Dear Readers, as a society I think we often undervalue friendship in favour of familial or romantic partnerships, and yet the people who are often there for us through all of life’s uncertainties are our friends. On Thursday I visited Walthamstow Wetlands with my friend S. This year we will be celebrating our fortieth ‘friendiversary’ – we met in Scotland when we were 21 and both working as Community Service Volunteers. We haven’t seen one another since before this latest lockdown, and yet one sign of friendship for me is that we instantly drop into conversation as if we’ve never been apart. With so much shared history, there is much that we don’t have to explain to one another, and sometimes a whole incident can be retrieved from memory with a few words or a gesture that would be inexplicable to anyone else. True friendship is a very particular kind of love: my friends are often very different from me and from one another, and yet what we share is a deep concern for nature, a desire for justice and a need for real connection.
So, we grabbed a coffee at Walthamstow Wetlands café and sat down to catch up. There was much to distract us: there was a spotted flycatcher hawking from a nearby tree, and the cries of swifts from the nest boxes in the chimney of the old engine room.
However, all was not as it seemed – I got talking to a chap from the London Wildlife Trust who told me that, ahem, there weren’t yet any swifts in the nest boxes – the cheery sound of swifts nesting was a recording meant to encourage any passing swifts to take up residence. I shall have to see if it’s worked when I visit next – there were plenty of swifts over the garden in East Finchley this morning, so let’s see if it works.
S and I were just settling down with the flat whites when I noticed a Canada goose leaving the reservoir behind us and heading up the bank with a few goslings. Adorable! And then there was another gosling. And another one. And another one.
In the end we counted 17 goslings. Good grief! I wondered if they all belonged to this set of parents, or if they’d just picked up a few along the way – geese often adopt stray goslings, so strong are their parental instincts. What was lovely about these was that they paid us no attention at all, but simply grazed away naturally.
It wasn’t just the Canada geese either. We’d already seen several Greylag goose families by the entrance to the other part of the Wetlands.
At first I took this plant for viper’s bugloss, but it could also be phacelia. It was absolutely covered in bees. What do you think?
There’s a family of shelducks with tiny spotted ducklings too, but way off in the distance.
And, as we loop around and head back to the entrance, we spot this heron, no doubt keeping an eye open for tasty frogs and sticklebacks.
What is great about Walthamstow Wetlands is that although it’s still a working reservoir, it has, in the past three years, become one of London’s most important sites for biodiversity. Last year it even attracted a pair of passing spoonbills, a most unlikely visitor to East London! But even with the Canada geese, a common bird by anyone’s standards, there can be moments of magic, which are all the lovelier for being shared with a good friend. It’s so easy to take established relationships for granted, but if this last eighteen months has taught us anything, it’s that we should treasure those that we share our history with.