A tour combining two great English passions - birds & gardens!
This unique, double-themed tour combines birding and gardens in a delightful part of the world, southern England, at a very enchanting time of year, in late April. We visit some of the finest gardens in a country where gardening is a way of life - from the Royal horticultural seat at Wisley, to Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter, the garden rooms at Sissinghurst as well as Nymans, the Castle gardens at Caerhays, the amazing colours at Compton Acres, the rediscovered gardens of Heligan, and Trebah’s exquisite garden, We wend our way through the southern coastal counties of England, from Kent through Sussex and Hampshire to Devon and Cornwall. We blend our garden visits with stops at several productive and rewarding nature reserves, RSPBs and National Parks, from Stodmarsh and Dungeness in Kent to Arne, Radipole Lake and Portland Bill in Dorset, and Yarner Woods and Dawlish Warren in Devon and Cornwall. We will see a fine cross section of England’s birdlife: Bearded Reedlings and Common Shelduck in wetlands, Gray Wagtails and European Dippers along waterways, Eurasian Hobby over heathland, nesting seabirds at Portland Bill, Red-billed Choughs on Cornish cliffs, and Dartford Warbler in furze stands and Woodlarks in newly regenerating forest. A very special and exciting tour led by experts in both gardens and birds!
• Acclaimed gardens with varied designs and styles in the green rolling English countryside, and excellent birding in the well-established network of nature reserves and national parks that occur across England.
• April is a delightful month to be in England; mild and pleasant, fine evenings. The start of the breeding season for birds, and delightful spring & early summer flowers in gardens.
Read Lucy Chang's blog entry about the Garden Highlights from our England Birds & Gardens tours!
Day 1: Arrival
Our Tour begins after dinner in the lobby of our hotel near Heathrow where our leaders will meet the group to discuss the upcoming trip and the next day’s activities.
Day 2: Wisley RHS and Stodmarsh
In the morning, we visit the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisely. Wisley is reputedly Britain’s premier demonstration garden with 97ha (240 acres) offering a fascinating blend of the beautiful and practical in horticulture that incorporate innovative designs and cultivation techniques. In the trials area, the finest flowers and vegetables are selected from the countless new introductions for the society’s AGM worthiness. Cultivation techniques, such as composting or pleaching, are demonstrated, and a series of model gardens answers the needs of a variety of landscaping conditions.
Leaving Wisley, we head to Kent and the fine National Nature Reserve site at Stodmarsh. Stodmarsh in the Stour Valley is managed by Natural England. The reserve grew from marshland caused by coal mining subsidence, creating large reedbeds, lakes, ditches, meadows and wet woodland. Diverse habitats support numerous breeding and migrating birds. Lagoons and reedbeds are important for wildfowl. Mallard, Gadwall and Pochard breed on site most years and other birds present on the reserve include Reed and Sedge Warblers, Great Bittern, and Great Crested Grebe. Rare plants include the carnivorous greater bladderwort, greater spearwort and bog bean. Night in Kent.
Day 3: Dungeness Nature Reserve and Great Dixter
Kent hosts several excellent nature reserves, protecting marshland, rich deciduous woodlands, shallow lakes and ponds. This morning we visit Dungeness, one of the oldest nature reserves in England, established in 1929. Wetland areas support breeding Northern Lapwing, Common Redshank, Yellow Wagtail, and birds of prey such as Eurasian Kestrel and Western Marsh Harrier. Waterfowl include Greylag Goose, the ancestral species for domesticated geese. Reedbeds hold Reed and Sedge Warblers and Common Reed Bunting. Brushy areas echo to the songs of Greater and Lesser Whitethroats, Garden Warbler and Yellowhammer, whilst ponds lure Little Egret, Pied Avocet, Great Crested Grebe and Common Terns. There are several hides here, and from these we should locate Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel and parties of Barn and Bank Swallows. The area around the lighthouse is a noted area for Black Redstart and Northern Wheatear, and migrants and overshoots from nearby Europe, and we may be lucky enough to locate a few specialties. We also visit the shingle garden of Derek Jarmin, known for its ecological sensitivity and landscaped with flotsam and jetsam left by tides.
In the afternoon, we visit Great Dixter, the family home of the late renowned gardener and author Christopher Lloyd. The garden is planted around the buildings, with the arrangement of colours, forms and texture of the plants so well orchestrated that house and garden appear as a beautiful painting. Have your digital camera ready, although you may be too entranced to take pictures! Night in Kent.
Day 4: Sissinghurst and Nymans
In the morning, we visit the garden at Sissinghurst Castle. The ‘garden rooms’ style of planting is one of the most described and emulated in the British Isles. It was the joint creation of poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat husband Harold Nicholson. Their work transformed the ruins of this Elizabethan mansion into a remarkable must-see garden. The White Garden, the Purple Garden, the Rose Garden, the Herb Garden, the Lime Walk, and the Cottage Garden - scent and colours to be personally savoured.
April should see stunning displays of camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas, and Nymans Garden has such collections that do just that. Expect to see numerous intriguing topiaries everywhere in this garden. Be prepared for long walks to the heather darden and recently redesigned rock garden. Night in Sussex.
Day 5: The New Forest
We head through Hampshire to the New Forest, an area of pasture, woodland and heaths and noted particularly for breeding raptors. Our main interest is locating the enigmatic Dartford Warbler, as well as Common Redstart, Woodlark, Firecrest, Red Crossbill and hunting Eurasian Hobby. Night in Dorset.
