Wednesday, 29 June 2011

East Grinstead

Yellow-billed Stork (David Fettes)
No, I didn't see a Yellow-billed Stork in East Grinstead at my talk to the local RSPB group, but I did mention my recent trip to Ethiopia again tonight. The stork was one of the species that I spied on that visit. My talk was ostensibly about urban birding and in particular Wormwood Scrubs but as usual I strayed off piste and ended up interspersing the talk with Brown Bears, convicts and blow-up dolls. Work that one out!

Not a stirling performance by myself tonight but my audience was appreciative. I had many positive comments about my RSPB Birds & Bird Watching Magazine articles, plus an invitation to come back and speak again next season.

Thanks for your comments guys.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

What a nice Hobby I've got!

Eurasian Hobby (Russell F Spencer)
My trip to The Scrubs this morning was well worth it. Aside from discovering a fledgling Reed Bunting proving that they bred in the grassland for the second year I enjoyed the sight of many juveniles of several species being fed by their respective parents.

The problem I had though was the fact that I was freezing. It is nearing the end of June yet it seems unnaturally cold. As I marched back to the sanctuary of the car and the ultimate prize of breakfast back at base, a fine Hobby dashed through chasing what seemd to be a Stock Dove. I could watch Hobbys for an eternity. They are truly stunning birds.

Later in the day, I ventured south of the River Thames to the land that they cal West Dulwich to deliver a short speech at the my mate Helen Babbs' book launch. Her book's entitled. 'My Garden the City And Me'. I spoke for five minutes about Tower 42 resulting in at least five people wanting to get on the roof that instant!

Oh, and I mentioned that I had a book coming out too!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Disappointing day in the office

Collared Dove (David Fettes)
After deliberating and procrastination for nearly five weeks I finally finished an article on farmland birds for Countryfile Magazine in the wee hours of this morning. That's a heck of a long time even for a lazy git like me. You may be surprised that I refer to myself as lazy but the truth is, I'm so last minute dot com it's untrue.

Today was a frustrating day as I had to deal with a number of people that I could of quite frankly throttled on the spot. What's worse, the sun didn't really shine today. But I think the biggest unstabling thing for me at the moment is that fact I haven't visited The Scrubs for nearly two weeks. So tomorrow morning is the morning. Before then, I must imagine that I am the Collared Dove depicted above, sitting in a nest chilling out. Zen!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Me and Boris at the City Hall

I was invited to speak at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust's ' a celebration of learning outside the classroom' at the City Hall alongside Mayor Boris Johnson and the WWT's CEO Martin Spray. I had a great evening and the WWT staff are certainly a great bunch of people who really looked after me.

TUB on the podium (Simon Papps)
Boris & TUB (Simon Papps)
My baby!! Out at the end of July (Simon Papps)

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Date with the rain

Eurasian Jackdaw
What a washout!

Today I was in Plymouth being guided by great birder and ace twitcher, Sarah McMahon around the plentiful sites in the metropolitan area of her adopted home city. I say adopted as she hails from Leicester. What would have been a great day turned into a day of wet misery with solid rain falling from solid grey and misty skies all day. We literally toured the outskirts of the sites by car not daring to get out due to the blistering wind and pelting rain.

The afternoon was a tad better with the rain easing off a little, enough for me to spot a distant Little Tern from the corner of my eye as it quartered the River Plym. Sara was happy because any species of tern in June on the Plym is highly unusual, let alone a Little Tern whose nearest breeding colony is probably 100 miles away in Dorset.

As I always say, anything can turn up anywhere at anytime.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Observer Ethical Awards 2011 at the V&A

Mixed with the in crowd tonight but spent most of my time chatting with Bill Oddie, who has promised to pop over to The Scrubs in the autumn.

TUB presenting an award with the lovely Lucy Siegle
TUB gassing
Lucy with the Oscar winning Colin Firth
Lily Cole

Back to reality

Cirl Bunting - Dean Eades
I think I've finally caught up with myself, at least on my blog. At last I can write about things that are happening in real time. Not that there is much going on at the moment that's worth boring you about.

The major thing in my life right now is to finish an article on farmland birds that I am writing for Countryfile magazine. Not my usual thing as it will contain a host of facts and figures. All interesting stuff I must add. Anyway, back to the grindstone.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Holy Quail

On May 17th I was lucky enough to be walking the Liben Plains in southern Ethiopia doing habitat transects in the company of BirdLife International's venerable Dr Nigel Collar (google him as he's a Don) within the known range of the poorly known and severely threatened Liben Lark. We strolled through an area of slightly longer grassland which suddenly made me think about Quails. I was explaining to Nigel that despite having heard Quails singing for the past 25 years I had never actually seen one when I suddenly flushed a quail from underfoot. I got onto it as it sped away only to dump down a few yards away and realised that it wasn't a Common Quail but a close relative, the Harlequin Quail.

Although I was excited to see a quail of any description, especially a new one, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't my holy grail bird, my bogey bird, the only regular species on the British list that I was yet to see. To add insult to injury, an hour later a real Common Quail began to sing from an area of grassland literally yards from where I was standing on the plain. I didn't even attempt to kick it out because knowing my past track record for flushing these tiny gamebird my chances of seeing it would have been virtually nil.

It has always been a fantasy of mine to flush a Quail or Corncrake out from the grassland at my beloved Scrubs. Every autumn, I would religiously stride through the grass at Wormwood Scrubs ostensibly counting Meadow Pipits and secretly wishing for exotica. Imagine my horror a few hours after seeing a Harlequin Quail when I got a text from a fellow Scrubber informing me that he had just found a singing Quail on my patch! I throw my hands up in despair. Here I was some 5,000 miles away from home (or thereabouts) whilst a lifer was striding around on my patch in my absence!

I thought that the Scrubs Quail would be a one day bird but text updates kept arriving for a couple of days after it's initial discovery. When I got home a week later I didn't bother to hit The Scrubs thinking that it would be long gone. Last weekend I was on Alderney and I received a call from yet another Scrubber. He told me the news that I didn't want to hear. There was a Quail singing in the grassland again! That bird must have been there the whole time!

As soon as I got back to London, some three days later, I staked out the grassland for three days on the trot and for three days I heard nada. Sometimes things are just not meant to be. My search for the holy grail continues.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Alderney revisited

Hopefully from tomorrow I will be up to date with my blogging that I have so woefully neglected for the past month.

I spent the weekend before last on Alderney in the Channel Island primarily to partake in the Alderney Bird Race organised by the Alderney Bird Club. My team won with a whooping, by Alderney standards, 78 species including Long-eared Owl and least expected Sanderling, Whimbrel and Common Sandpiper.

It is a beautiful island and I thoroughly recommend that you visit.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Ethiopian Birds

Here is a tiny selection of images from my recent Ethiopian trip.

All images are copyright of Russell F Spencer.

Liben Lark doing a Harrier Jump Jet impersonation!
Liben Lark in song flight
Liben Lark
Eastern Chanting Goshawk
Pygmy Falcon
Moorland Chat
Abyssinian White-eye
Somali Short-toed Lark

Saturday, 4 June 2011

I'm back from Ethiopia....

....well, two weeks ago ut it's take me this long to get my act together on my blog. So over the next few days I will post a few pictures from the trip.

Ethiopia is an amazing place. The birdlife's out of this world and the people are warm and sharing.

My urban local patch in Addis Abbaba
On our journey south
The Liben Plains
The plateau in the Bale Mountains