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?

Sunday, 11 October 2009


I was a bit tired over the whole of the weekend and two days featuring football games didn't help. Saturday morning was good though because we won 7-3 and I was Man of the Match!

Nipped down to The Scrubs this morning and recorded a couple of Reed Buntings and at least 40 migrant Redwings. It was such a dull and dismal day though.

Need to recharge now, see you all tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Asleep on the job

For the first time this month I managed to get myself up to The Scrubs under grey swollen morning skies. A male Peregrine overhead carrying prey, twenty or so Meadow Pipits and the report of 4 Stonechats were my reward.

Back at The Urban Birder Towers it was business as usual. Thankfully, the RSPB enjoyed my London Sparrow article that I wrote on Monday. It will be published in the spring issue, meanwhile, the autumn issue should be on doormats within the next couple of weeks and will feature the piece I did about my Firth of Forth cruise.

Whilst I sat scribing my Istanbul article for Bird Watching Magazine the itinerary for my next trip to Lisbon arrived via email. It looked incredible. I will be totally looked after from the moment I touch down to the second I climb back on board the plane to take me back to London. In between times, I will be escorted to some amazing birding spots in and around the city. Nice!

Sometimes I wish that I didn't need to sleep.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Observer

Yet another morning spent away from The Scrubs and in front of my laptop instead. It was a shame because it looked pretty good outside; grey and it had been raining. It could have been good conditions for something weird to have turned up. But I guess I'll never know. What I do know is that there were 4 Stonechats and Snipe discovered. Across London there were at least 2 wind blown Gannets leading the London listers a merry dance.

At noon I had a telephone interview with a journalist from The Observer. She was very pleasant and enthusiastic. She loved the ethos of The Urban Birder and was totally into my thoughts on birding that included encouraging beginners to enjoy birds without worrying too much about what they were looking at. As I touched on yesterday, the piece is going to be about how birding has become more popular recently and will feature other birdy people - I hope.

It would be terrible if it featured people who had no deep routed interest and had only come out of the woodwork to be seen being involved in the latest trend.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Rain = job done.

I just had to feature some more images from Istanbul and environs!
Eurasian Jackdaws (Dean Eades)
Over flying Black Storks (Dean Eades)
Gorgeous Red-fronted Serins (Dean Eades)
Syrian Woodpecker (Dean Eades)
Writing an article on the demise of the London House Sparrow put paid to any further attempt to search for yesterday's elusive Grasshopper Warbler. I had to weigh up the possibility of dipping on a long departed (or deceased) Gropper or pressing the send button on a written piece for the RSPB's Birds Magazine. Common sense prevailed.

It also started to rain this morning. Rain has a funny way of focussing you into sitting down and doing some unstinting work. I actually felt very creative today and this was exemplified by this morning's article that I have been thinking about for several weeks and wrote in under two hours. Yes, the juices are flowing.

My next urban birding exploration will be to Lisbon on October 18th. Thereafter will be a trip to Bradford, England to see what's on offer in this unlikeliest of places. I do like a challenge!

Tomorrow lunchtime I will be having a telephone interview with The Observer newspaper who are doing a piece on birding in Britain and how it's become a bit trendy these days.

It's time to stand tall in your Hunter wellies and wield your bins in public with no fear.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Whopper Gropper

I woke up to a fairly nice morning which was a far cry from the buckets of rain that I was expecting. At 8.30am I was at Hackbridge Station, outside Beddington Farm, awaiting the first participants of the bird walk that I was fronting. I say 'fronting' because after the initial introductory speech I gave to the assembled crowd that had gathered for the walk, I handed the reins over to Beddington Farm regular and flag flyer Peter Alfrey.

It was a pleasant walk for the 35 people involved and we all saw some of the work in progress including freshly dug pits and early creation of an lake island. Hopefully, it is a sign of good things to come.

