Tuesday, 28 February 2012

I can smell the spring!

Tagus Estuary, Lisbon, Portugal
Cattle Egret
Yellow-legged Gull
The past few mornings at The Scrubs have really been invigorating. The scene is changing in that winter is definitely receding and the resident birds are all displaying and busily singing.

I'm going to have an extremely busy spring with most of it to be spent away from my beloved patch. The first port of call will be Lisbon at the end of March when I will be leading a three day tour for Swarovski Optik around the city itself and the neighbouring Tagus Estuary.

I can't wait, especially to explore Tagus Estuary again because the place is just buzzing with birds - raptors, Little Bustards, Stone Curlews, waders galore, flamingoes and a myriad of passerines.


Friday, 24 February 2012

Pipits in the meadow

Meadow Pipit (Mandy West)
Nipped over to Wormwood Scrubs, my patch, this morning to check up on the birdlife. The football pitches were still fairly busy with Larids. I counted at least 190 Black-headed Gulls in varying plumages loafing on the pitches. Interestingly, only perhaps three birds were in first winter plumage with majority sporting either their winter dress or appearing to be moulting into their summer brown hoods. Peppered amongst them were at least 35 Common Gulls and again, maybe 60% were adults. Isn't it curious that there were so few young birds around? Did that reflect a bad breeding season or do the youngsters hang out elsewhere?

I then strolled through our 20 acres or so of grassland in the vain hope of flushing something decent. Over the years I have kicked out cats, moths and a blow-up doll once during the winter months. Bird wise, I have also flushed redwings secreted in the long grass (very unusual, although I have heard that Fieldfares sometimes roost on the ground), a Short-eared Owl (nothing short of amazing for a central London site), regular Snipe and even a Lapwing.

This morning I found a singing male Reed Bunting in a Blackthorn and around 20 Meadow Pipits cavorting around. In the case of the pipits, it is normal for us to start getting a build up around now. By the end of March, four or five males may start their territorial song flights. The fact that we have breeding Meadow Pipits at The Scrubs is pretty amazing because our grassland is not protected and it runs the daily gauntlet of disturbance that includes dogs and their walkers, errant low-flying model aircraft and drifting litter.

Just the usual urban hurdles that wildlife have to cope with.

Monday, 20 February 2012


Barons Haugh RSPB Reserve, Motherwell
Looking south
Pardeep Chand (ex Barons Haugh Warden) & TUB
The RSPB Glasgow crew: Jenny Tweedie, Ryan Walrath & Ruth Curruthers with TUB outside Kelvingrove Museum
Spent a lovely Sunday north of the border at the behest of RSPB Glasgow to deliver a talk within the stunning Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - a building that really reminded me of a mini Natural History Museum. Jenny Tweedie (Communications & Media Officer) told me that it was one of the most popular tourist attractions un the UK outside London. I could see why.

The talk went well and was well attended. As ever, there is always one person in the audience that approaches me at the end to say that they had had personal experience of Wormwood Scrubs, my beloved local patch.

Earlier in the morning I spent time with Pardeep Chand who escorted me around his beloved stomping ground, Barons Haugh. Until last Friday he was the warden of this very interesting looking urban reserve. It was a mixture of wetlands and woodlands and had a good mix of birds to boot. We saw Whooper Swans, Goldeneye, Gadwall, Teal, Curlew, Lapwings and the commoner gulls whilst in the wooded areas we were entertained by Nuthatches, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Treecreepers & Goldcrests. Recent goodies here have included Spotted Crake, Long-billed Dowitcher, breeding Garganey and someone in a hide showed me footage of an Otter swimming around that he took using his mobile.

I had never heard of Barons Haugh before, but I would definitely recommend that you visit it. Cheers RSPB Glasgow for opening my eyes even further to the wildlife of your city and its environs.

Friday, 17 February 2012


Not quite black-and-white

I was thinking about cats the other day. I find some of them quite cuddly and strokeable but if I am honest, I am not their biggest fan. The sign I saw in a shop window in Folkestone the other weekend summed it up. It was one of those joke signs akin to 'Beware of the dog' - you know the type. This one said, 'A cat lives here with several servants.' I thought that was pretty apt.

I used to have a cat myself when I was eleven. Her name was Twinkles and I got her as a kitten from my then big birding buddy and local neighbour, Cornelious Ravenwing III. Twinkles was a doppelganger of her mother; slender, black and white and likeable. As a kitten she was very playful. I used to routinely have lascerated hands after a bout of boisterous playing with her. Perhaps the best thing about Twinkles was that she used to meet me as I walked home from school. She would wait on our street standing on someone's wall and then jump into my arms. Sometimes I'd whistle for her as if I were calling a dog and she would appear out of nowhere, delighted to see me.

One day, I came home from school and Twinkles was nowhere to be seen. Wailing, I searched the streets for two days. No sign. I had only had her for six months although it seemed like an eternity. I was heartbroken.

There. That's my cat story out of the way and I bet you thought I was going to talk about cats killing birds!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Cecil Fowler

Cecil the Eagle Owl giving us the eye
Cecil looking for lunch
Cecil reading up on survey work!
Last spring whilst co-leading a bird walk at Arne RSPB Reserve in Dorset, I had the pleasure of meeting Cecil Fowler, the then fluffy and adorable captive Eagle Owl. I was impressed by his weight as he sat on my gloved arm. We had a special bond and at one time we were both independently looking up watching flocks gulls passing over. He was being primed as an Eagle Owl ambassador to be taken around schools for kids to marvel at his size and whoop when he would spread that impressive wingspan.

The more alert amongst you would have noticed that I used the phrasing 'the then fluffy and adorable captive Eagle Owl'. The news that I heard recently was quite disturbing. He is now an adult and has reverted to being a wild animal who probably wouldn't think twice about taking your eye out and/or sinking those massive talons into a fleshy human appendage!

Obviously, his school days are over and now he is a stud in a breeding program. You can take an owl out of the wild but you can't take the wild out of the owl.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Redwings, Fieldfares and Brass Monkeys!

Fieldfare (Anthony McGeehan)
It is totally brass monkeys out there!

I have just come back from giving a talk to the Luton and South Bedfordshire RSPB Group and I must thank God for arranging for a fast, warm train to be waiting on the platform to shift my quarters back to London in double quick time. The cold weather is obviously having an affect of the birds as I have been noticing the roving Fieldfares and Redwings in particular. I feel bad that I haven't been able to watch any recently but I'm planning to rectify that tomorrow morning when I arise from my warm pit to brave the elements and journey to Wormwood Scrubs.

Fortune favours the brave they say. Let us see.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Plenty of Bullfinches but where are the Crested Tits & Black Woodpeckers?

Male Bullfinch (Russell F Spencer)
Bullfinches seem to be the flavour of the month right now. Everywhere I turn I see Bullfinches apart from in real life.

Okay, I haven't been out as much as I should have been recently but ever since I wrote a piece in RSPB 'Birds Magazine' on these delectable birds I have had loads of people sending me emails and tweets telling me about the Bullfinches in their gardens. There seems to be an awful lot of them out there - Bullfinches that is and it's heartening.

Now, on a slightly different subject, can somebody please tell me why there are no Crested Tits anywhere in the UK aside from their outpost in Scotland and why Black Woodpeckers haven't been officially found in the UK?