Birdwatching in Dundee

By David Lindo

My visit to Dundee was a special one because it was not only my first time in Scotland’s fourth largest city but it is the birthplace of The Average White Band, one of my favourite 70s funk bands. Yes, Scotland’s got soul!

Dundee not only has the funk, but it has got the birds too. It has a long established birding fraternity, with the Scottish Ornithologist Club and the RSPB both active in the area for more than 50 years.

However, the biggest pool of members for any of its birding societies is the Angus and Dundee Bird Club and I met a couple of its stalwarts for an escorted tour of the city. One of the first things we did was to look up and we were treated to the first skeins of Pink-footed Geese and the very first October flock of Whooper Swans.

Dundee is a fairly small city situated on the north bank of the Firth of Tay. During my induction into the city’s ornithological credentials, I quickly learnt that, like neighbouring Aberdeen, it is one of the first spots in the UK to receive Waxwings. Indeed, these absolutely stunning birds are near annual visitors and are often flanked by Fieldfares, Redwings and Mistle Thrushes. The city’s cemeteries are a good place to start hunting for them.

Birdwatching in Dundee

Dundee has a bird-rich coastline that is ideal for seawatching for seaducks, Red-throated Diver and grebes along with scoping opportunities for shoreline waders. Of course, if you watch the sea often enough, rarities will pop into view.

Recent goodies have included White-billed Diver, Ross’s Gull and Grey Phalarope. Perhaps more remarkable was the recent appearance inland of a Nuthatch, a true rarity in these parts; proof of their slow spread north. This scenario has already been played out by Magpies, a rarity in the city.

Ten years ago they were almost unknown in Dundee, but the species has started to creep into the urban areas, although there are still probably only 10 birds in the city.

The coastline at Balmossie, near the mouth of the Dighty Burn and at the eastern end of the Broughty Ferry Esplanade, is a great little local spot for watching waders. Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlins are to be expected during the appropriate seasons, along with the occasional flocks of Golden Plover and more usual Redshank, Dunlin and Grey Plover.

On the sea, there are normally rafts of Eider and indeed, there were quite a few birds present on the day of my visit, with many of the males displaying at the females, their comical cooing clearly audible.

During the winter months, the numbers of waterfowl to be seen are swollen by the Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Mute Swans that also congregate. During the migration periods it is a good idea to scan the beach for migrants such as Wheatear and the trees surrounding the nearby train station for warblers.

One of my favourite urban birding areas in the city was at Dundee Law. It is a hill that is a prominent feature in the centre of the city that, believe it or not, is an extinct volcano. It was the perfect substitute for a tall building, as it afforded a 360° panoramic view of the city including the River Tay and towards Perth.

Exactly what you need for observing visible migration. Just before Perth is an expansive reedbed that stretches for more than 10 miles along the north side of the River Tay. Incredibly, it is home to one of the largest populations of Bearded Tits in Britain, with in excess of 100 birds present. This astounded me, as I was ignorant of the fact that this attractive and unique songbird was found anywhere north of Lancashire.

Tay Reedbeds is also a good place for finding Water Rail and has recently been colonized by Reed Warblers, although they are still quite scarce. Bittern are suspected of wintering here although you will have much better luck locating the breeding Sedge Warblers and the masses of Reed Buntings.

In 2013, seven pairs of Marsh Harrier were present of which five pairs bred raising 14 youngsters.

Dundee surprised me. It is an urban birding venue that has yet to reveal all its secrets.

Key bird species to find in Dundee:

Eider

Perhaps most famous to the general public for being the provider of super soft eiderdown (from the females), Eider is a highly recognisable seaduck, visible from most of our coastlines during the winter.

They are especially a feature of the more northerly British coasts where the bulk of our breeding birds are to be found. Eiders are arctic birds and can be found around the northern coasts of Europe, North America and eastern Siberia.

Our bird is one of four species. The King Eider appears annually here in tiny numbers usually during the winter, the Steller’s Eider is a mega rarity while the Spectacled Eider is yet to be discovered in our waters.

The Eider is a remarkable bird. It’s the largest duck in Europe, and despite its squat, heavyset appearance, it can attain speeds of up to 70mph in flight. It feeds by diving after crustaceans and molluscs.

It swallows the molluscs whole and the shells are crushed in their gizzard before being excreted. Despite being seabirds, keep an eye out for them on your local patch, as they sometimes turn up on reservoirs far inland during the winter.

