Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Decade!

I hope that you all had a safe and enjoyable New Year's celebration. I also hope that all that you dream for and desire happens for you during the ensuing months.

I had one of my best New Years Eve ever. I was alone at home in front of my laptop writing whilst watching Sky Plussed pre-recorded episodes of Family Guy. My eyes must have closed because I suddenly awoke when I heard a series of large explosions, which I subsequently realised was the display at the Millennium Wheel.

Resolutions are not normally my thing, but I do have a few hopes and dreams for the coming year. I have been very blessed thus far with my career as The Urban Birder and have been to places, seen things and done things that I never dreamt of just a few short years ago.

I hope that you will enjoy reading my blog over the coming months to experience the continuing unfolding of The Urban Birder story.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The day after the day after Christmas

Common Stonechat (Jon Osbourne)
Dawn saw me standing on the western edge of The Scrubs listening to hundreds of squawking Rose-ringed Parakeets getting ready to leave their roost whilst I scanned the skies for signs of hard weather movement. Ultimately, I was to be disappointed as the only real movement I saw were around 30 Redwings and 2 very distant Fieldfares.

Today was also the Scrubbers Christmas get together replete with mince pies and mold wine. Well, I forgot my mince pies and certainly didn't bring any wine. It was just as well because only long term Scrubber, Roy Nuttall, showed up. So we strolled around flushing 2 Snipe and finding our winter resident pair of Stonechat.

Back at home, I finally cracked open my presents. Aside from the itouch and field guide I mentioned yesterday, I also received 2 scarfs and some cosmetics to help keep an urban birder young, sexy and beautiful looking!

Saturday, 26 December 2009


I hope you all have had a fun and peaceful Christmas.

I put on at least 6 stone on Christmas Day, although to be fair to myself, I did have a 2 hour game of scratch football in Kensington Gardens with my mates - you know, jumper for goalposts stuff. We played near the Round Pond so there were plenty of milling gulls and flocks of Mute Swans and feral geese to watch out for. Today I wasn't in goal but playing outfield, so birding opportunities were somewhat limited. I scored the winning goal in a penalty shootout. You should have seen my celebration!

I've also been hitting The Scrubs for the past couple of mornings scoring at least 4 Snipe, a calling Red-legged Partridge and this morning, a superb winter plumaged Mediterranean Gull. Tomorrow morning is the planned Scrubbers Christmas gathering, but the turnout is likely to be poor.

Yesterday, I received an email from India alluding to the possibility of an invitation to the Indian Birdfair that's being held in February. It may also be a case of the true meaning being lost in translation. I responded saying that I would be up for it plus I suggested a few ideas. I'll see what comes back.

Believe it or not, we still haven't opened our Christmas presents in my household - strange I know. What I do know is that my mum has got me the Helm field guide to the birds of the Atlantic Islands and that my best mate has got me an Apple itouch, which I'm particularly looking forward to fooling around with tomorrow when we finally crack open the presents.

Time to kip up so that I'm fresh to find that oddity in the morning that's lurking at The Scrubs.

Monday, 21 December 2009


Crested Tit (Hugh Harrop)
I'm really looking forward to my trip to Scotland in early January next year. It's going to be great, especially stalking around Mull.

I've been thinking about my first trips to Scotland during the school summer holidays as a youth hosteling teenager. I went with my local youth club in Wembley, north London and me and my mate Alan were the only birders on the trip. I say 'birders', we were not that great, however, we did find a female Surf Scoter along the coastline of Handa Island, up on the west coast. Well, we didn't know what we had found, but we knew it was interesting. So we wrote and left a description on the warden's door (as he wasn't about). He very kindly wrote a couple weeks later to tell us of our exciting discovery.

The other day I was having a moan about Visit Scotland and their apparent unhelpfulness. Those words were written during a time when I was feeling a little peeved by a few things not going to plan at the time. In reality, Visit Scotland are totally fine. Having thought about it since, they very helpfully facilitated my trip to Edinburgh earlier this year when I did the Firth of Forth cruise. Maybe I spoke out in haste. I'm so passionate about getting the urban birding message out there sometimes I get annoyed when I feel that I'm being impeded.

As it happens, it now looks like they may be able to assist with my up and coming trip to Glasgow. It may well be a case of all's well that ends well.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Back at The Scrubs

I made it!

I finally made it back to The Scrubs!

As I pulled up on Braybrook Street (on the western edge of the site) I was surprised to stumble across a mass gathering of around 1,000 Rose-ringed Parakeets collected on a few roadside trees noisily chattering away. Occasionally, they'd all lift off only to return back to base for some more chattering. I was frantically scanned above them for whatever might of spooked them. I saw nothing.

I parked further up the road, got my gear together and strolled into the site. By now the parakeets were beginning to head off, mostly west, in small squawking groups. It's funny, a few days ago a PhD student contacted me about the Wormwood Scrubs parakeet roosts as she was studying them in London. We hadn't recorded any large roosts for the past 4 months and I told her so. Looks like I'll have to send her another email.

