was still a huge array of wildlife to see. This is a common frog - I loved his golden eyes! Occasionally he'd let out a massive croak and a bubble would come out of his side.
Damselflies were mating everywhere, although I didn't have the right lens to get any decent shots of them - they are very strange looking when they're locked together and flying around skittishly. I did manage to capture a few of the birds there, though, and some of my favourite were a pair of male Egyptian (blue-winged) geese, locked in a strange battle of bravado (a worker told me that they were both male, otherwise I would have assumed that it was a mating ritual). They strutted around, bending their necks back and forth, fluffing up their feathers, copying each other and screeching all the while.

I could have watched them for hours; very entertaining birds. But I moved on and headed for the Wildside, where the only noise was from the endless stream of aeroplanes making their descent into Heathrow 6 miles to the west (note to self: next time I must go on a day when the planes are taking off over London, not descending). Fluffy seeds had blown across some of the small lakes and looked stunning in the afternoon light.
Lily pads lay gracefully on the surface of the still waters and even the weeds looked beautiful.

I finished off my journey with a walk on the south side to the Peacock Tower hide, where I watched some lapwings frantically pecking around, occasionally flying and swooping down erratically, letting off their distinctive "peewit" calls, before settling back to finding grubs and termites again. As I wandered back to the exit the banks of the walkways were lined with cow parsley, the last of the bluebells and dandelion seed heads.
It's a truly lovely place for a day out (on a nice day!), especially if you're a bird-watcher or a photographer.

Please have a look at my website for more photos of the London Wetland Centre.

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