Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Shoreditch House Private Members Club

Over the past few years I have been giving an increasing number of talks up and down the country as well as abroard. Most of the time it's to RSPB Groups, Wildlife Trust members or bird clubs but recently I have been speaking at some interesting non-wildlife venues speaking to people who readily admit that nature is not the first thing on their minds.

Tonight was such an occasion when I spoke to members of Shoreditch House ( about urban birding. It was to a group of mostly 30-somethings lying on sunbeds on the roof of the building. Fortunately, it was a fairly balmy evening with blue skies and at least there were plenty of Feral Pigeons, Lesser Black-backs and Herring Gulls to puntuate proceedings.

My audience were very attentive, a pleasure to talk to and were keenly interupting me to point at some distant speck behind me. I thoroughly enjoyed myself especially when a pair of Greenfinchs and a calling Grey Wagtail variously bounced overhead. It was just nice to spread the word about urban nature to the target audience I most like speaking to.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Farewell to an old Scrubber!

Anders Price (Russell F Spencer)
Anders & TUB on Tower 42
Wormwood Scrubs lost a birding soldier today to the bosom of the United States, Washington State to be exact. Anders has been a loyal Scrubber for the past two years after arriving on these shores a husband to an American Diplomat who was on secondment in the UK. In the mornings when she made her way to the embassy he would cycle down to The Scrubs for a spot of birding. Indeed, our paths first crossed a couple of years ago when he came down to see a migrant Spotted Flycatcher that had pitched down on our beloved patch.

Since then he became a steadfast member of the birding team, discovering our first ever Great Grey Shrike (whilst I was marooned on The Azores last October sob sob) and the finder of our third ever Woodlark. I knew that he was ultimately going to leave the fold last year when he first got wind of the possibility of his family returning home. I put it to the back of mind, rueing the day. But that day has finally come.

Good luck Anders mate. Hopefully I will make it to your new US patch one day, but in the meantime, thanks for being such a great Scrubber!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Arne RSPB & Cecil Fowler

I spent a wonderful Sunday in Dorset with members of the Hawk & Owl Trust led by the lovely Cherry Barlow. She had organised for me to lead a walk at Arne RSPB Reserve along with the very knowledgable Rob the Warden.

Prior to the walk we took a quick stroll onto the heath were he showed me my first ever Smooth Snake, Britain's rarest snake. Indeed, I was fortunate enough to handle both a male and female. On the actual walk we were unsuccessful in finding another Smooth Snake but we did catch a Slow Worm - ashamedly my first ever live one. Well, I am a city boy after all!
Slow Worm - this one was a pregnant female
Rob the warden - lovely, knowledgeable chap! (Penny Hayhurst)
One of the big moments of my visit was to meet with Cecil Fowler, the young Eagle Owl that Cherry had asked me to name a few weeks ago. Cecil and I got on like a house on fire. We immediately had an emotional link.
Meet Cecil Fowler
TUB, Cherry Barlow & Cecil (Penny Hayhurst)
TUB & Cecil birding (Penny Hayhurst)
TUB & Cecil gull watching (Penny Hayhurst)
Looking up! (Penny Hayhurst)

Thursday, 14 July 2011

TUB on the Tower

Spent the morning on Tower 42 filming for both Butterfly Conservation and with ARD the German public service channel - equivilent to Britain's BBC. I'm shooting a documetary with them on urban birding in London.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The Serbian Long-eared Owls

A Long-eared Owl peeping down at me
I've been back from my wonderful trip to Serbia last Friday and I'm still stunned by the beauty of this country that has had more than its fair share of troubles recently. Nonetheless, the nature available to be seen by visiting birders is astounding. I had great views of Bee-eaters, Golden Orioles and Goshawks plus farmland birds that we are finding increasingly harder to connect with here in the UK. Corn Buntings, Skylarks and Yellowhammers proliferate whilst I heard Quail, my bogey bird, on several occasions - remember, my visit was in July; the height of summer and the time when most birds are least active.

As I intimated in my previous blog entries, it was the owls that really blew me away. The Long-eared Owl phenomenon was only discovered as recently as eight years ago. The main town where the best numbers of this endearing owl can be found is called Kikinda, around 150 km directly north of Belgrade in the Pannonian Plain. It felt as though there was at least one owl in every tree; in parks and even in the trees lining the streets. There is a tiny street with no more than 10 trees conveniently close to a bar that has since changed its logo to resemble a stylised owl. These small trees harbour an astonishing 700 plus birds during the winter. 700!! Elsewhere in the town at least 20 Short-eared Owls also winter, plus there are countless resident Little Owls and many Kestrels.

The amazing thing is that the Serbs don't realise what they have in the owls choosing to live in such close proximity to humans. They now need to spread the message out to the world in general to encourage ecotourism into their towns and cities for people to see these incredible birds. I believe that if the birders and tourists come it will engender a great pride (as well as revenue) for the locals and hopefully they will do all they can to nuture and protect the owls.

Serbia isn't expensive to get to and once you're there it is certainly inexpensive, so get yourself out there and see these fantastic owls for yourself. I'm heading back out in the winter to see and film the Kikinda gatherings for myself.

If you do head out let me know how you get on.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Life in Serbia

Sniffing around
The Wild West
Rural idyll
Anyone for Cricket?
A Stone Martin
What am I? A Firebug that's what I am!
One of many Long-eared Owls

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The latest from Serbia

European Bee-eater (Russell F Spencer)
Another hot day in Serbia with highlight being a soaring Long-legged Buzzard - a personal first - as well as truckloads of Long-eared Owls and Purple Herons.

Tomorrow's my last day in this surprising country. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

LEO Slayers

Long-eared Owl (Russell F Spencer)
The phenomenon that is the super abundance of Long-eared Owls in Serbia is astounding. In Rusanda Park in the Pannonian Plain, which to all intents and purposes is an average looking park next to a spa and attached to a large lake, there are literally tons of breeding LEO's all over the place.

The research seems to indicate that there is a super abundance of food due to the ubiquitous rodents to be found in the nearby farmland. Thanks to the largely unchanged farming practices the owl's prey items have proliferated stuffing themselves silly on the plentiful grain left in the fields.

Long may it continue!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Serbian Surprise

Yellowhammer (Russell F Spencer)
Little Owl (Russell F Spencer)
I think that one of the biggest surprises in my urban birding career has been my experience in Serbia. In terms of wildlife it is a complete treasure trove. I have been taken by the sheer number of birds, the amount of habitat (paticularly farmland) that is great for birds and other wildlife plus the people are nice too.

The highlights thus far must be the fact that the town that I am staying in is home to over 200 pairs of Long-eared Owl - that can be heard calling every night every where!