BIRD SURVEYS OF EUROPE    ©  2012 Callyn Yorke


           SOUTHERN ENGLAND: London, Surrey, Kent, Essex and Suffolk County

                                                 March 30 - April 8, 2012

  Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)  Minsmere Bird Preserve, Suffolk England  April 5, 2012                          © 2012 Callyn Yorke


Key to Locations:  London (Hyde Park); C = Capel (FNP), Dorking, Warnham; DH = Down House; DS = Dungeness; DR = Dover; M= Minsmere

                                                                                 LInk to our trip    BIRD LIST


Weather:  Variable cloudiness with occasional showers; 30F to 60F; Winds predominantly ENE, 2 -15 mph. Seas moderate to choppy.

Time: 0630 - 1700 hrs.

Observers: Duncan and Jan Fraser, Merissa Mendez and I; occasionally other local birders.

Areas Covered: 1) The Fraser Nature Preserve (FNP), Capel, Surrey County: A privately owned 15 -acre natural area designed by Duncan and Jan Fraser about 25 years ago to attract birds and other wildlife. The preserve, once ordinary pastureland and ruderal fields, has been landscaped and restored with planted trees, shrubs, grassland, fresh water marsh (ponds surrounded by reeds), hides and trails, centrally located within the small township of Capel. More than 120 species of bird, several species of mammal (including fox, deer, rabbit, microtene rodents, water shrew and bats) and about 500 species of lepidopteran (Duncan Fraser is a recognized authority on the moths of Great Britain). A bird-banding program on the preserve has been monitoring resident and migrant birds for many years. We spent a total of about 4 hours on four separate days walking the trails of the  nature preserve, mostly observing and photographing birds. Noteworthy findings included a rare visit by a Red Kite (see below), attracted to chicken bones left in the garden. Early spring arrivals at the reserve were Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap (see below). 

     Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io)    Fraser Nature Preserve, Capel  30 March, 2012                    Red Kite(Milvus milvus) and Jackdaws          

                                                                                                        © 2012 Callyn Yorke


                         Jackdaw (Pseudocorvus monedula Yorke )  Fraser Nature Preserve, Capel  April 7, 2012


                                                                                                                      © 2012 Callyn Yorke                                  



British Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)   (Endangered) Fraser Nature Preserve, Capel   30 March, 2012

                                                                                                                                           © 2012 Callyn Yorke


      Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)   Fraser Nature Preserve, Capel   30 March, 2012  

© 2012 Callyn Yorke


2) Dungeness Royal Society Bird Preserve (DRSBP: March 31, 2012, 1100-1400 hrs.). We drove southeast of Capel to the coastal marsh and reclaimed gravel pits of DRSBP, where we birded from hides and along a roadside drainage. This extensive area consists of pastureland, flooded fields, fresh water marsh and ruderal roadsides. We included a visit to the outlet of the Dungeness nuclear power facility ("the patch"), where warm water discharged into the ocean attracts hundreds of gulls. Nearby is the Dungeness bird-banding and research station, trapping birds by mist-netting and a maze of wire-mesh funnel enclosures. A few other birders were present in a hide on an embankment overlooking the shoreline and nearshore waters. This windswept area reminded me of Pt. Reyes, Marin County, California, where a similar bird-banding research program (PRBO) has been active since the early 1970's. Our sightings at DRSBP included Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, and one unidentified immature gull  (possibly Iceland Gull).


Duncan and Jan Fraser  Dungeness, England   31 March, 2012

                                                                                                                                   © 2012 Callyn Yorke


                        Gulls adult, imm.(L.marinus, L. fuscus, L. argentatus ) "The Patch" Dungeness,  31 March 2012 


