Sunday, 31 May 2009

Spring Birdfair

Sheena Harvey (Bird Watching Magazine editor) & I
What a gorgeous day today was. The hottest day of the year so far. Just the way I like it. My twitching instinct continue to grow within me unabated. If I wasn't obliged to be at the Spring Birdwatchers Fair at Middleton Hall in Tamworth, I would have been walking the marshes of Norfolk looking for Black-winged Pratincole or be strolling Pagham Harbour in Sussex looking for my personal second ever Oriental Pratincole (my first was the Norfolk bird that travelled up from Essex in the 90's). Yes, today had a definite Pratincole feel about it.

Instead, I was to be found hanging around Bird Watching Magazine and Birdguides' stands signing autographs, chatting and drinking tea. Because I am heading off to Budapest tomorrow for a week of birding I was able to contain the urge to go birding around the site and look for what would have been my first Cuckoo for the season, as one was heard calling by others near the car park.

TUB and Birdguides' lovely Fiona Barclay 
After pulling winning raffle tickets and saying my goodbyes to mates new and old, I headed back to Londinium full of excitement for the next up and coming days.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Joy and pain

Yesterday, I became a cover boy for the first time in my life. I was interviewed by Brent Magazine who are doing a feature on me for their July issue under the banner of 'Citizen of the month'. You see, I was a London Borough of Brent resident during my formative years - despite being born in the Republic of Park Royal, in Acton which is home to Wormwood Scrubs. I obviously haven't migrated very far in my life!

Today, I got injured within minutes of starting football with a strained achilles, which I can tell you is bloody painful. I played the whole game despite hobbling and we still won, which was remarkable.

Tomorrow, I'm off to the Bird Watchers Spring Fair in Tamworth in the Midlands to do a public appearance. I will be hanging out all day on the Birdguides and Bird Watching stands respectively if you want to come and say hello.

Maybe, I'll see you there.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Somebody find me a vomitorium!

We came, we saw and we bloody lost!
I've just returned from a couple days in majestic and hot Rome after witnessing the slaughter of Manchester United at the hands of Barcelona in front of 70,000 baying fans in the Stadio Olimpico. It wasn't a pretty sight as United were reduced to a shadow of their usually mighty selves. They were simply out played.

Anyway, enough talk of football. It was my first visit to this noble city and unfortunately, I had absolutely no time to even walk down the street, let alone visit monuments or even go birding! 
On the two mornings that had in the city, I managed to oversleep on both of them, instantly negating the opportunity for some urban birding. As I went with 3 totally football mad mates, my days were spent lunching, dining, talking about Manchester United (which was quite dull at times), being stuck in traffic jams and sleeping. It didn't leave much time for much else.

And as for the birds, the only ones that I regularly noticed were Pigeons, Swifts, House Sparrows, Jackdaws, Hooded Crows, Starlings and Yellow-legged Gulls. The only time I managed to raise my binoculars at any avian quarry was when I was watching the match. Whilst sitting in the stadium, I noticed that there were literally thousands upon thousands of moths flying around. In the dusk skies above the arena several hundred Swifts were busying themselves swooping on this food bonanza.

As the natural light faded with Manchester United's resistance to Barcelona's superior play, I looked up to notice multitudes of moths by the floodlights around the rim of the roof. In the night sky at least 200 Yellow-legged Gulls were gorging themselves on the moths whilst in flight. When I looked at them through my bins the sky was thick with moths. I even watched a White Wagtail moth catching within the stadium with the backdrop of celebrating Barcelona fans.

I will return to Rome one day to conquer its urban birding. That I can promise. 

Monday, 25 May 2009

Bird Walks

Addressing the masses at The Scrubs Dawn Chorus
Yesterday's bird walks were a resounding success with over 40 attendees. The Dawn Chorus was surprisingly good despite many birds having already fallen silent. We still managed to see singing Willow Warbler, Lesser & Common Whitethroats plus I also managed to show the group displaying Meadow Pipits.

At one point I noticed a female House Sparrow in the grassland, so I announced to the group that I was going to show them a rarity. As I uttered these words, 4 Little Egrets flew over! How amazing was that? We have no water at The Scrubs and these birds were totally unexpected - our 4th ever record for the site!

Little Egret - photographed at the Ebro Delta, Spain
The later walk (that started at 9am) was more of a birding affair with many of the group being members of the London Natural History Society. By this point, the sun was beating down making it the warmest day of the year so far.

The avian highlights included a high flying Common Buzzard and our first Spotted Flycatcher for the year. Overall, it was a great morning that totally restored my flagging faith in my beloved local patch.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Is summer here?

