Monday, 30 September 2013

Missing the dizzy heights

Looking west over London from Tower 42
It's the end of September and I haven't been able to organise a session with the Tower 42 Bird Study Group as yet. The main reasons are that I haven't been around and when I have been able to set something up I was put paid by the weather.

The problem I have now is that I have to finish my next book so all my spare time has to be focussed on that. That's frustrating especially with the weather currently being pretty good.

I need someone to organise the sessions for me. Any takers out there?

Friday, 27 September 2013

Brent Geese over Oare Marshes, Kent

Brent Geese
The winter is coming.....

Thursday, 26 September 2013


Spotted Crake - Oare Marshes Sunday 22nd September 2013
I led a tour today in north Kent visiting the Isle of Grain and Oare Marshes near Faversham. I must say that I have been mighty impressed with the good people of Kent that I came across. They were courteous and extremely friendly. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out in the 'Garden of England'.

I originally popped over to Kent last Sunday to reccie birding venues and routes in readiness for today's tour. Always on my list was the Isle of Grain, an area in the mouth of the Thames and right opposite Southend in Essex, that I have been coming back to since the 80's. It's one of those places were you know that something good is bound to be lurking. I also visited the fabulous Oare Marshes for the first time. What a great little reserve run by the Kent Wildlife Trust. At high tide a multitude of waders show up in quite impressive numbers. Today we saw Ruff, Golden Plover, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Greenshank, Redshank, Dunlin and Lapwing.

Last week, I caught up with the Spotted Crake that was working the ditch near the hide closest to the road. Today, despite it being seen this morning I could not find it for my clients.

Regardless, they had a great time and are now two of the newest fans of birding in Kent

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Common Rosefinch at The Scrubs

On Sunday 8th September I took a walk through The Scrubs blearly eyed and jetlagged after returning from Peru the previous Friday. Little did I know that was about to discover a mega for London!
I noticed two finches fly into a bush on Lester's Embankment at 0740. One was a male Greenfinch the other was unbelievably a juvenile Common Rosefinch perched in a bush along the northwest end of the embankment. It showed well at the edge of a bush for around 30 seconds before heading west with the accompanying male Greenfinch.

When I initially saw it had its back to me within the bush. The first impression was that of a Tree Pipit as it appeared to have a cold grey brown back with two pencil-thin white wingbars. It was soon clear that the bird was indeed a finch when it turned its head around sideways. I was trying to string it as a weird Greenfinch until it showed its face. I was immediately struck by its beady black eye set in a very plain, supercilium free face. There was hint of colour in its plumage and its breast showed smudged streaking. It then flew to the edge of the bush where it presented itself in full view facing us. It was then that I was convinced that I was looking at a juvenile Common Rosefinch. It seemed slighter with a smaller eye that the male Greenfinch that it seemed to be associating with.

I re-found at 08.40 roving the embankment and on one occasion it flew over past me following the line of the embankment before dumping down in a bush midway down. I noticed the generally dark sandy brown plumage and the classic beady eye. After stalking it for around 15 minutes I finally pinned it down on top of a shrub close to the dead tree and managed to get some record shots before it took off again towards the grassland where I summarily lost it. 

I put the news out and due to it being only the ninth record for London and according to my mate Lee Evans, only the third in 30 years, this was the first potentially twitchable one in that time span. Soon small crowds of London listers assembled during the day. It was subsequently re-seen later in the morning and again in the afternoon and for part of the following day.

It really does pay to watch your local patch day in day out come rain or shine.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Unfeathered Bird - a review

Every blue moon a bird book is comes out that changes everything. Given the plethera of books published on the subject of birds it has become increasingly hard to produce something that truly breaks the mold. Enter The Unfeathered Bird.

Author and illustrator Katrina van Grouw explains in her acknowledgments that this work has been a very hard labour of love that first began twenty-five years ago. And like The Beatles, she too was rejected/ignored by publishers until her current one picked her up. Thank goodness is what I say. The Unfeathered Bird is Katrina's personal unapologetic attempt at a convergence of art and science. She succeeds, unapologetically.

Aside from the art, which I will talk about seperately, Katrina has written a book that talks about birds from the inside out. She speaks about the generic parts of a bird's anatomy before looking at how the internal bone structures, musculature plus bare parts like the feet and beak are variously employed by the different bird families. She has a very easy and largely non-scientific way of writing which engaged me instantly. Indeed, Katrina was fairly upfront right from the off in stating that this is a work that will not be slavishly tied to the normal taxominc order of things. Instead, she has rather bravely thrown that notion over her shoulder and grouped the families in order of structural similarity. Thus the waterbirds are grouped together in the same section and the birds of prey are also connected with the owls etc.