                                                                                                        © 2012 Callyn Yorke


                                                      Daily bird report at the Dungeness research station, 31 March, 2012


                                                                                                                                                    © 2012  Callyn Yorke



3) Dover Castle and adjacent harbor (DCH: April 1, 0900-1300 hrs.). We surveyed the shoreline inside the main harbor at Dover and the woodland and lawns at the entrance to Dover Castle, built in the 12th Century by Henry II. Eurasian Kestrel (hovering auspiciously above the castle) was the only new species observed; some gulls being fed by pedestrians on the harbor walkway allowed close approach for photos. 4) After a walk through the medieval town of Canterbury (including the stunning interior of its cathedral followed by a pilgrimage through some darkened rooms of an old building with a series of rooms featuring audio-guided theatrical recreations of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales)  we took a cross-country train from Canterbury (via Tonbridge) to Dorking (TCD: April 1: 1500 -1630 hrs): A relaxing train trip through villages and rural areas produced Cattle Egret and Great White Egret in bucolic, Chaucerian scenes along the train tracks.

Dover Castle, England            1 April, 2012

                                                                                                                                            © 2012 Callyn Yorke


5)  Pilgrim's Way Natural Heritage Trail, at the stepping stones on the Mole River, Dorking (PWD). We walked across river on ancient stepping stones used by pilgrims walking to Canterbury from distant parts of England. The humid riparian strip along the slow, shallow river, features mature trees, shrubs and wildflowers, making an attractive area for birds, naturalists and hikers. During our brief visit (April 1: 1445-1520 hrs.) we observed Green Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch and several other common bird species.   



Pilgrim's Way, Mole River, Dorking,   1 April 2012

                                                                                          © 2012 Callyn Yorke


6) Warnham Nature Preserve, Dorking, Surrey (WNP: April 2, 1100-1245 hrs.). This is a well-maintained fresh water pond and marsh habitat surrounded by woodland and open fields, featuring trails and hides. Here I obtained excellent, close-up views of several common species of bird, including Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Common Moorhen, Wood Pigeon, Nuthatch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Dunnock and Reed Bunting. School children paraded by the hides, sometimes rather noisily, however their presence did not seem to bother the birds, which appeared quite accustomed to humans throughout the preserve. Also noteworthy here was a vole feeding about three feet above the ground in a flowering shrub (photo).

Field Vole(Microtus agrestis) Warnham Nature Preserve,2 April, 2012      Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)  Warnham, Surrey   2 April, 2012


                                                                                                    © 2012 Callyn Yorke



7) Minsmere RSBP, Suffolk County (MRSBP: April 3-5). We stayed at the Eel's Foot Inn in Eastbridge, adjacent to Minsmere. This location allowed easy access to the trails around and through the preserve; we walked nearly all of the trails, visually surveying about 300 acres of woodland, fresh water marsh, pastureland, heath, ruderal roadways, shoreline and nearshore waters of the North Sea. This area, historically pastureland, was intentionally flooded during WWII to discourage an invasion of Britain from the east. Subsequently, in 1947, the government purchased the land and established a nature preserve, eventually to become one of the premier wetland preserves of the Royal Society for Bird Preservation. Today, Minsmere attracts many thousands of nature-lovers and includes a new visitor center and several excellent hides which provide close-up views of nesting and migratory waterbirds. Not surprisingly, our three-day visit to Minsmere was the highlight of our birding trip, producing a list of nearly 60 species. Indeed, we probably would have seen  a few additional bird species had we not been pinned down indoors on April 4 by persistent rain and high winds. Noteworthy birds found included,  Barnacle Goose, Great Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Marsh Hawk, Medterranean Gull, Goldcrest, Marsh Tit, Northern Wheatear, Cetti's Warbler and Bearded Reedling. The next morning, April 7, with the air temperature hovering around 32F, we boarded a train in the village of Saxmundham going west to London via Ipswitch. 


 Minsmere Hide, Suffolk, southeast England          April 5, 2012                                                   Minsmere Hide, April 3, 2012   

                                                                                                   © 2012 Callyn Yorke



                                            Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)  Minsmere  3 April, 2012


                                                                                                                   © 2012 Callyn Yorke


8) Hyde Park, London (HP: April 7: 0800-0900 hrs.).We walked from our hotel near the northwest corner of Hyde Park, south and east through Kensington Gardens on paved pathways through a well-manicured park featuring mature deciduous and some coniferous trees, a large concrete-lined pond (Round Pond) and a small lake (The Long Water and The Serpentine) bordered on the north end by a fountain, elsewhere surrounded by a riparian strip of trees and shrubs. The park (where Princess Diana was often seen taking her exercise, and now features a children's playground dedicated to her), was excellent for birding, especially in and around the Round Pond and the brushy borders of The Long Water. Our brief visit included sightings of Crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Mandarin, Great Crested Grebe, Little Owl (the only owl on our trip list), Ring-necked Parakeet and Long-tailed Tit.

