There’s something very comforting about traveling two or three time zones, or eight, and finding birds and people who love them. Strangers communicate instantly without the usual barriers getting in the way; stereotypes are irrelevant.
Binoculars and questions build temporary bridges, and for a moment, people find common ground; politics, religion, economics and social status don’t mean a whit (OK, there may be a little scope-envy, but hey, it’s not a perfect world).
I’ve found this to be true whether birding in Texas, Maryland or southern England. We’re connected to the whole through our winged friends.
And because the landscape is unfamiliar, even familiar birds seem special.
While birding in the award-winning London Wetland Centre, just 25 minutes from central London, a peregrine falcon hovered overhead – maybe 100 feet away and 75 feet up, and continued to hover longer than any other peregrine that I’ve observed hovering.
It doesn’t take long to become an unabashed rooter for the center, one of nine run by the 60-year-old Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It has 105 acres of wetlands that attract 170 different bird, 20 dragonfly and damselfly, six bat, four amphibian and more than 300 butterfly and moth species each year.
The six-year-old center is the first project of its kind in the world, a created wetlands in the heart of a capital city. Each area is protected or designed with specific species in mind. The World Wetlands section is a diverse collection of habitats and birds, including one called “North America.”
The diversity of birds (I quickly added great-crested grebe, linnet, moorhen and lapwing to my mental life list) was impressive, an international cast with information on them often found on numerous signs scatted about the wetlands.
The great-crested grebe is white below and gray-brown above with a white neck and a conspicuous crest. A linnet is a small finch. In the summer, the adult male has reddish-pink on breast and crown.
A moorhen is similar to a coot, but with a slightly lighter black coloring, a white streak along its flanks, white undertail coverts and a conspicuous fleshy scarlet forehead (right above the red bill with a yellow tip).
I was also impressed with the design that allowed birdwatching from sheltered sites.
There are six hides of various constructions that sit on the edge of Reservoir Lagoon, Main Lake or Wader Scrape. The Wildside Hide on Reservoir Lagoon and Peacock Tower on Wader Scrape have openings on all sides.
Many shorebirds scrape out a shallow spot on the ground and line the nest with vegetation, thus the name Wader Scrape, which in this case is an ecological invitation to nesting shorebirds, some of which can be seen from the hide.
There was celebration this summer when four rare avocet chicks hatched, the closest breeding location to central London since record-keeping began.
Avocets became extinct in Britain in the 19th century before recolonizing the county in the 20th century. They rarely breed inland. The hatch at the center is only the second recorded breeding in Greater London.
If it’s raining at a good clip, the hides become even more attractive. Well-drained paths and boardwalks make it possible to bird here year-round.
Regular events include free 1 1/2-hour guided tours twice a day, afternoon bird feeding with the wardens and weekend activities for families (identifying birds through songs, wildlife photography, introduction to insects, etc.).
There’s also a very interesting visitor center that includes a theater (start here with the “Planet Water” film), an observatory, a cafe, a shop and the Discovery Center. Pick up a birding map and be on your way.
This is a relaxing option to mix into the usual insane tourist schedule of bouncing from double-decker bus to museum to cathedral to London Bridge to The Eye to the Thames River tour and back to another museum.
And you might add a bird to your life list. For more information, go to www.wwt.org.uk.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.