Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Decade!

I hope that you all had a safe and enjoyable New Year's celebration. I also hope that all that you dream for and desire happens for you during the ensuing months.

I had one of my best New Years Eve ever. I was alone at home in front of my laptop writing whilst watching Sky Plussed pre-recorded episodes of Family Guy. My eyes must have closed because I suddenly awoke when I heard a series of large explosions, which I subsequently realised was the display at the Millennium Wheel.

Resolutions are not normally my thing, but I do have a few hopes and dreams for the coming year. I have been very blessed thus far with my career as The Urban Birder and have been to places, seen things and done things that I never dreamt of just a few short years ago.

I hope that you will enjoy reading my blog over the coming months to experience the continuing unfolding of The Urban Birder story.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The day after the day after Christmas

Common Stonechat (Jon Osbourne)
Dawn saw me standing on the western edge of The Scrubs listening to hundreds of squawking Rose-ringed Parakeets getting ready to leave their roost whilst I scanned the skies for signs of hard weather movement. Ultimately, I was to be disappointed as the only real movement I saw were around 30 Redwings and 2 very distant Fieldfares.

Today was also the Scrubbers Christmas get together replete with mince pies and mold wine. Well, I forgot my mince pies and certainly didn't bring any wine. It was just as well because only long term Scrubber, Roy Nuttall, showed up. So we strolled around flushing 2 Snipe and finding our winter resident pair of Stonechat.

Back at home, I finally cracked open my presents. Aside from the itouch and field guide I mentioned yesterday, I also received 2 scarfs and some cosmetics to help keep an urban birder young, sexy and beautiful looking!

Saturday, 26 December 2009


I hope you all have had a fun and peaceful Christmas.

I put on at least 6 stone on Christmas Day, although to be fair to myself, I did have a 2 hour game of scratch football in Kensington Gardens with my mates - you know, jumper for goalposts stuff. We played near the Round Pond so there were plenty of milling gulls and flocks of Mute Swans and feral geese to watch out for. Today I wasn't in goal but playing outfield, so birding opportunities were somewhat limited. I scored the winning goal in a penalty shootout. You should have seen my celebration!

I've also been hitting The Scrubs for the past couple of mornings scoring at least 4 Snipe, a calling Red-legged Partridge and this morning, a superb winter plumaged Mediterranean Gull. Tomorrow morning is the planned Scrubbers Christmas gathering, but the turnout is likely to be poor.

Yesterday, I received an email from India alluding to the possibility of an invitation to the Indian Birdfair that's being held in February. It may also be a case of the true meaning being lost in translation. I responded saying that I would be up for it plus I suggested a few ideas. I'll see what comes back.

Believe it or not, we still haven't opened our Christmas presents in my household - strange I know. What I do know is that my mum has got me the Helm field guide to the birds of the Atlantic Islands and that my best mate has got me an Apple itouch, which I'm particularly looking forward to fooling around with tomorrow when we finally crack open the presents.

Time to kip up so that I'm fresh to find that oddity in the morning that's lurking at The Scrubs.

Monday, 21 December 2009


Crested Tit (Hugh Harrop)
I'm really looking forward to my trip to Scotland in early January next year. It's going to be great, especially stalking around Mull.

I've been thinking about my first trips to Scotland during the school summer holidays as a youth hosteling teenager. I went with my local youth club in Wembley, north London and me and my mate Alan were the only birders on the trip. I say 'birders', we were not that great, however, we did find a female Surf Scoter along the coastline of Handa Island, up on the west coast. Well, we didn't know what we had found, but we knew it was interesting. So we wrote and left a description on the warden's door (as he wasn't about). He very kindly wrote a couple weeks later to tell us of our exciting discovery.

The other day I was having a moan about Visit Scotland and their apparent unhelpfulness. Those words were written during a time when I was feeling a little peeved by a few things not going to plan at the time. In reality, Visit Scotland are totally fine. Having thought about it since, they very helpfully facilitated my trip to Edinburgh earlier this year when I did the Firth of Forth cruise. Maybe I spoke out in haste. I'm so passionate about getting the urban birding message out there sometimes I get annoyed when I feel that I'm being impeded.

As it happens, it now looks like they may be able to assist with my up and coming trip to Glasgow. It may well be a case of all's well that ends well.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Back at The Scrubs

I made it!

I finally made it back to The Scrubs!

As I pulled up on Braybrook Street (on the western edge of the site) I was surprised to stumble across a mass gathering of around 1,000 Rose-ringed Parakeets collected on a few roadside trees noisily chattering away. Occasionally, they'd all lift off only to return back to base for some more chattering. I was frantically scanned above them for whatever might of spooked them. I saw nothing.

I parked further up the road, got my gear together and strolled into the site. By now the parakeets were beginning to head off, mostly west, in small squawking groups. It's funny, a few days ago a PhD student contacted me about the Wormwood Scrubs parakeet roosts as she was studying them in London. We hadn't recorded any large roosts for the past 4 months and I told her so. Looks like I'll have to send her another email.

Before I left this morning, I recorded a wayward Lapwing calling overhead, 7 Skylark feeding on an unfrozen patch on the football pitches, around 12 Meadow Pipits, a pair of Stonechats and a brief Reed Bunting all in the icy grassland.

It was an absolute delight to out in the morning under the clear blue sky.

Saturday, 19 December 2009


Before I start, I must unequivocally state that I have no beef with Scotland or the people of Scotland - I'm just a bit peeved with the tourist board. Just thought I'd mention that.

