Merry olde England. Where Shakespeare penned, Arthur jousted and Slick Willy claimed he puffed but didn't inhale. Good fiction, all.
I find London to be one of the most exciting places in the world. I suspect it has been for centuries. So I was delighted to be invited to a three-day business meeting there in May. In addition to the meeting, I enjoyed the theatre, the pubs, Harrods and just walking around this vibrant city. I also turned to my BIRDCHAT friends for some suggestions. Barbara Passmore (arguably one of the most widely connected birders on the planet!) linked me up with her friend, Kristi Avera, who in turn connected me to an excellent British birder called Tony Morris (email@example.com).
After a spot of planning via e-mail, Tony and I arranged to bird together for two days around Southeast England.
Tony fetched me from my London hotel early the morning of May 24 and off we went, leaving the Royals, the Bobbies and Big Ben behind in favor of the glorious English countryside. Our first stop was Thursley Common, an hour or so south of London. This lovely wildlife refuge is home to a myriad of species, notably the Dartford Warbler, one of my target birds.
Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Coot, Mallard, Carrion Crow, Barn Swallow, Chaffinch, Wood Lark, Willow Warbler, Magpie greeted us before we'd walked scant minutes from the car park. Tony then said we should be especially attentive for the Dartford and blimey, without so much as a by-your-leave, one popped up onto a bush and serenaded us. As we marched onward, we encountered Common Curlew, Common Swift, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Stonechat, Tree Pipits, Linnets and Reed Bunting. We heard a Pheasant and a Cuckoo, but didn't see them.
Several Hobbys put on an airshow for us and then perched nearby.
We had Green Woodpecker, Canada Goose, Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Blackbird, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Redstart, Robin, Mistle Thrush, Mute Swan, Pied Wagtail, Song Thrush, Rook, Starling and Jackdaw. It irked Tony a tad that I insisted on calling his Wren (just-plain-wren) a Winter Wren because it is a resident in England. And we were surprised with a nice fly-over by a Buzzard as we made our way back to the car.
Thursley is a lovely place to spend the morning.
After sandwiches at the car, we headed off to our next location. Along the way we got better acquainted. Birding runs in the family for Tony. Two of his sons are accomplished world birders, and one is a tour leader and author of a field guide to Madagascar. We also enjoyed some spirited political discussions about the interesting parallels between Reagan/Thatcher and Clinton/Blair. Turns out Tony (Tony birder not Tony Blair) served in political office in his youth and has lost neither his passion nor his debating skills!
Our second stop of the day was Weir Wood Reservoir where we took advantage of a comfortable blind to escape the downpour and view Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, Blackcap, Nuthatch and Great Tit. I'll tell you, these Brits have more kinds of tits than a Vegas Review.
Thanks to Tony's keen sense of hearing, we tracked down my second lifer of the day, Common Whitethroat.
We made our way east to Kent and stopped at Bough Beech for Common Tern, Shelduck, House Martin, Moorhen and Greenfinch before calling it a day to wring ourselves out and to savor a delightful dinner prepared by Tony's artist wife.
Day Two took us to the picturesque village of St. Margaret's at Cliffe near Dover. Hold on to your tea and crumpets, guv, there's nothing like birding along the famed white cliffs with sunlight streaming on the Channel and the coast of France visible in the distance.
We saw Dunnock, Herring Gull, Turtle Dove, Northern Fulmar, Meadow Pipit, Sky Lark, Sedge Warbler, Redshank, Lesser Black-back Gull and, after waiting patiently by a promising bush, my third lifer of the trip: Lesser Whitethroat.
Then it was off to Stodmarsh Wildlife Reserve. A Yellow Wagtail and a Yellowhammer met us in the parking lot. Along the boardwalk through the marsh we added Beaded Tit, Water Rail, Reed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, and Sand Martin (a.k.a. Bank Swallow). Tony thought he heard a Garden Warbler, but never found it. Maybe we were a bit early? At the other entrance to Stodmarsh we braved the rain and were rewarded with Graylag Goose, Northern Lapwing and a lovely pair of Garganey.
Our final stop for the afternoon was glorious. Elmley Island on the Isle of Sheppey. From our vehicle we had close encounters with Ringed Plover, Black-headed Gull, Oystercatcher, Marsh Harrier and Northern Shoveler. Near the parking area we saw Spotted Flycatcher, and in the nearby fields we had Red-legged Partridge.
On the way back to London we stopped off at a Power Station where we watched two adult Peregrine Falcons feeding their young.
That evening after dinner, we ventured back out where Tony thought he could add to my life list.
We drove an hour or so to Knowle Park, Sevenoaks, and wandered around in the dusk to a special wooded knoll Tony had been to before. Target bird: Eurasian Woodcock. No sooner than we got there and dress me up and call me the Queen Mum: a Woodcock flew right over us! It made four more passes over us in the next 15 minutes. We then ended our time together in style with a Tawny Owl hooting to us as we walked back to our car and headed for home.
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