Wild by the water

Wild by the water

River © Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

Lakes, rivers, canals and streams are brimming with wildlife to discover!

Wherever you live there is likely to be water close by, whether it’s a canal cutting through town, a brook babbling away in a secluded wood, or a local lake, pond or reservoir. These can be wonderful places for a walk, and even better for getting close to nature – for where there’s water, there’s wildlife!

The first creatures you catch sight of are likely to be birds. Swans sailing serenely across the surface, a mallard herding a row of fluffy ducklings, or a grey heron stalking the shallows, poised to pluck an unsuspecting fish from the water. If you’re lucky, you might see a flash of colour in the form of a kingfisher or a grey wagtail.

A grey heron standing on the stony margin of a river

Grey heron © Neil Aldridge

Kingfishers are one of the nation’s favourite birds, probably because they’re also one of our most colourful! They’re often seen as a flash of electric blue low over the water’s surface, but when they perch they reveal a blazing orange breast. They tilt and bob their head, spotting fish and calculating the perfect angle of attack, before plunging into the water to grab one.

A kingfisher plunges down towards the water, its bright turquoise and orange colours glowing in the sunlight

Kingfisher © Malcolm Brown

Grey wagtails have a deceptively dull name, as males are a bright, sunshine yellow from their breast to their undertail. They like stretches of flowing freshwater, from urban canals to rocky upland streams. They’ll perch on the bank or on objects poking up from the water, furiously wagging their tail, before zipping out to snatch insects from the air.

A male grey wagtail perched on a moss-covered rock, it's bright yellow belly a sharp contrast to the darker surroundings

Grey wagtail © Tom Marshall

If you look closely, you might spy some smaller creatures flitting above the water. Damselflies dance around waterside plants, often settling for a moment and affording the opportunity for a better look. Many of them are blue and black and can be tricky to tell apart – a clue to two of our more common species lies in the shape of the black mark at the top of the slender abdomen, just behind the wing base. A club-shaped mark is a common blue damselfly, whilst a U-shaped mark is an azure damselfly.

A comparison of male common blue and azure damselflies, highlighting the club-shaped marking on the abdomen of common blue damselflies, and the U-shaped marking on azure damselflies

Comparison of male common blue and azure damselflies

Dragonflies are more energetic, living up to their mythical name. They race back and forth as they patrol their territory or hunt for food. The names of individual species also match their active nature: there are hawkers, chasers, skimmers, and darters. Look out for the imperious emperor dragonfly, with an apple green body narrowing to a bright blue abdomen, which hovers and darts above large ponds, lakes, and canals.

An emperor dragonfly in flight, with an apple-green thorax and dazzling blue abdomen

Emperor dragonfly © Chris Lawrence

The water itself is likely to hold even more wild treasures, though they can be harder to spot. Our waterways are home to a host of freshwater fish, which can sometimes be glimpsed from the bank. Look out for the long, thin shadow of a pike lurking in sheltered stretches of canals, rivers and larger pools, ready to ambush passing prey. Shallower waters could be home to sticklebacks, with males defending the eggs that females lay in their purpose-built nest.

Three-spined Stickleback

Three-spined Stickleback ©Jack Perks

Wherever you live, there are always wild wonders to be discovered when water is present – let us know what you find!