Today was a freezing, crisp sunny day. It was so cold that I even wore my Berghaus puffer jacket in goal for the first 20 minutes. We won and I enjoyed the game. I had nothing to add to my 'Whilst Playing Football List', indeed the birds I noticed were a few Magpies and several Black-headed Gulls.

Finally, on a completely different note, I congratulate Chris Hollins on winning Strictly Come Dancing tonight. We share the same agent so I salute my fellow stablemate.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Let downs and lifts

TUB on the Cairngorms c1996
Since the last time I put finger to keyboard I've not been to my local patch nor lifted a pair of binoculars. This time I have no excuse because most of my deadlines are out of the way and apart from a few flecks of snow one morning and a couple other more rainy ones, the mornings have at least been dry - if bitterly cold. No, this is my mid-winter doldrum period, an annual occurrence than can sometimes drift into March. I aim to stop the rut this Sunday by dragging myself out of my warm pit to visit The Scrubs and I must continue the newly found purpose to the end of the year. I must, I must, I must. Well, maybe I may have a lay in one morning......

A couple disappointments were had over the past few days. The usual ones from certain execs at particular TV channels but the biggest disappointment emanated from Scotland. Visit Scotland refused to support my one day trip to Glasgow for Bird Watching Magazine because the felt that the magazine's circulation was too small. They are the first unhelpful tourist board I have come across in 12 months of traveling Britain and Europe on my urban birding tour. I didn't understand why they didn't get the idea that the magazine's readers were active and actually do visit places in pursuit of their hobby. I was amazed by their attitude, especially given that as far as I know, no one else in the world is writing about city wildlife to the people most likely to go look for themselves.

Last night I went to a Christmas gathering at the swanky Mayfair Hotel, off Piccadilly. The reception desk told me that I had to go to the 5th floor, so I strolled through the thronging atrium to the lifts. I got to them just as one was closing. A well placed foot prevented the doors from closing on me and I entered. I was dimly aware of a couple of kids and three adults in the tight car as I stared at the panel to punch the 5th floor button. The doors closed and we started to ascend. I casually looked to my left and was flabbergasted to see JERMAINE JACKSON standing there!

Before I could think, I had introduced myself to him and told him how much of a pleasure it was to have met him. He was lovely and called me 'Dave', to which I replied with a jovial smile on my face, 'David, it's David to you!' As I said this, my floor arrived and I bid the occupants of the lift a good night and skipped out.

It's not often you get to meet megastars and I didn't even get the chance to show him some of my moves!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Stuff the birds!

Hoopoe in Istanbul (Dean Eades)
The stuffed bird debacle took a different twist today when I decided to hand the potentially offending item back to the giver. She was quick to confirm that her taxidermist only handles naturally dead animals, so there was no question of the Goldeneye being the victim of a twelve-bore.

Today was the usual mix of writing, plotting and planning with Christmas shopping thrown in to queer the pitch. I sent a proposal over to the Tower 42 Management Team about the formation of my Bird Study Group idea. I'm really excited about the potential discoveries in store for us when we begin looking for migrants next spring.

Later in the evening I journeyed into the freezing night to Houndsditch in the city to attend Redmint Communication's Christmas gathering which was in a Turkish restaurant. They were the people who organised my successful trip to Turkey via their client, the Turkish Tourist Office. I had a nice night. The ladies at Redmint were an absolute delight. They really looked after me - as they have always done from day one.

I was at home by midnight, writing this blog and contemplating my first trip to The Scrubs for well over two weeks in the morning. What will tomorrow bring?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Stuffed birds

This morning I visited a friend of mine who I've known for over a year now. We get on very well. She loves birds and has made her large garden in Holland Park, west London into a bit of a nature reserve with at least 12 nestboxes of all descriptions - ranging from owl and woodpecker boxes through to your regular tit boxes.

She also loves woodpeckers and travels to eastern Europe annually to catch up with the specialities there. Today when I walked into her home she presented me with a large, old looking display case with a drake Goldeneye and Shoveler plus a pair of Kingfishers all stuffed and presented in a pseudo riparian habitat scene.

I posted news of this new acquisition on my Facebook page and was met with by a mixed reaction. It now appears that as the Goldeneye is a Schedule 1 species I could face up to 6 months in prison if the bird was proven to have been shot.

This raises a lot of questions. How can it be proved if the bird was shot? What if it was procured outside of the UK? What if it died of natural causes? And what about some of the stores, homes and workplaces that I have visited with stuffed birds on display? One place in particular had a Great Northern Diver on display, does that mean that they are breaking the law too?

Does the fact that I accepted this gift without asking questions make me a criminal?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A weekend of no birding

Kucuk Camlica Hill, Istanbul a couple months ago (Dean Eades)
I had quite a good weekend with very little birding involved. In truth, I've not been to The Scrubs for two weeks. It's been a mixture of too much work to do mixed with the usual winter doldrums. I should really get myself out there to see if I can get to a 100 species for the year - for the first time. I'm currently on 93.

Football was pretty good on Saturday morning. It was a 4-4 draw and I was voted man of the match for the second week running. I also had a party of 30 or so Redwing heading northeast, which was quite nice whilst standing in between the sticks.

The festive period is beginning to kick in and I have been invited to a couple of parties next week that I will be reporting on for you - as I won't be touching any drink. Hopefully, I will make it over to Wormwood Scrubs next week too.

