Saturday, 31 December 2011

Have a great 2012 all!

Black-eared Kite (Neil Kumar)
I would like to thank everyone who tuned in to my blog during 2011 and I hope that you will continue to do so during 2012.

I also wish you all a very safe, prosperous and bird-filled 2012.

Remember: keep looking up and always expect to see everything and nothing - that way you will never be disappointed.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Great....a Black-headed Gull

A sample of the 3,000 or so Brown-headed Gulls
TUB looking for the elusive Pallas' Gull
There's a Pallas' out there somewhere
This afternoon, I journeyed to Bang Poo, just outside Bangkok to try and locate a Pallas' Gull or two. This species used to be referred to as Great Black-headed Gull back in the day when I was a pup. Indeed, I've always wanted to see a GBH gull ever since I was a kid, although my dream has always been to find one in the UK. To put its rarity into prospective, the only accepted British record to date stems back to 1859 when a bird was found at Dawlish Warren, Devon I believe.

I came to Bang Poo on the recommendation of Thailand's biggest lister and Regional Rep of the Wetland Trust, Phil Round. Bang Poo, in the Samut Prakan province, is a favoured spot for Thai daytrippers who visit the pier to feed the multitude of gulls that accumulate there. On my arrival I was confronted by sight of nearly 3,000 Brown-headed Gulls variously loafing on the water close to the pier or squabbling over scraps thrown at them by the giggling sightseers. Meticulously sifting through them I found around six Black-headed Gulls which are locally scarce. The Brown-heads were slightly bigger with a more solid build, broader wings and more ponderous flight. I spent three hours examining every gull both near and far. No GBH. Plenty of winter plumaged Common and Whiskered Terns, Great Egrets, Pond Herons (either Javan or Chinese), Little Cormorants, Barn Swallows, a few passing Brahminy Kites and a solitary Osprey. But no GBH.

How many Black-headed Gulls make a Great Black-headed Gull?

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Day in Bangkok

Red Collared Dove
This is my first 'hot' Christmas, as the ex-pats like to call it and I must say that it's rather strange not to be on native soil tucking into some mince pies in front of the telly. Instead, I indulged in a near all day feeding frenzy broken only by a two hour massage and bouts of serious siesta-ing.

I poked my head out of the door only once to watch a wintering Yellow-browed Warbler work its way around a neighbouring tree and to try and picture the above featured dove using my bins as a long lens.

Tomorrow, my birding hat will come back on again as I will be visiting a spot called Bang Poo.

More to come from your Asia correspondent.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A Fantastic Christmas wished to all!!

Merry Christmas from Thailand!
Brown Shrike (Dave Gandy)
Black-faced Spoonbill
Dave Gandy & TUB staking out a vagrant Chinese Blue Flycatcher in Bangkok (P. Hayhurst)
Malaysian Plover
Butterfly sp

Sunrise at Hua Hin
'Heuglin's' Gull
Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Sunday, 18 December 2011


A sluggish monitor!
A closer shot
After months of waiting I've finally began the first day of my holiday in Thailand. The plan is not to go mental with the birding and to try and get some rest.

Fat chance of that!

So far I have had a few ticks including Chinese Pond Heron and Peaceful Dove plus a lovely view of the same Kingfisher species that I see back in England. Tomorrow morning, I'll be doing a spot of urban birding in Bangkok before heading south to the beach and near the spot were the last of the Spoon-billed Sandpipers hang out.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

TUB Christmas present ideas No.2

It's got to be - hasn't it?

I think that this a superb book that would look good on any coffee table. For me it's more of a art book than a field guide and it may take some getting used to, but it's an absolute beauty!

Perfect Crimbo present for the art minded birder.

Monday, 12 December 2011

TUB Christmas present ideas No.1

You might think that this book is an odd choice as one of my plugs for Christmas, but hear me out.

Firstly, it's written by Clare Evans, a south coast based birder who happens to be a very lovely person. However, the best reason to buy this book is the fact that it really is a useful tool. I'm the worst when it comes to managing my time and I'm steadily swamped by the day. I've dipped into this book and have taken on some of the hints that she has suggested when it comes to prioritising emails, the work/pleasure mix and timetabling.

All good stuff, I can assure you. This book would make a great stocking filler for any you busy bees out there.

Tune in tomorrow for another prezzie idea!

Friday, 9 December 2011


Wood Pigeon (Russell F Spencer)
Hello again!

All I want to talk about right now are Wood Pigeons - and for two main reasons. Firstly, I got myself into the Guinness World Records Book the other day by getting 226 people to immitate the song of this delightful pigeon using swannee whistles.

Secondly, on a rare visit to The Scrubs this morning, I saw around 700 heading over high from the northeast. They twinkled in the blue skies. A gorgeous sight.

