Sunday, 18 October 2015

Siskins and Snipes at the London Wetland Centre

There's recently been a bit of controversy about birders and the London Wetland Centre. Some things have been implicated on a couple of internet forums suggesting birders aren't welcome there anymore. I've been going to the LWC for over 14 years now, and have made some great friends and seen some great birds there. I think everyone is entitled to their opinions of the Centre, and I for one will still be visiting it, as I did today.
There was a small select group of birders who were allowed access to the site out of opening hours, and this has now been stopped. I've heard both sides of the story for why it's been stopped, but as I was never part of that select group I cannot and won't comment any further on it.
 Yes, the Centre is possibly more designed in mind for visiting families and they certainly out numbered us birders and photographers today, and the café may be overpriced, the site kept too neat and tidy and the proposed plans for an aviary may not be to every ones liking. So my answer is bring your own food and drink, stick to the areas that are left to grow wild and don't visit the future aviary. I never liked the idea of the Otter enclosure so have never ever visited it. I only ever walk through the captive bird enclosures to reach the Headley Hide or the Wildside area.
Basically if you don't like it, don't visit. This is a WWT site not an RSPB one. The objectives of both organisations are very different and shouldn't really be compared to each other. However not all WWT sites are managed the same way. I've had a four night stay at WWT Caerlaverock where if you are staying on site, you can wander around out of visiting hours as much as you like. WWT Slimbridge was probably the first site to introduce captive birds, and rumour has it that was because Sir Peter Scott wanted birds up close so he could paint them in more detail. Who knows if that's true ? WWT Welney apparently has the best café food and prices.
But which ever way you look at it, the WWT is here to stay and many people, whether they be birders, photographers, families or the 'yummy mummy' brigade who exercise at the site, there has been something at the London Wetland Centre that has bought people back to visit time and time again.
 For me it will always be the best place in London to view Bitterns, and the first one of the year appeared on site in late September this year. One was spotted again earlier this week, but I wasn't going to hold my breath for seeing one today. The weather was way too mild. The Bittern will be deep in the reeds fishing out of sight. The best time to see them is when winter brings heavy frosts, the water starts icing over and the Bittern is forced to come out in the open to look for fish.
Before I had even gone through the front door, I was watching a pair of Gadwall swimming around the front lake. They may be quite common but I still think they are beautiful.....
Gadwall - female

Gadwall - male
 A Mute Swan was asleep on the Peter Scott statue island...
and once I got into the courtyard a Ring-necked Parakeet was scolding everyone wo walked underneath the clock he was perched on.......

Sunday at the London Wetland Centre is a traditional day for all the stalwarts to meet up for a gossip, banter, to swap bird watching stories, share tales of other places to visit and a good general catch up. For many years I was part of that Sunday Club, now I'm limited to a few visits per year, but it was great today to get a warm welcome from the others today.
During our walk around the site whilst others had their scopes and bins out looking for the elusive Bittern I was quite content with photographing ducks.
 Below is a male Teal, female Gadwall and male Shoveler.....

The colourful autumn is certainly here.....

and with autumn comes the fungi......
and as usual, despite chatting with an expert today, I neglected to make a note of what I had seen. The only two I remember are the Golden Spindle (photo four) which is tiny and grows amongst short grass, and the young Puffballs (photo five)......

Up by the bird feeder area we spotted many Goldfinches and on closer inspection there were a few Siskins amongst them.
They were always high up the trees though, and photographing them against a grey cloudy sky just made them look like silhouettes (until I got home and lightened the photographs drastically).....

I was fairly pleased with the above shots but stayed to loiter whilst the others walked on.
 I had seen a couple of late Common Darters which I fancied grabbing a shot of, then saw a very late Migrant Hawker still patrolling a patch of water.
I had a go at a flight shot......dismally....

and then caught sight of movement to my left. A Siskin was about seven feet away, in great light, low down and feeding so frenziedly that it wasn't even bothered by me......

and I finally got the shots I wanted.
An hour spent at the Peacock Tower with the Sunday Club produced no Bittern, but we did get distant views of one of the Peregrines on Charing Cross Hospital, a few Common Snipe out on the marshes surprisingly being mobbed and chased away by Carrion Crows, several Cormorant, many Black-headed Gulls, a couple of Common Gulls and some very distant views of a pair of Stonechats.
Back at the café for our lunchtime refreshment, we watched some interesting behaviour from three Jackdaws on the roof. Some of it was submissive and some was aggressive.....

And then Birdy Phil got the call that changed the day.
A Jack Snipe had been seen from the Peacock Tower overlooking the marshes. We had already contemplated the fact there was probably a Jack amongst the Common Snipes earlier today. It just hadn't been seen by any of us this morning.
So the usual Sunday Club afternoon routine of visiting the Headley Hide and Wildside area was altered as we all ambled back to the Peacock expecting to see a tiny distant Jack Snipe....
How wrong we were.
The Jack was only visible from the top floor of the Peacock Tower but probably no more than 20 feet away. I've seen Jack Snipe at the LWC before, but never so close.
I was chuffed to get a few shots with my 75-300mm zoom lens as it 'boinged' around a muddy channel....