All of this brings me neatly onto the artwork. Fabulous is the word that I would use to describe her work. You can tell that she had spent hours and hours getting every detail of the skeletons right. It was just incredible to see how a penguin was constructed and generally just to see what a bird looks like stripped to the bare bones but engaged in its normal behaviour. I have never seen anything like this before and was genuinely captivated.

The Unfeathered Bird is the kind of book that I would have pored over every detail had I received it as an inquistive five year old. It may have even changed the course of my career - perhaps leading me into another arm (or wing!) of ornithology. It's the kind of inspirational book that would certainly fascinate the children of today and get everyone else thinking about birds in a totally different way.

I think that this book is a work of art. Katrina van Grouw should be applauded.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Looking for the Goshawk

Conor Jameson is a name that will be well known to the many RSPB members who read 'Birds' the society's membership magazine, for which he writes a very popular column in every issue. I enjoy his columns so when I saw that he had penned a book on Goshawks I just had to delve in. The Goshawk is a species that I have a very patchy relationship with. It's certainly not a bird I see every day, every week or even every month. I'm lucky if I see a couple a year. When I do see one it's normally a very fleeting flyby and rarely in the UK as indeed, I see most of my birds in eastern Europe.

Reading Conor's book immediately struck a chord with me. I registered with his deep seated affection for this supreme predator and totally identified with his brilliantly told journey that leads the reader right up to and beyond the moment he saw his first bird. In fact, I didn't care that he took a long time to see one as I was loving the ride. Incidently, I was delighted that the magical moment occurred in an urban area - not wishing to spoil it for those who didn't want to know that!

Whilst reading Conor's book two thoughts sprung to mind; the fact that the book was written so well and also that his research into the Goshawk left absolutely no stone unturned. I learnt so much about this majestic bird and not only just about its private life but a multitude of stuff like how they have been perceived throughout history and even how they were trained for falconery.

'Looking for the Goshawk' is partly a personal quest, partly monographic, partly scientific and totally enjoyable. Looking for the Goshawk will certainly be looking for a place on your Christmas list!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Peru - the sum up

Red-and-green Macaw
What is a jungle? Jungles are steamy hot places filled with impenetrable vegetation, danger and invisible but very vocal animals that tease you with their apparent closeness. Now I've been in jungles before. For instance, there was the feral scrubby wilderness near my home in Wembley, north London that I explored as a kid. I crossed the raging torrent that was the concrete bedded River Brent to wend my way across the unexplored wasteland that lay on the other side. I hacked my way with a blunt penknife through the thick virgin fields of brambles in search of new areas to make camps and of course, to find birds. All this before getting back home for tea.

Since then I have dipped my toes into the fringes of jungles in Thailand and Mexico - but always within earshot of a road or within sight of a visitor centre. In those instances, I was on my own and besides there was a wealth of bird life just within the entrance gates to keep me occupied for hours. Last year, I accepted an invitation from an NGO called the Crees Foundation to visit Peru some research centres within the Amazon dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and the promotion of sustainable living amongst the local people. Crees Foundation are an NGO dedicted to the conservation of the Amazon rainforests and its wildlife, plus promoting sustainability and coexistence with nature amongst the peoples of the region. They manage some 1,500 acres of rainforest within the Manu Reserve - an area roughly the size of Wales.

The plan was for me to go on a whistletop tour of the highland cloud forests eventually dropping elevations ending up within the lowland jungle visiting several of the Crees Foundation's lodges. So after landing in Lima for a spot of very productive urban birding, I took a short flight to Cusco where my journey into the Amazon would truly begin. I'm preparing a piece for Bird Watching Magazine so I won't repeat my adventures here. All I will say is that Peru was everything I expected and everything I didn't expect. Peru has jumped straight into my top five favourite countries in the world. 

