“Aaaaand… hold that pose. Beautiful!”
While I was busily looking at blossom and daffodils on yesterday’s riverside walk, I was quite astonished to turn a corner on the towpath and encounter this heron. I’ve posted about herons before – but I’ve never managed to get so close to one in all my years of exploring the area. It really didn’t seem at all bothered by the many Sunday strollers milling around, and it let me get within a few feet of it to snatch these shots as it happily posed. Having consulted the bird guide on the RSPB website, I suspect this may be a juvenile bird, which might account for it showing off for us humans! A supermodel in the making, perhaps?
Watch out Kate Moss – there’s a new kid in town…
Digging though the Another Kind Of Mind media library, I came across some photographs I had uploaded over the summer and then promptly forgotten about, so I thought I would share them with you now (plus, we haven’t had any ducks round these parts for a while!). Most of these were taken along my favourite stretch of the Thames between Twickenham and Richmond in south-west London during the early summer of 2012.
Well, more like a coot actually. And this one, believe it or not, is actually building a nest on this floating platform. Most birds are pretty secretive about where they nest, tucking themselves away in trees (like the parakeet nest I recently spotted, cunningly hidden in a hole half way up a tree trunk), hedges or undergrowth to prevent predators from getting at them and their precious offspring – but coots are a bit more blatant about their nest building.
Highly aggressive and very territorial, particularly during the breeding season, coots are, as you can see, pretty in your face about nesting, despite the fact that they often lose a high percentage of their young to gulls and herons because they make so little effort to disguise their nest sites. Being omnivores, they will even eat the eggs of other water birds, and are also known to viciously bully their own young, all of which – despite their small size and attractive appearance – makes them a bird not to be crossed under any circumstances, quite frankly!
Fortunately, this one didn’t spot me as I photographed it – I dread to think what would have happened if it had…
Duck and cover, methinks!
“You can learn more about the human condition in a voyage along the Thames than on any long journey over the oceans of the world” – Peter Ackroyd¹
Whether you’re a Londoner by birth or by inclination (or even not at all), there is no denying that there is something special about the River Thames; something powerful that describes and defines this city (and beyond) in a way that nothing else can.
I was born in a west London suburb not far from the river, and grew into adulthood at various locations along the winding path of the Thames; all of which probably goes a long way towards explaining my continuing fascination with it.
The Thames inspires. Like so many before me, I’m creatively inspired by its sheer size and power and beauty – and by its profoundly ancient presence, a presence that almost borders on a sentience. It comes as no surprise, then, to hear that there have been countless myths, legends and ghost stories associated with the Thames since time immemorial. The river is a place of mystery and natural power.
Should you go for a walk along any stretch of the Thames on a sunny afternoon round about this time of year, you’re almost guaranteed to spot some wildlife on your way. Be it fish or ducks or gulls or herons or seals or even small land mammals and, of course, a multitude of insects, the river and its banks are nigh on heaving with life these days. But that wasn’t always the case. And there have been times in the river’s history when far scarier creatures than these roamed the banks and the flood plains of the Thames…
Many of you will remember the tragic tale of the ‘Thames whale’ and the media frenzy that poor creature unintentionally provoked – but can you imagine the reaction of the press if a hippo was spotted happily swimming under London Bridge? Or if a woolly mammoth went on a rampage along the Embankment? Or if a straight-tusked elephant was seen munching its way through the flora of Docklands? Or if a woolly rhinoceros charged across Waterloo Bridge, scattering oblivious commuters in its wake?
Had they been around at the time, the red-top tabloids would have probably not even batted an eyelid at any such sights, as there is much archaeological evidence for all of these large and frankly quite scary prehistoric creatures living in and around the river area – alongside our Paleolithic ancestors, who hunted these beasts for their skins and meat.
So apparently spring has finally arrived at last! Not with a bang, obviously, but shuffling in like a kid who’s late for school again, staring at its shoelaces and shamefacedly muttering its apologies to Mother Nature as it slinks, red faced to its desk. A crappy simile, I know, but it has all been a bit underwhelming thus far.
But then I spotted this beautiful tree full of blossom as I walked through Old Isleworth (down by the river Thames in west London) on my way home from a friend’s house on Bank Holiday Monday. The sun was finally shining, the evening sky was an almost summery blue, and the loveliness of this tree just made me smile (and reach for my camera).
The walk I took (from the Brent Lea gate of Syon Park to South Street in Old Isleworth) is a very pleasant one indeed, even if you’re not a great walker. You can stop for coffee and cake at the Syon Park cafe, or have a beer at one of the several historic pubs in the neighbourhood if you want to take it slowly!
There are times in Syon Park itself when you can almost forget you are in London – and many of the beautiful Georgian and Victorian (and older) buildings along the route can even almost make you forget what century you are in. You can see more of my views of Old Isleworth on Flickr.