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Bird Watching Stories
(Go Back to Wild Bird Page Contents)
» No Barbeque this Summer 
» Barn Swallow "Mama"  
» Just How Does a Bird Eat Bees?  
» My Birdwatching Adventures in Costa Rica
» Four Birds in One Tree: A Few Days of Birdwatching in England
» Four Calling Birds??? 
» A Very Unique Cardinal 
» The Last Companion Carolina Paroquet 
» The Ever-Popular Chickadee  
» Convergent Evolution: Meadowlark and Longclaw 
» Barrel Cactus Confrontation 
» Mesmerizing a Goldfinch 
» The Best Mimic?  
» Prairie Chickens and Woodcocks:
Missouri Ornithology
» Mob Mentality: Who is Really in Control of the Skies?
» The Owl Who Sat Down Beside Me 
» Meeting Hot Shot: The Toddler Peregrine Falcon  
 » Seeing 'Sea Parrots'
in Alaska
» A Rare and Unusual Bird 
Meeting Roger Tory Peterson
» Raven Showoffs 
» Reddish Egrets a nd Canopy Feeding 
 »  Robins and Worms 
Hear, See, Smell, or Feel?
» Hospital Hallucinations 
» Wild Bird "Attacks": Just Misunderstandings? 
» Drunken Waxwings and an Unusual Hummingbird Feeder
»  Aransas in the Fog:
Whooping Cranes
 » Acorn Woodpecker Defending its Stash
» Why Woodpeckers Don't Get Headaches: Built in Shock Absorber 
A Few Days of Bird Watching in England

by Sally Blanchard
(Long-tailed Tit Sculpture by Sally Blanchard)
When I was 13, my family moved to London. My father was in the Air Force and he worked in a building right near Grosvenor Square. We were very lucky because of a connection that my father made, we lived on Park Lane right across the street from Hyde Park; definitely a very high rent district. Our land lady was Lady Veronica Selby who lived in a castle is Scotland. However, she wanted to maintain her flat in London and consequently rented it out at an extremely reasonable price with a stipulation. She would take the train down from Scotland and would show up at the flat just about anytime she wanted to. She normally took the night train and arrived very early in the morning. She often stayed in the maid's quarters in the back of the flat ... that was the arrangement. She was a striking woman with bright ginger hair and it seemed to me that she was almost 6 feet tall. I thought she was fascinating and she seemed to be quite fond of me so I enjoyed talking with her. She joked that she rented to Americans because she loved them and had loved quite a few of them during the war. Our apartment had a very strange configuration and there was a huge walnut Victorian bar right outside my bedroom door which was across from the living room. Lady Selby would come in to the flat and fix herself a gin and orange at the bar. You could always tell she was there even if you didn't hear her or see her because of the gin smell. One morning I woke up with her sitting on the edge of my bed and stroking my hair telling me that I looked just like Greta Garbo. I never saw any resemblance. 

I often went for walks in Hyde Park and met an English girl who lived in another building and was about my age so we started exploring the park together. We would feed the waterfowl in the Serpentine lake in the park and she would point out various birds to me. Years later as I became more fanatical about bird watching, I regretted that I didn't remember the kinds of birds that I saw when I lived in England.

Years later, I decided to study the birds of the world and I learned about the birds that lived in England a few of which I had probably seen but didn't know for sure. For example, I was pretty sure that I had seen a great crested grebe, which is a gorgeous bird. I promised myself that someday I would go back to England and see the birds that I didn't remember. In 2001 I was asked to speak at a parrot conference in Stratford. I spent a few days in London before taking the train up to Stratford. I stayed at a delightful little hotel that was managed by a parrot owner and Companion Parrot Quarterly subscriber. I walked through Hyde Park and went into the lobby of the building I lived in. It was just as I remembered it. After talking to the doorman, I walked up the stairs to the first floor (what we would call the second floor) and stood in front of the door to our flat. Of course, someone lived there so I couldn't go in but it brought back a lot of memories.

