Tuesday, 21 December 2010

No. 97

Egyptian Goose in Africa (David Fettes)
It was a dull though slightly warmer morning than of late at The Scrubs today. Comfortably above freezing, the sort of temperature that meant that you can go without gloves holding your bins without fear provided you dip your paws straight into the sanctuary of a pocket shortly after. This month us Scrubbers are chasing that magical 100 for the year list.

I had just flushed a Skylark and my companion, Roy, was on his phone trying to sort out a plumbing problem at his tenant's house in Tewkesbury, Gloucester. Suddenly, an Egyptian Goose appeared from out of the gloom in the east and circuited the southern edge of The Scrubs and the prison several times. Number 97! I pointed it out to Roy, but he had major flood issues due to a burst pipe to deal with. I started to text my girlfriend who is currently holidaying in Thailand to tell her of my news. She immediately texted back 'six geese a calling'. No sooner had I read it I heard geese calling. High pitched yelping. I swung around to see around 37 White-fronted Geese wing their way low overhead east. I could quite clearly see the black lines on their tummies.

These guys were part of an unprecedented major London-wide movement that's been occurring over the last couple of days. They were my personal first on The Scrubs but they were originally recorded for the first time last month when a party of six headed south.

However, the morning belonged to the Egyptian Goose. I never thought I'd live to see the day when a Egyptian Goose was statistically more important than a bunch of truly wild geese. It's a funny thing this birding lark!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Four more to go!

Rock Pipit (Andy Cook)
Me and my fellow Scrubbers are desperately trying to reach the previously unreached target of 100 species for the year on The Scrubs. Regular followers of this blog will realise that the decision to go for a year list was only made last month when we suddenly noticed that we had clocked up 90 species.

The last few snowy days has seen a slowdown in the potential for a new bird for the year list. Prior to the snow there was a lot of movement that resulted in a couple additions to the list plus the welcome sight of a few species that had only been seen once during 2010. When the snows came the skies became quiet apart from a few unidentified finches, multitudes of gulls and a few winter thrushes. The breakthrough came today when we had a heavier than usual passage of gulls yielding a scarce Great Black-back. We had record numbers of Skylarks with over 140 seen including a group of 70 plus that dropped onto the snowy football pitches to feed. They adopted a curious cocked-tail posture, almost as though they didn't want to get their undersides wet. Our viewing pleasure was ruined after a few brief minutes by a Carrion Crow who seemed to take exception to their presence. He swooped in after flying the length of three pitches, putting the flock up who then all meandered south.

Species number 96 came in the shape of a Rock Pipit that was first detected when it called as it headed southwest over Chats Paddock. We need just two more species to equal our best ever total of 98 in 2008. A fingertip search for new year list birds will be conducted during the course of next week.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Time is running out

Great Tit (Jakub Puskas)
With the country seemingly carpeted with Waxwings I was left wondering why there not any buzzing around my patch at Wormwood Scrubs this morning. It was a bleak start with low cloud, low light and low heat - it was freezing. The tips of my toes began to freeze after a short while in my Hunters despite wearing two pairs of thermal socks.

The bird of the morning was without doubt the Mediterranean Gull that seems to sporadically popping up over the winter. It seems to turn up loosely associating with a sprinkling of Black-headed Gulls only to shortly pop off north over Scrubs Lane Wood to destinations unknown. I do love Med Gulls though. They are so beautiful. Leggier on the deck than their commoner Black-headed cousins and on the wing they seem to have a more graceful flappy owl-like flight to my mind.

Tomorrow I will hit the principality that is Staines in the name of journalism. In other words, I'm staring deadlines in the face and I need to write an article for Bird Watching Magazine -pronto!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Austerity bites

The Grazers (Alastair Riley)
Last weekend was due to be one of discovery centering around a trip to Sheffield on Sunday to sample the urban birding. But Sheffield was frozen out and furthermore the PR company dealing with the visit contacted me to say that their client was a victim of the Government cutbacks meaning that they could no longer support the trip. I hastily organised an alternative trip to Staines, Surrey but then I got felled by a bout of flu. So in the end I spent the weekend in bed.

I got back into the rat race today starting with a lovely breakfast at The Dorchester, Park Lane in my capacity as Vice President of the Association for Celebrity Assistants - it's a long story. It was amazing to check the menu to see that a full English cost the princely sum of £33!

