On a fresh, but sunny Sunday, thirty two of us arrived at this little gem of a place in South West London. WWT London Wetland Centre is a wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in the Barnes area of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames by Barn Elms. The site is formed of four disused Victorian reservoirs tucked into a loop in the Thames. The centre first opened in 2000 and in 2002 an area of 29.9 hectares was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest as the Barn Elms Wetland Centre. The centre occupies more than 100 acres (40 hectares) of land which was formerly occupied by several small reservoirs. These were converted into a wide range of wetland features and habitats before the centre opened. It was the first urban project of its kind in the United Kingdom.
The reserve is split into two halves and once inside the group members were free to go their own way. We arrived at the Dulverton hide to hear that the bittern had been spotted there this morning. Searching the area before us, we saw wigeon, gadwall, tufted duck, grey herons, pochard and then Paul said that he had found the elusive bittern. Telescopes and binoculars were pointed in the direction given by Paul and sure enough, on the furthest reed beds, we found it. Good spot Paul!
Leaving the hide, we walked over the wooden bridge, where, exactly four years ago to the day, we encountered a dozing water rail and then a short eared owl being harassed by crows. Alas this time, no such luck. The Pheasant hide gave us good sightings of lesser black backed, great black backed, common and herring gulls. Great crested grebe, shoveler, mallard and Canada geese were also added to the list and a green woodpecker flew by as we were leaving.
After a nice amble past the sheltered lagoon, where tufted ducks and teal dived for food, we arrived at the Tower. An excellent vantage point overlooking the main lake, grazing marsh and wader scrape. The usual array of grey heron, great tit, blue tit and various waders were spotted, then, a triple delight – first the common snipe, then 3 water pipits, followed by Trevor’s excellent spotting, a Jack snipe. This rather shy, smaller cousin to the common, was ‘bobbing’ on the edge of the reeds and was a joy to see. Then a shout from Sally, she had a peregrine falcon in her sights, which was perched on the nearby hospital. Lunch time approached, where some of us ate in the hide and others visited the restaurant.
Feeding time for the Eurasion otters was at 2pm and some of the group watched these amazing little animals feed, then gave an exhibition of how to work off their lunch. The west route mainly consists of captive birds, including barnacle geese, hooded merganser, smew, canvasback, wood duck, falcated duck, magpie goose, fulvous whistling duck and plumed whistling duck, to name a few. However, amongst these were two wonderful species. Firstly, the mandarin ducks – the male mandarin has the most elaborate and ornate plumage with distinctive long orange feathers on the side of the face, orange ‘sails’ on the back, and pale orange flanks. The female although still striking, is dull by comparison with a grey head and white stripe behind the eye, brown back and mottled flanks. They were introduced to the UK from China and have become established following escapes from captivity.
Secondly, eider ducks. The common eider is a large sea-duck that is distributed over the northern coasts of Europe, North America and eastern Siberia. It breeds in the Arctic and some northern temperate regions, but winters somewhat farther south in temperate zones, when it can form large flocks on coastal waters. When the expectant mothers wander from their nests to feed, trained harvesters carefully remove the discarded down and replace it with straw. Over 60 nests will be harvested to gather enough down for just one duvet, whose down content will average a little over two pounds. The annual yield of Eider down worldwide is a precious 5000 pounds — by contrast, tens of thousands of tons of goose down is produced each year.
Walking amongst these birds, we arrived at the Wildside hide. There, another common snipe was located wandering along the reed beds, with various other waders. The Headley discovery hide gave us the best ever close up views of the bittern. This beautiful member of the heron family walked, stretched and spread its wings, before going back into the reeds – marvellous.
Roosting time for some birds was fast approaching, as we meandered towards the courtyard – these included mallard, wood pigeon and black headed gulls. Other notable species heard were cettis warblers, goldcrest, chiffchaff and great spotted woodpecker. Ring necked parakeets gathered in the courtyard and gave us a ‘squawking’ good send off to end our visit to this lovely reserve.
A total of 54 species were seen – this figure obviously does not include birds who form part of ‘the collection’.
Many thanks to those that attended and to Hazel for organising the trip.
Thanks to Steve, Terry and Sally for the photographs.