Thursday, 26 November 2009

It's AGM season

Penduline Tit - for no reason! (photographer unknown)
This morning was a beautiful sunny day. My local patch instinct is waning as winter sets in. This is usual as I tend to calm down a bit, find it harder to get up and the like until mid-march when I force myself into it again. I spent large tracts of the early morning behind my laptop doing my homework set for me by my hard bargain driving web designer.

Tonight, I chaired the London Natural History Society's Ornithological Section's AGM (soon to be publicly christened the London Bird Club). I bumbled my way through it ignoring most of the protocol.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Rejected records

Blue-footed Booby chick - the only booby shot I have! (Michelle Thomas)
I learnt this evening from Kimball Garrett (Ornithology Collections Manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles) that a Brown Booby I found at Salton Sea had been rejected by the rarities committee.

On May 28th 2006 I was birding at Salton Sea in the Colorado Desert, US having spent the previous week hanging in LA, checking out some of my urban patches there. The Salton Sea was one of those places I'd always fancied going so I drove the 180 miles or so southeast out of LA to arrive at that amazing place at dawn.

The 'sea' is actually a giant lake occupying a massive basin in the Colorado Desert covering a surface area of 376 square miles and over 35 miles long. And it was bloody hot!

I was having a great morning watching a party of White-faced Ibis, both Clark's and Western Grebes, Gambel's Quail, Western Kingbirds plus Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I was also ticking such beauties as several Yellow-footed Gulls, Burrowing Owl, Lesser Nighthawk (my favourite), Verdin, Cactus Wren and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. My head was positively spinning.

As the morning progressed so did the heat and by 10am it had tipped 100 degrees farenheit. I was walking back to my car that was parked near to the water's edge. It was from there that fairly close in I noticed a strange bird that I soon realised was a 1st winter Brown Booby. It was sitting on the water about 100 yards from me preening. It's big blueish bill, chocolate brown plumage relieved by whitish underparts and underwing coverts to me were fairly diagnostic.

Had I had known just how rare this bird was locally I would have made far more comprehensive notes. Apparently, they are extremely rare at the Salton Sea with the last report being in 1996. My brief notes that I submitted were subsequently rejected. I know how people must feel when they see a bird that is obviously what it is only to have it rejected.

Well, it's on my list even if it's not on their county list. It's just a shame that my encounter with that booby will not be recorded for all to see for prosperity. But I guess we all have a bird or two that never made the grade with the birding establishment.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Rocking on

Mistle Thrush (Russell F Spencer)
Another good day in the office today in amongst all the grey windy weather. The main highlight was a phone call from the Portuguese Tourist Board's London office. The good news was that they are up for organising a reader break next spring in Bird Watching Magazine with me leading it. The advertorial will be in the February issue (out in late January 2010).

I also saw my web designer, who is based in my agent's office in Shepherds Bush, west London. She's doing an amazing job on the redesign of my website but I owe her so much homework - some of it she demanded over two months ago. I'd better pull my finger out and perhaps I will be able to relaunch it in January.

Interestingly, after my piece appeared in last Sunday's Observer my web traffic jumped up by over 60%.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Dilys Breese Medal

TUB in Holland Park (Russell F Spencer)
Yesterday morning's visit the The Scrubs resulted in a Snipe and a couple flocks of overflying Redwings and Fieldfares. I'm convinced that at least one of our recent Ring Ouzels is still at large. I've just got to find it.

Later that afternoon, I was in Simon Cowell's ex-girlfriend's back garden in Holland Park, west London having a shot taken of me by my photographer Russell Spencer for my forthcoming BBC Wildlife Magazine article. We had clear blue skies that had previously been chucking it down. What luck!

Rain stop play this morning and all plans of visiting The Scrubs. Instead, I sat down to scan the Sunday papers and was surprised to find the birding piece that I have been waiting a while for in the Review section of The Observer. There was a nice picture of me on my patch and the editorial claimed that I actually lived in Wormwood Scrubs!

Tonight I donned a suit and strolled into the House of Lords to attend the British Trust for Ornithology's Dilys Breese Awards where upstanding members of the ornithological universe were acknowledged and given a medal. Stephen Moss and the lovely Fiona Barclay from Birdguides (who was looking rather lovely too!) were two of the six medal winners. Amongst the guests were a few of the BTO crowd, the Dilge, Sheena Harvey editor of Bird Watching Magazine and Tony Soper who approached me to asked if I remembered him!