After breakfast, I spent a couple hours writing in the auspicious surroundings of The Dorchester. Later at noon I had lunch up the road from The Dorchester with my old mate, Fred Street, the ex-England and Arsenal physio. He originally treated a football induced knee injury of mine 10 years ago and we've kept in touch ever since. Finally, I crossed town to Canary Wharf for a meeting to discuss relaunching the migrant bird project that I originally set up last autumn. It's going to be relaunched next spring minus the originator of the survey who proved to be a bit of a pain in the process when the project was first launched. We're going to have a launch event involving the project's supporters including Transport for London, the RSPB, BTO and the London Wildlife Trust.

2011 is shaping up well despite the impending economic doom and gloom. Hopefully, I may have trips lined up to Ethiopia, Texas, Portugal, Maderia, Alderney, Cape Clear, Rome, New York, Sri Lanka, Dominica and Serbia. It all remains to be seen.

By the way, do you like the Red-breasted Goose image? It's by a very talented artist Alastair Riley who's a good mate of mine. Check out his site http://www.alastair-riley.co.uk/

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

DJ Lindo

King of New York (David Fettes)
Having got over yesterday's day of decadence (displayed by others and unfortunately not me) life swung back to normal. Whilst working at home I had a text for Scrubs stalwart, Anders Price, telling me that he had just discovered a Woodcock in the grassland. Unluckily for Anders, this wasn't number 96 on The Scrubs year list because I had previously seen either one three times or three separate birds over a few days earlier in the year when we had that nippy spell. A nice sighting all the same.

Tomorrow, I will be hitting Wormwood Scrubs hard and I won't leave until I find a Firecrest. Well that's the plan. I may explore local berry bearing bushes in the vain hope of finding a secret flock of Waxwings too.

This afternoon/evening was spent variously behind the wheels of steels knocking out a few tunes and busting a couple of hot mixes. Sometimes I miss my djing past. The remainder of the time was spent more sedately behind the computer screen with MTV Dance in the background as a visual radio. I'm planning my next urban birding adventure to be written about in the pages of Bird Watching Magazine. Ah yes, Staines looks appealing......

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Old book for sale

The Sotheby's auction catalogue
This afternoon I sat in a room filled with extremely rich people mingled in with other less rich people that were either sent by someone infinitely richer or had that impossibly rich art dealer boss on the end of a phone signaling bids. Yes, I was at Sotheby's to witness the sale of Audubon's Birds of America at the behest of CBS News as they wanted me to pass comment on this the final stage of their planned piece on the great artist.

This was my first auction so the etiquette was very interesting to watch. Bidding was often signaled by the merest of movements so I was extremely nervous about scratching my head or lifting my glasses. In fact, at one point during the Audubon bidding (which was lot 50) I rubbed my chin and the autioneer shouted out '£6.1m' as he looked in my general direction. Luckily the bid increased to the eventual sale price of £6.4m (£7.5m after commissions etc).

The previous 49 lots were fairly swift with most people not hiding the fact that they were bidding. One book went for £1.1m in just a couple minutes. However, the Audubon auction was the main event and when the bidding began, encouraged by a very animated auctioneer, the room took on a totally different feel. As the cameras rolled, the room became hushed and everybody was looking at everybody else to try and register who the bidders were. Bidding started at £2.3m and towards the end when it broke the £5m barrier the bidding became a bit more transparent.

I just can't believe that so many people have so much money sloshing around. I think that I should produce an elaborately illustrated art book on the Birds of Wormwood Scrubs and see what I can flog it for in 10 years. What would you pay for it?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The deal so far

At last the snow is beginning to thaw and it's got slightly warmer. Only slightly. Apparently, the freezing conditions will be making a comeback within the next few days. I've been wrapped up with writing for the past few weeks so I've been a bit slack when it has come to checking out The Scrubs recently. So last week, I did my best to hit the hallowed turf on a near daily basis.

We are currently on 93 species and are now looking to get seven additional birds to make it to our biggest year total ever. The previous best was in 2008 when we clocked up 98. On Wednesday, 8 Goosanders flew over constituting our 94th species for the year as well as being our first of these sawbills ever recorded here.

The next few mornings saw good numbers of Skylarks, Lapwings and on the Goosander day, a solitary Golden Plover headed over with 26 Lapwings. The Goldie was our 2nd ever and our 2nd this year. It's tempting to think of what passes overhead when you hear about amazing birds like Common Crane and Snow Bunting just a few short miles to the south at Beddington Farmlands.

