Trip reports

Mid-week Walk at the London Wetland Centre, Barnes

Mid-week Walk at the London Wetland Centre, Barnes
Bittern by Peter Hambrook

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Weather: Dreary and overcast all day but fairly mild, dry and calm 7C - Despite the uninspiring weather, a record for a MWW of 18 members and guests turned out for this walk, virtually taking over the place as there appeared to be few other visitors when we arrived. Perhaps the others knew how quiet it has been here this winter! Anything but quiet was the group of ring-necked parakeets that greeted us on arrival, together with the resident flock of feral pigeons on the roof of the main building.

As usual we headed first towards the Peacock Tower, stopping off at the hides and feeders en route. Although there was as good range of species present the numbers were well down on a normal year, with the exception of shovelers, which seemed to be everywhere. Other ducks included teal, wigeon, tufted, one male and two female pintail, mallard but just a very few gadwall. Two great crested grebes were practising their courtship display but without any real enthusiasm, while the usually numerous little grebes were almost non-existent. The snipe numbers at Barnes have crashed of late and none were seen at all, possibly due to the presence of the sparrowhawk which specialises in preying on them, of which we had a brief glimpse. Lapwings were present in reasonable numbers, as were black-headed gulls, the latter accompanied by a few common gulls, a lesser black-backed gull and a few first winter herring gulls. Cormorants occupied their usual roosting island but in low numbers and some greylags and Canada geese were noted. Small birds were fairly scarce too with no sign of any siskins or redpolls, just the usual tits, three goldfinches and a few chaffinches, robins and dunnocks. Cetti's warblers were heard in a couple of places but not seen.

On reaching the Peacock Tower we started scanning the marshy area, finding a very obliging green woodpecker and a pair of stonechats, while reed buntings could be found feeding on reed seed heads. A few stock doves fed with the woodpigeons and wigeons on the grassy banks. Despite careful scanning we could find no peregrines at their usual roosting spot on the hospital railings. Grey herons were scattered around, mostly inactive and looked tired of life, but we were more interested in the stripy brown stealth version! A bittern had been spotted earlier close to the WWT hide but initially eluded us, until Angela picked up a movement and eventually we had quite good views of this bird - it even caught a fish before retiring deeper into the reeds and out of view.

After a break for lunch, those of us that were staying on a bit longer headed for the Wildside, stopping at the Headley hide on the way, where we were told that a bittern had been showing very close to the hide earlier in the day but had now retreated out of sight. A visit to the Wildside hide added nothing new, so as it was still quite early a few of us popped back to the Headley hide 'just in case'. As soon as we opened the door it was obvious something was happening as everyone was looking alert and staring in the same direction. Sure enough a bittern was in full view, not, as expected, close to the hide but some distance away and obviously a third bird for the day. This one was a real poser, in classic stance standing upright clutching a thick bunch of reeds with each foot and casually looking around, occasionally looking up at passing aircraft with passing interest. It was still there when we left some ten minutes later. It just remained to check out the resident mandarins for any full-winged interlopers, of which we found a couple of males, and we also ticked off a couple of Egyptian geese that were in an enclosed area but proved to be full-winged too.

Not the most brilliant visit ever to this site but one or two added bittern to their Life List and most could now tick it off for the year. And the roads were free-flowing too - who could ask for more?

Peter Hambrook