Birdwatching London: all the best places to see birds in the capital

Published on 17 January 2019 in Book reviews

By David Darrell-Lambert

Safe Haven Books, 2018; pbk, 192pp; colour photos; ISBN 978-0-9932911-5-9

£12.99

Birdwatching in London is an active and well-documented scene, but it’s 21 years since the publication of a comprehensive site guide (Where to Watch Birds in the London Area, by Dominic Mitchell; Christopher Helm, 1997). Much has changed in the intervening period in terms of the range of birds to see in London and the infrastructure of nature reserves. Birdwatching London is an attractively produced new site guide and it feels contemporary in terms of presentation, writing style and up-to-date descriptions of locations.

The book covers 38 sites and the selection gives rise to some debate about how it can meet the claim in its subtitle. The acknowledgments section suggests that other sites were researched, but space restrictions prevented them from making the cut. Looking at the map, there is rather sparse coverage of outer northwest London, and Brent Reservoir is a surprising omission. However, the selection is a good mix of showpiece reserves (including the newly launched Walthamstow Wetlands), parks, woodlands and reservoirs. It is a stretch on the definition of London to include Southend-on-Sea in Essex, but as the author says, it’s an easy day or even half-day trip from the city, and the information given makes it clear why it should be on the radar of London’s birders. 

The site write-ups bring a mix of accumulated personal experience and insight from research visits with local experts. Each gives a short historical introduction to the site and its key features and the result is an engaging narrative setting expectations for a visit in terms of common and potentially scarcer birds. A wide range of colour photographs, mostly taken by the author, convey a real sense of wildlife and habitat against an urban backdrop. There are no sketch maps but there is a box for each site with brief visiting information, including postcode, nearest public transport and availability of refreshments. Profiles of ‘landmark’ London birds, including Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri, Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros and pigeons, are scattered through the book and are a further outlet for the author’s knowledge and passion for London’s birds.

Whether you’re an old hand at London birding, a recent arrival or a visitor, you will find inspiration in this book to explore a part of the city you do not currently know.

Tony Blake