Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Sun worshiper

Common Lizard - my first on The Scrubs!
Oops! He's spotted me!
This morning, indeed the whole of the day was superb. Beautiful sunshine throughout. This morning I was up at The Scrubs on the hunt for newly arrived migrants, especially of the raptor variety. We were successful in seeing a couple of coasting Sparrowhawks, a hunting Kestrel and a proper raptor migrant in the shape of an ultra sexy Hobby, swooping through being pursued by a bunch of Swifts.

The best migrant was a male Common Redstart that we flushed from the grassland. Nice. Our second for the autumn. The Common Lizard though was one of the highlights of my life in The Scrubs. These animals have been present at Wormwood Scrubs for years, having been introduced after some of their range was destroyed by the Channel Tunnel development during the '80's. I've never seen one until today - and that's despite occasionally looking for them.

You see, I'm always looking up never down. If lizards squeaked I definitely be finding more!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Roll over Beethoven

TUB knocking out a concerto (Penny Hayhurst)
Tuition on bow holding (Penny Hayhurst)
No birding for me this morning, despite the fact that there seems to be tons of migrants swilling around at the moment. Maybe I'll catch up with some tomorrow. Instead, I had a violin lesson!

It was a surprise birthday present from someone who knew about my love for the sounds of strings. This love started when I was a teenager playing air violin to my ELO albums. By the end of my hour long lesson I had played a very simplistic Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - hardly Beethoven's 5th - but give me time!

Friday, 27 August 2010

What a grey day!

Looking SW from Tower 42
Looking into murk
I arose from my bed at 4.30am with a heart filled with so much hope, despite the constant drizzle that I encountered in the darkness. At 6am when I rolled up outside the Tower 42 building, I greeted the other fellow watchers under a blanket of grey clouds, spitting rain and a northeasterly breeze. Perfect.

Things didn't get better on the roof and we had to call off proceedings at 7.30am after seeing a Peregrine a few gulls and little else. Me and couple of the guys then traveled to Canary Wharf to recce Canada Gardens (at the foot of Canary Wharf) and Jubilee Gardens (behind the western entrance of the Jubilee line station). The habitat looked good though all we could muster was a Peregrine overhead, a Willow Warbler, Blackbird, Wren and a few tits.

On the way home I dropped into Wormwood Scrubs and glimpsed our super elusive Pied Flycatcher for literally 5 seconds as I craned my neck looking up into its favourite Maple tree whilst on the phone to my publisher!

Back at Canary Wharf in the morning to see what's kicking around in the trees. I will tell more about this interesting new project in due course.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Glastonbury - Rutland style

Shooting for Birdfair.tv (Russell F Spencer)
Me & Bill (Russell F Spencer)
The main star at Rutland (Russell F Spencer)
I spent the whole of last weekend amongst throngs of birders at the British Birdwatching Fair in Rutland, Leicestershire. I had a great time shooting excerpts of the general happenings during the weekend. That involved chatting to the good and the great, following the development of the Birdfair Mural, checking out the latest optics and basically having a laugh!

The results of my endeavours are to be found at http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=2254

Anyway, back in London I've been caning my local patch for migrants sometimes up to 3 times a day. This is time I can ill afford as for example, I had a last minute panic to finish my penultimate article for BBC Wildlife Magazine yesterday. However, it was worth it today because I finally caught up with an elusive Pied Flycatcher that had been hiding in a Maple tree for the past six days. Here's to a nice Red-backed Shrike!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

First day back on The Tower

Eyes to the skies (Russell F Spencer)
I had a bit of a restless night sleep last night. I was in bed by 1.30am (my usual time) and the alarm went off seemingly 10 minutes later at 4.30am. By 6am I was pulling up in the Tower 42 car park and ascending the many floors with 10 other excited birders of all abilities.

Once on the roof we were treated to a beautiful sunny morning with a light westerly and a single flyby Swallow heading west. We had a fairly quiet morning with the highlights being our first recorded Sandwich Terns (7 seen very briefly), a couple of Peregrines on the Tate Modern, a drifting female-type Sparrowhawk, a distant Little Egret, a few Great Black-backs and a handful of Swifts. A nice start. I'm sure there will be plenty more to talk about over the ensuing weeks.

The other bit of news is that I had a very interesting meeting with the Canary Wharf Estates people. The upshot of it is that I have resurrected a survey that was originally carried out by Ken Murray and colleagues between 2000 - 2004. It's pretty exciting urban birding opportunity that will be open to all and I will announce more next week.

