It feels like it’s been a long winter. It always feels like it’s been a long winter. In actual fact, winter was ludicrously warm and only showed its most bitter self for a week or two. What I really mean is that I’m glad the long days of summer are on their way and the animals are coming out of hiding. I remember having a conversation with my brother about the problems winter poses for a person trying to make their name as a wildlife writer. Truthfully, winter is bleak for a South London naturalist. There are no butterflies, no bees and only a handful of birds. We don’t get exotic snowy owls or pine martens (if we do I certainly haven’t seen them). How many different ways can one describe a pigeon or a robin. At least the Parakeets are not entirely killed off by the cold, providing something colourful to look at. An urban naturalist must be… inventive.
Thankfully the season of having to think of what to write about is over, and the birds are back in town. To anyone who has been reading my thoughts thus far, thank you. It’s about to get a whole lot better. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen a plethora of nature’s most beautiful creatures. There have been so many great crested grebes that I’ve coined the phrase ‘a spoiling of grebes’. Here are a few photos to illustrate what a spoiling of grebes looks like.
Its hard to go for a walk at this time of year without stopping every few steps to study a nest, or to watch a family of geese as they teach their little ones how to honk. Wildlife is once again everywhere. Just this afternoon I walked through Crystal Palace Park and ticked off a whole host of great birds, nests, comedy squirrels etc. The most magnificent thing of all this afternoon was the ten minute window I spent watching a heron admire himself in his reflection. His statue-like stance left the water still, allowing for an almost perfect looking glass. Who can blame such a looker?
I tore myself away from the heron, after taking at least fifty identical photographs, and headed towards the sound of a woodpecker tapping away at a tree. I didn’t see the woodpecker. The tease must have flown away as soon as he noticed I had heard his drumming. I did however find a whole cohort of lively squirrels. I’ve missed squirrels. They provide entertainment when nothing else will, always bursting with character and keen to interact with you.
What I saw next was almost too exciting. I had seen them once before, but couldn’t get close enough to really study them. Terrapins, sunbathing on a log. One had his back to me with his tail dipped in the cool water while the other stretched his neck out towards me with his eyes closed, soaking up the sunshine. I was so happy to see them, I forgot myself for a moment and jumped over the fence to get a better look. I’m glad I did, as at the minute I reached the water’s edge, the terrapin with its back to me stretched out its neck and turned to give me, what I can only describe as, side eye, before plopping into the water.
I had thought that the terrapins were unique to Crystal Palace, but since I first saw them, my brother has spotted them in Peckham and there has also been a rather gruesome photograph of a terrapin floating on the back of a dead fox in the Regent’s Canal, circulating the internet.
Feeling lucky after seeing the terrapins, I walked around the lake again to see if I had missed anything. I thought I might see more terrapins soaking up the evening sunshine, but that was the last of them. I finished my walk with a gorgeous ball of fluff, which I almost ignored. Sat on the floor, between a pair of grown up Egyptian geese was their adorable gosling. Again, I spent at least ten minutes staring at the thing, willing it to stand up so that I could see it in its entirety. Several times it stretched out one leg and looked as though it might, but alas it was merely adjusting itself for more lying down. Still, the greyish brown pile of feathers claimed at least another fifty frames.
I went home, having spent far longer in the park than I had anticipated, feeling rejuvenated, after an exhausting day teaching percussion to five year olds. Nature is the most effective tool to unwind. At times, sitting on the sofa, or lying on the floor in a darkened room can seem more appealing, but it never leaves you as happy or as enriched as immersing yourself in the lives of animals.
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