Eleven birdwatchers set out on a beautiful, autumn morning for our very first group birdwatch. In bright sunshine we walked quietly through the cricket grounds, alongside the Shepherd’s Hill allotments and into Queen’s Wood. As leaves slowly cascaded from oaks and hornbeams, we stopped to practise our listening and observational skills and got to grips with our binoculars. We were eventually rewarded with a range of the most common birds – Jays, Wood Pigeons, Magpies, Blackbirds, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Ring-necked Parakeets (flying low over our heads) and Crows. We identified several Robins robustly maintaining their territories, caught an exciting glimpse of a foraging Tree Creeper and heard a Woodpecker. At the end of almost two hours we retired to the local cafes and agreed it had been a pretty good start!
On a bitterly cold day, nine birdwatchers arrived at the newly opened Walthamstow Wetlands for our second group outing. Within moments of arrival we had a greater spotted woodpecker in our sights and later we checked out great crested and little grebe, tufted duck, heron, pochard, greylag and Canada geese , pied and grey wagtail, plus more; in all about twenty-two different types of bird. At one point a flight of thrush (Redwing?) shot over our heads and an unseen Cetti’s Warbler enticed us with a few notes. The local Cormorants were an interesting sight, sharing their guano covered island with Grey Heron. Two local fishermen were keen to give us their views (mostly positive!) on the development of this extraordinary wetland. After two hours the very smart information centre and café were a welcome retreat from the biting wind.
In contrast to our last outing, the January weather was kindly with an intermittent gleam of sunshine. Our route from Finsbury Park followed the New River all the way (crossing over Seven Sisters Road) to Woodberry Wetlands. A Song Thrush, high amongst the tree tops sang a delightful welcome on our arrival at the park. There was a wide range of birds on the park lake including Red Crested Pochard, Tufted Duck and Egyptian Geese. Unfortunately the first quarter mile beside the New River was slippery, thick mud, however, we were rewarded for our efforts by seeing many of our favourites – Robin, Goldfinch, Blue and Great Tit, Blackbird and Chaffinch – before coming across a tree sheltering several redwing. The wetlands reservoir was equally rewarding with Grebe, a variety of gulls including Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed, a veritable host of Coot, Moorhen, Mute Swans, and at a distance, several male and female Shovelers. Another enjoyable trip and another good café to check over our sightings and warm our binocular wielding fingers!
Alexandra Palace Park was the venue for our February bird watch with local resource, Trevor Wyatt, joining us for the morning as guide, whose speciality is identifying birdsong. As it was a fine, spring-like morning the birds were in good voice and we were soon able to detect several by song and then visual observation. The walk started at the Farmer’s Market entrance following the path up to the Grove, from there we walked under the bridge and up to the lake, then down passed the pitch & putt course and on to the reservoir. In all, and with Trevor’s considerable help, we saw thirty different types of bird including Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Mistlethrush and flocks of Redwing, Dunnock and Wren, Greenfinch and Chaffinch, Blackheaded gulls in their winter plumage, Pochard and Heron. After a thoroughly engaging session and with winter clouds approaching we headed back for soup at our convener’s, and a meeting to draw up our schedule for the coming months.
Group 1 met in March at Kenwood House parkland for a circular walk which included a wide range of habitat. In the woodland we were rewarded with plenty of nesting behaviour from the Blue Tits, Great Tits, Jackdaws and Parakeets. On the lake the Little Grebes, Coots, Mallards and Moorhens were paired and active. We were pleased to have a close and extended view of a green woodpecker feeding amongst the grass and on a low tree. We ended at the café and while a Dunnock collected crumbs at our feet, we reflected that there were simply too many dogs being exercised to allow this to become our prime birdwatch location.
Group 2’s inaugural meeting provided time to agree a schedule for the summer which includes Rye Meads, Walthamstow Wetlands and the Fisher’s Green. We took a short walk around the cricket field in Alexandra Palace Park and were very pleased to spot a range of birds including a goldcrest, greenfinch and song thrush as well as a pair of great crested grebe on the reservoir.
