Cooling Marshes, Kent, 7th December 2014

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Nunhead Bird Count (December)

Nunhead Cemetary, 0840-1005 (grey cloud, mist, mild, no wind)


Blackbird 14, Blue Tit 26, Carrion Crow 18, Chaffinch 6, Coal Tit 1, Great Tit 15, GS Woodpecker 5, Jay 1, Long-tailed Tit 5, Magpie 18, Ring-necked Parakeet 13, Robin 9, Wood Pigeon 24, Wren 11.

The misty conditions made this morning’s walk around Nunhead Cemetery quite eerie at times! Observations from today: smaller birds were all recorded in decent numbers (especially blue tits) although the absence of Goldcrest might be an early indication that our smallest bird has struggled with the exceptionally cold December. Great-spotted woodpeckers were conspicuous throughout the wood and a small flock of noisy chaffinches was active in one of the glades. There is a great deal of dense ivy covering trees throughout the site; this will provide useful shelter for small birds in the coming months. There are few trees or shrubs with any berries left now and most of the feeding activity I witnessed was centred on the seed clusters of Ash trees.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Follow me on Twitter

Yup, it’s if a blog wasn’t exciting enough you can now follow my birding exploits via twitter! I was a little sceptical at first but my PR advisor (who knows about such things) has repeatedly sung its praises. Turns out it was good advice, it’s quite good fun. So for as much bird-related fact and frivolity that can be reasonably described in 140 characters or less, click here.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

2 Turtle Doves? You’d be lucky

In the popular carol, the 12 days of Christmas are celebrated through recollections of extravagant gifts lavished upon one lucky girl by her ‘true love’. On the second day of Christmas (December 26th) the young lover is the recipient of two turtle doves. Of course it’s only a story, but the truth is you’d be you’d be lucky to see this bird in 2011. Numerous articles this year highlighted the sad plight of some of Britain’s farmland birds, Turtle Dove included.

Turtle doves are a late-Spring migrant to the British Isles where they typically breed among the hedgerows and pastures of arable farmland. However, their numbers are reported to have fallen so dramatically in the last few decades (an 88% decline since 1970 according to the RSPB) that they are now a UK BAP Priority Species. Like other species, including Kestrel, Lapwing and Tree Sparrow, its fate is intrinsically linked to widespread changes in the British farming industry. As a bird that survives solely on certain types of seed, land intensification and herbicide use appear to be the main threats to its survival. Persecution on its migration routes (particularly on Malta and Cyprus) and conditions in its West African wintering grounds may also contribute to this decline.

Whilst researching this post I came across this in-depth article from BirdGuides on the subject. Look at the title…great minds and all that!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Where are the waxwings?

Waxwing (photo by Gordon Langsbury,
By all accounts it’s been a good year for waxwings. These winter migrants are typically found in greatest numbers in northern Britain and along the east coast, but various sites are now reporting sightings throughout London’s suburbs. As far as I can tell, however, Lewisham is still waiting!

These interesting maps from the BTO show how reported Waxwing sightings (indicated in red) have shifted from north to south in the last 2 months. It is thought that this is a response to increased competition for food sources in the north as a result of the severe weather.
I’ve not had much time to get out this week but these distinctive Scandinavian invaders are worth keeping an eye out for. An unmistakable pinkish-red crest, black mask and colourful wing markings make them easily identifiable.
The appearance of large numbers of birds in the UK this year (the term ‘irruption’ is often used) is thought to be linked to a shortage of food in their normal wintering grounds. They feed predominantly on berries and surprisingly, it is said, one of the places they are most frequently seen is supermarket car parks! This is due I suspect to the practice of landscaping urban areas with ornamental trees and hardy, native shrubs such as Hawthorn. Suddenly my next trip to Tesco sounds all the more appealing!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Birds on 45 (pt.2)

A few more bird sleeves courtesy of Ben who dug these up at the Music & Video Exchange in Greenwich. Thanks! These are, quite literally, birds on 45:

