Sunny Hill Park, Watford Way, Hendon, London NW4 (map; OS grid reference TQ227900).
Located in the suburbs of north-west London, and some 13km (as the corvid flies) from the city centre, Sunny Hill Park is an undulating site about 900 metres long and 400 metres at its widest, situated within the angle formed by the Great North Way (A1) and the Watford Way (A41), near the A1 access to and from the M1 motorway. This small area is not an obvious place for birding considering the nearby attractions of better sites such as Brent Reservoir (2.5km to the southwest) or Hampstead Heath (5km to the southeast). However, it is a site that I (Fraser Simpson) pass through regularly to and from work. Watching this patch of green is more an experiment to see what might turn up in an unlikely location. The higher parts of the park afford good views over the Wembley, Harrow and Edgware areas of the metropolis and offer a possible vantage point for observing visible migration of birds.
In Victorian times, farmers in and around the village of Hendon made their living by growing hay to fuel the horses that hauled London’s cabs, carriages and carts. By the 1920s, as the horse gave way to the internal combustion engine, hay had ceased to be an important crop and Hendon was threatened by encroaching suburban development. Hendon Urban District Council (now absorbed into Barnet) purchased a number of fields to create Sunny Hill Park, which opened in 1922 for public recreational use.
The park is largely grassland, roughly divided in two in terms of management. Much of the park is regularly mown recreational grassland, but towards the southern end of the park, the urban parkland gives way to wild flower meadow. Typical wild flowers found here include black knapweed, common sorrel, lesser stitchwort and three species of buttercup. Another area of rough grassland and scrub towards the north of the site is managed particularly for slow-worms and is also the best area for butterflies. With no woodland to speak of, trees are mainly restricted to lining the paths in avenues with a small cluster around St Mary's Churchyard and Church Farmhouse Museum. The lack of water further reduces the site's attractiveness for birds, although there is one tiny, shaded and muddy pond.
Breeding: Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackcap, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit and Jay among the commoner species. Tawny Owl and Little Owl have been seen in the surrounding areas.
Passage: Hobby, common warblers, thrushes, hirundines, Meadow Pipits, Swifts and Wood Pigeons.
Winter: Coal Tit, Siskin, Nuthatch, Common Gull.
Mammals, reptiles and amphibians
Red Fox are seen semi-regularly in the surrounding area. Slow-worm were introduced to the park some years ago when their previous habitat was lost to development.
Butterflies: Small Skipper, Essex Skipper, Large Skipper, Brimstone, Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Purple Hairstreak, Small Copper, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown.
Dragonflies: Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker.
The nearest railway station is Hendon Central, on the Underground’s Northern Line, which is about 10 minutes’ walk to the south.
Bus 113 (Marble Arch to Edgware via Hendon Central station) passes the park on Watford Way. (Route 186 is still shown on Transport for London maps as passing the park, but no longer does so.) Routes 143, 183 and 326 pass nearby along Church Road, Hendon.
Limited parking for cars is available within the park (go south on Watford Way from Five Ways Corner and look out for signs for the park cafe after passing Westside). Some street parking is also available in nearby residential roads.
The park has 24-hour free access. A network of surfaced paths provides easy access for wheelchair users, so long as they can cope with the steep slopes up to the top (east) edges of the park.
Situated within the park is Sunny Hill Cafe, which claims to be open from dawn till dusk.
A variety of shops and restaurants can be found in The Burroughs, Church Road, Brent Street and around Hendon Central Underground station.
FRASER SIMPSON'S SUNNY HILL PARK PATCH LIST 2006
1 Black-headed Gull 07/01, 2 Common Gull 07/01, 3 Herring Gull 07/01, 4 Feral Pigeon 07/01, 5 Stock Dove 07/01, 6 Wood Pigeon 07/01, 7 Collared Dove 07/01, 8 Green Woodpecker 07/01, 9 Great Spotted Woodpecker 07/01, 10 Pied Wagtail 07/01, 11 Wren 07/01, 12 Dunnock 07/01, 13 Robin 07/01, 14 Blackbird 07/01, 15 Song Thrush 07/01, 16 Redwing 07/01, 17 Mistle Thrush 07/01, 18 Blackcap 07/01, 19 Goldcrest 07/01, 20 Long-tailed Tit 07/01, 21 Coal Tit 07/01, 22 Blue Tit 07/01, 23 Great Tit 07/01, 24 Jay 07/01, 25 Magpie 07/01, 26 Carrion Crow 07/01, 27 Starling 07/01, 28 House Sparrow 07/01, 29 Chaffinch 07/01, 30 Greenfinch 07/01, 31 Goldfinch 07/01, 32 Jackdaw 21/01, 33 Lesser Black-backed Gull 21/01, 34 Grey Heron 28/01, 35 Siskin 12/02, 36 Kestrel 08/04, 37 Garden Warbler 25/04, 38 Ring-necked Parakeet 25/04, 39 Sparrowhawk 26/04, 40 Chiffchaff 29/04, 41 Swift 02/05, 42 Mallard 03/05, 43 Common Tern 11/05, 44 Whitethroat 11/05. 45 House Martin 04/09. 46 Nuthatch 11/09. 47 Little Owl 14/09. 48 Meadow Pipit 17/09. 49 Swallow 21/09. 50 Yellow Wagtail 23/09. 51 Skylark 23/09.
Fraser Simpson http://www.fssbirding.org.uk
Additional contributions: Toby Mylett