The geezer's a legend and he's asking me if I remember him!! Something's not right there!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Stupendous Friday!

Team Tower 42 (Russell F Spencer)
What a great day Friday was!

The big news of the day was that Tower 42, the second tallest building in London and whose rooftop we marveled from whilst knocking out a short film on visible migration that I shot with Birdguides a couple Fridays ago, have agreed to meet with me to discuss my idea of setting up a Tower 42 Bird Observation Group. I believe that this idea is the first of its kind anywhere - please correct me if I'm wrong - and I am unbelievably excited about it. Next spring a whole new chapter in London's urban birding could be opened. Imagine an urban raptor watchpoint in the centre of London!

The next bit of news was that I had a meeting with the lovely ladies that look after the Turkish Tourist Board. They enjoyed the piece that I wrote on my recent visit to Istanbul (available in the December 09 issue of Bird Watching Magazine out now) and wanted to talk about me going out to eastern Turkey next spring to shoot a film about the birding opportunities out there. This is another exciting prospect and I will now have to put together a budget and hope that they agree it.

I wrote the first installment of my 'How To Be A Birder' series for BBC Wildlife Magazine and it went down very well. In fact, they asked some more words. I just hope it reads well. The final interesting thing to happen on Friday was a phone call from the RSPB press office asking me to lend my voice in the horrific Malta bird massacre. I obliged of course.

Saturday wasn't quite so exciting. Football was fruitful as my team won for a change. We'll ignore the fact that we had an extra man for the last 20 minutes. Also United beat Everton 3 nil.

So I suppose it was two good days in the office!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


I like this Blue Rock Thrush shot (Stephen Daly)
The big news today was delivered to me after I had finally finished my Bradford piece and pressed the send button to Sheena Harvey, editor at Bird Watching Magazine. She revealed that a recent online reader survey had revealed that a staggering 82% of respondents thought that my urban birding column was 'very good/good'. I was gobsmacked! I didn't realise that my articles were that popular.

An adult Mediterranean Gull was discovered at The Scrubs this morning in a howling gale. We normally get at least one visitation a year from this glorious gull and I was gutted not to have been there. I was having a bit of a lay in instead as I waited for the man from the garage to pick up my car for a service.

Besides, I have BBC Wildlife Magazine articles to finish!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


Tonight I attended a very dull Friends of The Scrubs Committee Meeting. Thankfully, I was spared the 30 minute debate on litter picking but being tired didn't stop me from wishing I was somewhere else.

Came home to tickle my Bradford piece for Bird Watching Magazine and start my BBC Wildlife piece which needs to be completed by Thursday.

No pressure then!

Monday, 16 November 2009


TUB with Shaun Radcliffe (Russell F Spencer)
TUB taking note by the River Aire (Russell F Spencer)
Russell Spencer (photographer) and I rolled into Bradford on Saturday night, knackered after an unnecessarily long and traffic filled journey up the M1. After an obligatory curry (has to be done in the curry capital) we decided to bed down in preparation for our planned early morning.

We had only just started pushing out the zeds when the extremely loud fire alarm went off, jolting us out of our slumber. So at 1.30am we were both standing on the pavement with other variously dressed hotel guests. Anyway, despite the early start we had a great day and Shaun Radcliffe (who's the Chairman of the Bradford Ornithological Group) was a great host come guide.

Got home bloody late last night after a 4 hour drive. I have 24 hours to write my Bradford piece.

Saturday, 14 November 2009


I'm in a Bradford hotel awaiting the dawn with the venerable photographer Russell Spencer to explore the city for its urban birding jewels. It looks like we may be in for a struggle because a look at the city map didn't seem to reveal many green areas that signify an birdy oasis. Even the guide that we're meeting in the morning seemed a bit scathing of the birding opportunities in the city.

My mission is to prove that there's birding to be had in any city that I find myself in. Bradford is looking like it will be challenge.

Earlier today I played football in the squalling wind and rain. Despite looking the far stronger team leading 6-2 after 50 minutes, we still managed to loose 9-6 by full time.

The moral?

Don't count your chickens......

