Jenny organised a visit to Walthamstow Wetlands for the group on Sunday 24th February. We had previously visited last year (2018) on 2nd February. Back then there was a mention of it being a good visit 'despite the weather', and the associated photograph gives an impression of that. (see here)
This time it was a lovely day, with temperatures reaching 16°C., and the Sun shone on the group as we met our London Wildlife Trust volunteer guide, Cathy. There were 14 of us on the walk, and Cathy briefly explained to us at the beginning something of the history of the River Lea, even including reference to the Vikings and Saxons. Whose side are you on?
Of course, the reservoir system that has given form to the wetlands draw their waters from the Lea, so the background was relevant. Since recently becoming a visitor attraction, the old engine house has been converted to a cafe for visitors, and the associated chimney stack rebuilt to provide – it is hoped – nesting places for Swifts and roosting places for bats.
As we were with Cathy, we were able to walk some paths that were not open on the day to the many other visitors. They are closed at times to enable wildlife to have their time, and the time is approaching – indeed on such a warm day had arrived – for mating rituals and procedures to take place.
As one or two of our group commented, the sap was definitely rising, for as we walked past Lower Maynard Reservoir those of us with binoculars – or who borrowed them – were fortunate to see the amazing courtship dance of the Great Crested Grebe, sometimes known as ‘The Weed Dance’. At one moment, both individuals – male and female (I suppose) were standing on the water, breast to breast. How do they do that? I can’t.
Shortly afterwards, just before walking up the slope to Lockwood Reservoir, an Egyptian Goose (which, as I pedantically pointed out, is actually a duck) had a bit of a go at the throat of another, which duly lay on the ground. This again proved to be the initial foreplay to what may have proved to be an embarrassing spring event for those of a prudish disposition.
Lockwood Reservoir is the largest of the waters, but on this occasion had relatively little water in it. This gave us the opportunity to get an impression of its depth, but also to observe the ridged ’beach’ which forms its sides. These two, and the Higher Maynard Reservoir by which we returned to the visitor centre, are across Forest Road from the car park and main visitor area, to which we returned for possibly a toilet break, and then to continue our tour.
The reservoirs to the south of Forest Road are older and more natural in appearance, and have been landscaped and planted to provide more of a diverse wildlife habitat and visitor experience. Whilst waiting for those who had popped into the visitor centre, some of us heard a Cetti’s Warbler as we waited on the ‘Meccano’ bridge over the Coppermill Stream. These are incredibly loud small brown birds which not so long ago twitchers would travel down to Weymouth to see (or hear). Now they are fairly common in appropriate habitats, certainly round these parts. From the bridge we were taken along another otherwise closed path, from which we had good views of one of the reserves famous heronry islands. It appeared that these birds were pairing-up too, and apparently checking-out their potential nests.
As we were now walking among the older part of the system, the reservoirs here had more original names and we were actually walking between the aptly-named ‘Reservoir No.1 and Reservoir No.2’. Good, eh? - quite original. These - and a third - were the first reservoirs to be built here, between 1852 and 1863. Not - I suppose - by Vikings or Saxons, but nevertheless dug by hand by the 'navvies', presumably a different ethnic group. At the end of Reservoir No.2, where it meets the Coppermill Stream, our guide excitedly pointed out a speck high on the electricity pylon. It turned out to be a Carrion Crow, and not the hoped-for Peregrine Falcon. However, shortly afterwards Sue S. saw that there was a Peregrine there as well. After an opportunity to see it, it flew off, but I spotted that its mate was still there and so we had another view. Wonderful birds to see, even if the sight was somewhat neck-craning. Talking of cranes, there were plenty of those around too, but of the sort with red lights on at night.
We had a table booked for 12.30 at the Ferry Boat Inn, so we had to get back, but it had been a lovely walk and nicely guided by Cathy, whom we thanked with genuine thanks.
Those of us that stayed for lunch at the Ferry Boat Inn doubtless enjoyed the experience, after which we returned by way of our cars, buses and/or trains, presumably, but not necessarily, to our homes.
Thanks Jenny, and all on the outing.
Paul Ferris, 24th February, 2019