Website/Map:  ~  Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are two of London's Royal Parks, located in the heart of central London (City of Westminster and Inner London Sector). They are easily accessible by the many public transport routes that connect with the local area. The two sites, though officially separate, are contiguous and are divided from each other by West Carriage Drive (the bridge across the lake and the road that runs north and south of this feature). The home to the original Crystal Palace, Speaker's Corner, Kensington Palace, George Frampton's much loved Peter Pan sculpture, the Albert, Hudson and Diana Memorials, Speke Monument, Physical Energy and Isis, plus many famous concerts and events, the site (as with many within Inner London) is heavily utilised by the public. Habitat comprises open and amenitised grassland dotted with wooded enclosures, more formal areas, small patches of rough grassland, a lake, and a large pond; the Serpentine (in Hyde Park) and Longwater (Kensington Gardens) and Round Pond (long known for model boat sailing on Sundays).
The Round Pound in Kensington Gardens (photo by Andrew Self)
With a modicum of luck some good local birding can be had and it's fair to say that much regular watching, and an appreciation of context, will go a long way. These 625 acres (combined) have had a lengthy birdwatching history reflected in a species list that currently stands at 195 - as well as a small number of eminent London birders. There is no waterfowl collection here (thankfully) though the occasional bird turns up attributable to one of the nearby collections (St James' and and Regent's Parks). Early mornings are best, before any potential disturbance kicks in, and an impressive list of interesting local/London occurrances to date have included: Bewick's and Whooper Swan, White-fronted Goose, Wigeon, Garganey, Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, all three sawbills, Red-throated Diver, Red-necked, Slavonian and Black-necked Grebe, European Storm and Leach's Storm-petrel, Little Egret, Gannet, Shag, Marsh Harrier, Red Kite, Osprey, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Water Rail, Corncrake, Avocet, Sanderling, Little Stint, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Arctic Skua, Mediterranean, Little, Ring-billed, Yellow-legged, Iceland and Glaucous Gull, Kittiwake, Black, White-winged Black, Little and Arctic Tern, Guillemot, Razorbill, Little Auk, Turtle Dove, Short-eared Owl, Nightjar, Hoopoe, Shore Lark, Woodlark, Blue-headed Wagtail, Nightingale, Grasshopper and Marsh Warbler, Firecrest, Red-backed Shrike, Hooded Crow, Twite and Snow Bunting. Of course the vast majority of these (sub)species are unlikely to be found on any ad-hoc visit and many of the more interesting records are from past decades. However, regular watching should repay with uncommon local species now and then.
Residents and regulars include Mute Swan (the most significant Inner London population), Mandarin Duck, Gadwall, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Ruddy Duck, Little and Great Crested Grebe, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Stock Dove, Ring-necked Parakeet, Tawny Owl, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song and Mistle Thrush, Goldcrest, Long-tailed and Coal Tit, and Nuthatch and Treecreeper. Migrant breeders include House Martin at the periphery of the site and Blackcap within (Phyllocopus seem to be a thing of the past). A fair range of passage migrants can be expected annually, namely; Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, Skylark, the three regular hirundines, Tree and Meadow Pipit, Yellow and White Wagtail, Common Redstart, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Fieldfare, Redwing, warblers (including the occasional Wood), Spotted and Pied Flycatcher (the former no longer breeding), Jackdaw, Brambling, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Reed Bunting.
Other wildlife includes Red Fox, a multitude of Grey Squirrel and variable numbers of Brown Rat. There are also plenty of pipistrelle sp(p), Noctules and a dwindling population of European Rabbit on the eastern bank of the Longwater. Red-eared Terrapins can sometimes be seen basking among vegetation at the Longwater or the Round Pond (probably to the detriment of young waterfowl in the breeding season). Butterflies include Small, Essex and Large Skippers, Large and Small Whites, Red Admiral, Peacock Butterfly, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood, Holly and Common Blue. Painted Lady occurs in good years and Purple Hairstreak was recently discovered. Moth records include Ruby Tiger, Lime and Poplar Hawkmoths, and Twin-spotted Wainscot (a flagship species for London's reedbeds, found here at light-traps. Odonata include (notably) Small Red-eyed Damselfly and Black-tailed Skimmer though Migrant Hawker and Emperor Dragonflies can be seen most years. Common, and the occasional Ruddy Darter can be found as can Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies. In terms of plant life, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (particularly the latter) are well known for the scarce and exotic trees planted in the past. These include Willow-leaved Oak, Crimean Lime, Roble Beech, Manna Ash, Indian Horse Chestnut, Hybrid Service, Paperbark Maple, Wingnut, Locust Tree, Weeping Beech, Silver Lime, Swamp Cypress and a fine Magnolia, though there are many old native trees. Des McKenzie.