Monday, 31 August 2009

Distracted by tits....

Mediterranean Gull - Dean Eades
Yes, on Saturday morning I was most certainly distracted by tits whilst standing around in goal during my football session. I was distracted by loads of tits - mostly of the Long-tailed variety (c25) with a spattering of Blues amongst them and at least one Chiffchaff. All of these birds were in a single Horse Chestnut calling away. I could help but to be drawn to them and it cost me a goal.

This weekend was the weekend that I hate the most in the year - the Notting Hill Carnival Weekend. I live right in the middle of it so I usually vacate the area for the calmer climes of Pagham Harbour, Sussex to stay with my best mate at his mother's caravan in Selsey. So Sunday morning saw me firstly seawatching under grey skies off Selsey Bill. I managed a few Gannets and Sandwich Terns. Next stop was the famous wader hotspot, Sidlesham Ferry. Aside from a ton of Teal, I found a solitary Common Sandpiper. Next, I stopped off at Church Norton and Pagham Harbour itself where I registered and couple Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler in the former site and large numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover with Little Egret, Grey Plover, Curlew, Redshanks and solitary Whimbrel and Mediterranean Gull.

The following morning I repeated the whole process this time scoring a Spotted Flycatcher at Church Norton and a Curlew Sandpiper on the mudflats at Pagham Harbour. All the local birders were bemoaning the lack of decent migrants of any kind. They also lamented the lack of Curlew Sandpipers. Apparently, the Lemming population crashed in their Arctic breeding grounds so the Arctic Foxes turned their attention onto Curlew Sandpiper chicks - hence no returning birds.

By the time I had finished my morning's birding the sun had come out and it was pretty warm. I got home to the litter strewn streets on Notting Hill by 11pm and had to clean up the puddle of urine so kindly left behind by a carnival reveller.

Oh how I love the carnival!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Piglet Flu

Savannah Sparrow - Ballona Wetlands, Los Angeles
Yesterday, I thought that I was coming down with a dose of piglet flu (not the full blown swine thing). It turned out to be a heavy cold or at best Man Flu. Anyway, I'm alright now. I just swigged some olive leaf extract (which tastes like shite, I'll have you know!) and soon began to feel its healing effects. I can't afford to be sick right now.

Unfortunately, I had to postpone my forthcoming trip to Lisbon, Portugal - planned for early September - due to up and coming filming commitments. Luckily, the Portuguese Tourist Board were understanding and we have now rearranged it for the penultimate week in October. I was really happy with that because I was really looking forward to writing about the urban birding there.

I'm signing off now to watch Family Guy. Night night.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Walking through the grass

This morning we reverted back to our usual service regarding the weather - grey skies and rain. Well, drizzle to be exact. A stroll around The Scrubs in the rain was initially fairly drab although I did count over 25 Long-tailed Tits and an almost equal number of Blue Tits in Chats Paddock.

My moment of inspiration came shortly after a noticed a Common Tern flapping elegantly south. It was our latest ever record as this bird is rarely encountered after late July. I then decided to walk through the grassland, something that I usually refrain from doing until at least early September.

I've flushed a whole manner of things from the grassland in previous years from moggies, moths and occasional fox to Sedge Warbler, Song Thrush, Lapwing, Snipe and even a Short-eared Owl once. Add to that the expected Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Stonechats, Whinchats and occasional Reed Buntings and the picture is more or less complete. Oh yes, and there were the two Richard's Pipits. How could I forget them?

My first venture into the grassland this autumn immediately resulted in flushing two Tree Pipits. I was very happy. It fired me up for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Northern Wheatear - art!
Got a great coffee table book called called Jean Luc Mylayne (Twin Palm Publishers 2007) for my birthday from my best mate Colin Flapper. It's filled with amazing images of urban birds artily shot - sometimes blurred, sometimes just a small feature of the main picture. Utterly amazing.

Today, was a fairly hectic day starting with a trip to my agent's office to have a meeting with a production company about a couple of ideas that they have with me in mind. I then tripped down to the nearby offices for their views on my nearly completed Belfast film that I shot last October. Their criticisms were very constructive and in short, I needed to add more birdy stuff.

Last night at the Columbian bird lecture I managed to potentially get a trip to Bogota next year to write about the urban birding. Tourist Boards seem to love what I'm trying to do. Next month I hit Lisbon and Istanbul. I can't wait.