Meanwhile, over at Wormwood Scrubs, our second ever Grasshopper Warbler had just been flushed in the grassland by fellow Scrubber, Roy Nuttall. Indeed, he got on the phone to me whilst I was on my walk miles away in south London for me to confirm its identity. By the time I made it to The Scrubs, later in the afternoon, it was like searching for a needle in a proverbial haystack. How was I to find a small skulking Gropper in acres of grassland?
Northern Wheatear (Dean Eades)
Juvenile Red-fronted Serin (Dean Eades)
I'm still reliving some of the great moments that I had last week in Turkey and you will be seeing the occasional picture sneaking into my blog for some time to come. I especially want you to see the amazing pictures of the adult Red-fronted Serins that Dean took.

Hurry up and ship them over to me Dean!

Saturday, 3 October 2009


This morning's football was pretty dismal as we lost 4-2 only scoring in the last 3 minutes of the game. The session was very tetchy and involved one player (a bit of a twat if you ask me) leaving the pitch in a huff after a series of altercations with another player.

Pygmy Cormorants in Istanbul (Dean Eades)
Felt pretty tired throughout today- a mixture of Istanbul fatigue and football. For the next few days I will have to really knuckle down to finish the stuff I need to write, as I am staring deadlines in the face.

Tomorrow, I will be co-leading a bird walk around Beddington Farm in south west London at 9am. It will be a walk designed to introduce people to the Farm and to highlight the difficulties it faces with its future conservation.

Until then.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Back from Constantinople

I really enjoyed my visit to Istanbul, it was absolutely fantastic. The people were fab, the architecture and history was mind blowing and the wildlife was pretty interesting too. It was my final morning today and I travelled to the Golden Horn by ferry with our guide Murat 'The Daddy' and trusty Dean Eades. On the way over I clocked another tick in the shape of 35 or so Yelkouan Shearwaters.

Once on the Golden Horn a busy and ancient part of the city (check a map for the exact positioning in the world) we hunted for the supposed flocks of Laughing Doves. Murat had told us that they practically fed out your hands. But we only managed just three birds!

Spur-thighed Tortoise (Dean Eades)
TUB & 'The Daddy'
Spotting a Sombre Tit
TUB driving the tour bus
Anyway, I'm back and in the green and pleasant land. Football tomorrow.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


Dean Eades & TUB
TUB & 'The Daddy' at Buyukcekmece Lake in the centre of town
'The Daddy' & TUB chillin'
I've been here for four nights, staying in a lux massive apartment with photographer and Northern enigma Dean Eades (, somewhere in Istanbul - don't ask me where - and I've only just sussed that we have internet access! Our last flamin' night! What a dumbo!

I'm here with Dean to research for my next Bird Watching Magazine article. Dean's here to take shots of the urban wildlife scene for our respective websites and for my forthcoming book which will be a guide to cities of Britain and Europe. To cut a long story short, we've had an amazing time with our host and Turkish birding guide extraordinaire Murat 'The Daddy' Bozdogan, visiting some really interesting inner city sites and a few that were further out. We've clocked such delights (notice that I refrained from using the suffix 'Turkish' before the word 'delight'. That's restraint for you!) as Red-fronted Serin, Kruper's Nuthatch, Pygmy Cormorant, Sombre Tit, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, Barred Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Cirl and Rock Buntings.

We also witnessed some of the fabled raptor migration over the Bosphorus including over 100 Lesser Spotted Eagle, scores of Short-toed Eagle, Steppe Buzzard and lesser numbers of Sparrowhawk, Levant Sparrowhawk, Hobby and single Goshawk and Booted Eagle. There was also a number of White and Black Storks too. The numbers that I saw were impressive to me, but just a week before the skies were literally filled with thousands of birds including over 10,000 Lesser Spotted Eagles. That must have been some sight.

My birding that particular morning (our first in Istanbul) was severely hindered by the consumption of too many vodka and oranges too late into the night. In fact, Dean and I didn't stop until Murat picked us up to take us to the Bosphorus. I was seriously caned, tottering about and seeing double. I also felt as sick as a dog and had to take several impromptu siestas often on the nearest available flat ground.

Anyway, I will tell you more about the Istanbul experience tomorrow.

Gule gule x