Sunday, 27 September 2009

Scrubs Bird Walk

What a glorious day today was!

The weather was devine, it was warm and the walk I led this morning was attended by 44 people! I was expecting maybe 15 so it was a complete surprise. I managed to show the appreciative assembled masses a Wheatear and our first returning Stonechat.

I'm off to Istanbul tomorrow so I'd best get my act together. I only hope that I can blog from there.

Saturday, 26 September 2009


A Beetle on holiday in Valencia, Spain
Football this morning was like climbing a mountain wading through treacle. But despite being on a path leading to certain defeat, we managed to come back from 7-3 down to draw 9-9. Mammoth stuff.

The cultural trip that I have been on recently continued this afternoon when I visited Aspreys on New Bond Street to see the Beatles Memorabilia exhibition that they are currently hosting. I've never been to Aspreys before (they sell ultra posh clobber and handbags etc) and their building was pretty impressive.

Whilst looking through a photo album of overpriced (£2000) prints of The Beatles in their heyday, I noticed the overzealous security man seriously eye-balling my friend and I as we thumbed through the pages. He made me feel as if I was a member of the Brinks Mat band of robbers. When my friend and I drifted into the adjoining room to check out some Lennon drawings, I noticed the overzealous security man looking through the photo album, obviously checking to see if we had stolen any of the prints. Can you imagine that!!

The remainder of my day was spent preparing for my autumn walk that I'm leading at The Scrubs in the morning, plus I spared a few moments to consider what to put in my suitcase for my Istanbul trip.

Any suggestions?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Jam Tart

The past few days have been quite a mix of things. Aside from the usual mix of writing, birding, plotting and planning there was also quite a lot of culture thrown in to boot.

I finally finished a piece on Brown Bears that will appear on in the very near future. I hardly mentioned birds in it and it's the first piece I've written as The Urban Birder that doesn't focus on birds. I also completed my latest piece for Bird Watching Magazine which all about the urban birding in west London.

The culture bits included a visit to the Mall Gallery last night to check out the 'jam tart' on display at the RSPB hosted Society of Wildlife Artists art exhibition. There was some cracking work on show including pieces created by my mate and President of the SWLA, Harriet Mead. Check out her work. Tonight I went to a screening at BAFTA in Piccadilly to see a BBC4 film called Enid, starring Helena Bonham Carter. It was a biopic about the life and times of Enid Blyton. Afterwards, Helena was on hand for a quick Q&A. She is has a quirky sense of humour.

Anyway, time to prepare for my trip on Monday accompanied by wildlife photographer Dean Eades. I've just learnt that the guide that's supposed to be taking us around wants us to pay him a daily rate of $150 plus pay for a car and petrol. This would have been fine if I was going on a birding holiday but I'm there in a journalistic capacity, so this latest bit of late news was a bit of an annoying addition to my preparation.

Ah well, let's see what happens.

Monday, 21 September 2009

RSPB Rainham Country Fayre

Sunday was spent at Rainham Marshes of course after a trip to The Scrubs where I scored our second ever Shoveler - 1 high flying bird clearly recognisable by it spatula bill.
Russell & Yvette Spencer with TUB
I was representing the newly renamed London Bird Club (part of the London Natural History Society). But I spent most of my time chatting with photographer Russell Spencer and his lovely wife Evette.

Whilst engrossed in conversation I managed to not hear a tannoy message voiced by warden, Howard Vaughan that a possible Eleonora's Falcon was drifting slowly over. Nor did I hear his earlier call highlighting the nearby presence of a juvenile Montagu's Harrier and an earlier Goshawk!
The Essex Boys, TUB and Warden, Howard Vaughan
The London Bird Club crew: Ian Woodward, Angela Linnell & TUB
This morning I witnessed an amazing passage of House Martins. Over 900 birds passed over during the course of 2 hours. It was a truly phenomenal sight with the sky often filled with the birds.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

A Black Kite next?

Black Kite (Neil Kumar)
Great game of footie this morning. We came back from a certain crushing defeat - 4-1 down after 15 minutes - to win 7-4 in an almost flamboyant manner. My concentration was only diverted by a bunch of noisy Magpies that were mobbing an unseen assailant that I couldn't see from my goal line!

After breakfast I forewent my usual siesta and drove to The Scrubs instead. It was a hazy, warm sunny afternoon ripe for raptor activity and after yesterday's Goshawk I was feeling lucky. There's been a lot of movement across London today and fellow Scrubber Roy Nuttall had noted over 350 House Martins moving over the grassland. It was an amazingly high count for us as we are used to seeing no more than 10 birds per year across two migration periods!

When I arrived at The Scrubs, I sat myself down in the grassland and waited. I soon picked up the 5 Whinchats that have been roaming the grassland for the past few days. After about an hour of nothing flying over I decided to leave. I looked up an there on the thermals were 3 Common Buzzards. Our 3rd record and our first multiple sighting. As I celebrated, I noticed a further 2 birds even higher up! Apparently, 19 birds passed over Richmond Park to the south and at least 11 passed over Regents Park to the east today.

I nearly forgot to tell you that I have another short documentary currently showing on about the Nightjars in Thetford Forest that I went to try and capture. The link is let me know what you think.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Right place right time?

Tufted Puffin, Kent, England - (M Wright)
What a week for UK birders. A Tufted Puffin in Kent?? Who would have thought? I'm no big deal twitcher, but when I heard the news my right hand automatically started to reach deep into pocket scrabbling for my car keys. It was a reflex action. However, regardless of whether it's voted in as a wild bird or not - questions are being raised as to how wild this bird was - where's it's tail? Why is it still in summer plumage? - I say good on the guys who were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.

