Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Can I have some more hours in the day please?

European Serin (Russell F Spencer)
Another day in the office was had after a early morning jaunt to The Scrubs. The skies were heavily laden with rain when I stepped out onto the hallowed turf at 7am. It wasn't long before the rain came although thankfully it was at most a light drizzle. I found another Northern Wheatear, heard a singing Reed Bunting (in itself a very rare occurrence - will it try to breed?) and I also heard my first Willow Warbler on The Scrubs this spring. Summer is coming.

I spent the day arranging meetings and doing more work on the Tower 42 Bird Study Group. Later in the evening I brought some shopping around to my mum and after, when I arrived home, I got to work finishing my latest piece for BBC Wildlife Magazine which is about bird calls and songs.

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

Monday, 29 March 2010

Rubbing shoulders at The Palace

Lord knows how I managed to get into the Palace with no tie and no id - but I did!

Buckingham Palace is quite amazing on the inside with grand spaces, exquisite furnishings and incredible art on the walls including Rembrandt's, Rubens and the like all liberally dotted on the walls. Over 250 people must have been there in honour of Sir Peter Scott and everybody was there from David Attenborough down.

I had a great time hanging out and chatting with colleagues in the business. I even managed to have a handshake and a chat with the legend that is John Craven.

But that's enough name dropping for one evening. After we were tipped out of the Palace at 8.40pm I returned to The Urban Birder factory for the night shift. I have a BBC Wildlife piece to complete.

Thank you WWT for inviting me tonight.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

First The Tower next The Palace!

This morning at The Scrubs I scored another Woodcock having unintentionally flushed it from the ground in Chats Paddock. The interesting thing was that I was chatting to fellow Scrubber, Roy Nuttall, about the Woodcock I saw just two days previously in the grassland when I suddenly flushed the bird. That kind of thing happens to me quite frequently so I'm often careful about what I wish for!

The first phase of the Tower 42 BSG is complete and now we look forward to the first watch period on Wednesday April 7th. My next major engagement is at Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen's hubby at the WWT Sir Peter Scott Centenary Celebrations tomorrow night. Sordid details to follow.

Finally, a worthy cause to get involved with. It's a quiz competition that you can enter to raise money for trans Saharan migrants and to honour the life of the remarkable Bob Scott, a fella whom I met on many occasions and who was one of the nicest people ever to don a pair of binoculars. March 26th saw a year's anniversary of his untimely death.

Get involved and get the chance of winning some amazing prizes.


Saturday, 27 March 2010

Tower of Power!

White Stork - a possible sight from T42? (Russell F Spencer)
The big day finally came. The Tower 42 Bird Study Group was officially launched on Friday within the luxurious T42 board room on the 42nd floor of this towering building. We were over 350 feet up looking through the window at the spectacular cityscape that is London. The roof is over 600 feet up and the views from there are astounding. London truly looks like a village - a huge village encircled by a green verge.

The launch event was attended by around 70 people ranging from London birders to several of the conservation bodies to members of the media - namely the BBC. The management at T42 gave a quick speech on the history of the Tower and how they met me. Let me say now that the management at T42 have been absolutely amazing. They have shown unprecedented foresight and faith.

I then came on to talk about how the T42BSG came to being. I handed over to the first of the Bird Study Group's partners Tim Webb from the RSPB London Office, who spoke about the London Peregrine Group and the work that we were going to do on Swifts. Then the British Trust for Ornithology's Nick Moran spoke about Birdtrack, followed by Mathew Frith of the London Wildlife Trust who spoke about their work with communities in London.

Earlier in the day, 7am to be exact, I gave two live interviews for Radio London from the roof. Later in the afternoon I did some filming with BBC London Tonight who did two separate pieces for their lunchtime and evening news slots. It's was amazing to get this much attention for this project. Furthermore, BBC London also want to follow up progress on the Tower in their Springwatch coverage.

The scene is set. Let the observations begin.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

All set

Black-headed Gull (Jakub Puskas)
It's the eve before the launch of the Tower 42 Bird Study Group and my excitement is mounting. I will be doing a live radio interview from the roof at 7.20am and again at 8.30am for Radio London chatting about the birding prospects and novelty of the idea. Then at 11am BBC London News will be shooting me for the evening news - again on the roof looking for visible migration.

The afternoon will be capped with a hosted launch in a lovely suite to an assembled crowd of conservationists, press, friends and lovers. I can't wait. Better go to bed so that I can wake up early to write my speech!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Woodcock (Michael Flowers - http://eybirdwatching.blogspot.com/)
This morning saw me raising and dragging my carcass to The Scrubs - driven by the force that is known to many as spring migration. I had hoped to find more Wheatears or to discover our first singing Blackcaps. No avail.

