Last weekend I braved the freezing cold to help out at the RSPB’s Date With Nature in Battersea Park. I used to run through the park frequently when training for a marathon last year but, like many of the joggers and strollers in the park, I rarely used to look up and see what was in the trees. Which is a real shame, since there is a thriving heronry of 20-30 herons nests sitting 30 metres off the ground, with chicks expected to hatch in the next week or so.
We stationed ourselves beside the pond with telescopes and binoculars, to show passers-by the Grey herons, tell them more about the work of the RSPB, and encourage them to join. The heron facts that always most intrigue people are that herons beaks turn from yellow to pink during the breeding season, and that they use the same nest each year, simply renovating and improving it (very DIY SOS). Each of the nests we saw will have between two and five pale blue eggs in it, with a bit of luck, and the chicks will stay in the nest til they are 20-30 days old.
Anyone who has stocked a pond with goldfish or koi carp, only to have the fish stolen by a wiley heron, may not be the biggest fan of this graceful bird but they are good news in terms of the UK’s rivers and lakes, since it shows the water quality, and their food sources, are healthy. Across London, there are now 15 heronries, because of improvements in water quality.
While I nearly lost my fingers to frostbite, the cold weather did not deter the herons, nor the Egyptian geese, Tufted ducks, pochards, Canada geese, shovellers, mallards, moorhens and coots that were out on the pond. The RSPB team is there til 4pm today if you’re in the neighbourhood – or see this list of other Date With Nature events across the UK in the coming months.