Sunday, 30 September 2012

Saddle sore in Amsterdam

I spent two lovely days in the Netherlands last Thursday and Friday at the behest of the Netherlands BirdLife International partner. Thursday was spent giving a talk about my work promoting urban birding around the world and then taking part in a seminar on getting urban kids interested in nature.

The following day I cycled for what seemed like an eternity around the city and environs led by BirdLife's urban bird specialist Jip Louwe Kooijmans and in the company of a Dutch journalist bringing up the rear. 

Saw some good birds includin a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (a city rarity) and heard Crested and Willow Tits.

Read all about it in a forthcoming Birdwatching Magazine article.
 Lunchtime for two Carrion Crows
 Juvenile Coot
A winter plumaged Herring Gull 
 A Common Buzzard being mobbed by a Carrion Crow
 Great White Egret
 Common Frog
Distant flock of Great Cormorants

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Wanderer Returns!

 Our 1st Whinchat of the autumn

As the rest of London shuffles knee deep in delightful Whinchats, we at The Scrubs were crying into our peppermint teas lamenting at the non-appearance of our archetypal autumnal migrants. In days gone by we used to regularly host up to 20 birds on our grassland. Back then, we were the London terminus for this denizen of the wilder spots of Britain before they continued on south.

So how happy were we to have discovered one this morning!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The morning after the Nightingale before

 A migrant Sedge Warbler
 A female Four-spot Orb Weaver Spider
 A dew bathing Robin
More bathing
Yesterday, we recorded our first ever autumn migrant Nightingale at The Scrubs. It was found along the western end of the embankment. This morning I came back to the scene of the crime in the vein hope of trying to relocate the bird.

Instead, I got attacked and bitten on the arm by a Pit Bull-type dog being walked by a woman who obviously had no control over it. The dog had to be pulled off me whilst it tried to chomp at my ankle. Thank God I was wearing my hiking boots!

Bird-wise it was pretty quiet with highlight being a Sedge Warbler I found skulking in a Chats Paddock bush alongside a Chiffchaff.

But you know what they say: tomorrow is another day!

Monday, 3 September 2012


I took a trip out to Southend, Essex on Sunday to check out the urban birding for a forthcoming piece in Birdwatching Magazine. Having not visited this famous seaside town since the devil was a boy, it was like I had never been before. I was pleasantly surprised. There were many places both in the town and surrounding areas for some decent birding.

I took a walk along Southend Pier with my host Emily Broad. As we neared the end of the pier we came across around 40 Common Terns variously fishing along side the pier or resting along the side of the structure. I was photographing a couple of the birds resting on the side rail when I happened across a couple of terns, standing between two obvious Common Terns, that didn't quite fit the identikit. They seemed slighter with shorter and thinner legs. Plumage-wise, they seemingly resembled Common Terns
moulting into winter plumage - but something was odd about them. Tern number 2 even appeared to have a orangy tip to its bill.

I put the image out on Twitter and Facebook to solicit the opinions of fellow birders. The response was strongly divided. Some people were thinking that tern number 2 was a juvenile Black Tern, a Roseate Tern and several people were convinced they were looking at a Sandwich Tern. A couple people even suggested that they were both hybrids.
Odd tern no.1
Odd tern no.2 note the spindly legs
 A closer view of no.1
 No.1 with an summer adult Common Tern check out the delicate build
 1 & 2 together. No. 2 has a slightly shorter bill and even thinner legs
 A classic Common Tern
The most likely answer is that they were both Common Terns. Why? Well, they are both adult birds moulting into their winter plumages. Arctic Terns moult in their winter quarters, so are rarely seen in that plumage in the UK. Furthermore, they would not show so much black in the wing and have darker shorter bills. Sandwich Terns are altogether larger birds with longer black legs. Roseate Terns should display longer tail streamers and longer legs. Finally, the plumage and larger size is totally wrong for Black Tern.

All that said, I still have a problem with them, particularly tern no.2. Some people have said that the legs appear shorter because the belly feathers are fluffed out. Even if that was the case, how does that explain their thin appearance?

I'm still not wholly convinced of their identity, but hey, that is the beauty of birding: nothing ever looks exactly as they do in the books!

Not like this lovely Ruddy Turnstone - a lot more straight forward.
A lovely Ruddy Turnstone