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