Group 1 met at Cockfosters Underground Station for a short stroll to Trent Park. The weather forecast promised a fine spring day but after the recent heavy rain it was still very muddy underfootand the clouds were slow to lift. Once in the woodland we were greeted by a barrage of birdsong, including the sweet, melodic tones of a Blackcap. Whether it was due to the low light or the heightof the trees, we had difficulty in locating some songsters, however, by the end of an extended walk, (including the lake and obelisk), we had a good list of birds spotted including Nuthatch, Song Thrush, Redwing, Tree Creeper, Heron, Moorhen and Mandarin Duck.
Group 2’s second outing was to Walthamstow Wetlands, first meeting at Tottenham Hale station before taking the short walk to the south side reservoirs. Despite the chilly wind and the closure of one pathway between reservoirs (to prevent disturbing the nesting birds), we had a very busy morning sighting over thirty types of bird. Most controversial may be the two Yellow Wagtails in the tree (?), a prize for speed goes to the Peregrine Falcon, prettiest song was definitely the Blackcap, most obliging has to be the Bramblings and the Willow Warblers, but most exciting was undoubtedly the Ring Ouzel!
What a difference a week makes in bird watching! In glorious sunshine, both groups headed for Fishers Green in the Lee Valley on their respective Fridays in May, in search of Nightingale and Cuckoo.
Group 1 – Within a few minutes of arriving at Cheshunt Station we heard Cetti’s Warbler, Blackcap and a Cuckoo. Later, and after sighting a range of other birds, we were able to stand for twenty minutes listening to an exquisite Nightingale, hidden in the dense growth of a roadside hawthorn. Aim accomplished!
Group 2– We met in the car park of the Lee Valley Park Farm, edged by a field of bramble bushes where several Lesser Whitethroats were in full song. Throughout our walk we heard Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. There was plenty to see with clear views of Grey Heron and a Muntjac deer by the water’s edge. Although we caught tantalising snatches of a distant Nightingale, we didn’t get the full serenade and the Cuckoo had clearly moved on. However, the sight of a Swift, another long distant migrant, was very welcome.
Group 1 – An outing to the Walthamstow Reservoirs north-side, with its varied landscape and habitat. We saw a good range of water fowl including Little Egret, Shelduck, Greylag geese and goslings, and a Coot nesting on an upturned trolley with a hatchling sheltering in the part-submerged basket! Evident in number were House Martins flitting above the reservoirs and chattering Starlings gathered in nearby trees while three young Wagtails skittered along the reservoir edge. The most notable songsters were amongst the marshland bushes, and included Blackcap and various warblers. Final stop was the canal side café from where we watched an intrepid human swimmer enjoying thecool canal water
Group 2 – A trip to the RSPB reserve at Rye Meads on a very warm, bright day in hope of a Kingfishersighting. Despite the relatively small area of the reserve it was packed with wildlife. Nesting Kestrels gave us a clear view of their hunting behaviour. Around the scape area we saw Lapwing and Little Ringed Plover, Black Headed Gulls, Common Tern, Shoveller, Little Grebe, Pochard, Teal anGarganey. The various hides were a treat and some of our group were fortunate enough to see the Kingfisher checking out a nest site. Along the pathways and beside the ponds and river we heard, and in some cases saw a range of song birds including Cetti, Sedge, and Reed Warblers, Reed Bunting, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Garden Warbler. Despite there being no café we stretched our visit well into the afternoon and agreed we’ll definitely return.
Group 1 – June ended on a high note with a shared supper and presentation by Jon Raper of photos from his recent sailing trip to the South Atlantic. The terrific shots of wildlife included Penguins, Seals and birds thriving in their natural habitat despite the many hardships. These were interspersed with human communities also living in inhospitable island conditions and the sailors dealing with life aboard the sailing ship in a range of Atlantic Ocean weather. Inspiring! Our birdwatch for July was the RSPB Thames Estuary reserve at Rainham Marshes. Despite the 30 degree heat and very little shade, we covered the whole reserve and were rewarded with clear sightings of Marsh Harriers, Lapwing, Oyster catchers and a range of water fowl and other species (with maybe a Spotted Fly Catcher among them!).
