Planes – Last London Post?

This is probably the last post on our London trip since I think I have exhausted my thoughts on subject. But probably not.

I have enjoyed extending them because I think we take trips and they fade into our memories. The continued blogging has helped to keep the memories alive longer

But there is one aspect I never did bring up in the other posts.

Planes.

And not small planes.

I’m somewhat use to mid-sized Boeing 737’s flying over occasionally while birding in the Indianapolis area.

In London it was Boeing 747’s or 777’s every 60 seconds. Not small planes and low on their approach to Heathrow.

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At O’Hare I took a photo for my daughter to show the size difference of the Boeing 777 we flew to London (on left) versus the Boeing 737 (on right) we usually fly in the States.

It was bad at Hyde Park but with the London Wetlands Centre farther west and closer to Heathrow it was annoying.

Other birders didn’t notice and when I mentioned it they said you get used to it.

Since I haven’t got used to the sporadic flyover of the smaller 737 in Indiana I don’t think this is something I would ever get used to.

In Illinois we lived on the approach to O’Hare but we were still 100 miles out. Which meant the planes were high but not 35,000 feet high. You could still hear them and they would distract from hearing bird calls.

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A Boeing 777 (I think) flying over the London Wetland Centre. At that altitude it was loud. And the next one was 60 seconds behind it. And the next one 60 seconds behind it… All day long.

That is why I bird Atterbury and Johnson County Park. The occasional train or military helicopter is all you hear.

Atterbury and Johnson County Park are not as quiet as Western Colorado but quieter than urban Indianapolis. And much quieter than London.

Jackdaw – Opportunistic Corvid

I have been looking at the following JACKDAW photos off and on for the three months since we got back from London. I kept thinking they reminded me of something but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it dawned on me.

It probably doesn’t matter where you go in the world, if the bird belongs to the corvid family it is opportunistic.

Before I said my goodbyes to the two British birders at the London Wetland Centre they said to make sure to check out the concession stand area. There had been Jackdaw (official name Western Jackdaw) hanging around the roof earlier in the day.

Hanging around the concession stand should have been my first hint on the bird.

Since the only one I had seen on the trip was in the shadows at Hyde Park I made sure to stop to look.

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This was the best view I had of a Jackdaw at Hyde Park. In the bad light I honestly thought it was an Eurasian Jay until I downloaded the photo. 4/5/16

There were several Jackdaws on the concession stand’s roof but the one that caught my eye 5 feet away on a table. And since I had seen most of the birds at the Centre I wasn’t in the “hurry up” mode. Like any bird use to humans he was slightly weary but still kept one eye on me. I watched him for a minute before he flew away with his treat.

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I have included this dark photo to show the sequence of events. The Jackdaw is eyeing what appears to be a crouton.
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He snags it.
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Tasty!
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And then gives me the typical defiant corvid “What you looking at”?

As you can see the Jackdaw is a member of the corvid family. Just a smaller “crow” than our AMERICAN CROW or the European CARRION CROW. More of a Blue Jay size. The photos aren’t the most “natural” since they take place in a human habitat. But they show the two-tone gray and black color and gray eye of the Jackdaw. Also the smaller bill than what we are used to with a crow.

And of course the opportunistic “I’ll take a free meal”.

London Wetland Centre – Urban Nature

This April while in London I birded 2 locations – Hyde Park and London Wetland Centre. As I noted previously Hyde Park was a 15 minute walk from our hotel and was good for the local birds. The following is a general overview of the London Wetland Centre in case someone is in London and is deciding where to bird. In a future post I’ll reference this post in relation to US birding sites.

London Wetland Centre Background

London Wetland Centre was conveniently from the Kensington area by taken the subway for 15 minutes followed by a 10 minute bus ride . It is one of nine unique wetland centres in the UK run by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). The site is made from a reclaimed water supply area and covers 105 acres.

The site was envisioned as a “truly urban nature preserve” and this could be seen through its educational activities. “The Wetlands of the World” area had exotic waterfowl wandering around for people to enjoy.

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The “Wetlands of the World” area had many exotic species like this Red-breasted Goose.

The Grounds

Let me say the entry fee is not cheap unless you’re a member. For an out-of-town visitor the entrance fee was 13 pounds – $20.  But I thought this was a fair price given I spent 4 hours there and got good views of most of the expected birds.