Meanwhile, maybe I will see some of you at Bird Fair over the weekend. I will be filming for Birdguides over the period but still come and say hello.

Until then.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Spiders and birds

Wasp Spider Argiope bruennichi (David Fettes)
Grey clouds and a blustery north easterly wind greeted me at The Scrubs this morning. I was in the company of photographer and great influence David Fettes. I've known David for 10 years and he was the first person to encourage me to live the dream, years before my dream was born.

It was his first time on the Scrubs and I was guiding him around. By the time we had got to the grassland and met newbie Scrubber Neville Smith, the avian door swung open and brought forth a couple of small presents. Namely, our first Snipe of the autumn flying north and a lovely Yellow Wagtail that flew in and landed in the grassland.

Perhaps the most interesting find was the rather attractive spider depicted above. It was massive and of the like I've never seen before. Remember, I spend most of my time looking up.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Migrant hunting

Common Whitethroat (Russell F Spencer)
Whilst everyone else in London have been busily cleaning up on the falls of migrants for the past few days, I seemed to be struggling over at The Scrubs. To be fair, I have had good numbers of warblers with Whitethroats topping the list. I had over 30 of those this morning- many of them being youngsters - as well as up to 9 Lesser Whitethroats a couple days ago. Interestingly, one of the Lesser 'throats had a very white face due to it's 'bandit' mask eyestripe being very fine. Indeed, the whole bird looked particularly pallid.

We've also been hosting at least 2 Sedge Warblers, a Reed Warbler and up to 3 Garden Warblers along Lester's Embankment along the northern edge of The Scrubs. It is currently warbler city. This morning had a very autumnal feel about it. It was hazy with a north easterly breeze. I had high hopes, but after 4 hours of scouring every bush and scanning the skies I only had 4 Swift to show for my effort.

Well, tomorrow is another day and anything can turn up anywhere at anytime - as I often chant!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Ruff day in the city

Juvenile Ruff feeding around the Round Pond, Kensington Gardens
Feeding up
The Ruff being twitched by a couple of pigeons
I was at home minding my own business writing (what else) when I received a phone call from Tower 42 Bird Study Group devotee Des McKenzie. He excitedly told me that he was watching a juvenile Ruff down to 5 feet feeding around the edge of the Round Pond, Kensington Gardens in the shadow of Kensington Palace.

Let me tell you, the Round Pond is no tranquil backwater. No, it's home to a large herd of Mute Swans, accompanying gangs of Greylag and Canada Geese and there's usually a coating of larids of the Black-headed, Herring and Lesser Black-back varieties. During the winter the gull flocks are augmented by more gulls including Common Gulls and (usually) a returning wintering German-ringed Mediterranean Gull. Oh, and did I mention the hordes of tourists, joggers and people generally chucking bread at the waterfowl. It's a busy place.

Indeed, Des was innocently counting the gulls when the Ruff pitched down practically next to him and commenced chomping at the accumulated algae that had built up around the concrete shoreline. When he called me, I left the house within 30 seconds, drove like a demon to the nearby park and sprinted/hobbled (ankle football injury) until I saw Des and the bird next to him. Clearly, this juvenile must have spent it's yoof in the high arctic, migrated and pitched down in the centre of London to meet humans for the first time.

What a record though! Inner London's first record - a Ruff day!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Milton Keynes - the City of Lakes

The view from MK's highest point
A great hedge in the shopping centre
Mark, TUB, Gill & Russell Spencer (Yvette Spencer)
I never thought that a trip to MK would be so enjoyable. I expected to be circling roundabouts the whole day. Instead, Yvette and Russell Spencer and I saw tons of lakes and watched Little Egrets and Marsh Tits whilst under the pleasurable guidance of the husband and wife team Mark and Gill.

More about that trip in a future copy of Bird Watching Magazine. When I got home later in the early evening I received an email from a birder and his wife visiting The Scrubs explaining that whilst picking blackberries they witnessed a juvenile male Montagu's/Hen Harrier drift over north being pursued by a host of crows.

Intriguing stuff!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Barn Hill & Fryent Country Park

This morning I led a walk around Barn Hill and Fryent Country Park in Wembley, north London - few minutes away from my mum's house.

It was a quiet day with the main highlight being a high flying Hobby that spectacularly dived much collective pleasure of my group.

My group looking for a juvenile Kestrel
Looks like the countryside but is less than 10 miles from the centre of London