Group 2 – A small group of five met at Finsbury Park to walk along the New River to the Woodberry Wetlands reservoir. The heat and sunshine brought out several species of butterfly including Speckled wood, Comma, Gatekeeper, Peacock and Green-veined Whites. We also spotted various Damsel, Demoiselle and Dragonflies along the New River. The highlight of the birdwatch was a female tufted duck with nine ducklings all vying to stand on a small, floating log, which to our amusement, periodically rolled over depositing them back in the water. The reservoir was quiet apart from the usual gulls, geese and coots, however, we did catch a tantalising snatch of the metallic call of a Reed Bunting before retiring to the café.
Group 1 – After a break in August our first Autumn birdwatch was to Rye Meads in dry, sunny weather. There was plenty to see on the lake and scrapes including Shovellers, Gadwall, Teal and Lapwing plus the rare sight of Green Sandpipers. During the walk we spotted many dragonflies and butterflies including Holly Blue, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral, there was also a large hornet feeding on a profusion of Ivy flowers. Always a good venue!
Group 2 – Six intrepid birdwatchers set off on our first early morning birdwatch, to Alexandra Palace Park. We were quickly rewarded with a flock of migrant Meadow Pippits, one of which settled close to where we were standing. We watched a Kestrel hunting until it was mobbed by the local crows. On the reservoir we spotted a Great Crested Grebe but not that elusive Kingfisher! Then off to Elsie’s for a welcome cup of coffee.
Group 1 – Our October birdwatch was an early, still and misty morning to Alexandra Palace Park. There was plenty to hear including Chiffchaff, Green and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers though little to see apart from a spectacular flight of immature swans. However, our outing ended on a high note with the arrival of a small flock of Redwings in the wooded area by the reservoir – old friends back for the winter perhaps, and a great way to celebrate our first year of U3A birdwatching!
Group 2 – On the tail end of a storm we set out for the excellent RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes. Under a dramatic sky and through wild wind there was a wonderful array of wildlife to be seen including some Harbour Seals by the shore. Top of the list for rarity value came the yellow billed Cattle Egret, however, we also particularly enjoyed Marsh Harrier, Snipe, very active Kestrel, Little Egret, Shellduck, Teal, a Raven, Linnets, abundant Sparrows, Skylark and a departing House Martin. What a treat!
Group 1 – to Oare Marsh: On a sunny day, eleven U3A birdwatchers caught to fast train from St Pancras to Faversham near the north Kent coast. We enjoyed a wonderful, bird-filled day with over thirty different species identified. On the tidal flats were flocks of Dunlin, along with Shelduck, Avocet, Grey Plover and Curlew. We saw Teal, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Black Tailed Godwit, Shovellers and Red Shank feeding in the shallow lagoon. A large gathering of Starling gave us a brief, but spectacular murmuration, before heading west. With Kestrel and Peregrin Falcon above our heads and basking seals on the shore, this was one special outing!
Group 2 – to Amwell Quarry, Lee Valley: We drove to the nature reserve, which has two good viewing hides, especially useful on this rainy day, but no other facilities. Although the reserve was quiet during our visit, a Red Kite repeatedly flew within close view and a Goldeneye duck was spotted landing on the lake. The reserve had introduced a herd of young pigs to clear the undergrowth, and as we left, they were making a bid for freedom which much Water Rail-like squealing!
Group 1 – Ten birdwatchers arrived at the Walthamstow Wetlands, for the final meeting of 2018, on a cold, rainy Friday. Several paths were closed, as were the hides, apparently to give the birds a break, from visitors, during their moult. Despite the rain and restricted pathways we had good views of Teal, Pochard, Gadwall, Tufted ducks and Mallard along with Little and Great Crested Grebe and a veritable washing- line of Cormorants trying to dry their wings. As we retreated to the café to dry-out and warm-up, a rather damp Peregrin Falcon landed on the pylon above our heads; definitely our bird of the day!
Group 2 – Three new members joined us for a trip to Walthamstow Wetlands on a cold day with heavy cloud and poor visibility. Our tally of birds seen during the walk was over twenty species, including Egyptian, Greylag and Canada geese, and Shoveller, Pochard, Gadwall and Tufted duck (and maybe a Scaup?). We saw several Grey Heron, Great Crested and Little Grebe, but no French Partridge or Turtle Doves, however, much to our delight one Little Egret made a late appearance. We then retired to the café and centre shop for some last minute Xmas gift buying!