Birdwatching in Staines with The Urban Birder

By David Lindo

Urban Birder David Lindo

Urban Birder David Lindo

My well-timed visits to Staines Reservoir as an 18 year old resulted in seeing some great birds, such as flocks of spring Black Terns, an eclipse Garganey and a first winter Glaucous Gull. That was over 20 years ago, so my return, escorted by veteran Colne Valley birder, Pete Naylor, was long overdue.

Built in 1901, Staines Reservoir is the oldest reservoir in the region and over the ages has been the birding stomping ground for many of the good and the great in the London birding scene. It is in fact two reservoirs (north and south basins) that lie southwest of Heathrow Airport and are usually under the shadow of a noisily landing Jumbo. A central causeway that has general public access separates the water bodies and the site is a SSSI due to the important numbers of wintering diving ducks.

A remarkable array of rarities has occurred here including a host of waders attracted in when one of the basins is drained for maintenance. Beauties such as Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Collared Pratincole and Wilson’s Phalarope have all turned up, whilst interesting terns and gulls are regular. It can be quite an exciting place to be on the right day as you can often see migration in action watching waders sweeping in.

Owing to the close proximity of Heathrow Airport and the accompanying post 9/11 security measures, a special permit has to be obtained from Thames Water to visit certain places, such as King George VI Reservoir. My guide Pete had a permit so we took a quick stroll up to the bank for a sneak preview and we were treated to parties of waterfowl that included Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and a solitary female Velvet Scoter. It was the first time that I had seen this normally maritime duck in London.

Next door to the west, bordered by the busy M25 and split by the River Colne, lies SSSI designated Staines Moor recently made famous as the temporary home of a much admired wayward Brown Shrike. At 516 hectares it is one of England’s largest areas of neutral grassland, furthermore it contains the oldest known anthills of the Yellow Meadow Ant in Britain. Pete informed me that the usual expected warblers breed here, whilst in winter the area and the adjoining Stanwell Moor attracts winter thrushes, Snipe, Jack Snipe and the occasional Barn Owl.

Other lesser known nearby sites include Hithermoor Lake, which is fairly good for wintering duck and Water Rail, and Wraysbury Gravel Pits, which is a great winter spot for finding Smew, although the classic numbers reported over 20 years ago are sadly a thing of the past.

 

Birdwatching in Belgrade

By David Lindo

The Urban Birder David Lindo

The Urban Birder David Lindo

When I received a message out of the blue from Serbian Dragan Simic inviting me to Belgrade for some urban birding, I paused for thought as the city was certainly on my radar. I had heard a fable about an amazing winter Long-eared Owl city roost that was numbered in hundreds.

The city seemed to have the hallmarks of a great urban birding venue. I had to investigate. Within two months I was on a plane heading for the ‘White City’ if you’re Serbian or Belgrade to the rest of us.

My short visit to the city started as soon as we started the drive through the busy charismatic streets of Old Belgrade to Kalemegdan, a fairly wooded park that contained a Turkish fortress that directly overlooked the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

Despite being late in the afternoon and sharing the park with everyone, his wife and dog we did manage to see several migrant Spotted Flycatchers hawking insects and glimpsed a few Blackcaps too. At ground level were a variety of interesting animals including some nice looking lizards and plentiful Swallowtails, a butterfly I only rarely see in Norfolk.

To the east there is the heavily wooded Great War Island that was once the home of a fairly large egret colony. Thankfully, these birds had relocated themselves at a nearby riparian wood and the island now boasts a winter roost of over 2,500 Pygmy Cormorant. Plus there are regular sightings of urban White-tailed Eagles there. An incongruous thought, surely?

Dragan had thoughtfully booked a short boat trip around the island. Black-headed Gulls abounded with the larger gulls being equally assigned to being either Yellow-legged, Caspian or ‘another big gull’.

A solitary Common Buzzard drifted through the treetops to roost in the interior of the island just after we had discovered a couple of locally scarce Little Gulls that had secreted themselves amongst the throngs of their Black-headed cousins feeding over the river. Several bats, probably Noctules, hunted high over the trees like large hirundines.

The next morning saw me 400 feet above the city on top of USCE Tower watching for visible migration on a beautiful clear morning with 30 birders. This is a newly opened observation point that promises some great birds in future watches if the previous sightings of some good raptors is anything to go by. We were unlucky and didn’t see much aside from the obligatory Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls but it was great being up there.

