Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Sum totals

Another wet and horrible morning (despite the above picture). The weather guys truly had us going, what with their barbeque summer crap.

This morning into the early afternoon was spent shooting with a production company in the streets of Soho and in Regents Park. Luckily the rain held off for us.

That was the sum total of today.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


Great Burnett (Dave Renham)
I've just realised that July is rolling to a close and there is little chance of me hitting The Scrubs for a proper birding session until August. I feel utterly ashamed. It's like I have abandoned a child or eaten the last biscuit in the tin. Okay, during June there were large periods of ultimate laziness on my part that kept me away, but in fairness I was out of town a bit. Tomorrow morning I will be shooting in central London (though I will shoot briefly at The Scrubs in the late morning) and on Thursday morning I will be journeying to Bristol. That leaves Friday and will probably be pouring with rain!

Over the last couple of days I wrote a book review for Anthony McGeehan's book 'Birding From The Hip', became the patron for an inner city farm, got invited to attend the British Birds magazine Bird Photographer of the Year presentation and The Great Bustard Group's celebration of the hatching of some chicks - both at The British Bird Fair. Also, the latest issues of both Bird Watching Magazine and BBC Wildlife are both carrying articles written by me and the latest London Wildlife Trust's magazine has a piece on The Urban Birder.

Enough trumpet blowing!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

London Natural History

The morning of my London Natural History Society walk to Barn Hill/Fyrent Country Park dawned and for a change I got up early to recce the country park. I wanted to make sure that the walk wouldn't be too long for any disabled, elderly or extremely young participants. My pre-walk resulted in a fleeting view of a Hobby flying off with prey in talons.

Come 9.30am the majority of the eventual 27 people had turned up and we had a very enjoyable walk.

A Smooth Newt found under a log in Barn Hill
Me & my mum
Speckled Wood
Seven-spot Ladybird
TUB chatting about Fryent Country Park

Both these areas are totally underwatched, so it would be nice if someone was inspired enough to cover them.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Sweet victory

European Robin (Chris Adlem)
At last I tasted victory. The loosing tide was halted and we recorded a resounding victory against the old adversary - an adversary whose nucleus I have played against every Saturday for the past six years. Celtic v Rangers every weekend.

After our post match breakfast instead of indulging in a well earned siesta, I traveled to Barn Hill to recce for tomorrow's walk that I'm leading. For your information, Barn Hill and Fryent Country Park are in north west London partially situated in Wembley. The former site a wood that I used to be forced to do cross-country around as a school kid. The latter site is an area of grassland with ancient hedgerows dating back to the middle ages.

Bird-wise there was not much of note. Hopefully, there will something to look at in the morning.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Coming along

Goldfinch (Dean Eades)
At last there is a small light at the end of the tunnel, although it is still but a pinprick. I finally put together the visuals for my Bird Fair talk with the help of photographer, Dean Eades. The concept of putting together and submitting the visuals so far in advance is a bit alien to me, but I do understand the logic.

Earlier this afternoon I was the chief judge in the photographic competition that I was telling you about yesterday. It all went smoothly with some pretty good photographs talking the top prizes.

I spent the earlier part of the day slaving behind a computer screen, desperately trying to catch up, whilst listening to nearby adult Greenfinches trying to coax their youngsters out of the nest. By the way, I know that I have depicted a Goldfinch and I'm chatting about Greenfinch but I really like the picture.

We're all entitled to bit of poetic license now and again!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Slight panic

A Puffin
I had a productive day apart from the fact that I've not completed the slideshow for my talk at Bird Fair. It has to be with them by Friday - which basically means posting it tomorrow, which means putting it together tonight which equates to PANIC!!!!

I'm presenting the prizes at the RSPB/Transport for London 'Mind The Bird' Photographic Competition tomorrow night and I was informed earlier that I have to prepare a short speech.

Time to go and write!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


The Scrubs, looking east
An interesting day today.

It started with the obligatory lie in bed until 8am. To be fair, it was pretty dismal outside with the usual rain. I wouldn't have gone to The Scrubs if I'd gotten up early anyway.

Later, I had a fairly successful meeting alongside my agent with a big production company. They seemed impressed by The Urban Birder ethos and keen to move things on. We shall see.

I am feeling slightly swamped at the moment due to the inordinate amount of tasks that I have to complete - like pronto. First and foremost is the presentation for my Bird Fair talk - which needs to be with them by Friday. Also high on my priorities is my 2007 London Bird Report records for Wormwood Scrubs.

That should take all of 10 years to compile!

Monday, 20 July 2009


The usual story prevailed this morning with an imaged 5.30am start ended up as 8am. I did the final tickles on my Firth of Forth piece for the RSPB and pressed the send button. It's very difficult to condense a cruise down the Firth, the birds and the people in just 500 words. The moment you start you have to rein yourself in and finish up. I found writing that piece pretty tricky, but I got an email later during the day from the editor of RSPB's Birds Magazine saying that they thought it was 'just the job'. Result.

