Thursday, 30 September 2010

Life and Death on Wormwood Scrubs

A poor Red Fox
It's been a bit of a manic few weeks for me - what with a touch of traveling and a shed load of writing. I've also been trying to keep an eye on The Scrubs, although I have dipped on two separate Ring Ouzels (my favourite bird as a lot of you may already know).

I had a great session on Sunday morning though when I scored at least 500 passage House Martins, 250 Swallows, 130 Meadow Pipits, 2 Yellow Wagtails and a high flying Hobby that proceeded to dramatically stoop at great speed onto some unfortunate and unseen prey item. We also had a pair of low flying Peregrines that gave us a great aerial display including some talon-locking. It was brilliant to see all that literally a couple of miles from central London.

This morning I discovered the above depicted fox that must have met with an untimely death during the heavy rain last night. It was undamaged bar some cuts on one of its back legs - no doubt as a result of some pecking by our voracious local Carrion Crows. Poor little thing.

Today was my last session down at The Scrubs because tomorrow morning I will be on Tower 42 (although it is promising to be a dismal day filled with rain and grey clouds) and on Saturday morning I will be between the sticks. Later that evening I will be on a plane heading for The Azores. Now that will be an adventure!

Oh, and by the way, I managed to catch up with the Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens White-winged Black Tern. My face was saved!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Dipping terns

Whilst everyone was sweating over the true identity of the Alder/Willow Flycatcher on Blakeney, Norfolk, a few London listers were fretting over inner London's first White-winged Black Tern discovered on Sunday over at Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens.

Although a truly amazing record, like the Norfolk Emphid flycatcher, it only went to illustrate that age-old urban birding ethos - anything can turn up anywhere at anytime. I got the call this morning about the tern, but as I was occupied on other things I decided to be 'sensible' and fore go the opportunity to see it - this was despite the fact that it was showing down to 20 feet.

Burning desire eventually got the better of me and at 4pm I drove down to the park only to be confronted by a host of blank faces. Our bird had flown. East at 3.30pm to be exact!

Despite swearing to return at dawn to track the bird down (I had decided this before it was seen again at 5.30pm) I knew in my heart that I probably wouldn't return in the morning. I would be too busy kicking bushes at The Scrubs as I have my own rarity to find.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The latest fashion

TUB at Rainham
You probably won't believe this but last night I was rubbing shoulders with London's fashionistas in an impressive building situated in salubrious Belgravia. Despite the presence of pretty fashionable people, it was in the main a most dull evening. Catwalks bore the hell out of me. Bone-freak models strutting up and down hold no interest for me.

On Sunday, I co-led a walk around Rainham RSPB with reserve warden, Howard Vaughan. It was a nice morning/afternoon spent with over 20 people. We saw a Hobby, a pair of Knot, many passage hirundines plus a Wasp Spider, Marsh Frog and several Common Lizards.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Usce Tower

The very top (photographer not known)
The assembled crowd (milan obradovic)
The Usce Tower (vlada marinkovic)
I journeyed over to Serbia on Thursday morning in the company of documentary maker, Ceri Levy, as he was attending to shoot some footage for his forthcoming film 'The Bird Affect'. Arriving in Belgrade I was surprised as to how hot it was. Having left decidedly chilly London 25 degrees felt tropical!

We were met at the airport by Dragan Simic, an effervescent birder from the city who had originally contacted me via Facebook a couple months previously about setting up a Belgrade watchpoint. Fortunately, Ben Crampton, an Englishman working in the tower, plus a birder and friend of Dragan, stepped in and helped to negotiate with the building's owners and management team to allow access to their roof for migration watching.

Usce Tower stands on the confluence of the Sava and the Danube rivers and overlooks a wooded island that was formally home to a colony of egrets and is now the winter roosting site for up to 2500 Pygmy Comorants. Built in 1964 the building is the 2nd tallest in the city at 141 metres (462 feet).

On Thursday afternoon, we met up with Ben who took us to Kalemegdan, a Turkish Fortress and park that was heavily populated with people. We managed to connect with a couple Spotted Flycatchers, Blackcaps, a Kestrel and a female Black Redstart - along with the ubiquitous Hooded Crows, Magpies, Collared Doves and House Sparrows. Later, I gave a TV interview by the Danube before jumping on a small boat for a quick cruise around the wooded island. The best birds apart from the regular Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls were 2 juvenile Little Gulls.

The following morning was the actual launch of the watchpoint. I was surprised to see over 30 people assembled to go on the tower to watch for migrants. I gave 3-4 more TV interviews about the importance of people noticing nature in their cities before heading onto the roof. We didn't see much but the observers all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Later, I had a whistlestop tour of a couple birding locations outside of the city that resulted in 1 White-tailed Eagle, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, a threesome of Black Storks and around 4 Greenshank that were apparently unusual. Before I knew it I was back at the airport heading home.

Many many thanks to Dragan, Ben, Mike (the Usce Tower building manager) and Zorica (Serbian Tourism) for making this event happen. I feel really proud to be involved and excited about the future records that will emanate from this site.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Belgrade - The Home of mainland Europe's 1st high rise Urban Migration Watchpoint

Born out of a Facebook conversation a couple months ago with Belgrade birder, Dragan Smic, the Usce Tower, Belgrade was set up.

Full story tomorrow. I'm knackered!
TUB & Dragan Simic (Milan Obradovic)
Enjoying the view (Milan Obradovic)
Birders viewing Caspian Gulls (Milan Obradovic)
TUB being interviewed by Serbian TV (Milan Obradovic)
TUB briefing Serb birders (Milan Obradovic)
Usce Tower (Milan Obradovic)
TUB & documentary maker, Ceri Levy on top of Usce Tower (Boris Bajcetic)

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Migrants galore

TUB with some of the kids from a local schools outside Queens Park
What a few days!

I have been working my proverbials off on the several projects that I am running concurrently. These schemes range from setting up a new migration watchpoint in Serbia to organising the Canary Wharf Migrant Bird Project, working on my new book and attending various meetings.

Things have also been quite interesting down at The Scrubs with a host of common migrants showing up including a few local goodies like several Buzzards, Hobby, Common Redstarts, Whinchats, Swifts and an array of warblers. Tomorrow morning will see me on the summit of Tower 42 hoping to see some migrant movement there too.

Finally, I was asked to declare open a wildlife interpretation board outside Queens Park in west London. The area is frequented by many media-types and is certainly up and coming. All was going well until I started to give a short talk to the assembled local residents. The heavens opened and I got totally drenched!