Birding in England (May 2-12, 2019)

When Victor Emmanuel Nature Tours (VENT) offered "Southern England: Birds & History," we signed on. We couldn't resist the opportunity of seeing the European Robin, European Goldfinch, and Blue Tit of British Christmas cards, birds of British literature, and birds with names such as wagtails, stonechat, and chiffchaff. We would also be able to explore castles and other historic sites.

We met the two other birders and tour leader Phil Jones in London, and we headed to the Mercure Maidstone Great Danes Hotel, our base of operations for the tour in Kent, the "Garden of England." Anyone who has been on a tour would appreciate the option of staying in one location rather than frequently packing and unpacking. The hotel offered the traditional full English breakfast — sausages, bacon, fried eggs, baked beans, fried bread, black pudding, etc. — as well as other choices at the morning buffet.
The two of us, especially Sherron, would bird the vast hotel lawns before breakfast and then report our findings during breakfast. Among its many birds were robins, goldfinches, four species of tit, Eurasian Magpie, Rook, Eurasian Jackdaw, Eurasian Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, White Wagtail, and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Sherron saw the trip's only Eurasian Nuthatch.


We had been forewarned about the changeability of English weather and the likelihood of some rain. If you change "a dark and stormy night" to "days of rain, wind, and cold, with occasional sunshine," you would appreciate what we encountered. There were even two hail storms. Phil proved to be highly adaptable, using his experience to juggle our schedules to maximize our chances of seeing specialty birds while avoiding the rainiest times of the day. Since there were only four birders, it was easier for everyone to see the birds and to fit comfortably in the van.

VENT organized this tour from May 2 to May 12 so birders could see many migratory birds. Of course, the timing meant that we would miss many of our brightly-colored warblers and other migrants at home. Instead, we had mostly drab warblers: Reed, Sedge, Marsh, Willow, Whitethroat, etc. The more colorful Dartford Warbler, however, did provide us with an excellent look.
Pied Avocet
We were in Kent during the early migration of shorebirds. A lone Bar-tailed Godwit, subspecies Limosa lapponica, having probably just arrived from Africa, immediately slept after reaching a sandbar. Within two hours, more than a hundred of its subspecies joined it. Many Black-tailed Godwits were at a different site. Pat's favorite, the striking Northern Lapwing, seemed to be everywhere. Pied Avocets were eye catching. Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, and Common Ringed Plover were new shorebirds for us. A Little Ringed Plover nesting was a positive sight amidst the news of international trouble for shorebirds.

   Pied Avocet

Tufted Ducks were as common as Mallards are in the U.S. Common Shelducks and Common Pochards were often seen. We had our first looks at Graylag and Egyptian Geese. For gull lovers, there were Black-headed, Mediterranean, Mew, Eurasian Herring (Larus argentatus), Lesser Black-backed, and Greater Black-backed.

The Eurasian Marsh-Harriers (a more colorful bird than our harrier), Eurasian Sparrowhawks, Common Buzzards, Eurasian Kestrels, and Eurasian Hobbies soared overhead. One cooperative Hobby sat in a tree to be scoped. The two of us also saw the impressive Red Kite before the tour started.

We did get to see Linnet, Common Chaffinch, European Stonechat, Western Yellow Wagtail, Gray Wagtail, Reed Bunting, Eurasian Treecreeper, Eurasian Skylark, the spectacular Bearded Reedling, and many other birds. Sherron was especially pleased to see a Green Woodpecker. It supposedly is easily found on lawns, but we only got quick looks at it in a brushy area. We often heard the Common Cuckoo and saw it several times, including an excellent view of it in our scope.
Eurasian Jay
Phil is a retired ringer (bander) although he continues to work at his old ringing station, the Pannel Valley Reserve Bird Ringing Operation. He has ringed thousands of birds yearly. Seeing several birds close in hand was a trip highlight. The Eurasian Jay was particularly interesting. It's mostly pinkish with a large blue panel on each wing. A farmer brought in a juvenile Rook that he had trapped. It had strange-looking bristles at the top of its beak. We believe that our own Bob Mulvihill would have greatly enjoyed visiting this ringing station and conversing with Phil.
Eurasian Jay

Seeing our birding friends, Ian and Margaret Haigh, was a special treat. The Haighs had lived and birded in Pittsburgh for over eight years before returning to England. They generously rearranged their schedule to leave the Isle of Wight, bird locally on their own, and then meet with us for several dinners at the hotel to discuss the day's birding and other news. Ian and Margaret are very fond of Pittsburgh and send greetings to their local birding friends.