The flat paved trials make for easy access. The Visitor Centre has a handicapped accessible glass-in area with a view of the wetlands. The day I visited was a school holiday so many families were there enjoying the site.

But given all that it had several serious birders working around the crowds. At least 20 and this was a Tuesday. Many of those birders appeared to be regulars since they knew each other and when calling out birds had names for the distant buildings as reference points.

The Wetland Centre was designed to watch birds without disturbing them. There are berms that hide the crowds from the birds and viewing is mostly through the 7 hides (blinds). Which is the beauty of the place. Without the berm and hides the birds would constantly flush, like in the US.

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A view from the Wildside Hide looking back at Peacock Tower and Wader Scrape hide on the left. I think this shows why shorebirds and waterfowl like the site.
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The north Reservoir Lagoon viewed from the third floor of the Wildside Hide.
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Numerous Black-headed Gulls were seen from the hides. Check previous blogs under the Europe category for more species photos from the Wetland Centre.
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I think this is a view of the north side of the property.
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Each small island held several different species.

To wrap up this short review, the London Wetland Centre would be a good choice for a birder visiting London who had a few hours and wanted to see the expected species.

Superficially Same but Different

I have previously blogged about the birds I observed in London that looked and acted the same as our birds and about birds that looked different but acted the same. This post will cover a third group of birds which are superficially the same but don’t have equivalent US species that jump out at me.

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Birds like Greylag Geese are similar to Greater White-fronted Geese but just superficially to me. Hyde Park 4/2/16
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The Common Shelduck reminds me of a Common Merganser but it is bigger with buff and of course the shell on its bill. St. James Park 4/3/16
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The Long-tailed Tit is sort of like our chickadee but the color is off and of course ours don’t have the long tail. Hyde Park 4/5/16
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The Red-crested Pochard has me stumped. It really doesn’t remind me of any waterfowl in the US. Hyde Park 4/2/16
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This has to be the luckiest photo I have ever taken. I heard a Willow Warbler calling in the back of a tree and watched it feeding for several minutes. It jumped up once and I grabbed the camera.  I took three photos and it dove back down in the bushes. I didn’t think I had the camera up in time and went on chasing a Wren. Back at the hotel I had two blurred photos and this one. Remarkable! Reminds me of a Tennessee Warbler.
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This Blackcap acted like a typical warbler, hiding in the tree limbs. At least this photo shows its black cap against its gray body. Hyde Park 4/5/16
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Like the Monk Parakeet has in our larger cities, the Rose-ringed Parakeet has adapted to an urban environment. Hyde Park 4/5/16

And I saved, at least in my opinion, the best for last. 

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We have nothing like a Great Crested Grebe.
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The grebe from a different angle. The tufts are not as apparent.

Egyptian Geese – I’m Still Worried

As noted in a previous post I’m worried about Egyptian Geese becoming as widespread as Canada Geese in the Midwest. I know I need to forget about it but after our London trip I’m still troubled.

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A pair of Egyptian Geese on the Round Pond in front of Kensington Palace. London, UK 4/2/16

On our trip the Egyptian Goose was widespread in city parks. About as numerous as the Canada Geese which are also widespread. I didn’t note how many of each but it seemed about equal.

London Bar Chart
This eBird bar chart shows Canada Geese are a predominant species in Greater London as shown by the thick green bar. Egyptian Geese are not as abundant but is still a common species – thinner green bar.
Egyptian Goose graph
These graphs show how much faster Egyptian Geese have taken hold in the UK as opposed to Canada Goose. Doesn’t the Canada Goose graph reminds me of its rise in the US? Source: The effect on the environment of Great Britain’s naturalized Greater Canada Branta canadensis and Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiacus Rehfisch et al. 2010. BOU Proceedings – The Impacts of Non-native Species. http://www.bou.org.uk/bouproc-net/non-natives/rehfisch-etal.pdf

The other thing I noticed is Egyptian Geese are a tree-dwelling species and like to nest in large holes in trees. I saw them several times in the trees around the parks. Maybe this will be our saving grace since the industrial complexes where the Canada Geese abound are to new for trees. However in a few years when the trees mature, they might start to spread.

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One of several pairs of Egyptian Geese nesting in the trees at Hyde Park. London, UK 4/2/16

I thought I took more photos but I think I was after other species. If you want to see Egyptian Geese or want to check out the parks, see Ralph Hancock’s Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park birds.

