Wednesday, 22 October 2014


I had been wanting to get out to the London Wetland Centre since I had heard about it.  This sprawling marshland was very close to central London- you can take the Piccadilly line and walk across the Thames to get there.  That's pretty amazing.  Not too many cities have the kind of foresight to decide not to drain a swamp, let alone create one where there had once been a reservoir.

I waited until I had a nice sunny day and headed out with my giant telephoto lens.  Autumn is a great time to birdwatch here in England as all the birds who had spent the summer at points north are on their way to Africa then, and there are other winter visitors that start trickling in.

One thing I didn't realize about the Wetland centre is that it was set up as a bit of a zoo.  They had a big cafe and visitors centre, and they accommodate school groups regularly.  They had a lot of birds from all over in open-air enclosures with their wings clipped, with the common theme of "these are all birds that depend on wetlands all over the world".  I don't know how I feel about that, and they have come under fire from the public and from naturalist about this practice.  I guess they figured the general public wouldn't be satisfied paying admission for sitting in a blind hoping to see something other than seagulls and mallards.

Still, it afforded the ability to get good close-up shots of birds that normally would be a far-off smudge on the screen.  This was fine by me as some of the birds were just fantastically beautiful.

Tundra Swan

Bufflehead Duck
White-headed duck


After a jaunt around the zoo, I made my way to the marsh, where they had blinds set up all around, and a tall fence as well.  You were invisible to the wildlife, and if there weren't too many screaming kids around, you could see quite a lot.   Tons of ducks and gulls, lapwings, lots of herons, a handful of divers.  It was bountiful, and some of the blinds had telescopes and binoculars, which were really handy. 

Red-breasted Merganser
Grey Heron

It took me most of the afternoon to walk around the marsh, stopping at each blind for a vantage point, studying what was there.  Hoping for a sighting of a shorebird or a peregrine falcon, but no luck there.  A falcon supposedly lives on the roof of Charing Cross hospital right across the Thames, and swoops on over from time time time when he is sick of dining on pigeon.


Parts of the trail they had planted with local meadows, with beautiful wildflowers and the songbirds and butterflies they attract.

It seemed very remote, but at some points, you look across the marsh and ah, it is indeed London.

Gadwalls, with their black bottoms

Great crested grebe
My favorite sightings were those of the Shoveler ducks, with their comically oversized beaks.  They flock to the Thames in huge numbers in winter.  

I also so quite a few Teals with their painted hussy faces.

All this kissing-close to Central London.

I also saw a water vole, nimbly climbing up a bird feeder cage while his cousin the Norway Brown could only watch.  I got a glimpse of one last summer at Rainham Marsh- they are acrobatic little climbers that shimmy up and down reed stalks in the marshland.

Worth a trip out?  I guess...I was happy with my sightings and the ease of access from the city.  Having the zoo there kind of put a damper on things, and if I did it again I would probably find an RSBP site to give my money to instead.  Some online research showed much outrage not only about the clipped wings of their birds, but they also had allegedly gotten in the habit of shooting mallards that had gotten into the exhibit enclosures.  I hope that they were at the very least enjoying some roast duck if they were going to be shooting the wildlife they were claiming to protect.  

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