In the meantime, I'm writing a my next Bird Watching piece on west London (featuring The Scrubs and Beddington Farm), a sample chapter for my potentially forthcoming book and a piece on Finnish bears for Birdguides.

And all before I get to bed tonight.....

Monday, 24 August 2009

My face is red....

Before I go on I must issue a major apology to the photographer Dean Eades for using some of his great images (with his permission) for my Bird Fair talk on Wormwood Scrubs. I omitted to publicly acknowledge the use of his images - so Dean, I apologise profusely.

I spent Friday and Saturday at the Bird Fair chatting to numerous people, giving a talk, going to meetings, participating in 'Call My Ruff' with fellow panelists in the shape of Nick Baker and RSPB man Bryan Bland (we won) and I even squeezed in a touch of birding with Hobby, Osprey and Tawny Owl on the list.

Oh, and it was my birthday on Saturday.

More to follow.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Sorry to go on......

The controlled Nightjar
I'm holding it!!!
Look at that!
The BTO's Dawn Balmer and TUB

At last I got the photographic evidence from the other night's Nightjarring. I'm still buzzing from the experience!

I had a 2 hour meeting at the BBC this afternoon which went well then the remainder of the afternoon was spent on various errands. I'm planning urban birding trips to Bradford and Leicester in the New Year. Anyone out there prepared to lead me around?

Off to the British Bird Fair tomorrow morning. I'm in the 'Call My Ruff' team on Friday afternoon so I was rehearsing my lines for that and I was also putting together my talk on Saturday morning.

There's nothing like the last minute!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Ohh, what a night!

This morning I took a break from my morning pilgrimage to The Scrubs. Fellow Scrubber, Roy Nuttall, nipped down though and didn't see much other than a Lesser Whitethroat along the warbler rich embankment.

No, I was chilling in bed, exalted from my previous night's success. I was in the Thetford Forest along with Birdguides' Fiona Barclay and Max Whitby and some of the British Trust for Ornithology's finest to film the possible capture and ringing of that mystical bird - the European Nightjar.

After setting up the nets we whiled away the time watching a nearby Hobby family and spying on the invertebrates that happened to fly near us. At 2105 hrs a Nightjar suddenly piped up, churring away and then took flight. We soon had the call from the second net, a short drive away, that they had caught a male. We raced over to the sight of a fine male. I had the rare opportunity to hold the bird. It was amazing!

The waiting game
TUB breaking down the intricacies of Nightjar identification to his mum
Setting the scene

With filming done and dusted by 2200 hrs I had dropped my mum home and was myself tucked up in bed by 0030.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Nightjar (photographer not known)

I held a Nightjar tonight!

I can't believe it!

I'm delirious!

Emotionally overcome!

I'll talk tomorrow!

Monday, 17 August 2009

First Whinchat for the autumn

No awards for this Whinchat shot!

I strolled from my home to The Scrubs again this morning as the motor is currently on the operating table at BMW Mini. It took 40 minutes. Whilst walking I suddenly realised that I could have caught a tube and been there in a fraction of the time. I guess the walk did me some good, besides I took the train home after.

The sun was shining and there was a bit more movement in the trees with Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Whitethroats and Blackcaps heading the cast. Saw a Hobby hunting distantly and found my first Whinchat for the autumn on a thistle amongst a bunch of Goldfinches.

Back at home responded to a multitude of emails and finished my belated Scrubs Report for June/July. I'm going to be off to Istanbul at the end of September hopefully to witness the fabled migrations that they get. It will be another addition to my city visits in Bird Watching Magazine. September's going to be a good month what with Lisbon and Istanbul.

Tomorrow night I will be off to Thetford Forest to film Nightjars with the BTO for Birdguides. It will be the sequel to my failed attempt at the end of last summer.

Let's hope that I'm successful.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Everybody needs the sunshine

My day started with my usual trip to Wormwood Scrubs in the hope of finding the next whatever. There was no chance of that happening this morning. The place was deadly quiet under an equally dead looking sky.

I spent the rest of the day either knocking out some tunes on on my twin decks, doing a massive spring clean or hiding being the screen of my recently rehabilitated laptop.

End of story!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Crossed a lot of rivers, seen a lot of land....

'Life is what happens whilst you're busy making plans' is what John Lennon once famously said - or should I say sang. My plans were scuppered when my flamin' laptop had to be rushed into Apple A&E due to its inability to take electricity.

