Saturday, 31 March 2012

Sparring Sparrowhawks

A pugnacious female Sparrowhawk (Ian Alexander)
Uh-oh, she spotted us! (Ian Alexander)
A visit to Gunnersbury Triangle Local Nature Reserve in Chiswick, west London yesterday resulted in witnessing an unusual experience. This woodland reserve is under severe threat of being walled in by development. It's currently bordered by industry, housing and a railway line - hardly an ideal setting for wildlife to flourish you would have thought. But there is plenty there.... at the moment. The local conservation group need signatures urgently for their online petition to stave off the developers

Anyway, I was walking with Triangle stalwarts Marie Rabouhans and Jan Hewlett when we bumped into a couple of quantity surveyers along the path. One said he had just seen a 'hawk take a Wood Pigeon'. To our surprise literally seven feet away we saw a large female Sparrowhawk spreadeagled on top of the woodland floor vegetation obviously pinning something down. A closer inspection revealed that its 'prey' was not a Wood Pigeon but another distinctly smaller female Sparrowhawk!

They grappled a bit more before the smaller bird managed to gain the ascendency and topple the larger bird on her back. They were aware of us during the whole process and without warning they disentangled and flew off. For the next hour we watched them chase themselves around the woodland.

I had never seen this kind of behaviour before but I assume that because females are a third bigger than the males perhaps they are the ones to settle territorial disputes?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Last day in an urban paradise

Black-shouldered Kite (Stephen Daly)
Our final day in Portugal involved a round of sightseeing around the centre of Lisbon whilst watching swirling Pallid Swifts. It's interesting that I never realised that Pallid Swifts screams are in shorter bursts than their Common Swift cousins.

After lunch we visited Lisbon Gardens that lay within the shadow of the Vasco Da Gama Bridge. On the mudflats were several hundred Black-tailed Godwits along with a score of Bar-tails and quite a few Avocets. Distantly were legions of Greater Flamingoes. What a wonderland!

I'm now back in the UK stalking The Scrubs searching in vain for migrants. Any day now.......

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Tagus Estuary

Azure-winged Magpie (Stephen Daly)
A fantastic day was had spent in the semi-urban wilds of the Tagus Estuary on the doorstep of Lisbon. Aside from Azure-winged Magpies, Corn Buntings, Sardinian Warblers, Wood Sandpiper, loads of Greater Flamingoes and a vagrant Lesser Yellowlegs we had no less than 16 species of raptor.

We were treated to amazing views of Black-shouldered Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Black Kite, a male Montague's Harrier, ringtail Hen Harriers, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Osprey, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Hobby, Kestrel and Merlin!

Mind blowing stuff! Tomorrow, it will be a more gentle touristy walk around the city before a bout of urban birding in Lisbon Gardens, a park in the shadow of the mighty Vasco da Gama Bridge.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sado Estuary, Portugal

Great White Egret (Stephen Daly)
It's been a long day as I wearily type this post. I've been up since 5am and had spent four hours in the field under a blazing sun wandering Sado Estuary.

Good birds were seen whilst I was leading my tour including Osprey, Hoopoe, Caspian Tern (irregular here), Sandwich Tern, Garganey, Serin, White Stork, Little Stint, Bluethroat and Great White Egret.

Tomorrow we will visit Tagus Estuary, just outside Lisbon.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Rainham RSPB Reserve walk

Rainham this morning
Originally billed as kids bird walk, my excursion to Rainham this morning was more of an adult affair with few kids in attendance. No matter, I had a great time alongside the talented Howard Vaughan, the reserve's Information Officer (Warden to you and I).

It was a misty, nippy start to the day but by 11am the sun had popped out and our recent spring heatwave continued. We recorded our first spring Sand Martins, Howard's first Black Redstart in two years at the site - a fleeting glimpse of a fine male, a overflying Ruff and distant Buzzard. We also saw a drake Pintail, quite a few Wigeon and a performing Peregrine.

I do like Rainham as I have a long history with the area. As kid I used to venture into the Rainham Marsh of old - pre RSPB days - along with Alan, my then birding buddy who is now more famously known as Cornelious Ravenwing III. We saw many good birds whilst being occasionally shot at by unruly Essex boys. Yes, those were the days......
Howard Vaughan & TUB

Friday, 23 March 2012

I love my patch!

Wormwood Scrubs (Paul Thomas)
Spring is coming and every spare hour that I have is being spent at my beloved patch, The Scrubs. Today I heard the first returned Blackcap singing. What will tomorrow bring?

That's all I wanted to say really.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Jealous guys

Can anyone tell me why a small minority of birders insist on being possessive of the birds that they find and generally uptight about sharing information with other birders?