On Monday and Tuesday I was down on the Exe Estuary, Devon filming with Countryfile. I was doing a piece on Black-tailed Godwits with the delectable Julia Bradbury. You'll be able to watch it on Sunday 12th December on BBC1.

Julia Bradbury & TUB

Friday, 3 December 2010

Racial profile

Juvenile Peregrine on Flores, The Azores October 2010 (Russell F Spencer)
The same juvenile a bit closer (Russell F Spencer)
Does anybody know the racial identity of this juvenile Peregrine?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Wilson's Snipe over Iceland (Yann Kolbeinsson)
I've been busily tapping away on the laptop keyboard for days finishing off articles (and starting others). I've learnt that I am totally disorganised and I'm always surprised to have finished an article or Urban Birder task.

I was particularly happy to have finished my Iceland article for Bird Watching Magazine's Holiday Supplement due out in January. I even managed to get comments back from the guys in Iceland and an image of the Wilson's Snipe that I twitched from top Icelandic lister Yann Kolbeinsson.

Writing it brought back great memories though!

Here's to the next pressing deadline.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Photography - Russell F Spencer's talk at the London Bird Club AGM

Azorean Yellow-legged Gull (Russell F Spencer)
Tonight I attended the London Bird Club (part of the London Natural History Society) AGM for whom I used to be chairman. Afterwards, my amazing photographer Russell Spencer gave a brilliant talk on photography and his thoughts on photographing birds, particularly urban ones.

Well done fella. I know that I work with him, but sometimes you have to big up the members of your team!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Nice day in the office

Tonight I attended the BTO's Awards Ceremony held in the plush Kohn Centre and the Marble Hall in the impressive The Royal Society. I've been hanging out in quite a few posh buildings recently and as usual I was dressed appropriately in jeans and a jacket!

This awards ceremony is almost like the Oscars but only three awards are awarded. The Marsh Award for Ornithology, Marsh Local Ornithology Award and The Dilys Breese Award - the equivalent of the Best Film Award - went to my colleague Chris Packham for his outstanding communication of BTO Science to the public.

I hung out with the usual suspects; my BTO mates, journalist and all round nice guy Stuart Winter, Bird Watching Magazine's Editor Sheena Harvey and Swarovski's Peter Antoniou amongst others. I was most delighted to meet and chat with Ian Newton the migration guru. He wants to come up on Tower 42 next spring to observe the migration. He is a true giant.

Oh and I nearly forgot, I was also invited to be an ambassador for the BBC Wildlife Fund. What an honour!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A foggy day in paradise

Fog over The Scrubs
This morning's shoot with CBS News at The Scrubs was decidedly murky. They filmed me taking some members of the Peut-Etre Theatre (www.peutetretheatre.co.uk) on an urban birding crash course. They are putting together a children's play that featured city birds and had wanted my advice. After a fairly birdless wander I did a piece to camera about John Audubon. I will be doing more filming with them next week.

This afternoon I sent my errant Blackberry to the menders and picked up the most basic of phones to tide me over. It's amazing how used I had got to having a personal computer at my fingertips. How am I going to cope with a phone that you can barely send a text from?

This evening I journeyed up to Stevenage in Hertfordshire to deliver a talk to the Stevenage RSPB Group. It was a fun night and the audience seemed to enjoy themselves. Got home pooped after midnight and after enduring a couple of arduous train journeys.

Monday, 15 November 2010

John James Audubon

American Flamingo & Gyr Falcons (JJ Audubon)
A frustrating day was had today crowned by the loss of all 600 or so of my contacts and phone numbers from my stupid malfunctioning Blackberry. I won't even bore you with the details. All I will say is that there was a lot of shouting involved with the occasionally interspersed blue word!

I have been indoors in self imposed imprisonment trying to honour the copy deadlines that I have looming. I have two pieces to scribe for Bird Watching Magazine, one for the Guardian and some stuff for my newly sexed up website.

Tomorrow morning will be fun as I am filming with CBS News who approached me to feature in a programme called Sunday Morning to be screening in the US. They have asked me to comment on John James Audubon especially in the light of the upcoming auction of some of his art at Sotheby's in December. I will be shooting at The Scrubs.