I really enjoyed my impromptu Belgrade visit watching the default urban birds like Rooks, that seemed to be everywhere, a few Hooded Crows, eastern race Jackdaws and plenty of chirpy House Sparrows. Had I visited during summer I could have enjoyed delights like Golden Orioles and even Bee-eaters that breed within the city.

Dragan told me a fantastic recent story concerning a flock of over 500 migrating Common Cranes that settled between some inner city tower blocks. Wow! And as for the roosting multitudes of owls, that was true too. Belgrade clearly has a lot to offer.

Birdwatching from Tower 42 in London

By David Lindo

I am delighted that the art of visible migration watching is now so in vogue. As a youngster, I began to read books by Eric Simms discussing falls of migrants in urban areas that were not too far away from me. It was discovered that there was an obvious migration flyway through the ‘North London Heights’ traversed by hoards of Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches and other passerines.

Last October, after talking to a cameraman who had just been filming on top of Tower 42 in London’s Square Mile, I got in contact with the Tower to ask if I could bring up a small crew to film Woodpigeon movement.

To my surprise they agreed, although on the day we could only summon around 200 Woodies through the grey murk. I immediately saw the potential of this remarkable vantage point and a subsequent meeting between the Tower 42 Management Team and myself resulted to their eternal credit in the formation of the Tower 42 Bird Study Group.

The Bird Study Group met once a week during the spring for a total of nine sessions and recorded a fascinating collection of species that included daily Peregrines and Sparrowhawks as well as central London scarcities like Oystercatcher, Arctic Tern, Common Buzzard, Red Kite, Hobby and most famously, a couple of Honey Buzzards.

One of the HB’s even managed to crash into a West End office window much to the alarm of the office workers within. Fortunately, the bird was unharmed and eventually headed off on its journey.

Tower 42 has quickly become synonymous with visible migration in London. The autumn sessions have already resulted in several Sandwich Terns and another Red Kite. By the time you read this hopefully we would have been scoping thousands of Woodpigeons. A few miles east lies Canary Wharf with its iconic One Canada Square, Britain’s tallest building, replete with its characteristic pyramid.

Between 2001 and 2006 urban birder Ken Murray and his colleagues did a study of the migrants that occurred in the tiny Canada Square Park at the foot of the tower and nearby Jubilee Park. Both areas are used by the multitudes of office workers as a place to consume lunch and fags but, despite their initial unattractiveness, Ken and his friends discovered an inordinate number of migrants in the parks over the years including rarities like Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck and as many as three Blyth’s Reed Warblers!

I visited the area several times and immediately saw the potential. This has led to the reformation of Ken’s study under the guise of the Canary Wharf Migrant Bird Survey. Open to all, provided a permit is obtained (as security is tight) this potentially fascinating project could shed even more light on bird migration in built up areas.

At the time of writing the group had already recorded a Wheatear and a couple Firecrests. Urban birding has truly come of age and has never been so exciting. Why don’t you try and set up an urban migration watchpoint in your city?

 

Birdwatching in Valencia

By David Lindo

The Urban Birder David Lindo

The Urban Birder David Lindo

Stepping off the plane in Valencia to begin a four day vacation in Spain’s third largest city, approximately 300km south of Barcelona, I decided to make the most of my city break by heading directly to a B&B in Albufera de València 11km south of the city. It was once one of the largest expanses of coastal marsh and wetland in the country but thanks to years of reclamation, urban development, pollution and tourism it has taken a battering and is now a tenth of its former glory at 18,000 hectares (45,000 acres).

On arrival I went for a stroll around the plentiful orange groves that enveloped the area and quickly notched up many Nightingales, Serins, Buzzards, the occasional Kestrel and many Grey Heron, Cattle and Little Egrets.

Yes, this seemed like a lovely local patch. Exploring the Albufera de València over the next few days, I also witnessed Night and Purple Herons flying to destinations unknown along with the occasional Squacco Heron. On land there was a multitude of birds to look at with House Sparrows being the default passerine throughout the region. Tree Sparrows were also around, though I may have overlooked the vast majority.

On one occasion, I did glimpse a male sparrow that appeared to have faint dark streaks on its flanks but I didn’t see it long enough to commit to calling it a Spanish Sparrow. It was early spring so migration was pretty evident. I remember seeing a Black Kite casually drifting in from off the sea and watching it for at least 10 minutes as it meandered through.

I did see quite a few Pallid Swifts with their Common cousin being by far the least frequently seen of the two species with its classic frenetic flight and dark ‘sharper’ shape apparent. All the Hoopoes I saw were invariably flying away from me whilst Turtle Doves were reassuringly common.