Had a good game of footie this morning. We lost 8-7, although the official score was listed as 7-7. Being a goalkeeper, you tend to know how many times you had the scoop the ball out of the back of the net!

For once the sun shone today and it was reasonably warm. I took the rest of day off from being The Urban Birder and strolled around, read the paper and watched 'Britain's Got Talent' before turning in early. I have 2 bird walks tomorrow at The Scrubs starting with a Dawn Chorus at 5am.

Night night.

Friday, 22 May 2009


As I sit here listening to some vintage Herbie Hancock on Spotify I am praying for some fine weather over the weekend, because Sunday morning will see me leading a group of fellow foolhardy early risers around my beloved Wormwood Scrubs on a quest to hear nature's finest west London singers. More on that dawn chorus on Sunday.

This morning I arose at a reckless hour to catch the first train out of town to Manchester to pick up my groups European Cup Final tickets. I left London bathed in pleasant sunshine and arrived in Manchester under a dark leaky cloud. I got a cab straight to Old Trafford and within an hour had picked up the gold dust-like tickets and was seated on the train back to London. 

A real smash and grab raid.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Brent Bird Boy

Me aged 11 in front of the first birdtable I ever made!
This morning was spent in the BBC Radio 5 Live studios in the company of Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogerty talking about birdsong. Nicky asked me to identify a Chaffinch, Blackbird and Robin for the nation. I had a very pleasant time.

The rest of the day was spent corresponding, pitching ideas to The One Show and resurrecting an identification book idea with A&C Black that I have been harbouring for many years. I'm meeting up with those guys in a couple of weeks. I also learnt today that I will be giving a talk at The British Birdwatching Fair on the Sunday - the day after my birthday.

Got a call from the Brent Magazine, who asked if they could feature me as an 'outstanding' Brent citizen in their July edition. I duly agreed, so they will interview me next week at The Scrubs.

Tomorrow morning I will boarding a train heading for Manchester to pick up my European Cup Final tickets - at 6.20am.


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Let's make a film

Today was quite interesting. For once, I spent a lot of time answering and sending emails that I should have sent about a thousand years ago. I also heard that I had received my European Cup Final tickets in the club ballot. The bad news is that I have to journey up to Manchester to pick up the tickets at Old Trafford. I'll probably do that on Friday.

I received a great email from Visit Finland inviting me up to the Finnish/Russian border to film the bears in the forest in July. How exciting is that? This trip would be over and above the scheduled trip to Helsinki on the behalf of Bird Watching Magazine to study the urban birdlife. My agent shared my enthusiasm too. She's a very lovely woman.

I also discovered Spotify for the first time today. I'd been meaning to get hooked up for sometime, so I was glad when I did it.

Tonight, I was in a private cinema in the plush Covent Garden Hotel watching a film called '44 Inch Chest' directed by my mate, Malcolm Venville. It's a London based film that will be released in the autumn. It's well worth a gander.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Lee Valley Wildlife Weekend

Me and a young birder who came all the way from Harrow to meet me
Did the Lee Valley day today. Unfortunately, the weather was not too kind initially with lashing rain and wind. Although there were sunny spells later, the damage had been done and far fewer people attended than originally hoped for.

Met fellow wildlife presenter, Steve Backshall, who I must say is a lovely man. We spent a lot of the day chatting shop as well as talking about his remarkable recovery from his recent terrible accident in which he broke his back and crushed an ankle. 
Steve Backshall and I trying to decipher the audio visual equipment
I gave a talk in the main marquee about the virtues of looking for wildlife in cities. I admitted to a childhood crime against wildlife when I drowned bumblebees whilst testing to see if they could swim!
The Urban Birder relaying the Wormwood Scrubs Prison story
My second talk was within a lecture room and was about how to become an urban birder. I embellished it be showing a couple of The One Show clips. 
Steve Backshall and I
Later, I appeared on the Eddie Nestor show on Radio London discussing the week's topical subjects that ranged from Jordan and Andre splitting to the cheating MP's scandal.

All in all, a tiring though enjoyable day.

Saturday, 16 May 2009


Good day for footie today! 

We drew 18-18 this morning and United won the league!

Today was an industrious day working on my talk for my stint at the Lee Valley Wildlife Weekend tomorrow.

If you're around pop by!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Portugal off

Early morning saw me at The Scrubs under incredibly bleak skies. The highlights were a Mistle Thrush and nothing much else.

I received the news today that my trip to Portugal next week was been postponed apparently because of a cock-up from the tourist board's end. The annoying thing was that I had to chase the organisors as I hadn't heard anything.

Anyway, I've got two legs and I'm still breathing. I'm a very lucky boy, so what have I got to complain about?

