Sunday, March 11, 2012

London Wetlands

Ringed-necked Parakeet
With Dee and I attending a christening in Reading today we decided to make a weekend of it and took the opportunity to visit the WWT London Wetlands Centre for the first time on Saturday.

It was shortly before Peter Scott's death in 1989 that the WWT came across this particular site. Originally the 53 hectare Barn Elms Reservoirs in Barnes, south-west London, owned by Thames Water. Barn Elms was built in the 1890's to supply drinking water for the local area, the reservoirs had recently become redundant following the completion of the Thames Water ring main - a vast underground tunnel supplying all the capitals water needs.

By 1997 the landscaping and engineering work was largely complete and planting had begun in earnest. The London Wetlands Centre was officially opened on 25th May 2000. The centre boasts one of the best wildlife habitats in the UK and has been designated SSSI status on account of the nationally important numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall Duck that overwinter.

Little Grebe (Healthy Population)
Amazingly the first species noted on our arrival were four extremely noisy Ring-necked Parakeets, the UK's only naturalised Parrot! In fact the birds could be heard during most of our visit. Dee and I found the centre more organised than the recently visited Slimbridge reserve with less captive birds on show, but you cant help being amazed by this oasis, particularly being surrounded by the sights of London and the constant stream of aircraft on the flightpath to Heathrow.

The reed beds are extensive with Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail heard on several occasions and 10 Little Grebe sightings during our stay suggests a healthy population. A Peregrine was seen making two passes during our stay putting the whole place into turmoil. There are 5 hides plus the Peacock Tower but I have to say that personally for a 6"4' guy the majority are uncomfortable, with the viewing windows in completely the wrong positions! Having said that the 3 storey Peacock Tower is exceptional and offers panoramic views of the whole reserve, I could happily spend the whole day here!

Peacock Tower (highlight of the reserve)
I had hoped to be reporting on a whole array of Wader species during our visit but sadly, with the exception of Lapwing, the reserve was completely devoid of any! This due to the extremely high water levels which completely covered the scrape areas, the local birders tell me this has been an ongoing battle between the trust and its regular visitors. Good numbers of various Gull species (sadly no surprises) and many Grey Heron and Cormorant could be seen. 2 Siskin, 5 Lesser Redpoll and good numbers of Gadwall, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, but surprisingly only 2 Pintail and 3 Shelduck. Our first two Butterflies of the year were also seen but too distant for a proper recognition, although I suspect from size one was possibly an Orange Tip.