Sunday, 31 October 2010

And here's the news

(Russell F Spencer)
A busy week was had since my last posting.

The highlights included being invited to be a writer on the 20/20Vision ( For those who don't know about this innovative project it is - in their words - Britain's most ambitious conservation multi media initiative to communicate the link between the restoration of the UK's natural systems and our own well being. Check out their website to find out more and I'll feed you with more information plus my input in due course.

The other great thing to happen this week was that I was invited to be a judge on 2011 Observer Ethical Awards. The actually judging ceremony will be next April with the winners being announced thereafter.

On a negative note, the Canary Wharf Migrant Bird Project that I set up seems to be floundering due to several reasons. I didn't have a hands on approach to this project unlike with the Tower 42 Bird Study Group and as a result there has been a distinct lack of data. I think that this project has the potential to be pretty interesting but it seems as though the Canary Wharf people themselves have lost interest and to date have not been corresponding with me. I get the impression that they expected the trees to be dripping with migrants and I don't blame them given the way the previous study there was sold.

It is a project that has to be judged over a period of years and not after one poorly attended season.

Ah well, you can't win them all.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Migrant Bird Blip!

Looking east to Canary Wharf
It's a long way down!
The empty skies looking south
Our viewing platform
What a gorgeous day today was!

My day started at Canary Wharf at 8am trying to find birds in the estate. Apart from a pair of Peregrines, a couple of Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Magpies, a few crows and gulls there was absolutely bugger all to hold our attention. We then journeyed onto Tower 42 for phase two of our Migrant Bird Blitz.

The skies were empty bar a few gulls including an adult Great Black-back, a soaring Sparrowhawk and a couple Peregrines around the Tate Modern. This was despite the efforts of several birders scanning along with a couple of Austrian women and their kids that I had met on the street outside and had invited up to enjoy the view!

Maybe I should have stayed at The Scrubs today.

Friday, 22 October 2010


My new charges
I am now the proud babysitter of a pair of goldfish that were foisted onto me by a holidaying neighbour. What she doesn't realise is that I have a terrible record with this member of the carp family. Most if not all have died whilst in my care. It's funny, I was contemplating looking after a Daschund for a week but decided against it for logistical reasons. I'm not sure if an menagerie at The Urban Birder Towers would work somehow. I shall keep you up to date on the life and times of the two nameless fish in my care.

Otherwise, today was a day behind the laptop writing. I had to miss the Tower 42 venture this morning, but by all accounts it was totally crap for any movement. This Sunday will be the Migrant Bird Blitz that will see birders scouring the parklands of Canary Wharf Estate and the London skyline from Tower 42. That could be interesting.

Anyway, time to prepare for football in the morning.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

I'm back!

Wood Pigeons (Russell F Spencer)
Today was an important day. I actually woke up before sunrise (which is what I do every day) but this time I headed out of the house and went to The Scrubs to be greeted by a gorgeous - if cold - sunny day. The visible migration was good with over 700 Wood Pigeons, 80 Fieldfares, 400 Starlings, 30 Redpoll, 20 Chaffinch and a single Siskin.

It was good to get back into the saddle after the emotional turmoil and roller coaster ride I've been on since the appearance of the bird of the century - our first Great Grey Shrike. I have a feeling that because I missed that bird that I will find an amazing rarity at The Scrubs that no one predicted.

You read it here first folks!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Azorean wonders

Upland Sandpiper
Cory's Shearwater
Atlantic Canary
Bar-tailed Godwit being harassed by a Blackbird
1st winter American Redstart
White-rumped Sandpiper
All images copyright of Russell F Spencer
As you probably know, I got back from The Azores on Tuesday after being held up on Flores (my favourite Azorean island) due to the tropical storm created in the wake of Hurricane Otto.

They are a group of nine islands in the mid-Atlantic between Portugal and the States. I though that all the islands would be within sight of each other, so I was surprised when we landed on San Miguel (the main island) to learn that Corvo and Flores were a whooping 400 miles and 2 hours flight away. In short, I found some the European twitchers on Corvo full of testosterone, arrogance and unfriendliness. They just seemed interested in finding the next American rare to add to their Western Palearctic list. And that was it. Birding didn't seem to come into it. One of them, a Belgian photographer, poured scorn on the thought of us heading off to nearby and far larger and under-birded Flores. More reason for me to go, I thought.

Birding on Flores was like birding on a island with the blended characteristics of Scillies, Yorkshire, the Mediterranean with a tropical forest vibe thrown in. We ended up working around four areas as patches and as a consequence found American vagrants on a daily basis. We also found a few birds that were arguably Nearctic including a winter male Snow Bunting and a rather buffy looking juvenile Peregrine that lunched on one of the flock of four White-rumped Sandpipers that we were watching.

There were not many species to entertain us in between finding rares. Basically, there were Blackbirds with strange weak alarm calls and strange 'seaaa' calls. Also the females were quite dark almost like 1st winter males. The Goldcrests looked dingier and longer billed than our birds, whilst the Chaffinches looked like the North African birds with very little white on their tails and wings making them look quite dark. They seemed to flutter lacking the strong flight that I'm used to. There were tons of Canaries around. They reminded me of Serins. Starlings were prevalent seeming more spotted than usual. Finally, out to see were hundreds of Cory's Shearwaters, although some of us saw a few Great Shearwaters and I noticed a petrel on the boat over from Corvo which seemed like a Leach's.

I found the trip very interesting and although the weather conditions were perfect for bringing over falls of vagrants, it was very humid and wet which meant wet optics and sometimes poor visibility. Regardless, it was a great adventure that was supported by The Portuguese Trade and Investment Office and SATA Airlines. There, plug done!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Flores: the view above the clouds
The Flores Birders
The angry sea
I finally left Flores yesterday after several days waiting at the airport. We headed to the main island of San Miguel, some 400 miles away, to pick up today's flight to Lisbon that connected with one to Gatwick.

I will furnish you with lovely pictures of some of the bird life of the islands that were taken by Russell F Spencer plus more details of the adventure of the next couple of days.

Until then.....

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Azores - Day 8 (said in a Big Brother-like Geordie accent)

Great Grey Shrike (Anders Price)
I have been in tears all day - from the second I opened my eyes this morning to this very moment. You see, I have been on The Azores for 8 days now. Many of you will be thinking 'lucky bugger' and you would be right for thinking those thoughts, but my problem is not as simple as that.

I have been marooned on Flores, my favourite of the nine islands that make up the Azores, since Saturday. There has been no flights out of the island since last Thursday due to the inclement weather born from Hurricane Otto that had been threatening to lash the east coast of the US. Don't get me wrong, I've been keeping myself busy, often in the driving wind and lashing rain, finding a dowitcher sp and enjoying such beauties as a personally long awaited Upland Sandpiper, American Redstart, Grey Catbird and Rose-breasted Grosbeak plus a host of tantalizing views including the merest of glances at a cuckoo sp.

Not being able to get off the island was one thing; as I had a host of things to do this week including giving a talk to the Preston Bird Watching and Natural History Society. But the biggest thing and the reason for my day long tears was the discovery this morning of a Great Grey Shrike at The Scrubs. I had predicted the appearance of a shrike as our next bogey bird shortly after putting the ghost of our previous bogey bird to rest. After 18 years, we had seen our first Red Kite drifting over this summer, so I had told my fellow Scrubbers to look out for a shrike this autumn.

One has now turned up and I'm stuck on the bloody Azures! I couldn't care if I found a first for the Western Palearctic tomorrow - I'm a Scrubber, get me out of here!