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11 - 21 June 2010




With my brother, Carl, getting married to Tracey in London and us obviously having to be there to attend the wedding, we decided to add a few days on to the trip and take a short trip around England. Although Margaret had been to England before, surprisingly it was one of the countries that I had not yet managed to visit. With the timing of the FIFA 2010 soccer world cup taking place in South Africa at exactly the same time, it was quite an exercise to find some affordable flights to actually get there and, after eventually find some reasonable flights on Emirates via Dubai, the planning then started in earnest. Although England is perhaps not a prime wildlife destination, there were still a number of species that we wanted to get to see in the short time that we would be there and so we ended up with a reasonably full itinerary. 



England is situated in the southern part of the United Kingdom. Sometimes used erroneously to refer to the whole of Great Britain or the United Kingdom, it is a country in its own right and is the largest of the countries making up the United Kingdom. Bounded in the west by Wales and in the north by Scotland, it also has over 3 000km of coastline and, in various places is bordered by the Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, North Sea and, in the south, by the English Channel with France being a mere 35km away over the channel.

England’s landscapes are varied, yet extremely scenic, and range from the chalk cliffs and rolling hills of the south to the mountainous regions of the Lake District in the north and the highest point in the country is Scafell Pike at 978m above sea level in the Lake District. At around 129 720 km2 in size, it is not surprising that at no point in the country will one be further than 120km from the coast. Although the climate is generally mild, it is varied and prone to quick change. One can experience weather ranging from bright sunshine through to cold, heavy cloud and rain within a short space of time. Interestingly, the warmest temperature ever recorded in England was in Faversham in Kent where it reached 38,5 deg C on 10 August 2003.

The population is said to be just over 50 million people with its capital city, London, hosting around 7,5 million of these. London is a truly cosmopolitan city and has some of the most renowned landmarks and buildings in the world within its boundaries.


I found it difficult to find an accurate number of the species recorded in England alone, but the UK has a list totaling just over 570 species. There are no true endemics to the country, but there are a number of representatives of bird families particularly appealing to a Southern Hemisphere birder who is not exposed to these birds back at home. England also has a good number of native species that have been introduced into other countries around the world and it is always good to catch up with these on their home turf. Birding in the country is generally easy and most species are staked out well. In several places however, we did find the birds particularly skittish which made photography a little difficult, but our short trip was such a small sampling of the country’s avifauna that it is difficult to know whether this was really the general rule or not. 

Atlantic Puffin White-throated Dipper


Again, I found it difficult to get an accurate number of mammals recorded in England alone, but it seems that there are just over 70 species recorded in the UK, although this does include several introduced species. There are no true endemic mammals to the country and, apart from the ubiquitous European Rabbits and Eastern Grey Squirrels, mammals are not hugely obvious in the country although with a bit of effort, one could probably build up a reasonable list. Unfortunately, our trip was a little too short to really get a good sampling of the local mammals, but we did at least see a few species along the way.

Eastern Grey Squirrel European Rabbit

Our trip:

With one of my good birding friends, Paul Wood, living in Essex, that was a good starting point for our trip and Paul helped tremendously with the initial planning of the trip. We also spent a few days staying with Paul and birded his local areas which gave us a brilliant introduction to the local avifauna. Through the wonderful world of technology, I also “met” Mike Richardson who was based in Bridlington in East Yorkshire. Mike went out of his way to provide us with a huge amount of information on the local wildlife and even met up with us while we were there to take us out. Through Mike, we also met up with Mat Armitage and spent a few hours with both of them as they showed us their local specials. Having never met either of them before, we were hugely appreciative of the lengths they went to to make us feel welcome and the effort they put in to try and find us new species.

The local currency, the Pound (£), was trading at about £1,00 = ZAR 11,30 (South African Rand) at the time of our visit. Although most things were a little more expensive than back home, it was not over the top and, with a little bit of research, one was able to have a vaguely affordable trip.

Medically, there were no real problems to deal with either. Fortunately, none of the diseases that one normally has to take precautions against in other parts of the world where one travels to see wildlife are really prevalent in England. We felt safe throughout the trip and generally found the locals to be friendly and helpful.