Today I also received the itinerary for my reconvened Portugal trip that's planned for September. Among the places that I'd be heading to will be the Tagus and Sado Estuaries. In the autumn they will promise to be amazing birding destinations.

Finally, still on a travel tip, I had a meeting with a South African organisation who want to ship me out to a game lodge out there in October to sample the wildlife and do a spot of filming.

Double result.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

I'm only sleeping

It should have been easy and pleasurable. Instead it was arduous and laborious. Yes, I was talking about getting out of bed early to go to The Scrubs this morning. The alarm chimed at 5.30am and after dreaming that I was out of bed and observing a first for Britain at my patch, I finally woke up and hauled myself out of bed at 7.15am.

Some 20 minutes later I was stalking the realms of my patch feeling unusually energy sapped. I even had to sit down on a bench for a short while. This was my first visit for several weeks, so it was nice to see the grassland in such a healthy state with an abundance of thistle that I haven't seen for several years. Indeed, there were in excess of 150 mostly juvenile Goldfinches (accompanied by a handful of Linnets) feeding on them. Along the embankment were family parties of Whitethroat and Blackcap and I noticed a male Lesser Whitethroat chasing a juvenile Goldfinch.

Of course, I shouldn't have been at The Scrubs at all this morning. I should have been 3 miles away not in bed but exploring Barn Hill & Fyrent Country Park. I'm leading a London Natural History Society walk there next Sunday and I really do need to get my act together and do a recce.

Both sites are contiguous and situated north east of The Scrubs in Wembley Park/Kingsbury quite close to the more famous Brent Reservoir. I know both sites very well having birded in them since I was a kid. Barn Hill is essentially a wooded hill that certainly in the past held Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and the country park is an area of grassland segmented by hedgerows, some of which date back to medieval times. It's a totally underwatched area and one I definitely would have been covering more had I not discovered Wormwood Scrubs.

Looks like I have some homework to do next week.

Saturday, 18 July 2009


It was a terrible morning on the football pitch. We lost miserably 8-3. This loosing business is becoming a bit of a habit. I must add though, that my team are not terrible players. It's just that we keep on loosing!

After my customary post brunch with the lads siesta, I ventured to the local trendy deli situated near the Portobello Road for a hot chocolate. I couldn't find a parking space so I parked on a yellow line outside the store. The best hot chocolate maker in the shop was outside selling slices of pizzas from a stall. I sent him back into the shop to knock out my beverage whilst I took over manning his stand. In 10 minutes, I sold 15 slices of pizza, got an invite to a barbeque and discussed the poor value for money that Oystercards represent with some tourists from Marseilles (the oldest city in France, I'll have you know!).

Fresh back from my trading I spent the rest of the evening at The Urban Birder Towers plotting and planning and watching a bit of TV (including a seeing fascinating documentary on Cheetahs on Discovery).

Nature - human and otherwise - is so fascinating.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Dizzy rascal

A bad move involving the consumption of chocolate raisins last night resulting in me feeling pretty unwell the following morning with another episode of my weird headache-less migraines. I was pretty dizzy for most of the day.

I finished my RSPB article on my recent trip to the Firth of Forth only to decide not to press the send button and re-look at what I had written. Hopefully, I will be happy enough to ship it out over the weekend. I received the PDF of my BBC Wildlife Magazine piece on wildlife sites in London and was pleasantly surprised. It will be sale in a week or so - the same time as my Bird Watching Magazine piece on Manchester.

I ended today behind my computer screen in front of the TV with half an eye on Family Guy. What a fun way to finish the day!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Slowly getting there

Forth Bridge, Edinburgh, Bonny Scotland
Once you stop doing a blog for a while it takes time to get back into the swing again. I find myself wanting to give you all a blow by blow account of my recent trip to Finland and show all one thousand pictures of bears in various poses. But I suppose time has moved on.

Last weekend I was in Edinburgh to board a cruise along the Firth of Forth for the RSPB to observe Puffins and seals - which I did. You'll have to read about it in the November issue of Birds Magazine.

Tomorrow I will return to my usual informative blogging mode.

I promise.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


There were tears of unabated joy this afternoon. Why? Well, I picked up my computer from my agent's office that was fixed by my new messiah, Alicia, my web designer. The computer had a seizure last week and as I reported previously, was not responding to treatment only accepting electricity. Now, were are reunited (and it feels so good).

There were further tears though. These tears were of abject sadness. I had to return the D90 SLR so kindly loaned to me by my equipment sponsors Nikon. They said that they needed it back. I did toy with the idea of kidnapping it- or to perhaps running off to some wilderness; just me and the camera. But I felt too tired. I just couldn't be bothered. Easy come, easy go.

I just had to yet again remind myself that I am a lucky man!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Quick update

My computer is still languishing. Last week it wasn't responding to treatment but since then it has shown signs that it could be just a case of a hard drive transplant.