My bird list

Peru 23 August – 5 September 2013

White-tufted Grebe
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Grebe
Puna Teal
Chilean Pelican
Peruvian Booby
Neotropic Cormorant
Guanay Cormorant
Cocoi Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Little Blue Heron
Striated Heron
Capped Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Fasciated Tiger-heron
Rufescent Tiger-heron
Horned Screamer
Wood Stork
Puna Ibis
Green Ibis
Orinoco Goose
Yellow-billed Pintail
White-cheeked Pintail
Andean Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Ruddy Duck
Torrent Duck
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
King Vulture
American Swallow-tailed Kite
Plumbeous Kite
Cinereous Harrier
Guiana Crested Eagle
Black-chested Buzzard-eagle
Black-and-chestnut Eagle
Great Black Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
White-rumped Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Variable Hawk
Harris’ Hawk
Red-throated Caracara
Black Caracara
Mountain Caracara
Southern Caracara
Barred Forest Falcon
American Kestrel
Bat Falcon
Speckled Chachalaca
Andean Guan
Spix’s Guan
Blue-throated Piping Guan
Razor-billed Curassow
Plumbeous Rail
Purple Gallinule
Common Gallinule
Andean Coot
American Oystercatcher
Black-necked Stilt
Andean Lapwing
Pied Lapwing
Collared Plover
Hudsonian Whimbrel
Lesser Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs
Stilt Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Wilson’s Phalarope
Kelp Gull
Belcher’s Gull
Grey Gull
Franklin’s Gull
Grey-headed Gull
Andean Gull
Inca Tern
Large-billed Tern
Yellow-billed Tern
Black Skimmer
Feral Pigeon
Ruddy Pigeon
Plumbeous Pigeon
Spot-winged Pigeon
Eared Dove
West Peruvian (Pacific) Dove
Bare-faced Ground Pigeon
White-tipped Dove
Blue-and-yellow Macaw
Scarlet Macaw
Chestnut-fronted Macaw
Red-and-green Macaw
Mitred Parakeet
Tui Parakeet
Orange-cheeked Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
Speckle-faced Parrot
Mealy (Amazon)Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Smooth-billed Ani
Barn Owl
Burrowing Owl
Great Potoo
Sand-coloured Nighthawk
Common Nighthawk
White-collared Swift
Andean Swift
White-tipped Swift
Chestnut-collared Swift
New World Palm Swift
Giant Hummingbird
White-browed Hermit
Long-tailed Hermit
Fork-tailed Woodnymph
Blue-tailed Emerald
Sparkling (Gould’s) Violetear
Rufous-crested Coquette
Golden-tailed Sapphire
Green-and-white Hummingbird
Peruvian Piedtail
Many-spotted Hummingbird
Violet-fronted Brilliant
Chestnut-breasted Coronet
Collared Inca
Long-tailed Sylph
Booted Racket-tail
Bearded Mountaineer
Black-tailed Trainbearer
Blue-tailed Emerald
Black-tailed Trogon
Blue-crowned Trogon
Crested Quetzel
Highland Motmot
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Bluish-fronted Jacamar
Lanceolated Monklet
Black-fronted Nunbird
Versicoloured Barbet
Curly-crested Aracari
White-throated Toucan
Channel-billed Toucan
Andean Flicker
Golden Olive Woodpecker
Red-necked Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Blue-and-white Swallow
White-winged Swallow
White-banded Swallow
Grey-breasted Wood Wren
Southern House Wren
White-capped Dipper
Long-tailed Mockingbird
Black-capped Donacobius
Wren-like Rushbird
Bar-winged Cinclodes
Ash-browed Spinetail
Rusty-fronted Canastero
White-browed Antbird
Ash-throated Gnateater
Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet
Marble-faced Bristle-tyrant
Slaty-capped Flycatcher
Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet
Torrent Tyrannulet
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
Many-coloured Rush Tyrant
Olive-striped Flycatcher
Streak-necked Flycatcher
Common Tody-flycatcher
Cinnamon Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher
Smoke-coloured Pewee
Black Phoebe
Drab Water Tyrant
Andean Negrito
Rufous-naped Ground Tyrant
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Chiguanco Thrush
Glossy-black Thrush
Black-billed Thrush
Black-faced Cotinga
((Screaming Piha))
Masked Fruiteater
Bare-necked Fruitcrow
Andean Cock-of-the-rock
Yungas Manakin
Red-eyed Vireo
Violaceous Jay
Purplish Jay
Green Jay
Silver-beaked Tanager
Blue–and-yellow Tanager
Blue-grey Tanager
Silver-backed Tanager
Golden Tanager
Yellow-throated Bush Tanager
Beryl-spangled Tanager
Golden-naped Tanager
Saffron-crowned Tanager
Golden-eared Tanager
Blue-necked Tanager
Paradise Tanager
Swallow Tanager
Orange-eared Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Purple Honeycreeper
Black-throated Flowerpiercer
Yellow-browed Sparrow
Peruvian Sierra-finch
Hooded Siskin
Orange-bellied Euphonia
Thick-billed Euphonia
Band-tailed Seedeater
Blue-black Grassquit
Black-and-white Seedeater
Chestnut-bellied Seedeater
Red-capped Cardinal
Chestnut-capped Brush-finch
Golden-bellied Grosbeak
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Buff-throated Saltator
Golden-billed Saltator
Slate-throated Redstart
Spectacled Redstart
Golden-bellied Warbler
Three-striped Warbler
Russet-crowned Warbler
Crested Oropendola
Olive Oropendola
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Giant Cowbird
Scrub Blackbird
Orange-backed Troupial
Yellow-winged Blackbird

254 species

192 lifers

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

How can you say no..... these amazing Peruvian vistas?

Monday, 16 September 2013

BIrds of Peru

 Fasciated Tiger-heron
 White-collared Swift
 Andean Lapwing
 Chiguanco Thrush
 Torrent Duck
 Great Potoo
 Sparkling Violetear
Tropical Kingbird