This week is invasive species week and we wanted to highlight a key invasive plant species that we actively manage here at WWT Washington. Crassula helmsii (also know as New Zealand pigmyweed) is a non-native invasive plant oringinally found in Australia and New Zealand. It's an aquatic species of succulent which, in 2014 along with 4 other plants was banned from sale in the UK! Crassula helmsii is a highly adaptable plant which can tolerate many different growing conditions. It can grow below the water's surface or at the edges or margins of water. It's even semiterrestrial meaning it can also grow on land if the ground is damp enough. The species is one of the biggest threats to Wetlands in the UK and if left untreated it can completely cover the surface of the pond. Once established, it can outcompete native plants forming a dense mat covering which shades out other plants. It can also cause issues for our wildlife. If left to it's own devices, it can even cover exposed mud, which is a vital habitat for wading birds. We have this on our reserve at Washington Wetland Centre We have an ongoing management plan that targets this species, as well as a variety of others. We monitor all of our reserve areas for crassula throughout the year, making sure it does not get the chance to spread and take over our wetlands. This is done in a variety of ways: We fluctuate the water levels at various points throughout the year. During winter we flood it, while during the summer we expose the crassula when the water level is lowered. This helps to reduce it spreading by changing its growing conditions several times during the year - this makes it harder for the crassula to thrive. In more sensitive areas, we block out the sunlight by placing a black pond liner over the top of the crassula. Crassula can't survive without sunlight and it therefore dies. If we're doing work on Wader Lake, we dig and bury the crassula which has the same impact as covering with pondliner. Crassula can grow from a tiny fragment that has been left untreated. It can be transferred to boots and wellies so if people have been walking around infected areas it can move it from place to place. Biosecurity of footwear is really important and we are very careful to thouroughly wash our footwear when working with this invasive species. There are things you can do at home to reduce the impacts of non-native plant species - read more
Late spring is a glorious time to become part of the WWT family. The warmer weather, longer days and new life emerging all around our wetlands, woodlands and meadows make them the perfect place for an outdoor adventure. As a WWT member, you can visit us as often as you like to watch the season and its wonders unfold, while also seeing the difference your membership money is making to our habitats and their wildlife. So why not join us and... ...bring your brood to meet ours. Watch a winding trail of waddling ducklings following their mother around our stream channel or see gangly grey heron chicks in the tree tops opposite Wader Lake hides, as dainty avocet chicks hatch on the shingle islands below. Our black swan cygnets are also raising youngsters in our Close Encounters area - don't miss the chance to see them before they're all grown up. …spot a bee fly! With their fuzzy bodies, patterned wings and unusually long proboscis (sucking mouthpart), these quirky looking insects can be found basking in sunny spots or feeding on nectar-rich flowers throughout spring. …get to know our playful Asian short-clawed otter family – Mimi, Musa and their son Buster. They can be found frolicking and foraging all day long in the spring sunshine, with keeper talks twice a day at 11.30am and 2.30pm. Don’t be shy to ask our experts difficult questions and expand your otter knowledge! …take a sneak peek at amphibian life on a stroll along the river footpath to our ponds where, just below the surface of the water, you’ll be rewarded with close-up views of wriggly tadpoles (and possibly even froglets) exploring their surroundings. …enjoy the vibrant colours of the newest floral life, including violet-hued bluebells carpeting Spring Gill Wood and the happy yellows of marsh marigold and gorse flowers dotted around site. Wetlands are not only spectacular to visit at this time of year, they’re also lifelines... They provide water, food or habitat for almost all species, including over a billion of us humans. What’s more, as carbon stores and natural flood defenders, they are one of our best protectors against climate change and its disastrous effects. And yet, wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests – 35% have disappeared since 1970. So yes, by becoming a member you enjoy free visits 364 days a year to WWT Washington and our nine sister sites across the UK, plus a host of fantastic events. BUT, you are also helping protect and restore vital wetlands for generations to come. Isn't that amazing!? If you are already part of our family, we thank you so much. If you think you might want to be, head here https://www.wwt.org.uk/join-and-support and let’s restore our planet’s wetland ecosystems together. Want to visit us first? We get it - it's a big commitment! Visit us, and if you decide you’d like to become a member, your admission cost will be deducted from the membership price when you join on the day. There’s no need to pre-book a visit, but if you'd prefer to pay online and save time at the till, click below. Plan your visit