Look at your neighbourhood Wood Pigeon in a different light.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A mad week

A Robin - fresh out of the freezer!
Since my last post when I visited a very foggy Gibralter Point I have delivered talks to the Friends of Wormholt Park in west London and RSPB members in Aylesbury and Guildford plus took part in the North West Birdfair at Martin Mere Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Lancashire.

Finally, I did some filming with a kid who breeds quail in his back garden in east London and with Polly Morgan, the supremely talented artist who uses taxidermy in her visually stunning work. She uses a lot of birds and when I was in her studio she prepared a Robin for stuffing right before my very eyes. She had me plucking out one of its eyes and scooping out its brain with a pair of tweezers!


Monday, 21 November 2011

Foggy Gibraltar Point

After being so excited about going to Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire last weekend for the first time, I was met with a wall of fog - all day. So despite being out all Sunday morning I didn't really see anything of Gib Point at all - I could have been anywhere!

I did see a shadowy Spoonbill flying over in the fog, Goldcrests, Reed Buntings and many invisible calling Pink-footed Geese. At much closer quarters were the below depicted Woodcock and deceased Badger.
A controlled Woodcock
Dead shot

Friday, 18 November 2011

North East Adventure

Checking out a Bittern from the Hide at Gosforth Park, outside Newcastle (Alan Tilmouth)
Alan Tilmouth & TUB
It has been a long and busy week with various ongoing projects taking up a lot of my time - hence the lack of blogging activity.

Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of being shown around parts of Northumberland and Tyneside in the company of keen birder and bloody good ornithologist Alan Tilmouth. I spent a misty morning being shown some great sites plus seeing some great birds such as a vagrant Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Scaup plus a Grey Phalarope, Eiders, Willow Tits and a Bittern. The latter species was seen briefly at perhaps the most fascinating site I visited, Gosforth Park Nature Reserve, on the outskirts of Newcastle. Unfortunately, this interesting urban reserve is in trouble as the surrounding area and its corridors are under extreme threat of development. There is an active campaign going on to try to save the area. Check out local campaigner, Alan Hewitt's blog and help save this special site

Finally, I ended up at the fabulous Washington WWT in the afternoon where I delivered a talk and signed a few books. My day was capped by the spectacle of several hundred Curlews flying in to roost just outside the hide that I was sitting in. They looked and sounded amazing in the evening gloom. I have never seen so many Curlews inland before in my life. Just as I thought that I had seen it all a Barn Owl flew right by the window of the hide to land by the side of the building. It had pounced on an unfortunate rodent and had its wings spread out across the grass. A magnificent sight. A brilliant end to a fantastic day!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Kikinda good!

Some more images from the International Long-eared Owl Conference in Kikinda, Serbia.
A controlled LEO
Checking out the biometrics
Some of the owl inhabited trees in Kikinda
A tiny fraction of the roost
Delegates on their tea break

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Bullfinches are back!

A male Bullfinch (Russell F Spencer)
I'm very happy at the moment because a small party of Bullfinches (a male and two females) have taken up home within Chats Paddock in Wormwood Scrubs. Two pairs of Bullfinches used to breed on my patch including a family that nested within a scrubby enclosure called Chats Paddock. All was beautiful until disturbance during the 2006 breeding season caused the Paddock pair to desert. The remaining pair did the same the following year, thus by 2008 they were extinct as breeders.

Gone also were the parties of birds that used to visit my beloved patch during the winter. Overnight they went from being a regular sight to being recorded perhaps once a year for a few moments. Indeed, I heard one call once from deep cover last winter and that bird turned out to be the only one recorded that year.

So I hope that the birds that have taken up residence for the past week stay. Perhaps they may stop and breed. I'll report back.

Friday, 4 November 2011

My Kikinda Town!

With the International Conference on the Survey, Monitoring and Conservation of the Long-eared Owl (to give it the official title) over I had time to reflect on the phenomenon that is the amazing parliament of Long-eared Owls that gather in Kikinda, northern Serbia.

In the town square there were already nearly 200 birds gathered - and winter hasn't really even kicked in yet. They can expect to see at least three times that number by January!

Kikinda can truly claim the title of Long-eared Owl Capital of the World!
Two birds as seen through my bins (binscoping)
Strange fruit
Spot the LEO
I can see you!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Serbia bound

The view from a reclined passenger seat - cold Serbian fog!
Jeez! Was I lucky today.

I got to Heathrow airport 10 minutes after the check-in desk had supposidly shut. Expecting to be told that I had missed my flight to Belgrade to attend the International Long-eared Owl Conference, I was surprised to learn that the flight had been delayed by an hour and that I had plenty of time to chill. Result!

Arrived in chilly Belgrade at 6pm their time and I was driven to Kikinda (the small town with the immense Long-eared Owl population plus the site of the conference for which I am keynote speaker) via Novi Sad. It turned out to be a four hour slog.

