Back to Bachbird    Bachbird


Bachbird Main

Back to Notes

Hampstead Heath Photos

Birds of England Photos

List of Birds Seen


The Marylebone Birdwatching Society

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

Birding England, July 2006

Not Just for the Birds

Steve and Joann on a train My wife Joann and I didn't travel to England to go birdwatching. Rather, we planned to see the sights in London and to take advantage of our BritRail passes to see some of the country outside of London. Shakespeare is always on our agenda, and the only two things that we knew for sure that we would do was to see Coriolanus at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, and to visit the bardolatry center of the universe at Statford-upon-Avon. I was determined to make a visit to Westminster Abbey, and Joann was very keen to see Bath. Beyond that, we had lots of ideas but too little time -- eight days -- to fit them all in. We did bring two pairs of binoculars and a 16-page map-sized foldout copy of "The Birds of Great Britain." We figured that we would be visiting parks and rivers, and that since just about every bird we saw would be new to us, we'd want to keep our eyes open.

In London we saw Coriolanus at "Shakespeare's Globe Theatre" in Bankside and loved it. We toured the awe-inspiring Westminister Abbey, and visited the Tower of London. We visited the drought-dry Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park (just yards from our hotel), popped up out of the underground to stomp around Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, Baker Street, Regent's Park, and we crossed the Thames on foot on four different bridges. We enjoyed the lively community of Bayswater around our hotel and we ate and shopped close to our "home base" there.

We took four day trips out of London. Against the odds, we managed to snag last-minute tickets to see Antony and Cleopatra in Stratford. We visited the poet's grave in Trinity Church and posed for a photograph in front of his birth home on Henley Street. As Shakespeare must have done so many times, we walked along the famous River Avon and crossed it on Clopton's Bridge. In the company of many Londoners on holiday, we laid on a pebbly English Channel beach in Brighton to take some sun. On Monday in Bath, we toured the famous nearly 2000-year-old Roman spa, took a guided walking tour of the town, and a boat ride on another River Avon. We visited the beautiful university town of Cambridge, walked through the St. John's College grounds and over the River Cam on the Bridge of Sighs. We walked along the river and viewed the spectacular wooded gardens behind the colleges known as "The Backs."

Common Moorhen in Hyde Park We had our binoculars with us on a least a few of these occasions. The hour-and-a-half walk we took on Thursday morning in the vicinity of The Long Water in Hyde Park really was a bird walk, where we set out deliberately to see birds. Our time in Regent's Park wasn't a birding expedition, but we saw a dizzying array of waterfowl (most of which turned out Great Cormorant on the Thames to be non-native species that don't count as "sightings" but were interesting in any case). The other bird sightings that we made were incidental to whatever we were doing at the time. The Peregrine Falcons that we saw on the boat ride in Bath were a lucky bonus. The walk along the college backs in Cambridge was another time when we couldn't help but see some birds, though we didn't set out to do so. We saw a Great Cormorant sunning itself on the river Thames as we walked across the Millennium Bridge in London.

Other than the hour-and-a-half at Hyde Park, the only time we set out to "go birding" was when we joined members of the Marylebone Birdwatching Society (MBS) for their regular Tuesday morning walk on Hampstead Heath. This turned out to be a wonderful experience, and definitely the highlight of our birdwatching activities in England.

Birding Hampstead Heath with the Marylebone Bidwatching Society

About a week before we flew to London, while searching online for checklists of birds that we might expect to see during our stay, I came across a link to the MBS's website. On it I read that the public was invited to join them for their weekly walks. So I sent an email and asked if it would be OK for couple of novice birders from America to "tag along" with them. Within two hours I received an enthusiastic reply from Marion Hill. She not only assured us that we would be welcomed, but sent us helpful directions for taking the tube and buses from central London to Hampstead Heath, and she even included a map. With this encouragement, we made plans to be there.

Joann and Beryl So on Tuesday morning, July 25 (my birthday), we took the tube from the Queensway station in Bayswater to the Kentish Town station and caught the number 214 bus north from there to the Parliament Hill entrance to Hampstead Heath. But we missed our stop. So we got off at the next one and walked the quarter of mile or so back to the cafe that we found next to the entrance to the Heath. Unfortunately, we didn't read the map carefully, and while this was a cafe, it was not the Parliament Hill Cafe where the group was set to meet. So we were unaware that the group was gathering in another location as we waited for them. Just when it appeared that no one would show, we saw a single lady wearing binoculars enter at the gate. We asked her if she was with the MBS and to our relief she answered "yes." We introduced ourselves, and she told us that her name was Beryl and that because of an earlier appointment, she was unable to meet the group as she usually did at the Parliament Hill Cafe. She planned to wait on a bench just inside the gate where we were standing and join the party as it passed the spot. She expected them to arrive at any moment. We felt so very fortunate to have met up with her. If she hadn't entered where and when she did, we may have missed the group entirely.