WWT Washington Wetland Centre is celebrating the arrival of a tiny common crane chick – an incredible first in our 46-year history. The youngster hatched late on 9 May under the careful watch of its protective parents, who have been part of the centre’s animal collection since 2008 and not successfully bred, until now. The pair came from WWT’s headquarters in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, in the early stages of the pioneering Great Crane Project, which has now seen the common crane successfully reintroduced to the UK to record levels. The exciting news of their first chick follows months of nest building, prospecting and laying low towards the back of the centre’s stream channel exhibit, where they finally laid and incubated their precious egg. WWT Washington’s collections team kept a close eye on the nest and monitored the first-time parents’ behaviour to ensure things went as smoothly as possible – which thankfully they did. Collection manager, Rhys Mckie, said: “We’re unbelievably thrilled to see our common cranes become parents for the first time. And it’s even more thrilling that this pair of cranes came from the Great Crane Project. “The adults have been here since they were just one year old, arriving in 2008; so at the age of 15, this is a pretty big moment for them and for us all. “Visitors may have noticed that the cranes have been less visible lately – something that happens every spring for this pair. But this year we’re so pleased to see they have been successful with their breeding efforts.” The new family is currently off-show to allow them time to bond in a protected environment and enable the team to closely monitor their health and behaviour. “While there are still hurdles this family has to get over, we’re giving them the best possible chance to thrive,” added Rhys. “They’re doing all the right things and are bonding as we would hope, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that everything continues to go smoothly for this very special species, with visitors hopefully able to see them back in their enclosure this summer.” DID YOU KNOW? With their astonishing trumpeting call and dramatic courtship dance, common cranes are a truly iconic wetland species. Standing at an impressive 4ft, they are the UK’s tallest birds. They were once plentiful and widespread in the UK, but were lost as a breeding species around 400 years ago as a result of hunting for food and the subsequent draining of their wetland nesting sites. Cranes are members of the “Gruidae” family – a very ancient bird family that has been around for about 40 million years. Despite having characteristics of the heron and stork families, cranes are actually unrelated to these birds and are much more closely related to moorhens and coots. Common cranes rarely breed before they are four years old, and it may take several attempts before they succeed in rearing a chick. They were once frequent fixtures at medieval feasts. Henry II’s chefs cooked up 115 of them at his Christmas feast in 1251. In 2010, the Great Crane Project – a partnership between the RSPB, WWT and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, and funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company – was set up to create and improve existing habitat, as well as hand-rearing young birds for release on the Somerset Levels and Moors. This conservation effort has yielded impressive results, with around 56 pairs known across the UK in 2019. Of these, up to 47 pairs attempted to breed that year and raised 26 chicks. The total population is now believed to be more than 200 birds - a new record. Find out more about WWT’s involvement in the incredible Great Crane Project here Ready to visit? If you've been inspired to explore Washington Wetland Centre, find out more and plan your visit. Plan your visit
Lego lovers - there's just one month left to see the UK’s only LEGO® Brick Wetland Safari, right here at Washington Wetland Centre.Join us for a wild day out with a difference as you meet 16 GIANT colourful Lego brick animals, forming a fun interactive trail around our wonderful wetlands.Past favourites including Lottie the Otter, Fred the Frog and Katie the Kingfisher are back, as well as newer additions Percy the Pelican and Sam the Short-eared Owl, plus Camille the Curlew – BRAND NEW for 2022 and on show for the very first time!Here are our Top Tips for building even more fun into your visit while you’re here this spring…Go on a Lego safariPick up a LEGO® Brick Wetland Safari trail leaflet at admissions and explore our wetlands, woodlands and exhibits to learn more about the creation of these unique large-scale Lego models, as well as the real-life species they’re sitting alongside.Complete the questions and enter our prize draw to win an awesome Lego goody bag!(
Enjoy some top tips when it comes to photographing wildlife at Washington Wetland Centre thanks to our own volunteer photographer, Ian Henderson
They’re back! Bee fly sightings are on the increase around site and we can’t get enough of these quirky looking insects. With their fuzzy bodies, patterned wings and unusually long proboscis (or tongue), they can be found basking in sunny spots or feeding on flowers during April and May. This one was soaking up the rays in our play area and we’ve had reports of them elsewhere too. Did you know? They look like bees, but bee flies are in fact true flies (from the family Bombyliidae).There are four species of Bombyliidae in the UK and the most common is the dark-edged bee fly.They are harmless to humans, but if you’re a beetle or wasp egg you’d better watch out, as bee fly larvae is a parasitoid and will feast on you!Approximately 1cm in length, the bee fly uses its prominent proboscis - the long appendage on its head, which in invertebrates is a sucking mouth part - to drink nectar from flowers, often while hovering, and can even rotate its body in flight. Amazing!Flowers with long nectar tubes such as primroses and lungworts are particular favourites, and bee flies are thought to be important pollinators of these. Want to visit and see a bee fly for yourself?Spontaneous days out are back and you no longer need to book in advance! But if you'd prefer to book your visit online and save time at the till, click below.Plan your visit
