Thursday, 28 January 2010

Buckingham Palace

A Highland cow - absolutely nothing to do with anything royalty!
I've been invited to Buckingham Palace!!

I opened an invitation sent on from my agent today that had a request by the Queen's hubby himself for my presence at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust's Peter Scott Centenary Celebrations at the end of March.

I was gobsmacked! I never though that I'd ever get an invite to the Queens gaff in my life - and here I am wondering what a 'lounge suit' is! Oh, and it will be funky handshakes for me no bowing or dropping on one knee -I can tell you that now!

Speaking of things formal, yesterday's talk in Westminster at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) went well and in fact, they have asked me back, which was nice.

I'm in serious danger of becoming part of the establishment!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Out of the loop

Drake Tufted Ducks (Des McKenzie)
At last the copy I wrote for my next RSPB Birds Magazine piece was finally good enough to send off to the magazine editor. It will appear in April (Spring) edition.

I've been out of the local birding loop for some time now and I had every intention of heading out to The Scrubs in the morning to open my winter 2010 birding account. Alas, it is not to be because I am giving a talk on urban birding at a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) conference in the morning over at Westminster.

The day has been billed as a Nature and Conservation Day and in case any of you fancied coming here are the details

Monday, 25 January 2010

Crow Planet

I'm quite getting into this book reviewing lark as they slowly begin to trickle through my door. Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt landed on my doormat over six months ago - and no, it hasn't taken that long to review it. No, my proper review will be appearing within the pages of an up coming issue of Bird Watching Magazine.

I would describe Crow Planet as a cerebral voyage into our relationship with urban nature through the author's relationship with American Crows. Lyanda speaks of her almost obsessive interest in these and other corvids after nursing one back to health years previously.

As I said, you can read my full review at a later date but I do think that you should try and lay your hands on a copy and have a read. It's pretty interesting and raises some fundamental issues. Besides, any book that talks about urban wildlife and tries to encourage people to get involved cannot be bad!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Mull reprise

TUB and some Mull locals (Russell F Spencer)
Snow flurry (Russell F Spencer)
Hunting Merlin (Russell F Spencer)
I was extremely lazy this morning by not bothering to get out of bed to hit The Scrubs. When I did go out later in the morning to nearby St John's Wood I managed to lose my wallet - a fact that I didn't discover until nearly 4 hours later. Most annoying!

Anyway, to lighten my mood I thought that I would show you some more of the Mull shots taken by Russell Spencer.

Friday, 22 January 2010

The new Bible has arrived!

My long awaited copy of the Bible arrived today courtesy of publishers Harper Collins whose offices are not too far from where I live. My previous copy was given to me in 2003 by my then long-term Slovakian girlfriend who wrote me a note in her native tongue at the front of the book that to this day I have never been able to translate. Any Slovak speakers out there?

The publication of the new Collins Bird Guide was probably the most eagerly awaited birding event in recent history. Well, maybe with the exception of the rediscovery of the Eskimo Curlew or the confirmation of the continued existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. So when the book arrived I spent the next hour going through it page by page looking out for the differences. There were a few differences. There were species included (mostly wheatears funnily enough) that I had never heard of like Seebohm's Wheatear (which I previously knew as a subspecies of the Northern Wheatear), the Maghreb Wheatear and Kurdish Wheatear. Plus I had never heard of a 'Basalt Wheatear' (the black morph of the Mourning Wheatear).

I was very excited to now own a portable fieldguide that had entries for what I term as 'black hole' species like Caspian Gull and American Herring Gull - birds that hitherto were just after thoughts in the bird guides - the kind of birds that you previously had to spend a couple of hours trawling through gull tomes or surfing the net to glean the essential ID features. Staying with the gulls, I was impressed with the detail that the Herring Gull and Lesser Black-back entries had. All helpful stuff in the field.

Of course, I could be pernickety and find faults and moan about things like the Short-eared Owl painting depicting it with far narrower wings than on any I've seen in real life. Or that, in my view, the book follows that completely alien systematic family order that starts with swans. I'm old school, I get nose bleeds if my field guide doesn't start with the divers. No, negativity is waste of time when there are so many positives in this book.

When I was a kid used to read Heinzel, Fitter & Parslow's 'The Birds of Britain and Europe with North Africa and the Middle East' religiously. At home, at school, during lessons, in bed - in fact everywhere. It was my original bible and it's amazing just how far things have come since then. I absolutely love reading and re-reading field guides subliminally soaking up facts and figures that sometimes come back to me when I see particular birds. I will certainly keeping this new Collins Bird Guide by my side at all times. I absolutely love it already, it was worth the wait!

The people at Harper Collins have asked me to mention that they are launching on February 2nd 2010. From what they say it sounds like it will be a very interesting site.

Anyway, it's my bedtime now. Time to read the Bible.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Back at The Urban Birder Towers

Great Kiskadee (Yvette Spencer)
After yesterday's excitement, things returned to normality with a couple of meetings, tons of phone calls and the usual writing.

