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Wetlands throughout the seasons: summer sights

Wetlands throughout the seasons: summer sights

As the mercury rises and the long days draw out over our wetland landscapes, we know that summer is here. Spring bird migration is over but we’re now in the thick of new life emerging, with some real jewels to be seen. Even the smallest pond can be a magnet for wetland life during the summer months. Having spent months or even years as aquatic, predatory larvae, the nymphs of our dragonflies and damselflies are now emerging. Take a look at the stems of yellow flag iris or bulrush and you might spot these mini-beasts emerging into the daylight, or at least the empty cast that they leave behind once on the wing. Male large red damselfly One of the earliest that can be spotted is the hairy dragonfly (a small hawker), patrolling still water bodies, flying at low-level, zig-zagging in and out of the reeds. They have a relatively short flight season, just into July. One of our most widespread damselflies is the large red – they can be seen on the wing as early as March and as late as September. Another family to look out for are the chaser dragonflies – the four-spotted chaser is widespread and often one of the earliest to be seen. These are superficially similar to the female broad-bodied chaser – but you won’t be confused by the males, which are bright blue! Get out soon because both species won’t be on the wing much after the end of July. Male broad-bodied chaser Download a dragonfly spotter sheet These glittering insects are voracious predators in their own right, but of course provide a welcome food source for flourishing bird life. June is the month where many of our wetland birds, both resident and migratory, have young hatching out or fledging. This means the parents have got their work cut out with feeding growing mouths; the abundance of aerial insect prey is very welcome. In amongst our reedbeds, the sedge and reed warblers are busy providing for new families. For a few, efforts might be spent on an imposter – the cuckoo often parasitizes warbler nests, their giant young hatching first, pushing other eggs out of the nest and being fed until many times the size of the warblers. The adult cuckoos themselves are now coming towards the end of their stay here. Some will have arrived in April; come July most will have laid their eggs and will be off migrating south, eventually to winter in central Africa. Common cuckoo chick with reed warbler Similarly, now is a time when passage migration begins for birds that breed further north than us – you can pretty much bet on the first returning green sandpiper to be seen in the second week of June. These birds and other waders will most likely be non-breeding birds from Scandinavia and Arctic regions. However, you’re in with a good chance of seeing the young of wader species that have bred on our reserves; lapwing, oystercatcher, avocet and little-ringed plover to name a few. Not to mention the plethora of other waterbird families that will be dabbling, diving, upending, grazing, fishing and flying over the wetlands. One of those is a special visitor – the garganey – being our only duck species to visit just for the summer breeding season. They are scarce and favour shallow wetlands in the south of England. You’d be very lucky to see a duckling but do keep an eye out – if your local wetland had adults visit in the spring, there’s a chance that they have bred – even if you haven’t seen them in months! Male(R) and female(L) garganey Largely ignoring the avian species that they share their habitat with, mammals such as water voles are territorially guarding their burrows and eating everything they can get their paws on with the lush green plant growth in order to fatten up for winter. Water vole As night falls, another group of mammals emerges to feed. The glut of insect life is a boon for bats; if you’re lucky, the Daubenton’s can be seen scooping up prey from over the water. Sunset is a great time to be spotting bats flitting around, but blink and you’ll miss them. A guide to bats And how can we wax lyrical on summer wetland life without thinking about the plant species that fill the wetland landscape with colour. Sedges, grasses and bulrushes are now putting on growth and taking in energy that they’ll need later in the year. The bulrush produces new cigars; this is the female flower before the more feathery male flower. Wet grassland will now be a riot of colourful wildflowers – keep a look out for orchids such as marsh, pyramidal, common spotted and bee. Summer wildflowers - a quick guide Wildflowers and orchids Seize the summer The summer is the perfect time to get out to your nearest wetland centre and see for yourself the joys it has to offer. Visit