Whilst fighting off a sore throat and runny nose (although I don't feel ill) I started to work on my presentation for this weekend's Lea Valley Wildlife Weekend.

Thursday, 14 May 2009


I love this shot of a female Golden Oriole (D. Stanic)
Yesterday's twitch was just the tonic I needed. I sprung out of bed with renewed vigour and optimism. As I travelled to The Scrubs, I remembered one of the several Urban Birder motos; 'Go out expecting everything or nothing. Then you'll never be disappointed.'

My patch was fairly quiet bar a singing Sedge Warbler, 2 Swallows and a couple Meadow Pipits were observed carrying food in the grassland. There were plenty of Common Whitethroats, Song Thrushes, Linnets and a singing Lesser Whitethroat. All was good in the hood.

I learnt today that the White-winged Black Tern had moved on along with its 13 or so Black Tern congeners - so I got in just in time. Checking Birdguides' website showed a large movement of Black Terns around the country with a sprinkling of White-winged Blacks. All very interesting.

This evening, I popped down to my local chippie for a fish and chip dinner. As I strolled down the road, I looked up and flying leisurely over was a Peregrine with full crop heading in the direction of nearby Paddington Station.

Another Urban Birder motto sprung to mind: Look up and enjoy.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


The Black Lark Twitch on Angelsey
I finally had to succumb. I could take it anymore. I had to reach out take the drug.

I went on a twitch.

On a whim, I headed over to Staines Reservoir near Heathrow Airport as a White-winged Black Tern had been hanging around  there for the past three days. This is the only marsh tern that I had yet to see. It was my bogey bird. Every one that I had gone for in the past eluded me. I even dipped on one that showed up at my then patch, Brent Reservoir. 

It was a grey misty day today, but it felt like a great migrant finding day. Anyway, to cut the story short I saw the tern distantly from the causeway at first but after chatting with some of the birders in attendance it came really close to us. I was delighted. A lifer.

One of the last times I twitched was when the Black Lark showed up on Anglesey, North Wales. I gave up twitching per se in the '80's and my criteria for the lark was that since it had come all the way from Kazakhstan it would have been rude not to have seen it!

I fancy going on another twitch now. That Black-winged Pratincole at Grove Ferry, Kent sounds pretty good.....

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


The weather's been a bit weird lately. Quite windy and nippy, despite the sunshine. I woke up at 5am with the intention of going to The Scrubs. I'm still a bit dispirited at the moment and I blame it on a mixture of the embarrassment of avian riches in Poland and the lack of anything decent at my patch. It has left me feeling like writing the rest of the month off. Of course I won't, but such is the curse of an Urban Birder.

Today was spent largely behind my laptop screen dealing with emails and trying to complete my April Scrubs bird report. I have written one every month for the past 6 years and with each month it gets harder and harder. They are over 3,000 words long and as I try to keep them original and witty, they take so long to write.

Rain is forecasted for the morning so it's an extra lie in for me!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Let's work

After knocking out my Bird Watching article last night in double-quick time I'm now riding the crest of the creative wave, rearing to write. So much so, that I called my potential future publisher to chivvy up the process of writing my first book. Anyway, that will be another story.

I'm looking forward to going to Lisbon, Portugal next week to study the urban birding for Bird Watching Magazine. It's gonna be great! The following week I will be in Rome to hopefully see Manchester United lift the European Cup.

I might even be able to get a urban birding piece out of it too.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

ITV shoot

I had a great day shooting my segment on urban countryside for ITV's Countrywise in Kensal Green Cemetery. It was a beautiful day and the shoot ran fairly smoothly with great images captured of a Green Woodpecker emerging from its nest hole, dandy Stock Doves, not so loveable Rose-ringed Parakeets and some loafing Cormorants.

Perhaps the most unexpected find was the swarm of honey bees clumped together in some brambles. They were amazing. Although we spent the whole day there, I saw nothing untoward ornithologically apart from a possible Siskin that flew overhead.

We wrapped at 6pm and I went home to finish my Bird Watching article on Krakow - which needs to be in by tomorrow morning. My next major deadline is now to prepare a talk for next weekend's Lea Valley Nature Weekend that I will be attending next Sunday.

Come down and say hello if you are around!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Funk in a mason jar

Had a good game of football this morning with my team beating the opposition 8-4. I made some good saves. The goals that they scored against me were mistakes on my behalf. Honest.

Had a long overdue meeting with Malka, the camera operator that I film with on a regular basis. We made plans and penciled diary dates for future projects including our trip to Budapest that's organised for early June and our shoot day at the end of June with The Gay Birders Association, amongst others.

