Ur­ban bird­ing

David Lindo on which birds to look out for dur­ing a visit to West Lon­don

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Lon­don has re­cently been des­ig­nated as a Na­tional Park City, and our whistlestop jour­ney around its or­nitho­log­i­cal hotspots con­tin­ues with a look at the west. For the sake of con­ve­nience West Lon­don will be, broadly speak­ing, the area north of the Thames and west of Kens­ing­ton, as far out as the Colne Val­ley that bor­ders Sur­rey and Berk­shire. In­deed, it is the Colne Val­ley that for a long time held the crown for be­ing one of the cap­i­tal’s premier bird­ing lo­cal­i­ties. Staines Reser­voir is per­haps the most fa­mous bird­ing spot in the val­ley, and has a bird list longer than most peo­ple’s arms. It is a Site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific In­ter­est (SSSI) due to the im­por­tant num­bers of win­ter­ing div­ing ducks it at­tracts. It is, in fact, two reser­voirs (north and south basins) that lie south­west of Heathrow Air­port and thus is usu­ally un­der the shadow of a nois­ily land­ing pas­sen­ger jet. The cen­tral cause­way sep­a­rates the wa­ter bod­ies and has gen­eral pub­lic ac­cess. It is well worth look­ing for win­ter­ing Black Red­start along here. Over the ages, the reser­voirs have been the stomp­ing ground for many of the good and the great in the Bri­tish bird­ing scene. Be­fore the days of bird in­for­ma­tion ser­vices, the grapevine was king and the cause­way was the place to meet up with fel­low bird­ers to chew the fat and to find out what rar­i­ties were around. A fairly low num­ber of reg­u­lar species can be ob­served here, in­clud­ing the ex­pected Great Crested Grebes and Coots. How­ever, a re­mark­able ar­ray of rar­i­ties has oc­curred, in­clud­ing a host of waders – at­tracted in when one of the basins is drained for main­te­nance. Sexy beasts such as Buff-breasted Sand­piper, Col­lared Prat­in­cole and Wil­son’s Phalarope have all turned up, while in­ter­est­ing terns and gulls are reg­u­lar. Most re­cently was a

win­ter­ing Shore Lark em­a­nat­ing from North Amer­ica and quite likely a good can­di­date to be split as a new species. Staines Reser­voir can be quite an ex­cit­ing place to be on the right day, as you can of­ten see mi­gra­tion in ac­tion as you watch waders sweep­ing in. There are sev­eral other wa­ter­bod­ies in the Colne Val­ley well worth vis­it­ing, in­clud­ing Stock­ers Lake, Broad­wa­ter Gravel Pit (which is cur­rently threat­ened by HS2 de­vel­op­ment plans) and King Ge­orge VI Reser­voir. All of these and other lo­ca­tions like Staines Moor are no­table sites, although al­ways check be­fore vis­it­ing, as per­mits are re­quired for some of the them. Mov­ing east­wards, you will dis­cover Ruis­lip Woods Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve and Ruis­lip Lido in Hilling­don. The woods, which hold good stands of Horn­beam and oak, are the largest re­main­ing block of an­cient wood­land in the city cov­er­ing some 300 hectares (750 acres). The ad­ja­cent ar­eas con­sist of acid grass­land, heath­land and wet­lands in­clud­ing the Lido, a 25-hectare (60-acre) lake. Ruis­lip Woods com­prises Park, Copse, Mad Bess and Bay­hurst Woods. They are all worth tak­ing a wan­der through and, in the past, have held breed­ing Wood Warbler and still prob­a­bly har­bour nest­ing Wood­cock, along with Lesser Spot­ted Wood­pecker. Much more likely breed­ers are Spar­rowhawk, Tawny Owl and war­blers, such as Whitethroat and Gar­den Warbler. South of Ruis­lip, and still largely within Hilling­don, lies the Yead­ing Val­ley. Sit­u­ated here are a string of sites fol­low­ing the course of Yead­ing Brook. The main ar­eas on which to train your binoc­u­lars are Ick­en­ham Marsh, Gut­teridge Wood, Ten Acre Wood, Yead­ing Brook Mead­ows and Minet Country Park. Woe­fully un­der­watched, this area reg­u­larly has re­ports of Cuckoo and mi­grants such as Spot­ted Fly­catcher. Other sites not too far away in­clude Oster­ley Park and Houn­slow Heath. The former site is a fairly man­i­cured area of park­land beloved by rov­ing flocks of Rose-ringed Para­keet while, on the wa­ters, Man­darin roam. Less well known are the hoards of Stock Dove that are to be found through­out the park. Houn­slow Heath is another poorly-vis­ited site. Star birds from this site in the past have in­cluded Red-backed Shrike and Or­tolan Bunt­ing. One of the most un­likely bird­ing spots in the re­gion is Worm­wood Scrubs. It is a large area of park­land cov­er­ing ap­prox­i­mately 74 hectares (183 acres), which is even big­ger than the nearby Lon­don Wet­land Cen­tre. A large por­tion is given over to play­ing fields, but there is a thin strip of wood­land that prac­ti­cally en­cir­cles the site dom­i­nated by Sy­camore, birch, plane and oak. At the wilder western end of The Scrubs is a 20-acre grass­land and the north­ern por­tion of the site is bor­dered by a raised gorse and Ja­panese Knotweed clad em­bank­ment. The grass­land held the clos­est breed­ing colony of Meadow Pip­its to cen­tral Lon­don un­til 2017, when they were ex­tir­pated through dis­tur­bance, while the em­bank­ment is much loved by good num­bers of nest­ing Song Thrush and Lin­net. Both of these seg­ments have sin­gle hand­edly turned up the best birds, in­clud­ing two Honey Buz­zards, Osprey, Goshawk, Marsh Har­rier, Wry­neck, Or­tolan and Lit­tle Bunt­ings, Dart­ford Warbler, Quail, Great Grey and Red­backed Shrikes and three Richard’s Pip­its. It must be stated that there is no stand­ing wa­ter any­where on the site, but the wader list is re­mark­able and in­cludes Black­tailed God­wit, Whimbrel and Green­shank. The fu­ture for wildlife at The Scrubs is in doubt, ow­ing to the de­vel­op­ment planned around the site.

Next month: David vis­its north Lon­don.

DAVID SAYS If west truly is best, get out there and prove it!

Tufted Duck

Green­finch

Worm­wood Scrubs: An un­likely bird­ing spot – but it’s not to be ig­nored!

Tawny Owl

Read our re­view of David’s lat­est book on page 82

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