More than 300 different species of bird have been recorded in London at different times of year — some are year-round residents while others migrate from as far away as Siberia or sub-Saharan Africa. If you don't have a garden to call your own, don't think this isn't for you. We spoke to Tim Webb of the RSPB about the best places in London to put your binoculars to good use:
The likes of Richmond Park, Regent's Park, St James's Park, Hyde Park and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park all offer plenty of trees and green spaces for birds to flourish, despite some of them being right in the middle of London. Green Park has resident tawny owls, and there is currently a kingfisher nesting at the islands in St James's Park.
Ian Tokelove of the London Wildlife Trust recommends visiting these parks early in the morning, before they get to busy, for your best chance of spotting birds.
Often overlooked, every borough has small local parks. Not all of them are great for birdwatching, but many provide much-needed sanctuaries for wildlife. Islington’s Laycock Street Park supports a house sparrow colony, a species that has declined by more than two-thirds in London in the last 20 years.
The RSPB suggests heading to Hampstead Heath, Wanstead Flats, Little Wormwood Scrubs (no jokes about jailbirds, please) or Lee Valley (incorporating Hackney and Walthamstow Marshes). Over 200 species of birds, including bittern and black-necked grebe, have been recorded by the London Wildlife Trust in the Lee Valley.
Perhaps the most surprising places to see birds are utility sites such as Beddington Farmlands waste site, reservoirs such as those at Wraysbury near Heathrow, or Thames Water’s east London sites at Walthamstow Marshes. Utility sites are usually enclosed open spaces, meaning there are fewer disturbances from people and dog walkers, although ground nesting birds are vulnerable to predation from rats, foxes, etc on such sites.
Many of London's best known cemeteries are overgrown enough to provide a haven for wildlife. Try Kensal Green Cemetery, West Norwood Cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, Abney Park Cemetery, Nunhead Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery or Tower Hamlets Cemetery,
Waterways and Wetlands
The Thames is an obvious place to spot waders and water birds including gulls, cormorants, geese and ducks. If it's the estuary you're heading for, the London Wildlife Trust's Ian Tokelove recommends visiting Crossness or Barking Riverside at low tide when the mudflats are exposed. The Thames Valley and Lee Valley are important migratory routes for many species.
Many of London’s canals are popular haunts for swans, coots, moorhens and some herons.
Thames tributaries: The Wandle is great for birds and other wildlife, as are the Crane, Colne, Brent and Mardyke to name just five. It’s these smaller rivers and streams where you’ll find species like the kingfisher.
Wetlands: In Stoke Newington, London Wildlife Trust is converting the East Reservoir into a new nature reserve, Woodberry Wetlands, which will open in summer. Rainham Marshes are home to marsh harrier, lapwing, avocet and ringed-plover. At Ingrebourne Marshes in Hornchurch you can see bearded tit, bittern and water rail.
While the above locations offer your highest chances of seeing birds, they can be seen almost anywhere in London; in the past pheasants, ducks and even woodcock have been reported in high streets, on balconies and roofs. The trick, says Webb, is to remember to look around and look up. The recent strong winds can also carry birds off their traditional flyways, forcing them come down in London for a brief rest before continuing their journey.
What will you see?
The most common species of birds spotted in London in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 were; woodpigeon, house sparrow, blue tit, starling, feral pigeon, blackbird, robin, great tit, magpie and goldfinch. Chances are that this year's survey will yield similar results.
Not sure what you're seeing? The RSPB has a very useful bird identifier, great for separating your robins from your wrens.
If you're birdwatching from your garden, have a think about what has brought particular species there, and whether they favour particular areas. This will give you clues as to specific plants and food sources they are attracted to — so you can offer more incentive for them to return in the future.