Fortunately, we were able to borrow our sister-in-law, Tracey’s, car while we were there, so saved on the cost of a hire car. We used a Tom-Tom GPS for the trip which we found very useful and, apart from a couple of occasions where it took us to the wrong place (!!), we never really got lost at all. With all the speed cameras around, we had to take extra care not to overshoot the speed limits, which was probably the biggest challenge for me… Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about driving in England for me was that, when we did see an interesting looking bird along the road as we were driving, there never seemed to be any place to pull over and have a look at it. We are so used to having hard shoulders in South Africa where we can quickly pull off and jump out of the car to have a look at the bird, but this was not the case in England.

We were also impressed with the number of “green” areas in the country. All reserves or parks that we visited were always well maintained with good visitor facilities. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the various county Wildlife Trusts obviously do a magnificent job of keeping these areas preserved and as close to their original natural state as possible.

Trevor and Margaret on the London Eye with Parliament Square in the background

Daily account:

11 June 2010

After our long flight from Cape Town to Gatwick, London via Dubai and eventually clearing through customs, we were met by my brother and father at the airport and then drove through to my brother’s house in Ware. Although we were pretty much restricted to busy roads, we started picking up the first species early on with the likes of Carrion Crow, Rook, Common Kestrel and Eurasian Magpie. A relaxing few hours was then spent catching up with family whilst the odd walk out into the yard added things like Common Blackbird, Common Wood Pigeon and Eurasian Collared Dove.

At about 5pm, Margaret and I headed off in our sister-in-law-to-be’s car to my friend Paul Wood’s house where we would be spending the next 3 nights. Surprisingly, with some help from satnav, we managed to get there without getting lost once! We spent the next few hours catching up (we hadn’t seen each other in 8 years!) but also wandered out into the yard occasionally to see what was about adding species like European Robin, Dunnock, Grey and Eurasian Blue Tits, Common Swift and European Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls overhead. It was then off to bed to prepare for our first full day’s birding.


12 June 2010

Paul had already worked through our target list, so we set off in anticipation of what he had in store for us. First stop was Fobbing Marsh where we quickly added Long-tailed Tit, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Stock Dove, Common Linnet and Eurasian Skylark. Further investigation also revealed Corn Bunting, European Goldfinch, White Wagtail, Common Cuckoo, Yellowhammer as well as our first mammal of the trip, European Hare. Our target bird here for me was the Bearded Reedling, a monotypic family according to the IOC list, so we were obviously very keen to see it. Eventually, we did manage to get views, but I was unable to get any photos of the birds.

A quick stop back at Paul’s house for some coffee and breakfast and we were off again, this time to Wat Tyler Country Park, a large wetland area where we spent some time in the hide there. Viewing from the hide added Mute Swan, Canada and Greylag Geese, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. Other new species included Mediterranean Gull, Common Reed Bunting, Northern Lapwing and Western Jackdaw and we also frustratingly heard Water Rail calling several times but were unable to see it.

Our next stop was Vange Marsh where we spent a couple of hours working the fringes of the wetland. New waterfowl included Common Shelduck, Eurasian Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall and Eurasian Widgeon whilst Sand and Common House Martins whizzed by overhead and a Eurasian Hobby was also a welcome distraction. We also spent quite a lot of time here working before eventually managing to get decent views of Lesser Whitethroat and Cetti’s Warbler.

The rest of the day was spent birding several sites in the Langdon Hills Country Park. Effectively large tracts of woodlands, we walked several of the paths where we added things like Common Chiffchaff, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Wren, Coal Tit and European Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers as well as two other mammals, European Rabbit and Eastern Grey Squirrel.

View across Fobbing Marsh Paul and Trevor at Fobbing Marsh
Sign at Wat Tyler Country Park Sign at Wat Tyler Country Park
Hide at Wat Tyler Country Park Paul and Margaret at Wat Tyler Country Park
View across Wat Tyler Country Park View across Wat Tyler Country Park
The sign says it all... ...as does this one
View across Vange Marsh View across Vange Marsh
Paul on the scan... Paul and Margaret at Vange Marsh
Sign at Langdon Hills Country Park View across Langdon Hills Country Park

