Walthamstow Wetlands – Birds!

Dear Readers, here I am back at Walthamstow Wetlands, which is proving to be quite the spot for bird watching and general wonderfulness this year. First of all, have a look at these meandering paths in the water. They were made by these little guys…

This is a Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) and its half-grown offspring. It’s scientific name, loosely translated, means ‘red-necked fast-diver’, and so it seems to be – they disappear under the water for an ordinate amount of time, and you only have to look at them for them to dive. Otherwise known as dabchicks, they are surprisingly fluffy even when adult, but the chicks are particularly endearing.

Photo one by By Agustín Povedano - Flickr: Zampullín chico, polluelo Tachybaptus ruficollis, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18674915

Little Grebe Chick (Photo One)

Then we crossed a bridge, and I said to my friend, ‘Oh, I thought that was a bird but it’s just a piece of wood’.

‘The piece of wood just moved’, she said, and so it did.

Yep it’s a Grey Heron, and quite a large one at that.

Heron gobbling a fish.

Who remembers when the heron visited my garden and started eating all the frogs? That was an exciting day. It’s much nicer when you don’t feel responsible for trying to protect the heron’s prey, I must say.

In addition to the giant hogweed and oak processionary moth warning signs by the path, there’s now also a sign warning that there’s a wasps’ nest. ‘Enter at your own risk’, it says, and, judging by the number of stripy insects flying backwards and forwards from the rowan tree that’s good advice. We move smartly on, though I do stop to take a random photo of the electricity pylon, because I think they’re rather splendid.

As are the rosehips.

But then, how about this lovely little family?

This is a Great Crested Grebe, with three striped chicks. What fine birds these are! According to my ‘Birds of London’ by Andrew Self, they have been somewhat in decline in the Capital, but there are several pairs at Walthamstow Wetlands, and at least these are breeding.

Incidentally, one of the reasons that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was created because Great Crested Grebes were almost hunted to extinction in the UK because their attractive plumes were used on hats – ‘Lady Members’ were asked to refrain from wearing the feathers of any bird not killed for purposes of food, the ostrich only excepted. Poor old ostrich you might think, but  over 7,000 bird of paradise skins were imported in the first quarter of 1884, along with the feathers from 400,000 West Indian and Brazilian birds, and the remains of 460,000 Indian birds. Some hats were decorated with entire ecosystems of small feathered creatures. It’s rather heartening that most women these days would be horrified at wearing such a thing, and that this type of cruelty at least is a thing of the past.

Photo Two from http://www.victoriana.com/victorian-feather-hats/

Victorian hat with small parrot (Photo Two)

So this Great Crested Grebe can rear its chicks in some sort of peace. Long may they thrive.

Photo Credits

Photo one  By Agustín Povedano – Flickr: Zampullín chico, polluelo Tachybaptus ruficollis, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18674915

Photo Two from http://www.victoriana.com/victorian-feather-hats/

8 thoughts on “Walthamstow Wetlands – Birds!

  1. Anne

    The Little Grebe (it also used to be known as a Dabchick here) occurs all over South Africa as does the Grey Heron. The ‘poor old ostrich’ made millionaires of ordinary farmers in the Oudtshoorn district: 1 230 Kg of wild ostrich feathers were exported to Europe in 1821, leading to a booming industry of domesticating these birds for this purpose. This increasing wealth led to the construction of large mansions, known locally as ‘feather palaces’. Apart from the changing fashions around 1913, the start of the First World War put an end to the feather industry, leaving these millionaires impoverished. Ostriches are now mostly bred to provide good quality meat.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Fascinating, Anne! Here there was a get-rich-quick scheme to farm ostriches for meat in the 1990s which quickly failed, in spite of the quality of the meat – the climate is wrong, we didn’t have slaughterhouses that could cope with the birds, eggs didn’t hatch and the chicks didn’t thrive. There were 400 ostrich farms in the UK at one point, and today there are three….there’s an interesting article about exotic meat in the UK below:


      1. Anne

        Thank you for this link. Ostrich is a very popular meat here and one can purchase a variety of cuts in our supermarkets. I very seldom eat red meat and thought it might be a good meat to try for it is quick and easy to cook (which I do for my family) but I dislike the texture of the meat and simply cannot swallow it!

  2. sllgatsby

    That parrot hat; so disgusting! Yuck. I feel the same way about those horrible stoles, with the sad little dessicated mink heads biting each other and the shriveled paws hanging down. How could anyone think that wearing taxidermy was classy?

    The wetland brought to mind the Swallows & Amazons book Coot Club, where kids in the Norfolk Broads form a club to protect local wild waterfowl and their nests. My son and I loved those books.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I know! There were lots of bird hats, but also lots of women who decided that they were abhorrent. It’s great when things change for the better. And thanks for reminding me about Swallows and Amazons, I loved those books!

  3. gertloveday

    What a glorious place and good to avoid the wasps. I picked up what I thought was a dead wasp and as I put it outside it stung me on the palm of the hand. Red and itching for about two weeks.


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