It appears these records were the result of collaboration between the RSPB and the Dutch Society for Bird Protection at some point in the 1970s. These items are numbers 4 and 5 in a range of 12 records that contain field recordings of some of the most common birds in Britain and the Netherlands.
The recordings, made by one Hans A. Traber, are of surprisingly high quality. But what makes the records all the more endearing is the fact that, as well as recording birdsong, the tracks also capture fragments of other background sounds too. The liner notes for the Swallow recording (track 7- disc 5) describe the scene thus “this song was recorded when the bird was perched on a telephone wire in a farmyard, so that we can hear cocks crowing, men walking about, cows mooing and, in the distance, crows calling”. A charming scene I’m sure you’ll agree.
Disc 4 covers the calls of numerous owl and woodpecker species (an interesting inclusion of which are those of the Grey-headed Woodpecker and Black Woodpecker, two species that are not found in Britain). For Scops Owl, the liner notes poetically describe other owls calling in the distance “almost like echoes”. I can’t find any other information about Hans Traber but I find myself quite fascinated by how the process of field recording works. He certainly knew his stuff.

They are quite lovely items, although I can’t imagine them piled high at too many record stores around the country at the time!
Finally, despite it being an LP, special mention should be made to this cover recommended by Lindsay. I’m not especially familiar with the work of Bert Jansch but with a cover featuring Avocet, Kingfisher, Lapwing and an Osprey, it must be a winner!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Photoblog: Out and about (November 2010)

Canada geese, Dulwich Park
Robin, Nunhead Cemetary
Redwing, Dulwich Park
Blackbird (F), Hilly Fields Park
Ring-necked Parakeet, Ladywell Fields

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Bake a bird food cake!

The Guardian live news blog has thrown up these interesting stats courtesy of B&Q today:
3,000 sledges sold in the past week, grit sales up 1,224% on last November, coal, logs and kindling up 230%, shovels 216% and bird food 65%”.
That last figure is particularly good to see. With the media whipping themselves into a frenzy with the usual tales of commuter woe and so forth it is important to remember the effect this freezing weather could have on wildlife.
For birds in particular, this unexpectedly early cold spell could have dire consequences. There’s a chance that with food becoming scarce or inaccessible due to snow and heavy frosts some birds may head into the critical mid-winter period without having built up sufficient bodyweight to survive the prolonged low temperatures. But if you’re lucky enough to have a garden there’s plenty you can do to help our feathered friends.
  • Put up a bird feeder- any decent DIY/Garden Centre should have them for sale. The RSPB also have some innovative (and squirrel proof) designs here.
  • Easy to overook but birds need water too. Why not fill a container and leave it outside? Check daily to make sure it hasn't frozen solid!
  • As for food, peanuts, seed mix and fat-balls (but not kitchen fat) all make good winter food for birds. Have a look here for some good, affordable, well-sourced mix. But don’t forget that household leftovers can work just as well. Uncooked porridge oats, soft fruits and grated cheese all make a tasty snack for a small bird!
  • But best of all, why not make a bird food cake?! Yum!
Special prize for the first person to email me with a picture of a bird enjoying their homemade bird food cake!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Hot Topic: Grey Squirrels