The UK’s only LEGO® Brick Wetland Safari returns to Washington Wetland Centre this spring and is bigger and better than ever! Join us for a wild day out with a difference as you meet 16 GIANT colourful Lego brick animals, forming a fun interactive trail around our wonderful wetlands. Past favourites including Lottie the Otter, Fred the Frog and Katie the Kingfisher are back, as well as newer additions Percy the Pelican and Sam the Short-eared Owl, plus Camille the Curlew – BRAND NEW for 2022 and on show for the very first time! Here are our Top Tips for building even more fun into your visit while you’re here this spring… Go on a Lego safari Pick up a LEGO® Brick Wetland Safari trail leaflet at admissions and explore our wetlands, woodlands and exhibits to learn more about the creation of these unique large-scale Lego models, as well as the real-life species they’re sitting alongside. Complete the questions and enter our prize draw to win an awesome Lego goody bag! (Safari open daily from 10am-5.30pm, Saturday 9 April-Sunday 5 June, included in admission, last entry one hour before closing). Be wowed by fantastic feathers Our wetlands are home to so many different, beautiful ducks. They are extra fascinating and flamboyant at this time of year, as the male ducks show off their bright breeding feathers. Taking the time to look closely, be in the moment and marvel at our feathered friends will help make the most of your spring visit and may even lift your mood too! If you find a feather as you wander through our wetlands, give it a close look. Feathers are truly amazing. You’ll see how it’s made of thousands of individual strands. Not only do they look pretty special, they also keep birds warm and waterproof, enable them to fly and help them communicate with each other. If your visit leaves you feeling inspired by our real-life birds, why not get creative and sketch your own duck species at home, thinking about your favourite ducks from your visit. Our activity sheet may help. Look out for pink Yes, our Chilean flamingos will be out daily from 10am until 4.30pm for visitors to enjoy. Watch as they display with their wings outspread and perform the 'head dance' around their exhibit. Their sandy island is the perfect place to rest their feet, giving you great views as they preen those famous pink feathers. Don't forget to spot Flavia the Lego® flamingo too! Build on your Lego experience Take your Lego experience to the next level during your visit and join us for an interactive hour-long workshop, where you’ll take part in a group building challenge before making your own Lego duckling mini-model to take home. Daily sessions are running from Saturday 28 May-Sunday 5 June (**Easter sessions fully booked**) with slots from 10.30-11.30am or 1-2pm. Cost is £7.50 per person and the workshops are advised for ages 4+. Adults are welcome to attend free of charge but general admission costs apply to all. Book now at https://bit.ly/WA-Lego-workshops Make a memorable moment As spring unfolds, we are treated to an endless succession of ‘firsts’, making it a great time of year to enjoy memorable moments of nature together. See the first tadpoles, the first green shoots and buds, the first waders returning to nest on Wader Lake. Bring your brood to meet ours and watch a winding trail of waddling ducklings following their mother around our stream channel or see gangly grey heron chicks in the tree tops opposite Wader Lake hides, while dainty avocet chicks hatch in their shingle island nests below. These experiences can fill us with a sense of wonder and possibility. What firsts will you see and how will they make you feel? For a special memento of spring, have a go at making a spring-time nature mobile. Learn something new We’re so excited to see the LEGO® Brick Wetland Safari return and we know how much the models are loved by you too! As well as being a great day out, the event is a brilliant way to highlight some of the wetland species that the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust has worked hard to save, such as the iconic Hawaiian goose and incredible spoon-billed sandpiper. The newest addition – Camille the Curlew – also helps tell a key conservation story about our role in the ongoing Eurasian curlew recovery project, which is working to reverse the decline of this enigmatic wading bird. Our hope is that these wetland conservation messages will engage a young audience who will one day become adults that care deeply about wetlands and wildlife. What will you learn during your visit? What amazing facts will you be telling your family or friends afterwards!? Switch on your senses Turn nature sleuth and switch on all your senses as you walk around to discover spring wildlife on a whole new level. As an extra challenge (particularly with little ones in tow!) stand still, stay quiet and close your eyes… What do you hear? What does it feel like as you lift your face to the sky on a sunny day? Spring has a smell too! You could turn this into a fun game and use our special senses scavenger hunt activity sheet on your visit or