Friday, 11 December 2009

London Birders Christmas Booze Up

No it's not a two-headed Common Gull!
With most of my immediate deadlines out of the way it felt like a sizeable weight had been lifted from around my neck. I still have tons to do mind you. I have a truckload of stuff to ship over to my lovely web designer in order for her to relaunch my site in the New Year. My agent's office has also given me a ton of stuff to research for them. I'm not looking forward to that.

BBC Radio London called me today to ask me to be on a show tomorrow night at 10.30pm. I will be talking about animals turning up in weird places in the capital. That should be fun.

My day was capped by the London Birders Christmas Drink which was a bit of a raucous affair. Most of the raucousness emanated from the inebriated mouth of my good mate Dez McKenzie who managed to confuse a Greater Sandplover depicted on my Blackberry screen for a Curlew. I put it down to the ale and gave him the benefit of the doubt!

Around 20 blokes turned up and one woman, fellow blogger Nathalie Mahieu, who back in February very kindly helped me out with contacts when I decided to head for an urban birding trip to Paris at short notice.

And oh, I indulged in apple juice with no ice - before anyone starts wondering!

Thursday, 10 December 2009


A frosty morning at The Scrubs
I've been off the blogging scene recently thanks to the endless deadlines I've had. Due to the Christmas period, deadlines were pushed forward. It's kinda weird writing about the onset of spring while staring out of a window at December fog.

The first in my BBC Wildlife Magazine series on How to Be A Birder should be hitting the streets next week. It would be interesting to hear what people think of that. It will be very much beginner stuff with a little twist. I've also been working on a book proposal that suddenly came up last week. The commissioners had their meeting today and I should hear tomorrow of their decision. I will release the news after that.

I was also asked to give a talk to the female prisoners of Holloway Prison in north London. I was thinking of giving my talk 'A Year in Wormwood Scrubs - Life for an Urban Birder'. I wonder if the title would be construed as being disrespectful?

Our should I retitle it 'Urban Birds for Urban Jailbirds?'

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Sex and funk

(Russell F Spencer)
I've been immensely busy recently with several deadlines to reach by Monday and to be honest I'm currently struggling with my latest Bird Watching piece on my trip to Lisbon. The expedition was over a month ago and I haven't written a word about it since - until yesterday!

My problem is although I have the story down I need the sex and funk to make it kick. It's one of those things that generally comes in a moment of inspiration. So it had better come quickly preferably before Monday!

This morning despite loosing at football, I was voted man of the match due to the high number of 'world class' saves (not my words) that I made. From a birdy point of view, I forgot to mention that last week during football I heard a Siskin calling overhead. It was the first record for my 'whilst playing football' list. This list is worldwide and includes such beauties as an Osprey low overhead whilst I was kicking leather in Hyde Park and a flock of 6 American White Pelecans seen whilst I lay exhausted on my back after a particularly long game in West Hollywood several years ago. It was dusk and the birds were illuminated by the sportsfield floodlights.

It's worth letting in a few goals for the sake of a good bird.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Sometimes I'm blue

Pool fun in Rejkjavik (Justine Watson)
The last couple of days have been up and down. A couple of great moments occurred including this morning's meeting with the management of Tower 42. They are very keen to set up my idea of a bird study group to kick off in the spring. I also had a good meeting yesterday with a publisher who seemed pretty keen to add me to their stable.

The crappier moments have come as the result of short-sighted uninspired people in the media who just don't get what I'm trying to achieve. They make me boil over with frustration.

I think I'd better go and dream of diving into a hot pool in Iceland. That doesn't sound like a bad idea. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Not too much to report

A distant Cormorant (Russell F Spencer)
Not that much to report for the last few days. I've just had my nose to the grindstone. Writing, thinking, plotting and planning - you know, the usual things for an urban birder.

The other day my agent informed me that I had been approached by the Waterside Trust to be a supporter for a campaign that they're running next year. I will lend a hand.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

It's AGM season

Penduline Tit - for no reason! (photographer unknown)
This morning was a beautiful sunny day. My local patch instinct is waning as winter sets in. This is usual as I tend to calm down a bit, find it harder to get up and the like until mid-march when I force myself into it again. I spent large tracts of the early morning behind my laptop doing my homework set for me by my hard bargain driving web designer.

Tonight, I chaired the London Natural History Society's Ornithological Section's AGM (soon to be publicly christened the London Bird Club). I bumbled my way through it ignoring most of the protocol.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Rejected records

Blue-footed Booby chick - the only booby shot I have! (Michelle Thomas)
I learnt this evening from Kimball Garrett (Ornithology Collections Manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles) that a Brown Booby I found at Salton Sea had been rejected by the rarities committee.

On May 28th 2006 I was birding at Salton Sea in the Colorado Desert, US having spent the previous week hanging in LA, checking out some of my urban patches there. The Salton Sea was one of those places I'd always fancied going so I drove the 180 miles or so southeast out of LA to arrive at that amazing place at dawn.

The 'sea' is actually a giant lake occupying a massive basin in the Colorado Desert covering a surface area of 376 square miles and over 35 miles long. And it was bloody hot!

I was having a great morning watching a party of White-faced Ibis, both Clark's and Western Grebes, Gambel's Quail, Western Kingbirds plus Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I was also ticking such beauties as several Yellow-footed Gulls, Burrowing Owl, Lesser Nighthawk (my favourite), Verdin, Cactus Wren and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. My head was positively spinning.