13 June 2010

Having failed at getting photos of Bearded Reedling at Fobbing Marsh yesterday, we decided to give it one more bash this morning and headed off there first. After a bit of a wait, I eventually got a brief opportunity on a juvenile bird and had to be satisfied with this as they never showed themselves again. However, there was plenty to keep us distracted and we enjoyed the likes of Long-tailed Tit, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Song Thrush, Corn Bunting, European Greenfinch and Great Cormorant amongst others. We then headed off to Paul’s local patch, East Tilbury, on the banks of the Thames River. There is a sea wall here which runs all along the banks of the Thames River in order to try and contain the water if the river does burst its banks. This does create some problems for the Common Shelducks that breed on the inland side of the sea wall as to how to get their chicks to the river, so several "duck ramps" have been created along the length of the sea wall so that the birds can walk up the one side, over the wall and then down the other side! Also of interest at East Tilbury is the Coalhouse Fort, one of several forts built along the banks of the Thames to protect against the threat of a French seaborne invasion. Early additions to the list at East Tilbury included Mistle Thrush, European Stonechat and Meadow Pipit whilst we also had much better looks at Common Linnet and Eurasian Skylark as well. Working the banks of the river, we found Common Shelduck, Eurasian Curlew, Common Tern, Eurasian Oystercatcher and we were also introduced to 2 new gulls, Yellow-legged and Great Black-backed. As we were about to leave, we were also sent off on our way by a female Western Marsh Harrier.

It was then off to Hanningfield Reservoir where we spent the next few hours enjoying what the area had to offer. En route, we had also been lucky to connect with a Eurasian Sparrowhawk. The walk through the woodland down to the hides yielded Common Chaffinch, Great Tit and another new family for us in the form of Goldcrest. The reservoir itself held many Eurasian Coots as well as Canada, Barnacle and Greylag Geese, Tufted Duck and Common and Red-crested Pochards whilst Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe were also present. We were also quite surprised to find a single Red Kite circling over the area.

Our last stop was Thorndon Country Park, another woodland area where we saw Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great and Eurasian Blue Tits, Eurasian Wren, Eurasian Jay and eventually our target bird, Eurasian Nuthatch.

View across East Tilbury View across East Tilbury
Sea wall at East Tilbury Sea wall at East Tilbury
Duck ramp on the sea wall at East Tilbury View over the Thames River at East Tilbury
Paul on the scan... Margaret raking in the lifers...
Sign at Coalhouse Fort Coalhouse Fort
The sign says it all... Woodland habitat at Hanningfield Reservoir
Margaret and Paul heading off through the woodland Hide at Hanningfield Reservoir
View across Hanningfield Reservoir View across Hanningfield Reservoir

14 June 2010

After a rather late morning saying good-bye to Paul, his wife, Daleen and their daughter, Danielle, we headed out on our way north. Roadside birding yielded only the usual species initially, but we were lucky eventually to come across a few Common Pheasants along the road. After quite some time, we eventually arrived at our first destination, Weeting Heath, where we were targeting Eurasian Stone-curlew. After paying the fee at the visitors centre, we made our way to the west hide picking up Common Chaffinch and Great Tit along the way. Arriving at the hide, we were greeted by a number of other birders who were already looking at the birds, so this made things a little easier. Unfortunately, they were hugely distant, so the photographs could only be described as record shots at best! The hide also gave views of Rook, Western Jackdaw and Northern Lapwings whilst there were also European Rabbits and Stoats around.

It was then time to tackle the long drive through to Bridlington. The only new addition on the trip was a pair of Red-legged Partridges along the road, but there was another distraction when a car passing us in the opposite direction threw up a stone which hit the right back window of our car. Whilst initially it seemed to be alright, a mile or two later, the window just shattered into a thousand pieces while we were driving. Needless to say, this provided an unexpected problem which we then had to try and resolve and which set us back quite a bit in terms of time.

After eventually sorting out a temporary solution (nothing that a bit of plastic and duct tape can't resolve!), we eventually arrived in Bridlington late afternoon and booked into the Harmony Guest House (www.harmonyguesthouse.co.uk) where we would spend the next 3 nights. The guest house was basic, yet clean and very comfortable, but the owners, Margaret and Ian, went out of their way to ensure that we had a fantastic stay there. They were extremely attentive and provided all sorts of useful information on the area right down to arranging parking coupons for us for Bempton Cliffs. After offloading all the luggage and freshening up a bit, we headed out to investigate the town. The coastline yielded Song Thrush, Common Wood Pigeon, many European Herring Gulls and out first Black-legged Kittiwakes of the trip, but not much else and when it started raining, we decided to call it a day and head off to dinner.