I'm shooting tomorrow with ITV so after Malka left I got to work with some last minute research and wardrobe decisions. I think that The Urban Birder should have a certain look - a look that is funky though practical at the same time. 

Unfortunately, a lot of the practical gear simply isn't funky, so there's a bit of a dilemma there.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


The doctor rang me this morning to say that the results of my blood test were all clear. I have normal sugar levels, normal kidney and liver functions and I am not diabetic. Cool.

I have recently changed web designer for my site and she had to change the webmaster. I don't really understand how all that gubbins works but one thing's for sure, I've suddenly got an avalanche of sordid spam emails promising untold prowess in the bedroom, lengthening of the parts other men can't reach and the secret cure to Swine Flu. I'm getting so bored of deleting these annoying emails.

My self imposed writing block has truly been shattered as I sit here watching Mel Gibson's Apocalypto on Bravo. I have such an easily broken concentration span! 

I'd better go and delete some more viagra emails.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Book worm

The two books that I weaned on
My visit to the doctor resulted in him not thinking that I had a sugar problem. His hunch was that I was suffering from headache-less migranes. It was getting stranger by the minute. I've never heard of that condition. But then, he hadn't heard of mine either!

Today was a day of toiling behind a laptop screen mostly to catch up on emails. I wrote a review for The Birds Of West Ham Park which is a small book written about an urban local patch by an urban birder. All good in my book. I also chose the hotel that I will be staying at in Budapest next month when I go there to research an urban birding article for Bird Watching Magazine. I answered a question posed by the very same magazine about my first ever bird book and my favourite bird book. The answer was easy. The field guide and Eric Simms' book was my favourite. I think that the survey that they are conducting will be published in time for the British Birdwatching Fair in August.

My biggest achievement today was to write a TV treatment that I have been struggling to start for the last 6 weeks in just over an hour. It's amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Doctor Doctor

I think I need to see a doctor.

I think that I have an allergy to sugar - the very drug that I crave for everyday of my life. I woke up this morning hoping to hit The Scrubs, but I felt drained and unable to hear properly. When I was a fresh faced 16 year-old starting my first ever job, out of boredom I used to down 6-7 Doubledecker chocolate bars, a tin or two of 7up and a box of 6 apple pies - A DAY and FOR YEARS!!!

The funny thing was that I didn't put an ounce of weight on, moreover, I was pretty fit looking with a six-pack and all. However, I'd occasionally get bouts of illness attacks. I'd feel extremely nauseous, very dizzy, lethargic and profoundly deaf. Over the years, the sugar consumption decreased and the attacks lessened in their intensity but it was only very recently that I realised that I may possibly have an allergy to sugar, so tomorrow I will visit the doctor for some proper medical advice.

I was contacted by the Wildlife Trusts about getting The One Show to feature the Peregrines in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have a camera locked onto the goings on at a city nest site, whilst the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust have come up with a novel new DNA database for Peregrines. All very fascinating. I sent the information on in the hope that The One Show are interested.

Anyway, it's deadline time again so I better go do some more writing as well as boning up on the butterflies of the UK. An Urban Birder's work is never done... 

Monday, 4 May 2009

Are things turning around?

A juvenile Whinchat at The Scrubs (sorry I have no spring picture)
Not quite the day I expected on several levels. 

Firstly, they promised a sunny warm weekend. Well that never happened. This morning was positively nippy at The Scrubs initially with impending rain clouds drifting in from the west. Thankfully, Mr Blue Sky made a brief appearance staving off the rain. But the drizzle did happen later as did the grey cloud cover.

Ornithologically, things brightened up this morning, lightening my mood. I discovered 2 migrant Whinchats in the grassland and there was a steady passage of Swifts and Swallows heading north. It was nice to see a movement of birds because up until now The Scrubs had a definite settled feeling with just the breeding birds doing their thing.

Back at home my time was spent catching up on the various writing projects that I need to complete. Sometimes I wish I had a factory like Andy Warhol that specialised in knocking out all my work for me.

Well, I can dream.....

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Where are my Ring Ouzels?

The Scrub's first ever Ring Ouzel in April 2004
Yesterday's recce at Kensal Green Cemetery with the director and cameraman team from ITV's 'Countrywise' went well. They were impressed with the site itself and thought that come the shoot day I wouldn't need a script - they just want me to chat.

This morning I journeyed to The Scrubs again. I'm still feeling a bit despondent due to the lack of 'good' migrants at my patch this spring. No Common Redstarts, Cuckoos, Nightingales and crucially, no Ring Ouzels. The Ouzel, my favourite bird, has been making a regular appearance for the past 5 years - as I have oft said. 

It's still not too late. Well, that's what I keep telling myself!