Discovering & Exploring Willington Wetlands

14 October 2020

I've always been one to explore. Whether that be the rolling hills of the Peak District, peaceful lakes in the Lake District or ancient forests in the Cairngorms, I've always had the desire to explore the beauty of nature. However during these difficult times during the pandemic, it's encouraged me to explore places more closer to home. I've explored more of my local nature trail, I've really given more time to walk along its paths and discover things I never noticed before, like the call of a buzzard soaring above the canopies or discovering badger sets amongst the woodland and even get stuck into some voluntary work. During this time I've really been able to appreciate nature right on my doorstep. 

Over the past year or so I've been enjoying exploring wetland reserves and discovering new species of wetland birds and spending time sat in bird hides to watch wildlife. So I decided to do some research and see what wetland reserves I could find nearby. After reading up on the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust website, I came across Willington Wetlands which isn't too far of a journey. As mentioned in my previous blog post, I have been working towards the John Muir Discovery award and I chose Willington Wetlands because I wanted to show how you never have to travel too far to see a variety of wildlife. 

Over the past two weekends I have been out to Willington Wetlands to see what wildlife I could find. Willington Wetlands is a former sand and gravel quarry in the Trent Valley, it's flooded gravel pits are very important for wetland wildlife as it creates a habitat for rare birds and a variety of species. The grass islands provide a home for birds and are suitable for breeding waders and in spring large number of curlew gather on the grassland before they set off North to breed. Willington Wetlands is spread over 44 hectares and is owned by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and has restricted access which helps to prevent disturbance to the wildlife, however visitors are still able to access viewing platforms along the Meadow Lane. Up to 20 species of waders visit in spring and autumn along with dragonfly, damselfly and otters, so it's not just birds that visit!

On my first visit I walked down the single track road along Meadow Lane towards the wetlands, wellies were certainly needed as it was rather muddy. Walking along the single track road I could hear robins singing in the trees and geese honking in the distance. When I got to the bottom of the single track road I stopped to read the information board which had plenty of information about the wetland reserve and what can be seen. I set off along the muddy trail a spotted blue tits, robins, great tits and a goldcrest in the trees and felt the odd droplet of rain falling from the tree branches above me. As I walked along the trail, I stopped to walk up the viewing platforms to look out across the water and reedbeds. As I was looking out from one of the platforms, suddenly I saw a flash of blue fly past me and land in the reedbeds. I thought I would wait a while to see if it would come back and after a few minutes that bright colour of blue was back. I followed it with my eyes and right there in front of me the kingfisher landed and perched on a branch just above the water. I couldn't believe my eyes, a kingfisher was perched on a branch right in front of me and was sat still for a while, just long enough for me to take a few photos! It then flew off back into the reedbed again and I decided to take a walk down to the next platform where I saw a grey heron, cormorant and a skein of geese fly over. 

As I was walking down to the bottom of the trail, I spotted a swan flying towards the wetlands in the distance. I got out my camera and zoomed in to see that it was a whooper swan. It gracefully past the autumn trees and landed gracefully on the water. I had seen whooper swans at Martin Mere last year but never had I ever seen one closer to home before, it was a spectacular sight. After spending some more time at the bottom platform, I decided to set off back down to the start of the trail. I spoke to a couple of locals about the sightings we had seen and we were all very happy to have seen the whooper swan! 

The next Sunday, I decided to take another visit as the weather was drier and brighter and to see what other wildlife I could see. The wellies were back on and I set off along the trail, with the sun shining through the golden autumn trees and a cool breeze in the air. Once again the trail was bursting with the sounds of birds singing in the trees and the calls of wetland wildfowl towards the reserve. I got to the first viewing platform where I watched the reflections and ripples in the water and spotted a lapwing across the wetland next to some rocks in the water. There was no sign of the kingfisher but I could see a grey heron hiding amongst the reeds, cormorants flying over, mute swans, Canadian geese, female and male mallard ducks. Beside one of the platforms was a table where seeds would have been left for the birds, I had taken some bird seed with me and so I scattered some on the table. After a few minutes the birds started visiting the table, the robin was first, closely followed by great tits, blue tits and a dunnock. 

After spending a while at each of the platforms, I headed back along the trail and told some locals of my sightings. Instead of heading back the usual way along the single track road, I took a left turn along another trail to take me back into the village. I spotted blue tits amongst the hawthorn trees and blackbirds too who were interested in the berries. In the distance I saw a bird of prey soaring in the sky above the trees, I couldn't get a close enough photo as it was far away but I guessed it was a buzzard. I arrived back in the village after walking along the trail past a smaller gravel pit surrounded by reeds where I spotted two mute swans. I will definitely be making a trip back here soon, as I've discovered what makes this place special is that you're always going to find wildlife throughout all of the seasons. I'll be sure to make a return throughout winter to hopefully spot a bittern!

Willington Wetlands

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