Also, tomorrow night I will be speaking to the Stevenage RSPB Group delivering my well travelled Scrubs talk.

If you are in the vicinity pop in and see me.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Black-headed Gulls (Russell F Spencer)
It looks like Lee Evans is the flavour of the month as I met with him this morning at the Birdguides offices for an interview. The idea was for him to put the record straight after his contentious appearance on Twitchers - A Great British Obsession. I thought that he gave a very good account of himself despite a heavy and uncompromising grilling from myself. You will be able to see the interview online on Birdguides' site fairly soon.

Other news from the past few days included the fact that my remixed and funked up website relaunched yesterday. Take a look and see what you think.

Finally, I got a call from CBS News in their London office asking me to appear on a programme imaginatively called Sunday Morning to talk about John James Audubon and in particular, the Southerby sale of some of his original artwork in December. They will be filming that next week and my little bit will be broadcast across the States. Thanks to my good buddy, John Hague for sending them my way.

Enough writing. Time for sleeping.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Lee Evans

Searching (Russell F Spencer)
The topic of the day on the birding forums and my twitter was the Twitching programme on BBC4 last night. I think it left the viewer under no uncertain terms as to what a twitcher was and to what lengths they would go to achieve a tick. In a nutshell, it followed the stories of four or five different twitchers in their quest to add to their respective life and year lists. Central to the whole show was our very own Lee Evans who proclaimed his self appointment as guardian of twitching etiquette and birding standards.

Of course, he was hammered - and I mean, hammered - by most forum participants. But if you ask me, we need characters within our birding world. Love him or hate him, he makes us think, debate and for some people, laugh. I'd be the last person to slate him because although I may not necessarily agree with some of the things he says, I admire his sheer nuts.

My turn on Wednesday night on Birds Britannia, BBC4 at 9pm.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

And here's the news

(Russell F Spencer)
A busy week was had since my last posting.

The highlights included being invited to be a writer on the 20/20Vision (http://www.2020v.org/index.asp). For those who don't know about this innovative project it is - in their words - Britain's most ambitious conservation multi media initiative to communicate the link between the restoration of the UK's natural systems and our own well being. Check out their website to find out more and I'll feed you with more information plus my input in due course.

The other great thing to happen this week was that I was invited to be a judge on 2011 Observer Ethical Awards. The actually judging ceremony will be next April with the winners being announced thereafter.

On a negative note, the Canary Wharf Migrant Bird Project that I set up seems to be floundering due to several reasons. I didn't have a hands on approach to this project unlike with the Tower 42 Bird Study Group and as a result there has been a distinct lack of data. I think that this project has the potential to be pretty interesting but it seems as though the Canary Wharf people themselves have lost interest and to date have not been corresponding with me. I get the impression that they expected the trees to be dripping with migrants and I don't blame them given the way the previous study there was sold.

It is a project that has to be judged over a period of years and not after one poorly attended season.

Ah well, you can't win them all.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Migrant Bird Blip!

Looking east to Canary Wharf
It's a long way down!
The empty skies looking south
Our viewing platform
What a gorgeous day today was!

My day started at Canary Wharf at 8am trying to find birds in the estate. Apart from a pair of Peregrines, a couple of Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Magpies, a few crows and gulls there was absolutely bugger all to hold our attention. We then journeyed onto Tower 42 for phase two of our Migrant Bird Blitz.

The skies were empty bar a few gulls including an adult Great Black-back, a soaring Sparrowhawk and a couple Peregrines around the Tate Modern. This was despite the efforts of several birders scanning along with a couple of Austrian women and their kids that I had met on the street outside and had invited up to enjoy the view!

Maybe I should have stayed at The Scrubs today.

Friday, 22 October 2010


My new charges
I am now the proud babysitter of a pair of goldfish that were foisted onto me by a holidaying neighbour. What she doesn't realise is that I have a terrible record with this member of the carp family. Most if not all have died whilst in my care. It's funny, I was contemplating looking after a Daschund for a week but decided against it for logistical reasons. I'm not sure if an menagerie at The Urban Birder Towers would work somehow. I shall keep you up to date on the life and times of the two nameless fish in my care.

Otherwise, today was a day behind the laptop writing. I had to miss the Tower 42 venture this morning, but by all accounts it was totally crap for any movement. This Sunday will be the Migrant Bird Blitz that will see birders scouring the parklands of Canary Wharf Estate and the London skyline from Tower 42. That could be interesting.

