Bird Watching (UK) - - Birding With Bill Oddie -

around your neck, so we left the ducks to it and moved on. As we headed back to the main path, James – now us­ing Le­ica’s new Tri­novid HD binoc­u­lars – spot­ted a flicker as some­thing darted be­tween the branches: a Nuthatch. With an uniden­ti­fied in­sect in its beak, it strut­ted along, show­ing off its Spi­der­man-like abil­ity to walk up­side-down along the limbs of a tree. Al­most more re­mark­able than its de­fi­ance of grav­ity was the obliv­i­ous­ness of other park visi­tors to this re­mark­able sight. Higher above us, a Spar­rowhawk also passed un­no­ticed by the masses, and a group of Ring­necked Para­keets squawked unheeded as they leapt from branch to branch. The bird­ers also noted a Jay, sit­ting silently in the shad­ows on a low-hang­ing bough only a cou­ple of feet above the heads of the crowds. Soon the group reached the heart of the flood de­fence works. Where a pool known as the ‘Model Boat­ing Pond’ had shim­mered for years, there was now bare earth. Wire fenc­ing and cor­ru­gated Cov­er­ing ap­prox­i­mately 791 acres, Hamp­stead Heath is just over four miles north of Buck­ing­ham Palace. It is one of London’s largest green spa­ces, and un­til this year, one of its wildest in ap­pear­ance. Like much of our land­scape, how­ever, the un­du­lat­ing grassy slopes and ma­ture wood­lands that crown the hills of north London are ac­tu­ally the re­sult of care­ful manage­ment over many years. If you scrape away the green sur­face of the fields and ponds, you find the skele­ton of Vic­to­rian land­scape en­gi­neer­ing on a grand scale. And scrap­ing away the sur­face is ex­actly what has been done by the coun­cil re­cently as part of a £20 mil­lion-plus scheme to shore up the area’s flood de­fences by strength­en­ing the earthen banks that act as dams for the largest ponds. The re­sults are not pretty in aes­thetic terms and have caused con­tro­versy. The ef­fects for lo­cal bird and an­i­mal life have yet to be seen. With plans to in­stall new reedbeds and in­crease wet­land ar­eas, though, there are hopes for some im­prove­ments. A Spar­rowhawk also passed un­no­ticed by the masses and a group of Ring-necked Para­keets squawked unheeded

metal pan­els were ev­ery­where and a scraped, dredged pit was where the pond had once been. “It looks alarm­ing to a lot of lo­cals, but the birds don’t have the same aes­thetic stan­dards,” said Bill. “Some days you’ll see half-a-dozen Wheatears here en­joy­ing the mud. They found all sorts of things when drain­ing it. One of the strangest was a car! Good­ness only knows how long it had been down there, or how it got there – but there it was.” The bird­ers weren’t the only ones gaw­ping. A Mag­pie alighted on a fence panel and eyed the dig­gers bead­ily. “Fences are one of the sim­plest but most ef­fec­tive things you can put up to make it eas­ier to see birds in a place like this,” Bill grinned. “Birds love any­thing to perch on. It doesn’t have to be a bloom­ing great panel like that – just a post and a rail will do. They left a piece of fenc­ing up in a patch of wood­land here af­ter a pre­vi­ous project a few years ago and it worked won­ders for sight­ings there. “This lot have promised ‘en­vi­ron­men­tal mit­i­ga­tion’ af­ter they’re done. Only time will tell how much they’ll do, and whether they’ll get it Bill talk­ing Alan and James through the birds they are see­ing on Hamp­stead Heath The binoc­u­lars used by Bill on the bird­watch­ing trip – com­plete with BTO sticker! Per­haps an un­ex­pected ex­otic in the heart of London


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