Saturday, 31 July 2010

Where are all my trees?

I showed up for football this morning nursing an injured ankle - sustained from a previous battle on the astra-turf. When I arrived, I was saddened and angered to see that the beautiful trees that lined the western edge of the pitch that lined the Paddington to the west country rail line had been chopped down. All that remained was a pile of logs.

Over the years these trees had filled many an idle moment whilst standing in between the sticks with roving tits, cavorting Magpies and the occasional thrush species. My fellow team mates appreciated the trees because they stopped wayward footballs from being lost forever on the railway tracks.

Good things never seem to last.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The zombie walks

Garden Warbler (Russell F Spencer)
Stupidly, I woke at 5am this morning after 3 hours sleep having convinced myself that I needed to check my patch out for migrants.

I arrived in a stupor and remained fairly glazed over as I walked the realm with fellow Scrubber, Roy Nuttall. It was a bad move. I should have been tucked up in bed recovering from my long distance lorry driving feat at the weekend.

I recorded a Stock Dove, c60 Swifts wheeling overhead and in the grassland around 100 juvenile Starlings, a young Reed Bunting, c60 Goldfinches and about 20 Linnets in their midst. Someone reported a Garden Warbler yesterday, which would have been our earliest returning bird on record. But on re-reading his description of the pair of birds he saw the repetitive 'tweets' they were uttering certainly sounded wrong for this species. Perhaps they were Willow Warblers or Chiffchaffs.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Cornwall and North Wales in a weekend

This weekend was perhaps my most knackering for several years after I covered nearly 1,000 miles on the road, spanning 2 countries (3 if you're into Cornish independance!).

After leaving London at 10pm on Friday, I eventually rolled up in the car park of my hotel in Liskeard, Cornwall at 3.30am. I was wrecked before I started my journey - a situation that worsened considerably by the time I reached my destination. Indeed, the Tawny Owl that flew across the road outside Liskeard, barely registered with me.

After a few short hours kip, I woke up at 7.30am thinking about the talk that I was about to deliver at the Port Eliot Festival in nearby St Germans as part of the 'Bird Effect' series of talks. I wrote a few notes on the back of an envelope after breakfast and I arrived at the festival at 1pm. I was on the bill with the likes of Tim Birkhead, Stephen Moss and Phil Daniels who was reciting a couple of poems that he had written.

The talks started at 3pm and were great, especially Tim's who discussed his fascination with sex in the avian world. My talk on urban birding went down well. Apparently, one woman was weepy at the end because she was overcome by my passion for my subject. I don't know about that!
TUB with BBC natural history producer, Stephen Moss
Actor Phil Daniels with TUB
Almost directly afterwards, I jumped in the car and at 11.30pm arrived at the home of Julian Hughes, RSPB Conwy Reserve Manager. I crawled out the car and straight into bed via some pre-sleep conversation and being barked at by his highly excitable big dog.

The morning came too soon. After breakfast with Julian and his wife Sandra I spent the remainder of the day leading 3 walks - including one containing at least 60 people with their kids, plus 2 impromptu talks on the wonders of urban birders for beginners.

I had a great day at this my favourite nature reserve in the whole of Wales. The birdy highlight was seeing my first ever Common Sandpiper chick on the lagoon edge. Common Sands breeding on a lowland urban site is incredible in itself. The most amazing moment was when volunteer Audrey Parry gave me 2 beautiful potted plants to give to my mum to help celebrate her 50 years in Britain. She had read my last blog entry before this one. My mum was very touched and has asked me to thank you Audrey, if you're reading this.

At the end of the day, I was completely talked out and after a quick drink with Julian, the staff and volunteers, I migrated south to arrive back in west London for 10pm - exactly 48 hours later.

Note to self: next time I do a roadtrip get someone else to drive!
Publicity for the Wildlife Weekend at Conwy RSPB Reserve

Thursday, 22 July 2010

50 years

Today, the 22nd July, is 50 years to the day since my mum first step foot in Britain.