So here I am in a hotel in Edinburgh. In the morning I will be on a 3 hour seabird cruise up the Firth of Forth observing the Puffins and whatnoughts for the RSPB. My deadline is next week so I'll be writing the piece on the train back to London tomorrow night.

More to follow.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


My computer is dying.

I'm sitting here by its bedside remembering happier days. 

Hopefully, it will pull through or maybe I'll have to buy a new machine.

Either way, I will have to cease blogging for a short while.

We will meet again.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Stake out

A nervous bear steps out of the forest
The sole Wolf that we saw
The Wolf again
A bear retreating
'Paleface' the dominate male

Just got back from an amazing trip to Finland. I'm absolutely shattered after spending some 28 hours in the last 48 in a hide watching for bear, wolves and wolverines. 

I will break down the details of this part of the trip tomorrow - I'm sooo knackered!

The above and below are a selection of things I saw.

Female Three-toed Woodpecker
Juvenile Fieldfare
A gorgeous Brown Bear
TUB in the morning after the night before

Friday, 3 July 2009

Hidden gems

A White Wagtail in the Helsinki Sunshine
Due to traveling to the Taiga Forest I had to do without the luxury of internet whilst staying in a hotel completely on my own. There were no guests, no staff and no night as the sun didn't ever set. More about that in a second.

On my third morning in Helsinki (Wednesday) I broke with the crepuscular tradition and slept from around 1am until 7am. As it was my last morning, I decided last minute to walk 15 minutes, through a nearby park, to catch a boat to an island called Harakka that was described on the tourist map as a 'nature island'. On the way I picked up a male Pied Flycatcher in the park.

The island was literally minutes away by boat and it really was a little nature reserve. In reality, it was in the hands of the military until as recently as 1988. It's now managed by the city council and boasted a fairly large breeding colony of Common Gull. It had plenty of stunted bushes, clumps of trees and one side of it faced the Gulf of Helsinki. A classic migrant island. The visitor centre staff although being friendly, didn't have a clue as to the birds to be found on their own island. I found singing Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, a Northern Wheatear brood and off shore Eider.

Later, I was on another plane heading north to the Taiga for the bear spotted part of this trip. My first staging post was to stay in a really nice hotel some 80km from where I eventually needed to be. I went for a bike ride at midnight in broad daylight around the immediate vicinity. Picked up more hares and a roding Woodcock. Got back to the hotel at 1am, still in day light and after fannying around for about an hour, I decided to get my head down and this time have a reasonable sleep. That I did and I arose at 8am (late for me these days) and after breakfast met my guide who took me to meet my bear guide - via restaurants (got a female Rustic Bunting in the grounds of one), a husky centre and a carnivore museum.

I will let you know how I got on with the bears in a couple of days.
Flying the flag

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Lance Armstrong

My little Finnish mate
Last night's Eagle Owl stakeout was a little weird. I was standing on the 13th floor of a packed hotel terrace pressed up against a rather tall plate glass wall with a bunch of drunken Finnish revelers. I must have cut a sad figure to the guys singing joyously at their tables: a guy on his own with an orange juice in one hand, binoculars in the other peering over the side of the hotel intently staring at the rooftops below. They must have thought that I was contemplating suicide!

I lasted about 90 minutes before giving up the ghost. It probably wasn't there anyway! I rode back to the nearby hotel on the free bike they supplied. Now let me tell you about this bike. Imagine a girls bike from the 50's made of wrought iron and weighing more than a small Bison. To cycle on this machine meant that you had to peddle furiously, even on a level road. The moment you stopped cycling the bike would quickly cruise to a standstill. The bike also had no brakes (which took some getting used to) and you had to cycle backwards to stop.

Despite all that, at 2.30am after no sleep, I borrowed the bike and did the c14km round trip to Seurasaari, a forested 'island' joined onto the mainland by a thin strip of land. It's essentially a tourist trap with some interesting examples of ancient architecture dotted around. The interesting thing about the place was that some of the animals seem exceedingly curious. I was wielding my loaned Nikon D90 when I noticed an adult Great Tit feeding an eager juvenile. When it got close enough I slowly raised my camera to start taking some shoots. As I did this the adult noticed me. Instead of moving away it momentarily abandoned its hungry youngster and approached me to look at me. It came so close that I thought it would walk onto my head.

Shortly after, I flushed a Red Squirrel. It ran down the road, stopped, had a think then ran back towards me. It stopped literally 3 feet away from me, had a good look then scampered off. I was beginning think that I had left my flies undone or something!

An immature Long-eared Owl
Moments later, an owl swept into a clearing to land on a branch. Sods law, there was a spray of leaves obscuring its face but judging from the buffy patches on its primaries I guessed that it was a Long-eared Owl. It then leaped onto the woodland floor and was obscured by the long grass for short while. Finally, it re-emerged to land on the branch that I attempted to photograph it on.

What a result!

The journey back to the hotel wasn't as tortuous as I had thought it would have been. No Lance Armstrong moments were called for. I got back in time for breakfast and to nurse my knackered thigh muscles and saddle sores!