Wednesday, 28 April 2010

One good tern

The Scrubs yesterday morning
Today promised so much. The forecast was for a sunny day with a light southerly. Instead, we received a largely cloudy, hazy day with very occasional short sunny moments. As a consequence we didn't see the anticipated drifting migrant Buzzards and Red Kites during our Tower 42 vigil, but we were treated to close views of Peregrines, a female Sparrowhawk and a male Kestrel. The latter bird is somewhat of a scarcity within inner London.

The best bird of the day and perhaps the best T42 bird of the campaign thus far was a distant tern that I picked up flying in a southwesterly direction well beyond Greenwich that banked our way and was eventually identified as an Arctic Tern. It was so high up it was virtually invisible with the naked eye. Check the Tower 42 blog for some great photos of the day's birds taken by Mark Pearson.

Other news included getting an invitation from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust inviting me to a talk being given by The Don himself - the one and only Sir David Attenborough. The problem is I only received the letter today and I had to confirm by today and I had opened the letter after office hours!

Finally, after nearly a year in the making, my urban birding in Budapest film was finally put on youtube. It has elicited a great response. Take a look and see what you think.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


Garden Warbler (Russell F Spencer)
Sunday's planned trip with the Potters Bar & Barnet RSPB Group to Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve in Birmingham became a trip to Fishers Green in the Lea Valley with Russell my photographer and his delightful wife Yvette. They were very pleased to show around their local patch on a day that was promised as being nice and sunny but ended up grey with sunnier breaks.

We enjoyed our first Hobby of the spring - in fact we had 3 birds together over 70 Acre Lake, plus several Swift and my first Common Terns too. Earlier in the day, I discovered that I couldn't get any public transport to the coach meeting point in Potters Bar so I opted for an early morning stroll around The Scrubs. Aside from a female Northern Wheatear the only migrants were a couple of Swallow. The only fall I experienced was the rain that poured on me whilst I stood by the grassland in an Adidas track top and Cape Clear baseball cap.

Today was a good day. I sent my latest piece in my BBC Wildlife 'How To Be A Birder' series on note taking and received a complimentary email from the editor that pleased me no end. Looking forward to climbing up the Tower tomorrow for some viz miggin'. The signs are good; southerlies, sunny and warm. Let's see what goodies get brought in. I'm also being interviewed by the Sunday Express and being photographed as the figurehead for the ThamesWatch an initiative which is supported by Buglife and the RSPB. The idea (which has been running for a couple of years now) is to get school kids to look out for wildlife by the Thames during May.

Wish me luck with the migrants for tomorrow!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Groppers and the law

Male Whinchat (L. Baxter)
I really wanted to get up early before football to sample the avian delights that The Scrubs possibly had to offer for a couple of hours. Instead, I opted stay in bed. Last night's talk must have been more taxing than what I had originally thought. I was donning my football socks when I had a call from a birder telling me that he had just found a Grasshopper Warbler in Little Wormwood Scrubs - a small park directly east of my patch. I've never seen a gropper on my home turf before, but alas, I had football obligations. The pitch was calling.

After a disappointing game (we lost) I got in the car and started to drive back home. Seconds later I had flashing lights behind me. It was the local constabulary. It was a 'routine' stop and one of the first questions the copper asked me was had I'd ever been arrested before. What was that all about?

Later in the afternoon I nipped down to the Little Wormwood Scrubs site (from where a Whinchat was also reported) to try and see if I could hear the Gropper. This park is very small with 50% being municipal parkland that was littered with the local populace kissing, dog walking and playing football whilst the remainder was managed scrubland. I must say that the area looked ripe for a shrike or some interesting skulking warbler - so a Gropper certainly wasn't out of court.

Needless to say I didn't hear the blighter, so it will be an early morning trip there me thinks.

Finally, tonight I indulged in a bit of culture and went to a Jacobean play at the National Theatre. Frankly, I'm a street boy first and foremost so come the interval I was totally confused and had to beat a hasty retreat to the nearby British Film Institute bar further down the Southbank - where I remained. It was all a bit high-browed for me!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Scrubs Rouzel

Male Ring Ouzel (Stephen Daly)
This morning started brilliantly with the discovery of a pristine male Ring Ouzel (not the one photographed) that flew into my field of view whilst I was watching a Pied Wagtail. It perched on top of a tree and through my scope in perfect light I watched it 'chack' away until a dog walker flushed it. We saw it again briefly whilst we stood by the grassland searching for Wheatears and Whinchats.

