Thursday, 25 February 2010

Great weather for ducks.....and gulls

A heavily moulting 3rd winter (?) Yellow-legged Gull (photographed in Portugal)
It seems like it has rained the whole year so far. It was a grey start today and the usual and expected rain kicked in later in the afternoon. I woke up early this morning intent on visiting The Scrubs. One look at the grey skies sent me packing back to bed. Of course, things could be a lot worse like it is in Madeira. What a dreadful situation out there.

Meanwhile, back in The Urban Birder Towers, it was business as usual. I've been asked to review a photographic guide to Jamaican birds by Birdguides and a book on wildlife in London by BBC Wildlife Magazine. The latter magazine has also invited me to attend their readers day as one of their experts at Slimbridge WWT in May. I have also been asked to attend the Birdwatchers Spring Fair in Tamworth for the second year in a row in April and finally, the London Wetland Centre have asked me to lead a walk and give a talk during their 10 year anniversary celebrations in late May early June.

The diary's padding out!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Extremadura here I come

Blue Rock Thrush (Stephen Daly)
This time next week I will be in the Extremadura region of Spain hopefully watching Lesser Kestrels in Caceres, a small city that holds internationally important breeding numbers of this rather attractive falcon. I'll be there next week to write the latest episode of my urban birding odyssey around the cities of Britain and Europe for Bird Watching Magazine.

This Saturday afternoon after footie I will be in central London teaching kids about birding in St James' Park. It is an initiative put on by the London Natural History Society, for whom I'm the chairman of the London Bird Club - which is part of the LNHS. Should be a fun afternoon, so if you're around.....

Monday, 22 February 2010

Back to work

After yesterday's extreme laziness, I awoke early and ready for a jaunt down to The Scrubs only to be thwarted by heavy rainfall. No matter. The Urban Birder office doors swung open as there was work to be done.

One if the main things that I needed to do was finish my latest BBC Wildlife article which has to be in tomorrow. Another pressing thing is the launch of both the London Bird Club and the Tower 42 Bird Study Group.

And that's just for starters.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

An utterly lazy Sunday

Where all great dreams begin
I had a right royal day off today. For once I ignored the lure of the laptop and didn't even think about the mounting workload that I am generating. My day started at 8am on my patch, The Scrubs, under ominously grey skies enthused and encouraged by my post Saturday football trip to Walthamstow in east London to clock the lingering Dusky Warbler.

I endured a relatively long wait to catch up with the bird and I didn't actually clap eyes on it until after 4pm in the last of the evening's sun rays. Thereafter, we were subjected to icy rain that sometimes morphed into full blown sleet. I had reasonable, though usually fleeting views of the Dusky although I had clear views of its pale legs and yellowish feet on a couple of occasions - obviously different to the black legs displayed by is accompanying Chiffchaff mates.

Before the sky opened up this morning, I had counted over 25 Meadow Pipits and crucially, a single Skylark that was momentarily roused from the grassland. Could it be prospecting?

Rain stopped play, so I came home and spent the vast majority of the day drifting in and out of the world, horizontal in my lovely warm bed. For those who know me, this is a truly rare event akin to the rediscovery of an Eskimo Curlew, and if it ever happens it's either because I'm sick, on holiday or both!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Essex birds

Did anyone see Natural World on BBC2 at couple weeks ago about the natural history to be found in Essex?

What an amazing film! So beautifully shot and the wildlife footage incredible. What I liked the most about it - and it's something that a few people had tipped me off about to made me go and watch it - was the interesting blend of urban and wildlife. The film made urban areas look gorgeous, but most importantly, it showed that wildlife was all around for all of us to see. It has the sort of production values that I have always envisaged that I would employ on my own urban birding series. Whenever that may happen.

Check it out (if you're in the UK) on:

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Still frickin' cold

Black-headed Gull with blurred Herring Gull (Russell F Spencer)
The sun came out today shining down lulling me into spring-like thoughts until I stepped outside. It was frickin' cold!

I still haven't managed to go birding for weeks apart from Brighton last week. Speaking of which, Sheena Harvey (I want to say Easton) editor of Bird Watching Magazine sent me an email today to say that she enjoyed my forthcoming piece on Brighton. It was welcomed news. I also received a text from fellow Scrubber Anders Price informing me of the continued presence of the adult Mediterranean Gull at Wormwood Scrubs that has been seen on and off (more off than on) since November 2009.