Before I left this morning, I recorded a wayward Lapwing calling overhead, 7 Skylark feeding on an unfrozen patch on the football pitches, around 12 Meadow Pipits, a pair of Stonechats and a brief Reed Bunting all in the icy grassland.

It was an absolute delight to out in the morning under the clear blue sky.

Saturday, 19 December 2009


Before I start, I must unequivocally state that I have no beef with Scotland or the people of Scotland - I'm just a bit peeved with the tourist board. Just thought I'd mention that.

Today was a freezing, crisp sunny day. It was so cold that I even wore my Berghaus puffer jacket in goal for the first 20 minutes. We won and I enjoyed the game. I had nothing to add to my 'Whilst Playing Football List', indeed the birds I noticed were a few Magpies and several Black-headed Gulls.

Finally, on a completely different note, I congratulate Chris Hollins on winning Strictly Come Dancing tonight. We share the same agent so I salute my fellow stablemate.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Let downs and lifts

TUB on the Cairngorms c1996
Since the last time I put finger to keyboard I've not been to my local patch nor lifted a pair of binoculars. This time I have no excuse because most of my deadlines are out of the way and apart from a few flecks of snow one morning and a couple other more rainy ones, the mornings have at least been dry - if bitterly cold. No, this is my mid-winter doldrum period, an annual occurrence than can sometimes drift into March. I aim to stop the rut this Sunday by dragging myself out of my warm pit to visit The Scrubs and I must continue the newly found purpose to the end of the year. I must, I must, I must. Well, maybe I may have a lay in one morning......

A couple disappointments were had over the past few days. The usual ones from certain execs at particular TV channels but the biggest disappointment emanated from Scotland. Visit Scotland refused to support my one day trip to Glasgow for Bird Watching Magazine because the felt that the magazine's circulation was too small. They are the first unhelpful tourist board I have come across in 12 months of traveling Britain and Europe on my urban birding tour. I didn't understand why they didn't get the idea that the magazine's readers were active and actually do visit places in pursuit of their hobby. I was amazed by their attitude, especially given that as far as I know, no one else in the world is writing about city wildlife to the people most likely to go look for themselves.

Last night I went to a Christmas gathering at the swanky Mayfair Hotel, off Piccadilly. The reception desk told me that I had to go to the 5th floor, so I strolled through the thronging atrium to the lifts. I got to them just as one was closing. A well placed foot prevented the doors from closing on me and I entered. I was dimly aware of a couple of kids and three adults in the tight car as I stared at the panel to punch the 5th floor button. The doors closed and we started to ascend. I casually looked to my left and was flabbergasted to see JERMAINE JACKSON standing there!

Before I could think, I had introduced myself to him and told him how much of a pleasure it was to have met him. He was lovely and called me 'Dave', to which I replied with a jovial smile on my face, 'David, it's David to you!' As I said this, my floor arrived and I bid the occupants of the lift a good night and skipped out.

It's not often you get to meet megastars and I didn't even get the chance to show him some of my moves!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Stuff the birds!

Hoopoe in Istanbul (Dean Eades)
The stuffed bird debacle took a different twist today when I decided to hand the potentially offending item back to the giver. She was quick to confirm that her taxidermist only handles naturally dead animals, so there was no question of the Goldeneye being the victim of a twelve-bore.

Today was the usual mix of writing, plotting and planning with Christmas shopping thrown in to queer the pitch. I sent a proposal over to the Tower 42 Management Team about the formation of my Bird Study Group idea. I'm really excited about the potential discoveries in store for us when we begin looking for migrants next spring.

Later in the evening I journeyed into the freezing night to Houndsditch in the city to attend Redmint Communication's Christmas gathering which was in a Turkish restaurant. They were the people who organised my successful trip to Turkey via their client, the Turkish Tourist Office. I had a nice night. The ladies at Redmint were an absolute delight. They really looked after me - as they have always done from day one.

I was at home by midnight, writing this blog and contemplating my first trip to The Scrubs for well over two weeks in the morning. What will tomorrow bring?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Stuffed birds

This morning I visited a friend of mine who I've known for over a year now. We get on very well. She loves birds and has made her large garden in Holland Park, west London into a bit of a nature reserve with at least 12 nestboxes of all descriptions - ranging from owl and woodpecker boxes through to your regular tit boxes.

She also loves woodpeckers and travels to eastern Europe annually to catch up with the specialities there. Today when I walked into her home she presented me with a large, old looking display case with a drake Goldeneye and Shoveler plus a pair of Kingfishers all stuffed and presented in a pseudo riparian habitat scene.

I posted news of this new acquisition on my Facebook page and was met with by a mixed reaction. It now appears that as the Goldeneye is a Schedule 1 species I could face up to 6 months in prison if the bird was proven to have been shot.