As the morning progressed so did the heat and by 10am it had tipped 100 degrees farenheit. I was walking back to my car that was parked near to the water's edge. It was from there that fairly close in I noticed a strange bird that I soon realised was a 1st winter Brown Booby. It was sitting on the water about 100 yards from me preening. It's big blueish bill, chocolate brown plumage relieved by whitish underparts and underwing coverts to me were fairly diagnostic.

Had I had known just how rare this bird was locally I would have made far more comprehensive notes. Apparently, they are extremely rare at the Salton Sea with the last report being in 1996. My brief notes that I submitted were subsequently rejected. I know how people must feel when they see a bird that is obviously what it is only to have it rejected.

Well, it's on my list even if it's not on their county list. It's just a shame that my encounter with that booby will not be recorded for all to see for prosperity. But I guess we all have a bird or two that never made the grade with the birding establishment.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Rocking on

Mistle Thrush (Russell F Spencer)
Another good day in the office today in amongst all the grey windy weather. The main highlight was a phone call from the Portuguese Tourist Board's London office. The good news was that they are up for organising a reader break next spring in Bird Watching Magazine with me leading it. The advertorial will be in the February issue (out in late January 2010).

I also saw my web designer, who is based in my agent's office in Shepherds Bush, west London. She's doing an amazing job on the redesign of my website but I owe her so much homework - some of it she demanded over two months ago. I'd better pull my finger out and perhaps I will be able to relaunch it in January.

Interestingly, after my piece appeared in last Sunday's Observer my web traffic jumped up by over 60%.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Dilys Breese Medal

TUB in Holland Park (Russell F Spencer)
Yesterday morning's visit the The Scrubs resulted in a Snipe and a couple flocks of overflying Redwings and Fieldfares. I'm convinced that at least one of our recent Ring Ouzels is still at large. I've just got to find it.

Later that afternoon, I was in Simon Cowell's ex-girlfriend's back garden in Holland Park, west London having a shot taken of me by my photographer Russell Spencer for my forthcoming BBC Wildlife Magazine article. We had clear blue skies that had previously been chucking it down. What luck!

Rain stop play this morning and all plans of visiting The Scrubs. Instead, I sat down to scan the Sunday papers and was surprised to find the birding piece that I have been waiting a while for in the Review section of The Observer. There was a nice picture of me on my patch and the editorial claimed that I actually lived in Wormwood Scrubs!

Tonight I donned a suit and strolled into the House of Lords to attend the British Trust for Ornithology's Dilys Breese Awards where upstanding members of the ornithological universe were acknowledged and given a medal. Stephen Moss and the lovely Fiona Barclay from Birdguides (who was looking rather lovely too!) were two of the six medal winners. Amongst the guests were a few of the BTO crowd, the Dilge, Sheena Harvey editor of Bird Watching Magazine and Tony Soper who approached me to asked if I remembered him!

The geezer's a legend and he's asking me if I remember him!! Something's not right there!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Stupendous Friday!

Team Tower 42 (Russell F Spencer)
What a great day Friday was!

The big news of the day was that Tower 42, the second tallest building in London and whose rooftop we marveled from whilst knocking out a short film on visible migration that I shot with Birdguides a couple Fridays ago, have agreed to meet with me to discuss my idea of setting up a Tower 42 Bird Observation Group. I believe that this idea is the first of its kind anywhere - please correct me if I'm wrong - and I am unbelievably excited about it. Next spring a whole new chapter in London's urban birding could be opened. Imagine an urban raptor watchpoint in the centre of London!

The next bit of news was that I had a meeting with the lovely ladies that look after the Turkish Tourist Board. They enjoyed the piece that I wrote on my recent visit to Istanbul (available in the December 09 issue of Bird Watching Magazine out now) and wanted to talk about me going out to eastern Turkey next spring to shoot a film about the birding opportunities out there. This is another exciting prospect and I will now have to put together a budget and hope that they agree it.

I wrote the first installment of my 'How To Be A Birder' series for BBC Wildlife Magazine and it went down very well. In fact, they asked some more words. I just hope it reads well. The final interesting thing to happen on Friday was a phone call from the RSPB press office asking me to lend my voice in the horrific Malta bird massacre. I obliged of course.

Saturday wasn't quite so exciting. Football was fruitful as my team won for a change. We'll ignore the fact that we had an extra man for the last 20 minutes. Also United beat Everton 3 nil.

So I suppose it was two good days in the office!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


I like this Blue Rock Thrush shot (Stephen Daly)
The big news today was delivered to me after I had finally finished my Bradford piece and pressed the send button to Sheena Harvey, editor at Bird Watching Magazine. She revealed that a recent online reader survey had revealed that a staggering 82% of respondents thought that my urban birding column was 'very good/good'. I was gobsmacked! I didn't realise that my articles were that popular.

An adult Mediterranean Gull was discovered at The Scrubs this morning in a howling gale. We normally get at least one visitation a year from this glorious gull and I was gutted not to have been there. I was having a bit of a lay in instead as I waited for the man from the garage to pick up my car for a service.

Besides, I have BBC Wildlife Magazine articles to finish!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


Tonight I attended a very dull Friends of The Scrubs Committee Meeting. Thankfully, I was spared the 30 minute debate on litter picking but being tired didn't stop me from wishing I was somewhere else.

Came home to tickle my Bradford piece for Bird Watching Magazine and start my BBC Wildlife piece which needs to be completed by Thursday.