at home. Play, play, play We all need an outdoor adventure every now and then. And what better place to embrace the joy of playing outside than in our wonderful wild wetlands! Visiting our green (and blue!) spaces gives you the perfect opportunity to explore nature’s playground and have lots of fresh-air fun, with unique wetland wildlife to spark imaginations and help you really connect to nature. You can also discover the clever ways in which we use water in our award-winning Working Wetland Garden. Turn the giant rain wheel to hear the magical sound of gentle rainfall or pause a while on the decking area and take in the seasonal flora No kid’s visit is complete without running off some energy in our Playscape area, where the elements of fun and water meet! A climbing frame, Archimedes Screw, scramble net, sand pit and giant slide are just some of its best bits. On your marks…race you to the giant tap… Be inspired to help protect the natural world After a day spent having fun amongst amazing wetlands nature, don’t forget to continue the adventure at home! You might leave us feeling inspired to attract more wildlife to your garden or care for the nature around you. Being more compassionate about the natural world makes us feel good and strengthens our connection to it. Plant pollinator-friendly flowers, create a toad shelter or a bug hotel. From visiting our wetland centre you’ll see that all wildlife benefits from the addition of water, so why not build a garden pond and feel the satisfaction of watching wildlife thrive? It doesn’t have to be anything huge or expensive - a micro pond, bog garden or mini wetland can be made with things you already have and they are eco-friendly too! Ready to visit? Spontaneous days out are back and you no longer need to book in advance! But if you'd prefer to book your visit online and save time at the till, click below. Plan your visit
Water level management on Wader Lake is critical for providing the correct balance of inundated and non-inundated grassland, including areas of open water bodies to attract and provide the correct conditions for the many types of bird species that use the lake throughout the year. But if only it was as simple as just lowering or flooding the lake... When it comes to Wader Lake, there are many factors that need considering when managing the water levels. It's something Reserve Manager John Gowland is hugely passionate about and is keen to share with you some of the things we do and why we do them. Autumn and winter During winter, we flood the lake to create ideal conditions for a variety of water birds such as gadwall (pictured below), northern shoveler, common shelduck and Eurasian teal. By flooding the low areas of the lake's edge, we help to create a larger water body for attracting these regular winter visitors and often some unexpected ones too. Flooding areas of low grassland also releases grass and plant seeds for dabbling ducks to feed on, while reducing the amount of vegetation at key points in readiness for the new season. Soft muddy draw down areas are important for feeding waders, and Wader Lake is managed to provide a roosting site for various species including curlew during those winter months. Water depth is important for the range of species of duck attracted to the site with diving duck such as tufted duck able to feed in deeper water than dabbling ducks. Water depth can also be a factor when maintaining refuge areas for wintering birds during freezing conditions. Spring and summer Flooding the islands is a natural way of suppressing annual vegetation on the islands, so once water levels are lowered the islands are free of weeds and other vegetation, making them ready for the annual return of avocet (pictured below) and common tern looking to nest. This is all done to a specific timescale which varies year on year, but John and the reserve team carefully monitor activity on the lake and pinpoint the best time to act - trust us, there is a plan! The correct balance of land and water during the breeding season is key and it's important that soil water levels of wet grassland are not subject to excessive drying during this time as accessibility of soil invertebrates for foraging birds could be compromised. Similar to winter months, muddy draw down areas are also vital feeding grounds for waders with chicks. Permanent open water bodies with varying water depth are necessary for the site's breeding duck populations which includes both dabbling duck species such as gadwall and diving ducks such as tufted duck. Black-headed gull In recent times the black-headed gull population has increased at Washington and they have started to nest on site. They tend to nest in late March and early April which is much earlier than for example common tern, who don't start arriving until mid-late April. By keeping the water level high during this time aims to discourage the gulls from nesting early, and therefore allow an opportunity for other species when the time comes. By keeping the water level high tries to ensure that black-headed gull don't take over the islands before the avocet and common tern have arrived and settled. black-headed gull are very aggressive towards other bids nesting on the islands and interactions between these birds can result in the loss of eggs and small chicks, something we absolutely do not want. Water source, weather and rain fall Wader Lake is fed from natural water sources. Before the water enters Wader Lake, it enters several treatment ponds known as the 'Round Table Ponds' which are just behind the reeds at our duckery. Over time, this water has deposited