I picked up Dhashni and Prasatt from Northwood pre-dawn for some birding around the edges of north-west London on 8th December.
Verulamium Park in St Albans was our first port of call and it was certainly busy with birds as soon as we started our walk. A flock of Blue and Great Tits was joined by a Treecreeper which afforded decent views each time it came around to our side of the tree it was working.
We studied the difference between the Moorhens and Coots feeding around the edges of the lake. Although the two species share the same habitat and some behavioural traits, they have very different feet! The lake also held Black-headed and Common Gulls, Mallards and a large flock of Canada Geese.
The beautiful but repetitive song of a Mistle Thrush gave away its presence in a stand of tall trees, we only managed a brief view at first but managed to pin it down better when it moved to a different position later on. One of a couple of Song Thrushes along the stream was singing too and there were plenty of Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens around, while the occasional Dunnock and a distant Green Woodpecker could be heard calling.
Overhead, we heard the flight calls of a Lesser Redpoll and a couple of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Siskins.
We could hear the distant cries of a Red Kite and spent some time trying to find the right angle to hopefully spot the bird. Our first position didn't reveal it but we did encounter a Grey Heron walking around a field. Scanning from one side of the trees, we suddenly spotted two much closer than we'd anticipated! One quickly left the roost but the other stayed put for long enough to enjoy some really amazing scope views of this bird usually seen circling high in the sky.
A Sparrowhawk dashed through overhead and we watched a Grey Wagtail feeding on a flooded area below a willow. Nearby, a Coal Tit was feeding in an isolated tree and a couple of Nuthatches were calling. A flock of Jackdaws was stationed near the Red Kites and three Ring-necked Parakeets, two Chaffinches and a Collared Dove flew over us.
On the way back, another search of the parkland edge delivered a couple of Goldcrests, a fast-moving flock of Long-tailed Tits, a small flock of Stock Doves and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. A Cormorant began fishing in the lake.
As we returned to our starting point, we were treated to point-blank views of a Kingfisher waiting patiently over the stream for a fish to appear, which was a very special moment!
A couple of circuits of the abbey grounds unfortunately didn't produce the hoped-for Peregrine Falcons or Black Redstarts, though evidence of the falcons was obvious with the local Magpies taking the opportunity to raid their plucking site for scraps!
We did, however, enjoy good views of Redwing, Song Thrush, Greenfinch and several Pied Wagtails around the grounds, as well as another Red Kite overhead and a couple of Stock Doves that had been tempted into performing their display flight on this beautiful day.
On the way to Pitstone Hill, we spotted a Kestrel hovering over the road and several more Red Kites.
Our main target at Pitstone Hill was Buzzard and with relatively little effort we found two or three riding the breeze, along with more Red Kites and two Ravens! Bonus birds here included a pair of Stonechats, several Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, and a heard-only Yellowhammer. A large mixed flock of Rooks and Jackdaws made quite a cacophony in the fields below.
Bentham — who Dhashni and Prasatt invited to come along for the tour — certainly had a good time, going for a run in a quiet, rough field and coming back covered in seeds. (These took hours to pick out in the evening!)
We finished the tour with a walk around Bury Lake and Stocker's Lake, where we had memorable encounters with Kingfisher (for the second time on this day!) and Great Crested Grebes. We enjoyed more views of Goldcrests and plenty of Ring-necked Parakeets. There were plenty of wildfowl to admire, including Red-crested Pochard, Pochard, Wigeon, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Gadwall, as well as a family of Mute Swans and two Egyptian Geese.
We also took the chance to compare Lesser Black-backed, Common, Herring and Black-headed Gulls. The second Sparrowhawk of the day dashing low over the water was another thrilling encounter. We heard a couple of Treecreepers and a Cetti's Warbler, and a large flock of Siskins flew over. Yet another Red Kite signed off a brilliant day for raptors!