I was standing by the grassland looking out for Meadow Pipits and any hidden Wheatears when from behind flew a Woodcock. It flew in a leisurely fashion across the grassland looking as though it wasn't flushed as there was nobody in the vicinity. It plonked itself down into some shorter grass literally feet away from a dogwalker, who although was looking in the Woodcock's direction, seemed oblivious to the bird's arrival.

This was only our second ever record, although I dare say that they are probably more frequent than records suggest. It certainly made my morning.

Back at base, I continued to plan for the Tower 42 Bird Study Group launch. BBC London want to film me on the roof of Tower 42 on Friday morning so that they can use the edited footage as a news item on TV that day. I had to correct the news editor who had labelled the piece 'twitching on the roof'. I reminded her that twitching is a very different discipline to standing on a roof waiting for migrants to fly over.

Perhaps they will get it one day!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Wheatear bonanza

Northern Wheatear (Dean Eades)
The harbingers of spring finally arrived last week when a single male Northern Wheatears were discovered in the grassland at The Scrubs over two days. Of course, it could have been the same male that stayed for two days, but what is undisputed is the fact that it was the earliest returning bird ever at my patch.

Yesterday, I found three birds - 2 immaculate males and a bright female/dull male. They performed beautifully sometimes down to 20 yards.

Had a great meeting with the management team at Tower 42 to go through the finalities before the launch of the Tower 42 Bird Study Group this Friday. They are amazing. Totally accommodating and absolutely up for making this venture a success. Got an email from BBC London saying that four of them will be coming to the launch and London Tonight may also bring a crew to cover it as a news item.

It's taking shape.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Extremadura extras

The Tower looms. Well the Tower 42 Bird Study Group launch that is. Interest in this initiative is increasing daily. Now it looks like the Sunday Express may be running a piece on it and I'm being interviewed about it next week.

Got a big day tomorrow as I have a succession of meetings predominately at the BBC Bristol offices with my agent alongside me. I hope that they lead to something interesting.

So as I head off for some beauty sleep before catching the dawn train westward out of town, I will leave you with some more images of the birds of Extremadura taken by my good friend Russell F Spencer.

Thekla Lark - honest! (Russell F Spencer)
Male Lesser Kestrel (Russell F Spencer)
Griffon Vulture (Russell F Spencer)
Azure-winged Magpie (Russell F Spencer)

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A Scrub's Chat

A winter male Common Stonechat (Dean Eades)
This morning's visit to The Scrubs was a pleasant one. The sun eventually started to shine at around 7am and it was a little milder than of late. At least 3 male Meadow Pipits were in full song-flight display, which is always nice to see. All around the songs of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Robins and Dunnocks filled the air. Also singing were at least 2 Chiffchaff, a couple Chaffinches and a Linnet.

The best bird of the morning (apart from a lone overflying adult Great Black-backed Gull which is pretty scarce around here) was a female Stonechat that was hunting insects on the grassland. We normally have a wintering population of around 3 birds that normally depart at the end of March. This winter they were probably wiped out by the horrendously bad weather as early as mid-December and this migrant female was the first since then.

I just hope that spring is really on the way and there aren't any more surprises in store for us, because as in the Prince song, sometimes it snows in April.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Jamaican vagrant

Tree Swallows (K. Hirabayashi)
Life's been pretty busy recently, as per usual. Since coming back from Extremadura it has been deadline after deadline plus I have the launch of the Tower 42 Bird Study Group happening a week on Friday.

Tonight, I made a rare appearance on BBC1's The One Show with a piece on the Red Kites in Gateshead in the northeast. It went down well with many people texting and emailing to say how much they enjoyed it.

Oh, and the reason for the Tree Swallow picture is quite simple. I'm reviewing a photographic guide to the birds of Jamaica which made me consult the trip list from my visit there in 2005. I soon discovered that I had seen no less than 4 national rarities including a female Green-winged Teal and a sole Caspian Tern whilst seawatching off Negril. Best of all were a couple of Cliff Swallows amongst the more abundant Tree and Cave Swallows. Apparently, Cliff Swallows have barely ever been seen on the island. It just goes to show that anything can turn up anywhere and wherever you are, always expected the unexpected.

I sent my records in at the time but they were never acknowledged. I resent them to the author of the book and had a reply the following day to thank me. It's good to submit your records no matter how irrelevant you may think that they are.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The tall day is coming....

Visible migration watching over Tower 42 (Russell F Spencer)
I think that I need 15 PA's and a team of experts working for me because as time moves on the projects and workload increases. Once upon a time it was just a magazine article every now and again plus the monthly Scrubs report, which I used to produce and distribute within a few days of the month ending. Nowadays, the workload has increased almost tenfold and I'm lucky to finish my Scrubs report midway through the following month.

