Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Vis migging at The Scrubs

Dawn at The Scrubs
Ahh....Summer has finally arrived. Okay, it's the end of September and a little weird but it sure is nice to feel the heat of the sun. I dragged myself out of bed to be on the patch at 6.30am. My arrival was greeted by a lone and lost looking Redwing that erratically headed west low over the rooftops. I was still getting out of the car when a Hobby at slightly higher altitude lilted across the sky westward before hurtling into a headlong dive after some unseen and no doubt unsuspecting prey item.

The mist was still fairly thick over the grassland by the time I had appeared on my patch proper. The sky and the sunrise was glorious making the raucous unstructured departure flights of hundreds of Rose-ringed Parakeets from their roost look almost romantic in the morning light.

Anyway, I soon settled down to a good hour of visible migration watching in the company of fellow Scrubber, Rob Ayers. Together we noticed several wagtails heading over including a certain Grey Wagtail with the remainder put down as 'alba's' (Pied/White Wagtails). A large female Peregrine was escorted from the premises by four parakeets and a crow, 12 Siskin and 20 Swallows were the main players overhead whilst at least 30 Meadow Pipits cavorted in the grassland with a similiar number of Goldfinches.

Nice. But time was ticking and the parking meter maids were stirring. The time had come to burst back into civilisation and leave my idyll. The good thing though is that it will happen all over again tomorrow morning hopefully with a different cast of birds.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Sunday in Cambridge and WWT Welney, Norfolk

TUB & BBC Radio Cambridgeshire DJ Mark Rumble
TUB & the girls at WWT Welney

Monday, 19 September 2011

Portland Bill

Scoping Gannets (Cherry Barlow)
Had a really nice weekend based at the Portland Bill Bird Observatory. I gave a late night talk at the Obs itself to a tired audience that included a knitting ringer, a sleeping child, a Tawny Owl, a cat and a few humans!

On Sunday I traipsed down to the Bill in a blustery and sometimes wet westerly for a spot of seawatching. Managed a couple of Balearic Shearwaters, a female Common Scoter plus the usual Shags, Cormorants and large gulls. On the fields around us was a Northern Wheatear, stacks of White Wagtails, Starlings and masses of hirundines passing by.

Later that afternoon after Sunday lunch, I scoped three Grey Phalaropes floating inshore at Chesil Cove loosely associating with a couple of Black-headed Gulls.
Chisel Cove - Grey Phalaropes are out there - somewhere!
Portland Bill Bird Observatory in the afternoon
The Bill at 6am (Cherry Barlow)
TUB with Beebo the Tawny Owl (Cherry Barlow)

Friday, 16 September 2011

Guilty pleasure

The iconic Tower 42
I've been feeling extremely guilty recently. Why? Well, it's September and it's the best month to be roaming around Wormwood Scrubs looking for migrants hoping to find that BIG one. That is what I have done for many years until this year. Due to my punishing schedule I have been so knackered in the mornings I haven't been able to raise an eyelid let alone get myself down to my patch. Instead, I have been receiving regular updates from a couple of the Scrubbers telling me of huge numbers of passage Swallows and good numbers of Whinchat with the occasional Wheatear thrown in.

The weather today seemed perfect for durinal migration. A slight easterly, blue skies fluffy clouds and it was warm. Yesterday, I had a garden tick in the shape of a high soaring Common Buzzard. It was part of a small movement that passed over London that afternoon. So 10am saw me on the roof of Tower 42 with a couple other birders scanning the skies in the vain hope of finding some winged wonders. For a change we did see raptors with 3 Common Buzzard heading the list. I was very happy.

I've heard that the Tower is up for sale now. Obviously, I'm worried for the future of the Tower 42 Bird Study Group. Will the eventual new owners be birder friendly?

Anyone got £290m spare?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

TUB Tour

So far my book tour has taking me from the streets of Notting Hill to Manchester, Conwy, Norwich, Boston, Maidstone, Cambridge, Thetford and back to Wormwood Scrubs.

On Saturday, I will be talking at the Portland Bill Bird Observatory, Dorset. I can't wait!
The Idler Academy, Notting Hill
Waterstones, Manchester
Waterstones, Boston
Waterstones, Boston
Waterstones, Boston

Monday, 12 September 2011

Reed Warbler?

Photo 1
Photo 2
Photo 3
These series of pictures were sent to me by a member of the public who found this unfortunate warbler over the weekend.

My money's on Reed Warbler. What do you think?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Flying Orcas

House Martin (Russell F Spencer)
The past 48 hours have been very eventful and fun.

For a couple of hours during Friday afternoon, I took 100 local school kids - all under six - for a knackering nature walk around Wormholt Park, Shepherds Bush. Luckily they were in 4 groups of 25. When I asked them what wildlife they had seen today I had answers ranging from a ladybird and a dog to an eagle and a jungle.

On Friday night I gave a talk to the Cambridge Bird Club. I really enjoyed it despite a train journey from London that lasted for eons resulting in me being late for the start of the evening. The only upside to being on the train for so long was that I was able to enjoy 7 Swifts swilling about in the heavy skies above Royston Station, Cambs. They were the first birds I have seen for at least 2 weeks.

The train journey home was equally nightmarishly long. After initially sharing the platform at Cambridge Station with a truckload of drunk and raucous girl students my journey back was even longer than the way out had been. When we pulled into Kings Cross at 1am I experienced the embarrassing situation of being shaken awake by a fellow passenger after falling asleep, mouth agog with my ipod blasting Marvin Gaye into my ears. I was the last person in the carriage!

Today directly after football I did a live radio interview with North Manchester FM chatting about urban birding. I had to forgo my customary post-football breakfast with lads followed by a long siesta and instead lead a bird walk through the streets of Notting Hill. My group consisted of 2 guys who were birders and 5 sexy young women who were all non-birders. We didn't see a great deal but the highlight were a flock of around 10 House Martins, or Flying Orcas as I dubbed them, heading south.

If I can get the girls to flank me the next time I'm in Norfolk I'd be a very happy man!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Road trip

Looking southeast from Tower 42
It's all go at the moment as I embark on my nationwide tour of bookshops, RSPB Local Groups, Bird Clubs and some weirder places giving talks and signing books. It all continues tomorrow afternoon (Friday) when I take out a succession of school kids around Wormholt Park in Shepherds Bush, west London.

Then in the evening I will be addressing the Cambridge Bird Club and having a book signing after the talk. Someone asked yesterday about diary dates. Well, if you would like to hook up with me then check out for the latest whereabouts of The Urban Birder Roadshow.

Hopefully, I will meet you on one of the dates.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

I do love a mystery bird!

Putative African Rail (Russell F Spencer)
The above photo was taken in May at Ziway Lake in Ethiopia and I'm convinced that it is an African Rail. I saw it from the corner of my eye whilst looking at a host of ticks that were parading in front of me all at the same time. You know how it is when you are in a new region of the world - absolutely everything you look at is totally new.

Any experts on Ethiopian birds out there?

Meanwhile, I have been racing up and down motorways on the first part of UK book tour, having already taken in The Birdfair of course, Waterstones Kings Lynn and the BTO's headquarters in Thetford. I have quite a full programme coming up and I will try and give you an up to date blow by blow rundown of how it's all going over the ensuing weeks and months.

Bye for now.