Wednesday, 26 May 2010

David Attenborough

I saw Sir David speak at the London Wetland Centre tonight and all I can say is that the man is a DUDE!

He had the room in raptures as he recounted stories about Sir Peter Scott's life and the history of the London Wetland Centre - which is 10 years old today. Later, we all retired to the Observatory for drinks and a buffet. I rubbed shoulders with a lot of the hierarchy at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. They are a nice bunch and have been very kind to me.

I strolled home feeling enthused after listening to the great man speak. I'm up at 4am tomorrow for a Dawn Chorus event with the Wildlife Trusts at Camley Street Nature Reserve, Kings Cross, London.

I better reach for the matchsticks.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Chelsea Flower Show

TUB admiring the orchids! (Penny Hayhurst)
Sanjika Perera Director of Sri Lanka Tourism with TUB (Penny Hayhurst)

TUB & Sanjika (Penny Hayhurst)
Now you may be wondering why an urban birder was stalking the decidedly middle class haunt known as the Chelsea Flower Show. Well, it was at the behest of the ultimate gentleman, Sanjika Perera of the Sri Lanka Tourism. I have always met this man glamourous places. Initially in the halls of Buckingham Palace, then within the Sri Lankan High Commission and today at the flower show.

He very kindly invited me to come and hang out at his orchid stand next to the jugs of Pimms. I was shocked to hear that some of the other guests that he had invited hadn't turned up and hadn't even bothered to call to say that they were not attending. Tickets are like gold dust and could have been given to other people. Some folks are so selfish.

It wasn't all bad for Sanjika though. Whilst hanging by his stand, he spotted Ringo strolling past. Not one for missing an opportunity, he grabbed the Beatle and got him to pose with him for a photo. Ringo even gave his classic victory sign. Somehow, this seemed to be a better find than the Robin I heard singing by the bandstand!

Monday, 24 May 2010

History is made!! My first Scrubs Red Kite!!

Red Kite - photographed in Wales (Russell F Spencer)
After years of waiting, years of quietly feeling extreme jealousy towards all the sites that surround Wormwood Scrubs scoring regular Red Kites, we finally broke our duck and produced not one but two separate birds during the London Natural History Society bird walk that I was leading on Sunday.

The weird thing was, when I met the group of c45 people and was giving them an introductory talk, I mentioned that one of the things that they needed to do was to keep an eye skyward because I fancied a Red Kite. We had walked practically three quarters of the way around the site and were on the last leg of the walk when I looked up to see a high soaring kite slowly drifting east. "Kite!!!" I shouted at the top of my voice, overwhelmed by the emotion of seeing my Scrubs bogey bird.

I made sure everyone got onto it as it slowly drifted across the beautiful blue midday skies. But then something else caught my attention, much lower down on the horizon not far above the rooftops to the south. It was another kite! I screamed yet again! It felt like a dream. I could barely speak for the next 20 minutes of the guided walk and I had to apologise to the group for my lack of commentary.

Where do I go from here? What other bird can I now reasonably wish for at The Scrubs? We've had amazing records over the years like an Ortolan, Wryneck, 3 Richard's Pipits, 2 Marsh Harrier, 2 Honey Buzzards, Osprey, Goshawk, Barn Owl, Bittern, Little Bunting, Ring Ouzel, Nightingale, Firecrest, Dartford Warbler, Cetti's Warbler and a Wood Warbler in 1980 which was before my time. That's 124 species in a park surrounded by urbanity with no standing water.

What can I wish for now? A shrike?

Friday, 21 May 2010

Summer in the city

Northern Lapwing chick (Phill Spamer)
Ahh, at last some proper sunshine kicking out some proper heat. I was strolling around town in shirt sleeves for the first time this year in the UK.

Had a couple of review books sent to me today including the Wildlife Trusts '152 Wild Things To Do' which is a very attractive, bright, colourful book listing 152 ways to enjoy nature. They suggest things from visiting the Isles of Scilly to finding daffodils in a wood. I thought that the photography looked great too. A very attractive little book. The other one that I received was Harper Collins' 'The Peregrine' by JA Baker which I shall tuck into in due course.

My favourite book at the minute is 'Bird Migration' by Ian Newton. I just can't put it down. I read it everywhere. I was once reading it whilst sitting on a bench the other day and a fella sat next to me and started asking questions about the book. He was well impressed after I regurgitated a couple of the facts that I had just read. He thanked me for enlightening him.

I have a very full week ahead with filming with the BBC's Natural History Unit on Monday and with BBC London on Thursday on the Tower for their Springwatch coverage the following week. Add to that the Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday night, a David Attenborough talk on Wednesday night Next week I have a dawn chorus event on the Thursday morning to launch the Wildlife Trusts book that I mentioned earlier.