No pressure then!

Monday, 16 November 2009


TUB with Shaun Radcliffe (Russell F Spencer)
TUB taking note by the River Aire (Russell F Spencer)
Russell Spencer (photographer) and I rolled into Bradford on Saturday night, knackered after an unnecessarily long and traffic filled journey up the M1. After an obligatory curry (has to be done in the curry capital) we decided to bed down in preparation for our planned early morning.

We had only just started pushing out the zeds when the extremely loud fire alarm went off, jolting us out of our slumber. So at 1.30am we were both standing on the pavement with other variously dressed hotel guests. Anyway, despite the early start we had a great day and Shaun Radcliffe (who's the Chairman of the Bradford Ornithological Group) was a great host come guide.

Got home bloody late last night after a 4 hour drive. I have 24 hours to write my Bradford piece.

Saturday, 14 November 2009


I'm in a Bradford hotel awaiting the dawn with the venerable photographer Russell Spencer to explore the city for its urban birding jewels. It looks like we may be in for a struggle because a look at the city map didn't seem to reveal many green areas that signify an birdy oasis. Even the guide that we're meeting in the morning seemed a bit scathing of the birding opportunities in the city.

My mission is to prove that there's birding to be had in any city that I find myself in. Bradford is looking like it will be challenge.

Earlier today I played football in the squalling wind and rain. Despite looking the far stronger team leading 6-2 after 50 minutes, we still managed to loose 9-6 by full time.

The moral?

Don't count your chickens......

Friday, 13 November 2009

Purple Rain

Red Kites over The Scrubs? Surely that's next? (Russell F Spencer)
Talk of purple patches ending were both premature and unfounded. This morning whilst I was in a meeting, fellow Scrubber Anders Price sent me a text to say that he had just found a Woodlark sitting on a path near Chats Paddock. After my meeting I hot footed from Park Lane to The Scrubs in the vain hope of seeing this bird - the third record for Wormwood Scrubs.

Did I mention the rain?

As I clambered through the grassland in the pouring rain my dreams of seeing this apparently confiding little lark were washed away too. Needless to say, I never saw it, but at least I found the previous two birds. Some consolation I suppose.

Yesterday, I learnt that I have been commissioned by BBC Wildlife Magazine to write a monthly step-by-step guide to becoming a birder. I'm delighted and it's a departure from just writing about urban birding.

I hope that you all check it out.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The dream is over....

And by dream I mean the amazing run of good birds at The Scrubs, because this morning's visit resulted in the more usual suspects for this time of year. The Ring Ouzel was nowhere to be seen and no surprise bird jumped out of the woodwork.

This afternoon my agent's office called me to offer up a ticket to the red carpeted premier of Harry Brown, Micheal Caine's new movie in London's Leicester Square. It was very strange strolling down the red carpet lined with paps and fans. Needless to say there was no flashing lights or screaming fans on my case, but it was interesting to observe some of the celebs posing for cameras and it was nice to see Mr Caine himself signing autographs willy nilly.

After the film, I popped my head around the door at the aftershow party a mile up the road near Regents Street. Here I rubbed shoulders with the great and the good - people from David Frost to Claudia Winkleman, Phil Tufnell and a couple other people from Strictly Come Dancing. My star stroking ended with a chat with Pete Tong (who I knew from my early clubbing days) and shaking the hand of the great Michael Caine himself!

I left the party early to return to my more normal mortal existence.

Monday, 9 November 2009

My purple patch

The Wormwood Scrubs purple patch continues. Yesterday, I re-found our refueling female Ring Ouzel gorging herself on the still plentiful berries within Chats Paddock plus had 5 Brent Geese fly over from the north. These geese were a site tick, although not totally unexpected because as a species, they are regular though scarce London visitors.

I didn't get a chance to venture out this morning, but I will be sure to be on my Purple Patch in the morning!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Heaven...... and Hell!

TUB and the Skyscraping birders on Tower 42 (Russell Spencer)

View from the Tower (Russell Spencer)
Pre-dawn (Russell Spencer)
The heavenly part of yesterday was the rooftop vigil on Tower 42 that finally happened. It was an amazing experience and we were totally looked after by security men Bradley and Stuart. As dawn dawned, it soon became apparent that we wouldn't be seeing much in the way of the anticipated Woodpigeon passage due to the low misty cloud.

My team included Birdguide's Fiona Barclay and top viz miggers, Des McKenzie and Mark Pearson. During the 4 hours that we were on the roof they picked up c250 Woodpigeon, 1 very distant Little Egret, a Peregrine below us at The Barbican and a Grey Wagtail over our heads - over 600 feet above the city streets.

This venue has so much potential, I can imagine us returning in the spring to witness some interesting raptor passage. It's an incredible vantage point from which the view across the whole of London was totally impressive. Unforgettable!

The hell part of the day I experienced sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in pouring rain on the A12 heading to my talk in Chelmsford for the Essex Birdwatching Society. A 90 minute journey ended up taking over 3 hours. I arrived over an hour late knackered, sick and fed up. My mood lightened when I walked into the room to be confronted by a load of patient Essex birders who applauded me as I entered the room. They had been waiting over an hour for my arrival. I gave an abridged version of my talk that went down well.

Today, I still had a sore knee at football and whilst breakfasting with some of my fellow ballers I received a text from Scrubber Rob Ayers telling me that the Ring Ouzel is still in Chats Paddock. It was only one of two ouzels reported today in the country.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Tower of power

I am knackered.