It was a dismal rainy day so I didn't get to see any birds in the park except for pigeons. Two days later I took the train to Stratford. I got in early enough to do some bird watching. I had decided that I would be happy if I saw four of my favorite English birds: the European Robin, the Blue Tit, the European Blackbird and most of all, the adorable Long-tailed Tit. A short distance from the hotel there was a canal with a path along side of it. About 5 minutes or so into my walk, I found a treasure trove of birds flying about. I was able to identify most of them. An English Robin landed in a nearby tree and as I looked at the tree, I realized that all four of the birds that I wanted to see so much were in that tree all at the same time. Talk about making it easy for me! 

For American bird watchers, the English birds can be a bit confusing at first. English settlers named our American robin after the European robin because of its reddish breast but it is not related to our robin. On the other hand, the European Blackbird is related to the American robin but not to our red-winged blackbirds or any of the other blackbirds that live in the Americas. The Blue tit (tit means diminutive) is closely related to our chickadees but the long-tailed tit is not.

 I love chickadees and delight in seeing them but I have to admit that the long-tailed tit is one of the cutest birds that I have ever seen and I've seen a lot of cute birds. I actually saw some for sale in a bird shop in New York but I just can't imagine keeping one in a cage. I was particularly interested in seeing a European blackbird (yes, the ones in the nursery rhyme about pie) because of my middle name. My grandfather's name was Merle and he died a few months before I was born so I was given the middle name Merle in honor of him. In my early 20s I met a man whose last name was Chantemerle and he told me that his name was French for singing blackbird. Although we never dated, it amused me to think that if I married him the translation of my name would have been "Princess Blackbird Singing Blackbird."   

The Parrot Conference went very well and I took the train back to London to spend two more days there before I flew home. The manager of the hotel took me birdwatching one day. Although he had parrots, he had never tramped through the woods to see wild birds. Although I heard several birds, it was raining again so I didn't see very many birds. I did see a coal tit in some shrubbery. It looks a great deal like our chickadee with the exception of a white patch on the back of its head.  In a wooded area outside of London, I saw my first great tit, which looks like a more colorful version of our chickadee. A great spotted woodpecker flew over. I saw several tits again and a chaffinch in the trees. Then I was invited for dinner at my host's home and met two delightful African greys and a perky little green-cheeked conure. He asked me how I could identify so many British birds ... I used an American birdwatching term that means the totality of the bird, the way it flies, its profile, its flash colors, its call and whatever else makes it that particular bird. My host seemed quite embarrassed. I found out, to my embarrassment that the word I used had a very different meaning to the English people. Oh well.  


It was the next day of bird watching that was totally unexpected. I visited the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust along the Thames river in Barnes, London. While London has a lot of parks, this wetlands habitat is a phenomenal bird watching location. I would definitely recommend a visit to this comprehensive wetlands habitat to anyone who is the least bit interested in birds and is in London. I could have spent days there but only had a few short hours. My host and I walked down a path where there was an incredible collection of 'ornamental' waterfowl from all over the world. The one that impressed me the most was the red-breasted goose but the colorful Mandarin duck and our "Carolina" wood duck are always a pleasure to see up close and personal. There are several hides (we call them blinds) along the various trails. One of the first wild birds I saw was the great crested grebe. I also remember seeing lapwings, snipes, mute swans, grey herons, common pochard ducks, avocets (They don't have the orangey colored head that the American avocet  has), oystercatchers, and common redshanks.

While we were walking on the paths, two very interesting things flew over. The first was a small flock of squawking ring-necked parakeets and the second was a concorde jet. The ringneck parakeet is now considered a permanent introduced resident. The last flight of the concorde jet was 2 years later. I also saw redwings (related to our robins and not our blackibirds) and meadow pipits as we walked along the pathway. At a hide in an area with a few trees on the edge of one of the marshes, I saw a few English robins, a wren (same as our winter wren), and a common kingfisher. 

Without a doubt, on my trip to the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust along the Thames river I saw more new birds than I have ever seen in such a short time. While I immediately knew what many of them were, I saw other birds too quickly to identify them in my bird guide. My experiences went way beyond seeing the four birds that were on my must see list when I arrived in England.  
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