Ring-necked Parakeet

West London Birding - Half-day Trips

London has recorded over 365 species of bird within a 20 mile radius of St. Paul’s Cathedral. From the parks and green spaces of Central London to the reservoirs and gravel pits in the north and west and the estuary and the saltmarshes in the east, it is a brilliant place to go birding. Add to this, areas in neighbouring counties and you are assured of a good selection of birds.

The below are just some suggestions of sites (in no particular order) that you may want to consider visiting on a half-day or day trip with West London Birding. Depending on the location and proximity to each other, either one, two or more of these sites may be able to be visited for a half day trip. Just mix and match!

Click the site-name to get an aerial map of the site (opens a new browser window).

1.     Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens (Central London): This site can get very busy during the day but early mornings can be good. A large lake attracts common waterfowl and there are always Grey Herons, Great Cormorants and grebes to be seen. Common British birds can be found and the area does attract migrants in spring and autumn. There are usually breeding Tawny Owl here which can best be seen in wintertime and early spring.  In 2011 a White-winged Black Tern spent several days here.  This site is easily accessible by bus and Tube.

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2 .    Wraysbury Gravel Pits (Berkshire): A great place in summer, with up to ten species of warbler breeding in some years. In winter the lakes hold good numbers of a range of waterfowl and often Smew and maybe a rarer grebe are present. Other resident species include both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Linnet and Common Goldfinch. Meadow Pipit and Skylark also breed in small numbers.  This site is short drive from Staines Reservoir or Chobham Common.

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3 .    Stokenchurch Area (Oxfordshire): A small farmland site and a downland wood afford excellent views of Red Kite, Rook, Eurasian Jackdaw and farmland species such as Yellowhammer. The wood is good for common woodland species which includes Marsh Tit. There is a chance of passage Ring Ouzel on the downs in spring and autumn.  This site can easily be done  in conjunction with Little Marlow Gravel Pit.

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4.     Minet Country Park (West London): A mixture of open grassland and scrub attracts a number of species all year round. Finch flocks in autumn include Linnet and Common Goldfinch. Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker are common. Several Stonechat usually winter here and Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting and a selection of common warblers and tits breed on the site.

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5.     Staines Reservoir (Surrey): Despite being a large concrete basin, this collection of two reservoirs separated by a causeway can be superb, especially during migration and in winter. In spring the site often attracts Terns including  Black (the European sub-species), Arctic and Common Tern(the latter breed here) and Little Gulls. Winter sees the built-up of impressive numbers of diving duck including Common Goldeneye, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Black-necked (Eared) Grebe also overwinter here. In recent years the site has attracted Great Northern Diver (Common Loon) in winter. This site can be done with Wraysbury Gravel Pits or Chobham Common.

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6.   RSPB Rainham Marshes (East London): A marshland and inner estuarine area on the eastern border of London, this site is excellent all year round for a  range of species including shorebirds, gulls (the large tip to the west of the site regularly attracts Caspian Gull in winter), marshland passerines, passage migrants and occasionally seabirds. It also has an impressive list of rarities which have included White-tailed Lapwing, Penduline Tit, Cattle Egret, Ortolan Bunting, Bluethroat and Britain’s first (and ony) Slaty-backed  Gull.

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7.   WWT London Wetland Centre (West London): Old concrete-lined reservoirs were turned into this exciting wetland area. It’s main claim to fame is its wintering Eurasian Bittern, but it also attracts good numbers of waterfowl in winter and often Water Pipit and Jack Snipe. In summer it is good for waterbirds and waders and gulls regularly drop in for a while. Little Ringed Plover sometimes breed on the site as do Cetti’s, Reed, Sedge and other warblers and migrant passerines can be found at the appropriate times. There is also a sizeable Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) colony here providing an excellent chance to see this species really close.

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8.     Brent Reservoir (North-west London):  A reservoir area with adjacent parkland and scrub, this site is good for waterfowl and gulls in the winter and warbler and songbirds in the summer. There is also the possibility of passage waders and terns in spring and autumn.

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9.     Little Marlow Gravel Pit (Buckinghamshire): A man-made lake with a sand spit which is great for a number of birds including shorebirds, gulls and wildfowl. Breeding birds include Common Tern, Grey Heron and Cormorant and  Little Ringed Plover can occasionally be seen in spring and summer. Common Buzzard and Red Kite breed locally and are seen on most trips to this site. The woodland holds common woodland species including Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker and thrushes (e.g. Redwing & Fieldfare) are common in winter. Yellow-legged Gull can sometimes be seen here in late summer. This site is near Stokenchurch.

