Ur­ban bird­ing

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - DAVID LINDO

David Lindo con­cludes his bird­watch­ing tour of Lon­don

David Lindo heads to the cen­tral part of the city for the fi­nal part of his Lon­don bird­ing tour

Cen­tral Lon­don is prob­a­bly the last place that any sel­f­re­spect­ing ur­ban birder would con­sider turn­ing up in. It is a mag­net for mil­lions of tourists drawn in by the myr­iad of at­trac­tions, restau­rants and en­ter­tain­ment avail­able. It is a dense mesh of con­crete, steel and glass and its roads are choked with ve­hi­cles. Yet, Lon­don has been des­ig­nated as a Na­tional Park City, and even here there are birds to be found. If you look up, even if you are stand­ing un­der the shadow of Nel­son’s Col­umn in Trafal­gar Square, aside from Feral Pi­geons (which are de­cid­edly scarcer now than in yes­ter­year), you will still have a good chance of hav­ing a Pere­grine flash over­head. Of the three Royal Parks in the area, the least or­nitho­log­i­cally pro­duc­tive is Green Park. At 40 acres, it has no stand­ing wa­ter and is a fairly man­i­cured open space, where Lon­don Plane trees dom­i­nate – a tree species that does not en­cour­age a huge amount of bio­di­ver­sity.

Won­der­ful wa­ter­fowl

None­the­less, Mis­tle Thrush breed and a few Hawthorns in the cen­tre of the park are worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing for mi­grants, as a re­cent Lesser Whitethroat tes­ti­fied. Far more pro­duc­tive, as well as be­ing far busier, is St James’ Park. Famed for its pin­ioned wa­ter­fowl col­lec­tion that in­cludes species rang­ing from Smew to White Pel­i­can and prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing in be­tween, it does at­tract bona fide wild ducks! The bushes and trees are well worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing, as Coal Tits, a cen­tral Lon­don scarcity, roam, while war­blers are also in the reck­on­ing. Two tiny reedbeds at­tract Reed War­blers, while Sedge War­bler, their stripe-headed cousin, is a scarce vis­i­tor. Black­cap breed, but the other com­mon war­blers tend to be mi­grants. To see any­thing else here re­quires a large mea­sure of per­sis­tence and a smidgen of luck. With those com­po­nents, birds like Firecrest and Wood­cock can be noted. Bet­ter watched and larger in size is Hyde Park and Kens­ing­ton Gar­dens. These parks are best de­scribed as be­ing con­tigu­ous, split by the West Car­riage Drive. The habi­tat com­prises open grass­land, of which some are mead­ows or patches of rough grass­land, with the re­main­der be­ing the do­main of dog walk­ers, sun­bathers and ‘jumpers-for­goal­posts’ foot­ballers. The main wa­ter­bod­ies are the Ser­pen­tine, Long­wa­ter and the Round Pond. The whole area is dot­ted with ma­ture trees, in­clud­ing Horse Chest­nuts near the Phys­i­cal En­ergy statue that were the home of Lon­don’s most well-known fam­ily of Tawny Owls, un­til the trees were dam­aged by light­ning. Still to be found nearby are the much pho­tographed Lit­tle Owls that, along with the para­keets, are the park’s other crowd­puller. On the Ser­pen­tine and Long­wa­ter, ex­pect to see the usual ar­ray of reg­u­lar gull species, with Com­mon Gulls com­ing to promi­nence dur­ing the win­ter. It’s worth

sift­ing through the gulls on the Round Pond for a pos­si­ble Mediter­ranean. Com­mon Terns are reg­u­lar mi­grants, grace­fully swoop­ing over the heads of res­i­dent Great Crested Grebe, Moorhen, Coot, Mal­lard and the le­gions of loaf­ing, poop­ing Egyp­tian, Canada and Grey­lag Geese. Mix­ing with the lo­cals Ring-necked Para­keets are now a pop­u­lar res­i­dent, along with a good spat­ter­ing of wood­land species ,like Chaffinch, the reg­u­lar tits in­clud­ing Coal plus in­ner Lon­don scarci­ties, such as Treecreeper and Nuthatch. In spite of the huge crowds drawn to this site, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the sum­mer the list of scarce or rare birds is phe­nom­e­nal. Beauts such as Osprey, White-winged Black Tern, Storm Pe­trel and even Night­jar have been recorded within both parks’ com­bined 645 acres. Dur­ing the win­ter of 2014, a pair of Bearded Tit took up tem­po­rary res­i­dence in a reedbed along the Ser­pen­tine barely the size of a liv­ing room. They were well twitched and in­deed, were the first to be recorded in in­ner Lon­don. Although not tech­ni­cally classed as Cen­tral Lon­don, Ca­nary Wharf is cur­rently one of the main fi­nan­cial cen­tres of Eu­rope. This very heav­ily built-up area is dom­i­nated by the im­pos­ing tower that is One Canada Square, with its pyra­mi­dal crown mak­ing it a very dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of the city sky­line. This 93-acre es­tate has to be sin­gu­larly the most un­likely spot to go bird­ing in the en­tire UK. How­ever, be­tween 2001 and 2006, a study was con­ducted of the mi­grants that oc­curred in the tiny Canada Square Park at the foot of the tower and nearby Ju­bilee Park. The lat­ter park is an area of land­scaped gar­dens filled with in­tro­duced ev­er­greens, while Canada Square is ba­si­cally a thinly tree-lined lawn. Both ar­eas are used by the mul­ti­tudes of of­fice work­ers as a place to con­sume lunch and fags. De­spite their ini­tial unattrac­tive­ness, the study showed that an in­or­di­nate num­ber of mi­grants oc­curred in the parks over the years, in­clud­ing rar­i­ties like Red­backed Shrike, Wry­neck and as many as three Blyth’s Reed War­blers, at­tracted to mi­grant moths which, in turn, were at­tracted by the tower lights! Since those heady days, the lights have been dimmed to be in line with EU pro­to­col and the num­bers of mi­grants have also dropped away. The area is now cry­ing out for cov­er­age dur­ing the mi­gra­tion pe­ri­ods. A ca­sual visit on the right day may still re­sult in con­jur­ing up Wil­low War­blers, Wheatears and a few years ago a cou­ple of Firecrest were dis­cov­ered.

Ca­nary Wharf


Red-backed Shrike

Com­mon Gull

David’s lat­est book, How To Be An Ur­ban Birder, is now avail­able. Visit his web­site: theur­ban­bird­er­world.com

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