But it was the waterbirds that made the biggest impression on me. There were plenty of noisy Black-winged Stilts in the nature reserve whilst swooping overhead were at least 20 Collared Pratincoles hawking for insects amongst the Swallows, House Martins and Swifts.

One afternoon I was lucky enough to find a migrant drake Garganey and a Little Ringed Plover on the shoreline. From the hide secreted amongst the hundreds of nesting Black-headed Gulls were several pairs of Mediterranean Gulls, a couple of Audouin’s Gulls and a lone first summer Little Gull that spent most of its time hiding behind the larger Black-headed congeners. Standing around the colony like sentinels were several Yellow-legged Gulls waiting for an opportunity to have late lunch.

My favourite moment was discovering a displaying pair of Slender-billed Gulls on the water right outside the hide. It was the first time I had ever really studied this species close up and the size difference was very clear to see with the male being 10% bigger plus I appreciated their extraordinarily long necks.

Birdwatching in Lisbon

By David Lindo

During late October I was having the time of my life in the Tagus Estuary within the Lisbon Region of Portugal. At more than 15,000 hectares it was easy to see why its mosaic of habitats that includes farmland, marshes, muddy channels, lakes, salt pans and cork oak woodlands is a birders’ paradise.

Almost every bush in this patchwork national park was heaving with amazing birds and amongst the abundance of Crested Larks, Skylarks, Southern Grey Shrikes and House Sparrows were large numbers of ‘Essex Birds’. I saw more Essex Birds in Portugal than I’ve ever seen in Essex!

An Essex Bird, I’ll have you know, was my adolescent name for the Corn Bunting. In those days, my trips to the Essex countryside were characterised by the sight and sounds of these drab-looking birds. I only seemed to see them easily in Essex. Since those heady days their fortunes in Britain have completely changed and their phenomenal decrease has been well documented. So I gladly took the opportunity to get reacquainted with this old friend.

Like many people, when I think of Portugal I immediately think of hot days in the Algarve, a round or two of golf (not that I play) and of course, the rich birding to be had. So a late autumnal trip to Lisbon was an interesting prospect for although I had missed the bulk of the migration perhaps I would be lucky enough to get the last proverbial squeeze of the tube.

I was a guest of the Turismo de Portugal and along with my guide, Joao Jarra, they were very keen to show me the hidden Portugal that lay in between Lisbon and the Algarve to the south. They were also very apologetic for the potentially lousy weather forecasted and for the prospect of not seeing many birds. The apologies were wasted on me as I was already in heaven!

After a few days touring some really fascinating areas outside of Lisbon, I finally ended staying in the Expo area of the city quite close to the estuary and the stunning Vasco da Gama Bridge (which at over 11 kilometres from end to end is the longest bridge in Europe). According to Joao, Lisbon itself is not a hotbed of urban birding and could only muster four sites worth visiting. Ordinarily, that kind of statement would have made me even more determined to eek out places to prove him wrong. But when you consider the city’s geographical position – right on top of one of the most important feeding grounds for waders in Europe – with such ornithological richness on your doorstep you didn’t need to go anywhere else.

However, we did visit Lisbon Gardens, a long thin stretch of reed bed and municipal parkland bordered by the long muddy foreshore of the estuary in the shadow of the Vasco da Gama Bridge. We watched countless Black-headed Gulls standing on the mud whilst joggers breezed past us along the boardwalk. The gulls were at fairly close range and were sharing their space with hundreds of Avocets, tons of Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwits and several hundred Greater Flamingos. We were in mid-count when an old man in a cloth-cap approached us to speak of his admiration for the flamingos as well as for the current Sporting Lisbon squad. The reedbeds, although rudimentary, hold an array of warblers during the summer months including Great Reed Warbler and, in winter, Bluethroats, with Dartford Warblers in the scrubby areas. It’s also a great place for finding passage migrants.

Lisbon Gardens was just the appetiser for what was to come when Joao and I crossed the bridge to enter the Tagus Estuary birding areas. The sights that welcomed us will stay with me for a long time. Scanning back across the estuary towards Lisbon I noticed a glistening distant thin pink line along the shoreline of the city. A cursory glance through my scope revealed that it wasn’t a weird heat shimmer but legions of Greater Flamingos. Some 5,000 choose to winter in the Tagus along with at least 15,000 Avocet, thousands of waders of several species, herons and egrets galore plus tons of Glossy ibis and White Stork.