Build your own den

Build your own den

As the summer holidays draw nearer, it’s good to have a list of activities to entice your little ones away from their screens and into the fresh air. Children of all ages love creating spaces where they can escape and create imaginary worlds, away from the real world outside. So why not help them create their very own place? Somewhere they can do their own thing, whether that’s reading, diving into an imaginary or virtual world. Or maybe they’re an avid birder watcher and they want to create a wildlife hide, a place from where they can spend hours spying on the natural world around them. Building a den is easy. All you need is a little imagination. You can create a den in the smallest of spaces. You can make it indoors or outdoors, under a bed or under a tree. Follow our easy steps to create that perfect space for your children and who knows, maybe even one for yourself, after all, we’re all children at heart. Everyone will have his or her own idea of the perfect den. Imagine your perfect den Get the creative juices flowing by starting off by getting your den builders to draw a picture of their perfect den. They could label the different materials they need. Get them to think about what they could use to make it waterproof. What are they going to use for structure, what is going to be covered with, how do they want to decorate it inside and out? What do they want to do in it once it’s complete? What would be their perfect snack they’d like to eat inside to celebrate its completion? Have fun finding your den building materials. Delve into the attic or those cupboards under the stairs and you’ll be amazed by what you might find. Maybe you’ve got some old rope and some bamboo sticks in the shed, a couple of old blankets in the cupboard or some old sheets or duvet covers that have seen better days. Be prepared for a bit of chaos as strange things come to light. But from chaos comes creativity. Start with the structure As every good den builder knows, you need to start with a solid structure. If building outdoors, garden chairs and tables are a good bet and if building indoors, even a sofa can be a quick way to create a solid structure. Bamboo canes from the garden shed, or maybe you’ve got some bendy sticks or fallen branches lying around all offer possibilities. Could you re-purpose materials from your camping holidays? You can build your den from natural materials that have fallen off trees – just don’t break off branches Tying it all together You might have some spare string or rope. If you have any old clothes destined for the second hand shop or recycling, cut them up and create rags to help tie the structure together. Even old bicycle inner tubes, cut into strips 2.5 cm wide make great ties and with many bike shops staying open, this could be a great option. Save any large bits of material like olds sheets and duvet covers, dustsheets and old curtains to cover the shelter with. Time to decorate If you want to use your den in the rain, you’ll need to make it waterproof. Plastic sheeting, tarpaulin, or tent materials are all good options. Or you could just use a variety of old waterproof coats draped over the structure. If it doesn’t need to be waterproof, why not decorate old sheets with felt tips or fabric paint and create your very own fantasy palace, castle or camouflaged hide. Staying safe, stuff to avoid building with Before your little ones set off on their creative adventures it’s good to get some ground rules in place. Agree the materials that are best avoided, like glass, big bits of wood or anything heavy that could cause damage if it lands on someone’s head. Make it clear that tins of paints and chemicals are off limits as they’re bad for you and the environment. And make it clear that they’re only to use fallen branches and leaves and not to cut anything off living trees or plants. For your own sanity Agree before you start if there’s anything off limits that you don’t want your den builders to use in their dens. After all you don’t want your favourite table cloth ending up in a muddy pile in the garden. Make sure that everyone knows it’s their job to tidy up after themselves and put things away neatly when it’s time to dismantle the den. You can get up to all sorts of adventures from your den base Now you’ve got your den... It’s time for the adventure to begin! Inspired by forest schools, our range of outdoor crafts and creative activities will keep them busy and active in their den all day. Browse the range Your wetland adventure Come to our wetlands this summer and take part in a range of outdoorsy wetland adventures including den building (selected centres only). Visit

A spotlight on wetland wildlife - April 2021

A spotlight on wetland wildlife - April 2021

April started with warm temperatures but northerly winds soon set in and brought cool air and very little rainfall. This resulted in our wetlands experiencing different weather to recent springs, with bird migration not quite as early as it would have been in warm southerly winds. However, even in cooler temperatures, spring was still blossoming all around us, new life emerging and summer migrants gracing our shores. Join us as we give a warm welcome to all… Signs of spring We saw catkins and blossom coming out at Caerlaverock. [HB::MODULE(1897)] And spring migrants beginning to arrive. [HB::MODULE(1898)] With the increased sunshine, life stirred from its winter slumber; these two great white egret certainly were appreciative. [HB::MODULE(1899)] The dry weather meant it was perfect conditions for a skylark dust-bath! [HB::MODULE(1900)] Birds were on the move, with Slimbridge being visited by both spoonbill and osprey in the first week of the month. [HB::MODULE(1901)] [HB::MODULE(1902)] New life is all around By mid-April, our sites were open to the public once again and there was no shortage of young wildlife to spot. [HB::MODULE(1904)] [HB::MODULE(1905)] Have you ever seen a duckling run that fast!? [HB::MODULE(1906)] Incredibly, Welney staff witnessed a pair of bittern mating – not many of us can say the same! [HB::MODULE(1907)] The sunshine also brought out invertebrate life at Castle Espie. [HB::MODULE(1908)] The wonder of spring is everywhere - these toad tadpoles were spotted at Steart Marshes. [HB::MODULE(1918)] The wonders of migration Migrant arrivals continued, with a garganey seen at Slimbridge... [HB::MODULE(1909)] And wheatear. [HB::MODULE(1910)] April can bring some scarcer visitors to our wetlands, such as this common scoter at Martin Mere... [HB::MODULE(1911)] A spotted redshank at Welney... [HB::MODULE(1912)] And a bar-tailed godwit in the grounds at London. [HB::MODULE(1913)] All of these species, in their summer plumage, will be en-route north to their breeding grounds. Many of our more common migrants were now back on their breeding territory [HB::MODULE(1914)] [HB::MODULE(1915)] While over at Castle Espie, rather excitingly we could be looking at breeding Mediterranean gull and sandwich tern this year. [HB::MODULE(1916)] [HB::MODULE(1917)] In May, we look forward to most of our migrants having arrived and begun breeding. There will of course be many more youngsters to see. And after the near-drought of April, May will of course see just a little more rain… See for yourself Experience our wonderful wetland wildlife this spring. You can book your ticket for your local centre here: Visit

