Bugwoman on Location – New River Walk, Islington

IMG_6738Dear Readers, last week I had not one but two visits to the dentist, and his clinic happens to be just around the corner from the New River Walk. So, I took the opportunity to disappear into this magical path, which was once the last part of a system of watercourses  that, from the 1600’s, brought water all the way from Hertfordshire to Sadlers’ Wells in North London. These days, the water mostly stops at the reservoirs in Stoke Newington, but a final trickle wends its way between the posh mansions of Canonbury, and the council houses along the Essex Road. To go through the gate is to leave the traffic noise and pollution of the city, and to enter a watery, cool, hidden world.

IMG_6739IMG_6764You might think that such an urban environment would be devoid of life but, just like the waterholes in Africa, it actually concentrates creatures who depend on streams and ponds. For example, it is very popular with moorhens.

IMG_6754 IMG_6746 IMG_6749There seemed to be a small family of moorhens every twenty metres or so, the babies at that wheezy stage where they are actually independent but still don’t like to be far away from their mother. I have to say that one thing I adore about moorhens and coots is their outsize feet. They always remind me of clowns, managing their super-sized digits. These long toes help them to spread their weight when they’re walking on weeds, and are even more pronounced when the chicks have just hatched, and look like black cotton-wool balls with giant spiders attached to each leg.

IMG_6750 IMG_6752As I walked along, I noticed that all the birds were either asleep or grooming. It was just that kind of lazy, summery day.

Young Mallard

Young Mallard

IMG_6771IMG_6776But maybe they shouldn’t have been quite so relaxed. I noticed a ginger cat sunning itself on the opposite bank, but when I looked more closely I realised that this creature was no cat.

IMG_6765Foxes seem to be popping up everywhere. Or maybe they’ve always been there, and I’ve just got my eye in now?

Islington council have put up some nest boxes (the sturdy concrete kind that deters squirrels and woodpeckers) and at least one was inhabited by a family of blue tits.

IMG_6785I love the eager little face peering out, but wonder how on earth the nestling got so high up in the box, and fear that he is standing on the heads of his less athletic siblings. I saw the parent birds fly in and out several times, so there are plenty of caterpillars about.

As I got towards the end of the path, I saw a man on a bike slow down, stop, look at a floating straw bale in the water (presumably put there to help clean up the water), and then pedal off. So, of course I slowed down for a look as well.

IMG_6768Yes, what I’d glanced at briefly and taken for a baby moorhen was in fact a terrapin.

IMG_6794I think that this is a yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta), and I fear, judging by the size of him, that he may have been living here for a while. In the 1980’s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started a craze for pet terrapins, which many parents found themselves unable (sadly) to resist. Unfortunately, most people didn’t realise that terrapins are messy eaters, can be smelly if not cleaned out often enough and, worst of all, they have the audacity to grow bigger every year. Many of the reptiles found themselves liberated into rivers and ponds once they were no longer small and cute, and were found, in fact, to be live animals, not toys, with a propensity for grumpiness and a rather sharp bite.  The film was reprised last year, and I suspect that a second wave of terrapin buying might have been encouraged. The red-eared terrapins that were the main victims last time are now banned from import, but several of their close relatives can still be purchased. Maybe this chap was one of those. At any rate, he seems happy enough at the moment, and maybe his sheltered situation and the abundance of food (there is one spot where ducks are regularly fed more bread than they can possibly eat) has seen him through the winters. I hope so, somehow. There is little evidence that an occasional terrapin does any harm, and no evidence that they are able to breed in this country, even if by a miracle they meet up with a friend of the opposite sex. If this chap lives out his remaining lonely days in the sunshine, I for one won’t begrudge him his fate.

IMG_6767 It never fails to impress me how many secret places they are even in the busiest parts of London where, if you walk quietly and keep your eyes and ears open, you are bound to see something surprising, something that will take your mind off an impending dentist appointment and put all your worries on hold for a few sweet minutes. If you walk through these municipal gates, you may find a kind of enchantment.

IMG_6795Oh, and I almost forgot. The foxes are fine, as the photos below attest.

IMG_6725 IMG_6730I did, however, notice some very strange insect behaviour yesterday. There is a patch of cherry laurel, standing in full sun but without any flowers whatsoever, yet it was the hub of a lot of bee excitement, both bumblebees and honey bees. They seemed to be drinking or licking something from the undersides of the leaves, though when I turned the leaves over, I couldn’t see anything, or taste anything (I am definitely going to poison myself one of these days, but hopefully only mildly). Are the insects finding some water, I wonder, or are they (as my friend the beekeeper suggested) picking up honeydew from aphids? If anyone has any idea, do please tell! I am most intrigued.

IMG_6830 IMG_6836All photographs copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use, but please attribute and link to the blog, thank you!


8 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – New River Walk, Islington

  1. Glennis Lennon

    I find your writing wonderful and interesting.
    I am wondering in which cemetery you see these beautiful fox
    I visit Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park but only get a quick glimpse of the resident fox

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Glennis, thank you for your kind words about the blog! The foxes are at St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, in East Finchley, but I suspect most cemeteries will have a few resident animals. It’s good to go early or late to get a chance of seeing them, but so much is down to luck. The foxes here are drawn to the one spot because there is a lady who feeds the feral cats (and the foxes too)

  2. Anne Guy

    How great that a mundane visit to the dentist can become such a fruitful wildlife spotting outing! Love the little terrapin, I do hope he survives in the wild. Foxes seem to be following you about perhaps word has got out about the jam sandwiches!!!?

    1. Bug Woman

      If Marvel Comics are looking for a new superhero, I am torn between applying as Bugwoman and having a new identity as Foxlady. Do you think they’d have space in their canon for a slightly overweight middle-aged woman? My superpower could be an endless supply of jam sandwiches. After all, even superheroes have to eat.

  3. Phil Robinson

    I was walking along there about an hour ago and saw the terrapin as well, i walk along there quite frequently and have never seen him before.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Phil, that’s really funny – maybe he’s a recent addition to the New River Walk, or maybe he knows he’s famous and is appearing for his fans 🙂

  4. Pingback: Bugwoman’s Third Annual Report | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

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