Every field seemed to host a surprise. I came across one that contained at least 40 exquisitely concealed Stone Curlews whilst another patch of land hid around 70 Little Bustards that cautiously edged away from us. I looked at some bushes in one direction and counted around 30 Spanish Sparrows in a mixed sparrow flock and in the opposite direction were a few Rock Sparrows more Dartford Warblers with singing Cetti’s Warblers providing the background atmosphere.

Apparently, it gets pretty mad in the Tagus Estuary during the breeding season when the hordes of migrants arrive, including the obligatory Mediterranean specialities like Bee-eaters, Great Spotted Cuckoos and Nightingales. Joao took me down a track on which, during warm summer nights, both European and Red-necked Nightjars churr side-by-side. Wow!

During the day that Joao and I spent at this wonderland we even found two Portuguese national rarities; a Marsh Sandpiper and a moulting summer plumaged American Golden Plover. The opportunity for discovery is immense even ‘out of season’ and we never once met another birder.

As you can guess, if you like seeing Essex Birds and want to go birding far from the madding crowd, then a visit to the Tagus Estuary is a must.

Birdwatching in Los Angeles

By David Lindo

Los Angeles is the City of Angels. Perhaps surprisingly for some, it is also a city of birds. If you were to take a stroll in West Hollywood you will quickly begin to see the plentiful American Crows, Ravens and Western Gulls swooping over the streets. As well as the common Mourning Doves you may be lucky and catch sight of the much shyer Band-tailed Pigeon that has the jizz of a slim Wood Pigeon.

At Franklin Canyon, one of my birding stomping grounds in the Hollywood Hills, you should easily see Red-tailed Hawks circling overhead and the occasional Cooper’s Hawk. Western Scrub Jays are common in the wooded areas along with roving parties of Bush Tits that remind me of tiny brown Long-tailed Tits.

Pied-billed Grebes, Wood Ducks, the obligatory Mallards, both Green and Blue Herons are fairly easily found on the reservoir, whilst in the summer, chattering parties of Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows congregate on the nearby telegraph wires. In the winter, it’s an excellent spot for flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

Another area to check out is Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area in the Baldwins Hills. An early morning summer visit will reward you with Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds, Lesser Goldfinches, Say’s and Black Phoebes. Check the grassland areas in the autumn and winter for roving American Robins.

On a couple of occasions I have come across the regionally scarce Western Kingbird and the nationally rare Loggerhead Shrike – a bird that looks like a smallish Great Grey Shrike.

peaking of rarities, if you want to stand a better chance of finding something interesting, especially during the autumn migration, there are several places to discover. Perhaps the most well known among the LA birders is Harbor Park, a coastal park with a relatively large lake surrounded by reedbeds and municipal parkland.

Aside from egrets and several heron species, including Night Herons, you should also come across some interesting ducks, including Cinnamon Teal, and skulking Marsh Wrens in the reeds. If you visit on a good Fall day, the scattered trees are alive with migrants, particularly with American wood warblers, and occasionally they can be accompanied by east coast stragglers like Black-and-White Warblers.

My favourite LA birding location, however, is the Ballona Wetlands where the birdlife can sometimes be incredible. On the saltwater and freshwater marshes, depending on the season, you can sometimes get brilliant views of the visiting waders. I’ve seen both Long and Short-billed Dowitchers, Western and Least Sandpipers at ridiculously close range. You can also see resting Ring-billed Gulls sitting side-by-side with Brown Pelicans.

The adjacent beach is usually coated with mixed gull and tern flocks with Royal and Elegant Terns rubbing shoulders with Western, Californian, American Herring, Hermann’s and Western Gulls. During the winter Glaucous-winged and Bonaparte’s Gulls arrive and on the sea are many Western Grebes and Surf Scoters.

So, as you can see, there’s more to West Hollywood than the glamorous veneer that first meets the eye. Almost any semi-wild area will produce a gem that you were not expecting.

Birdwatching in Milton Keynes with The Urban Birder

By David Lindo

Urban Birder David Lindo

Urban Birder David Lindo

Arriving in Milton Keynes on a sunny August day at the invitation of local birders Mark and Gill Baker, I was astounded by how green the place was – wherever I went there were cycle paths, parks, green corridors and lakes – loads of lakes.

Perhaps the most nationally famous of those water bodies is Willen Lake, long known for its ability to attract interesting gulls, Black Terns and waders including a recent Wilson’s Phalarope. Although the southern portion of the lake is a popular spot with local daytrippers, the northern portion is much more peaceful.