Tonight, I was invited to a cocktail event at The Dorchester on London's swish Park Lane. I wore jeans, jacket and t-shirt. So much for the posh evening wear!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Adverts?? Whatever next?

Today was quite weird. This afternoon I was pretending to be a 'Rasta Lion' for an Orangina commercial. I had to don a special suit with sensors all over it and filmed by a suite of 'motion capture' cameras which animated my body to make it look like a dreadlocked lion - or something like that!

What's more, I had to sit on a moped making out that I was riding it, nodding my head to some Studio One dub plate. It was great fun and before you ask; no I don't know when it's out but I do know that I will be on for a few seconds and probably will be totally unrecognisable!

I won't be giving up the day job!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Where's my new Collin's Guide?

Great Egret (Stephen Daly)
Had a busy day today with a few tasks completed including the writing and emailing of my RSPB Birds Magazine piece about my recent adventures on Mull. That particular issue will be out in the spring - around April I think.

I'm a bit peeved that everyone's got their new remixed Collins Guide and I haven't. What's particularly galling is the fact that I paid for mine a year ago or more. What gives?

Monday, 18 January 2010

More of Mull

TUB writing in Oban (Russell F Spencer)
Somewhere beautiful on Mull (Russell F Spencer)
The Pink House (Russell F Spencer)
An uncertain bull (Russell F Spencer)
I just had to put these wonderful shots up taken by photographer Russell Spencer. They just totally capture the vibe of the island.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Images of Glasgow

TUB at Hogganfield Park Local Nature Reserve (Russell F Spencer)
First-winter Black-headed Gulls (Russell F Spencer)
First-winter Black-headed Gulls (Russell F Spencer)
Drake Goosander (Russell F Spencer)
I had a very industrious day today that began with a conscience decision not to go to The Scrubs this morning. Why? Because I was bloody knackered!

It was a shame, because it was eventually a lovely sunny morning after the initial gloom. I spent the rest of the day completing my Bird Watching Magazine piece of Glasgow and moulding my RSPB article on Mull. I also replied to the million emails that had stacked up in my various inboxes.

I also noticed that annoyingly, I had two videos on my Facebook profile that were put there without my consent. I mean, what does a Cat Stevens and Lionel Richie video got to do with me. More importantly, how do I delete them?

Friday, 15 January 2010

What I've been missing

All images courtesy of the London Wetland Centre
Well, I'm back in The Urban Birder Towers after splendid few days on Mull to find that I have been missing a few things back at home. Apart from the multitudes of Redwing and Fieldfare, Woodcocks have been pretty prevalent. I wonder if there were undiscovered birds lurking at The Scrubs.

Also reported was a Lapland Bunting that's currently hanging out with Skylarks at Beddington Farm, down there in south London and up to 5 Bitterns at the London Wetland Centre.

Time to get my butt down on The Scrubs me thinks!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

I'm an honorary member of the Mull Bird Club

The RSPB's Dave Sexton & Debby Thorne with TUB
You've gotta agree - this is beautiful!
Today was a bit of a birdy one spent with some of the Mull Bird Club's finest. Traveling around we picked up more Hen Harriers, a Sea Eagle, Merlin, Otters and Common Seals. The scenery was totally eye-catching. The company fantastic. The hospitality humbling. You have to get yourselves up here as a warm welcome certainly awaits you.

I was particularly touched when I was invited to become an honorary member of the Mull Bird Club. It was an invitation that I could not turn down. I will wear the badge with pride.

If anyone from the RSPB is reading this, I must say that Debby Thorne (White-tailed Eagle Information Officer) and Dave Sexton (RSPB Mull Officer) are top class. They totally looked after me and Dave is the type of bloke that would lay down his life for you. Of course, our B&B hosts Andy and Diana Oldacre (Chair & Vice Chair of the Mull Bird Club respectively) were dynamite and if anyone wants to stay on Mull let me know and I'll send you their details. They were warm, friendly and beautiful people.

Phew, enough gushing. Time for sleep. A long journey south ahead tommorow.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Mull has surprised me in a couple of ways. The first is the number of non-Mullets (immigrant Mull residents) on the island. Most people seemed to have hailed from the Midlands. Indeed, Russell my photographer dubbed the island 'SoliMull'!

The remainder of people seemed to come from Yorkshire, Newcastle with a couple folk from the Big Smoke. The other nice thing about Mull is the friendliness of the people. Everyone's got time for everyone.

My talk tonight was a classic example. I spoke about urban birding in Wormwood Scrubs and the Mull Bird Club audience seemed inspired to look at city birding in a different light. They very kindly gave me a bottle of wine after as a sign of appreciation.
The Three Lochs of Glen More
Killiechronan looking southeast
Today we spied a pair of calling Golden Eagle soaring against the dramatic backdrop of a snow clad mountainside. It was an adult (probably a male) and an immature that was clearly bigger, thus presumably a female. A magical sight that was only my second Scottish Goldie in my life. We also saw a male and 2 female Hen Harriers, a Woodcock, a Jack Snipe (scarce on the island) and we dipped on a couple of Snow Buntings. Yesterday, we had White-tailed Eagles and I found a 1st winter Iceland Gull.

