No bees in this post, sorry. This weekend got madly busy and I didn’t go to see the bees, though I did meet several slow worms, a grass snake, lots of cute ducks and mock wrestling otters to make up for it, all at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes. Laurence Arnold, one of the centre’s staff, took us on a guided reptile walk which I really recommend. All the photos below were taken by Drew Scott.
Above is Laurence, showing us some skin shed by a slow worm. After dipping our shoes in a special solution and stepping over an electric fence, we walked along a high grassy bank usually inaccessible to the public. Up here the staff do weekly surveys of reptile numbers, by lifting up specially placed shelters made from squares of felt or corrugated iron.
It didn’t take long before Laurence caught a wriggling slow worm under one of these shelters. She soon calmed down after he tickled her under the chin for a while. One of the ways to tell the difference between a slow worm and a snake is that the slow worms have eyelids, whereas snakes just have a clear fluid film to protect their eyes. You can see this when the slow worms blink.
The way to distinguish between male and female slow worms is that males are all one colour, whereas females have a darker line along their undersides. They will eat anything they can get into their mouths, for instance slugs are a favourite treat (another reason not to use slug pellets). Mating takes place in spring, after which the females give birth to live young in September. Not all reptiles lay eggs, some give birth!
Just beyond the grassy bank, outside the centre’s boundary, is a row of extremely posh houses. We saw plenty of swimming pools and conservatories. This brings the hazard of cats, who like to play with the slow worms. Birds are also keen on eating them. Luckily slow worms spend most of their time burrowed down close to the ground.
Laurence also found a gorgeous grass snake! She produced lots of musk alarm scent as she writhed in his grip, trying to make herself seem unappetising. Laurence told us that he loves this musky snake scent, as for him it’s the smell of summer. Her tongue forked back and forth as she tried to make sense of all the human smells around her.
I love the greeny blue pattern on her underside. I stroked her a little – she felt dry, not slimy. It felt special to meet a creature like this close up – I wouldn’t dare to pick up a snake I found in the wild! And I suspect I’d be way too slow. Of course, grass snakes can do us no harm beyond a nip.
A spotting by Drew along the footpaths – a common lizard. They like to burrow into the crevices in the wood.
Laurence taught us so much, unfortunately much more than I can possibly try to write down here! After his brilliant walk ended, we ate some lunch and went on to visit the birds. I couldn’t resist Drew’s photo of the pair above.
I think these are Little Grebe young. They stayed on the surface while mum dived for food, quacking frantically when she emerged. Occasionally she gave them some, but mostly her dives seemed unsuccessful.
Next, the most amazing thing happened. Where did the ducklings (or should I say grebelings?) go?! Look closely at the photo above.
They hopped on mum’s back! She lifted up her wings and let them nestle under there. Occasionally a waggling foot or an inquisitive little head popped out. So cute.
EDIT: I have since come across this great blog post by Tricia – ‘Dragons, Very Little Grebes and Otters‘ – Tricia seems to have been there a day before us and has gone one (or should I say two?) better by managing to get photos of three little grebe chicks on mum’s back!
I need help identifying this gorgeous dragonfly, any ideas please? I’m wondering about it being a variety of Migrant Hawker.
I possibly saved the best for last… the otters! A slinky new addition to the Wetlands Centre. The two pups were mock wrestling, rolling over each other, snapping and snorting as they had great fun playing with a rubber toy.
Mum looked on and occasionally pinned a pup down if they got too naughty.
Otters are the best. Well, the best mammals. (They don’t beat bees, obviously). Thanks for a lovely day out, London Wetlands Centre! Bee posting to resume next week.