Trip reports

Mid-week Walk at the London Wetland Centre, Barnes on 15th March 2017

Mid-week Walk at the London Wetland Centre, Barnes on 15th March 2017
Peter Hambrook

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Weather: Warm and sunny. High 19c!
After a slightly grey forecast earlier in the week, the six of us who made it to Barnes had a brilliant day's birding. The sun shone, the birds were singing, the blossom was out, early butterflies were on the wing and all the main winter species were still present, with a smattering of summer migrants added to the mix.

While waiting for the off in the car park a green woodpecker could be heard calling nearby and Steve found a chiffchaff in willows backing the ditch. Once inside we headed towards the Peacock Tower, stopping at the two hides en route. These produced the usual ducks, albeit in reduced numbers than would have been expected in mid-winter, including two female pintail, two shelduck, gadwall, teal, wigeon, shoveler and pochard amongst the more numerous tufted ducks and mallards. These were backed by a supporting cast of coot, moorhen, great crested grebe, lapwing, cormorant and common snipe. Gulls included black-headed, common, lesser black-backed and herring but we failed to pick out the immature Caspian gull amongst them. Brimstone and peacock butterflies were taking advantage of the warm weather, as were several queen bumblebees. A stop at the feeders revealed a mystery bird in the background but it was in dappled shade and partly hidden and therefore difficult to identify but eventually it spread its tail and we had an immature sparrowhawk. Strangely the blue tits, great tits and chaffinches were still using the feeders but presumably they knew it had no chance of catching them as they flitted between the mass of small branches.

Moving on, we had robins and dunnocks calling from the tops of bushes and Cetti's warblers singing from cover while reed buntings flitted through the reeds. The Peacock Tower, as usual, provided a good view across the whole reserve and local birders kindly pointed out a couple of jack snipe distantly by the water's edge. At one point a common snipe passed behind one of these, giving a good size comparison against these tiny waders. Out on the grazing marsh were two or three redshanks, a little egret, grey heron, greylags and Canada geese. A sudden commotion saw many of the birds take to the air and we soon found a pair of peregrine falcons patrolling the skies - no doubt looking for lunch. A single little grebe was found on the wader scrape pool in front of the sand martin hide. A bittern was then spotted in the reed bed next to the WWF hide and was duly photographed, albeit at extreme range and partly hidden in the reeds. This may have been its last day at Barnes as it hasn't been reported since and 15th March is the median departure date for bitterns in our area. Sadly, no sand martins were around during our visit. Returning towards the centre via the back route around the sheltered lagoon, Steve and Ron found a willow warbler, while a fly-through kingfisher was seen by some. The rest of us had to settle for a long-tailed tit and some noisy parakeets.

Back at the feeders the sparrowhawk was still being ignored by the small birds but had moved to a slightly more visible position, allowing Steve to capture the shot accompanying this article. A Cetti's warbler then started up and proved to be in sight for once, while a goldfinch sat atop a small tree. Then it was time for a leisurely lunch enjoying the sunshine outside the centre before taking a look around the Wildside in the early afternoon - but only managing to add a wild male mandarin to the list as it escorted one of the captive females. Even the otters had hidden away, having just been fed.

After a very enjoyable visit we headed for home at around 3 pm in order to avoid the impending rush hour.

PETER HAMBROOK