Friday, 13 November 2009

Purple Rain

Red Kites over The Scrubs? Surely that's next? (Russell F Spencer)
Talk of purple patches ending were both premature and unfounded. This morning whilst I was in a meeting, fellow Scrubber Anders Price sent me a text to say that he had just found a Woodlark sitting on a path near Chats Paddock. After my meeting I hot footed from Park Lane to The Scrubs in the vain hope of seeing this bird - the third record for Wormwood Scrubs.

Did I mention the rain?

As I clambered through the grassland in the pouring rain my dreams of seeing this apparently confiding little lark were washed away too. Needless to say, I never saw it, but at least I found the previous two birds. Some consolation I suppose.

Yesterday, I learnt that I have been commissioned by BBC Wildlife Magazine to write a monthly step-by-step guide to becoming a birder. I'm delighted and it's a departure from just writing about urban birding.

I hope that you all check it out.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The dream is over....

And by dream I mean the amazing run of good birds at The Scrubs, because this morning's visit resulted in the more usual suspects for this time of year. The Ring Ouzel was nowhere to be seen and no surprise bird jumped out of the woodwork.

This afternoon my agent's office called me to offer up a ticket to the red carpeted premier of Harry Brown, Micheal Caine's new movie in London's Leicester Square. It was very strange strolling down the red carpet lined with paps and fans. Needless to say there was no flashing lights or screaming fans on my case, but it was interesting to observe some of the celebs posing for cameras and it was nice to see Mr Caine himself signing autographs willy nilly.

After the film, I popped my head around the door at the aftershow party a mile up the road near Regents Street. Here I rubbed shoulders with the great and the good - people from David Frost to Claudia Winkleman, Phil Tufnell and a couple other people from Strictly Come Dancing. My star stroking ended with a chat with Pete Tong (who I knew from my early clubbing days) and shaking the hand of the great Michael Caine himself!

I left the party early to return to my more normal mortal existence.

Monday, 9 November 2009

My purple patch

The Wormwood Scrubs purple patch continues. Yesterday, I re-found our refueling female Ring Ouzel gorging herself on the still plentiful berries within Chats Paddock plus had 5 Brent Geese fly over from the north. These geese were a site tick, although not totally unexpected because as a species, they are regular though scarce London visitors.

I didn't get a chance to venture out this morning, but I will be sure to be on my Purple Patch in the morning!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Heaven...... and Hell!

TUB and the Skyscraping birders on Tower 42 (Russell Spencer)

View from the Tower (Russell Spencer)
Pre-dawn (Russell Spencer)
The heavenly part of yesterday was the rooftop vigil on Tower 42 that finally happened. It was an amazing experience and we were totally looked after by security men Bradley and Stuart. As dawn dawned, it soon became apparent that we wouldn't be seeing much in the way of the anticipated Woodpigeon passage due to the low misty cloud.

My team included Birdguide's Fiona Barclay and top viz miggers, Des McKenzie and Mark Pearson. During the 4 hours that we were on the roof they picked up c250 Woodpigeon, 1 very distant Little Egret, a Peregrine below us at The Barbican and a Grey Wagtail over our heads - over 600 feet above the city streets.

This venue has so much potential, I can imagine us returning in the spring to witness some interesting raptor passage. It's an incredible vantage point from which the view across the whole of London was totally impressive. Unforgettable!

The hell part of the day I experienced sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in pouring rain on the A12 heading to my talk in Chelmsford for the Essex Birdwatching Society. A 90 minute journey ended up taking over 3 hours. I arrived over an hour late knackered, sick and fed up. My mood lightened when I walked into the room to be confronted by a load of patient Essex birders who applauded me as I entered the room. They had been waiting over an hour for my arrival. I gave an abridged version of my talk that went down well.

Today, I still had a sore knee at football and whilst breakfasting with some of my fellow ballers I received a text from Scrubber Rob Ayers telling me that the Ring Ouzel is still in Chats Paddock. It was only one of two ouzels reported today in the country.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Tower of power

I am knackered.

All these early mornings and late nights are finally taking their toll. For example, my recent trip to Portugal was no holiday; up at the crack of dawn every day, driving for miles, birding all day, going to bed late after doing some work - I needed a holiday to get over it!

This morning I was at The Scrubs at 6.50am to search for the Ring Ouzels before seeing my physio about my injured knee. Before I left at 8.15am, I had briefly seen the Ouzel and had a Water Pipit fly over calling which was a site tick.

