We met local naturalist Adrian Lawson at 6 am on a mild cloudy morning at Southcote Junction. Adrian had kindly offered a show and tell of the birds and wildlife that we could see or hear at Coley meadows near the Kennet, as well as at the wonderful Fobney Island nature reserve.
We saw lapwings and heard their distinctive call within a mile of the town centre. We also saw a garganey, a rare sight in the royal county, in view of Christ Church spire, the old telephone exchange and the cliffs of Katesgrove. We also heard the explosive song of a Cetti’s warbler as well as songs from willow and sedge warblers, snipes and the secretive water rail.
We saw newly dug badgers setts and deer tracks along the old Coley branch line, within the sight of extensive reed beds soon to be full of migrating birds and other wildlife.
We walked down the Kennet to Fobney Island nature reserve near Fobney Lock. This is an excellent place for nature watching with its mixture of wetland, wildflower meadow, hay meadow and reed bed habitats. It is also a great place to watch a sunrise or sunset.
Adrian suggests that you should go out an hour before sunrise to experience the dawn chorus in its full glory. We certainly did learn a lot; goldcrests were once use to clear houses of spiders and have such a high pitched song that the elderly struggle to hear it. I was surprised to learn that woodpeckers drum to attract a mate rather than to make a nest hole.
The meadows themselves have many mysterious archaeological and industrial features. The strange scattered roundels of trees could be remnants of wildfowl hunting or ancient sheep droves.
If you are going to give it a try, then remember to wear sensible footwear. Wellies are advised in wet weather; I did come a cropper after giving our visiting teacher friend, Hwa Wang, a piggy back ride over a puddle. This ended in me being covered in mud, but no-one was on hand to photograph it; this would have definitely got the £250 from ITV’s ‘Who’s Been Framed’. Our kindly company, Sue and Adrian, restrained themselves from laughing out loud!
This charming and wild part of Reading may benefit from being less known than Dinton Pastures, even though it is closer to the town centre. Coley Meadows is a complex area with an interesting industrial history, an historic network of footpaths and extensive reed beds. If the owners of this floodplain ever got together and agreed to it, a nature reserve or a conservation area would surely be an attractive and important addition to Reading’s environment. It would be a protected green wetland following the Kennet artery from the west right into the Berkshire capital and towards the Thames.
Whatever spot you choose, if you get up early for the dawn chorus in spring you may find two elusive 21st century experiences; a sense of perspective and harmony with the natural world.
Here is the list of birds heard or seen with the guidance of Adrian and the help of binoculars:
- green woodpecker,
- greater spotted woodpecker (drumming),
- Cetti’s warbler,
- sedge warbler,
- willow warbler,
- red kite,
- reed bunting,
- song thrush,
- water rail,
- little egret,
- herring gull,
- lesser black backed gull,
- black headed gull,
- mute swan,
- mandarin duck,
- stock dove,
- great tit,
- blue tit,
Much of Coley Meadows is private land, and a lot of wildlife lives there because the area is large and undisturbed. There are also some treacherous marshes in which people have occasionally got stuck, so please stick to the footpaths and permissive paths.
Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.