An unusual encounter in Greenwich Park last week has prompted me to rethink my views on the bushy-tailed critter so common in gardens and parks across the country.
As a young child, I’m fairly sure the stealthy nut-burying antics and tree-top acrobatics of grey squirrels not only delighted me, but provided me with an invaluable early experience of nature. Looking at the number of people, children and adults alike, watching and photographing the squirrels darting about in the park last week it is clear that many feel the same way. It’s great to see people enjoying wildlife at close quarters but it appears that some squirrels in Greenwich Park are starting to enjoy the presence of people a little too much.
This occurred to me last week when, after stopping briefly to view the deer enclosure with my binoculars, a grey squirrel leapt off a wire fence 2-3 feet away and landed on my thigh. It was quite a surprise; I’ve never heard of, yet alone experienced, that before. After forcibly shaking it off, the same thing happened again a few minutes later when a different individual clambered onto my shin while I was looking elsewhere.
Now interestingly, the squirrels I see in my neighbourhood, just a mile or so away from the park, appear to react with nothing less than sheer terror whenever they encounter a human. So what is behind the unwelcome and aggressive behaviour exhibited by those in Greenwich Park?
Unsurprisingly it appears that the problem stems from incidences of feeding by the public. During the course of the afternoon I witnessed two individuals throwing down food for the squirrels and many subsequently arriving to take advantage of it. With squirrels associating humans with food, it’s not surprising that their approaches are becoming increasingly bold.
So what to do? People gain pleasure from feeding the squirrels, that’s clear, but if there is chance of squirrels jumping on people to pursue food, then surely it becomes an issue?  I didn’t see any signs discouraging feeding but even if there were, would it be too hard to enforce? I emailed Royal Parks to find out if they have a grey squirrel management policy but have not had a reply as yet. A caption on their website however might give a slight clue as to where they stand- “This species was introduced from North America and has replaced our native red squirrel throughout much of the UK. Nevertheless, their athletic antics and begging for food are a constant source of entertainment to visitors.” That strikes me as being a tad flippant but I appreciate it’s a tricky issue. What do you think?

UPDATE 29/11/10- I received an email today from the assistant manager of Greenwich Park responding to my enquiry about possible problems with the squirrel population. He writes that the population of grey squirrels within the park is “healthy” and thriving due to a lack of natural predators and food provided by park visitors. However he also writes that a poster campaign will be launched in the new year, “encouraging people NOT TO FEED the squirrels or the pigeons”. This will apparently be monitored with the help of the police. I think this is welcome news.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Great Tits and Gravestones

Nunhead Cemetery bird count, Friday 19.11.10 (8.40am, cool, bright, no wind) Roll call:
Ring-necked Parakeet 13, Robin 9, Magpie 15, Woodpigeon 11, Carrion Crow 9, Wren 15, Blackbird 9, Great Tit 21, Jay 3, Goldcrest 5, Greater-spotted Woodpecker 3, Mistle Thrush 1, Dunnock 1, Long-tailed Tit 19, Blue Tit 5.
I have been completing a bird count in Nunhead Cemetery for a while now and always find it a great way to start the day. The premise is simple: once or twice a month I visit the site, I arrive as early as possible (to coincide with the peak time for bird song/activity), walk a pre-mapped route of the site at a steady pace and record every bird I see or hear. I then submit my results to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Birdtrack scheme.
Surveying in this way has been happening on the site for a number of years and is a great way to build up a detailed picture of bird population patterns. It is not an exact science; it would be very hard to record EVERY bird present for numerous reasons but it does allow for comparisons to be made. With data collected every month we can see which species are present and how their numbers fluctuate over time. Analysis of the results can reveal subtle or distinct trends which can then be related to local or nationwide conservation issues as a whole.
The above list may not be bursting with rarities but it is what you might expect from a predominantly wooded habitat within an urban area. When it comes to birds, I’d suggest that finding what you’d expect to find is not such a bad thing.  

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Shades of blue

Today started so brightly. Whilst walking to the DLR through Brookmill Park this morning, a small strand of green space that follows the course of the Ravensbourne between Elverson Road and Deptford Bridge, I spotted a Kingfisher! I knew from the London Birders website that Kingfisher was regularly listed there but despite keeping my eyes open I've never seen one. I hadn't expected the cool, damp, overcast conditions to bring much in the way of birdlife but there it was- a little electric blue flash skimming over the surface of the river! It then gave a great view perched atop some overhanging scrub for a minute or so before it disappeared out of sight into trees on the other side. I was so engrossed by this encounter that I forgot I was supposed to be hurrying to work!