My physio said that I am an athletic man and that my knee problem is muscle related - which is good news. He made me do some strenuous exercises that resulted in my subsequent tiredness. So, I'm off to bed. I have a tower to climb in the morning!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Fly my way

Woodpigeon (Jill Pakenham)
This morning I arose to beautiful blue skies and the overwhelming urge to visit The Scrubs. So, 20 minutes later I was marveling at the flights of Woodpigeon heading purposefully southwest across the skies. I estimated at least 1,200 passed over perhaps journeying towards Iberia or maybe just southwest Britain. They twinkled in the morning sun. I also noticed a couple of smaller Stock Doves in their number.

I then quickly visited Chats Paddock with Scrubber, Rob Ayers. Once in the middle and having seen a Redpoll fly over calling and plentiful tits, I decided to retrace my steps and Rob carried on. Within minutes, Rob was calling me on the phone to say that he had rediscovered a pair of Ring Ouzels!

These birds must have been in the vicinity for the past week feeding on the still plentiful berries. This is totally unprecedented. No Ouzel has ever stayed with us for longer than a day and a half. Anyway, I fancy a rarer thrush now.

My excitement is mounting when it comes to filming on Tower 42 on Friday morning. I checked the weather forecast on Sky News tonight and it looks like it's going to be a glorious sunny morning with a light southwesterly. Hopefully, the Woodpigeon movement will still be in full swing and that we get some good footage.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


I spent this morning partially dreaming of Ouzels and working on my proposed series in BBC Wildlife Magazine which will be a step by step guide to being a birder. It should kickoff in the spring of 2010 as I may have told you before.

Whilst I was dreaming up creative thoughts, a Red-legged Partridge was being flushed in Chats Paddock up at The Scrubs - our 2nd ever after the one I flushed earlier this year. What an amazing run of interesting birds we're getting.

After watching Manchester United draw with CSKA at home, I got to work on my forthcoming talk for the Essex Birdwatching Society this Friday night. Before you wonder, my talk is already devised I'm just adding some more images!

Monday, 2 November 2009

More Ouzels!

Ring Ouzel (Stephen Daly)
I can't believe it! Yet another Ring Ouzel!

I quietly stalked into Chats Paddock at The Scrubs this morning, ostensibly looking for the Cetti's Warbler that was briefly heard last week and instead had a cracking view of a female Ring Ouzel! My favourite bird!

She sat in a tree about 100 feet from me and we just stared at each other until fellow Scrubber, Roy Nuttall, entered the paddock. To be fair to him, he didn't realise that I had an Ouzel in my sights and shouted for me to look at a flock of around 100 Woodpigeons heading overhead. True to form, the Ouzel disappeared when I turned to look at it again after I hissed at Roy to be quiet.

We then spent the next 45 minutes searching the suitable areas in the vicinity to relocate the bird. By this point we were joined by another Scrubber Anders Price, a very nice American chap over here on secondment with his wife until next summer. I suggested that we go back to the scene of the crime because Chats Paddock is one of the quietest places at The Scrubs and furthermore, the shrubs were still laden with berries. After 5 minutes of stalking, out of nowhere, we saw our bird fly past us heading west towards the embankment area. Her gorget and pale wing panels were on view for the world to see.

It was a privilege to witness the sight of such a wild bird in the heart of urbanity.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Alas, they were right...

The weathermen were right. It poured down this morning ending fairly suddenly at around 1pm. I had rare lay in until 10am. I think I needed it.

Later in the afternoon, I saw a screening of 'Nowhere Boy' at BAFTA in Piccadilly. It was a film about John Lennon aged 17 when he lived with his Aunt Mimi in Liverpool. She was played by the delicious Kristin Scott Thomas who was also present at the Q&A afterwards, along with director Sam Taylor Wood. I was surprised to learn that Taylor Wood has just got engaged to the actor who played Lennon in her film - she's 44 and he's 19!! Good luck to her!

Oh, the film was ok - not that great, although Kristin and the actor who played Lennon's mum were exceptional.

In the diary this week is a talk I'm giving on Friday to the Essex Birdwatching Society, so if you're in the hood pop in.

Finally, I received these amazing images of a hatching Purple Heron chick photographed by Pedro Narra in Portugal. Amazing, aren't they?