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.

EGWO 4
I tried to lighten the photos to show more green but it didn’t help much. London Wetland Centre, UK 4/5/16
EGWO 3
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.

London Overview

I’ll start the first of several posts on our recent trip to London, England, with a short overview. Then over the next few weeks I’ll mix shorter blogs on London in with what is happening locally. I’ll try to keep the posts short since I know personally I’d rather see something broken down into smaller digestible junks then long encompassing ones.

Results of the Guesses

I’d like to think everyone who guessed in the comment section from the previous post that a TUFTED DUCK was my 500th life bird. And Mike played along nicely and emailed me directly since he already knew the location. Now about the location.

Greg guessed Hyde Park in London which is correct. Steve went even further and guessed the Serpentine, which I suppose is accurate. But according to the map it is “The Long Water”. I’m not nitpicking and I only bring it up because there seems to be several names for areas that “run” together in London. Be it Kensington Gardens running into Hyde Park or streets which suddenly change named and are called something else.

Either way, thanks to everyone for playing along.

Hyde Park
The small X is where I saw the Tufted Duck. Notice how The Long Water and The Serpentine are the same body of water but have different names for the two areas. Here is the full explanation on Wikipedia. The circled X is the location of the hotel which was a 15 minute walk to Hyde Park.

Why London?

My wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary in March. We had always wanted to go to London. So that was that. We booked the trip back in November to get a good rate and unwittingly made a very good choice on both the hotel and its location. We were literally one minute from the Gloucester Road Underground Station and could be anywhere in the city in 10-15 minutes.

Birding

As with most of my trips this was not a “birding” trip. So I only planned a day of birding. However it ended up being a bit more since we did some birding the first day by walking Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and St. James Park later in the week.

The plan for birding was to bird Hyde Park one morning and the new London Wetland Centre the rest of the same day. And the plan worked out great.

London
The basic area we covered in London. 1 – Hotel 2 – Hyde Park for birding 3 – Theatre District, Museums, etc. 4 – London Wetlands Area for Birding. The purple line is to show how easy it was to get to Wetlands area by public transportation.

Since migration was just starting I thought by covering those two areas I could probably see most of the resident local birds. The only way I could add another 20 or so species was a trip to the Norfolk Coast. To do it right would have consumed two days which meant it was out of the question.

That’s the basics of the trip. Going forward I’ll try not to bore you with too many details.

200-500

I’m not sure anyone is interested in my personal milestones but I always like reading about other peoples. So here are a couple of mine.

This is my 200th blog. For the special occasion I was going to write a few thoughts on the state of birding. Nothing deep or mind altering, and probably not original. Just some observations of mine.

I started what was to be the 200th blog last Friday night/Saturday morning at 38,000 feet over the Atlantic. I didn’t get it completed with the attempt to sleep on the plane or the ensuing next day’s Jet Lag. That post will just have to be at a later date.

As you can guess I’m somewhere outside of the US. Not anything special but kind of fun is that I saw my 500th species yesterday. It was on a non-birding stroll with my wife at a public park.

Here is lucky 500.

TUDU

Since I don’t have time to write a full blog I’ll let you guess the species. It isn’t hard and it isn’t a RING-NECKED DUCK. Mike please don’t answer in the comment section since you know where I’m located. And no there isn’t a prize except the satisfaction that you know this rare visitor to North America.

If you don’t know or haven’t guessed the species in the photo or where I’m located, let me tell you it has to do with me blowing one question which kept me off the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” I briefly reference about the experience here. The only question I missed was about putting 4 houses of this county’s royalty in the order they held the throne. The above duck was seen on one of their palace’s ponds.

As we toured the palace’s grounds and a few other historical sites where we kept seeing the names of the different houses of royalty, we couldn’t get the game show experience out of our heads.

I’ll post tomorrow with the answer and a few more details of the trip.