Friday, 6 May 2011

The Big London Bird Race

Black-headed Gulls
During May last year I was sprinting around London bird frantically trying to find as many species as humanly possible in the Oystercatcher Bird Race in which my team controversially came second. This year I will be racing on the behalf of the Alderney Bird Club on the lovely island of Alderney at the end of May as part of the inter Channel Island bird race.

You would be forgiven for thinking that London will be bereft of a bird racing frenzy well not if Harry Boorman and his cousin Luke have their way. They are racing around the London area on May 28th and 29th seeing and hearing as many birds as possible to raise money for the RSPB.

Give the guys a helping hand by checking out their blog and donating.

Good luck chaps!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Kittiwake from Tower 42

Kittiwakes mobbing a Gannet at Troup Head, Scotland (Russell F Spencer)
They said it would be glorious today with a gentle southerly breeze. Potentially ideal conditions for watching migrant raptors from the roof of Tower 42, one of the tallest buildings in London. Well that was the prediction on the weather websites I looked at a week ago.

Of course, I woke up at 5am this morning to grey skies. By the time I got to The Scrubs, an hour later, it was still looking worryingly dull. Was there rain in the air? Later, as I set off for Tower 42 in London's Square Mile it started to drizzle. I felt sorry for the members of the Tower 42 Bird Study Group that were already on the roof getting a soaking and probably not seeing much. When I finally clambered onto the roof at 12.15pm most of the small crowd of watchers had decided to call it a day after only registering just a single Swift.

Now down to three birders, two sightseers and two vigilant although non-birdy security men things continued to look grim. No sun in sight just grey cloud. After an hour of Lesser Black-backs and Herring Gulls the sky began to take on a brighter complection. A message came through on my phone from the London Birders Yahoo site. A adult Kittiwake (a scarcity in Central London) had just been reported from Southwark Bridge. Wait. We overlook that bridge, I suddenly realised. It was all hands on deck searching the Thames with our scopes for a maritime dot. Suddenly, I picked it up as it fluttered to land under the Millennium Bridge. It was a marvelous way to brighten up an otherwise dreadfully disappointing session and a nice site tick too.

Our magical day will come. I am certain of that.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

There is a birding God!

Hobby (Russell F Spencer)
A couple days ago I was wishing for a Hobby to appear at my patch before I board the plane to Ethiopia next Monday. Well, the higher powers that be sent me one! I was delighted to have one drifting and circling over the grassland at The Scrubs this morning for at least 10 minutes. It was practically the first bird I saw!

I also watched a female Sparrowhawk perform an interesting hunting strategy. As I was parking my car on Braybrook Street, which borders the western edge of The Scrubs, she appeared from out of nearby Braybrook Wood flew right past me and into the playground of the school across the road. She was bombing at full tilt, seemingly heading into a brick wall as she chased after a sparrow. All the while she employed a undulating flight pattern like an enormous finch. The hunt was unsuccessful and she landed on a wire fence appearing to pump her tail before taking off with a crow in hot pursuit.

In recent years I have noticed that Sparrowhawks sometimes adopt different flight modes whilst hunting, perhaps to try and camouflage themselves as they approach their prey. Once, I watched a female fly the entire length of the grassland in a flight pattern not unlike a large Mistle Thrush - strong wingbeats with a slight undulation when her wings were closed. Her quarry, a flock of feeding Starlings, sussed her in the last minute and spooked. Last winter, whilst standing in the snow covered grassland watching a flock of finches, I was aware of a male that flew quite close to me trying to sneak up on the finches. The thing that initially threw me was that his flight pattern seemed quite Swallow-like with deep languid beats. Anyone else seen Sparrowhawks behave like that?

Anyway, any chance of a nice rarity dear Birding Gods?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Spider Man where are you?

Not much birding done at all today whilst yesterday, I did manage to sneak a quick walk through a thronging Walthamstow Marshes. Despite the sunny weather and the ton of people out variously cycling and walking with families, friends, dogs and sometimes all three - I still managed to see a few birds.

I counted as many as six singing Common Whitethroats in the tiny pockets of scrub alongside two singing Sedge Warblers. All within a stone's throw of picnicing humans. The best bird of the afternoon was the Peregrine that flew over being chased by a crow.

Later, whilst helping to move a pot plant onto a windowsill, I came across the above photographed spider. I was taken by its size and colouration. It was easily over an inch long and had reddish legs and thorax with a pale abdomen. Consulting my Collins Spiders Field Guide the only things that matched the description was either Dysdera erythrina or more likely, Harpactea hombergi. Being a bit on the big side, I decided that I'd let it go about it's business and not to disturb it for a proper photocall.

Anyone knows what it is?

Monday, 2 May 2011

I'd like one of those please

Hobby (Russell F Spencer)
While most of the world ponders if Bin Laden has truely been slain I'm sitting here wondering when I will see my first Hobby of the year. They seem to be all over the place now with one seen down the road from me at the London Wetland Centre and over at Rainham in Essex they had 22 of the blighters!

The Dawn Chorus that I led yesterday morning went well with a reasonable turnout of bleary eyed interested parties. We had nothing out of the ordinary with at least 20 singing Common Whitethroats, around 12 singing Blackcaps, 8 Chiffchaffs and a solitary Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler. I also though that I heard a Sedge Warbler but dismissed it only to be told this morning via text that one was in full song in the area where I thought I had one.

Next week is the last full week of May that I'll be spending London as I will be in Ethiopia the following week on an expedition with BirdLife International until near the end of the month. After a couple of days on British soil I will then be heading out to Alderney in the Channel Islands to compete in the inter-island bird race, amongst other things.

I have a week to find a Hobby - so to speak!