We had a short and very pleasant conversation with Beryl while we waited for the group. She seemed pleased to meet us and we were thrilled to meet her. We learned that she had been walking on Hampstead Heath with the MBS for 30 or 40 years! She asked where in the states we lived and when we told her Minnesota, she seemed to be only vaguely familar with the name. Soon, just as Beryl expected, the rest of the group could be seen walking up the path towards where we sat.

The Group Seven or eight birders arrived. Among them were Alix, Barbara, Charles, Nicole, Teresa, and Sheila. (I'm afraid I didn't write down everyone's name and have missed some. I apologize to anyone I've left out.) Philip joined the group at almost the same time we did. He had walked in from another direction and reported to us that he'd seen a Kingfisher with a fish in its mouth. Soon Sylvia joined the group, and later Valerie rode in on a bicycle.

For the next two-and-a-half hours we walked through the Heath. Right away we saw lots of Carrion Crows, a few Eurasian Magpies and, of course, some Rock Pigeons. One of the first new birds was saw was a Kestrel. And not just one Kestrel, but we saw several early in our walk, perched high in trees and soaring over our heads. We saw a Rose-ringed Parakeet early. Meanwhile, we were enjoying the company of our hosts. Like Beryl, most of the members knew very little about Minnesota. One person asked, "Wasn't it the home of Motor City?" I told him that he was thinking of Michigan, which is close to the same part of the country. Sheila knew that Bob Dylan and the Coen brothers were from Minnesota. Another lady told us of her son who lives in Seattle where he designs and cultivates "English Gardens."

Philip showed us a newspaper clipping about an American Robin that was spotted recently in Britain. The article told of "twitchers" (a derisive English term for birdwatchers) who traveled from all around the country to catch a glimpse of this trans-Atlantic visitor. While the birdwatchers looked on, a Sparrowhawk (a large raptor similar to our Cooper's Hawk) swooped down and killed the wayward bird.

All this time, Teresa was walking ahead of or away from the group and seeing small birds. Charles would follow when she homed in on one, and soon Joann and I learned to do the same. Often Teresa would be the first to spot a bird, and Charles would identify it. She found several small birds in a large tree, and we were all able to see Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits in it. Teresa was the first to spot a Eurasian Jay, and we were able to get a pretty good look at the underside of it. It's a shame we didn't get a better look at the bird's head and back.

We soon arrived at the pond where Philip has seen the Kingfisher earlier. Unfortunately, we did not see it. We did see some ducks on this pond, including several Tufted Ducks and their young. Philip and Charles brought our attention to the singing of a Reed Warbler near this pond.

Into the woods After leaving the pond we walked through a densely-wooded area where we were lucky to get a good look at a Eurasian Robin. Nicole remarked that the American Robin and birds in other parts of the world were named after it because of their orange breasts and not because of any close relationship to it. It's true that, other than the breast, the Eurasian Robin looks nothing like the American Robin that is so familiar to us. While in these woods we heard a Hobby. Everyone in the group was very excited and very hopeful of getting a look at it. It flew over us, and several members of the party saw its shadow. I believe that Alix caught a glimpse of the bird, and she remarked that this bird has been teasing her for quite awhile now, and that she is determined to see it.

One of the last birds we saw before we left the wooded area was a Blackcap. Joann and I had a very good look at one of these in Hyde Park on the previous Thursday. It's a bird that reminded us a lot of an American bird, the Gray Catbird. The bird we saw in Hyde Park sang almost continuously for us for about five minutes, but this one in Hampstead Health only chipped.

Other birds that we saw during our time on the Heath that I haven't mentioned were Great crested Grebes, a Great Cormorant, a Mute Swan, Canada Geese, Mallards, a Wood Pigeon, Swifts, a singing Winter Wren, Common Blackbirds, and Great Tits. We heard a Green Woodpecker (it was identified by others, of course) and some members of the party saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker, but Joann and I did not.

Kenwood House At length we passed through the woods and onto a field that opened up to a spectacular view of Kenwood House atop a hill. This stately home that dates from the 1600s is now a museum, and includes a couple of cafes with nice outdoor seating. Members of our party told us that they frequently see celebrities taking tea here, and they mentioned the actress Emma Thompson among others. Most of the group left before we reached the house to walk home or to nearby bus stations. We said our goodbyes to them. Alix, Philip, Nicole, and Teresa took us to one of the cafes. I had a Young's Bitter Ale (in a bottle) and Joann had a Diet Coke. I don't think anyone had tea.

