Sunday, 30 January 2011

Urban birding in St Albans

Green Sandpiper (Luke Massey!/LMasseyImages)
Spent an enjoyable day traipsing around the urban birding spots of St Albans with photographer Russell Spencer and guided by Luke Massey. We visited some interesting spots including my first visit to Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits. Perhaps my favourite place was Lemsford Springs Nature Reserve where we had at least three Green Sandpipers, a Water Rail, a Little Egret and flocks of Siskins. There will be a fuller account of my trip in a future issue of Bird Watching Magazine.

Luke was a great host who despite coming from St Albans is based in Canterbury where he is studying. He's a good young birder who is passionate about conservation and not too shabby on the photography stakes - an up and coming star.

Yesterday, I participated in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch clocking up 14 species in a garden in west London's Holland Park. The highlights were a pair of Stock Doves on the lawn and a solitary Coal Tit. Surprisingly, there were no Great Spotted Woodpeckers nor Waxwings for that matter!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Trip to The Lodge

Brambling (Anthony McGeehan)
I've practically become a hermit recently, shunning any public engagements and I'm probably also suffering from S.A.D due to the distinct lack of sunlight recently. It's just been so grey and often wet outside plus it's turned decidedly nippy recently too. I am most certainly a summer bod who loves to lap up the rays like a basking lizard.

I've been spending time at home nursing a decapitated telescope that was smashed in transit when I went to The Azores last October. The baggage guys were almost certainly playing drop the parcel when they chucked my case into the back of the Jumbo. I should really get it fixed at some point. I've also been writing profusely recently which is the main reason why I haven't even made it to my beloved Scrubs, apart from a brief site visit yesterday to point out were our new ground feeders should go.

Today I tripped up the A1 to visit the boys and girls at The Lodge, the RSPB's headquarters. The main purpose of my visit was to meet the new editor Mark Ward and the magazine's designer Joel. They were both great guys and made me feel totally welcome. Apparently, according to the reader research my column is one of the more popular sections of Birds Magazine and as such the guys are keen to pimp up my page to make it more urban. That was brilliant news for me because it means that I can also delve into writing more about urban wildife.

Mark and I went for a stroll around the reserve for a spot of birding and to chat further. He's a pretty hot birder having been into it all his life and he certainly knew his stuff. The thing I liked about him most was his passion for getting people at all levels of interest involved with the wonderful world of birds and conservation. We watched a large flock of roving Redpolls. There must have been over 200 that included at least one Mealy and a Coue's that has been floating around with them. Needless to say, I dipped on the regular Waxwings and didn't see a Brambling.

Hey ho, it back to the writing I go with MTV Dance and the occasional switch to the news on BBC...

Monday, 24 January 2011

Moaning misers

Great Planes by Alastair Riley
I've been keeping my head down recently as I write for England. I broke my silence today when I attended a public consultation by Hammersmith & Fulham Council and Groundwork the conservation body in charge of the biodiversity action plan at The Scrubs.

To cut a long story short, the meeting was eventually held in the womens changing rooms of the Linford Christie Stadium on the southern border of The Scrubs due to us being locked out of the Community Centre. It's amazing just how het up some people can get when it comes to their perceived feelings of gross injustice and infringement of human rights because a couple of saplings had been planted on The Scrubs!

Those people just don't listen to reason and when they started blaming the council for the foxes mating outside their houses sounding like a girl being murdered I knew that it was time to go.

I calmed myself down by looking at Alastair Riley's lovely painting of urban Great Tits.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Rainy west London

Common Gulls
Whilst the nation sweats over the Slaty-backed Gull that was at Rainham Marshes, on The Scrubs I'm sifting through gull flocks of my own. Okay, it's nothing like the thousands that descend upon Rainham, but yesterday I had the pleasure of watching 400 plus Black-headed Gulls take off in unison all flapping lazily low over the football pitches only to settle again a few hundred yards away. The reason for their flight? A wayward dog.

But it pays to sift through flocks though for in amongst my Black-heads were at least 40 Common Gulls of various ages, at least 10 Herring Gulls (I couldn't string any Caspians or Yellow-legs) and a handful of Lesser Black-backs. But hidden in with my common regular gulls was a visitor that although not as precious as a Slaty-back it was still a heart warmer for me. I had found a fine winter plumaged Mediterranean Gull. To be honest, this bird has probably been kicking around since last November but the moral of the story is that wherever you are always check your gull flocks. Even if you're miles away from a landfill site or water, like I am.

The Slaty-back hasn't been seen at Rainham for the past couple of days. Think out outside of the box and search your local gull flocks loafing on that football pitch that you drive past every day on the way to work. You just never know.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Sheffield Sunday

Mark Reeder & TUB in Sheffield (Russell Spencer)
I don't like Monday's or Wednesday's for that matter. Sunday is the day of choice to spend in Sheffield for me. And what a nice day too, despite being in the minus degrees with thick ice everywhere and the remnants of the deep snow that dumped down in the region a few short weeks ago. I was in the city to investigate the urban birding possibilities under the expert and amiable guidance of local lad, Mark Reeder.

Mark certainly knows his birds having spent time in some of Britain's best hotspots from Shetland to the Scillies. He took me to some very interesting looking spots in and around town that have all attracted some pretty interesting birds. We didn't see a great deal although we did enjoy large numbers of Gadwall feeding in a field and an interesting dark-mantled pink-legged Herring Gull. Needless to say, no Waxwings. Read all about Sheffield in a forthcoming issue of Bird Watching Magazine.

Meanwhile, back in London it was business as usual. Writing, sleeping and watching MTV Dance. Some of those videos they play shouldn't be allowed. But they are and that's great!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

From Tower 42 to the Pantanal

Get this book!
Despite the dismal grey rainy day a lot occurred in The Urban Birder office.

Firstly, I had a great meeting with the Tower 42 Management Team about this spring's migration watch. They were delighted with last year's results and are keen to push and nurture the Tower 42 Bird Study Group's profile in the building and beyond. All good news to me. If you want to get involved in the spring migration watch from the top of one of London's most iconic buildings then drop me an email via my website.

This evening I attended a talk by James Lowen at the Camley Street Nature Reserve meeting room about the wildlife on the Pantanal in South America. A fascinating talk featuring some amazing wildlife. Everyone needs to get themselves out there after buying his guide book!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Chiffchaff trouble

Tell me why this bird isn't a Common Chiffchaff.

It was photographed at Fishers Green, Lee Valley, England last Sunday afternoon.

Any thoughts?

Chiffchaff (Russell Spencer)
Chiffchaff - back end (Russell Spencer)

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year's Day

Waxwing (Sacha Barbato)
Happy New Year everybody, may you all be bathed in love and light in 2011.

I've been busy writing for the past few days hence the lack of updates and when not writing I was at The Scrubs trying to hit the magical 100 on The Scrubs 2010 year list. On New Years Eve in the last minute I scored a Woodlark that headed east before swinging north right over my head - 98 the joint highest total ever. I must admit that I was on the verge of getting pretty obsessive about it so I'm glad that the year's over.

Don't get me wrong 2010 was an amazing year. I met some brilliant people, saw some fantastic birds and visited incredible places. By the looks of it, there may be more of that this year. I'm one lucky urban birder.

Have a brilliant New Year guys and I hope that our paths will cross at some point soon.