Weeting Heath Visitor Centre Heading off to the hide
West hide at Weeting Heath Watching Eurasian Stone-curlews from the hide
View across Weeting Heath View across Weeting Heath
The sign says it all... Harmony Guest House
Bridlington beachfront Bridlington beachfront

15 June 2010

As it turned out, this was to be one of the highlight days of the entire trip for us. After an early breakfast, we headed off to Flamborough Head, just a 10 minute drive away. After parking the car and gathering all our optical equipment, we took the coastal path along the headland towards the lighthouse and almost instantly were surrounded by vast numbers of birds. The cliffs here have huge breeding colonies of Razorbills and Common Murres (aka Common Guillemots) and careful scanning in amongst them also yielded spectacular views of  one of our most sought after birds, Atlantic Puffin. Although not uncommon, this bird has always had a huge appeal to us and certainly did not disappoint. It instantly became Margaret's favourite bird ever! We spent the next few hours literally filling several gigs worth of CF cards of photos and also enjoyed good views of Northern Fulmar, Northern Gannet and European Shag whilst Western Jackdaws and Common Kestrels were also quartering around over the cliffs. Other species that we enjoyed in the area included many breeding European Herring Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes, a few Stock Doves, many Common Pigeons (aka Rock Doves) as well as Meadow Pipits.

Eventually, we dragged ourselves away from here and drove another 10 minutes or so northwards to Bempton Cliffs. Our first stop here was at the bird feeders near the Visitor Centre. The commonest bird here was undoubtedly Eurasian Tree Sparrow, but the supporting cast included Common Wood Pigeon, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Wren, Great Tit and Common Blackbird. We then took the path down to the cliff faces and were once again exposed to many hundreds (if not thousands) of breeding seabirds. Most of the same species as Flamborough Head were present, but where we had only seen a handful of Northern Gannets flying past at Flamborough Head, there was a huge breeding colony here. 

At around 3pm, we headed back to our guest house to start downloading photos and prepare ourselves for our evening jaunt. After getting everything sorted and freshening up a bit, we were collected at 5pm by Mike Richardson who I had "met" through Birdforum, an international birding chat forum. Mike had arranged for us to meet up with another Birdforumite, Mat Armitage, in Sheffield, about a 2 hour drive away where we would be going to look for European Badger. The drive through was pretty uneventful apart from a stunning male Northern Harrier (aka Hen Harrier) that crossed the road right in front of us near Howden, a bird that was totally unexpected given the time of year. After collecting Mat at his home, we went out to a few of his local birding sites while it was still light and connected with Red Grouse (a subspecies of Willow Ptarmigan), Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Blackcap and Eurasian Sparrowhawk, but our attempts at a favoured site of European Pied Flycatcher were less successful. Oh well, you have to dip some of them. It gives a reason to come back! Stopping at a site for European Nightjar (which we only heard calling, but was not a big deal, as we see them regularly at home), I was very excited when we found several Eurasian Woodcocks displaying over us, one of the birds I was really keen on seeing as well. Another stop in a more heavily wooded area had us listening to Tawny Owl, but try as we might, we could not coax it out into the open to see it. After picking up some take-aways for supper, we found ourselves staking out the badger site at around 10:30pm and, within minutes, we had our first views. We were soon treated to great views of the animals including a youngster, but the conditions were not great for photography and I only managed to get the worst of record shots of the animals. But what a fantastic mammal to connect with!

At around midnight, we hit the road again to make the drive back to Bridlington, picking up our only Western Barn Owl of the trip en route. Mike also took us on a little detour to Wansford where we stopped off (in some fairly chilly conditions) to get Daubenton's Bat and, by 2:30am, we were back at the guest house to be able to catch a few hours sleep before heading out again... 