Group 1 – During our planning meeting we had optimistically agreed that the RSPB Otmoor reserve might provide a starling murmuration, but only if we were lucky with both weather and birds. On a cold, bright day we drove to the Oxfordshire site. The local community owned Abingdon Arms pub in Beckley was an ideal base for lunch before an afternoon’s birdwatching which yielded our highest number of species yet! These included Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Redwing, Fieldfare, Stonechat, Golden Plover, Sparrow Hawk, Pheasant, Teal, Water Rail (heard), Snow Geese, Barnacle Geese, a large flock of Linnets and a Yellow Hammer. We also saw several hares and a deer. However, the crowning glory was the huge murmuration of Starlings that spun patterns above our heads before eventually funnelling down into the nearby reeds as daylight faded.
Another treat followed when Fran and Dave magically produced piping hot tea and coffee from the boot of their car along with Dunn’s mince pies, just wonderful!
Group 2 – This was a local walk in Alexandra Palace Park where we were joined by four new members. The day was mild and dry, though cloudy. Setting off along the Farmers’ market strip wesaw Goldfinch, Robin, Blue and Great Tits, Goldcrest, Jays, Pigeons, Magpies and Starlings. As we approached a rowan tree a small group of Redwing took flight, leaving one behind in the tree –either too exhausted or too full of berries to follow! As we left the Grove, a buzzard mobbed by crows flew overhead. The lake provided a good view of Coot, Moorhen, Pochard, Mallard, Tufted ducks and a variety of Gull, and the Lakeside café a good hot drink!
Group 1 – London Wetlands Centre Barnes visit cancelled due to weather and transport disruption.
Group 2 – Eight intrepid birdwatchers visited the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes despite the wind and rain of storm Erik. Fortunately, there was a welcoming café with broad views over the site and a circular walk interspersed by hides. The wild winds prevented several species from attempting flight or curbed their time in the air, so that we were able to get good views of grounded Marsh Harrier and Snipe. After about three hours we had seen almost forty species including five types of gullexpertly navigating the storm, a broad range of duck (including Pintail, Shelduck, Shoveller, Wigeon and Teal), Sparrow Hawk, Lapwing and Redwing. We heard brief snatches of song from both Dunnock and Skylark, which were welcome reminders of Spring.
Group 1 – The outing to RSPB Rainham Marsh reserve on a still, grey day yielded some magical moments; a plucky Robin pecking hand-held crumbs, a Song Thrush in full spring song, a flight of Golden Plovers gleaming in the low light, and a Reed Bunting ripping apart a reed mace seed head. However, aided by a local Volunteer with scope, we saw our bird of the day – a Barn Owl, pale against the dark ivy covering one of the few tall trees beside the marsh.
Group 2 – were joined by several group 1 members in a visit to the London Wetland Centre at Barnes. This gem of a reserve, surrounded by urban sprawl, provided an array of birds. Chiffchaff, Wren and Great Tits were singing loudly, there were Teal, Wigeon, Shovelers and Pochard on the water with several Snipe and Lapwing nearby. However, aided by a local Volunteer with her scope, we had a very special view of a Bittern, beautifully camouflaged, in the reeds at the water’s edge.
Group 1 – Our return to Oare Marsh, Kent was on a cold, spring day, with a strong easterly wind. Thirty-eight bird species were identified including Bearded Tits that tantalised with their calls before flying up from the reed bed. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits, covering an island in the scrape were suddenly spooked by a Sparrowhawk; they then flew in breathtaking formation before our admiring group, ensconced in the hide.
Group 2 – Rye Meads RSPB nature reserve provided an early spring opportunity to note forty-two bird species including Red Kites and an exciting sighting of the usually very shy and skulking, Water Rail. In addition the group saw Muntjac deer and two of Britain’s mostendangered mammals, Water Voles, which were taking nesting material into their burrow.
Group 1 – After our glorious May 2018, there was only one place to head to this year, Fishers Green in the Lea valley! We were rewarded by seeing and hearing Whitethroat, Lesser whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and the glorious Nightingale (heard not seen). This is a very special green space for wildlife and people, on London’s doorstep.