It's quite amazing really, because she only intended to stay for 5 years. Instead, she got married to my late father and had me and my sister. It's interesting to ponder on the thought that if my mum had gone back to Jamaica and had me there what would I have become? Would I have grown up into a birder? Would I have ended up married with 6 kids and a couple of cats and no passion for life? Or would I have been a famous (infamous) sportsman?

The what-if's are almost endless.

Happy anniversary mum! x

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Exciting times ahead

South coast birder Clare Evans with TUB
Things are looking pretty interesting and I hope to be able to pass on exciting tales to you all over the ensuing weeks.

This weekend I will be 'performing' at the Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall. I will be part of ' The Bird Effects' a series of talks and poetry recitals on Saturday afternoon. I will be sharing the stage with the likes of Phil Daniels (he of Quadraphenia fame) who will be reciting a self-penned poem, writer Tim Dee and my old mucker, Stephen Moss. Each of us will have 15 minutes and my allocated time will be spent talking about urban birding in front of an audience of several hundred.

Straight after, I will jump in a car and drive for millions of miles to north Wales to be fresh in the morning to be part of the Conwy RSPB Reserve's wildlife weekend on Sunday. Is this what it is like to be on the road on tour?

More sedately, I enjoyed a nice cup of tea over the weekend with birder, Clare Evans under the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral. Clare was the woman that first introduced me to the wonders of Twitter. Mind you, I still don't really get it! Although, today I gained another follower in the distinguished shape of Sunday Times journalist, Lynn Barber.

Clare was in London to attend the RSPB's Letter To The Future Conference and we have been trying to meet up for simply ages. She's a lovely lady whose day job is as a time management coach. Quite fascinating.

Off to The Scrubs in the morning. Autumn migration has already started with a couple of Swallows seen winging their way through this morning. We'll see what occurs in the morning.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Singing around the Canary

Documentary maker Ceri Levy & TUB
TUB on the Canary Wharf roof
The view from Canary Wharf with Tower 42 in the distance
A post dawn jaunt around The Scrubs resulted in little other than c60 Swifts wheeling over the grassland. In itself that many Swifts overhead was pretty impressive for us but I should have really stayed in bed, for I was knackered.

At 11am a car came to pick me up to take me to an event at Canary Wharf put on by Caught By The River ( that involved me taking two groups up One Canada Square, the UK's tallest building at 771 feet for a spot of birding. Interestingly, despite being taller than my beloved Tower 42, it is set lower down in the Thames Valley and thus T42 is the higher point!

It was grey, with the occasional shower. Naturally, we didn't see much but the vista was incredible nonetheless. To be honest, I should have been at home crunching out articles but it was good to meet the guys at Canary Wharf plus hang out with my mate and documentary maker, Ceri Levy. It was the first time I had seen him since he collapsed on the Tower 42 roof in May suffering from a heart attack, unbeknown to the rest of us.

I'm pleased to say that he is now in fine fettle.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Norfolk weekend

Barn Swallow (Russell F Spencer)
On Saturday morning directly after a fantastic game of football, I bought a Daily Mirror in addition to my usual Guardian. The reason? Prince's new album was being given away with every copy. Now, I absolutely love Prince. He's written some of the most wicked music and I've been to many of his concerts - all of them brilliant, apart from his recent O2 Arena stint that although polished, was surprisingly like a cabaret - just a series of medleys.

To my mind, he has become a bit lame since he found religion a few years ago. Gone are the edgy references to sex, women, funk, love, dance, music and more sex and instead he's offering up bland, forgettable music. It saddens me to say this but his new album was atrocious. But despite that, I still think that he is one of the best musical artists the world has ever seen.

I heard the album on the way to Norfolk, where I was going to spend a quiet weekend. By Saturday evening, I was strolling around the RSPB's Lakenheath Fens - one of my favourite reserves. I caught up with a Kingfisher and several hunting Marsh Harriers. Later, I was at a nearby site watching up to 7 Stone Curlews. Before the sun set, I was in Thetford Forest looking for Nightjar. I eventually heard 2 singing but saw none.