Views at Flamborough Head Views at Flamborough Head
Views at Flamborough Head Views at Flamborough Head
Views at Flamborough Head Views at Flamborough Head
Margaret at Flamborough Head Margaret at Flamborough Head
Trevor at Flamborough Head Trevor at Flamborough Head
View at Bempton Cliffs View at Bempton Cliffs
In search of the elusive European Pied Flycatcher Mat Armitage and Mike Richardson

16 June 2010

After eventually managing to haul ourselves out of bed and having a late breakfast, we headed off in a northerly direction and went to Forge Valley. A road runs through this heavily wooded valley with several parking areas along it and, at one of these parking areas, there are a number of bird feeders. Mike had given us some bird seed the night before and we quickly put this out on the feeders and then climbed back into the car to wait. Within seconds, birds appeared out of the woods to come to the feeders - European Robin, Common Blackbird, Great Tit, Eurasian Jay, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Nuthatch and, eventually, brief glimpses of our target bird here, Marsh Tit. The birds were also having to compete with many Eastern Grey Squirrels here at the feeding tables and, naturally, the squirrels always won.

Our next stop was a place called Hilla Green where we were hoping to find White-throated Dipper, a site Mike had also given us. Despite spending a lot of time here, we were unsuccessful with the Dippers but did manage to see White and Grey Wagtails, Song Thrush, Common Kingfisher, Common Pheasant, Eurasian Wren and Long-tailed Tit amongst others. We also met up with another couple who enquired as to what we were looking for and when we told them we were after Dippers, they told us to go and look at the river in Helmsley where the Dippers were pretty much guaranteed.  We headed off west from here and arrived in the small village of Thornton-le-Dale. We had been told of a shop here that sold superb ice-cream, so naturally, we stopped off to try it and were not disappointed! (The ice cream was so good in fact that, later in the day we made a special detour back past there with the intention of getting some more, but unfortunately, the shop had already closed!) A small park with a lake directly over the road from the ice cream shop held Canada Goose, Eurasian Coot, Common Moorhen, Mallard and Tufted Ducks whilst Eurasian Blue Tits were also around. We then drove through to Helmsley and positioned ourselves precariously in reasonably heavy traffic on the rather narrow bridge over the river. Within seconds, a White-throated Dipper flew into view and then proceeded to go about its daily business. We were entertained by these really smart birds for the next while before having to pull ourselves away and head off to the North Yorkshire Moors.

Eventually getting on to a quiet road in the Moors, we were immediately encountering birds again. Good numbers of Red Grouse were around with many Northern Lapwings and the eerie call of Eurasian Curlews echoing across the whole area. Meadow Pipits were found in good numbers whilst we also found Red-legged Partridge, Mistle Thrush, Common Snipe and eventually, our main target here, European Golden Plover. We only managed to locate two birds here and can only assume that we were here at the wrong time of year for the supposedly large numbers that are known to occur here.

We then made a long drive across to Filey Brigg where Mike had suggested that a late afternoon or early evening visit might connect us with a few more species we were after. Arriving at the small headland, we were soon seeing a number of the same seabirds we had seen yesterday - Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, Razorbill, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, etc. Careful scanning through the myriad of Meadow Pipits there eventually gave us a single Eurasian Rock Pipit, one of our targets for the area. Out on the rocky shelves, we could see a large group of birds roosting and when checked through the scope, it turned out to be a group of Common Eiders, another of our targets, so we were doing well. Our last target, Grey Seal, eventually also put in an appearance swimming around at the base of the cliff that we were standing on with a fish that it had just caught. After another successful day, we made our back to the guest house for our last night there.

Sign at Forge Valley Parked at the bird feeders (notice the right side passenger window!!)
Habitat at Hilla Green Trevor at Hilla Green
Ice cream shop in Thornton-le-Dale Ice cream shop in Thornton-le-Dale
View across the North Yorkshire Moors View across the North Yorkshire Moors

17 June 2010

After breakfast this morning, we packed up and started heading back down south. Our first stop was a reserve called Blacktoft Sands where Mike had told us there had been some Eurasian Spoonbills recently. Enquiring about them at reception, they informed us that they normally only arrived in the afternoon, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to dip them. Walking to the hide, we were greeted with a male Western Marsh Harrier that flew straight over us. On arrival at the hide, we noticed a large white bird off to the right and, as soon as we lifted our binoculars to have a look at it, we realised it was a Spoonbill. Brilliant! Eurasian Spoonbill is not a particularly uncommon bird (although it is uncommon in the UK), but I was extremely happy as it was the last Spoonbill that I needed to wrap up the full suite of the world's spoonbills! Although there are only 6 of them in the world (Eurasian Spoonbill in Europe and Asia, African Spoonbill over much of Africa, Black-faced Spoonbill in eastern Asia, Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills in the Australasian region and Roseate Spoonbill in the New World), it is always good to "complete a group". Viewing from the hide also provided Mallard, Gadwall, Common Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Coot, Little Grebe, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Reed Warbler and groups of Black-tailed Godwits and Spotted Redshanks, many of them in full breeding plumage.

