30 green places for 30 Days Wild II

Bladder campion with swollen sepal tubes - Amanda Tuke

Author Amanda Tuke continues her challenge of visiting 30 green spaces in London for 30 Days Wild

30 Days Wild Visit number 19. Walthamstow Wetlands, Waltham Forest, for birds

I know I’ve arrived when I hear a cetti’s warbler asserting himself from a stand of reeds and catch a glimpse of his upturned tail. I take a deep breath.

I first came to this area for nature watching back in the early nineties. An old friend had admitted to being a birdwatcher too and we decided on a cold and windy winter’s day to go in search of over-wintering ducks on the Walthamstow reservoirs. In those days, you had to buy a permit to go on the site and, probably to the annoyance of a scattering of fishermen, we walked around the outside identifying ducks, grebes and flocks of finches feeding on the rough grass. It was a satisfying break from urban south London but a rather bleak and windswept place.

Every time I visit now I’m amazed at all the work which has gone into this site and the transformation it has achieved. So it’s no surprise that cetti’s warblers are here.

view of reservoir

Transformed from bleak, windswept reservoirs - Amanda Tuke

This is the first time I’ve been back since lockdown started and I’ve really missed it. Climbing up a reservoir bank, I walk into a vortex of hundreds of swifts at the summit. They’re snatching insects from just above the reservoir surface and seem to be using this bank as a turn marker for the next run. The dark wheeling crescents pass so close to me that if I reached out my hand I could touch one… but of course I don’t. The beauty of it does make me laugh out loud though, and I check whether anyone is in earshot. There’s a couple passing but they are deep in conversation and oblivious both to the birds and this crazy laughing woman.

As the vortex tightens and loosens around me I notice its rhythm is punctuated with smaller birds. These are sand martins, artfully camouflaged dark on top and pale beneath.

Behind, like a traditional Japanese painting, a trio of little egrets drop elegantly down to the water, feathers blinding in the bright sun.

Later, under the streamers of a weeping willow, I stare into the water, enjoying the ever-changing patterns of light and shadow. I try to capture what I can in a photograph. A bank of water plants resolves into the metallic blue of banded desmoiselle damselflies, jostling for the best spot.

Patterns of light and shadow under a weeping willow

Patterns of light and shadow under a weeping willow - Amanda Tuke

I’m not keen to leave but my transformation is now complete. I’m ready to face the urban chaos again.