The following day was spent chilling and writing. As usual it's deadline time and I finally finished my Rekyjavic piece for Bird Watching Magazine today. With the weekend now a distant memory, I have turned my attention to a piece on urban birding in Los Angeles, that needs to be in now. No rest for the wicked!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

News from the Tower

The view from Tower 42
Ohh, I'm loving these hot summer days and nights. There's nothing like sweating, tossing and turning in bed in the baking heat counting shorn sheep. A couple mornings ago whilst watching fledgling Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits on the grassland at The Scrubs, a female Black Redstart flew fairly low over my head heading for the nearby empty Channel Tunnel depot. It sparked a belief in me that they must be nesting nearby - perhaps in the Channel Tunnel depot itself or maybe in or around the grounds of Wormwood Scrubs Prison on the southern parameter. Either way, it's exciting.

Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Tower 42 Management to discuss the possibility of sustained migration watching from their roof during the autumn. Talks went very well. I showed them a short powerpoint presentation on the story so far regarding observations during the spring as well as what we would be expecting during the autumn.

They were very impressed with how things have gone so far and very generously gave the permission for us to continue our observations from mid-August into November. How cool is that? And as if that wasn't enough, they even agreed for some of the observations to take place over weekends to enable more birders to take part. I tell you, those guys at Tower 42 are truly inspirational.

Anyway, better get back to writing my article on Reykjavic for Bird Watching Magazine. I'm staring the deadline in the face!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Reed Bunting Triumph!

Male Reed Bunting (Russell F Spencer)
Early this morning I was at home furiously writing my magazine articles that need to be completed this week - i.e Monday, instead of stalking the urban expanses of Wormwood Scrubs. The articles themselves are flowing fairly easily, it's just the classic scenario - leaving it too late.

Anyway, I got the news from fellow Scrubber, Roy Nuttall, that I had been waiting for since late April. Like an expectant father, I rejoiced at the news that our first breeding pair of Reed Buntings had fledged 5 youngsters. I had been watching the nest site ever since I first noticed a male holding territory. I had a hint that they were doing well when I saw the male with food plus on another occasion with a faecal sac. The reason for my original concern was that they had chosen to set up home within the area that the Meadow Pipits breed, an area that is very prone to human disturbance.

I'm very proud that our special nesters have successfully fledged youngsters in an urban park away from any substantial bodies of water. Maybe we will now have Reed Buntings breeding in our grassland on a regular basis.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

What a waste!

Fact: British households waste 8.3 million tons of food every year.
Fact: The food dished up at the 'Great British Waste Menu' lunch was originally due to be chucked away.
Fact: Fellow The One Show presenter, Lucy Seigle is adorable!
Fact: Jan Leeming, TV presenter and newscaster is my new best friend.
Fact: Bill Oddie wants to come and watch migrants on Tower 42 during the autumn.
Lucy Siegle & TUB
Jan Leeming, TUB & artist Cat Kramer
Bill Oddie & TUB

Friday, 2 July 2010

Food glorious food!

TUB on Cape Clear 2008 (Kim Dixon)
Once again it's deadline time. I have to complete articles for Birds Magazine, BBC Wildlife Magazine plus 3 book reviews and an urban birding article for Bird Watching Magazine by next week. In fact the first of which has to be in the recipient's inbox by Monday morning - hence my relative inactivity on the blogging front.

One bit of news though is the fact that yesterday my agent sent me an invite via a production company to participate as a diner on BBC1's 'Great British Waste Menus' a TV programme that will highlight the fact that we as a nation waste huge amounts of perfectly good food. Some of the nation's top chefs will create some top grub using food that would have been chucked out. The aim is to prepare a banquet for Prince Charles and his missus. So yours truly along with several other celebs will be scoffing the nosh and giving our verdicts in conjunction with several professional food critics.

What's all this got to do with birds, I hear you ask. I haven't got a clue either!