My RSPB guides, the lovely Debby Thorne and Dave Sexton also took me to Loch Beg a place were chief Otter spotter Dave found at least 3 frolicking by the coast. Nice!

Iain Gibson, TUB & Jim Coyle in Glasgow
Finally, on Monday whilst in Glasgow I hung out with 2 Glasgow City Council officers, Iain Gibson and Jim Coyle, who very kindly took me around showing me some of the city's birding spots. We managed to see Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammer, Whooper Swan, Water Rail and a couple of Jack Snipe.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Mulling things over

A Woodcock casualty on Mull
Here I am, lying in bed after spending my first exhilarating day on the Isle of Mull. Although it's been cold, I've been totally wrapped up in my Lapland/Berghaus gear feeling very toasty!

Since my last entry I have been working quite hard on various projects ahead of my journey to Scotland. I actually started my journey two days ago when I set off from home to catch the Hammersmith & Shitty (should be 'City' but this line is often more like a gravy train, hence my moniker for it) and Victoria lines to connect with the overground at Tottenham Hale. To cut a very long story shorter, none of the desired tube lines were running so I spent nearly 3 hours walking and getting on alternative trains doing a journey that would normally take 50 minutes.

I didn't get moody - for which I'm pretty proud. The next morning I was in Glasgow, as part of my urban birding tour of cities in Britain and Europe. More about that tomorrow. Right now, I am preparing a talk that I'm giving to Mull Bird Club tomorrow night.

To be continued......

Friday, 8 January 2010

That's Bullfinch!

The countdown to Scotland is well underway. I admit that I was a little apprehensive about the possibilities of me ever getting there - what with the inclement weather. Regular calls to the Isle of Mull have proven that there hasn't been any snowfall there since before Christmas. That was reassuring.

Meanwhile, back at home I rocked up to the frozen tundra known as The Scrubs to behold at least 50 Skylarks including at least 20 roaming the snowy fields trying to eek out some grub. Quite a few gulls were passing overhead including good numbers of Herring Gull - a scarcity over Wormwood Scrubs. I also heard a calling Reed Bunting and most special of all, a calling Bullfinch in Chats Paddock.

Bullfinches have become something of a major rarity at The Scrubs. We've gone from 2 breeding pairs as recently as 3 years ago to perhaps 2 winter sightings a year. It now seems to be purely a winter visitor. A sad state of affairs.

Today, Visit Scotland came through with a hotel in Oban so that I can jump directly onto the ferry that goes to Mull next week.


Wednesday, 6 January 2010


American Robin (Mike Danzenbaker)
Another frozen day with a fresh coating of snow. Thankfully it wasn't too deep around my way. It was a quiet day in a busy kind of way today. Tried to line up a few urban birding trips including excursions to Cork and Reykjavik. Lord knows how Iceland could do with some positive PR right now!

I also found out this morning that I will definitely be going to prison - Holloway women's Prison to be exact - the week after next to chat about urban birds. I'm looking forward to it in a funny sort of way. That's if I return safely from Scotland next week.

I am going to try and hit The Scrubs in the morning to witness some of the hard weather movement currently evident across London. Who knows, I might find me an American Robin!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A little snow

I eventually finished my piece for BBC Wildlife Magazine. It's always strange pressing the send button as I always feel as though I have just written a pile of poo. I will listen out for the features editor's comments tomorrow.

As I speak a ton of snow is falling from the heavens no doubt to cause mayhem in the morning amongst the folk of Britain.

We shall see.

Monday, 4 January 2010

It's flippin' freezing!

I read yesterday that this British Christmas was the coldest for 25 years. It certainly feels it. I'm used to this kind of cold in February. I fear for next week when I will be strolling around the wilds of Scotland.

I saw a cow being slaughtered on TV tonight. Random thought I know, but it was really quite emotional seeing a particularly furry looking bull walking into an abattoir not knowing that his life is about to end. Watching it being stun gunned, strung up and drained of its blood whilst still alive then beheaded and gutted was fascinating. To be totally honest, it didn't put me off consuming meat.

Anyway, ethical issues aside, I'd better scoot to finish my BBC Wildlife article.


Sunday, 3 January 2010


TUB at The London Wetland Centre (Russell F Spencer)
The first few days of the years have been non stop for me - largely writing but also planning for the next few weeks. For example, I am trying to plan the next few trips for my Bird Watching Magazine tour of the cities of Britain and Europe with Glasgow, Leicester & Merida in Extremadura, Spain looming.

On New Year's Day I was at The London Wetland Centre for a photoshoot for the BBC Wildlife Magazine article that I'm working on. It's all about birding in groups, so I had to commandeer a few birders that happened to be near me. I think that they thought I was a bit mad, asking them to take off their winter clothing to pretend it was a spring day. It was a bitterly cold day!