We sat in a hide and enjoyed a couple of Greenshanks and a female Red-crested Pochard amongst the more numerous Cormorants and Mallards. Plunge-diving nearby were some family groups of Common Terns that were sharing the same stretch of water as families of Great Crested Grebe. How tranquil.

Perhaps the most interesting place we visited was a relatively unknown one, the Hanson Environmental Study Centre, north west of Willen Lake. It’s a 37 hectare area of meadows, woodland, reedbeds, ponds and of course, a large lake.

The Milton Keynes Council to whom you have to apply for a membership card and a key in order to gain access manages the site. It boasts breeding Grasshopper Warbler, Nightingale and Bullfinch along with 19 species of dragonfly. Both Barn Owl and Little Owl occur and whilst walking around and watching the plentiful Willow Warblers I got to grips with several Marsh Tits.

In the main hide overlooking the lake were at least six Little Egrets roosting in a waterside tree, we heard a Kingfisher calling plus to crown the occasion a Hobby chose to hunt insects high over the lake.

MK’s combination of woodland, riverside parks and numerous lakes provide a contiguous tree lined green corridor that dissects the town. It is possible to cycle throughout this network along The Redway stopping at your leisure to take in the avian sights. I roamed through terrain that yielded a Little Owl and seemed perfect for passage Wheatears.

Exploring the woodland situated to the south and east would be have been a good option too. There’s even birding to be done in Central Milton Keynes around Campbell Park by the huge shopping mall. We grabbed a cup of tea in the complex and then strolled out into the adjoining park to enjoy the vista of the surrounding countryside and Willen Lake that was largely hidden from view by some woodland that potentially harbour both crests and Crossbills.

The park is the highest point in MK and the grassy slopes of the hill I was standing on were favourite haunts for thrushes during the winter. Last year there were exceptional numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare.

Despite the warm weather and the presence of thermals evidenced by the rafts of gliders circling overhead, we did not see any of the expected Red Kites and Buzzards riding on the warm air. But that didn’t matter because my head had been well and truly turned by what I encountered in Milton Keynes.

Perhaps the most nationally famous of those water bodies is Willen Lake long known for its ability to attract interesting gulls, Black Terns and waders including a recent Wilson’s Phalarope. Although the southern portion of the lake is a popular spot with local daytrippers, the northern portion is much more peaceful.

We sat in a hide and enjoyed a couple of Greenshanks and a female Red-crested Pochard amongst the more numerous Cormorants and Mallards. Plunge-diving nearby were some family groups of Common Terns that were sharing the same stretch of water as families of Great Crested Grebe. How tranquil.

Perhaps the most interesting place we visited was a relatively unknown one, the Hanson Environmental Study Centre, north west of Willen Lake. It’s a 37 hectare area of meadows, woodland, reedbeds, ponds and of course, a large lake.

The Milton Keynes Council to whom you have to apply for a membership card and a key in order to gain access manages the site. It boasts breeding Grasshopper Warbler, Nightingale and Bullfinch along with 19 species of dragonfly. Both Barn Owl and Little Owl occur and whilst walking around and watching the plentiful Willow Warblers I got to grips with several Marsh Tits.

In the main hide overlooking the lake were at least six Little Egrets roosting in a waterside tree, we heard a Kingfisher calling plus to crown the occasion a Hobby chose to hunt insects high over the lake.

MK’s combination of woodland, riverside parks and numerous lakes provide a contiguous tree lined green corridor that dissects the town. It is possible to cycle throughout this network along The Redway stopping at your leisure to take in the avian sights. I roamed through terrain that yielded a Little Owl and seemed perfect for passage Wheatears.

Exploring the woodland situated to the south and east would be have been a good option too. There’s even birding to be done in Central Milton Keynes around Campbell Park by the huge shopping mall. We grabbed a cup of tea in the complex and then strolled out into the adjoining park to enjoy the vista of the surrounding countryside and Willen Lake that was largely hidden from view by some woodland that potentially harbour both crests and Crossbills.

The park is the highest point in MK and the grassy slopes of the hill I was standing on were favourite haunts for thrushes during the winter. Last year there were exceptional numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare.

Despite the warm weather and the presence of thermals evidenced by the rafts of gliders circling overhead, we did not see any of the expected Red Kites and Buzzards riding on the warm air. But that didn’t matter because my head had been well and truly turned by what I encountered in Milton Keynes.