Ur­ban bird­ing

David Lindo’s bird­ing tour of Lon­don con­tin­ues with a visit to the avian hotspots found in the north of the city

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Join David Lindo ‘look­ing up’ in North Lon­don’s many bird­ing hotspots

Lon­don is now a Na­tional Park City and we are cel­e­brat­ing the or­nitho­log­i­cal riches within the cap­i­tal. North Lon­don is blessed with a mul­ti­tude of sites in which to seek the pur­suit of bird­ing hap­pi­ness. Sev­eral of th­ese sites are well known, such as Hamp­stead Heath. More wood­land than heath, this an­cient 790-acre park and lo­cal na­ture re­serve has had more than its fair share of great species. Pa­tro­n­ised by none other than Bill Od­die, who was in­ter­viewed on the site in last month’s Bird Watch­ing, it has recorded odd­i­ties in­clud­ing Lit­tle Bit­tern and Golden Ori­ole and, in the 1980s, a na­tional rar­ity in the fleet­ing shape of a Lesser Kestrel. More usual birds here are the reg­u­lar breed­ing war­blers such as Chif­fchaff and Black­cap. The ac­tive man­age­ment of the habi­tats around the pond has re­sulted in breed­ing King­fisher and Reed War­bler, as well as win­ter­ing Wa­ter Rail and once, even a Bit­tern. Nat­u­rally, the ‘Heath’, as it is lo­cally known, is pop­u­lar with mem­bers of the pub­lic, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the sum­mer months, so choose your vis­it­ing times wisely. Just to the east is an­other North Lon­don hotspot: High­gate Ceme­tery. It is one of the cap­i­tal’s fa­mous ‘Mag­nif­i­cent Seven’ ceme­ter­ies and is split in two by a road. It is a lovely wooded burial ground con­tain­ing some scarce ur­ban flora like Great Horse­tail and Prickly Sedge. Bird-wise, ex­pect the usual ar­ray of wood­land denizens, in­clud­ing Great Spot­ted and Green Wood­peck­ers, along with res­i­dent Tawny Owl. On the out­skirts of Cen­tral Lon­don lies the un­likely bea­con that is Re­gent’s Park. Long fre­quented by bird­ers, it, along with the ad­join­ing Prim­rose Hill, marks the start of the mi­gra­tion fly­way, which is named the North Lon­don Heights – coined in the 1950s by the likes of Eric Simms, the late sound recordist and an orig­i­nal ur­ban birder. He and his col­leagues were the first to no­tice the hordes of Chaffinch, Meadow Pipit and other au­tumn passer­ines travers­ing north. In­deed, Re­gent’s Park re­ally does come into its own dur­ing the mi­gra­tion pe­ri­ods, with Wheatear, Whin­chat, Red­start and both ‘com­mon’ fly­catch­ers a given. Other pas­sage mi­grants to be ex­pected in­clude Tree Pipit and Ring Ouzel, with Wood War­blers oc­ca­sion­ally mak­ing an ap­pear­ance, too.

Re­gent’s Park cov­ers an area of 396 acres and is fairly flat. Most of the land­scape con­sists of pretty mun­dane play­ing fields and man­i­cured gar­dens. The main ar­eas to zone in on when in the area in­clude the Com­mu­nity Wildlife Gar­den, the open gorse and bram­ble area and the boat­ing lake, that also houses a small heronry. The ri­par­ian veg­e­ta­tion has en­ticed breed­ing Reed War­blers and singing Sedge and Cetti’s War­blers, while Wa­ter Rails creep un­ob­tru­sively in win­ter. Due to its cen­tral lo­ca­tion and prox­im­ity to Lon­don Zoo, masses of peo­ple use it and it is a won­der that any­thing is ever found. How­ever, if you want to talk about rar­i­ties, the bird­ers at Re­gent’s Park could en­gage you for some time. Scarci­ties, such as Leach’s Pe­trel (found dead), Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Mon­tagu’s Har­rier, Black-eared Wheatear and Yel­low-browed War­bler have all graced the site. But per­haps the most sur­pris­ing ran­dom find was the re­cent au­tum­nal Cory’s Shear­wa­ter, that winged its way over­head. To date, it is one of only two UK in­land records. One place that must be on any North Lon­don bird­ing itin­er­ary is the Welsh Harp, oth­er­wise known as Brent Reser­voir. It is a very old reser­voir, hav­ing been first con­structed in the 1800s and quickly be­came a top spot, ini­tially for hunt­ing. In those days, many species were pro­cured for taxi­dermy. The most con­tentious of th­ese were the two Pur­ple Martins ob­tained dur­ing Septem­ber 1842. The record was sub­se­quently re­jected be­cause, at the time, this North Amer­i­can swal­low had never be­fore been found in the UK. It re­mained a pipe dream for Bri­tish bird­ers un­til an im­ma­ture was found on Ness, Isle of Lewis, Outer He­brides, in Septem­ber 2004. How­ever, more le­git­i­mate rar­i­ties at The Brent have in­cluded Bri­tain’s first ever Ibe­rian Chif­fchaff, dis­cov­ered singing in 1972. A rou­tine visit would re­sult in sight­ings of Shov­eler, Great Crested Grebe, King­fisher plus, dur­ing the sum­mer months, typ­i­cal war­blers. But al­ways be on the look­out for some­thing more un­usual. The reser­voir has 24-hour ac­cess around the grass­land and lightly wooded ar­eas that sur­round the reser­voir it­self and there are a cou­ple of hides from which to view the wa­tery habi­tat. To ob­tain keys, con­tact the Welsh Harp Con­ser­va­tion Group (see panel for web­site de­tails). Fi­nally, a nearby site worth pay­ing a spec­u­la­tive visit to is Barn Hill and Fryant Coun­try Park. A con­tigu­ous area sited just north-west of Brent Reser­voir, Barn Hill is a piece of wood­land that, in yes­ter­year, har­boured breed­ing Lesser Spot­ted Wood­pecker. Nowa­days, it is woe­fully un­der­watched and is a place that could def­i­nitely hold a few sur­prises. Across the road is Fryant Coun­try Park, an ex­panse of grass­land sur­rounded by sub­ur­bia and criss­crossed with an­cient hedgerow span­ning back to the me­dieval ages. Again, this is a site that is cry­ing out for cov­er­age, as it’s likely that some in­ter­est­ing birds are to be found there.

David’s lat­est book, How To Be An Ur­ban Birder, is on sale now. Visit David’s web­site: theur­ban­birder world.com

View to­wards Lon­don from Hamp­stead Heath

House Spar­row


Sedge War­bler

Great Crested Grebe

Next month: David’s tour of the cap­i­tal fin­ishes in Cen­tral Lon­don and Ca­nary Wharf.

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