Nuthatch – Don’t be fooled!

More from the London trip.

I’m up and out the door at 6:30AM heading to Hyde Park to look for local birds. Which is strange since its 1:30AM in Indiana. Funny what we can fool our bodies into doing.

In a previous post I wrote about how I use eBird to find birds in a given area with a frequency of greater than 6%. I use that information to make flashcards and download vocalizations to learn those birds.

One of the things I didn’t mention is to make sure you take time to familiarize yourself with birds in the 2-5% range. That way if one of the birds under 6% show up you will have a clue to its ID.

Like the Eurasian Nuthatch that I wasn’t prepared.

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An Eurasian Nuthatch calling from the top of a tree. London’s Hyde Park 4/3/16

That’s right. I wasn’t prepared for a nuthatch. The EURASIAN NUTHATCH isn’t seen often in Hyde Park so it came out under 6% on my spreadsheet. And since it resembles our WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH I figured I’d recognize it easily. So I didn’t spend a lot of time on it.

Wrong!

I should have spent more time studying it. Especially its habits. When was the last time, or anytime, you saw a White-breasted Nuthatch calling for the top of a tree? Me neither. But this Eurasian species sure liked doing it.

I should have listened to the call one more time. It’s nothing like a White-breasted Nuthatch.

I still hadn’t figured out what the bird was and it kept calling and I kept watching. (Regular readers will know I don’t carry a field guide. Not even in a new place. I take notes and figure it out when I get back. Which I did for this nuthatch.)

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Should have been an easy ID. The bird is farther away than what it appears and my mind couldn’t wrap around the call being a Nuthatch. London’s Hyde Park 4/3/16
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Now in this pose there is no doubt about its identity – upturned bill, short tail, blue-gray above, and buffy below. London’s Hyde Park 4/3/16

From the coloring the only bird I could think of was a Northern Wheatear but they are ground birds.

Finally I had to get back to the hotel and I’m heading out of the park when it dawns on me. A Nuthatch! I think the process of elimination finally nailed it.

So the moral of the story is to make sure you spend a little time on those 2-5 percenters.

London – 10 Things, Maybe True, Or Not

After our trip to Costa Rica I posted about 10 things we had heard about or things we should do before we took our trip. We then determined if they were true or not about the country. I’ll now do the same for our London recent trip.

So following, in no particular order, are 10 things about London we had heard about or things we should do before our trip.

1. Get a London Pass and an Oyster Card – True. If you are going to do any site seeing the London Pass will save you money on admissions to the sites. The Oyster Card is used to get on subway (Underground). Just swipe and go. Once we got the hang of it we used it daily. And there were two workers at each station that helped with directions.

2. Along with #1, the Underground is the only way to get around London – True. Even if the Underground isn’t as modern as my wife thought it would be, it was very efficient. Our hotel was less than a minute from one of the stations. I used it to get to the London Wetlands in about a half hour.

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The entrance to the Undergound sits between restaurants and stores.

3. The food in London is bad – False. I don’t know if it was the particular area we stayed in but we had zero problems with food. Except the Fish and Chips with soggy Peas is just as bad there as here.

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The food in London even looked good as well as tasted good. Alright, this isn’t food from London but from the one day tour we took to Paris. Lunch at the Eiffel Tower. We never did figure out the no-flavor White Foam on top.

4. Take an umbrella – True. We didn’t have much rain though almost every day it rained at one point and we needed umbrella.

5. Lots of people – True but… Take this from a guy who grew up in a town that literally had one stoplight at Main and Jefferson. My wife who has been to New York more than I have commented several times it had a completely different feel than New York. The crowds of people never seemed to be a problem.

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We are heading towards Big Ben which is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. As you can see there were lots of people but it didn’t feel like it.

6. Small Rooms in the hotels – True. The room was small but not a problem. Since we spent most of the time out of the hotel it didn’t matter. Now if we had to stay in the room it would be a different story. What do you expect for the cost of real estate in a city that size?

7. London is expensive – False. Relatively. We found most things were less than New York or even Chicago in many cases. Once we got it in our head things cost the same in pounds that we pay in dollars, we were OK. For example, a small coffee at Starbucks was on sale for 1 pound, which is $1.60. Which would be the sale price here also.