I'm going to try and make an appearance there in the morning.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Be brave

The big news today was the confirmation of the identity of yesterday's mystery warbler found by my mate, Lawrence (Lol) Bodini, over at Walthamstow Marsh in urban east London. Lol was certain that the bird that he briefly saw and heard was a Dusky Warbler - a bird that he was unfamiliar with having not seen one before. What I greatly admired about Lol was that he had the nuts to stick his neck on the line, at the risk of much ridicule from his fellow London Birders, and put out the news that he had found a Dusky.

A subsequent search today revealed that the bird was indeed a Dusky - London's first! What an amazing find!

I most admire the fact that Lol was willing to be called a fool. He could have quite easily seen the bird, felt uncertain about it and kept his trap shut thus preventing the potential rediscovery of this great bird. He now has been given the freedom of the city.

I guess the message is don't be afraid of making mistakes and have trust in your instincts.

I myself have not seen a Dusky Warbler and I am dead keen to go and see it tomorrow, but I've just realised that I haven't got the time tomorrow. I just hope that it sticks around for a while.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The only way is up

Starlings (Russell F Spencer)
Last week ended quite negatively for me with the crash landing of an idea that I had been trying to get of the ground for several months. Despite the fact that the going seemed to be good it all went pear-shaped in the last minute leaving me a little wounded.

Having said all that, I did have a very pleasant meeting with Birdguides and it looks as though we will be making some interesting films together this year. There's already a Tower 42 film and a piece on the London Wetland Centre in production plus I hope to put out my films on Belfast and Budapest in the near future too.

The only way is up.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Where are the Brighton birders?

Just give me the sunshine
A busy day was had at The Urban Birder Towers as I tried to draw up the invitation list for the Tower 42 Bird Study Group launch, to be held at the end of March. I also learnt today from the Italian Tourist Board that my request to hit Rome on my urban birding trail has been accepted. So I would hope to visit during May.

I'm writing my Brighton piece for Bird Watching Magazine but it is proving to be more difficult to research than I originally imagined. There's barely anything on the net about birding in Brighton - unless you're talking about Brighton in Canada. I'm disappointed that I have had little help from the people I contacted at the Sussex Ornithological Society thus far, which is pretty weird because every bird club I have contacted previously had been more than happy to help out.

I'm sure that I'll get there in the end. Any Brighton birders out there?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Urban Birder goes to Potters Bar!

I was supposed to arise at 4.30am this morning to take my mum to Heathrow Airport in order for her to catch a plane to New York to attend a funeral. I was spared waking up at that ungodly hour because she had called me the night before to tell me that her flight was cancelled. Apparently, the snow cover in New York is atrocious. Judging from the images I saw on the news of Washington under tons of snow, I could well imagine the Big Apple's plight.

This morning a couple of the guys from the British Trust for Ornithology came around to my house - all the way from Thetford, Norfolk, although not just to see me! They filmed me in a freezing, snowy street in Notting Hill talking about House Martins as part of their 'Out Of Africa' Appeal. The results of the filming will be on their website in early March.

At lunchtime I journeyed to the extremities of the Northern Line to deliver a talk to the Potters Bar RSPB group. When I arrived it quickly became apparent that I had no projector, so I had to give a 2 hour talk with no visuals and plenty of arm waving. I really enjoyed it and they seemed to love my Scrubs/urban birding talk.

Back at home later in the afternoon, I stared at a computer screen trying to kick-start my already late Bird Watching Magazine Brighton article. Inspiration, where are you when I need you?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A great flocking day!

Perhaps 5,000 Starlings in a swirling mass
Sunset from Palace Pier
Palace Pier
(All pictures by Russell F Spencer)
Had a superb day urban birding on the south coast in Brighton. It's surprising how little birding information there is on the city when you delve on the internet. So after arriving in town I headed to a nice cafe to plan my day and indulge in a hearty breakfast. I then headed over to the Brighton Marina where I found 2 Purple Sandpipers and watched a pair of Black Redstarts feeding amongst the blocks of concrete dumped along the side of the marina.

Later, I found a Mediterranean Gull and a couple of Little Egrets amongst the loafing gulls on the rocky beach at Saltdean, a couple of miles down the coast, west of Brighton. I ended my day back in Brighton on Palace Pier to witness perhaps around 30,000 Starlings coming into their roost on the pier. It was amazing to watch them cut shapes over the sea with smaller groups flying over and being sucked into the main group by some irresistible invisible traction beam.