Some acknowledgment should be made of Lewisham Council and the site's managers Glendale Services, since they are clearly doing something right if birds like Kingfishers are being attracted to our urban waterways. What a cheery encounter, it's amazing what you can find in the city if you look.

Unfortunately my mood was spoiled when I saw the cover story in The Independent today. The coalition certainly isn't making many friends this week:

It makes for sorry reading. Would it really cost so much to make some sympathetic changes?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

F is for...

Last week’s fine weather meant plenty of opportunities for a bit of birding. This time though, rather than just seeing what was about, I went searching for a pair of birds that have so far eluded that all important winter bird list!
Looking for a particular bird species (especially an unfamiliar one) is a challenge, and in many ways a different experience from simply taking a ‘general’ approach to bird watching. Unless you’re lucky, success is more likely to depend on reading relevant habitat notes for a species or finding out what it likes to eat. Listening to advice and checking sighting reports also helps. So with the presence of my 'most wanted' noted in Greenwich Park last week by the London Birders website and a field guide to hand, off I went to find the diminutive Firecrest.
With small resident populations in the south east bolstered by migrants from northern Europe in autumn, now is a good time to find these tiny, attractive birds. Unfortunately, although I staked out a suitably shrubby thicket with a good number of evergreen trees nearby and honed my ID skills by picking the birdsong playlist on my iPod over the new (and totally ace) Superchunk album, I did not encounter a firecrest this time.
Over the weekend however, taking advantage of a trip back home to Kent, I did manage to track down another wanted migrant. The sprawling arable fields and intermittent patches of woodland surrounding my village were perfect I suspected, for spotting a bird that is seen as a true herald of autumn- the Fieldfare. And I was proved right soon after setting out as I came across a flock of around 25 fieldfare rooting among the ploughed furrows for worms and insects. A noisy and striking thrush with their blue-grey head and brown back (and a highly visible white underwing in flight), they are a classic bird to look out for on wintry farmland rambles. They are even known to visit gardens and parks where they are attracted by berries and fallen fruit. So you never know, maybe one will show up near you?
*Above photo of a Fieldfare respectfully nabbed from

Monday, 8 November 2010

Photoblog: park life (autumn)

Starlings and Mistle thrushes, Hilly Fields Park, Brockley

Grey heron, Brookmill Park, Lewisham

Long-tailed Tit, Greenwich Park

Starling, Blackheath Tea Hut

Jay, Greenwich Park

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween

This solitary crow was perched upon the cross of a church on Lordship Lane in Dulwich this week.  A suitable picture to ponder on this All Hallow’s Eve don’t you think?
As the skies darken and the nights draw ever closer now is the time of year when birds of the corvid family (crows, magpies, ravens, jackdaws, rooks and jays) really come into their own. Watching a dark silhouette glide overhead or listening to the eerie sounds of a Carrion Crow it is easy to see why they often appear in mythology. Jane Struthers’ lovely book, ‘Red Sky at Night- the Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom’, offers one such example. She mentions that Magpies were once thought of as being the Devil in disguise hence the unlucky connotations of seeing one (if true then plenty of His minions are at work round here- or is that just the local council?) But worry not, apparently if you see a Magpie bad luck can be avoided if you greet it politely.
A quick look at some of the collective nouns that have evolved to describe groups of corvids (a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, a scold of jays) is further proof of the grip these birds have on the imagination. So tonight's the night to consider corvids- dark, powerful, intelligent...and mystical too.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Birds on 45

Browsing in a high street record store recently I happened upon Edwyn Collin’s new album sitting proudly on a shelf. This fact itself was pleasing enough, however it was his splendid album cover art that really won me over. Adorning the sleeve are numerous sketches of birds; all well observed, simple and beautifully rendered (there’s a nice article about it here). It got me wondering where else birds make an appearance in musical cover art.