a large amount of silt into the lake, which has made it increasingly more difficult to manage the water depth. The water flowing into the lake is also very unpredictable and we have noticed a decreased amount of 'normal' water flow, but during storm events we often see flash flooding. Desilting Wader Lake will restore it to original levels which will help effectively manage the water depth throughout the year. This will provide safety for breeding birds, as well as better feeding and roosting areas year round. Invasive species control Control and monitoring of the very invasive and non-native Crassula helmsii (an aquatic plant from the succulent family - pictured below) is a top priority. This plant species has the potential to impact on both open water and their surrounding margins across our wetlands. Once established, it's very difficult to control without severe impact on wildlife. By manipulating the water level during the different seasons from high water flooding to draining down the water and keeping water body banks steep all reduce the area of exposed mud into which the Crassula can colonise, helping keep it from taking over as it struggles to grow if conditions are regularly changed. Support our work Our ongoing habitat and conservation work is at the heart of everything we do. Sign up as a member and help us support wetlands and wildlife both at Washington and worldwide. Join as a member
Our black swan pair are nestling into life as new parents as they have successfully hatched their first cygnets together, and the first black swan babies for over 6 years here at Washington Wetland Centre! The two fluffy youngsters hatched on Thursday 24 March after an incubation period of around 35-40 days. Both parents have been the perfect mix of attentive and protective, taking turns to sit on the nest while the other feeds or cleans. Lots of visitors have enjoyed watching them 'spring clean', clearning unwanted twigs, leaves and branches away from their nesting spot. They've also done a great job of warning away our keepers to defend their territory - perfect parent-to-be behaviour!The black swan pair were only introduced in May last year so have clearly bonded very quickly and incredibly well. The female is 12 years old with lots of past experience, while the male is a youthful 3 years old and a first-time father. The family were moved from their usual home in Close Encounters into temporary off-show accommodation, where they are being given some time to bond and adjust to life as a family of four. This also protects them during their most vulnerable stage and allows the team to closely monitor their behaviour and growth. This can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks.We're cautiously optimistic that these youngsters will grow well and be able to go back out into Close Encounters for visitors to enjoy soon, but in the meantime please keep an eye out on Facebook and Instagram for their progress, and enjoy a cute photo just because... Some more fun facts about black swans:Most birds use light levels and temperature to dictate when to start breeding, but in the wild, black swans aim for 'rainy' season, which means they tend to lay and hatch during the colder months with some even laying eggs one snowy December a few years ago!Cygnets enjoy catching a ride on mum and dad's backs while gliding (or storming) across the ponds - so watch out for this in the future! Ready to visit? If you've been inspired to explore Washington Wetland Centre, find out more and book your visit online. Plan your visit
Where would the natural world be without mothers? Without their protective instincts, their self-sacrifice, their love? This Mother’s Day we pay homage to some wetland superstar mams and of course, give thanks to the ultimate maternal figure looking after us all – Mother Nature herself. Is that you, mum? Our mother’s voice is one of the first sounds we ever hear, and it’s no different in the bird world. Mother birds communicate with their chicks while still in the egg so that when they eventually hatch, they recognise her call and feel reassured. Baby flamingos are particularly noisy just before hatching – a very helpful trait for our living collections team. Flamingos lay just one egg at a time, sometimes years apart, so when a member of our flock produces one, we go into surrogate mother mode to make sure it stays safe. Carefully swapping the real egg for a convincing dummy, we transfer it to an incubator to protect it from predators or potentially being knocked off its tall mud nest by a wayward wing or leg. In the run-up to hatching, the chick then starts to call out loudly, giving us the sign to pop the real egg back with its mam, who can then bond with her baby before it emerges. Bright is best For blue tits, a brightly coloured head equals good mothering skills. According to a study by the University of York, female blue tits with brighter crowns successfully fledge more offspring. The blue colouring of their head feathers is UV-reflective in the eyes of other birds, signalling good maternal qualities to prospective mates. Interestingly, the brighter-headed birds also demonstrated lower stress levels, although we’re not sure how, given that they also had the most youngsters to look after! We are family Mimi, the matriarch of our Asian short-clawed otter family, knows first-hand about large broods, having given birth to an amazing nine pups while in our care: Ruby (born in May 2015), Ash, Tod, Pip and Sam (March 2016) and Rita, Irene, Shirley and Buster (March 2017). In the wild, a litter of ASCO pups will stay with their mother until