Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Divining 2009

What have I done? In a moment of extreme foolishness I have signed up for the Londonbirders 2009 patchlist competition. Not only do I not really have the time to do this, but I must have the rubbishest most challenging patch in London.

I have inherited (due to location of flat) Acton and Southfields parks. A quick search of the omnipotent BirdGuides database suggests that there was once a fly-over Black-winged Stilt (which you must admit sounds flaky).

So here's the Google map. The green bits to the top and bottom are the parks in question. I'm competing with oases such as RSPB Rainham Marshes (home to Serins and Penduline Tits much to my disgust), Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (subject of many a previous blogpost) and other goodies - Hampstead Heath and Crossness LNR. I must be mad. The rarest thing I ever found on my patch was a Firecrest (proving conclusively that jogging is a good thing).

There are two teeny ponds on my patch - but no proper body of water. Southfields is host to a marvellous population of Stag Beetles - but they don't count sadly. So, my predictions for 2009 are as follows:

Ring-necked Parakeet, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Magpie, Jay, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Carrion Crow, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tit, Sparrowhawk, Pied and Grey Wagtail, Mallard, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Swallow, House Martin, Swift.

That's 33 species (I think). Looking at the results for the 2008 competition I won't be troubling anything other than the wooden spoon. What I'm hoping is that I'll bird my patch more assiduously, generally carry my bins and notebook more than I do now, and trip over some unexpected wildlife (and I'm not fussy if it isn't all birds).

So I enter 2009 with a spirit of hope and curiosity as to what the year might bring. That's a good thing I think, and generally what birding should be all about. I hope to bring you news of unexpected finds (hopefully not all tramp-related) and the pros and cons of birding an awfully urban, unpromising patch. Happy Hogmanay!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

We're winding down for Christmas now. The office officially shuts noon Christmas eve, and reopens on 5th January. I'll be round and about looking after the website most of the time, but am planning some goose-filming in Galloway.

The sightings team will be on duty each and every day, yes including Christmas and Hogmanay. They are a wonderful bunch, and as ever I'm indebted to the good'uns who volunteer to work the holidays.

So, it only remains for me to thank you all for your support in 2008. To the photographers who send their marvellous pictures, the birders who send their sightings, all of the people who email us with their comments and suggestions, and the readers of the webzine and this blog. We have many plans for 2009, and I hope you all stick around to see them. I leave you with the BirdGuides Christmas film (I plan on doing one a year, a bit like the Queen).

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Do one thing!

Not since the April Fool flying penguins have I been so entertained by Auntie Beeb. We bring you:

Visit the website and do one thing.

Irish Whales

John Cromie (one of our illustrious directors) drew my attention to the very interesting Irish Whale and Dolphin Group website. They're doing some fascinating work, and I managed to enjoyably waste rather a lot of time poking around their site. I was particularly taken with their singing Humpbacked Whales on this YouTube clip: the first time singing Humpbacks have been recorded in European waters. Awesome in the true sense of the word.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Fancy a Shag?

Ok - I apologise for the risqué title. But I just HAVE to draw you attention to birdorable. Your Christmas shopping woes are officially over. Twitterworld has been buzzing for a couple of days about birdorable's fetching thongs, and how they could (at a pinch) be misinterpreted. Having a life-list of over 2000 emblazoned on your nether regions may or may not be a good thing. And as the evidence below shows: it could be much worse. (If you're easily offended look away now)
Now I don't have a dirty mind at all. But it rather occurred to me that there might be a little mileage in the use of the good old Shag gag. No sooner had I tweeted it than my dreams came true. Birders all over the world we bring you...
There are some 300-odd products in the Shag range. Including the priceless maternity range. I implore you all - go and have a look round birdorable's online store. There's something for everyone (not only puerile people like me). Do enjoy!

We have a winner!

In fact we have two winners. I won the office sweep-stake of, "What date will order number 100,000 fall on". This was by pure good luck rather than good guidance, and I have nobly donated my winnings to the mince-pie fund.

The real winner was Mr J. Evans of Newport, who, upon ordering a £6 Finding Birds in book, got rather more than he bargained for in the form of a complimentary BWPi and BBi. Hurrah! Mr Evans has been shopping with us for years and years, and we're delighted to reward such a loyal customer.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Worthwhile Whisky

I was going to put an article on the main site - but decided it was a bit too much like free advertising. The Famous Grouse is a familiar name in the UK, and well known for it's cheeky animated adverts. Well now we have the launch of a new cousin - The Black Grouse.

This is worth blogging about as 1) the advert is rather good and 2) 50p for each bottle sold is going to the RSPB. So - basically if you're going to buy a bottle of something to firstfoot* with and don't want to waste good single malt on it - this is the stuff to buy. The premiere of the advert is tonight at 9pm during Ramsay on Channel 4. BUT - I have a teeny version here... what a scoop!


The RSPB are putting the money from sales of the Black Grouse directly towards Black Grouse conservation. More info at

*I appreciate that the English may not be familiar with first footing. It involves Hogmanay, whisky, shortbread and a lump of coal. Further explanation available on request.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

How Not to Writeup a PhD

Max Whitby here posting from chilly Northumberland. I'm holed up in my cottage on Holy Island (where we occasionally hold BirdGuides planning meetings) writing up the PhD I am researching at Imperial College in London. Just three months away from the finishing line... but to get there I need to complete my thesis (and pass the viva examination).

Plenty of peace and quiet away from our busy office. The only trouble is the birds. Owls and raptors to be specific. Each day I share my lunch with the regular visitor above. Not quite Richard Bedford standards, but not bad given that I filmed the bird through my kitchen window.

Currently the Island is well populated with owls. I've had Barn Owl in my garden and you can see them early in the morning and in the late afternoon hunting along the walls of the grassy fields nearby. And Short-eared Owls are everywhere. There must be at least half a dozen flying throughout these short cold days. Yesterday this one dropped down almost at my feet before flying off straight past the camera lens.
Rumour has it there is also a Long-eared Owl roosting in some conifers nearby. Maybe I'll have a go for it once I write another 2,000 words. Ah well back to work...

Monday, 1 December 2008

Steppe Grey Shrike news

Last week the wonderful Olivia Hurton (landowner) emailed me to say that her Steppe Grey Shrike was nowhere to be found, but she had found a suspicious pile of appropriately coloured feathers where it used to hang out. Her husband was despatched to collect the feathers, and they were very kindly posted off to Mark Grantham at the BTO.

Mark has just emailed me to say that they aren't shrike feathers. At the moment he's not sure what they are but they are far too big to be shrike. Hmph. Worth a look maybe?