This raises a lot of questions. How can it be proved if the bird was shot? What if it was procured outside of the UK? What if it died of natural causes? And what about some of the stores, homes and workplaces that I have visited with stuffed birds on display? One place in particular had a Great Northern Diver on display, does that mean that they are breaking the law too?

Does the fact that I accepted this gift without asking questions make me a criminal?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A weekend of no birding

Kucuk Camlica Hill, Istanbul a couple months ago (Dean Eades)
I had quite a good weekend with very little birding involved. In truth, I've not been to The Scrubs for two weeks. It's been a mixture of too much work to do mixed with the usual winter doldrums. I should really get myself out there to see if I can get to a 100 species for the year - for the first time. I'm currently on 93.

Football was pretty good on Saturday morning. It was a 4-4 draw and I was voted man of the match for the second week running. I also had a party of 30 or so Redwing heading northeast, which was quite nice whilst standing in between the sticks.

The festive period is beginning to kick in and I have been invited to a couple of parties next week that I will be reporting on for you - as I won't be touching any drink. Hopefully, I will make it over to Wormwood Scrubs next week too.

Friday, 11 December 2009

London Birders Christmas Booze Up

No it's not a two-headed Common Gull!
With most of my immediate deadlines out of the way it felt like a sizeable weight had been lifted from around my neck. I still have tons to do mind you. I have a truckload of stuff to ship over to my lovely web designer in order for her to relaunch my site in the New Year. My agent's office has also given me a ton of stuff to research for them. I'm not looking forward to that.

BBC Radio London called me today to ask me to be on a show tomorrow night at 10.30pm. I will be talking about animals turning up in weird places in the capital. That should be fun.

My day was capped by the London Birders Christmas Drink which was a bit of a raucous affair. Most of the raucousness emanated from the inebriated mouth of my good mate Dez McKenzie who managed to confuse a Greater Sandplover depicted on my Blackberry screen for a Curlew. I put it down to the ale and gave him the benefit of the doubt!

Around 20 blokes turned up and one woman, fellow blogger Nathalie Mahieu, who back in February very kindly helped me out with contacts when I decided to head for an urban birding trip to Paris at short notice.

And oh, I indulged in apple juice with no ice - before anyone starts wondering!

Thursday, 10 December 2009


A frosty morning at The Scrubs
I've been off the blogging scene recently thanks to the endless deadlines I've had. Due to the Christmas period, deadlines were pushed forward. It's kinda weird writing about the onset of spring while staring out of a window at December fog.

The first in my BBC Wildlife Magazine series on How to Be A Birder should be hitting the streets next week. It would be interesting to hear what people think of that. It will be very much beginner stuff with a little twist. I've also been working on a book proposal that suddenly came up last week. The commissioners had their meeting today and I should hear tomorrow of their decision. I will release the news after that.

I was also asked to give a talk to the female prisoners of Holloway Prison in north London. I was thinking of giving my talk 'A Year in Wormwood Scrubs - Life for an Urban Birder'. I wonder if the title would be construed as being disrespectful?

Our should I retitle it 'Urban Birds for Urban Jailbirds?'

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Sex and funk

(Russell F Spencer)
I've been immensely busy recently with several deadlines to reach by Monday and to be honest I'm currently struggling with my latest Bird Watching piece on my trip to Lisbon. The expedition was over a month ago and I haven't written a word about it since - until yesterday!

My problem is although I have the story down I need the sex and funk to make it kick. It's one of those things that generally comes in a moment of inspiration. So it had better come quickly preferably before Monday!

This morning despite loosing at football, I was voted man of the match due to the high number of 'world class' saves (not my words) that I made. From a birdy point of view, I forgot to mention that last week during football I heard a Siskin calling overhead. It was the first record for my 'whilst playing football' list. This list is worldwide and includes such beauties as an Osprey low overhead whilst I was kicking leather in Hyde Park and a flock of 6 American White Pelecans seen whilst I lay exhausted on my back after a particularly long game in West Hollywood several years ago. It was dusk and the birds were illuminated by the sportsfield floodlights.

It's worth letting in a few goals for the sake of a good bird.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Sometimes I'm blue

Pool fun in Rejkjavik (Justine Watson)
The last couple of days have been up and down. A couple of great moments occurred including this morning's meeting with the management of Tower 42. They are very keen to set up my idea of a bird study group to kick off in the spring. I also had a good meeting yesterday with a publisher who seemed pretty keen to add me to their stable.

The crappier moments have come as the result of short-sighted uninspired people in the media who just don't get what I'm trying to achieve. They make me boil over with frustration.

I think I'd better go and dream of diving into a hot pool in Iceland. That doesn't sound like a bad idea. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Not too much to report

A distant Cormorant (Russell F Spencer)
Not that much to report for the last few days. I've just had my nose to the grindstone. Writing, thinking, plotting and planning - you know, the usual things for an urban birder.

The other day my agent informed me that I had been approached by the Waterside Trust to be a supporter for a campaign that they're running next year. I will lend a hand.