the next litter is born, at which point they move on to start their own families. Here at WWT Washington, first-born Ruby hadn’t quite made the journey to her new home at Peak Wildlife Park (where she is now a mam herself!) before her siblings were welcomed into the world, giving her the chance to try out the strong mothering instincts passed down to her by Mimi. Within days of her brother and sister’s arrival, she was observed bringing food to Mimi in the holt while she nursed the new cubs. As they got older, she also helped them learn to get around, swim and find food. Mimi now lives happily with her partner Musa and their son Buster, who certainly isn’t too cool to be seen hanging around with his loving parents! You can watch them throughout the day rolling around in mud, dexterously juggling pebbles and greeting the public with squeaky cries. Commentated feeds take place at 11.30am and 2.30pm. It takes a village Lucky female swallows are never short of a helping hand – or beak – when it comes to raising their young. Older siblings and even other adults all act as mother’s helpers, assisting with nest-building, incubation and brooding, as well as seeing off predators by defending the nest. Feeding time is an extended family affair too, with brothers, sisters and cousins taking turns bringing insects to the hungry baby chicks. Keep an eye out from early summer onwards for signs of swallow activity in the barns, hides and buildings around our wetlands. The café veranda is a particularly popular spot for sightings of these beautiful birds zipping back and forth with food to their nest, tucked away in the rafters of the sedum roof above. Now that’s a brew with a view! Role reversal It is well-documented that swans mate for life, but did you also know that they have each other’s backs when it comes to parenting? Mute swan mothers are typically in charge of the rearing of their cygnets, teaching them to feed and guiding them as they explore, while the male is on high alert for nearby predators or other threats to his new family. But when it comes time for their annual moult – when old feathers are shed and new ones grow in their place – they take turns to go through the process, with the female stepping into the role of protector while her partner is flightless, as he spends time caring for their youngsters. Come and avo go if you think you’re hard enough! Each spring, the shingle islands of Wader Lake are transformed into a hive of activity, with numerous wading bird species jostling for territories, nest-building and hatching chicks. One of the most charismatic of these is the avocet. A striking black and white wader with a slim upturned bill and delicate legs; an avocet mam may look fragile but boy, is she tenacious. The avocets return to our wetlands each February, having overwintered anywhere from estuaries on the South coast to places as far away as Spain and Morocco, and are often met with harsh weather conditions, but soon set about courting unperturbed. After pairing off, they cleverly settle down beneath our grey heron colony to nest, as a way of protecting their imminent young from predators vicariously. This is a risky bet, given that the herons will also soon have hungry mouths to feed, but worth it on balance. And if you’ve ever seen a feisty mother avocet ward off a potential threat to her brood, you might argue that she doesn’t need such assistance! New life Spring is a wonderful time of year to see new life emerging all around our wetlands and watch the females of the many species that call us home become mothers. Why not visit and witness their incredible bonds and journeys up close? Ready to visit? If you've been inspired to explore Washington Wetland Centre, find out more and book your visit online. Plan your visit
Eider ducks are a firm favourite with visitors here at Washington Wetland Centre. But from their unique call to growing beak, here's a list of quirky features to keep an eye out for when visiting our eider ducks1. Their call. We mentioned it earlier but they really do have the funniest and certainly most distinct call of our collection birds. The famous 'ooOOoo' sound from male common eiders welcomes visits entering Close Encounters, especially during the breeding season from March onwards. Keep an ear out for it!2. Downy feathers. If you're every lucky enough to see an eider nest, you'll see it is lined using downy feathers which a mother eider will pluck from her own chest. These feathers help keep the ducklings warm for the first few days until they leave the nest.3. They have a beak that keeps growing. If you look closely at an eiders bill, you'll notice that the curved end on the top beak of some birds may be longer than on others. This is because, much like our fingernails, the bill continues to grow helping them feed on muscles and crustaceans out at sea. In the wild, this would naturally be kept under control while rubbing against rocks and stones, but here at Washington, our keepers keep a regular check on these bird's beaks and trim them down whenever needed (usually every 6-12 month) - pretty cool right! 4. Their size. Not only are they the largest duck in our Close Encounters exhibit, but they are the largest duck in Europe. Look closely at the size difference between them and the other ducks within the exhibit, particularly the smew which is one of our smallest ducks.5. Multi-purpose wings. Due to the size of an eider's body they are incredibly boyuant, making diving a little more difficult. They use their wings to propell themselves underwater, much like a penguin would, helping them hunt under water.