Anyway, time to prepare for football in the morning.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

I'm back!

Wood Pigeons (Russell F Spencer)
Today was an important day. I actually woke up before sunrise (which is what I do every day) but this time I headed out of the house and went to The Scrubs to be greeted by a gorgeous - if cold - sunny day. The visible migration was good with over 700 Wood Pigeons, 80 Fieldfares, 400 Starlings, 30 Redpoll, 20 Chaffinch and a single Siskin.

It was good to get back into the saddle after the emotional turmoil and roller coaster ride I've been on since the appearance of the bird of the century - our first Great Grey Shrike. I have a feeling that because I missed that bird that I will find an amazing rarity at The Scrubs that no one predicted.

You read it here first folks!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Azorean wonders

Upland Sandpiper
Cory's Shearwater
Atlantic Canary
Bar-tailed Godwit being harassed by a Blackbird
1st winter American Redstart
White-rumped Sandpiper
All images copyright of Russell F Spencer
As you probably know, I got back from The Azores on Tuesday after being held up on Flores (my favourite Azorean island) due to the tropical storm created in the wake of Hurricane Otto.

They are a group of nine islands in the mid-Atlantic between Portugal and the States. I though that all the islands would be within sight of each other, so I was surprised when we landed on San Miguel (the main island) to learn that Corvo and Flores were a whooping 400 miles and 2 hours flight away. In short, I found some the European twitchers on Corvo full of testosterone, arrogance and unfriendliness. They just seemed interested in finding the next American rare to add to their Western Palearctic list. And that was it. Birding didn't seem to come into it. One of them, a Belgian photographer, poured scorn on the thought of us heading off to nearby and far larger and under-birded Flores. More reason for me to go, I thought.

Birding on Flores was like birding on a island with the blended characteristics of Scillies, Yorkshire, the Mediterranean with a tropical forest vibe thrown in. We ended up working around four areas as patches and as a consequence found American vagrants on a daily basis. We also found a few birds that were arguably Nearctic including a winter male Snow Bunting and a rather buffy looking juvenile Peregrine that lunched on one of the flock of four White-rumped Sandpipers that we were watching.

There were not many species to entertain us in between finding rares. Basically, there were Blackbirds with strange weak alarm calls and strange 'seaaa' calls. Also the females were quite dark almost like 1st winter males. The Goldcrests looked dingier and longer billed than our birds, whilst the Chaffinches looked like the North African birds with very little white on their tails and wings making them look quite dark. They seemed to flutter lacking the strong flight that I'm used to. There were tons of Canaries around. They reminded me of Serins. Starlings were prevalent seeming more spotted than usual. Finally, out to see were hundreds of Cory's Shearwaters, although some of us saw a few Great Shearwaters and I noticed a petrel on the boat over from Corvo which seemed like a Leach's.

I found the trip very interesting and although the weather conditions were perfect for bringing over falls of vagrants, it was very humid and wet which meant wet optics and sometimes poor visibility. Regardless, it was a great adventure that was supported by The Portuguese Trade and Investment Office and SATA Airlines. There, plug done!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Flores: the view above the clouds
The Flores Birders
The angry sea
I finally left Flores yesterday after several days waiting at the airport. We headed to the main island of San Miguel, some 400 miles away, to pick up today's flight to Lisbon that connected with one to Gatwick.

I will furnish you with lovely pictures of some of the bird life of the islands that were taken by Russell F Spencer plus more details of the adventure of the next couple of days.

Until then.....

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Azores - Day 8 (said in a Big Brother-like Geordie accent)

Great Grey Shrike (Anders Price)
I have been in tears all day - from the second I opened my eyes this morning to this very moment. You see, I have been on The Azores for 8 days now. Many of you will be thinking 'lucky bugger' and you would be right for thinking those thoughts, but my problem is not as simple as that.

I have been marooned on Flores, my favourite of the nine islands that make up the Azores, since Saturday. There has been no flights out of the island since last Thursday due to the inclement weather born from Hurricane Otto that had been threatening to lash the east coast of the US. Don't get me wrong, I've been keeping myself busy, often in the driving wind and lashing rain, finding a dowitcher sp and enjoying such beauties as a personally long awaited Upland Sandpiper, American Redstart, Grey Catbird and Rose-breasted Grosbeak plus a host of tantalizing views including the merest of glances at a cuckoo sp.