Day 6: Arne & Compton Acres
This morning we visit the RSPB site at Arne, a fine stand of pines and heathland alongside Poole Harbour, and a very rich area for birds, including Dartford Warbler, Black-tailed Godwit, Tree Pipit, Common Shelduck and Little Egret, and we walk the easy trails through the woodland with its huge population of Sika Deer.
We next visit the gardens at Compton Acres, landscaped to provide magnificent vistas over Poole Harbour. The Wooded Valleys nurture tender plant species for year round interest. The 10-acre garden includes an Italian and a Japanese Garden. Night in Dorset.
Day 7: Lodmoor, Radipole Lake, Portland Bill & Dawlish Warren
This morning we visit the RSPB’s excellent wildlife sites at Lodmoor, Radipole Lake and Portland Bill. Radipole Lake is renowned for its breeding populations of Bearded Reedlings and Cetti’s Warblers, which we will certainly hear, and with luck see clearly. Portland Bill is a peninsula jutting out into the English Channel, and is a prime location for migrants and for passing seabirds; it also has nesting Common Murres, Razorbills, Northern Fulmars and Peregrines. We then drive across Dorset and part of Devon to Dawlish in time for a walk out along Dawlish Warren for shorebirds such as plovers, godwits and Whimbrel, perhaps with fly-by Brent Goose and Common Scoter. Night in Devon.
Day 8: Dartmoor
Today we visit the RSPB site at Yarner Woods on Dartmoor, an area of riparian woodland and heathland that supports Lesser and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Stonechat and a good variety of other species including Gray Wagtail, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher. We also drive onto the heather-covered upland moorland of Dartmoor, where Eurasian Curlew, Common Buzzard, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear nest. Night in Cornwall.
Day 9: Lost Gardens of Heligan and Caerhay’s Castle Gardens
Considered to be Europe’s largest garden restoration project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are fascinating because of their “lost and found” saga. The fact that the product of a team of 100 gardeners of a once great estate could so quickly fall into ruins, but then be rediscovered and restored like a giant garden puzzle, makes for a great garden mystery story. Here you will learn the Victorian way of growing pineapples in an alien habitat! The walks through the woodlands and farm fields are pleasant and often filled with birds.
Caerhay’s Castle gardens house the national collection of magnolias which we may catch in full bloom still in late April. It is also a showcase of spring bulbs, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, accessible along woodland trails. A detour to a fast running stream should net us Eurasian Dipper. Night in Cornwall.
Day 10: Trebah and the Lizard
Today we visit Trebah. Listed as one of the great gardens of Cornwall, Trebah is a subtropical paradise framed against stunning coastal landscape. Its colours in spring are painted by ancient rhododendrons, camellias, bulbs in woods and meadows, primulas around streams, and groves of azaleas. Trebah’s champion trees include a Japanese maple, Woolly tree fern, Chilean tepa, and the magnificent pink tulip flowred magnolia. The uphill and downhill walks lead through intriguing landscapes of tree rhododendrons, bamboo maze, Gunnera canopies to a sandy coastal beach with dramatic World War 2 connections.
Later in the day we visit the Lizard, the most southerly peninsula in England, to search for the very few Red-billed Choughs that now nest in England. Night in Cornwall.
Day 11: Hestercombe, birding sites and return to London
We may visit birding sites today for species that we have not found so far. On our return to London, we drop in to the garden at Hestercombe House. The Georgian landscape garden contains ponds, a grand cascade and numerous classical landscape ornaments.. A new Edwardian garden was laid out by Gertrude Jeckyll and Edwin Luytens in the early 1900s. Night in London.
Day 12: Departure
Our tour ends after breakfast in time for catching flights back home.
• Red-billed Chough
• Eurasian Dipper
• Dartford Warbler
• Pied Flycatcher
• Gray Wagtail
• Cetti’s Warbler
• Eurasian Stonechat
• Great Dixter
• Lost Gardens of Heligan
• Compton Acres
• Wisley RHS
Tour Dates: April 19-30, 2015
Duration: 12 days
Price: t.b.a. (2013 was: $4,650 USD, $5150 CAD, single supplement $560 USD, $620 CAD)
Tour Starts & Ends: London, England
Driving distances will usually be short, with a couple of longish drives as we travel east – west. Walking will be mostly relatively easy and leisurely, with moderate walks at Yarner Woods, The Lizard and Portland Bill. Comfortable walking shoes will be fine. The weather should be mild and pleasant, but it can be cool and windy, and we can expect rain at some time during the tour so an umbrella or waterproof clothing is recommended. The excellent system of nature reserves in England should ensure a good list of species of birds and other wildlife, and we make good use of them, concentrating on the specialties in each. Our visits to gardens will be relaxed and we should have ample time to appreciate each one.
Each evening, the list of birds and other wildlife will be reviewed, and plans for the next day will be discussed.
• Mild, pleasant weather
• Tour price includes all meals, accommodation, entrance fees, and transport while on the tour
• Easy to moderate walking, mainly short drives, comfortable vehicles; a couple of long drives
• 6 to 12 participants with two leaders
Previous checklists from our England Birds & Gardens tour:
2013 England Birds and Gardens tour (pdf)
2012 England Birds and Gardens Tour (pdf)
2011 England Birds and Gardens Tour (pdf)
2010 England Birds and Gardens Tour (pdf)
2007 England Birds and Gardens Tour (pdf)
2005 England Birds and Gardens Tour (pdf)