Bird Nerds Abroad: Part II – London, Kent and France

Brooklyn Birding

Our trip to Regent’s Park yielded lots of great birding, as well as good opportunities to photograph the birds we were seeing. The next few birding outings were also great, but did not yield lots of photos, so we have combined several outings into this one post.

Our second London outing was to the vast park in North London known as Hampstead Heath. One of Tim’s cousins recommended it because of its size and wild character, the view it offers of Central London, and because it is on the way to his house. Once again, we were pleasantly surprised by urban birding in London.

Central London from Hampstead Heath

Central London from Hampstead Heath

A pond near where we entered the park was alive with waterfowl, including the magnificent Mandarin Duck.

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

These fancy ducks are native to East Asia, but they have established feral populations in England. We are glad that they did, because they are awesome.

Just about everywhere we went in Europe, we saw the Common Chaffinch, which is a round and colorful little finch. Despite the number of times we saw it, the best photo we could grab was this shot and Hampstead Heath.

Common Chaffinch with a mouth full of food

Common Chaffinch with a mouth full of food

After Hampstead Heath, we left London and spent the day at Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve, which is just east of London, in Essex. Rainham has an excellent visitor’s center, an amazingly friendly and knowledgeable staff, and above all, great birding. The reserve is a former military firing range along the Thames that has been flooded to form a marsh that is ringed by a walking path dotted with blinds (called hides in England) for better viewing. We were able to get great looks at numerous species, but most of them were fast moving or far away, so we walked away with few photos.

Before leaving for Europe, we had a mental list of “target species” that we wanted to make sure we saw before returning to Brooklyn. Near the top of the list was the European Goldfinch, which is even cooler than the American Goldfinch. We saw them in several places, but the best photo we got was this blurry one at Rainham Marshes.

European Goldfinch

European Goldfinch

One of the staff members at the visitor center at Rainham seemed to know North American birds as well as he knew European ones. As he was telling us which birds to look out for on our walk, he noted that North American warblers are more colorful, but European warblers have better songs. We learned this right away when we heard the songs of the the Reed Warbler (LL), the Sedge Warbler (LL) and this Common Whitethroat (LL):

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat

Another interesting song we heard was that of the Common Cuckoo (LL), one that we recognized from the iconic cuckoo clock. We instantly knew what bird we were hearing, and we watched it fly from tree to tree trying to impress a mate.  We’ve never seen or heard a cuckoo in the States, so this was very exciting.

After closing down Rainham, we drove down the M20 into Kent for a stay on the English Channel. We spent the next day at the Sandwich Bay Country Park, near Sandwich on the English Channel. Shockingly, the weather in southeast England was less than ideal on May 14, 2015, so we got an early start to avoid the showers that were forecasted for later in the day.

In a blind overlooking the coast, we met a middle-aged English birder who let us use his spotting scope to identify Sandwich Terns (LL), Sanderlings, a Whimbrel (LL), a Eurasian Curlew (LL) and a Eurasian Spoonbill (LL). Our new birding friend complained that the predicted storms hadn’t arrived overnight, because he was hoping they would blow in rare birds. When we told him we were planning on travelling to France after Kent, he told us “I hate England, but I love France.” When we asked him to recommend good birding spots in France he told us “everywhere is better than England.” As he headed out on his bicycle, he wished a good time in France, while muttering to himself “I’ll be here looking at my Sanderlings and Sandwich Terns, such is the life I lead.” Most of the birds we saw at Sandwich Bay were too distant to get decent photos, but we did see some Highland Cattle, who look like teenagers who are upset because their parents just started following them on Twitter.

Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

After Kent, we took the train Paris, where we did not do much birding. Parisian parks are more oriented toward landscape architecture than natural beauty, and aren’t as conducive to birding as a result. These parks are however conducive to groups of teenagers drinking wine straight from the bottle.  In general, we found that the French are not as avid birders and Brits and Americans, so information on finding birding locations was hard to come across.