Spring is a fantastic time to join WWT and start discovering WWT Washington. There’s something rather exhilarating about the arrival of this most hopeful of seasons; the natural world on the cusp of new life and new beginnings. And as a WWT member, you can visit as often as you like to watch it all unfold before your eyes, while also seeing the difference your membership money is making.This season, why not join us and……spend some time in our waterside hides, soaking in the sights and sounds of birds including grey heron, avocet and lapwing on Wader Lake. Squabbles over territories, elaborate courtship displays and mating calls, frenetic nest-building…they put on quite the show! …go in search of frogspawn on a stroll along the river footpath to our amphibian ponds where, just below the surface of the water, especially amongst the reeds at the edge, you’ll be rewarded with sneak peeks of amazing jellified clusters containing thousands of tiny embryos. …enjoy the vibrant colours of emerging floral life, including violet-hued bluebells carpeting Spring Gill Wood and the happy yellows of marsh marigold and gorse flowers dotted around site. …watch our playful Asian short-clawed otter family frolicking and foraging in the spring sunshine, with keeper talks twice a day. …explore our wide-open spaces, be they wetlands, woodlands, meadows or the play area!Wetlands are not only spectacular to visit at this time of year; they’re also lifelines, providing water, food or habitat for almost all species, including over a billion of us humans. What’s more, as carbon stores and natural flood defenders, they are one of our best protectors against climate change and its disastrous effects. And yet, wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests – 35% have disappeared since 1970. So yes, by becoming a member you enjoy free visits 364 days a year to WWT Washington and our nine sister sites across the UK, plus a host of fantastic events. BUT, you're also helping protect and restore wetlands for generations to come. Isn't that amazing!? If you are already part of our family, we thank you so much. If you think you might want to be, head here https://www.wwt.org.uk/join-and-support and let’s restore our planet’s wetland ecosystems together.WANT TO VISIT US FIRST? We get it – it’s a big commitment! Visit us, and if you decide you’d like to become a member, your admission cost will be deducted from the membership price when you join on the day. There’s no need to pre-book a visit, but if you'd prefer to pay online and save time at the till, click below. Plan your visit
Bat boxes are a fantastic thing to have around and not only do they offer a home for our native bat population, they also help us keep track of their successes in the UK with regular surveying and checks. At this time of year, our reserve team spend time checking the condition of all of our existing bat boxes, while adding new bat boxes around key parts of our wetlands and woodlands. You may notice that these boxes are now suspended on metal brackets which allow them to hook over and hang freely. This makes it a much safer experience for our team when doing bat surveys, but also a quicker and more efficient job so as not to disturb the bats. Bats always cause a stir of excitement and, being a mammal that is often only seen at dusk and in very brief spurts, they are very much a creature of interest. Reserve manager John chatted to us about the bats we have on site and how we monitor them: What bats do we get on site here at Washington Wetland Centre? Mainly we find common and soprano pipistrelle in our boxes. We have put a new box on a tree that overhangs the river and saline lagoon and we will be monitoring that from now on for daubentons as they like roosting near the water. Will there be bats in the boxes right now and if so what will they be doing? It's unlikely that there will be bats in the boxes at the moment as most of them will still be hibernating in other locations. The main purpose of our bat boxes are for mating and breeding during the spring and summer. When do bats start coming back out? Bats will start to emerge after hibernating around April time. Keep an eye out at dawn for those small flitting silhouettes. Warmer days draw out small flying insects which are a perfect food source for bats! How often do we do bat surveys? Here at Washington we do 3 types of surveys: The first is a bat detector survey where we count the different type of bats identified by their frequency. These surveys are done after dusk between April and October by our reserve team. The second survey we do is via a bat box inspection and this is alongside a licenced member of a local bat group. These are typically carried out in April before bats give birth and again in September once pups are weaned or independant from their mother. The final surveys we do are harp traps, again under licence. Harp traps encourage a bat to change their flight angle and drop safely and unharmed into a cloth bag. These are done at least one per year during either spring or autumn (avoiding the breeding season) and is a great way of identifying species and gender of the different bats using around our wetlands and woodlands. It also allows us to gather important data on the elusive Nathusius' pipistrelle and other bat species that we don’t pick up in bat boxes. Interested in hearing about a bat event? Sign up to our newsletter and be the first to hear about all upcoming events at Washington Wetland Centre and our vital conservation work. Sign up
