Dear Readers, you might remember that one of my many ambitions when I retired was to visit all the London Wildlife Trust nature reserves, so I thought I’d start with an easy win. Camley Natural Park is a few tube stops down the line from East Finchley, and is one of the most urban of the reserve sites, with the Eurostar and LNER trains whistling past in one direction, the canal running alongside and the shops of Coal Drops Yard and Granary Square just minutes away.
Still, once you’re past the café and into the reserve itself, peace reigns. There’s an area of marshy land and a pond that feeds directly from the canal, and dragonflies and other water insects flit past.
There’s lots of hemp agrimony but looking at it, I’m aware that the plant in my garden is a cultivar, rather than the wild plant – the seed heads here are much fluffier. Autumn really is a time for texture, and from the spikiness of the teasels to the softness of this plant everything begs to be touched.
And how about this Old Man’s Beard/Traveller’s Joy next to the bridge into the reserve? Our only native clematis, this plant produces what my mum would have called ‘hair do’s’.
The reserve is usually pretty quiet during the week, and I’m always impressed by the sheer variety of people who visit – an elderly man was reading his paper and sipping a cup of coffee by the main pond, toddlers rampage along the paths, friends wander and chat, and yet there’s something about the place that inspires calm as soon as you step through the gate.
I’ve seen heron here before, but today there were some coots at one end of the pond, and some moorhens at the other. The coots were feasting on the water plants beneath the duckweed (I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one fighting a losing battle with the stuff), and the moorhens had two well-grown chicks. They kept them close to them, though, and I wondered if the coots were sometimes as aggressive to other species as they are to one another.
One coot was standing on what was probably once a nest site. I love coots’ feet! The extra surface area means that they can shovel their way through the water at some speed, as anyone has ever watched the shenanigans during the breeding season will have noticed.
The moorhens (Gallinupa chloropus) are much smaller, daintier birds. This family had two chicks, one of which was developing the red beak which is one way to distinguish between the two species, though the coot’s white ‘crash helmet’ is probably the most diagnostic feature.
And then it’s off along the path again.
At this time of year, the only birds that really sing are the robins and the wrens, but what the reserve lacks in variety it makes up for in quantity – there was a robin singing about every ten metres, and when they weren’t singing they were ‘chinking’ at one another. Such territorial little birds!
Here’s an example of a robin singing, by David Darrell-Lambert and taken from Xeno-Canto (David has led dawn chorus walks in Coldfall Wood in the past)
And here’s an example of that ‘chinking’ call, this time by a Swedish robin and recorded by Lars Edenius
It was good to see lots of wood piles too, which are great for fungi and for all manner of invertebrates and small mammals.
And finally, it was good to see some cyclamen in flower: it’s easy to forget that, although these plants are not strictly native, the autumn-flowering species (Cyclamen hederifolium) has been in the UK since 1596, and has been seen in the wild since 1597. It can be surprisingly popular with bees looking for a little late summer nectar and pollen, and I love how delicate the flowers are.
So, if you’re stuck in Kings Cross and are desperate for a little taste of nature, I can very much recommend Camley Natural Park, for its peace and for its variety of plants and animals. And the coffee at the café isn’t too shoddy either.