Not being able to get off the island was one thing; as I had a host of things to do this week including giving a talk to the Preston Bird Watching and Natural History Society. But the biggest thing and the reason for my day long tears was the discovery this morning of a Great Grey Shrike at The Scrubs. I had predicted the appearance of a shrike as our next bogey bird shortly after putting the ghost of our previous bogey bird to rest. After 18 years, we had seen our first Red Kite drifting over this summer, so I had told my fellow Scrubbers to look out for a shrike this autumn.

One has now turned up and I'm stuck on the bloody Azures! I couldn't care if I found a first for the Western Palearctic tomorrow - I'm a Scrubber, get me out of here!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Life and Death on Wormwood Scrubs

A poor Red Fox
It's been a bit of a manic few weeks for me - what with a touch of traveling and a shed load of writing. I've also been trying to keep an eye on The Scrubs, although I have dipped on two separate Ring Ouzels (my favourite bird as a lot of you may already know).

I had a great session on Sunday morning though when I scored at least 500 passage House Martins, 250 Swallows, 130 Meadow Pipits, 2 Yellow Wagtails and a high flying Hobby that proceeded to dramatically stoop at great speed onto some unfortunate and unseen prey item. We also had a pair of low flying Peregrines that gave us a great aerial display including some talon-locking. It was brilliant to see all that literally a couple of miles from central London.

This morning I discovered the above depicted fox that must have met with an untimely death during the heavy rain last night. It was undamaged bar some cuts on one of its back legs - no doubt as a result of some pecking by our voracious local Carrion Crows. Poor little thing.

Today was my last session down at The Scrubs because tomorrow morning I will be on Tower 42 (although it is promising to be a dismal day filled with rain and grey clouds) and on Saturday morning I will be between the sticks. Later that evening I will be on a plane heading for The Azores. Now that will be an adventure!

Oh, and by the way, I managed to catch up with the Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens White-winged Black Tern. My face was saved!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Dipping terns

Whilst everyone was sweating over the true identity of the Alder/Willow Flycatcher on Blakeney, Norfolk, a few London listers were fretting over inner London's first White-winged Black Tern discovered on Sunday over at Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens.

Although a truly amazing record, like the Norfolk Emphid flycatcher, it only went to illustrate that age-old urban birding ethos - anything can turn up anywhere at anytime. I got the call this morning about the tern, but as I was occupied on other things I decided to be 'sensible' and fore go the opportunity to see it - this was despite the fact that it was showing down to 20 feet.

Burning desire eventually got the better of me and at 4pm I drove down to the park only to be confronted by a host of blank faces. Our bird had flown. East at 3.30pm to be exact!

Despite swearing to return at dawn to track the bird down (I had decided this before it was seen again at 5.30pm) I knew in my heart that I probably wouldn't return in the morning. I would be too busy kicking bushes at The Scrubs as I have my own rarity to find.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The latest fashion

TUB at Rainham
You probably won't believe this but last night I was rubbing shoulders with London's fashionistas in an impressive building situated in salubrious Belgravia. Despite the presence of pretty fashionable people, it was in the main a most dull evening. Catwalks bore the hell out of me. Bone-freak models strutting up and down hold no interest for me.

On Sunday, I co-led a walk around Rainham RSPB with reserve warden, Howard Vaughan. It was a nice morning/afternoon spent with over 20 people. We saw a Hobby, a pair of Knot, many passage hirundines plus a Wasp Spider, Marsh Frog and several Common Lizards.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Usce Tower

The very top (photographer not known)
The assembled crowd (milan obradovic)
The Usce Tower (vlada marinkovic)
I journeyed over to Serbia on Thursday morning in the company of documentary maker, Ceri Levy, as he was attending to shoot some footage for his forthcoming film 'The Bird Affect'. Arriving in Belgrade I was surprised as to how hot it was. Having left decidedly chilly London 25 degrees felt tropical!

We were met at the airport by Dragan Simic, an effervescent birder from the city who had originally contacted me via Facebook a couple months previously about setting up a Belgrade watchpoint. Fortunately, Ben Crampton, an Englishman working in the tower, plus a birder and friend of Dragan, stepped in and helped to negotiate with the building's owners and management team to allow access to their roof for migration watching.