8. Speaking of coffee – it sucked – True. OK, I hadn’t heard the coffee was bad but beside the hotel restaurant the coffee was bad at every place I tried. And I like strong, black coffee.

9. Take an electric plug adapter – True. Most electronics – phones, laptops, etc, – are now setup for either the US 110 or European 220 volts, you just need the correct plug adapter.

10. The water pressure in London is bad – False. My wife had been told this by several people. The hotel shower’s water pressure was fine.

11.  I said 10 but thought of 11. The flight is long and unless you pay for first class the flight is tight and a pain – True and False. Going over the flight was full. And tight. And a baby cried the whole 8 hours. So yes it was a PAIN. On the flight back the plane was only 20% full. You could sleep in the center seats. And no babies were crying. I guess it’s a hit and miss.

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Not sure why I took this photo but I’ll use it. Did you know the board the arrow is pointing at folds down and a small crib can be attached? Not that the child slept in it…

A few things we didn’t hear before but wonder about??

1. There is an ice cream stand on every corner. What’s the deal with that?

2. Everybody in customer service, and I mean everybody, says “No worries”. I was beginning to have worries since I heard “No Worries” so often.

3. Not making a statement here but everyone wanted to know the deal on Donald Trump. Once they heard our American accent that was the first question.

4. We are used to flying Southwest Airlines. No frills. So when we were constantly fed on the flight over we were amazed. And what type of internal radar do people have that makes them wake up from a sound sleep when they know there is another meal coming?

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The plane on the left – Big Boeing 777 for long flights – has numerous meals served. The plane on the right – little Boeing 737 – has peanuts thrown at you as the flight attendants run down the aisles. (Not really)

For friends and family somewhere down the line I’ll post a boring travelogue of the trip without any birding.

Different Looking, but Act the Same

I previously blogged about birds I saw in London that looked slightly different from birds we see in the US. Birds like coots and wrens. While at the London Wetlands Centre I birded with a couple of British birders and we discussed birds which are in the same family, act the same, even might sound the same, but look different.

Following are some of those birds I think fall into that category.

Northern Lapwing
Probably the most obvious was the Northern Lapwing. Even though they don’t look or sound like a Killdeer, they sure act like one. London Wetlands Centre 4/5/16
Black-headed Gull
On second thought I should have included the Black-headed Gull in the first group since it does look like a Bonaparte’s Gull. However while watching it fly I could tell it was larger since it didn’t have the Bonaparte’s “bouncy” flight. London Wetlands Centre 4/5/16
Eurasian Blackbird
The Eurasian Blackbird is a thrush, it is about the same size, and acts like an American Robin. But the similarities end there. Hyde Park 4/5/16
European Robin
This one’s a stretch. At first the European Robin reminded me of an Eastern Bluebird with them both being thrushes. Now I don’t think as much. Cute little bird though. Hyde Park 4/5/16
Eurasian Blue Tit
Now everything except appearance about the Eurasian Blue Tit was like a Carolina Chickadee, even its call. Hyde Park 4/05/16
Common Redshank
Looking at the Common Redshank now, it appears more like a Greater Yellowlegs than it did in the field. In the field it was bigger and slower moving. London Wetlands Center 4/05/16
Common Snipe
The Common Snipe should have gone with the birds that look similar. Nothing different about it from the Wilson’s Snipe. My mistake. London Wetlands Centre 4/5/16
Little Grebe
The Little Grebe did act like a Pied-billed Grebe, just a lot more colorful. London Wetlands Centre 4/5/16
European Goldfinch different from AMGO
And now my family’s favorite photo, an European Goldfinch. They act like American Goldfinches but as you can see don’t look anything like them. London’s Theatre District 4/3/16

Indiana vs. London Birds, Almost a Tie

While preparing for the trip to London, I noticed that many of the birds we see in Indiana are almost the same as London birds. It must have to do that birds, like humans, migrated to certain areas and developed just a little different. Plus maybe because the two areas have the same mid-latitude temperate climates.

So many of the birds are the same but slightly different. A tie if you will.

Probably the most obvious was the crow.