Over the past couple of years I have come across a couple such characters. In truth, I find it very depressing when I come into contact with negativity and narrow mindedness. For me, birds are for everyone to share and are certainly not possessions or objects to claim glory from. As a kid, I occasionally had to deal with people reluctantly grunting responses to birding questions put to them. I even had people turning their backs on me when I approached them, but luckily even at that tender age, I realised that those people were to be pitied.

Thankfully, the vast majority of birders are generous with both their experiences and knowledge - key elements needed in order to enthuse the up and coming birders. Please keep spreading the knowledge.

Rant over. Now, what was I doing..........

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Play misty for me

The Scrubs at 6.30am
The Scrubs at 7.30pm
And that was all I saw this morning!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Kingfisher surprise

Kingfisher (Peter Hewitt)
This morning I traipsed down to The Scrubs primarily to be interviewed by the author of a forthcoming book on urban gardening. She wanted to write a chapter on urban birding hence her meeting with me.

I was walking her around my patch giving her a very basic breakdown on urban birding when I noticed four birds at fairly low altitude heading towards me from the south. For a split second I thought that they were four more of the fairly common Feral Pigeons that had been pretty prevailant in the grey skies. That hunch was instantly dispelled when I realised that they were indeed waders. As they flew overhead I heard them give flutey whistles and I realised that they were Grey Plovers. Result! Our fourth ever record!

Still reeling from that discovery, five minutes later I noticed a small bird dart past us barely a foot above the football pitches making a serious beeline north. It was a Kingfisher!! Again, our fourth record. What are the chances of a Kingfisher flying over bone dry land during reasonable weather? Perhaps they do it all the time and we never notice?

One thing's for sure; anything can turn up anywhere at anytime!

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Cock of the Rock, King of the Hill, Muscle in Brussels

Egyptian Goose in Brussels (Stephen Boddington)
Last weekend I made an impromptu visit to Brussels for some urban birding at the invitation of Stephen Boddington, an ex-pat who has lived in the city for the past 14 years.

I always imagined the city as a grey concreted rainy business centre. I had only been there once and that was a driveby scenario around 12 years years ago. My feeling then was to keep driving. This time around I was surprised as to the amount of species to be seen within the city limits. Marsh Warblers breed, White Stork and Common Crane migrate around the city and Peregrines breed within the city.

Stephen and I saw a good range of birds on our Sunday drift around the city using public transport. A single Goshawk drifting over, several Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, a possible Black Woodpecker heard drumming, Short-toed Treecreepers and Marsh Tits were the best of the bunch plus a ton of delightful Red Squirrels.

Brussels was not my favourite city mainly due to the intense dislike that the Dutch and the French inhabitants have for each other - which even permeates into the birding scene. Having two seperate birding websites - one French and the other Dutch - that don't cross-pollinate with each just seemed utterly ridiculous to me.

Despite that, Brussels is worth a second look if you find yourself there.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Gosforth Park Nature Reserve - saved!

Eurasian Bittern (Russell F Spencer)
In November last year I visited Gosforth Park NR on the outskirts of Newcastle as part of a general scout around the northeast. The thing that struck me about the place was that despite its close proximity to Newcastle it harboured an amazing array of wildlife.

Encompassing 145 acres, its large woodland is home to the only urban population of Red Squirrels in England, several roosting colonies of Noctule Bats as well as Badgers and various interesting species of plant. There is also a lake and large reedbed in which Water Shrew, Otters roam plus a good selection of winter waterfowl can be found and Bitterns are resident. It is a very beautiful and special place.

At the time, it was under intense pressure with the local council concocting crazy plans to develop the green corridor around the site for housing. This would have ultimately destroyed the fragile ecosystem as it would have effectively taken away the feeding areas for much of the wildlife that use the site.

I heard yesterday that the fierce opposition put up by the local people and other concerned organisations were successful in convincing the council that it was indeed a bad idea to develope the sensitive areas and the site has been saved.

It's so nice to hear such great news. If you ever get the chance you must go and visit this wonderful reserve.

Monday, 5 March 2012

We needed a Chat

First winter? Male Stonechat (Neville Smith)
A fine male Stonechat (Neville Smith)
These two beautiful Stonechats were discovered at The Scrubs over the weekend. We presume that they are migrants heading back to who knows where to set up their territories ahead of the returning females.

Stonechats were once regular winterers on my patch with at least three birds on the grassland every day between late October and mid-March. Some years we would have a fall of up to 10 bird birds for a day or two in early October and late March/early April. Those were excellent counts when you consider that the area that they chose to spend their time was not expansive in any way.

Alas, after years of regular birds we sadly lost our wintering chats during the first snowfall of December 2009. Since then, Stonechats have become a real scarcity. Each time we see them is celebrated. Only one male remains now. Let's hope we get some more before the breeding season begins in earnest.