We said more goodbyes at the cafe, and then walked with Nicole to a nearby bus stop. She took a northbound bus on one side of the road, and we took a southbound bus on the other. It was a great experience for us, and we are very grateful to all of the members of the Marylebone Birdwatching Society who were so kind to us. If we ever are in London again (and we hope to be!), we will make sure that we show up at the Parliament Hill Cafe at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning. We'd love to do it again.

Steve Bachman and Joann Pfeiffer

Our List of Bird Sightings, Near Misses, and Etcetera

List location codes:

  ba = Bath (River Avon) : 7/24/2006
  br = Brighton (English Channel) : 7/21/2006
  c  = Cambridge ("The Backs" along the River Cam) : 7/23/2006
  h  = Hyde Park / Kensington Gardens : 7/19/2006 and 7/20/2006
  hh = Hampstead Heath : 7/25/2006
  r  = Regent's Park : 7/25/2006
  s  = Stratford-upon-Avon (River Avon) : 7/22/2006
  th = Thames River in London : 7/25/2006
  to = Tower of London : 7/26/2006

1.  Sightings, 36 species (* = life bird, 30 species)

    Common Name (AOU Name)                  Scientific Name           Where
  * Great Crested Grebe                     Podiceps cristatus        h,hh
  * Great Cormorant                         Phalacrocorax carbo       h,ba,hh,th
  * Grey Heron                              Ardea cinerea             h,r       
  * Mute Swan                               Cygnus olor               ba,hh,s      
  * Greylag Goose                           Anser anser               h,r       
    Canada Goose                            Branta canadensis         h,s,hh,r  
  * Common Shelduck                         Tadorna tadorna           r         
  * Eurasian Teal (Green-winged teal)       Anas crecca               r         
    Mallard                                 Anas platyrhynchos        h,hh,r    
  * Common Pochard                          Aythya ferina             h,r       
  * Tufted Duck                             Aythya fuligula           h,hh,r    
  * Ruddy Duck                              Oxyura jamaicensis        r         
  * Common Kestrel                          Falco tinnunculus         hh        
  * Peregrine Falcon                        Falco peregrinus          ba        
  * Common Moorhen                          Gallinula chloropus       h,c,hh,r     
  * Common Coot (Eurasian Coot)             Fulica atra               h,c,hh,r     
  * Black-headed Gull                       Larus ridibundus          h,hh         
  * Herring Gull                            Larus argentatus          br,ba     
    Rock Pigeon                             Columba livia             everywhere
  * Common Wood Pigeon                      Columba palumbus          c,hh,to
  * Eurasion Collared Dove                  Streptopelia decaocto     c         
  * Rose-ringed Parakeet                    Psittacula krameri        hh        
  * Swift (Common Swift)                    Apus apus                 hh        
  * Winter Wren                             Troglodytes troglodytes   h         
  * European Robin                          Erithacus rubecula        h,hh      
  * Common Blackbird (Eurasian Blackbird)   Turdus merula             h,hh      
  * Blackcap                                Sylvia atricapilla        h,hh      
  * Long-tailed Tit                         Aegithalos caudatus       hh        
  * Blue Tit                                Parus caeruleus           hh        
  * Great Tit                               Parus major               h,hh      
  * Eurasian Jay                            Garrulus glandarius       hh        
  * Black-billed Magpie (Eurasian Magpie)   Pica pica                 h,c,hh    
  * Carrion Crow                            Corvus corone             h,hh      
    Common Starling (European Starling)     Sturnus vulgaris          h         
    House Sparrow                           Passer domesticus         s,to

2.  Birds heard but not seen

    Common Name (AOU Name)                  Scientific Name           Where
    Eurasian Hobby                          Falco subbuteo            hh
    Green Woodpecker                        Picus viridis             hh
    Eurasian Reed Warbler                   Acrocephalus scirpaceus   hh

3.  Near misses

    Common Name (AOU Name)                  Scientific Name           Where
    Common Kingfisher                       Alcedo atthis             hh (Philip saw it)
    Great Spotted Woodpecker                Dendrocopos major         hh (Others saw it)
    Mistle Thrush                           Turdus viscivorus         hh (Charles saw it)

4.  Uncountable, out-of-area/out-of-season birds (captives, espcapees)

    Common Name (AOU Name)                  Scientific Name           Where
    Red-crested Pochard                     Netta rufina              r
    Ring-necked Duck                        Aythya collaris           r
    Wood Duck                               Aix sponsa                r
    Goosander (Common Merganser)            Mergus merganser          r
    Black Swan                              Cygnus atratus            r
    Bar-headed Goose                        Anser indicus             r
    Whooper Swan                            Cygnus cygnus             r
    Common Raven                            Corvus corax              to



Back to Bachbird