Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Scrubbing for migrants

A male Common Redstart is in there somewhere - honest!
I have been thrashing my local patch on a near daily basis for nearly two weeks now - and mostly for selfish reasons if the truth be known.

You see, many other London sites have recorded some amazing birds like Wanstead Flats in east London with their long staying Wryneck and just about everywhere else has had healthy showings of Wheatears, both Spotted and Pied Flycatchers plus late Swifts. Meanwhile, myself and other Scrubbers have been flogging the place looking for anything. To be fair we have found a few Common Redstarts, a couple of Garden Warblers and a couple Spotted Flycatchers but I would dearly love to find another Scrubs rarity.

It's high time. Anyone out there with the ear of the Birding Gods?

Friday, 24 August 2012

Birding for mermaids (and mermen!)

Recently, I have managed to squeeze in reading a few books in between my usual mix of birding, writing, tour leading with perhaps a bit of sleep thrown in for good measure.

Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm Petrels of North America by Steve Howell was one book that I didn't expect to get into as much as I did. This is a group of birds that I have relatively little experience of compared with the raptors or thrushes and chats. I found the book utterly fascinating. I loved the author's comparison of the world's seas with deserts, forests and other more terrestrial habitats. It never really occurred to me to think in those terms. Indeed, he went into great detail about the different oceananic weather systems and how birds reacted to them. Fascinating stuff. All this before I even started to read the species accounts.

Of course, North America is infinitely bigger than the UK and as such had a far larger array of petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses than us. Nonetheless, the species accounts were both informative and readable. The field identification sections were of particular interest as I was learning things about some of the familiar species that I had hitherto no knowledge of. I never knew, for instance, that female Sooty Shearwaters had smaller bills than the males. For a tubenose afficionado those kinds of details must be highly useful. Which brought me to my next thought: was the author a merman? How could he know so much about a group of birds that most of us only ever see swinging past some blustery headland on a cold autumnal morning.

Negatives? I wished that I lived in an area with easy access to many species of these birds. One day?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Goose stepping

A funny thing happened on my patch this morning. I watched a Greylag fly in and land on the football pitches. It was immediately swamped by a posse of Carrion Crows - I counted around 50 at one point - who surrounded the goose and followed its every move.

Each species was weirded out by the other. The crows were thinking; 'what is this big thing', whereas the goose must of thought that this was some kind of strange welcoming committee Wormwood Scrubs style.

Eventually, the goose got bored and flew off strongly to the west leaving the crow bandits firmly on the deck.

Anyone else out there ever experienced the like?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Who said that there were only foxes in British cities?

A series of bad shots of the Wormwood Scrubs Weasel
Yesterday, I was standing on the path facing the embankment area at The Scrubs when I became aware of a Song Thrush around 70 yards away standing bolt upright and stock still. When I scrutinised it I was amazed to see that it was being mesmerised by a Weasel that was sprinting back and forth across the path each time getting a little closer to the thrush.

The inevitable did not happen however. Just when I thought the thrush would meet it's end a Sparrowhawk shot overhead sending everyone scurrying. It was an amazing sequence of events that I had never witnessed before. Even more amazing was to see a Weasel on my home patch within London, a mammal that I so rarely see at the best of times.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Gunnersbury Triangle LNR

 The canopy in Gunnersbury Triangle LNR
 The lovely group I took around the site
I like this mural
On Sunday morning just gone I led a bird walk around the London Wildlife Trust's Gunnersbury Triangle LNR. It is a small yet perfectly formed Silver Birch and Willow woodland in Chiswick, West London that is totally encircled by railway, offices and habitation. There's breeding Sparrowhawk, the usual common tits, Blackcap, Chiffchaff plus over 20 species of butterfly and tons of trees.

Plus there wasn't just woodland on offer. There was a pleasant pocket-sized meadow, a pond and a small marsh. It was hard to believe that I was in the middle of London - it was so lush, quiet and peaceful. The best birds were a handful of Swifts high overhead and a flyby Hobby.

The site is under acute threat from development that that if given the go ahead will encroach on the very borders of the site. The Mayor of London's office is to make a decision on Tuesday that could either block the development or help to destroy what the local people have been fighting to protect for so long.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Love at first light

 The Scrubs looking east a couple of mornings ago. Can you see now why I love the place so much?
Male Reed Bunting in the grassland

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Rumble in the urban jungle

A Willow Warbler pauses for thought
It's has been all about The Scrubs recently. It has become a major drive in my life to visit my local patch come rain or shine (usually rain of late) to witness migration and hopefully add to the species tally. These days I am also now fully equipped with digiscoping capabilities so expect to see more of my largely terrible photography!

This morning I noted a tiny bit of evidence of the migration to come. Two Sand Martins swung by motoring west, low over the grassland and there were at least three migrant Willow Warblers at large. This latter species is a regular spring and autumn migrant at The Scrubs but has only been proven to breed once, in 2010, despite there usually being males singing sometimes well into June most years. Having said that, no male pitched a temporary residency this year which was hugely disappointing.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Don't call it a comeback

The pipit sign at the 'migration watchpoint' at The Scrubs
It feels like it has been a thousand years since my last entry and a lot has changed in the world. We are in the throes of the London Olympics; an event that I openly admit to initially doubting its relevance. How wrong was I? I think that they have been brilliant thus far, not least for bringing us Brits together as a cosmopolitan nation united in emotion and pride while we support our sporting heroes.

Closer to home, I have also been busy visiting my patch, The Scrubs, in the vain hope of seeing something ultra unusual to pump up our year list. We are currently sitting on 87 species and I'm determined to raise that total to 100 by the end of the year even if I have find them all myself.

Some may say to achieve that on a site with no water will be an Olympian task. My retort would be: watch this space!