Carrion Crow
A Carrion Crow, about the same size and look of the American Crow. Hyde Park, 4/5/16
Common Pochard
Except for a slight difference in the bill, the Common Pochard sure looks like a Redhead. St. James Park 4/3/16
Gray Heron
The Gray Heron looks similar to a Great Blue Heron but is different in several aspects – mainly size – 36″ vs. 46″. St. James Park 4/3/16
Eurasian Moorhen
I really can’t see a difference between the Eurasian Moorhen and our Common Gallinule. My NG says “shorter bill and more rounded top to frontal shield”. I guess. St. James Park 4/3/16
Eurasian Coot
The all white frontal shield is a pretty obvious difference between the Eurasian Coot and American Coot. St. James Park 4/3/16
Great Cormorant
I have seen Great Cormorants on the East Coast and they are just as similar there as in London to the Double-crested Cormorant. Main difference is the white patch on throat. London Wetland Centre 4/5/16
Tufted Duck
The previously posted  Tufted Duck. Basically a Ring-necked Duck without the white spur on the side and of course with the hanging tuft. Hyde Park 4/2/16
Eurasian Wigeon
Eurasian Wigeon has a rufous head versus the American Wigeon gray-green head. St. James Park 4/3/16
 Eurasian Wren
The Eurasian Wren, basically our Winter and Pacific Wren. Hyde Park, 4/5/16
Eurasian Magpie
A Eurasian Magpie, not a Midwest bird but similar to the western US Black-billed Magpie. Hyde Park 4/5/16
Song Thrush
The Song Thrush reminded me of our Wood Thrush. Hyde Park 4/5/16

Soon I’ll post about London birds that acted like our birds but looked different.

Green Woodpeckers

This next post from our London trip will involve one of the last birds I saw on the trip – EUROPEAN GREEN WOODPECKER (eBird list it as Eurasian so the name must have been updated). Or just Green Woodpecker to the locals. If you have been following this blog from the start you know I have a thing about green birds. Green Woodpeckers in particular.

My favorite bird from our 2014 Costa Rica trip was the Golden-olive Woodpecker. I must have liked it since I picked it as my favorite bird of 2014.

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A Golden-olive Woodpecker eyeing a banana which is out of the photo. La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica 12/15/14

I have whined in the past about not having bright green birds in the Midwest so when I saw Europe had a Green Woodpecker, it was one bird I definitely wanted to see.

I made the usual flashcards for the trip so I knew what the woodpecker would look like.

EGWO Flashcard
The mandatory flashcard of the birds I might see cut from an old Peterson British Birds Field Guide.
EGWO Collins
I studied the Green Woodpecker in my Collins, I mean Princeton Birds of Europe by Svensson, et al.

I learned the call of the European Green Woodpecker. This sounds similar to a Northern Flicker to me.

Link to European Green Woodpecker Call on xeno-canto.

I learned their habitat – city parks like Northern Flickers and checked where they were being seen on eBird.

I was ready.

And I almost missed it.

If it hadn’t been for two British birders that I spent several hours with at the London Wetlands Centre I might have missed it.

I didn’t think I’d have any problem seeing one in London’s City Parks since we see Northern Flickers in our city parks. They are reported in eBird to be in those parks and the habitat looked right.

But after many hours of walking through the parks with an ear always listening, I hadn’t heard or seen one. So going to the Wetlands was my last chance.

After spending time with the British birders looking at the wetland’s birds we headed back to the Visitor Center via a wooded trail. While walking they started naming the local birds of London and if I had seen them. Which I had for the most part. A little further down the path one asked about Green Woodpecker? I said no I hadn’t and yes I would. He stated they had seen one at the present spot 10 days previously.

And just like that one started calling and flew into a nearby tree!

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The photo is back-lit and the European Green Woodpecker wasn’t cooperative, but I did get a few photos. London Wetland Centre, UK 4/5/16

Then another one started calling in the area. Two!

The closest one never positioned itself for a good photo. It was back-lit but I did get good looks of it through my binoculars.  We watched it for a few minutes and then it left with its undulating flight towards the other one.

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I tried to lighten the photos to show more green but it didn’t help much. London Wetland Centre, UK 4/5/16
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I think you can still see it’s a cool looking bird. London Wetland Centre, UK 4/5/16
EGWO 2
It’s about the same size as a Northern Flicker. Check out that face! London Wetland Centre, UK 4/5/16

Sometimes things do work out.

Now do I want to make it my life’s goal to see all the green woodpeckers of the world? Maybe. I’ll research it and get back at a later date.