Tuesday, 21 December 2010

No. 97

Egyptian Goose in Africa (David Fettes)
It was a dull though slightly warmer morning than of late at The Scrubs today. Comfortably above freezing, the sort of temperature that meant that you can go without gloves holding your bins without fear provided you dip your paws straight into the sanctuary of a pocket shortly after. This month us Scrubbers are chasing that magical 100 for the year list.

I had just flushed a Skylark and my companion, Roy, was on his phone trying to sort out a plumbing problem at his tenant's house in Tewkesbury, Gloucester. Suddenly, an Egyptian Goose appeared from out of the gloom in the east and circuited the southern edge of The Scrubs and the prison several times. Number 97! I pointed it out to Roy, but he had major flood issues due to a burst pipe to deal with. I started to text my girlfriend who is currently holidaying in Thailand to tell her of my news. She immediately texted back 'six geese a calling'. No sooner had I read it I heard geese calling. High pitched yelping. I swung around to see around 37 White-fronted Geese wing their way low overhead east. I could quite clearly see the black lines on their tummies.

These guys were part of an unprecedented major London-wide movement that's been occurring over the last couple of days. They were my personal first on The Scrubs but they were originally recorded for the first time last month when a party of six headed south.

However, the morning belonged to the Egyptian Goose. I never thought I'd live to see the day when a Egyptian Goose was statistically more important than a bunch of truly wild geese. It's a funny thing this birding lark!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Four more to go!

Rock Pipit (Andy Cook)
Me and my fellow Scrubbers are desperately trying to reach the previously unreached target of 100 species for the year on The Scrubs. Regular followers of this blog will realise that the decision to go for a year list was only made last month when we suddenly noticed that we had clocked up 90 species.

The last few snowy days has seen a slowdown in the potential for a new bird for the year list. Prior to the snow there was a lot of movement that resulted in a couple additions to the list plus the welcome sight of a few species that had only been seen once during 2010. When the snows came the skies became quiet apart from a few unidentified finches, multitudes of gulls and a few winter thrushes. The breakthrough came today when we had a heavier than usual passage of gulls yielding a scarce Great Black-back. We had record numbers of Skylarks with over 140 seen including a group of 70 plus that dropped onto the snowy football pitches to feed. They adopted a curious cocked-tail posture, almost as though they didn't want to get their undersides wet. Our viewing pleasure was ruined after a few brief minutes by a Carrion Crow who seemed to take exception to their presence. He swooped in after flying the length of three pitches, putting the flock up who then all meandered south.

Species number 96 came in the shape of a Rock Pipit that was first detected when it called as it headed southwest over Chats Paddock. We need just two more species to equal our best ever total of 98 in 2008. A fingertip search for new year list birds will be conducted during the course of next week.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Time is running out

Great Tit (Jakub Puskas)
With the country seemingly carpeted with Waxwings I was left wondering why there not any buzzing around my patch at Wormwood Scrubs this morning. It was a bleak start with low cloud, low light and low heat - it was freezing. The tips of my toes began to freeze after a short while in my Hunters despite wearing two pairs of thermal socks.

The bird of the morning was without doubt the Mediterranean Gull that seems to sporadically popping up over the winter. It seems to turn up loosely associating with a sprinkling of Black-headed Gulls only to shortly pop off north over Scrubs Lane Wood to destinations unknown. I do love Med Gulls though. They are so beautiful. Leggier on the deck than their commoner Black-headed cousins and on the wing they seem to have a more graceful flappy owl-like flight to my mind.

Tomorrow I will hit the principality that is Staines in the name of journalism. In other words, I'm staring deadlines in the face and I need to write an article for Bird Watching Magazine -pronto!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Austerity bites

The Grazers (Alastair Riley)
Last weekend was due to be one of discovery centering around a trip to Sheffield on Sunday to sample the urban birding. But Sheffield was frozen out and furthermore the PR company dealing with the visit contacted me to say that their client was a victim of the Government cutbacks meaning that they could no longer support the trip. I hastily organised an alternative trip to Staines, Surrey but then I got felled by a bout of flu. So in the end I spent the weekend in bed.

I got back into the rat race today starting with a lovely breakfast at The Dorchester, Park Lane in my capacity as Vice President of the Association for Celebrity Assistants - it's a long story. It was amazing to check the menu to see that a full English cost the princely sum of £33!

After breakfast, I spent a couple hours writing in the auspicious surroundings of The Dorchester. Later at noon I had lunch up the road from The Dorchester with my old mate, Fred Street, the ex-England and Arsenal physio. He originally treated a football induced knee injury of mine 10 years ago and we've kept in touch ever since. Finally, I crossed town to Canary Wharf for a meeting to discuss relaunching the migrant bird project that I originally set up last autumn. It's going to be relaunched next spring minus the originator of the survey who proved to be a bit of a pain in the process when the project was first launched. We're going to have a launch event involving the project's supporters including Transport for London, the RSPB, BTO and the London Wildlife Trust.