Spring and summer in wetlands: a guide for wellbeing

Spring and summer in wetlands: a guide for wellbeing

Our free guide explores some of the ways that nature can help keep us healthy. It’s full of ideas and activities intended to help you engage with nature following the five steps to wellbeing.

Migrations series – How do birds know where to go?

Migrations series – How do birds know where to go?

Migrating birds follow predictable routes. These routes are well known; we call the one that brings wintering birds to our shores the Northwest European flyway and the one that brings summering birds the East Atlantic flyway. You can’t see them, but they

Curlew sightings are a sign of hope for 2021

Curlew sightings are a sign of hope for 2021

Glimpses of young curlew give encouraging signs for the 2021 breeding season, although it's still early days for the declining curlew.

Diary of a swan spotter

Diary of a swan spotter

Volunteer swan spotter extraordinaire, Wim Tijsen, talks Bewick’s, climate change and why the calls of the swans’ post migration reunions are forever etched into his memory.

We're Good to Go

We're Good to Go

We’re looking forward to welcoming you back to our wetland sites across the UK and have everything in place so you have the best day out.

Five wetland plants with secret superpowers

Five wetland plants with secret superpowers

Plants are the structural foundation of wetlands, supporting a range of life. They also have some amazing and unexpected qualities. Yet they are often under-appreciated.

A spotlight on wetland wildlife - March 2021

A spotlight on wetland wildlife - March 2021

March has been a real month of change, sometimes cold but often with a real sense of spring in the air. We have said ‘bon voyage’ to the last of our winter visitors and a brief ‘hello’ to those species just passing through...

More indoor and outdoor nature-themed family activities to try during the school holidays

More indoor and outdoor nature-themed family activities to try during the school holidays