Nature is a truly wonderful thing, but sometimes it does need a bit of help to thrive. Nestboxes are a great way to help your local wildlife this spring. This #NationalNestboxWeek, why not think about introducing a box to your garden! Britain’s breeding birds are increasingly struggling to find suitable nesting space for a variety of reasons - increased woodland management, tree removal, over-tidying green spaces and even modern buildings with fewer nooks and crannies can all have a negative impact on birds that are looking for suitable nesting space and shelter to lay their eggs and raise their young. As a result, there has been a decline in the numbers of many birds that are able to successfully breed, but there is something that you can do to help. Introduce a next box Bringing a nest box into your garden or yard can not only help the local populations of a variety of birds, but can also give a big boost to the national numbers and overall success of key bird species. Bird boxes are used by all sorts of birds – commonly species such as blue tit, great tit, house sparrow, wren and starling; but also a variety of larger birds such as stock dove, kestrel and even owls can hugely benefit from the additional protective space of a nest box. If there's a key species you’d like to encourage into your garden, do some research on the best box to buy for their needs, while keeping in that that it also needs to be suitable for your outdoor space. There are a huge variety of boxes made from varying materials all with different openings and sizes that will attract different birds to them. Check out https://www.nestboxweek.com/which-birds-use-nestboxes which gives some great information of these different boxes and which birds will use them. Once you’ve decided on the box you’d like to go for, next you need to pick a spot that is suitable for the box to go. February is a great time to put up a box - it’s at this time that many birds are beginning their courtship rituals and will be house-hunting for their family abode. Your nest box location So, you’ve chosen your next box, next is choosing where to put it. It’s always an exciting prospect to introduce a nest box in the hopes that a feathered friend will take residence, but you need to make sure they’re put up in a safe place with good conditions – don’t be tempted to put it up somewhere which gives you the best view from your window – the chances are it won’t be the most suitable place for birds. Aim for a north-east facing opening, shaded areas are ideal or if not, try somewhere with some shrubs nearby but not too close so the opening isn’t obstructed. Always put the box in a vertical or even angled slightly forward position to best protect it from the elements, such as rain and strong sunlight. Try not to put them too low to the ground - 1m or above is best. Bear in mind any pets or children that may be in the area and also think about things like squirrels or larger birds (depending what type of box you go for), possibly adding a protective plate. Lastly, try and place them away from busy areas such as feeding stations and even nearby nest boxes - give them space! The regular noise from passing birds to feeders or even competing breeding pairs in a nearby nest box could upset birds who are looking to settle. Other things you can do Breeding birds need to stay hydrated. By adding a water bath and regularly topping up and cleaning the bath can help them find a safe place to drink and bathe, particularly during dry weather spells and hot days. Another thing you can do once spring hits is to grow flowers and plants which attract insects. These are perfect for feeding a growing feathered family as well as providing working adult birds with lots of sustenance, providing plenty of foraging and hunting opportunities to stay strong and healthy.
From their unexpected first appearance in June 2006, to their earliest ever arrival on February 16 2019, the buzz surrounding our avocets builds each year. These striking black and white waders may look dainty, with their slim upturned bills and delicate legs, but boy, are they tenacious. They return to Wader Lake each breeding season, having overwintered anywhere from estuaries on the South coast to places as far away as Spain and Morocco, and are often met with harsh weather conditions, but soon set about courting unperturbed. The shingle islands of our lake were created especially to provide vital breeding and nesting habitat for a range of bird species and after pairing off, the avocets set up home here beneath our grey heron colony, as a way of protecting their young from predators vicariously. This is a risky bet, given that the herons will also soon have hungry mouths to feed, but worth it on balance and if you’ve ever seen a feisty adult avocet ward off a potential threat to its brood, you might argue that they don’t need such help! In heavy spring rain, the islands can also flood, sweeping away nests and eggs in the process, but if it’s early enough in the season, the undaunted adults will lay again. This determination against the odds seems fitting for a bird which first colonised Britain in the 1940s, when coastal marshes in East Anglia were flooded to provide a defence against possible invasion by the Germans. The subsequent increase in numbers is one of the UK’s most successful conservation and protection projects. So with February underway and the weather seemingly mild (for now!), it’s all eyes on the skies to see when these remarkable birds will make their welcome return this year… Did you also know? Avocets are carnivores and feed by thrusting their long, thin bill underwater and swinging it side to side along the bottom to stir up aquatic insects.On July 27 2010, a pair of avocet colour-ringed at WWT Washington that June were sighted and reported at Cley NWT reserve in Norfolk (270km away and 38 days post-ringing).The name ‘avocet’ has its origins in the Italian word, 'avosetta'. The word refers to long-legged birds of the shore with an upturned bill.Their mating behaviour is very elegant – beginning with vigorous preening, before the female stops still and the male quickly moves from side to side behind the female, dipping his bill in the water. After copulation, they run forward together with bills crossed, the male with one wing over the female’s back. Finally, they run away from each other in a hunched posture. On October 7 2010 a single bird with colour rings (later identified as ring number ET65453) was sighted at Salinas la Tapa, El Puerto Real, Cadiz, SPAIN.The bird had travelled an amazing 2077km in the 110 days after ringing!