Leg of Mutton Nature Reserve, Barnes

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When talking of bird-and-other-wildlife-watching spots in Barnes, the main attraction surely is London Wetland Centre, a great place to spend a whole day. But if you’re looking for a smaller, pretty place to drop by while hiking along the Thames, Leg of Mutton fits the bill. It’s tucked away right by Thames Path, halfway between Hammersmith Bridge and Barnes Bridge. What has it got to offer? A lake with reedbeds and nesting rafts, good mix of hedgerow shrubs and trees, a heronry. There are some well-placed benches too, and on sunnier late March days it’s quite lovely with robins, great tits, wrens, chiffchaffs and blackcaps singing all day, and the first butterflies and drowsy queen bumblebees fluttering by.

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Green alkanet was one of the few wildflowers in bloom. Buff-tailed bumblebees as well as some hoverflies congregated around the precious few nectar sources. Green alkanet grows well without any care and its flowers are very attractive, so it’s confusing to me why it’s considered a weed. How exactly does a plant earn its status as a flower suitable for a garden, I wonder. Is there some informal requirement for the size of its flowers, or their density? For difficulty in maintaining it? For appearance different from the common plants one might encounter on a meadow, or, much more likely in England, on a grass verge that escaped mowing for some time?

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Below is another underdog of the flower world – the white dead-nettle. Nettle-like plant which does not sting, has whorls of flowers which look like a clearly marked tunnel entrance with a landing pad and an awning over it, and is popular with bees.

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There are more and more bees and bumblebees around, but wait, some of them look a little strange. In fact, despite their golden fur, they’re not bees at all. But they try their best to blend in. This Large Bee-fly took a short rest from feeding on nectar to warm up a little more in the sun.

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Meanwhile, the still mostly leafless trees allow a clear view of birds. On gloomy days, the reserve may appear somewhat desolate, but nothing brightens up a grey landscape like a robin.

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Long-tailed tits no longer hang out with other tits in flocks. They mostly keep together with their mate, searching for nesting material, foraging for insects and feeding on tree pollen.

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Chiffchaffs are usually a challenge to take a picture of (at least for me!), tiny as they are, sitting high among branches, as if they knew my camera would never be able to focus on them. But as this one kept hopping from one perch to another in between bursts of song, he afforded me a rather good view.

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On the river bank just outside the reserve carrior crows were overturning stones, looking for tasty invertebrates. A yellow-legged gull picked up a stick and was showed it to its mate time and again, but the other gull was not impressed. The stick-carrying gull dropped the item and picked it up again, but after a while gave up, and when the mate started the trumpet call, the stick was forgotten as the second gull joined in.

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Adjacent to the reserve is a tiny park, Small Profit Dock Gardens, a place of the closely-mowed grass plus sparse trees variety. A surprising find there was a cowslip, a gorgeous wildflower, the only one in the park. It escaped the lawnmower, sheltered under a bench, growing in between pavement slabs. A spring-time beauty rising against a grey background, with a cigarette butt behind.

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