From Paris, we rented a car and drove to the Loire Valley. Our primary objectives in the Loire Valley were wine and chateaus, but we did manage to squeeze in a half day of birding at L’île de la Métairie, a park just across the Loire from Vouvray, where we stayed. The park offered trails through woods and open fields as well as to the sandbars along the Loire. One of the birds we were able to get a photo of was this Eurasian Blackcap, which is a classic example of the not-too-interesting-to-look-at-but-has-a-pretty-song European warbler.

Eurasian Blackcap

Eurasian Blackcap

Though it is not a warbler, the all-time champion of the not-too-interesting-to-look-at-but-has-a-pretty-song category has to be the Common Nightingale (LL). We were hoping to see one at some point on our trip, and the Loire Valley happened to be our lucky spot. We didn’t get a photo of it, but we did get a photo of the Common Chiffchaff (LL), which gets the nod for best-named bird of our trip.

Common Nightingale

Common Chiffchaff

When we reached the river, we had the treat of finding both the Common Tern and the Little Tern (LL), which is not to be confused with the North American Least Tern. We also got a nice shot of a Little Egret flying over the river.

Common Tern

Common Tern

Little Egret

Little Egret

After a few days in the Loire Valley, we drove back to Paris and boarded a flight to Iceland. Wine and chateaus are nice, but we got to do some serious birding in the Land of Ice and Fire. You’ll have to wait for our next post to see just how serious.

Here are our lists:

Hampstead Heath – May 12, 2015 6:38 PM – 8:24 PM

Rose-ringed Parakeet
European Starling
European Robin
Rock Pigeon
Mute Swan
Mallard
Tufted Duck
Eurasian Coot
Gadwall
Wood Pigeon
Eurasian Magpie
Great Crested Grebe
Common Goldeneye
Mandarin Duck
Canada Goose
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (LL)
Carrion Crow
Eurasian Blackbird
Blue Tit
Common Swift (LL)
Common Chaffinch
Stock Dove (LL)
Eurasian Jackdaw

Rainham Marshes –  May 13, 2015 – 1:38 PM – 5:01 PM

European Starling
Eurasian Collared Dove
House Sparrow
Wood Pigeon
Carrion Crow
Little Egret (LL)
Canada Goose
Mallard
Northern Lapwing (LL)
Eurasian Coot
Common Shelduck
Eurasian Moorhen
Tufted Duck
Mute Swan
Eurasian Magpie
Common Redshank (LL)
European Goldfinch
Graylag Goose
Little Grebe
Reed Warbler (LL)
Reed Bunting (LL)
Gadwall
Common Cuckoo (LL)
Northern Shoveler
Grey Heron
Eurasian Hobby
Barn Swallow
Black-headed Gull (LL)
Great Tit
Sedge Warbler (LL)
Eurasian Kestrel
Eurasian Blackbird
White Wagtail (LL)
European Robin
Common Whitethroat (LL)

Sandwich Bay Country Park – May 14, 2015 9:35 AM – 11:23 AM

Eurasian Collared Dove
Great Tit
Common Chaffinch
Carrion Crow
Mallard
Little Egret
Common Shelduck
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern (LL)
Eurasian Curlew (LL)
Whimbrel (LL)
Eurasian Spoonbill (LL)
Great Cormorant
Sanderling
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Wood Pigeon
Reed Bunting
Eurasian Kestrel
Eurasian Magpie
Eurasian Green Woodpecker
Eurasian Oystercatcher
Mistle Thrush (LL)
European Starling
European Robin
Eurasian Blackbird
Common Whitethroat

L’île de la Métairie – May 19, 2015 1:23 PM – 4:15 PM

European Greenfinch (LL)
Mistle Thrush
Carrion Crow
Eurasian Blackcap
Blue Tit
Eurasian Blackbird
Common Chaffinch
Long-tailed Tit
Little Egret
Common Tern
Little Tern (LL)
Wood Pigeon
Common Chiffchaff (LL)
Great Tit
Mallard
European Robin
Eurasian Green Woodpecker
Eurasian Magpie
Common Nightingale (LL)
White Wagtail
Barn Swallow
Gray Heron
Common Whitethroat

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