2011 is shaping up well despite the impending economic doom and gloom. Hopefully, I may have trips lined up to Ethiopia, Texas, Portugal, Maderia, Alderney, Cape Clear, Rome, New York, Sri Lanka, Dominica and Serbia. It all remains to be seen.

By the way, do you like the Red-breasted Goose image? It's by a very talented artist Alastair Riley who's a good mate of mine. Check out his site http://www.alastair-riley.co.uk/

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

DJ Lindo

King of New York (David Fettes)
Having got over yesterday's day of decadence (displayed by others and unfortunately not me) life swung back to normal. Whilst working at home I had a text for Scrubs stalwart, Anders Price, telling me that he had just discovered a Woodcock in the grassland. Unluckily for Anders, this wasn't number 96 on The Scrubs year list because I had previously seen either one three times or three separate birds over a few days earlier in the year when we had that nippy spell. A nice sighting all the same.

Tomorrow, I will be hitting Wormwood Scrubs hard and I won't leave until I find a Firecrest. Well that's the plan. I may explore local berry bearing bushes in the vain hope of finding a secret flock of Waxwings too.

This afternoon/evening was spent variously behind the wheels of steels knocking out a few tunes and busting a couple of hot mixes. Sometimes I miss my djing past. The remainder of the time was spent more sedately behind the computer screen with MTV Dance in the background as a visual radio. I'm planning my next urban birding adventure to be written about in the pages of Bird Watching Magazine. Ah yes, Staines looks appealing......

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Old book for sale

The Sotheby's auction catalogue
This afternoon I sat in a room filled with extremely rich people mingled in with other less rich people that were either sent by someone infinitely richer or had that impossibly rich art dealer boss on the end of a phone signaling bids. Yes, I was at Sotheby's to witness the sale of Audubon's Birds of America at the behest of CBS News as they wanted me to pass comment on this the final stage of their planned piece on the great artist.

This was my first auction so the etiquette was very interesting to watch. Bidding was often signaled by the merest of movements so I was extremely nervous about scratching my head or lifting my glasses. In fact, at one point during the Audubon bidding (which was lot 50) I rubbed my chin and the autioneer shouted out '£6.1m' as he looked in my general direction. Luckily the bid increased to the eventual sale price of £6.4m (£7.5m after commissions etc).

The previous 49 lots were fairly swift with most people not hiding the fact that they were bidding. One book went for £1.1m in just a couple minutes. However, the Audubon auction was the main event and when the bidding began, encouraged by a very animated auctioneer, the room took on a totally different feel. As the cameras rolled, the room became hushed and everybody was looking at everybody else to try and register who the bidders were. Bidding started at £2.3m and towards the end when it broke the £5m barrier the bidding became a bit more transparent.

I just can't believe that so many people have so much money sloshing around. I think that I should produce an elaborately illustrated art book on the Birds of Wormwood Scrubs and see what I can flog it for in 10 years. What would you pay for it?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The deal so far

At last the snow is beginning to thaw and it's got slightly warmer. Only slightly. Apparently, the freezing conditions will be making a comeback within the next few days. I've been wrapped up with writing for the past few weeks so I've been a bit slack when it has come to checking out The Scrubs recently. So last week, I did my best to hit the hallowed turf on a near daily basis.

We are currently on 93 species and are now looking to get seven additional birds to make it to our biggest year total ever. The previous best was in 2008 when we clocked up 98. On Wednesday, 8 Goosanders flew over constituting our 94th species for the year as well as being our first of these sawbills ever recorded here.

The next few mornings saw good numbers of Skylarks, Lapwings and on the Goosander day, a solitary Golden Plover headed over with 26 Lapwings. The Goldie was our 2nd ever and our 2nd this year. It's tempting to think of what passes overhead when you hear about amazing birds like Common Crane and Snow Bunting just a few short miles to the south at Beddington Farmlands.

On Monday and Tuesday I was down on the Exe Estuary, Devon filming with Countryfile. I was doing a piece on Black-tailed Godwits with the delectable Julia Bradbury. You'll be able to watch it on Sunday 12th December on BBC1.

Julia Bradbury & TUB

Friday, 3 December 2010

Racial profile

Juvenile Peregrine on Flores, The Azores October 2010 (Russell F Spencer)
The same juvenile a bit closer (Russell F Spencer)
Does anybody know the racial identity of this juvenile Peregrine?