Usce Tower stands on the confluence of the Sava and the Danube rivers and overlooks a wooded island that was formally home to a colony of egrets and is now the winter roosting site for up to 2500 Pygmy Comorants. Built in 1964 the building is the 2nd tallest in the city at 141 metres (462 feet).

On Thursday afternoon, we met up with Ben who took us to Kalemegdan, a Turkish Fortress and park that was heavily populated with people. We managed to connect with a couple Spotted Flycatchers, Blackcaps, a Kestrel and a female Black Redstart - along with the ubiquitous Hooded Crows, Magpies, Collared Doves and House Sparrows. Later, I gave a TV interview by the Danube before jumping on a small boat for a quick cruise around the wooded island. The best birds apart from the regular Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls were 2 juvenile Little Gulls.

The following morning was the actual launch of the watchpoint. I was surprised to see over 30 people assembled to go on the tower to watch for migrants. I gave 3-4 more TV interviews about the importance of people noticing nature in their cities before heading onto the roof. We didn't see much but the observers all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Later, I had a whistlestop tour of a couple birding locations outside of the city that resulted in 1 White-tailed Eagle, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, a threesome of Black Storks and around 4 Greenshank that were apparently unusual. Before I knew it I was back at the airport heading home.

Many many thanks to Dragan, Ben, Mike (the Usce Tower building manager) and Zorica (Serbian Tourism) for making this event happen. I feel really proud to be involved and excited about the future records that will emanate from this site.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Belgrade - The Home of mainland Europe's 1st high rise Urban Migration Watchpoint

Born out of a Facebook conversation a couple months ago with Belgrade birder, Dragan Smic, the Usce Tower, Belgrade was set up.

Full story tomorrow. I'm knackered!
TUB & Dragan Simic (Milan Obradovic)
Enjoying the view (Milan Obradovic)
Birders viewing Caspian Gulls (Milan Obradovic)
TUB being interviewed by Serbian TV (Milan Obradovic)
TUB briefing Serb birders (Milan Obradovic)
Usce Tower (Milan Obradovic)
TUB & documentary maker, Ceri Levy on top of Usce Tower (Boris Bajcetic)

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Migrants galore

TUB with some of the kids from a local schools outside Queens Park
What a few days!

I have been working my proverbials off on the several projects that I am running concurrently. These schemes range from setting up a new migration watchpoint in Serbia to organising the Canary Wharf Migrant Bird Project, working on my new book and attending various meetings.

Things have also been quite interesting down at The Scrubs with a host of common migrants showing up including a few local goodies like several Buzzards, Hobby, Common Redstarts, Whinchats, Swifts and an array of warblers. Tomorrow morning will see me on the summit of Tower 42 hoping to see some migrant movement there too.

Finally, I was asked to declare open a wildlife interpretation board outside Queens Park in west London. The area is frequented by many media-types and is certainly up and coming. All was going well until I started to give a short talk to the assembled local residents. The heavens opened and I got totally drenched!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Sun worshiper

Common Lizard - my first on The Scrubs!
Oops! He's spotted me!
This morning, indeed the whole of the day was superb. Beautiful sunshine throughout. This morning I was up at The Scrubs on the hunt for newly arrived migrants, especially of the raptor variety. We were successful in seeing a couple of coasting Sparrowhawks, a hunting Kestrel and a proper raptor migrant in the shape of an ultra sexy Hobby, swooping through being pursued by a bunch of Swifts.

The best migrant was a male Common Redstart that we flushed from the grassland. Nice. Our second for the autumn. The Common Lizard though was one of the highlights of my life in The Scrubs. These animals have been present at Wormwood Scrubs for years, having been introduced after some of their range was destroyed by the Channel Tunnel development during the '80's. I've never seen one until today - and that's despite occasionally looking for them.

You see, I'm always looking up never down. If lizards squeaked I definitely be finding more!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Roll over Beethoven

TUB knocking out a concerto (Penny Hayhurst)
Tuition on bow holding (Penny Hayhurst)
No birding for me this morning, despite the fact that there seems to be tons of migrants swilling around at the moment. Maybe I'll catch up with some tomorrow. Instead, I had a violin lesson!

It was a surprise birthday present from someone who knew about my love for the sounds of strings. This love started when I was a teenager playing air violin to my ELO albums. By the end of my hour long lesson I had played a very simplistic Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - hardly Beethoven's 5th - but give me time!