All these early mornings and late nights are finally taking their toll. For example, my recent trip to Portugal was no holiday; up at the crack of dawn every day, driving for miles, birding all day, going to bed late after doing some work - I needed a holiday to get over it!

This morning I was at The Scrubs at 6.50am to search for the Ring Ouzels before seeing my physio about my injured knee. Before I left at 8.15am, I had briefly seen the Ouzel and had a Water Pipit fly over calling which was a site tick.

My physio said that I am an athletic man and that my knee problem is muscle related - which is good news. He made me do some strenuous exercises that resulted in my subsequent tiredness. So, I'm off to bed. I have a tower to climb in the morning!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Fly my way

Woodpigeon (Jill Pakenham)
This morning I arose to beautiful blue skies and the overwhelming urge to visit The Scrubs. So, 20 minutes later I was marveling at the flights of Woodpigeon heading purposefully southwest across the skies. I estimated at least 1,200 passed over perhaps journeying towards Iberia or maybe just southwest Britain. They twinkled in the morning sun. I also noticed a couple of smaller Stock Doves in their number.

I then quickly visited Chats Paddock with Scrubber, Rob Ayers. Once in the middle and having seen a Redpoll fly over calling and plentiful tits, I decided to retrace my steps and Rob carried on. Within minutes, Rob was calling me on the phone to say that he had rediscovered a pair of Ring Ouzels!

These birds must have been in the vicinity for the past week feeding on the still plentiful berries. This is totally unprecedented. No Ouzel has ever stayed with us for longer than a day and a half. Anyway, I fancy a rarer thrush now.

My excitement is mounting when it comes to filming on Tower 42 on Friday morning. I checked the weather forecast on Sky News tonight and it looks like it's going to be a glorious sunny morning with a light southwesterly. Hopefully, the Woodpigeon movement will still be in full swing and that we get some good footage.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


I spent this morning partially dreaming of Ouzels and working on my proposed series in BBC Wildlife Magazine which will be a step by step guide to being a birder. It should kickoff in the spring of 2010 as I may have told you before.

Whilst I was dreaming up creative thoughts, a Red-legged Partridge was being flushed in Chats Paddock up at The Scrubs - our 2nd ever after the one I flushed earlier this year. What an amazing run of interesting birds we're getting.

After watching Manchester United draw with CSKA at home, I got to work on my forthcoming talk for the Essex Birdwatching Society this Friday night. Before you wonder, my talk is already devised I'm just adding some more images!

Monday, 2 November 2009

More Ouzels!

Ring Ouzel (Stephen Daly)
I can't believe it! Yet another Ring Ouzel!

I quietly stalked into Chats Paddock at The Scrubs this morning, ostensibly looking for the Cetti's Warbler that was briefly heard last week and instead had a cracking view of a female Ring Ouzel! My favourite bird!

She sat in a tree about 100 feet from me and we just stared at each other until fellow Scrubber, Roy Nuttall, entered the paddock. To be fair to him, he didn't realise that I had an Ouzel in my sights and shouted for me to look at a flock of around 100 Woodpigeons heading overhead. True to form, the Ouzel disappeared when I turned to look at it again after I hissed at Roy to be quiet.

We then spent the next 45 minutes searching the suitable areas in the vicinity to relocate the bird. By this point we were joined by another Scrubber Anders Price, a very nice American chap over here on secondment with his wife until next summer. I suggested that we go back to the scene of the crime because Chats Paddock is one of the quietest places at The Scrubs and furthermore, the shrubs were still laden with berries. After 5 minutes of stalking, out of nowhere, we saw our bird fly past us heading west towards the embankment area. Her gorget and pale wing panels were on view for the world to see.

It was a privilege to witness the sight of such a wild bird in the heart of urbanity.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Alas, they were right...

The weathermen were right. It poured down this morning ending fairly suddenly at around 1pm. I had rare lay in until 10am. I think I needed it.

Later in the afternoon, I saw a screening of 'Nowhere Boy' at BAFTA in Piccadilly. It was a film about John Lennon aged 17 when he lived with his Aunt Mimi in Liverpool. She was played by the delicious Kristin Scott Thomas who was also present at the Q&A afterwards, along with director Sam Taylor Wood. I was surprised to learn that Taylor Wood has just got engaged to the actor who played Lennon in her film - she's 44 and he's 19!! Good luck to her!

Oh, the film was ok - not that great, although Kristin and the actor who played Lennon's mum were exceptional.

In the diary this week is a talk I'm giving on Friday to the Essex Birdwatching Society, so if you're in the hood pop in.

Finally, I received these amazing images of a hatching Purple Heron chick photographed by Pedro Narra in Portugal. Amazing, aren't they?

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Where's the rain?

I'm still smarting after having to cancel my highrise filming planned for the morning. Well, it's nearly midnight and there's not a drop of rain anywhere in sight.

Has Sky News weather lied to me?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Oozing Ouzels

Ring Ouzel (Stephen Daly)
I've having quite a purple patch at The Scrubs recently.

It was incredible when the Richard's Pipit flew over my head the other day and then yesterday I found 2 Ring Ouzels in Chats Paddock making it 6 years on the trot that these beautiful birds have used my patch as a refueling spot. I just had a feeling that there might be Ouzels around - and there were! In fact, shortly after I left fellow Scrubber Rob Ayers went to investigate and found that there were 3 of those northern beauties in the paddock!