Inspired by his experience on Tower 42, fellow Scrubber Roy Nuttall, journeyed back to The Scrubs later in the afternoon for a spot of viz migging. He was rewarded with the site's 2nd ever Marsh Harrier, a Buzzard and 4 Swifts that I believe to be our earliest ever.

This evening, I gave a talk to the Potters Bar and Barnet RSPB Group about a year in The Scrubs. They seemed to enjoy it and have asked me back next year.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Blue skies

Spanish Ibex in Spain -not Notting Hill! (Stephen Daly)
At last the sun is poking its head over my part of west London. To be fair, it's been pretty sunny for the past few days made all the more better by the lack of planes. The Scrubs is still pulling in Wheatears, with birds being seen almost on a daily basis. Today was no different with a pair noted on the grassland eventually ending up on the playing fields. It's amazing that birding friends in Norfolk still haven't seen any.

Tonight, I went to see Birdguides' Fiona Barclay give an interesting talk on birding and technology at Camley Street Nature Reserve, Kings Cross in London. She covered all the gadgets, websites and all the other things that defy description. I had a go on the iPad that Max Whitby (Birdguides) had brought along. Initially, I found it to be like an oversized iTouch, but I can see it catching on. But I can't see people pulling them out in the street.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Take note

My old notebook (Russell F Spencer)
It's been a weird last few days. The silent skies with no vapour trail scars is really unusual. You can almost imagine what it must have been like prior to the birth commercial flights. I wonder what the quiet skies and volcanic dust is doing to our migrants. Speaking of which, I had a small cross-section of visitors at The Scrubs recently. Lesser Whitethroats, a solitary Common Whitethroat, a few Northern Wheatears, a lone overflying Yellow Wagtail and tons of Chiffchaff and Blackcaps.

A really weird sight on Sunday morning was a flock that passed low over my head containing two Cormorant, one Greylag and an Emperor Goose!

I had a proposed trip in September to the Azores practically green-lit by the Azores Tourism Authorities. Great news. I'm also giving a talk on Wormwood Scrubs this Wednesday morning to inmates at Holloway Prison.

Should be interesting talking to a load of women!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

No migrants

Ring Ouzel - where are you? (Stephen Daly)
Had another boring morning at The Scrubs with a singing Willow Warbler being the only new migrant to be discovered. I'm sure that the place was crawling with migrants but of course none of them revealed themselves to me.

If you haven't already, you must check out the great little film that Fiona Barclay at Birdguides put together following her recent visit to Israel. It's charming and I love it. Check it out:

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Crossed a lot of rivers

A single Swallow... (Russell F Spencer)
A busy few days have been had at The Urban Birder Towers over the last few days. The main headlines are that I have been invited to visit Sri Lanka by their Director of Tourism. The great thing about is that not only have Bird Watching Magazine commissioned me to write a travel piece but I will be hopefully visiting areas that have been untouched for over 25 years.

Even more amazing is the fact that I will have the opportunity to launch another visible migration urban rooftop. I think that a theme is beginning to develop here. Anyway, more on that at a later date.

I'm also on the verge of getting a trip to Iceland in June. Again, Bird Watching Magazine have commissioned me to write a piece and I'm just waiting for the confirmation.

Finally, a few images from Tower 42. London's hottest new birding spot!
TUB with fellow Scrubber Anders Price (Helen Babbs)
The London scene (Anders Price)

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Leaving on a jet plane

It was an interesting day today. Whilst watching a Northern Wheatear on top of a Blackthorn bush in the grassland on The Scrubs this morning, a Common Whitethroat suddenly popped into view making it my earliest here ever. It beat last year's previous early bird by six days.

Back at The Urban Birder Towers I learnt that I'd been invited to Sri Lanka by the director of tourism - totally exciting! Furthermore, Sheena Harvey - editor of Bird Watching Magazine - commissioned me to write a feature on it as opposed to my usual column. Double result!

