Sunday, 27 February 2011

Bad Spanish Disco

Marbled Gecko
Profile shot of the little fella
Imagine the scene; it's 3am and you're tired, had three Cava's too many and you're being dragged out onto a dancefloor frequented by seems a load of underaged girls along with a selection of older mums and dads. What's worse, there is a lot of bad dancing going on to Boney M's Brown Girl In The Ring.

Get the picture? That was the predicament that I found myself in last night/this morning in the historic town of Trujillo, Extremadura. The previous day I had been rejoicing at the sight of many Black-bellied & Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, multitudes of Calandra, Thekla and Crested Larks, Great Spotted Cuckoos, Black Wheatears, Spanish Imperial Eagles and many more goodies including the above featured gecko.

The day then nosedived into the lap of filthy drinking and dirty dancing. Resulting in several of us crawling back to the hotel at some unknown hour only to rise again seemingly minutes later to do the 2.5 hour coach journey to Madrid airport, a journey that was fortunately broken by a pitstop at a reservoir. This body of water provided us with Squacco Herons, a Great White Egret, Little & Great Bitterns, Cetti's & Fan-tailed Warblers, Purple Swamphens and a performing male Penduline Tit.

Extremadura is twice the size of Wales and is stuffed full of birds. Get yourself out there!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Imperial Eagle Owl

Black Kite (Neil Kumar)
A special day was had today, as it was the day of a new lifer for me - an Eagle Owl. It was a handsome bird sitting on its nest in a crevice in Montfrague, Extremadura. Most of its head, part of its back and one of its gloriously long ear tufts was visible. It's a species that I have been chasing around Europe for several years that included scanning the same spot last year with each attempt concluding in a miserable nil points.

We also saw a distant Spanish Imperial Eagle sharing the thermals with a host of Griffons. Every time it faced us the creamy forewings were clearly visible. Aside from the Black and Griffon Vultures we also had a couple Egyptian Vultures, Black Kite, Booted and Bonelli's Eagles, Peregrine, Common & Lesser Kestrel and Cranes.

Tomorrow we search for sandgrouse.

Thursday, 24 February 2011


Saw my first ever Iberian Ibex today, distantly standing on a boulder on a mountainside. Also saw a singing and displaying Dartford Warbler, singing Rock Buntings, Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, Swallow, House Martin and Dippers.

More updates tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Extremadura revisited

White Stork
I'm back in Extremadura, Spain until Sunday being looked after by the Spanish Tourist Office. Bit knackered after last night waking up on the sofa in front of the TV at 1.30am - I'm sure we've all done that before at some point in our lives! I then transferred to bed, but woke up again at 4.30am. Packed my case and was at Gatwick for 8am.

I landed in Madrid at around noon and spent the next three hours with some other birders including Dave Gosney on the road heading for Extremadura. On the way we must have seen at least 30 Buzzards, around 8 Red Kite, 10 Kestrel, 1 Golden Eagle, 1 Griffon Vulture, countless migrating Cranes and Greylags as well as plenty of Spotless Starlings.

Staying at the plush Talayuela Golf Hotel and an afternoon stroll around the grounds resulted in a fly over Siskin, plus 2 Woodlark, 2 Rock Bunting, at least 3 Hoopoes plus the usual assortment of finches that included Serins.

Monday, 21 February 2011

It's all over now!

My old notebook (Russell F Spencer)
After spending what seemed like an eternity wading through memories I've finally finished incorporating some of them into my debut book to be published by New Holland. Hopefully it will be available in all good bookshops (and a few terrible ones) from August.

I have bared my birding soul though steered clear of a lot of the sex and violence. All that stuff will be in my next book that I will write under a pseudonym. The Urban Birder - Uncle Birds & Jedi Knights will be an eye opener for some of you.

Keep tuned for more news.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

On the last leg

Waxwing (Will Webb)
I have been quietly writing a book for the past month or so desperately trying to complete it by my new extended deadline. If I can finish it by the weekend then I stand a great chance of it being published for the summer. So the race is on to get it all done so that I don't miss the publishing slot. The book is basically about how The Urban Birder came to be and I'm pretty sure that there will be stuff I've written that you may not have known before.