I had the good fortune of lucking in on an overflying Goshawk at The Scrubs this morning. Whilst I was sitting in the grassland watching a party of migrating House Martins pause and frolic overhead I became aware of an outsized Sparrowhawk drifting over to the east of me from the north. The languid wingbeats, white patches at the base of its tail added to a jizz that reminded me of a chunky Hen Harrier, I knew that I was watching a site tick. It's funny, I've seen many Goshawks in my time but when you see one out of context over your patch close to central London, your rationale soon goes out the window.

Today is the anniversary of my dad's death. It's been 5 years now. I am closer to him now than what I ever was when he was alive, but I saw that Goshawk as a sign from him that all is well.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Where am I?

I was dreading football this morning. Half my teammates were either away, working or serving bans for previous non-appearances. How wrong I was! We won 10 - 6 and I didn't play bad either!. That was a good start to the day.

Unfortunately, none of the Scrubs faithful made it today so who knows what could have passed through. Everywhere else in London seemed to have good falls of the commoner migrants.

Today, I was asked to take a trip to the Lake District to scout out dramatic locations for a forthcoming British feature film. So next week I will be having a crash course in OS map reading and the intricacies of location scouting.

Could come in handy one day when I start looking for Eskimo Curlew in the Canadian tundra.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Seeing an old friend

Common Redstart (Dave Renham)
Things have been pretty busy over in The Urban Birder Towers. TV stuff and brand development were the main issues this week. I have a million things to write about and I've just had a couple more commissions to complete before the month's end. One of which will be my latest piece for the RSPB's membership magazine on the plight of the House Sparrow in London. It will be my first species related article for them. I'm looking forward to researching it.

My trips to Istanbul and Lisbon are looming and I'm well excited although the situation in Istanbul isn't so clever at the moment, what with the excessive flooding that they have been experiencing. I hope that things are getting better because there were a few fatalities during the initial flooding.

This morning I did a three hour stint at The Scrubs. The winds have swung around to the east and things were definitely different. Over 25 Meadow Pipits, a similar number of Chiffchaffs and a gorgeous female Redstart standing out in the open on a bench. It was the first one to be seen well at Wormwood Scrubs for maybe 3 years.

Better go - football in the morning.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Lost Land of the Volcano

Just watched part one of the new BBC series Lost Land Of The Volcano with Steve Backshall, George McGavin and Gordon Buchanan.

It was bloody awesome!

The thought of being in an uncharted area filled with species hitherto unknown to science. There was great footage of some crazy looking animals. I just loved the farting stripey marsupials. As a presenter, it's the sort of programme I'd just love to be involved with.

Monday, 7 September 2009


An early morning visit to The Scrubs resulted in possibly the same two Whinchats that were kicking around in the grassland last Friday, around 7 Whitethroat and four high flying unidentified hirundines.

Today, I was invited to be a patron of the Alderney Wildlife Trust, over there in the Channel Islands. They said that they were fans of my work. I was chuffed.

I hope to take a trip to Alderney next year some time.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Disabled Birders

Common Terns (S & N Barbato)

Had a nice morning at The Scrubs with a pair of Whinchat (probably the same ones as Friday) and a fly over Common Tern - our latest ever. I must say that I was jealous to hear that the guys at nearby Brent Reservoir kicked out a Grasshopper Warbler from their bushes yesterday. I was also slightly envious of Alexandra Palace's Alpine Swift that was hanging around today.

Later, I spent a lovely day with Bo & Maggie Beolans ( at Grove Ferry, Kent where we chatted and watched Ruff, Wood Sandpiper and Hobby amongst others. We also heard Cetti's Warbler calling. The meeting was set up because I am a patron of Bo's Disabled Birders Association and we needed to talk about promotional ideas.

Got home knackered at 8pm

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Hit the roof

I've certainly got the autumn migration buzz. This is Saturday and Saturday means football which in turn means no trip to The Scrubs. Well not this morning. I sneaked a quick hour birding before hitting the football pitch. I missed 2 Northern Wheatears seen moments before I arrived but I did connect with a juvenile Hobby coursing through, several warblers and 3 Jackdaw that flew in from the north. Although it was sunny, the wretched north westerly was getting on my nerves.

Football was an exhausting affair this morning as only 9 players showed up, so I had to play outfield and basically run a lot more than I ever do! Breakfast made me even more tired and a trip to the RSPB Peregrine Watchpoint at the Tate Modern straight after didn't help. I seriously should have had my siesta.

I'm trying to organise a skywatching event next Sunday from the top of a tall building in central London. I had already contacted Centrepoint at the end of Oxford Street. They told me where to get off citing health and safety issues as the reason. I just think it would be great to stand on the roof of a skyscraper from dawn until dusk with some of London's finest birders, just watching for what passes over.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, 4 September 2009


It's finally happened!

After a wait that seemed to last a millennia, the London Natural History Society's Ornithological Society (for whom I the Chairman) is to be renamed The London Bird Club (part of the London Natural History Society). The logo may not necessarily end up looking exactly like the one featured above but it will be quite close.

I am so happy and look forward to loads of you guys joining the LNHS in the future.

Recently, I learned that I will be going on some interesting urban birding press trips in the New Year for my Bird Watching Magazine column. I will be heading to Bradford to find out about the ornithological occurrances there. In February I'll be heading to Extremadura, Spain to visit Caceres and Marida - home to some rare breeding birds including internationally important populations of Lesser Kestrel. Also, as some point next year I will be hitting Bogota in Colombia. I am totally excited about this trip and I suspect my head will be spinning when I am confronted by the profusion of lifers that await me.

But first, it's The Scrubs tomorrow...

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Where I need to be

Where I need to be - Wormwood Scrubs
Two days into September and I haven't even been within 100 yards of The Scrubs. Shame on me!

I have a good excuse. I have tons of work on.

It's 1am.......need I say anymore.