It was also great to watch the faces of the observers who armed with phone cameras and the like gazing at the spectacle like they were watching a firework display. The smiles on their faces were a pleasure to behold. I will be writing a piece about if for Bird Watching Magazine.

Yesterday, I had a terrible game of football conceding four goals in the space of 10 minutes. The less said about that the better. I was chatted up by a girl on the tube too who offered to be my girlfriend if I gave her the Guide section of my Guardian. No girl's worth that!!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Brighton Bound

Brighton's Starlings
Nothing too crazy to report today as nothing of great earth shattering importance occurred.

Football tomorrow and then on Sunday I will be in Brighton searching for it's urban birding hotspots.

Any ideas anyone?

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Unpleasant Pheasant

Cock Pheasant (David Darrell Lambert)
Today was a great day!

Primarily because the Tower 42 Bird Study Group is about to be born. I had a very successful meeting with the management at the Tower, who totally love the idea of a bird observatory on the top of their building. The RSPB London office are getting involved and are requesting information on Peregrine sightings and returning Swifts. There's even going to be a launch event towards the end of March to mark this historical occasion. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this must be the only inner city skycraper visible migration observation platform in the world.

I am so excited about this opportunity. I've said it before, but I really feel that our visits during spring and the autumn are going to reveal some interesting statistics - so keep reading this blog!

Back at home, I sent out my latest Scrubs report to my mailing list and generally responded to the multitudes of emails I am getting these days. One of them was a invitation to a press trip to Warsaw in June. That will be brill.

I also did a brief phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live later in the evening. I was asked to comment on a rogue Pheasant that had got itself in the news today for it persistent assaults on members of the public in the village that it resided in up in Yorkshire. The 'Unpleasant Pheasant' as it was dubbed by the presenter has caused some consternation amongst the locals and particularly with the postman. I put it's behaviour down to over zealously staking out it's territory and mistaking humans for ginormous male pheasants.

I also sited the fact load noises can trigger aggressive reactions, a fact that the lady on the other line who hailed from the afflicted village agreed with.

I must say I've never heard of aggressive wild Pheasants. Perhaps this bird was shell-shocked after nearly coming to grief after being shot at or maybe he was a Capercaillie in a previous life?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Another day in the office

TUB on the Oban to Mull ferry (Russell F Spencer)
I tried to get up this morning to hit The Scrubs, but grey skies and laziness got the better of me.

I did a lot of work today and wrote my January Scrubs report in double quick time.

Right, time to watch Family Guy!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Up and down

Short-eared Owl on Cape Clear, Eire (Andy Cook)
Bit of a mixed day today.

Had a couple of meetings at the BBC today that although were ostensibly positive they left me feeling somewhat crest-fallen. It's a tough business this telly business.

Later, I attended the Friends of The Scrubs AGM, as I am a committee member. Nothing much to report with usual subjects covered.

Came back home and to settle down behind the laptop screen.

Monday, 1 February 2010


A deceased immature Black-headed Gull - an unusual Big Garden Birdwatch find (Russell F Spencer)
I spent Saturday in agony after injuring my left index finger whilst in the spectacular act (someone's got to big me up!) of saving a goal. The ball hit my hand at high velocity bending said digit further back that what nature had originally intended. It didn't hurt too much at the time but come the afternoon I may has well have had my hand chopped off - the pain!

Sunday morning saw me at my beloved Scrubs for only the second time this year. It was bloody freezing and the ground was frozen. Notable birds included around 5 Redpolls, 20 odd Redwing, at least 20 Fieldfare and a small roving party of Meadow Pipits in the grassland. The remainder of the day was spent watching Manchester United spank Arsenal and finishing my BBC Wildlife Magazine article on birding fieldcraft.

Today, I was asked by the British Trust for Ornithology to get involved with their 'Out of Africa' Campaign highlighting the plight of our summer migrants. I also received confirmation of my next trip abroad in pursuit of urban birding. I will be heading off for a few days to Merida and Caseres in Extremadura, Spain in early March. Before then, I will be hitting Brighton this weekend.

Finally, I attended the Hammersmith & Fulham Council Biodiversity Action Plan meeting tonight to discuss the sites within the borough to be included in the plan. I campaigned for Wormwood Scrubs' grassland area to be awarded local nature reserve status due in part to its breeding Meadow Pipits. I also learnt that there are plans afoot to construct a small lake in the naturally wet southeast corner at Martin Bell's Wood.

I was imagining seeing Water Rail creeping around the burnt out wreckage of a dumped Ford Fiesta!