The paths around the flooded gravel workings are amongst tall woodlands of alder Alnus glutinosa and willows Salix spp. The view of the largest lake travels across low bare islands of mud and stone. Here lapwings Vanellus vanellus tumble and chase, gulls idle and ringed plovers Charadrius hiaticula break cover and swings fast and low over the islands. A lapwing on a nest sits upright and untroubled as a male pied wagtail Motacilla alba repeatedly sallies after large insects, possibly lacewings Neuroptera that are recently hatched, and catches them with a quick mid-air handbrake turn with wings, head and long tail all twisting in different directions.
The pathside plants are dense and thigh high in the light-filled gaps; these include blue drifts of green alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens and a tall forget-me-not species Myosotis spp., as well as banks of nettle Urtica dioica and bramble Rubus fruticosus agg. By the water’s edge, hemlock water dropwort Oenanthe crocata is dominant and a few plants are coming into flower.
There is a tangle of wetland adjacent the river Darenth where small dark pools are now thick with cover. A moorhen Gallinula chloropus picks it way through a stand of bog bean Menyanthes trifoliata A heron’s Ardea cinerea nest in a clump of alder in the centre of a small pool is just a stone’s throw away; the large young sit and wait, fidget and preen. An adult rushes away with great flaps; provisioning on a sunny Sunday with a constant parade of visitors must be a challenge.
Another long, narrow pool has a single great-crested grebe Podiceps cristatus that urgently preens by turning to one side and sticking a leg out in a very foppish if involuntary movement. There should be nest hidden under the lakeside trees that bow low over the water.
In a sheltered but sunny glade of impenetrable elder and nettles, a holly blue Celastrina argiolus energetically chases other males away, engaging in high circling duels. Garden warblers Sylvia borin are in full song and with more gusto than the blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla. These will be building a delicate nest slung somewhere in the tall nettles. A wren Troglodytes troglodytes busily collects nest material from the undergrowth and then disappears into a hole in an enormous split trunk of a crack willow Salix fragilis.
Well, I think it is a crack willow. On the edge of the car park there are a dozen different willow species neatly planted, perhaps some 20 years ago, all with name tags; cricket bat Salix alba caerulea, goat Salix caprea, weeping Salix babylonica etc. etc. Looking at these in turn creates more confusion than clarity, but is still a valuable reference.