From  here, we continued on and travelled to another reserve, Potteric Carr, where we were hoping to connect with Willow Tit. Unfortunately, it was already quite late (and warm) by the time we arrived there and the reserve staff were also not extremely clued up on where exactly to look for this species. We spent some time walking around in the reserve in what I thought was probably suitable habitat, but came up empty handed on this and only saw a number of the commoner species we had already seen several times before on the trip.

After giving up, we hit the road again and made the long journey back down to Ware (having Red Kites crossing the road several times but not being able to find a place to pull off so that I could jump out of the car and get a photo!!) and, after several hours, arrived and booked into the Roebuck Hotel (www.theroebuckhotel.co.uk). After freshening up a bit, we then met up with my brother and his wife to be, as well as my parents, and went out to dinner at a local restaurant before heading off to bed.

The sign says it all... ...as does this one.
Roebuck Hotel Roebuck Hotel

18 June 2010

This was to be start of the "tourist" part of the trip, so after breakfast at the hotel, we packed up and drove across to my brother's house. After dropping off some of our luggage there, we made our way to the train station and caught the train into London. On arriving in London, we headed straight to the Premier Inn Country Hall (www.premierinn.com/en/hotel/LONCOU/london-county-hall) where we would be staying to leave the bags that we still had with us there. Our hotel was situated on the banks of the Thames River right next to the London Eye (in fact, we could see the Eye through the window when we lay in bed), so it was very conveniently placed for our explorations.

After first going to have a look at Parliament Square and Big Ben which were right there, we then made our way across to the British Natural History Museum where we spent the next few hours wandering around and admiring the various displays that they had on show. After eventually managing to pull ourselves away from here, it was then time to experience some shopping and the obvious place was Harrods, just so that we could say we had been there. It is certainly not a place for a South African who is travelling with South African Rands to go shopping (way too expensive!), but it was nevertheless an experience to be there and we also went to see the small memorial to Dodi Al Fayed and Princess Diana there. 

Getting withdrawal symptoms from not seeing any birds, we then made our way into Hyde Park where we walked around for a while. Although it was mostly the really common birds there, it was good to sit at the lake for a while and enjoy all the waterfowl there (although most of them have a distinct domesticated feeling to them being quite happy to walk up to you and take food out of your hands!). Our next stop was Buckingham Palace where one really felt like a tourist with the many other people also around to see it and, after that, it was off to Picadilly Circus with even more people and then, Trafalgar Square. By this time, it was already starting to get late and our feet were killing us, so we headed back to our hotel and called it a day.

Premier Inn Hotel View of London Eye with our hotel in the background
Parliament Square and Big Ben Parliament Square
Close up of Big Ben Close up of Parliament Square
British Natural History Museum British Natural History Museum
British Natural History Museum British Natural History Museum
British Natural History Museum British Natural History Museum
Harrods Harrods
A true shopper's dream... Memorial at Harrods for Dodi Al Fayed and Princess Diana
Hyde Park Hyde Park
Buckingham Palace Buckingham Palace
Picadilly Circus Picadilly Circus
Trafalgar Square Trafalgar Square

19 June 2010

After having rested up and gotten some feeling back into our feet, we were up early this morning and firstly headed off to Westminster Abbey. After admiring this impressive cathedral, we hopped on the underground (a really impressive train system that is extremely user-friendly and efficient) and made our way across to Madame Tussauds, the world famous wax model museum. We spent the next few hours wandering around here and taking in all the famous people that they had models of. Some were obviously better than others and it was great to walk around trying to recognise everybody.

Click here for a gallery of some of the wax models from Madame Tussauds that we photographed.

After leaving Madame Tussauds and grabbing a bite to eat, it was then time for some more shopping. First on the cards was Hamleys, an enormous toy store spread over 5 floors! Although it is aimed at children, there are many toys in there to keep the adults suitably entertained for many hours as well. After buying a few gifts for our niece and newly born nephew back home, we then headed off to Foyles, an enormous book shop where I got caught up in the natural history section. In fact, while taking all the books in, I actually said to Margaret that it was now the end of our trip as I was going to spend all the money we had left right there! What a place for anyone who loves natural history books!

