It was a soggy Sunday afternoon in September and the last thing I wanted was to be stuck in the house with my ever growing pile of ironing staring back at me. I also had my mum staying over and we’d both spent the last 24 hours over indulging in all the naughty foods and copious amounts of prosecco so with a strong need to blow away the cobwebs we jumped in the car and headed south on the A19 to visit WWT Washington Wetland Centre.
I’d passed the brown signs on the A19 directing people towards Washington Wetlands many times but had never been before. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but with Autumn descending upon us, I had been reliably informed that the changing of the season would mean spectacular scenery and wonderful wildlife.
James came along too and the three of us arrived just in time to join the nature reserve warden David on a guided tour. As we strolled from the visitor centre where the entrance is situated past the vast wetlands that are home to magnificent Eurasian cranes, my first impressions were of how calm and relaxing the place was. I felt like we’d travelled deep in to the countryside, rather than just a few miles from the city.
Noisy geese passed overhead and I had my first ever glimpse of a black swan! There were lots of other birds along the way too but I was unfamiliar with most of them. Thankfully our knowledgeable guide David was on hand to answer any questions and he seemed to be an oracle on all things feathered! Turns out David has a blog of his own, filled with photos and tales of his work with wildlife, I couldn’t help but think what what a wonderful job he has! Check it out here: www.naturenortheast.co.uk
David led us to the Hawthorn Wood Hide where we were able to spot a vast array of beautiful birds including a rather shy woodpecker which made my day! Jays, bullfinches and long-tailed tits also came to gorge on the bird feeders right before our eyes and I could have happily sat there watching them all day, it was really very tranquil.
At this point I only had two disappointments, one was that I had forgotten to bring my Tamron zoom lens and the other was that my Dad wasn’t with us. He’s kept birds for as long as I can remember, from racing pigeons, to fan tail doves and most recently quails, so I kept thinking about how much he would have loved it at Washington Wetland Centre. (We’ll go back next time you visit Dad I promise!)
The kids would definitely have enjoyed it too; a lot of thought has clearly gone in to inspiring young minds. The centre has a Playscape play area where little ones can let off steam with water play (might want to pack their wellies for that!) The pond zone looked great too, I’m yet to meet a toddler who doesn’t love to get their hands dirty in search for bugs! There’s also indoor fun with the Discovery Centre which offers puzzles, craft activities and games and of course, there’s bird seed on sale at reception so you can feed the birds as you wander through the Wetland Centre.
After spending some time bird (and squirrel) watching in the Hawthorn Wood Hide, we followed David past reed beds and fields of wild mushrooms to the Lagoon View Hide. This relatively new addition to WWT Washington Wetlands opened in May 2016 and is a magical place offering panoramic views of the lagoon and River Wear.
The area where the beautiful hide sits is popular with kingfishers and although sightings have increased over the past couple of years we weren’t lucky enough to spot one during our visit. Other reported sightings from the hide include deer, otters, fox and a variety of birds including little egret, grey heron and lapwing. It’s a wildlife lover’s dream!
Our guide David left us to our own devices after an hour so we thanked him for his enthusiastic and informative tour and headed over to meet the resident otters. The family of otters at Washington Wetland Centre is a growing gang, the newest cubs were born just a few months ago and it was lovely to watch them play in front of all the families who had come to watch the feeding session. A warden feeds the otters at 11.30am and 3pm everyday while educating visitors about their habits.
Once the warden had finished feeding the otters she made her way around the corner to feed some of the other residents, so we followed her and I couldn’t believe my eyes…
We were greeted by a huge flock of bright pink Chilean flamingos! I had never seen one up close before and I was truly fascinated by them, their movements were so intriguing and unlike any other birds I had ever encountered! Aren’t they wonderful?
We all had a wonderful day out at WWT Washington Wetland Centre and have vowed to return with the whole family! I reckon it would be a different experience with every visit and enjoyable in any season. I would highly recommend a warden walk too, there’s no extra charge and it definitely helped us make the most of our visit. You can find details of upcoming warden walks here: www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/washington/whats-on/
Something else I spotted on the events page was the ‘Nauseating Nature Trail’ which you can experience throughout October, if the thought of flesh-eating zombie ducks and dead man’s fingers doesn’t put you off that is, ha ha! Go and check out the website to find out more and do let me know if you plan to visit!
We were invited to visit WWT Washington Wetland Centre free of charge but all words and opinions are my own. Buy online to save 10% or become a member and enjoy free entry for 12 months. Details here: www.wwt.org.uk/join/join-now