I'm also hopefully heading off to Corvo, in The Azores at some point soon too. Partially to scout for a wildlife film that I hope to shoot there in the autumn and partially to write a piece for my Bird Watching Magazine column. Now I know that it's not strictly urban but there are houses there!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Leicester not forget!

TUB and John Hague
As usual, the photographs documenting my adventures (this time in Leicester) are coming in several days later than the trip itself. This is nobody's fault it's just that there is so much to do these days that downloading and sorting out pictures has become a mega job. The above picture features me with John Hague who very kindly guided me around Leicester on Sunday.

Today was our first day up on Tower 42 watching for migrants. Despite the predicted early south easterlies and no rain, we had north westerlies and almost continuous drizzle come the afternoon. We saw the usual city birds like Lesser Black-backs and Carrion Crows plus a large female Sparrowhawk with a full crop and at least two different Peregrines including one that spectacularly stooped near us to despatch an unfortunate pigeon. We later saw the bird eating it on Tower Bridge!

The most unfortunate incident was that documentary maker, Ceri Levy, who was up with us shooting the making of the Tower 42 story, suddenly collapsed. At first we thought that he had vertigo but when he still couldn't stand up due to dizziness an hour later we got a bit concerned. Ceri is a rotund little fella, so getting him back down through the veritable obstacle course that is the plant room of the Tower - which you have to negotiate to get to and from the last floor that is served by a lift - was no mean feat.

Eventually an ambulance took him away. We learnt later that his heart rate had dropped to just 40 beats a minute, his sugar levels were way up and that he had a blood clot close to his heart. Needless to say, the surgeons operated immediately and his wife told me that he is expected to make a full recovery but they are keeping him in for a few days.

We wish you speedy recovery Ceri and perhaps you should avoid running up and down tall buildings for a while!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Tomorrow's the day

On Sunday I journeyed north to Leicester in my mum's car that I borrowed in the company of photographer, Russell Spencer. My mission was to hook up with Leicester's adopted son, John Hague, and to be shown around the city's jewel spots. We had a great day visiting a few places seeing some nice birds. As with everywhere else, there was a lot of flooding around and there were pools of water everywhere. A lot of the derelict land resembled mini wetlands replete with several Little Ringed Plovers and a one even had Lapwings and a solitary Golden Plover.

Tomorrow is a big day in my calender as it is the first sustained watch from Tower 42. I will have around 10 birders up there along with cameramen, Opticron and a couple guys from the BBC's Natural World team who are wanting to film us in action one day for a forthcoming programme. We've also got coverage on ITV's regional news tomorrow too. I just hope that we pull in some birds.

Photos from tomorrow will be duly posted.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Eternal dreamer

Desert Wheatear - why not? (John Charman)
The last couple of mornings at The Scrubs have been all about Northern Wheatears. I'm not saying that I have been witnessing swarms of the blighters, no, in fact it's only involved a single female that has probably stuck around for the last couple of days. No, the fact is that I could be well on course for a big spring count.

Most springs I have to content myself with maybe 5 or 6 birds between mid-March to the end of May. We have already had upwards of 10 birds and April has only just started. Our record spring was in 2006 when we recorded at least 42 birds including a flock of 11 on the football pitches. That year was also notable for falls of 5 Common Redstarts, 11 Spotted Flycatchers in one fractious flock, 3 Nightingales, 2 Cuckoos and a Ring Ouzel. That's what I call a good urban trawl!

Finally a couple of links for you. Firstly, The Urban Birder on BBC London Tonight talking about the Tower 42 Bird Study Group:
And TUB on the BTO's site talking about the demise of House Martins in their 'Out of Africa' Appeal:

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Follow the Tower 42 Bird Study Group blog

I don't often blatantly plug other blogs, but you have to check this one out. The Tower 42 Bird Study Group blog over the ensuing weeks could change the course of history when it comes to visible migration over London and indeed, change the perception of urban migration over almost every city in the world. I know that I have been banging on about this project's uniqueness but I have to stress this really is different.

I really can't wait to report on the birds that pass over or at least within sight of the Tower and I'm secretly hoping for a rarity.