A quick rummage through the BirdPoem record vault turned up a few gems. So here we overdue celebration of birds as portrayed on record covers*.
*one rule: to make it easier (and because it’s my favourite format) I’m just looking at seven inch singles.
First up is this fine effort from Maryland’s Velocity Girl, unleashed by the good people at Heaven Records of Nottingham sometime around 1995 I imagine. The single delivers pleasant covers of Echo & the Bunnymen on side A and The Pastels on the flip but what makes it a bonafide hit round these parts is that handsome cover star! Larus argentatus unless I’m mistaken... the first Herring Gull to grace an indie pop record sleeve?!
With their familiar aesthetic design, these guys’ record sleeves stand out a mile away. This one is no exception.  I like the way they’ve picked an image that perfectly illustrates the title of the single.  It brings to mind the beautiful work of artists such as John James Audubon who played an important role in documenting the evolution of birds. I have no idea what this specimen is or who the artist was but its impressive don’t you think?! 
Some classic, good time rock n roll with plenty of birds on the cover to boot- what more could you ask for?! After some quick research I’d guess that the birds in question might be Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae). That iceberg they’re rocking out on suggests they’re an Antarctic species which narrows the field from 17 species worldwide to 6. They appear quite small in size and a white eye ring is visible on several birds. So there you have it...Status Quo, entertaining AND educational!
That's it for now but I'll be sure to keep digging. In the meantime, if you have any to add why not share them?

Friday, 22 October 2010

CSR Verdict

Like many others, I spent much of Wednesday sitting in with the radio on, scanning the internet for news and opinion on the budget cuts. It may show my rookie colours but one of my first impressions of George Osborne’s speech was that things didn’t seem too bad. The tone was positive and the emphasis invariably on ‘the future’. It took me a moment or two to realise that this was a politician speaking and such tricks are part of their trade. With such a bewildering amount of information to sift through I reserved special interest for the plight of the environment sector.
As a nature lover I can’t help but worry about the state of the environment, so at a personal level it is perhaps the cuts dealt to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that hold most meaning. Unfortunately the general consensus seems to be that DEFRA took a particularly hard beating: an 8% cut in annual spending or a total of 29% by the end of the review period in 2014-15. This was apparently the third highest cut dealt to any department.
To me that seems quite a lot but I find it hard to comprehend just what these cuts really mean and when we will begin to see the effects. Clearly priorities will have to be reviewed and it’s likely that some deserving causes will suffer. In this much-heralded ‘Year of Biodiversity’ what will become of our nature reserves and environmental stewardship schemes for example? Juliette Jowit, writing for the Guardian, believes some biodiversity projects are a risk; before pointing out that the “UK spends only about 1/700th of public finance on the web of life which underpins our economy, health and society”. Way to go.
Although the cuts are significant, they’re the facts we have to work with. It’s an embarrassment sure, from supposedly the ‘greenest Government ever’, but it means there’s now an even greater responsibility placed in our hands to look after the environment.
Neat summary of what it all means here:

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


It’s a big week for anyone with an interest in the environment- tomorrow the government announces the results of its Spending Review. As usual Mark Avery, the RSPB Conservation Director, has nailed what it’s all about on his fantastic blog:
I’ll reserve judgement until the word is out but it’s hard not to feel a little apprehensive at the outcome.
Another topic in the news at the moment is DEFRA’s Natural Environment White Paper. I find myself confused by a lot of political terminology so I had to look up just what a ‘White Paper’ is. Basically it seems to be a document that sets out how the government intends to handle a current issue of debate with proposals and policies etc. So that seems pretty straightforward. Anyway, nature gets the treatment now and as part of the process the government has set up an online survey to research public opinion. So if you like rambling about the hills, swimming in the sea or just watching the birds in your garden, why not tell them what the environment means to you? You can bet I will be! Deadline is Saturday the 30th of October, here’s a link:

Monday, 18 October 2010

A fall of finches

No shortage of bird action round here in the last week or so, just very little time to write about it!
Chaffinches have been off my radar for a few months but made a sudden reappearance last Thursday (14th) in Hilly Fields Park. During a breezy mid-afternoon walk I spotted a small flock as they flew over the crest of the hill before taking shelter among the branches of some nearby trees. Those were soon followed by a half a dozen Greenfinches and Goldfinches. All of a sudden finches had taken over!
Now it’s certainly not unusual to see these three species here but their sudden appearance together was notable. Although populations remain in the UK all year round, certain birds migrate abroad in the spring to breed. As such, I think these may have been a mixed flock of migrating birds returning from breeding seasons in Europe and Scandinavia.
With Greenfinch populations (and to a lesser extent Chaffinch) thought to be at risk due to the effects of the trichomonosis disease, seeing good numbers is an encouraging sign. Curious about these sudden arrivals I checked out the BTO website and lo, one of the foremost entries highlighted the “impressive” nationwide movement of common species such as finches in the last week!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Name that Bird- Round 1!

To finish off my summer recap how about a quick round of ‘Name that Bird’? Scroll down for discussion!
No. 1

No. 2

No. 3

No. 4

I’d love to claim that photo no.1, showing a Red-rumped Swallow (left) and two Swifts, was snapped here in London but that’s not the case. While ‘common’ Swallows (Hirundo rustica) are a familiar sight around the UK in spring and summer, Red-rumped Swallows (Hirundo daurica) only occasionally turn up as rare spring migrants. This was taken much closer to their natural Mediterranean range- in a small village in central Portugal at the beginning of September. There was a lot of hirundine activity in the air at the time but it was only when this one landed that I was able to be sure Red-rumped Swallows were among them. The key identifier is its rufous collar and a similarly coloured rump that is visible in flight.
Same time, same place, I spotted bird no.2 furtively busying itself in a patch of scrub and olive trees. Female Blackcap was my instinctive reaction at distance but on closer inspection it’s less obvious. The brown head, pale breast and dark legs are characteristic of females but the darker colouration on the wing, coupled with the visible white patches perhaps less so? What do you think?!
Birds 3 and 4 come courtesy of my sister who spent the summer in Costa Rica. Knowing that the best way to appease her envious brother was with a few photos of birds that she happened to spot she delivered the goods here! But I have to confess I don’t know what they are yet- I’m still working my way through my ‘Birds of Britain and Europe’ book! Any guesses?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Autumn takes flight

"We could dream this night away..."
It’s been a magical start to autumn round these parts. Or maybe it’s like this every year and I’ve been oblivious. It’s easy to miss the seasons changing in London. All the usual clich├ęs spring to mind but what excites me most about autumn this year is that it means the birds are busy again!
For an urban dweller summer is generally a quiet time for birds. The cup final atmosphere that is present among the branches of woods, parks and gardens in late-spring is long gone; the hopeful songs and endless chatter giving way to a period of rest that allows birds to renew energy stocks and hone vital skills in preparation for a long winter or a long flight. It was great therefore to hear numerous robins singing boisterously in my local park yesterday, along with noisy flocks of tits (Blue, Great and Long-tailed) probing the Plane trees for seeds. Mistle Thrushes have appeared again too, ready to do battle over berries, their heads and bold, spotted breasts visible from the tops of tall trees.
As for our visiting migrants, autumn marks a passage for birds heading off to warmer southern climes and overwintering birds arriving from the continent. This increases the chance of finding something a little more unusual in your area. So far a large flock (40+) of House Martins swooping over New Cross the other day has been my only local evidence of the former but it was a pleasing sight nonetheless. Watching their frantic manoeuvres over the rooftops I realised there were probably young birds up there making the trip for the first time.  I enjoyed Jack Robinson’s analogy of a similar encounter in the current issue of Bird Watching magazine, comparing young Swallows preparing to migrate with a nervous child’s first day at school!
As for the latter, in the next few months I’ll be keeping my eye out for arrivals from Scandinavia such as Fieldfare and Redwing. As well as UK resident species such as Lesser Redpoll and Firecrest whose numbers increase in the south during autumn and winter.
*above photo from the BBC website

