Dear Readers, yesterday I saw my friend S for the first time since lockdown started. We’ve known one another since 1981, and, apart from her year in Australia back in the ’90s this is the longest we’ve ever gone without seeing one another. But, in the way of all true friends, it was as if we had never been apart: we fell back into our rhythm of give and take, listen and talk, as if it had been there all the time in the background, just waiting to be resurrected.
We decided to meet outside as we are both in our sixties and, as much as we might try to ignore it, we are at higher risk should we get Covid than younger people. And so I suggested Walthamstow Wetlands, and what a splendid place it is. I have been several times previously (see here and here) but this time we explored the reservoirs by the Maynards entrance. Whichever way you look, there are apartment blocks going up, but there is also some splendid Victorian architecture to be seen alongside the reservoirs. I love that there are still Thames Water workers doing their ‘thing’ to keep our water supplies safe, even if it does mean dodging the occasional car.
At the moment, there are hundreds of coots, tufted ducks and pochards, making elegant patterns as they swim across the reservoir.
And here is a bird that is now popping up everywhere, although the first pair only nested in 1996. Little egrets have taken to our lakes and rivers with great enthusiasm, and my Crossley Guide states that their plumage is ‘invariably immaculate’. Indeed. This one is probably a juvenile because it has green legs (or at least I imagine that they are both green because, as is often the way with storks and herons I can only see one). Apparently the call of the bird is ‘an irritable growling’. I know just how they feel.
There are lots of people out and about, but it’s easy to social distance: we stand aside for a group of cyclists, who appear to be mostly in their seventies and eighties but are not afraid of lycra. I notice a very fine mute swan, and then I see a cygnet. Such elegant birds, even if I was once chased up a country lane by one when I came a little too close to her nest by mistake. They have a surprising turn of speed for such large birds I can tell you.
But then I hear an unfamiliar peeping sound coming from the middle of the water. What is it?
It’s a young Great Crested Grebe. I love those zebra-stripes on the head, which will gradually be lost over the winter. For now, though, the youngster is still relying on parental provision of food. I spot an adult a hundred metres away.
Looks like s/he’s got lunch. The adult swims at surprising speed towards the chick, who is squeaking away. It’s like that bit in a romantic movie where the lovers run towards one another across a crowded train station, only it’s usually roses not a stickleback.
Coots rush to get out of the way as the fish is delivered, and the youngster gives the parent approximately 5 seconds relief before it starts calling again. What hard work it is to raise a young creature! I bet the adults will be relieved when this one is off-hand and they can put their (very large) feet up until the whole shenanigans begins again in the spring.
Not all of the reservoirs are accessible at the moment, so we loop back towards the entrance.
The purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a lot less leggy than the stuff in my garden, but then this plant is growing out of a crack in the concrete, poor thing.
There’s some greater birdsfoot trefoil(Lotus pedunculatus) growing in the damp places alongside the reservoir – the flowers are a pure yellow without the occasional red and orange tints of common birdsfoot trefoil(Lotus corniculatus).
And across the road in what I think of as the main part of the wetlands, there are some hops! I love those ‘cones’ – there are the female flowers which enlarge after pollination. I feel several Wednesday Weeds coming on…
While we walk along the edge of the reservoir, I spot one of those Victorian water towers that I was talking about earlier. I love that the Victorians took care to pop in some detailing on the ‘bridge’, and to give the tower itself some crenellations.
And there are islands in the middle, currently serving as lookout posts for the cormorants.
What a pleasure it was to go somewhere different today, to find some new plants and, most of all, to reconnect with someone who has been part of my life for such a long time. What is so splendid about old friends is that there is so much that you don’t have to explain, a richness and patina that only comes with knocking along together, through bad times and good times, until just a gesture is enough to communicate a whole history. How lucky I am.