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10.  Chobham Common (Surrey): This is an example of rare lowland acid heath habitat and as such the birds that inhabit it are specialists. Common  Stonechat occur all year round as do Goldcrest and Green Woodpecker. Woodlark are also resident but are best looked for in early spring when they are singing. Winter can provide large roving flocks of Lesser Redpoll, occasionally joined by a couple of Common Redpoll and in some years a Great Grey (Northern) Shrike puts in an appearance. Summer species include Hobby and Tree Pipit and evening excursions can be made for Common Nightjar and Woodcock. Dartford Warbler, although resident have suffered recently due to successive cold winters and though they are present on the heath they can sometimes be difficult to find. This site would compliment a trip to Wraysbury Gravel Pit or Staines Reservoir (both which are a short distance away), but for those looking for a large list, this is a place of few species, but good ones.  

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11.  Tring Reservoirs (Buckinghamshire/Hertfordshire border): This is a complex of four reservoirs situated about 30 miles NW of Central London. As expected the main interest here is waterbirds, though it is one of the best places around London to see Hobby during the late spring and summer months, where up to 7 birds can be watched. In 2010 they were joined by a Red-footed Falcon for a few days. The site can also be good for migrating waders, terns and hirundines whilst the woodland holds common resident species all year round and warblers in the summer. In winter there is usually a resident Water Pipit and Rock Pipit has also occasionally been noted. Red Kite ands Common Buzzard are resident. This site may be done in conjunction with Ivinghoe Beacon.

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12.  Ivinghoe Beacon & Income Hole (Hertfordshire): Standing at 233m above sea level, this site is an excellent place to see migration in action. Spring brings in good numbers of Northern Wheatear with regular passage Ring Ouzel in April and maybe the odd Whinchat, all three species being found on the slopes down from the beacon. Also keep your eyes open from raptors as Osprey and Marsh Harrier are recorded here regularly on passage. The beacon itself is home to breeding Meadow Pipit and Yellowhammer and the chalk grassland is great for those with an interest in butterflies during the summer months. In autumn it is a superb place to “vis-mig” from as streams of Meadow Pipit, Skylark and finches, with the occasional “rarity” in the form of maybe a Lapland Bunting (Longspur). A walk over to Income hole should produce common species of warbler in spring as well as Northern Bullfinch. Income Hole is a deep natural chasm that acts as a migrant trap. In spring it regularly attracts species such as Common Redstart and in late autumn can hold large numbers of migratory thrushes (Redwing and Fieldfare) as well as finches, including Brambling. This site is suitable for combining  with Tring Reservoirs.

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13.  Farmoor Reservoir (Oxfordshire): This site comprises two large reservoirs with a central causeway running between them. It is a site that is at its best in spring when there is an influx of Wagtails and often White (the nominate, Contintental sub-species of the UK Pied) Wagtail and Yellow Wagtail can be seen at close quarters alongside the usual Pieds. Shorebirds are also attracted to the site and tern passage can be rewarded with Black Tern in April and often a few Little Gull. In winter the site often holds unusual waterfowl and a huge gull roost may hold something of interest.  There is a small nature reserve at the far end which holds breeding warblers in summer and resident species throughout the year. This site can be done in conjunction with Little Marlow Gravel Pit and/or Stokenchurch

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14.  Lee Valley (London/Hertfordshire/Essex): This is a large linear area which runs from the River Thames just east of the City of London along the Hertfordshire / Essex border. It comprises a small river which is flanked by Reservoirs and Gravel Pits along much of its length. Some of the best birding areas here are the Holyfield and 70 Acre Lakes where there are a number of bird hides [blinds]. In winter the lakes attract Smew and Great Bittern amongst other waterfowl, whilst in spring and summer the site is excellent for summer migrants including several species of warbler and is the best site near London for Common Nightingale which may be heard and, if lucky, seen from mid-April until early June. There are also scrapes which attract passage shorebirds in the appropriate seasons and a number of nationally scarce and rare birds have been recorded in the Valley in recent years including Marsh and Savi’s Warblers, Black Kite, Osprey, and Temminck’s Stint.

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Tawny Owl can be found in Kensington Gardens if you know which tree to look in!

Great views of Grey Heron can be seen at many of the London Parks

View north from the Observatory hide at the WWT London Wetland Centre. This site is one of the best to see Great Bittern in winter

Little Marlow Gravel Pit is a great place to find Common Kingfisher

Northern Wheatear is a common passage species. Ivinghoe Beacon is a good place to look for this species during migration.