Sunday 5th May was International Dawn Chorus Day but there was no organised walk then or any other day at a venue I could reach so I’d decided to do a solo walk on Hampstead Heath this Bank Holiday Monday. I’d seen that sunrise was 5.24, and had indeed heard birds singing from my bed before 4am, but I opted for an “early-for-me” walk setting off 6am.
The sky was already light and sunny as I walked down my road – Herring Gull, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon. Walked past the wild flower meadow by St Stephen’s and the volunteer planted garden in front of the Royal Free to take the path opposite Hampstead Heath Overground Station onto the Heath. In that short stretch I heard Robin, Great Tit and Wren and saw Blackbird, Parakeet, Wood Pigeon and Magpie. I also saw a Blue Tit pop into its nest hole and thought I saw a Green Woodpecker fly up to a tree – but when I got round the other side it was nowhere to be seen. I also had a glimpse of a Great Spotted Woodpecker which also vanished but I managed another two glimpses which left me in no doubt.
I’d exchanged greetings with a dog walker who’d overtaken me while I was checking on Woodpeckers and, as I came round the corner, wondered what the dog was doing lying sullenly in the middle of the path. The owner was down by the side of the pond photographing the much-photographed swans with the 10 cygnets which hatched in the week. By the time I arrived 8 babies had gone off with one parent … and then the rest of the family joined them but it was difficult to catch them without one of the parents having their head in the water!
Also on Hampstead no 1 Pond: 3 Coot, pair Great Crested Grebe, 2 Moorhen and, nearby, 6 Starlings, Parakeets, Crow, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker. I also heard Song Thrush and saw a probably Sparrowhawk fly over.
Went straight up over Priors Field where I’d heard reports of a Whitethroat but I only saw 1 Crow, 1 Starling and 2 Magpies. Any song came from the hedgerow by the ponds.
I continued my walk to the Viaduct Pond where I heard then saw a ChiffChaff then over the Bird Bridge and into South Meadow, staying on the path bordering Caen Wood. As I walked across to the Stock Pond, I heard then saw Jackdaws.
I’d heard Goldcrests already on my walk but it was as I walked along the path by the Ladies Pond that I saw 2 in a skirmish flitting around the bushes, still for just a moment in a face to face stand off!
On the Sanctuary and Boating Ponds I saw 3 pairs of Tufted Duck, 5 pairs of Mallard, 2 pairs of Canada Geese and a few Coot. Heard another Chiffchaff and saw a Cormorant fly over.
Near the Men’s Pond I heard Chaffinch, heard Blackcap and heard Jackdaw. As I walked along the pond I eventually realised I was hearing a Whitethroat – managed to spot it on top of a bush though it soon fell silent and vanished. From the other side of the Men’s Pond I could see the Great Crested Grebe already seen swimming near its nest site. Then another flew in close to me – but a 2nd bird had popped up near the first. 3 Grebes on the Pond. I got a glimpse of a humbug on the back of the first bird I’d seen. The one I took to be the partner calmly swam towards my end of the pond – and suddenly the interloper was flying off. And, just before I left, 2 Mandarin drakes flew in!
On Highgate No 1 Pond there was 1 Canada Goose, 1 Swan, a pair of Mallards and 2 pairs of Tufted Duck. And then there was an almighty commotion – I’d wondered where the Egyptian Geese had got to. There were 3 of them honking away, flying around, splashing angrily. Another case of a pair seeing off an interloper? And then I saw a pair of Moorhens chasing off a Magpie. This alerted me to the little squeaks of babies but I only glimpsed one tiny chick.
All along my walk I’d been accompanied by singing Wrens – often 2 at a time from opposite sides of the path. Also more heard than seen were Robins, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackcaps – saw one in South Meadow, Song Thrushes – saw one. I also saw a distant Green Woodpecker (in addition to my early inconclusive glimpse) and saw some Long-tailed Tits. And I lost count of the Blackbirds I saw. Nothing very unusual and sad not to have seen any hirundines or more warblers or the elusive Kingfisher… but 32 species and a bit of drama with the goldcrests, grebes and geese made for an enjoyable Bank Holiday walk.
8.10am I was relieved to find the toilets by the Parliament Hill staff yard were open. The cafe wasn’t so I walked on. The cricket pitch is often a good place for birds but I only saw 1 Magpie and 1 Blackbird. On the field in front of the Lido there were 4 Starlings and about 20 Crows… and then I looked back to see that masses more had flown in to gather round some people feeding them! 8.40am I was back at South End Green for a coffee and croissant.