Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Stacks of Stock Doves

Stock Dove (Tommy Holden)
About 17 years ago I realised that Stock Doves, a bird that I had always considered as a country bird, were secret inhabitants of inner London. It was whilst I was researching birding spots in western London for A&C Black's 'Where to Watch Birds in the London Area' that I discovered just how prevalent they were.

The first place that I noticed them was in Osterley Park in the shadow of Heathrow Airport. There seemed to be tons of them there almost to the point that they outnumbered their more familiar Woodie cousins. Closer to home I found a small breeding colony in Kensal Green Cemetery, literally a stones throw from Ladbroke Grove. There were perhaps around 6-8 pairs nesting in the holes of the old dead trees of this picturesque burial site. I found more birds in Kensington Gardens, just around the corner from the very heart of town.

It took a couple years before I noticed my first birds flying over Wormwood Scrubs. For many years Stock Doves were a regular sight at The Scrubs with up to 5 birds seen on occasional days, though more usually a few birds were seen every month. The secret was to decipher them from similar looking Feral Pigeons. To my eye, they are like small Wood Pigeons or stocky, fuller necked Feral Pigeons when seen whizzing by distantly when no plumage details could be seen.

I've had a couple of surprise encounters with this endearing pigeon. In the autumn of 2007, whilst counting high flying migrating Wood Pigeons streaming in over The Scrubs from the north, I noticed a few Stock Doves in their number. I never knew that Stock Doves moved with Woodies for a start, but most surprising was the day that I estimated around 300 had passed overhead with c15,000 Woodies during a 90 minute morning watch!

My latest notable Stock Dove moment is happening now. For the past week and for the first time ever, up to 40 birds have taken to feeding on grass seeds on the football pitches outnumbering the sprinkling of Feral and Wood Pigeons. It may not sound like much but for me it's nothing short of an ornithological wonder. Where have they all come from?

Maybe I have been overlooking these birds after all these years, but either way, I won't be overlooking them in the future.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Hot sexy sun

Despite having to wander around town with my shirt undone to the navel, I must say that I am rather enjoying this hot spell. The weather is making me feel very chilled and mellow as a cello. It's the first time that I've actually felt warm this year. Always a welcomed sensation!

It's June, so that means that I have gone into my midsummer hibernation. Since coming back from Iceland the week before last, I've only been to The Scrubs twice and have barely consulted Birdguides to find out what's going on nationally - not that I would have done anything about it.

Anyway, I am going to try and get up at the crack of dawn to see if I can locate my breeding Reed Buntings and perhaps count the Meadow Pipits. Oh the joys of summer!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

It's that Puffin time of year again

Atlantic Puffin (Russell F Spencer)
Being an urban birder invariably means that I don't get to see Puffins unless I go to where they are hanging out. This is the classic time of year to visit the colonies dotted up and down the country to marvel at their very interesting look. Whirring wings, big bright bill and melancholic eye make-up.

I've been lucky to have visited several colonies this year on Alderney and in Iceland so I feel very lucky to have had so many encounters with this amazing bird already.

If you haven't already, get yourself out to a breeding colony before the season's over.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

My little m'pits

Meadow Pipit (Tommy Holden)
I don't know about you but I find it very difficult to suss juvenile Meadow Pipits from their identical parents. This morning at 5.30am I was surveying the grassland at The Scrubs trying to ascertain the number of broods at large.

Judging from the number of singing males in April I estimated that there could be between 4-7 pairs breeding in our tiny 20 acre grassland. The landscape looks very different now. The vegetation has shot up to conceal a lot of the pipit activity. In 6 years I have only observed a juvenile being fed by an adult just once. However, recently I saw one bird carrying a faecal sac and another with food items. So breeding is occurring. This is heartening, especially given the amount of disturbance that this site gets on an average day.

I'm immensely proud of my pipits. Wormwood Scrubs potentially has the closest breeding colony to central London and has more breeding pairs than the far far larger Richmond Park a few miles to the south of us. Long may that continue.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Iceland magic moment

Sorry for not keeping regular updates of late, but I've been toiling as ever. Add to that the fact I'm still catching up with my sleep after 6 darkless nights in Iceland last week and I guess that you'll be beginning to get the picture!

The highlight bird for me were undoubtably the Gyr Falcon that Russell F Spencer, my ace photographer, shot at around 1am on the final night. He didn't waste time capturing this magnificent bird in its prime during this chance encounter.
Gyr Falcon being mobbed by an Arctic Skua
All images copyright of Russell F Spencer
We saw all the Icelandic specialities (Harlequin Duck, Barrow's Goldeneye, Brunnich's Guillemot) plus stacks of Ptarmigan, Golden Plover, Common Snipe, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Red-necked Phalarope, Greylag, Pink-feet, Eurasian Wigeon, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Arctic Tern, Glaucous Gull, Arctic Skua, Short-eared Owl and Snow Bunting. In addition to some really special birds like an adult Long-tailed Skua, a drake American Wigeon, Iceland's 1st Wilson's Snipe that we watched and heard drumming plus the country's 5th or 6th ever Arctic Warbler heard singing and glimpsed.

I will be writing about my amazing Icelandic experiences in Bird Watching Magazine but a big shout out must go to Hrafn Svavarsson (Gavia Travel), Jan (The Man) Kolbiensson and the Visit Iceland people.

In the meantime, expect to see some more stunning photos from the trip over the next few days.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Alderney revisited

Common Kestrel (Bill Black)
Snowy Owl (Bill Black)
I quite like these shots from Alderney including the famous Snowy Owl of January 2009 that eventually ended up in Cornwall.

Monday, 7 June 2010

London Wetland Centre 10th Anniversary

TUB and his group
Why is it that when you leave your inbox untouched for a few days, it takes a few days to get back to the point when you stopped tending your emails. When you reach the point of catching up, there's a ton more to replace them. Furthermore, they all need essay answers.

Anyway, on Sunday I journeyed to the nearby London Wetland Centre to join in with their 10 year anniversary by giving a talk and then leading a walk around the reserve. It was a great deal of fun and the people who attended (ranging from young kids to elderly kids) were a joy to hang out with.

It made me feel old to think that I used to bird the area when it was in it's old Thames Water owned guise of Barn Elms Reservoirs. It was good then, but the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust have done a brilliant job and have made the place amazing. Sir Peter Scott certainly had vision when he was eying up the site as a new WWT reserve. It's a shame that he didn't live to see it in it's glory now.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

More Alderney please!

I can't think of any other superlatives to use to describe my experience of Alderney and it's people last week. It's funny, I've been telling everyone here in London about Alderney and most people that I spoke to thought that the isle was in the Orkneys! Clearly some work to be done here!
Roland Gauvian (Alderney Wildlife Trust Manager) & TUB
Mark Atkinson (Chair of the Alderney Rarities Committee) & TUB
Alastair Riley (Artist & Birder) & TUB
I've been given the key to the island and made a patron of the Wildlife Trust. Fantastic!

It's an underwatched island with a heap of potential. With only 2 resident birders in attendance, of course a lot of things are missed. During my stay I saw at least 4 Honey Buzzards that had drifted in from nearby France (7 miles away) found a male Dartford Warbler on territory, dipped on a Nightjar, Serin and Black Stork. Plus last week a Melodious Warbler was happened upon by a lucky non-birder.

You see what I'm saying about the potential?

Special thanks to all those mentioned above (plus the many not mentioned) that made my stay so special.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Visions of Alderney

Alderney was a surprisingly stunning island. I'll talk more about it tomorrow, as I'm a tad too tired right now!