Birding areas that we visited were Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve, Dungeness, Elmley NNR, Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve, Rye Harbour, and Oare Marshes Nature Reserve. In the afternoons we toured Canterbury Cathedral, Dover Castle, Hever Castle (Anne Boleyn's home), Chatham Naval Dockyard, Charles Darwin's home, Lullingstone Roman Villa, Bodium Castle, and Leeds Castle. Visiting these historic sites provided us with a greater appreciation of the land and its history. The castles also had beautiful gardens, lawns, and water features, providing us with additional birding opportunities. The group, for example, saw the Barnacle Geese only at Leeds Castle.

Altogether, we observed 117 species, including 75 life birds for Sherron and 73 for Pat. This was a lower number of species than usually seen on the tour; we'll blame it on the weather. We have included a list of species that we saw.

English Birds seen May, 2019

Life birds with asterisk * (Sherron: 75 - Pat: 73)
(S) Birds not seen by Pat
(BT) Birds seen before the tour

Total birds (117)

Graylag Goose*Red Kite* (BT)
BrantCommon Buzzard*
Barnacle Goose*Barn Owl
Canada GooseGreat Spotted Woodpecker*
Mute SwanEurasian Green Woodpecker*
Egyptian Goose*Eurasian Kestrel*
Common Shelduck*Eurasian Hobby*
Northern ShovelerRose-winged Parakeet* (BT)
GadwallEurasian Jay*
Eurasian WigeonEurasian Magpie*
MallardEurasian Jackdaw
Eurasian Teal*Rook
Common Pochard*Carrion Crow*
Tufted DuckBearded Reedling*
Red-legged Partridge*Eurasian Skylark
Ring-necked Pheasant Sand Martin (Bank Swallow)
Little Grebe*Barn Swallow
Great Crested GrebeCommon House Martin*
Rock PigeonCoal Tit*
Stock Dove*Eurasian Blue Tit*
Common Wood-Pigeon*Great Tit*
European Turtle-Dove*Long-tailed Tit*
Eurasian Collared-DoveEurasian Nuthatch* (S)
Eurasian Cuckoo*Eurasian Treecreeper*
Common Swift*Eurasian Wren*
Eurasian Moorhen*Goldcrest*
Eurasian Coot*Cetti's Warbler*
Pied Avocet*Willow Warbler*
Eurasian Oystercatcher*Common Chiffchaff*
Northern Lapwing*Sedge Warbler*
Common Ringed Plover*Marsh Warbler*
Little Ringed Plover*Eurasian Reed Warbler*
WhimbrelEurasian Blackcap*
Eurasian Curlew*Garden Warbler*
Bar-tailed Godwit Lesser Whitethroat*
Black-tailed Godwit Greater Whitethroat*
Ruddy TurnstoneDartford Warbler*
Red KnotEuropean Robin*
DunlinCommon Redstart*
Common Sandpiper*Black Redstart*
Common Redshank*European Stonechat*
Black-headed Gull Northern Wheatear
Mediterranean Gull* Mistle Thrush*
Common (Mew) Gull Song Thrush*
Herring Gull* (recent split)Eurasian Blackbird*
Lesser Black-backed Gull European Starling
Greater Black-backed Gull Dunnock
Little Tern* (S)Grey Wagtail*
Common TernWestern Yellow Wagtail*
Sandwich Tern* (recent split)White Wagtail*
Northern FulmerMeadow Pipit*
Northern GannetTree Pipit*
Great CormorantCommon Chaffinch*
Gray HeronEuropean Greenfinch
Little EgretEurasian Linnet*
Cattle EgretRed Crossbill (curviostra)
Eurasian Marsh-HarrierEuropean Goldfinch*
Eurasian SparrowhawkReed Bunting*
House (English) Sparrow


— by Pat & Sherron Lynch

(Photos by Sherron Lynch)

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Mission of 3RBC

To gather in friendship, to enjoy the wonders of nature and to share our passion for birds!

© Photo Credits:
Sherron Lynch, Brian Shema, Chuck Tague