Mandarin (Aix galericulata)  Long Water, Hyde Park, London    7 April 2012

                                                                                                                                          © 2012 Callyn Yorke


9) Down House, Kent (DH). Duncan drove the 1.5 hour, largely unmarked route with Jan navigating, Merissa and I enjoying the peaceful, pastoral scenery. We were met at Down House by their friend Chris, who joined us for a tour of the home of Charles Darwin, near the town of Downe. Darwin's stately, two-story home has been made into a museum with rooms full of his personal belongings, including his library, specimens, microscope, pistol, notebooks, letters and portraits. One of the upstairs rooms has been converted into a life-size model of Darwin's cabin aboard the HMS Beagle (complete with an animated virtual projection of Darwin as a young man sitting at the table and presumably suffering from sea sickness, then taking a snuff to clear his head) which carried him around the world for five years in the mid 1800's. Another room has been preserved as Darwin's study, where he composed many manuscripts, including "Origin of the Species." All of the rooms have been restored to accurately display the furnishings and life-style that Darwin, an independently wealthy man, experienced on this large estate. Our visit (self-guided) took us outside where Darwin had scraped away some lawn to observe weed competition and colonization and another spot where he studied the behavior of earthworms. Darwin had a keen interest in plants as well as animals, and his greenhouse and garden were both full of interesting specimens, including insectivorous pitcher plants. Outside the home is the original Mulberry tree, mentioned by his granddaughter, who wrote a delightful personal account of her childhood memories (Raverat, Gwen, 1952, Period Piece, CPI Bookmark, Croydon: ISBN 978-0571-06742-5  282 pp.). Darwin planted a large grove of trees near the border of his property which still stands today, providing a shady woodland in an otherwise pastoral landscape. A pair of European Jays was found here, adding yet another species of corvid to our trip list.


Down House -the old mulberry tree still standing in the foreground.  April 8, 2012

                                                                                                                                                                   © 2012 Callyn Yorke


Some of Darwin's personal effects at Down House,  April 8, 2012       

                                                                                                                                              © 2012 Callyn Yorke


Darwin's experimental worm hole, Down House, April 8, 2012            Darwin's greenhouse, Down House, April 8, 2012    

                                                                                 © 2012 Callyn Yorke                                                                                                                                


At the conclusion of our visit to Down House, which I regarded as one of the most memorable experiences in southern England, I inquired about a scientific publication by Gregor Mendel (Mendel, an Austrian monk, published the first quantitative study of inheritance (which was corroborated and cited by several plant geneticists who published similar results in 1900) and many years after his death became known to biology students as the "father of modern genetics"), that, according to some historians, had been sent to Darwin (along with a number of other distinguished scholars). Curiously, Mendel's 1865 magnus opum, Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybriden, which could have provided Darwin with a verifiable mechanism for natural selection, was subsequently discovered to have been unopened (sealed?). Another account (Purves , W.K. et. al. 2001, Life. The Science of Biology. W.H. Freeman pp 177-78) claims that Darwin did indeed receive and read Mendel's publication of inheritance in garden peas, but failed to recognize its significance, despite carrying out similar plant hybridization experiments of his own at Down House.

Since we did not find that publication among those in Darwin's library at Down House, I wondered if it had been overlooked or perhaps lost. I learned subsequently according to the curator of Down House, Annie Kemkaran-Smith, that Mendel's 1865 publication (cited above) was not listed in their collection catalogue. Interestingly, a Down House caretaker mentioned to us during our visit that Darwin's own (first edition) copy of Origin of the Species had been stolen some years earlier from Down House, then fortunately, and quite by accident, recovered by police.