Anyway, I will leave you with this delightful image of one of the Waxwings that I saw locally the other day. It was sent to me by local birder Will Webb. Meanwhile, I shall continue working on my last leg.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Split camp

All images copyright of Russell F Spencer
A few more images of the gull that Russell F Spencer saw last weekend in Hull. The camp is split between Herring, Yellow-legged and Great Black-back.

What do you think?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

For the gull lovers

Larid (Russell F Spencer)

Herring or Yellow-legged Gull?

Photo taken in Hull, Yorkshire yesterday.

Friday, 4 February 2011

I've broken my 2011 Waxwing virginity!

Waxwings (Russell F Spencer)
The day finally came. It had to come. Having not seen a Waxwing this current invasion bar a small flock of birds, possibly Waxwings, that flew across the rooftops of Archway, north London back in early January whilst I was motoring, I got tempted by twitching.

Whilst driving through Kensington, I got a call from my mate saying that he was watching a flock of Waxwings in Kilburn, which wasn't a million miles away from where I was. I've had a few calls like that this winter and apart from when a small flock were briefly at The Scrubs in November last year, I resisted all temptation to twitch a flock preferring to try and luck into some myself. Well that plan failed miserably, despite the hours of curb crawling through potential streets in west London. For some reason, the call I received today was the turning point. So I changed direction and headed towards Kilburn.

On the way, my mate called to say that the flock had flown. Was today destined to end in tears? Undeterred and believing that the Force was with me I carried on heading to Kilburn. Seconds later I received a text from my fellow Scrubber Rob. Whilst stationary at a traffic light (in case the Police are reading this) I read his message. '14 Waxwings visible now on Melrose Avenue NW6'. That address was even closer to me. I changed course and soon I was cruising down Melrose Avenue. Of course, when I saw Rob who was working in someone's garden on that street (he's a landscape gardener) he told me the news that I was half expecting. They have flown away, chased off by an angry Mistle Thrush.

Melrose Avenue is one of several streets that feed off a medium sized park called Queens Park, from which the neighbourhood takes it name. I decided to do a street to street search. After around 30 minutes and completely circuiting the park I had drawn a blank. Before giving up, I decided to return to the scene of the crime. I had just driven onto the street when a flock of c14 buzzed over the car heading in the opposite direction. I swung around, parked up and waited. Within 10 minutes I was standing under a tree cooing at the sight of around 14 Waxwings silhouetted against the grey sky.

I was parked on a double yellow line at the end of the road and severe danger of being ticketed. Suddenly, a parking warden (or traffic enforcement officer, as they're now known) rounded the corner. He started eyeing up my car and I could see him reaching for his ticket machine. I raced over to him and explained that I was watching some wonderful birds all the way from Scandinavia. I had him looking through my bins at them as I explained their status in the UK right now. He was thrilled. Genuinely thrilled. So thrilled that he walked away and with a wave of his hand told me to remain parked on the double yellow line as long as I wanted. Double result!

The Force was with me.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Bird Porn!

I got sent Richard Crossley's ID Guide today and I must say, believe the hype! The plates are incredible. I first came across Richard in a recent Birding World issue talking about the process that he went through to produce this book. It was a double page spread of text in which he talked about taking zillions of pictures and how he wanted to produce a radical photographic bird guide. I turned the page and gasped. For me it was a spitting out your cornflakes moment because in front of me were two amazing plates. The one I clearly remember was the Black Scotor plate. It was so surreal and beautiful. I gazed at it for ages. It was so full of life.

I can imagine some of the birding aficionados absolutely hating this book and its approach. But I bet that there will be a load more people that will absolutely love it, especially people new to birding - the main part of the book's target audience. It's more like a superbly illustrated book on bird jizz that will be left on the coffee table to be marvelled at. For me some of the plates were good enough to stick on the wall in a frame as a work of art.

I haven't read it yet as I can't get over the plates but when I do I'll be writing a review in Bird Watching Magazine in the near future. In the meantime, I salute Richard Crossley's bravery. I think it's a brilliant, innovative idea and everyone should get a copy.