However, this Sunday I am leading a walk around Wormwood Scrubs starting at 9.30am outside East Acton underground. So if you're in the hood......

Thursday, 20 May 2010

A proper HB

Honey Buzzard (Stephen Daly)
After speculating over a suspect raptor seen whilst on my travels in Derby, it was great to be reacquainted with the real thing whilst on a vigil on Tower 42 today. The jizz was unmistakable; floppy though powerful flight in long broad wings that were held flat whilst gliding with downturned wingtips. Not to mention the long tail and genuinely small head. Read all about it and another bird found before I stepped onto the platform on the Tower 42 blog.

Shame it wasn't seen against a blue sky and as close as the one depicted.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Qu'est ce que c'est?

Buzzard? (Russell F Spencer)
This has been bugging me for the past 2 weeks. What is this raptor that I saw flying at very high altitude over Derby?

Any ideas?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Losers and winners

Design by Yvette Spencer
A lot has been said recently on other blogs about the London Bird Race sponsored by Transport for London. Needless to say, me and the Beddington boys managed to come second beaten by just 4 species by the London Wildlife Trust All Stars. But I think that we definitely won on the tee shirt stakes.

Out of all the 14 or so teams we had the sexiest logo without a doubt!

Friday, 14 May 2010

BBC Wildlife Magazine Readers Day

Had a great day hanging out with the readers and staff of BBC Wildlife in Slimbridge WWT yesterday. It was also fun to be with the WWT guys and of course awarding winning photographer, Danny Green - what a lovely man he was!
Dominic Couzens - writer, Sophie Stafford - editor & TUB (Russell F Spencer)
Mike Dilger, TUB & Dominic Couzens (Russell F Spencer)

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A Pheasant surprise!

A limping male Pheasant in Kensington Gardens (Collin Flapper)
It's been a couple days of nose to the grindstone with various deadlines reached and words wrenched from my tired mind. I was particularly pleased to have finished my RSPB 'Birds' piece on RSPB Groups. I found writing that especially difficult. I was beginning to worry that I had lost my mojo.

The Scrubs has been particularly uninspiring recently with only the established birds on view. It was pleasing to still see our male Reed Bunting still on territory with his partner no doubt sitting tight on some eggs nearby. I learnt yesterday about the intriguing record of a Nightjar that a couple evenings ago was flying around the open theatre at nearby Regents Park. It really goes to show that anything can turn up anywhere.

Take for example last night. I was strolling through Kensington Park with good friend and confidant, Collin Flapper, when a Pheasant ran across the path around 20 feet in front of me. It scurried past some surprisingly oblivious walkers (who probably thought that it was a pigeon) and pathetically tried to conceal itself in a daffodil bed!

How this essentially rustic bird finds itself in central London beats me!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Derby Day

Mute Swan (Jakub Puskas)
After arriving in Derby late last night to the sights and sounds of a party city, Russell Spencer and I slipped into our hotel, Cathedral Quarter Hotel, a quite sweet boutique hotel that recently played host to the Queen who apparently popped around for lunch recently. I didn't get to sleep until around 2.30am after watching a TV programme about the existence of UFO's.

In the morning, we met with our co-host Nick Brown (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust) and after a quick breakfast, we were soon walking along the River Derwent in bright sunshine hearing about the wintering Dippers and breeding Grey Wagtails. We met our other host Nick Moyes, who works at the Derby Museum (Derby City Council) outside the impressive Derby Cathedral, home to Derby's famous breeding Peregrines. He took us up the tight spiral stairs to the bell ringers room where the CCTV camera playback screen was housed. We watched amazing footage of the adults bringing in different avian food items, some live some already dead. There was incredible night footage of an adult bringing in a live Woodcock!

We then nipped up onto the roof to enjoy the Derby cityscape. We also peered over the wall to look down on the gargoyles on which the Peregrines dismember their prey. I was surprised to see the carcass of a Dabchick on one of them.

The rest of the day was spent at a couple of sites with particular emphasis on the Pride Park area within the shadow of Derby County's football stadium. But more about that in my forthcoming Bird Watching Magazine article.

Anyway, both Nicks were diamond blokes. They really showed us a good day. Derby is a cool place.

Friday, 7 May 2010


Today was the exact opposite of yesterday. I was left feeling very disappointed after two separate incidents involving two separate individuals.

It's disappointing when you offer people kindness and they mistake it for stupidity.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Birdlife International

Today was a fabulous day and I didn't even lift a pair of binoculars!

I called the PR agency who looked after the Oman Tourist Board to tell them that I couldn't take up their generous offer of a press trip to Oman later this month. My reason was that it clashed with my trip to Alderney. To my surprise, the director of the PR agency told me not to worry and that she would hook up a trip there just for me whenever I wanted to go. How incredible is that!

