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