We went down to London for the day, not to see a show or visit a museum or shop in Harrods, but to go birdwatching. Not something I could have said a few years ago, but luckily for us and the residents of the capital city the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have created a haven for wildlife right in the heart of the city. We hate cities and definitely hate driving in them, so we hoped our visit would be worthwhile. We were accompanied by our daughter Jo and son-in-law Rob who had recommended the place to us, so the pressure was on them! They are good navigators in cities which was most useful. Last year they visited and were amazed at 5 Bittern sightings.
The day dawned cold and wet with a bitter wind so we wrapped up in thermals and layer upon layer of clothing suitable for Polar Bear spotting. First impressions were favourable – the centre was attractively built, we were “meeted and greeted” by a friendly WWT person who told us where to go starting with the cafe. it turned out to be a good cafe which served tasty lattes and even tastier bacon butties. We reluctantly left the cafe’s warmth and shelter expecting to have to tackle the weather to reach the first hide. Wrong! It was in the same building as the cafe and a most comfy place to view the large expanse of water.
Watching the numerous species of duck against an urban background seemed somewhat incongruous. And watching a Peregrine spook the ducks in a diagonal stoop over the cold grey water added to this feeling. We saw over 40 species of bird including Snipe, both Common and Jack, wildfowl such as pochard, teal and shoveller, but fewer small birds but we were treated to a close up view of a Stonechat, that dapper little alert chap dressed in russet and wearing a black cap. The Jack Snipe, Pintail and Water Rail were probably the star spots of the day. It has been 30 odd years since we last saw this diminutive Jack Snipe, the little wader with the long beak that is surprisingly shorter and less ridiculous than the one sported by its larger cousin the Common Snipe. We had a fine view allowing us to appreciate its wonderful striped head and russet wing markings.
Walking between the hides we were impressed by the wildlife gardens planted along the walkways. The dried stems of perennials and the stark outlines of dogwoods, willows and birches gave a taster of how attractive they must be in warmer months. There were examples of methods of attracting wildlife such as this magnificent “insect tower block”.
Coloured stemmed willows feature strongly as pollarded trees, hedges, structures such as arches and living fences. These yellow stemmed pollarded and coppiced specimens lit up the dull grey day.
Barnes certainly lived up to expectation even though the visitors’ favourite failed to put in an appearance, the weather being too inclement for the Bitterns, a bird that dislikes the wind. But it gives a reason to return. We plan to visit next in the summer when it will be interesting to see what summer migrants are in evidence in this wildlife oasis in the city. I know how corny the phrase “wildlife oasis” is, but how else can you describe this little gem.