I'm also working on the launch of the Tower 42 Bird Study Group. Just to recap, I have set up a group to observe migration from the top of Tower 42 - London's second highest building. Our main focus will be raptors including counting Peregrines, counting Swifts and observing Woodpigeons during the autumn. I sent invitations for the launch party out today and the take up has been excellent with both the BTO and the RSPB sending their boys to get involved. The BBC are setting up a webcam on the roof to capture any migration plus banter from the attendant birders. I'm very excited.

Tonight aside from watching United trounce AC Milan, I cracked on with my Bird Watching Magazine piece on my latest adventure in Merida and Caceres. It's flowing nicely. Also, my mum called me tonight to excitedly tell me that she had just had her first line dancing lesson. It was news to me, but hey, good for her!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Charmed life

TUB looking for Great Spotted Cuckoo in Extremadura (Russell F Spencer)
As I mentioned yesterday, before a flu induced haze came over me, I had a great time in Extremadura in the company of photographer extraordinaire, Russell Spencer whilst being led by the extremely knowledgable (and very nice with it) Martin Kelsey of Birding Extremadura (www.birdingextremadura.com)

Russell and I were based in Merida, the capital city of the region (which is the size of Wales). Merida has a rich Roman heritage and indeed the first place Martin took us to was The Roman Bridge that straddles the Guadiana River in the centre of the city. At 790 metres it's the longest surviving Roman bridge in the world and aside from the river, it overlooked areas of reedbed and wet woodland. Well that was what we should have been seeing. Instead, because of the excessive and unprecedented rain that had fallen recently, a lot of the habitat was under water.

Despite that, we still managed to see (and hear) Cetti's Warbler, tons of Chiffchaffs, a solo Penduline Tit, Pallid & Alpine Swifts, Barn Swallows and House Martins, Little and Cattle Egrets, Night Heron, a male Little Bittern and a couple of Purple Swamphen. The bridge is one of the best places in the region to observe Purple Swamphen.

We then nipped into the streets of Merida just as rush hour hit (if you can call 20 people a 'rush hour'!) to take a photo of me birding in the narrow streets for my next piece in BBC Wildlife Magazine. It was all a rush because I was on deadline and had to email it over pronto. So we invaded the nearby Extremadura Tourist Office and created havoc as we took over their computers to get the email over.

Next, Martin took us to a ruined Roman amphitheatre closeby were we saw plentiful Collared Dove, Serin and Greenfinch. We then drove north for 45 minutes heading for Caceres a city whose centres are dominated by Moorish and Medieval architecture. It was in the ancient part of the city that we came across the first of the many Lesser Kestrels that we saw over the ensuing days. They are absolutely lovely birds. We stood on the elevated steps of a cathedral watching them whizz past, along with seeing plentiful nesting White Stork and Spotless Starlings. In the sky above, the occasional migrating Red Kite passed over often in the slipstream of their Black cousins.

We ended the day outside a bullring in another town called Tujillo. We had come to see the nesting Lesser Kestrels that inhabited the tiled roof of the stadium. A Green Sandpiper flew overhead as Crested Larks and White Wagtails frolicked on the adjacent waste ground.

The next day saw us in the Extremadura hinterland getting a lesson in sussing the differences between Thekla and Crested Larks. We also saw Woodlark and Calandra Larks. I love Calandra Larks. They have this strange wader-like display flight on long black undersided wings. We also had several Great Spotted Cuckoo and heard our first Common Cuckoo. The region was amazing, especially when we headed into Parque Nacional de Monfrague were we witnessed masses of Griffon Vultures - and I'm talking hundreds. Plus loads of Black Vultures, a few Egyptian Vultures, a Golden Eagle, an impressive Spanish Imperial Eagle (or Iberian Eagle depending on what side of the Portuguese border you are), Short-toed Eagle, both kites and a Sparrowhawk - a relative scarcity. Did I mention the 120 or so migrating Common Cranes and the soaring Black Storks? I guess you get the picture, Extremadura was brilliant!

Anyway, I'm back at home, in the cold climes of London nursing the aftermath of flu. I certainly do lead a charmed life.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Extremadura? Extremagood!

It's been a little while since I last wrote an entry on my blog. The main reason is due to quite a heavy schedule of late that has put paid to any time for blogging. And now, after returning from Spain I've been struck down by flu. Boo!

I will leave you with some images from Extremadura and explain all tomorrow.
Martin Kelsey & TUB in Caceres (Russell F Spencer)
Great Spotted Cuckoo in flight (Russell F Spencer)
An amazing shot of a male Lesser Kestrel (Russell F Spencer)
Griffon Vulture (Russell F Spencer)