Birdwatching in Sydenham Hill and Dulwich Woods

THE sun was shining on Sunday, making it a fine time you head to Sydenham Hill and Dulwich woods.

The twin names are misleading. This is one area of the old Great North Wood, split in two by an old railway line (of which more later) and criss-crossed by paths of different sizes. Some are wide, others small enough to force you to climb over or stoop under fallen trees.

You can lose yourself here.

Late-winter sun

Sunday’s blue, blue sky and the fact the trees remain bare from winter meant perfect conditions for urban birdwatching – there was nowhere for our feathered friends to hide, no leaves to cover their trace.

Blue skies and no leaves mean there’s nowhere for the birds to hide

It proved to be rich pickings.

As well as the now ubiquitous green parakeet whose squawking racket is as loud as the bright green of their plumage, there were endless blue and great tit, wood pigeon, magpie, carrion crow, blackbird, jay and robin.

Of most interest were the following, all seen in just over an hour and without the need for binoculars:

Two green woodpeckers, flying like torpedoes with a flash of red on their head to latch themselves to a tree trunk.

A flock of three or four redwing, late winter visitors to the UK from Scandinavia.

Two beautifully delicate long-tailed tits

And, best of all, a nuthatch – dressed prettily in cornflower blue and pale orange.

The former railway line that nominally splits the woods used to link Nunhead to High Level station, built in 1865 to serve Crystal Palace after it moved to Anerley from Hyde Park in 1854.

The route of the old railway line, now overgrown

The line closed in 1954, becoming increasingly redundant after the great building burnt to the ground in 1936.

The route of the old line runs like a wide channel through the trees. It ends at a bricked-up tunnel, its red brickwork covered in various shed of green moss. Bats can be seen here at night.

The old railway tunnel – now home to bats

One side of the line is Dulwich Woods, owned by local landlords The Dulwich Estate, the other is Sydenham Hill Woods, leased to Southwark council and managed by the London Wildlife Trust.

French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro painted a view of a steam train travelling the line from the direction of Lordship Lane.

Camille Pissarro’s Lordship Lane Station (1871)

A sign on a footbridge crossing the route of the old tracks marks the spot where he would have stood.

The footbridge at the spot where Camille Pissarro would have painted

I always go in via Cox’s Walk, from Sydenham Hill.

The entrance to Sydenham Hill Woods at Cox’s Walk

Just by this entrance is an old metal boundary post, marking the edge of the old Camberwell parish.

Border post marking the edge of the old Camberwell parish

If you’re feeling thirsty, the Dulwich Woodhouse is further along Sydenham Hill, at the junction of Crescent Wood Road.

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Birdwatching in Sydenham Hill and Dulwich Woods

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