I would like to tell you a little about one of my favourite places for photographing birds of all kinds. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) centre at Washington near Sunderland is an unexpected oasis in the middle of a fairly built up area beside the River Wear.
WWT was set up by Sir Peter Scott, son of the Antarctic explorer Captain Scott. He established the first centre at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire in 1946 and today there are 9 centres throughout the UK. Gordon and I are WWT members and visit the centres at Washington and Caerlaverock on a fairly regular basis.
WWT Washington in particular is a great place for a family day out but also presents many photographic opportunities. There is a huge variety of birds, from captive breeds of duck and geese and cranes to many species of wild birds. The wild birds vary with the seasons but I don’t think anyone could be disappointed.
Starting from the centre where you can purchase food and drink, you come to the ponds with all the ‘fancy’ ducks. There are many very colourful species and you can walk through and get very close to them. Particularly useful if you are working with a smaller lens.
From there the natural route takes you past a large reed bed with Moor Hens and more ducks. Continuing downhill takes a route through a wooded area that has been allowed to naturalise as a habitat for insects and bats.
Passing another lake, which is home to a large flock of Tufted ducks, we come to the Hawthorn Wood hide. This spacious hide looks onto a feeding area for wild birds which is surrounded by a wide variety of trees giving natural perches for them before they fly into the feeders. Over the years, I have photographed Blue Tits, Great Tits, Long Tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Gold Finches, Nuthatches, Tree Creepers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins, Redpolls, Robins, Dunnocks and the occasional grey squirrel and pheasant from this hide. The trick is to watch for a while to see where the birds are landing before they hop onto the feeders and keep focussed on those areas.
Moving on takes us down to the Saline Lagoon hide where recently I managed to photograph a Kingfisher on a natural perch by the lagoon. It is a little small in the frame but I was thrilled to see it. There were also Shoveller ducks and Shellducks. As this hide is a bit further from the lagoons it needs a longer lens to make the best of photographing the wildlife.
Still continuing downhill this takes us to the bottom of the site and the Eye On The Wear where goosanders, herons, cormorants, curlews, redshanks and sandpipers can be seen on occasion. Also, otters have been spotted on the high tides.
This area is next to the Wader Lake. Wader Lake is a large area of water with several waterside hides. Depending on the time of year there can be a fantastic range of waders including Snipe, Teal, Wigeon, Geese, Lapwings, Terns, Godwits and my particular favourites Avocets. The Avocets breed at Washington over the spring/summer but are seasonal. There are usually 20+ pairs.
Across the lake is a large Heronry that is particularly active with nesting birds early in the year. This is fairly far away for decent photographs but is wonderful to see.
There are various ways back up to the centre from here and depending on your choice you can walk through areas with ponds for dragonflies and up through the woods and meadows where roe deer may be spotted as well as jays and fieldfares; or up past the family of captive otters or the flock of flamingos and more varieties of ducks or the large butterfly/insect garden.
Back up near the centre, you can find two European Cranes. In the centre itself, there is information about the reintroduction of cranes to the UK. I have to admit I didn’t realise that they had been a UK species until I read the information. I believe that many places with “Cran” in their names were in fact places where cranes used to be found.
It is a couple of hours drive to get there but for photographers, one of the advantages of visiting WWT Washington is that there is always something to photograph.
WWT undertakes research and conservation projects around the world and their role in protecting wetlands and wildlife cannot be underestimated particularly in the light of the current challenges that we face. Wetlands are key in helping us meet our most pressing environmental challenges. Among other things, they are the most effective carbon sink on the planet.
I can thoroughly recommend a visit. If you want to have a go at bird photography, it is indeed a grand day out.