This morning me and a few other birders ventured into the Paddock in the vain hope of refinding them. No avail, but we did hear the first ever record of Cetti's Warbler at The Scrubs. What an autumn we're having!

However, today had a sting in its tail. I had to cancel my planned filming session from atop Tower 42. The weather at the moment is mild and fine but that's set to change come Saturday night when the driving wind and rain comes. It will whip up and become particularly bad on Sunday. This of course would negate any filming efforts and anyway, the security people feel weird about having people on the roof during a gale. I was totally gutted.

I just hope that it really does pee down on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Shreeep shreeep!

Richard's Pipit (Sacha Barbato)
What a morning!

After spending one and a quarter hours watching visible migration on the edge of the grassland at The Scrubs, Roy Nuttall and I had clocked up over 700 Redwings heading west, c130 Fieldfare including one on the deck, c500 Starlings, c300 Woodpigeons, 41 Jackdaws, 2 Mistle Thrushes, around 20 Redpolls, maybe 10 Chaffinches and many unidentified small flying objects.

At 8.45am Roy decided that he had had enough and began stroll off. I too thought that it was time to go, but I decided to give it just 5 more minutes before I had to run and rescue my car from a potential parking ticket. I turned to the grassland and within seconds a large pipit rose from it around 50 feet away and flew over my head calling 'shreep' as it did so. I yelled at Roy to watch the bird as it headed southwest.

As soon as I heard it initially call I instinctively knew it was a Richard's and I immediately started to register the salient identification points; build, pot belly, size and sparrow-like call.
Yowza! Our 3rd ever Dick's Pipit at The Scrubs - and I found 2 of them!

I'm really getting excited about the next film that I'm doing with Birdguides next Sunday morning. I will be on the top of one of London's tallest buildings - 600 feet up on Tower 42 (the old Nat West Building). The aim is to watch visible migration from this potentially amazing vantage point.

Roll on Sunday!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Bristol bound

A Cattle Egret in Portuguese skies
This morning I arose at 5.45am to shower and shave before catching a train to Bristol for a series of meetings at the BBC's Natural History Unit and with a couple of production companies. I also met with the features editor at BBC Wildlife Magazine to chat about my forthcoming series of articles that should start next March. Pretty exciting stuff.

Got back to London feeling knackered and thinking of Cattle Egrets - a bit random I know!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Be Nice to People Party

It's good to be back in Britain - not!!

Grey skies, a chill in the air and hardly any birds flying around at The Scrubs this morning. Around 40 Redwings, 2 Stonechats and a score of Meadow Pipits were my reward. A few days ago I was watching birds by the truckload in Portugal.

The afternoon was spent variously working, getting depressed watching Manchester United loose to Liverpool and indulging in a touch of urban cricket in the backyard.

In the evening I was on Radio London as a guest on the Eddie Nestor talk show to gas about some news items in the papers with a really nice playwright called Funke - great name. We were in Broadcasting House, Portland Street in the station's new office. The gremlins struck and no callers could get through, so we ended up having a discussion between the three of us about the BNP.

I still managed to throw in a few urban birding references.

Friday, 23 October 2009


What an amazing few days.

The thing that struck me most about being in Portugal was the abundance of birds. There were birds everywhere - hundreds of them! The fields were full of larks, the bushes heaved with sparrows, finches and warblers and the watercourses were stuffed with waders (particularly Avocets), flamingos, gulls and egrets. It was a like being in paradise - even when it was raining!
Tagus Estuary
The Tagus Estuary, on which Lisbon lies, was particularly graced with abundant birdlife. Joao, my guide and I found nearly 50 Stone Curlew, 60 plus Little Bustard, legions of Black-tailed Godwits, Kentish Plovers and Ringed Plovers, Literally thousands of Greater Flamingo and Avocets, hundreds of Crested Lark and White Stork and loads of Marsh Harrier, Black-shouldered Kite and Cattle Egret. We also had a Bonelli's Eagle, Booted Eagle, several Hen Harrier - the list goes on.
Some of my doggy friends in the Tagus Estuary
Feral horses
One of the pools at the Tagus Estuary
We also found a few national rarities including a Red-throated Diver on the sea near the Sado Estuary (which is around 40km south of Lisbon), Portugal's 11th or 12th a Marsh Sandpiper in a dyke in Tagus and a very probable American Golden Plover (found by yours truly) with some roosting Kentish and Ringed Plovers - again at the Tagus Estuary.
Vasco da Gama bridge
Portugal is so cheap to get to these days and there's barely anyone out there birding it. We all need to get out there check out their wonderful birds and make a name for ourselves by finding some new ones!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Portuguese love

I'm too knackered tonight. Tell you more tomorrow.

Male Spanish Sparrows with House Sparrows at Sado Estuary
Greater Flamingo (Stephen Daly)
Great Egret (Stephen Daly)
My Guide Joao Jara with Ruben of the League for the Protection of Nature in Castro Verde
White Stork, Sado Estuary

Monday, 19 October 2009


I'm writing this from the luxury of my hotel room in Mertola in the Alentejo region, Portugal quite close to the Algarve and a few miles from western Spain. I'm on day one of my Portuguese urban birding bonanza being guided by the venerable Joao Jara of Birds and Nature Tours (check his website out - I'll post details tomorrow).

On the two hour road trip from Lisbon I've already seen Greater Flamingo, Black-shouldered Kite, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Little Owl, White Stork and Hoopoe. The area we are staying in is good for Great Bustard and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, though the bad news is that we can expect wind and rain in the morning.

