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The trail of glowing wee

Last modified: 16 November 2012

Kestrel hovering

A kestrel looking for a wee snack?

Image: Nigel Blake

If you've seen the BBC's Miracles of Nature with Richard Hammond and were blown away by the fact that elephants can communicate through solid rock and seals are using their whiskers to determine the size and shape of objects, then prepare to be even more amazed at RSPB Rainham Marshes.

Sitting on London’s eastern boundary alongside the river Thames, RSPB Rainham Marshes boasts a supreme selection of wildlife; each with their own incredible super sense.

Kestrels are doubly blessed with two superpowers. They can hover like helicopters and they have special vision to track down prey. Their eyes have adapted to detect ultra-violet light, which is bad news for voles and mice. These rodents leave trails of urine along the paths they use and their urine emits ultra-violet light; providing hungry kestrels with a glowing path straight to a tasty snack.

While you may not be able to see the glowing wee of the rodents, you can watch the kestrels hover and then dive on prey from the comfort of our visitor centre. It’s a relatively common sight from the panoramic windows of the centre, where you can enjoy a cuppa and sample homemade cakes.

Another one of Rainham’s resident creatures would have no trouble sucking the jam from the centre of a doughnut, thanks to its 10 centimetre long tongue; that’s a third of the length of its owner’s body!

X-rays show the tongue starting at the back of the throat, then going down the throat, before coming out of the back of the neck and around the skull. You’d then see it continuing out a small hole between the eyes, going through one of the nostrils before finally coming out the mouth. Armed with barbs, it is made solely for the purpose of licking-up ants and their larvae; this monster creature is a green woodpecker.

There are plenty of opportunities for visitors to test their own super senses too.

Can you navigate round the two-and-a-half miles of pathways? Test your hearing by listening for watervoles munching on reeds. Younger visitors can pit their physical abilities against gravity in our adventure areas.

As an extra treat for visitors this winter, we are opening up small areas of our reedbeds along the northern boardwalk, giving greater opportunities to watch the exciting wildlife they harbour. Now is definitely the time to make your way to RSPB Rainham Marshes and exercise your own super senses.

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