The Easter holidays are here, and with warmer weather on the horizon and buds bursting into flower you might be looking to nature to keep your young adventurers entertained. Your local wetland is the perfect playground. Although we think that a rainy day has its own charms and can be just as fun (hello puddle jumping) we know that sometimes you’d rather stay inside cosied up. Or perhaps you’re choosing to stay indoors for safety reasons. Either way, it’s not always possible to get to a wetland, but this doesn’t mean you can’t still make most of what the natural world has to offer. So bearing that in mind, here are some of our favourite family activities to try, whether you’re exploring your local nature or becoming an indoor explorer. Outdoor fun 1. Become an undercover birdwatcher Birds can be a bit shy, so why not take your birdwatching to the next level by building your own hide in the garden or by a window? Going incognito like a pro wildlife photographer is a great way to get closer to nature without disturbing it. Staying still and observing isn’t always easy, so by building your own hide you’ll have a great place to practice being quiet, not moving and just taking in as much of the world around you as possible. Many birders say that watching birds gives them a wonderful chance to focus and be really present in the moment – regardless of how many species they actually spot. To make your own hide, just follow our simple step by step guide. 2. Make a LEGO bird table So you’ve got your hide… but the birds are few and far between. If you want to encourage more birds to your garden or outside your window, one way to do this is to provide a source of food and water. This tutorial combines two of our favourite things in one, helping nature and playing with LEGO! How to make a lego bird table: watch the video 3. Go garden bird spotting Hide? check. Happy birds munching away? check. Immediately, you notice that some of them are different: some you recognise, but some you’ve never seen before. You don’t need to be able to ID birds to get a lot out of watching them, but if you find it fun to be able to put a name to a beak, our common garden birds guide might help. Feeling ready to take your skills out and about? Read our birdwatching for beginners guide to get started. 4. Look at feathers One of the most incredible things about birds is their feathers, which only get more fascinating the more you look and learn about them. Why not head out to your local wetland and see what kind of feathers you can find there? Just be careful not to get too close to any nesting birds. Feather colours are formed by either pigment or structure, or both. Structural colours, such as the blue of a kingfisher or the iridescence of a lapwing, are produced by the bending of the light through the feather. If you hold it up to the light, it will appear brown. Look really closely at a feather, and you’ll see how it’s made of thousands of individual strands, creating so many different patterns and shapes. So next time you find one, why not take a much closer look? 5. Make a bug hotel Many of the garden birds we know and recognise are insectivorous, which means they love to dine on a juicy creepy crawly. Did you know that many flying insects actually start life underwater, and they’re reliant on wetlands for the majority of their lives? Make your own bug hotel to provide homes for mini-beasts where you live, and give an old juice or milk carton a whole new lease of life while you’re doing it – a double win for nature. Invertebrates are often underrated, but they are a vital part of nature, providing a source of food for other animals, helping to pollinate plants and recycling nutrients back into the soil. Birds, bats and amphibians all rely on mini-beasts as food source in spring, whether they’re fattening up after arriving back from a long migration, or emerging from hibernation and getting ready for the breeding season. Indoor activities 1. Draw what’s outside your window Tired of looking out at the same view every day? Maybe it’s time to look at it in a whole new light. This fun drawing activity gets you to look – really look – out your window, and draw what you see there. It can be as accurate or as expressive as you like, and if you can convey a sense of emotion through your picture then you’re well on your way to creating art. Can you inject new life into the view through your markings on the paper, through your use of colour and texture? What wildlife is out there, going about its day? What sounds can you hear, how does this influence your creation? Print out this window template or have a go at drawing your own. 2. Take the Easter chicks quiz What’s the best way of identifying a young bird? Probably looking at its parent, as they can be hard to identify, usually coming in humbug stripes or murky browns and blacks for better camouflage from predators. But there are some tell-tale giveaway signs. Take our fun quiz and see if you can work out what each youngster is going to be when it grows up, then amaze your family when you come back to your WWT centre. Take the quiz 3. Make a spring nature mobile This activity combines both indoor and outdoor fun. First, go on a nature hunt (this could be a back garden, park or your local wetland) and gather up some lightweight items, as well as a good stick. Then, create your mobile – no two will be the same and it’s a lovely way to remember your favourite places with all your senses when you’re at home. How to make a nature mobile 4. Make an origami frog In our latest origami tutorial, find out how to make a simple jumping frog. You could even draw a series of beautiful lily pads on a pond for them to jump across. All you need is a square piece of paper, and some patience to practice those folding skills. Once you’ve worked out the technique, it’s easy. 5. Wordsearches and colouring-in We’ve got spring on our minds, and now so will you. Can you find all the springlike words in our wordsearch? If words aren’t your thing, you can try your hand at colouring in. Easter wouldn’t be complete without an egg hunt, and there are loads hidden in this picture. Can you find them all? When you’re done, colour in the duck using your favourite spring colours. Help! I’ve run out of things to do… We have plenty more nature-themed boredom busters to keep everyone entertained and occupied on our fun and learning hub. Find activities

How to tell the difference between frog and toad spawn

How to tell the difference between frog and toad spawn

Have you spotted any frogspawn yet? Whether it’s in a local pond or your own back garden it’s always an exciting moment. Along with daffodils and birdsong it’s one of the first signs that spring is here. We know it can be hard to tell exactly what is wha

10 Biodiversity success stories from WWT Reserves in 2020

10 Biodiversity success stories from WWT Reserves in 2020

2020 was a tough year, but the results are in and we’re delighted to report that we have some stories of conservation optimism to share with you. Head of Reserves Emma Hutchins takes stock and reflects on the highlights of 2020 at our ten WWT wetland sit

How the weather affects migratory birds

How the weather affects migratory birds

The weather can have a dramatic impact on migrating birds. From cloud structure to wind direction and strength, each can play a part in the success or failure of a bird’s migration.

A spotlight on wetland wildlife - February 2021

A spotlight on wetland wildlife - February 2021

February has been a real mix of weather on our reserves, from a week of sub-zero temperatures to the recent warm air blowing up from the south. One week we were in the depths of winter, the next was looking very much like spring...