I have to stay up and write my speech tonight but I am also excited by the prospect of seeing loads of roosting LEO's tomorrow too!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Ghosts of Gone Birds - The Launch

Artwork by Ralph Steadman
Went to the launch tonight of the Ghost of Birds Gone exhibition at the Rochelle School of Art in Shoreditch and what an amazing night it was!

Met loads of people that I knew (and didn't know) and saw some fantastic art. The whole concept of Ghost of Gone Birds is to raise an army of creatives to get the world to understand that we desperately need to conserve our birds and other wildlife.

If you get the time come and take a look at the art.

Monday, 31 October 2011

A first for Portland Bill

Trying to hide behind a 2nd winter Great Black-back (John Martin)
Standing out in the flock - a first winter Caspian Gull
Profile shot (John Martin)
A controlled Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Last weekend was billed as a weekend off - free from TUB commitments. I imagined sleeping in till late morning and digesting the morning's papers in the Observatory common room over a cup of peppermint tea free from the pangs of birding. Who was I kidding?

I arrived on Friday after dark and after a restful night in my bunk bed in the lighthouse, I arose pre-dawn to join the gang of birders that had already gathered by the french doors that overlooked the Observatory garden and ultimately the sea. It was a grey and breezy day. Nothing had been caught in the nets (although later in the afternoon the assistant warden pulled a male Lesser Redpoll from the nets). Overhead small numbers of Bramblings, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Pied Wagtails swept over. A couple of the guys recorded late Swallows. That was it for Saturday.

On Sunday, I got downstairs after dawn due to mixing up the correct time - I hate it when the clocks go back! The weather seemed even more grim than the day before. Despite that got great close views of a female Sparrowhawk in the hand. Magnificent. It was 9am and I had decided to take a stroll to the Bill some 15 minutes walk away. I was accompanied by Bristol birder, John Martin. To cut a long story short, we discovered around 12 gulls loafing on the common near the Bill and John first noticed the Caspian Gull. It was very distinctive with a very white head, long forehead and bill that seemed almost straight. It was my first on British soil seeing as I have seen a few in Serbia and Hungary. To be honest, identifying Caspian Gulls is not my forte and I was grateful to John pointing out the other more technical identification features. I called the Observatory and within five minutes it had empted with everybody getting a great chance to look at the bird before it was flushed by a boxer being walked by its owner. More pictures of this special bird are available from the Portland Bill website. site

Other hilights from my downtime weekend included my second ever Red-breasted Goose at nearby Ferrybridge, a female Merlin on both days, a late Turtle Dove, maybe 100 Mediterranean Gulls all told, a flyby Arctic Skua and 8 Kittiwakes.

All hail Portland Bill!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Back to Bristol

TUB beginning to fire up
After an industrious day writing my latest piece for Bird Watching Magazine I journeyed down to Bristol to deliver a talk at the invitation of the Avon Wildlife Trust.

I was a good and well attended night and I sold a few books to boot!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Lowestoft birding

Lowestoft birders Andrew Easton & Steve Jones
After bugger all sleep on Saturday night I made the journey at 4.30am under the cover of darkness to meet with Lowestoft birders Andrew Easton, Steve Jones and their mate Rob who had to nip off and lead a local bird tour for most of the day. I got to the appointed meeting point in Lowestoft on the Suffolk coast at 7.15am without a satnav and relying on The Force. I was pretty proud of myself.

I will be writing about this trip in a forthcoming Bird Watching Magazine issue but to cut a long story short, I had a great, if quiet, days birding. The highlights included a Firecrest, Brambling, Siberian Chiffchaff, Great Skuas and an obliging Purple Sandpiper.

I can totally recommend urban birding in Lowestoft!

Friday, 21 October 2011

A happy ending - so to speak!

Sparrowhawk (Tommy Holden)
Whilst half of the UK's birding community is either lusting after or going after the Siberian Rubythroat in Shetland back at base there has been heated debates rumbling on about the identity of the mystery small raptor seen at the beginning of the week by a relatively inexperienced Scrubber.

Many people cast comment and the range of possibilities varied from a Merlin (the bookies favourite) through to Peregrine, Hobby, Red-footed Falcon, Sooty Falcon and even Great Grey Shrike! It took a brave man, namely Scrubber Neville Smith, to stick his neck out and speak out to disagree with many commentators including the venerable Dick Forsman - a Jedi amongst raptor experts!

Neville called our mystery bird nothing more than just a male Eurasian Sparrowhawk. His rationale was quite simple; a Merlin would not sweep up into a willow and plus, on blowing up the flight images you could just about make out dark splayed primaries. Falcons don't have fingers!

It was fun to debate and the lessons learnt were that we all are learning and never discount the most likely bird.