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Birding Moments#1

A camping trip to Pembrokeshire with friends in late-June presented me with possibly my first genuine birding ‘moment’. What do I mean by that? Well I guess it was the first time I became truly, uncontrollably gripped by a bird sighting. Visible signs that this was the case: frantically pointing at the sky and approaching strangers whilst doing so, hopping about and the occasional celebratory air punch. Y’know, a ‘moment’.
So what brought about this sudden fit of excitement?  
It was during a breather from an energetic bout of frisbee on a secluded beach that my attention was drawn to the loud, rasping call of a passing bird. Blinking upwards I didn’t need binoculars to see that the bird responsible was a Peregrine falcon. Although this was my first encounter with a Peregrine it was unmistakable-a mottled greyish underside and the distinctive dark facial ‘moustache’ providing the clues. It helped that it flew so close, maybe as little as 10 metres overhead. For a second I stared directly at it and in that time, as it curiously rolled an eye in my direction, I felt like it did the same.
It soon became apparent that this Peregrine was not alone; eventually three other birds appeared calling and wheeling in the sky over the rocky cliffs and beach. I was able to identify that this was a family group consisting of both parents and two (I suspect) recently-fledged young. Now I’m not saying it was a moment in the same way that watching Arsenal stick four past Spurs is, but watching these birds was a rush nonetheless.
For me, this encounter became all the more pertinent upon hearing a news story this summer which detailed the foiled attempts of one individual to smuggle 14 Peregrine eggs, stolen from nests in South Wales, into Dubai. In this instance the perpetrator was caught and the majority of the eggs were successfully incubated to produce healthy chicks. But it serves as an important reminder of the indefensible persecution that Peregrines and many other bird species still face. An RSPB report published recently (‘Birdcrime 2009’) points out that, although Peregrine numbers have recovered from around 360 pairs in the 1960s to 1400 in 2002, there are still annual reports of cruelty and exploitation through various means. These include egg collecting, trapping and wilful destruction of nest sites. One can only hope that these events don’t go unnoticed and that Wildlife Crime continues to be taken seriously and not as a soft option for budget cuts.
What a privilege it was to see these birds looking healthy and active in their perfect habitat. I think I’ll remember this moment for some time to come.

Treath Llfyn, Pembrokeshire, Wales- Peregrine country!

Peregrine (Falco peregrinus)
Note distinctive 'moustache' and powerful yellow feet with sharp claws- perfect for catching smaller birds in flight

Another arrives for its moment of fame! With their streaked brown underparts I would guess that these are the two juveniles seen from the beach earlier. They must have been aware of the assembled throng of walkers just metres from their ledge, but they remained still for several minutes, allowing us a rare opportunity to appreciate their beauty at close quarters.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Seaford Seabird City