It moved closer and then came right out in the open to preen....


None of my photos are going to win any competitions and I'm not planning on entering any, but to see such an elusive bird so close and clearly, was the icing on todays cake.
I don't know who 'bounced' more today, me or the Jack Snipe.
 We didn't locate the Bittern, but we sort of didn't expect to, so it wasn't a disappointment.
 The Siskins were a nice bonus though.
My high-light of the day was being part of the Sunday Club again. It will be a few weeks before I can re-join them due to a family illness, but it was great to see the old lot again.
Thank you Birdy Phil, John Cass, the lovely Therese, Martin, Joe, Posh Boy and Nick (and the very brief sighting of the lesser-spotted Spig and the beautiful Sue).


  1. Hi Wendy,
    I can understand all might seem well at the London Wetland Centre to the occasional visiting birdwatcher, but to those local and active birders who have visited LWC regularly and frequently over many years a number of issues have arisen concerning management of habitat and scarce breeding birds.
    The “select” group you refer to is the Barn Elms Natural History Group (BENHG) which was formed over 20 years ago, well before the Reserve opened. The Group’s intention was to continue monitoring birds and wildlife during the Reserve’s development. Access was allowed and in recognition of the indispensable benefit of the monitoring, out of opening hours access was arranged when the Reserve opened. This was required in order to carry out breeding bird surveys, migration counts, winter roost counts and moth-trapping. The result was an immense amount of data that was used to write three substantial bird and wildlife reports. These were instigated by Rupert Kaye and myself and written by BENHG members and Dr Richard Bullock, the ecologist at LWC. I also wrote a paper on the Breeding Birds of LWC which has been published in the latest London Bird Report.
    Over the years BENHG members have been increasingly concerned over a number of issues relating to the Reserve. They were not overly bothered by the wildfowl collection, otters, yummy mummies and allegedly over-priced café. They understood the need to attract a diverse range of visitors to generate income for WWT. Their concerns have been with the management of the Reserve itself. Representations have been repeatedly made to LWC management but these have been largely rebuffed. Through a sense of loyalty, misplaced as it turned out, our concerns were kept “in-house” and we avoided going public. Matters came to a head over disturbance to a pair of nesting Little Ringed Plovers in 2014. When this issue was raised at a meeting with WWT we were told they would not discuss it. This latest expression of concern and an unfavourable reaction to the paper in the LBR seems to have led to an act of petty retaliation by WWT/LWC in terminating BENHG’s special access
    Why should I not be able to raise such concerns as a WWT member? Rather than say nothing and go elsewhere why can I not speak out and hope at least to be engaged in reasoned discussion? Why shouldn’t WWT share the same objectives as the RSPB? Are they not both principally concerned with the protection of birds, wildlife and special habitats?
    LWC is undeniably an excellent place for birds considering its size and urban location. That’s why I and other local birders visit the site, some of us since the days of Barn Elms Reservoirs. We have done so with dedication, enthusiasm and passion. This, however, has been ultimately thwarted by the actions of WWT and LWC management.
    Regards, Jan Wilczur

    1. Jan, as you are probably aware when you wrote your above comment, I get to see it before I publicise it. And yours is worth publishing.
      I do see things from your point of view, but from the point of view of others who DO regularly visit the reserve, it was always felt amongst them that this 'elite' group would stay 'elite'. Then we find out the group has admitted and allowed a very junior member, who wasn't even born when the group was formed, to join in on these out of hours activities.
      I'm not going to name names, but I will share the fact that it put a lot of peoples noses out of joint.

      Many of us regulars would love the chance to help with surveys, monitoring etc, but we were never given the chance to even offer our services. Yet a relative new comer is allowed out of hours access and the chance to partake in said surveys and monitoring.

      As I mention in my original blog post, each WWT reserve is run differently despite all queries, objections, concerns etc being directed to the Head Office. I myself, have also emailed certain concerns, mainly about how the reserve water levels are raised at the wrong times of year and therefore no waders are attracted any more, but these were again sent directly to Slimbridge.

      On my last visit (and I don't just keep up to date on the gossip on the days I visit, I also keep up to date when I cant visit) suggests it's an insurance problem that has thwarted the 'elite' group. Understandable really if one of the 'elite' were to fall over on site out of hours, or dare I say this, decide to venture too deep into the reed beds to flush out a roosting Bittern and fall in to the water......

      Personally I wont stop visiting the site, and my main cause of flagging up my blog post was to high-light the fact that it should not have been so widely slagged off as it was. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But the one on London Birders was very much one sided and didn't take into account how some other long-term LWC birders felt.

      Yours respectively