Group 2 – The beautiful Lea Valley Regional Park was awash with birdsong and hawthorn blossom. We took the route along the canal from Cheshunt station, crossed to walk beside the SeventyAcre lake with its reed bed Warblers, then on to Fishers Green, the café and Bittern hide,before heading back. There were many highlights including Nightingale song, Swans mating and a Chaffinch singing from a spray of Hawthorn, though hands-down winner was the Great Crested Grebe family with two new chicks snug on an adult’s back while the other parent offered fresh minnows.
Group 1 – The day started with leaden skies and ended in a prolonged rainstorm at the Amwell Quarry reserve in Hertfordshire. Fortunately this site always offers good sightings and we were not let down as next to the hide Little Ringed Plovers were nesting. During our lengthy stay within the hide, to avoid a soaking, we were able to observe the Plovers’ careful tactics for exchanging egg-sitting duties. A good number of Swifts ranged across the area joined in lesser numbers by House and Sand Martins. There were Oystercatcher and Lapwing, several species of Gull including one Mediterranean, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Chiffchaff and Cetti’s Warbler. We took a wet walk to the local pub to dry out and refresh.
The following day the group had an opportunity to visit Farnham RSPB site in Surrey for a guided walk to hear Nightjars. On a glorious evening, around sunset, we heard and saw several Nightjars, a Redstart and a Woodcock. Highly recommended!
Group 2 – For the final birdwatch of the summer, the group returned to Walthamstow Wetlands. Thirty species were identified, and highlights of the day were close views of Swifts feeding above the reservoirs, Sand and House Martins, Grey Wagtails, Sparrow hawk and Peregrine Falcon. Perhaps the best moment, however, was spotting seven Shelducklings! The group then met in the very pleasant café to plan their Autumn birdwatches.
Every visit to Oare Marshes in Kent is different, being so dependent on the season, tide, weather and whims of the birds. This visit – our third – was on a blustery, autumnal day. The inland pools hosted dense flocks of Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank, Lapwing and Dunlin. Careful searching revealed the occasional Ruff and Golden Plover amongst the other waders, along with a well-camouflaged Snipe in the reeds. Word got out that Curlew Sandpipers were around, but we were sadly unable to spot them. Clouds of Swallow and Sand Martin darted over the water and Starlings restlessly flocked from place to place. When spooked by predators, hundreds of waders would rise en masse and wheel around in panic. (Two potential predators flying low in the distance turned out to be Eurofighter jets …). The muddy estuary banks were unusually quiet, apart from groups of Avocets being driven up by the incoming tide, and a solitary Curlew. Finally we were treated to a pair of Sandwich Terns flying low over the River Swale, completing another lovely, if chilly, day out.
A visit to a rather cloudy Rainham Marshes to be entertained by a very persistent kestrel which hung in the wind for ages searching for prey on the Thames foreshore, and a buzzard which thought it was a kestrel as it too hovered over the marshes. A highlight was watching a water vole speeding past us down one of the channels, swimming too quickly to get a decent photo!
A return to a favourite location – Fishers Green in the Lee Valley Park. Despite the rather gloomy weather, the scenery looked very atmospheric in autumnal colours with mist hanging over the lake, and there were plenty of water and woodland birds to see and hear. Highlights included numerous Grebes, Gadwalls, Pochards and Wigeon, several Hrons, flocks of Long-tailed Tits, two Kingfisher sightings (at least by some of us who were lucky enough to be looking the right way at the right time!) and a close encounter with a fox.
Fourteen keen birdwatchers travelled to rural Oxfordshire on a rather damp Friday for the December outing. We first enjoyed lunch in the local hostelry (shockingly, several of us opted for the rather delicious Pigeon dish!) then made our way to the reserve nearby. The weather wasn’t too promising at first, but miraculously cleared later in the afternoon to produce some beautiful skies over the reeds at dusk. The flooded fields and marshes attract huge numbers of birds, and flocks of starlings and lapwings were continually on the move trying to escape the many birds of prey hunting the area. In the space of a couple of hours on the reserve we were lucky enough to spot 8 different birds of prey: Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, hen Harrier (a first for many if us), Peregrine Falcon and Barn Owl. Another highlight was an unusually close encounter with a hare, which casually lolloped past us on the path. But the main event happened at dusk when tens of thousands of Starlings flew in for a low-level murmuration display before settling in to roost in the reeds. There was just enough light to find our way back to the cars and then to the pub for a very welcome cup of tea to finish off a lovely day.