The Big Smoke, as it is often referred to elsewhere in the UK, is a surprisingly green place. It’s contains over 3,000 green spaces ranging from tiny urban pocket parks to the roving expanses of the Royal Parks like Richmond Park and Bushy Park.
There are some notable birding hotspots too such as the world famed London Wetland Centre – less than three miles from the centre of town and sleeping ornithological giants like Beddington Farm in Mitcham, South London.
London Birding & Geography:
Greater London buffers the counties of Essex to the east, Hertfordshire in the north, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire to the west, Surrey to the south and finally, Kent to the southeast. London itself is now home to excess of 8 million people with the biggest density of people in the central area of the metropolis.
The northeastern edge of London is dominated by the Lea Valley; a system of lakes, reservoirs and canals that stretches from Hertfordshire into near the heart of the city. These water bodies are situated around the River Lea that flows into the Thames in East London. The Epping Forest also fringes into the northeastern edge of the city although much of it is well trodden. It is now a largely fragmented remnant of a mighty forest that historically covered huge areas of East London and neighbouring Essex.
To the west of London lies the Colne Valley that like the Lea Valley is also dominated gravel extractions, lakes and streams. It has a long urban birding history but nowadays it is perhaps not as well covered as the Lea Valley. Elsewhere around the capital you have the usual array of habitats to be found in large modern cities including surprisingly tranquil wooded cemeteries, parks, reservoirs, lakes, rivers, heaths, woodland, sewage farms, landfill sites, tidal estuarine areas and ever decreasing marshland. Perhaps the most unusual birding venue/habitat is atop Tower 42 a skyscraper in the heart Square Mile within the City Of London. A real concrete jungle.
London is certainly a city where there is much more to its natural life than what meets the eye.
Urban birding within London is not a new thing. Although documented records go back for nearly 100 years, really serious observations have being made and lodged ever since the end of WWII. Certainly, by the late fifties there were urban birders working areas like the Colne Valley and standing on Primrose Hill near Regents Park watching for diurnal migrants.
These days there is a veritable army of birders living within the London area, many of whom regularly bird within the city limits. Around 367 species have being found in the London recording area as recognised by the London Natural History Society, although their boundary stretches beyond the Greater London boundary. During an average year the city could expect 250 species.
Breeding species include the expected birds like Common Starling, House Sparrow, Eurasian Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Black-billed Magpie, Carrion Crow, Blue, Great and Blue Tits plus a host of other common garden birds. In the more watery habitats you could expect breeding Mallard, Great Crested Grebe, Common Moorhen and Common Coot. During the summer months breeding warblers can be found in suitable habitat like Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Cetti’s, Reed and Sedge Warblers.
Anything can turn up anywhere during the spring and autumn migration periods. London has recorded some fabulous rarities like Naumann’s Thrush, Pacific Golden Plover and Common Nighthawk. More expected are seasonal goodies like Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, Ring Ouzel and Black Tern.
Winter is far from quiet. London’s reservoirs attract nationally important numbers of waterfowl. Large numbers of Tufted Duck, Eurasian Teal and Northern Shoveler congregate and some water bodies attract small numbers of the ridiculously handsome Smew. Nomadic thrushes like Redwing and Fieldfare invade at this time of year and are sometimes joined by gorgeous, berry-gobbling Bohemian Waxwings. Recently a couple of sites on the outskirts of South London have played host to small numbers of the ultra scarce and ultra-shy Hawfinch.
There is clearly more to London than pigeons, foxes and Big Ben!
Population (estimated as of 2013): 8,615,246
Area: 606.95 square miles (1,572 km2)
Population Density: 13,870/square mile (5,354/km2)
Bird Stats (updated January 30, 2015):
Species all-time (in eBird): 268
Species avg./yr. 2010-2014: 178.6
All-time eBird checklists: 5,226
2015 species list: 114
2015 checklists: 58
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