This morning in grey London I watched in awe as a Peregrine made an unsuccessful assault against some pigeons whilst I was getting the car washed near Royal Oak underground station. Such an impressive bird and one that I have seen on a near daily basis for the past six days. To think that they were a major rarity not that long ago.

Later this morning I also saw what was almost certainly Woodlark flying overhead - a lark in bounding flight with an extremely short tail. I was strolling down Westbourne Grove, Bayswater at the time.

It just shows what wonders are possible in the middle of urbanity.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

This morning

This morning I had a photo shoot at The Scrubs for The Observer, as I mentioned the other day. I was quite weird because whilst standing in the grassland being photographed I was jumped on by 3 dogs and stopped by the police who initially asked us to leave. Apparently, we needed a permit from the local council. Luckily, he recognised me and decided to turn a blind eye. Any chance of 'viz migging' went out the window as I had to stare down the lens of a camera instead.

In the afternoon, I went to a screening at BAFTA in Piccadilly so see a film called 'The Road' directed by John Hillcoat. It was a love story between a father and a son, only the setting is the end of the world. Quite dark.

I'd better go, as I need to pack for my trip to Lisbon tomorrow.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Late tribute

I have been searching for this picture of me and the late Sir Bobby Robson for ages because I wanted to post it in remembrance. It was taken during a shoot for a Barclays Bank commercial.

RIP Sir Bobby.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Ring Ouzel - my favourite bird in the world! (Stephen Daly)
This morning was a pretty grey one as I motored towards the London Wetland Centre to do some filming with Fiona Barclay at Birdguides. The morning went well and the weather even cheered up a bit later. I hung out with some of the centre's regulars at the end to chew the fat.

I was then meant to head over to Staines Moor to be interviewed by a BBC London news reporter about the Brown Shrike. But they called me to cancel saying that they will cover it at a 'later date' - whatever that means. They obviously don't realise that birds have wings and the ones that like to use them (like lost waifs and most migrants) are most prone to disappear overnight.

Got home to find that those lovely people at Nikon had sent me an even lovelier D90 DSLR so that I could knock out a few shots whilst I'm in Lisbon next week. Thank you guys.

Oh, and the Ring Ouzel picture is gratuitous. I'm sure that I've missed a few at The Scrubs over the past few days, especially given the minor influx in the London area recently. Speaking of The Scrubs, I will be there after football tomorrow for a photoshoot with The Observer.

Maybe an Ouzel might show up?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Brown Shrike!

The Staines Moor Brown Shrike (David Darrell Lambert)
Yesterday was an interesting day. At daybreak I was camped in the car on a street near Staines Moor having waited in the dark contemplating visions of this eastern surprise. A small group of birders also had the same idea and soon we were all standing on the moor in the general area to where the bird was last seen the night before.

By 8.30am there was no sign and apart from a Barn Owl, a few Redwings and a couple of Snipe passing overhead we had collectively seen little else. I had to leave to go to a meeting in London, so I begrudgingly left and walked the mile or so back to the car. I must have been on the road for 15 minutes before the call came out that the shrike was showing well. I nearly veered off the road whilst turning the air blue intermittently screaming 'no!!' at the top of my lungs. I arrived at my meeting totally gripped off, tears streaming down my cheeks (metaphorically speaking).

After my meeting I still felt the urge to return to the scene of the crime to claim the shrike for my British list. I had metamorphosed into a fully blown twitcher. Something I hadn't been since the '80's. To cut a long story slightly shorter, return I did. And after 10 minutes I was enjoying medium ranged clear views of this fairly distinctive shrike. It certainly looked less scalloped, had darker ear coverts, shorter primaries and a longer more spindly tail than any Red-backed Shrike I've seen.

Twitching urge satisfied, I headed back home. I didn't feel possessed anymore. How long will I be stable for? The answer my friends is written in the winds.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

That's it!

The view that awaited me at The Scrubs this morning - had I gone!
I spent the day pacing up and down as email after email emanating from the London Birders forum pounded on my Blackberry telling me tales of many happy birders ticking off Brown Shrike over at Staines Moor, west London. I had work to do this morning - most importantly to push the send button on my Istanbul article that I had just finished. I was pretty pleased with it but I had to leave tons out due to lack of space. You'll be able to read it in the November issue of Bird Watching Magazine, so let me know what you think of it.

I made the conscious decision to get up early tomorrow morning and make the trek to the outermost reaches of west London and put paid to my burning twitching lust for shrikes originating for far eastern climes.

Wish me good fortune.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Brown Shrike, a coo for the Staines Massive!

Hooded Crow (Dean Eades)
T'was a good day in the office today. My Istanbul piece for Bird Watching Magazine is practically done. It was pretty tricky to write because there was so much to say with so little space to play with. I hope that it eventually reads well.

I'm shooting with Birdguides on Friday morning at the London Wetland Centre. It will be a segment of a documentary that I'm working on that has the working title 'London's Birding'. Next week I'm off to Lisbon to check out the urban birding there and I've also going to Mull, Scotland in January to write an RSPB article on the White-tailed Sea Eagle.

More urgently, learnt this afternoon that the Red-backed Shrike identified at Staines Moor (c10 miles from my house) has been re-identified as a Brown Shrike. A phenomenal discovery of a species more associated with some remote Scottish isle.

Should I stay or should I go now?