Last week, I bumped into Birdlife International's illustrious Dr Nigel Collar, a true giant in the conservation world - google him. Anyway, I spotted A&C Black's Nigel Redman strolling through the streets of London's Soho with another gentleman. As I was about to walk past I decided to make myself known to Nigel Redman, as I have known him for years, - since the days when we both had a lot more hair. He introduced me to Nigel Collar and I immediately dropped to my knees in worship. A 30 second introduction led to today's invitation to join Nigel Collar and some of his learned colleagues on an expedition to southern Ethiopia in search of the Ethiopian Bush Crow.

Going on an expedition is something that I have always dreamt about doing since I was a boy reading Gerald Durrell books. And here I am, on the verge of living a dream. Unfortunately, I can't go due to my current commitments. The good news is that I may have the opportunity to join him on other expeditions in order to write about them to publicise the work of Birdlife International, the country that we are visiting and of course, the bird that we are searching for.
To use that hackneyed phrase - happy days!

I'm one totally lucky geezer!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Oman? No Man!

Birders on Tower 42 two weeks ago (Jon Osborne)
Our 5th visit to Tower 42 in as many weeks still didn't result in the perfect conditions that we have desired for so long. We didn't get a bright, sunny warm day replete with fluffy clouds and a gentle southerly breeze bringing in loads of migrant raptors. Instead, we got a slightly chilly northeasterly, largely cloudy skies with the occasional sunny break.

We managed to spy a Hobby streaking across the south London skies, 2-3 Sparrowhawks including one bird that must have been over a thousand feet up, as it was a tiny dot with the naked eye. We also had the expected Peregrines, a Common Buzzard and a high flying male Kestrel. It's incredible to think just how high these birds get. Loads must pass over our heads without us ever realising.

The Oman trip I mentioned yesterday sounds amazing with 5 nights there as part of the deal. Unfortunately, I will have to pass as I would return to Britain on the day I depart for Alderney and I would certainly miss that flight. Furthermore, I have committed myself to going to Alderney as the Wildlife Trust there have very kindly invited me to take part in their wildlife week. Plus, they have asked me to become one of their patrons.

I'm sure that I will have the chance to visit Oman again. Now, I must go - to have a good cry!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Oman! Oh boy!

Intermediate Egret (David Fettes)
Another industrious day was had trying to tread water and generally catch up. Yes, the never ending game of catch up. Aside from writing the monthly articles and whatnot are the innumerable emails from no less than 4 email accounts including one for the Tower 42 Bird Study Group that as you may imagine, is generating a life of its own.

It's been a great weekend for birding in London with my mates down on Beddington Farm discovering the first London Pacific Golden Plover in 107 years! What a great achievement lads! A Crane was seen overflying Canary Wharf this lunchtime, which may be a good omen for tomorrow's stint up on Tower 42.

Finally, I received a surprise invite to a birding press trip to Oman departing on May 25th. It sounds amazing and having not been there before, I was quick to consult the internet to learn of the goodies that I could connect with, should I choose the partake in this mission. The reason for my hesitation is that I have not been formally commissioned by any of the mags that I write for. To be honest, I'd feel a bit weird about accepting a trip on the basis of it being a jolly. I guess I don't feel that it's right.

Anyway, I will figure that conundrum out tomorrow.

Monday, 3 May 2010

May Day, May Day - I'm bloody freezing!!

Reykjavik, Iceland (Justine Watson)
What's with the weather? It's May and I should be in my summer plumage having moulted my thick jumpers. But instead, I'm donning a beanie, thick jumper and a jacket to venture out into the metropolis.

On Sunday morning, I did my bit for International Dawn Chorus Day by leading a walk around The Scrubs. The night before saw gallons of water pouring out of the sky. By 5am it had stopped raining but the sky was ominously dark. Surprisingly, 10 people were waiting for me so the walk commenced. The chorus wasn't as rich as previous years partially due to the unpleasant conditions (it peed down!) and the fact that quite large areas of undergrowth had been cleared predominately for the Common Lizard populations. We did manage to connect with our usual songsters including at least 4 Lesser Whitethroats. Unfortunately, heavy rain put paid to a prolonged walk.

Last week, I had a great meeting with the PR company that looks after the Iceland Tourist Board. The long and short of it was that I have been invited over to Iceland in June along with my photographer, Russell Spencer. I'm really excited because we will spend the first couple day in Reykjavik then we'll head out to the northeast of the island to see Ptarmigan, Barrow's Goldeneye and millions of Puffins at first hand. I can't wait!

Before that however, is a trip to Derby that I have lined up for next Sunday. My main goal will be to check on the city's breeding Peregrines as well as whatever else Derby has to offer. But first, it's a trip up that Tower on Wednesday that's floating my boat.