Our next stop was St. Paul's Cathedral, another really impressive cathedral. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, there was a large service being held there, so we could not get inside and had to eventually move on. Being involved in architecture back home as my way of making money to be able to afford these trips, I was also keen to see some of London's more modern buildings, so we walked a little way until reaching Lloyd's of London, an impressive building with most of the services housed on the outside of the building and then also the iconic "Gherkin", a real modern architectural masterpiece. We then made our way towards Tower Bridge, one of the more famous bridges over the Thames and crossed over it to have a look at another interesting building known as "The Scoop".

It was then time to head back to the London Eye. We had already made our booking so needed to get back there in time to get on to it. After standing in a fairly long queue to board, we eventually got on and took the 30 minute rotation ride which provided some absolutely spectacular views across the city itself. By the time, our ride was finished and we had visited the souvenier shop, it was already quite late and, once again, our feet were sore from all the walking, so we headed back to the hotel for some dinner and a well deserved rest.

Westminster Abbey Westminster Abbey
The sign says it all... Underground train station
No introduction is needed... Madame Tussauds
Inside Madame Tussauds Inside Madame Tussauds
Hamleys Foyles
St. Paul's Cathedral St. Paul's Cathedral
Lloyds of London The Gherkin
The sign says it all... Tower Bridge
Crossing Tower Bridge The Scoop
London Eye Waiting to get on to the London Eye
Heading up... ...and over
Views across London from the London Eye Views across London from the London Eye

20 June 2010

After a bit of a lie in this morning, we eventually packed up and booked out of the hotel, heading over to the train station. We caught the train back to Ware and, almost as soon as we left the city itself, we started encountering numbers of birds again. Although they were nothing out of the ordinary, it was good to see things like Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Eurasian Magpie and Carrion Crow from the train and, close to Ware, we were really excited to see 2 Red Foxes sitting next to the train tracks and watching the trains go by, our only Red Foxes of the trip! Eventually arriving in Ware, my brother collected us at the station and we made our way back to his house where we spent the next few hours relaxing and also making him feel extremely nervous about his wedding a little later today...

At about 12h00, we headed off to the venue, Tewin Bury Farm Hotel (www.tewinbury.co.uk), where the wedding would be and we would also be spending the night. After booking in, we took a little walk around the area. A hide overlooking a small wetland had all the usual species like Eurasian Coot, Common Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Mallard, etc. while there were plenty of Common Chaffinches, Great Tits and Common Blackbirds in the surrounding woodland. Unfortunately, there was not too much time to look around as we had to get ready for the wedding.

The rest of the day was spent firstly attending the actual wedding ceremony and, then afterwards, the wedding party. Everything went off very smoothly but, as Murphy would have it, while Carl and Tracey were busy saying their vows (it was an outdoors wedding by the way) and I was standing close to them taking photos with a wide angle lens on my camera, a stonking Red Kite came floating right over the wedding ceremony and would have made a spectacular photo had I had the right lens on! Needless to say, I never got a photo of this species on the entire trip!

The sign says it all... Tewin Bury Farm Hotel
The happy couple, Carl and Tracey Hardaker The happy couple, Carl and Tracey Hardaker

21 June 2010

Because of the rather late night last night, we ended up having a bit of a lie in this morning as well! Eventually managing to surface and enjoy a good breakfast at the hotel, we then made our way back to my brother's house so that we could repack things and get ourselves sorted for our flight back home later. We still managed to find a little bit of time to scratch around in a pond in my brother's backyard where we were lucky enough to find a few Smooth Newts, my first ever species of newt. Margaret and I also took a walk around the neighbourhood enjoying our last views of things like European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch and Common Wood Pigeon before finally making our way to the airport for our long journey, via Dubai, back to Cape Town.



One thing that was clear from this trip was that we were not there at the prime time for birding. However, because of the short period of time we had available, we were still fairly happy with the 117 species we managed to record with many of our targets seen. It would have been great to have more time available to see more areas, perhaps concentrate on some of the other mammals and just not feel so rushed. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was not finding a single reptile or frog, but I suppose we have always got to leave something for our next visit! Please click on the link below to see our full trip list as well as links to photos of many of them.

Link to full list of species recorded on the trip