Whilst it was a way I went to Hull and back as my latest outing for Bird Watching Magazine. My mission was to eek out the urban birdlife in this industrial East Yorkshire city. I was quite surprised to find that there were quite a few sites with the majority being sited just outside of the city.

TUB & the lovely lady at the Wild Bird snack van, North Cave Wetlands, East Yorkshire

I was shown around town and the surrounding countryside by Les Johnson of the Hull RSPB Group which culminated in a tasty sausage butty and a cup of peppermint tea in the spitting rain at North Cave Wetlands. The following day I treated myself to a trip to that famous birding mecca, Spurn which was some 30 miles from Hull. I hired a hairdryer (a basic tiny car) for the purpose.

As typical for this English summer that we're experiencing, it was a blazing hot day, a complete contrast to the day before. I met warden, Andy Gibson and had a great chat. He told me about some other interesting sites within Hull itself, plus some Spurn birding folklore.

A controlled Garden Warbler at Spurn
The lighthouse at Spurn Head

Since I last wrote anything in this blog I have become a patron of Spitalfields City Farm. I nipped over there today after football to be shown around. I also learnt that my proposed trip to Istanbul in late September to observe the migration through this historic city had been approved by the Turkish tourist board.

Finally, next weekend is Bird Fair - the Glastonbury for British Birders. I will be there all weekend as on Friday I will be participating in 'Call My Ruff' and on the Saturday I will be delivering my talk on Wormwood Scrubs in the morning and amongst other things, I will be on the RSPB stand in the afternoon to take some kids pond dipping.

So much to do and so little time.

Plus I have been watching The Scrubs practically every morning with Hobby, Garden and Sedge Warblers seen on an almost daily basis.

Friday, 7 August 2009


After last night's heavy downpour, I was really hoping for a nice fall of migrants with a couple of cool scarcities like a Common Redstart or Pied Flycatcher. Three Willow Warblers were all I could muster.

It was a humid though quite dismal day until late afternoon when the sun decided to come out.

Come on. Let's squeeze a summer out.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


The Scrubs this morning
This morning's light drizzle felt good. I had a good feeling - surely I'd find a nice migrant or two. Common Whitethroats were much in evidence at 6.30am this morning whilst I strolled through my realm with at least 25 frequenting the embankment and grassland area. I also found another Sedge Warbler, perhaps the 4th in as many visits. A hobby flashed along the embankment and tried to unsuccessfully ambush a mixed flock of Goldfinches and Starlings.

The cloud cover broke and by this point I was walking across The Scrubs' football pitches. As I looked up I noticed an adult Cuckoo flying fairly high heading south. It suddenly plummeted and dived into the trees of Martin Bell's Wood.

This bird constituted the second ever autumn Cuckoo and the first ever autumn adult. I was well happy, especially given that none were recorded during the spring. Mind you, there was no one on The Scrubs to see anything at the time anyway!

Today, I got signed up to give a talk to the Potters Bar RSPB Group in February next year. I'm going to do my "A Year In Wormwood Scrubs' talk that I will be premiering at Bird Fair. Speaking of which, I was invited onto the 'Call My Ruff' team that will be in action on the Friday. My fellow contestants will include my mates, The Dilge and Nick 'Bug Boy' Baker.

Here's to embarrassing myself!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Tomorrow's another day

I just seem to be getting busier and busier these days. I'm spending hours in front of a computer screen knocking out word after word. Some days I almost miss the days when I didn't write a thing and spent more time dreaming.

Speaking of dreaming, I didn't make The Scrubs this morning but that was due to work pressures rather than laziness. I'm actually programmed to wake up at 5.30am every morning which is great timing for the impending migration season.

Roll on the dawn.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Smell

When will my first Northern Wheatear show up?

The autumnal scent is now wafting into the air. After visiting The Scrubs on Friday morning and this morning I noticed that there was a discernible change in the avian atmosphere. Over the two mornings I counted at least 22 Common Whitethroat many of which feeding large fledglings as were the Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. This morning was good with a returning foraging Willow Warbler, a brief glimpse of a Garden Warbler and five Sand Martin headed north east over the embankment - a scarce bird here.

I'm glad that I have refound my mojo when it comes to The Scrubs and I intend to go every morning weather and commitment permitting.