Seaford is a quiet town on the East Sussex coast midway between Eastbourne and Brighton. Although I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years with my family who live locally, until recently it was famous in my mind for little other than its numerous charity shops that consistently reveal a decent selection of cheap, unpicked vinyl. But as a as a respite from sweltering city life I found myself back there in late-July pursuing a different interest altogether with a stint as a volunteer with the RSPB.
The annual appearance of the RSPB and their ‘Date with Nature’ project in Seaford is timed to coincide with a period of considerable bird activity on the steep cliffs just beyond Splash Point at the eastern-most end of the prom. It is typically Herring Gulls that are responsible for much of commotion in the skies around Seaford but for several months a year another member of the gull family takes centre stage. The stars of the show and surely now one of Seaford’s most famous spring/summer residents are Kittiwakes.
Aside from fielding questions and enquiries from the public about a variety of bird-related topics, the question I was asked most often could be summed up as “Kittiwakes eh? What’s so special about them then?”
And it’s a perfectly valid question. At first glance their predominantly white appearance coupled with the greyish upper wing and dark wingtips means they could feasibly be mistaken for Common Gulls or that bane of many who have walked Seaford prom with an ice cream in hand- the ubiquitous Herring Gull. But on closer inspection differences become clear. They are smaller than Herring Gulls and, aside from short, black legs, have what could be described as a ‘fuller figure’ than Common Gulls. To be honest, I think their simple, unblemished plumage makes Kittiwakes a rather handsome and distinctive member of the gull family.
But we’re not all standing round here because they’re quite pretty are we? No. Kittiwakes warrant the excitement generated by their arrival each year by the fact that they are only present around the coast of Britain for six months a year. They are pelagic seabird which means they spend most of their lives far out at sea and only come to shore to breed and nest. For most then this window between February and August represents the only chance to see them. There are other reasons to celebrate the Seaford Kittiwakes too. For example, this is the only spot on the South coast where a nesting colony of this size can be seen. There are thought to be approximately 800 nesting pairs present this year, an encouraging number given the UK population has experienced dips in recent years.  The majority of nest sites are on the north and east coasts of Britain which lends Seaford something of a coup. Splash Point is a wonderfully accessible, not to mention dramatic, site too. Waves often crash right up over the viewpoint, which stands almost directly beneath the colony. In the background the glorious peaks of the Seven Sisters can be seen rolling away to the east.
Aside from raising awareness of the RSPB’s important work, the Kittiwake colony represents an opportunity to leave holidaymakers and curious locals with a memorable experience. But perhaps most significant is the conservation message attached to the presence of the Kittiwakes here. The success of this enigmatic seabird depends primarily on the health of its ocean habitat. Since they feed almost entirely on small shoaling fish such as herring, sprat and sandeel they are just as vulnerable to the effects of overfishing these on these populations as they are the effects of pollution and global warming. Look after our seas and we look after many things, including our birds.
I thoroughly enjoyed this experience; it was a pleasure watching the adult Kittiwakes tend their precarious nests and watching the first, tentative excursions of the young as they tumbled about the sky almost Tern-like and gathered and bobbed on the surface in the sheltered lee behind the groynes. Here’s wishing them a safe trip!
BirdList: Splash Point, Seaford, East Sussex, 25/26/27 July 2010
Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Black-headed Gull, Rock Pipit, Cormorant, Shag, House Martin, Swift, Carrion Crow, Feral Pigeon, Great Black-backed Gull, Oystercatcher, Sandwich Tern.

Rock Pipit

Kittiwakes on the cliff face

Kittiwakes take flight while Cormorants look on

Summer 2010 Highlights

Following shortly will be a few accounts of my birding adventures this summer. Eyes to the skies!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


Hi, welcome to BirdPoem. Despite the potentially misleading title this is a blog that is very much about birds.
The rate at which I fell for this subject surprised me. In a year, a passing ornithological curiosity has now become something that I care passionately about. I think about it every day and am aware of it wherever I go; to the post box down the road, to the local park or further afield.  And while it’s unlikely that I’ll start dancing about Feral Pigeons, I’d rather they be there than not. I find birds fascinating.
Here, through photographs and commentary, I hope to try and share news, thoughts and observations on the subject. I don’t imagine it will be confined simply to birds since there is a lot out there to get excited about (even in suburban South London!). I’m not an expert on birds either, so maybe I’ll get things wrong from time to time. But that’s ok because it’s part of the fun and if someone points it out, it’s a good way of learning.      
Thanks for reading.
In wistfulness and envy, I gaze at them,
lamenting just how earthbound I live,
and sigh the poignant subjunctive
of our species: If only.”
(Diane Ackerman, ‘Of a Feather’, from ‘A Convergence of Birds’, Ed. J. Safran Foer)