Back Garden Birding – Beth Aucott

Back Garden Birding – Beth Aucott

Upon finishing my University degree and embarking on the daunting task of trying to find my first job within conservation I set myself an on-going project; to brush up on my bird identification skills. Having had a lifelong love for our natural world I was not a complete beginner but my ID skills were not the best. I’ve always simply enjoyed watching wildlife but four years of studying Zoology has given me a desire to want to know what everything is and so I began to pay more attention to our feathered friends.

After I graduated I began volunteering with my local Wildlife Trust. As well as giving me a chance to gain practical conservation skills, I thought that this would really help boost my identification skills as we visited different reserves and different habitats.

What I hadn’t considered were the birds I could find a lot closer to home.

Mini bird cake feeder containing berry cake, Robin, Erithacus rubecula, hovering and feeding

Eurasian Robin (N. Blake)

My boyfriend’s family home is in Yorkshire, on the outskirts of Huddersfield, where there are a couple of birdfeeders in their back garden. I know thousands of people have a bird feeder in their garden but my dad refuses to let me have one claiming that the birds will “poo on the washing”, so I’m just a little jealous of anyone who does have one. At my boyfriend’s house the feeders are visible from the dining room table and plenty of meal times have been extended as we’ve sat and watched the birds flit back and forth between the hedges and the feeders.

Great Tits are probably the most numerous birds we see, followed by their smaller, flightier cousin the Blue Tit. I love to watch Dunnocks scurrying across the floor, never venturing higher than the edge of a plant pot. I have a bit of a soft spot for these birds; despite their dull brown and grey plumage, I love watching their behaviour. Fat Common Wood Pigeons are plentiful in nearby trees and just after New Year I spent ten minutes watching a Carrion Crow, with some abnormal white feathers along its wing edge and tail, saunter around the garden as if it owned the place.

Dunnock (Mandy West)

Dunnock (Mandy West)

I am jealous of these bird feeders for a more specific reason; they’ve been the place where I’ve seen two species for the first time: a Eurasian Nuthatch and a Coal Tit. The Coal Tit is a fairly regular visitor to the feeder but its visits are brief and it can be lost amongst the flurry of other tits. Upon sighting the tell-tale white spot on the back of its head I let out a squeal of excitement in the kitchen, pointing somewhat erratically at the feeder, before it flew off. A few minutes later it was back and a slightly more calmly this time I got a better look at it. Since that day I’ve only seen a Coal Tit once, again on the feeders at my boyfriend’s house. The Nuthatch was a much more obliging bird, taking its time feeding so I could take in its buttery coloured breast, the smart black stripe across its eye and stumpy tail. I’ve seen Eurasian Nuthatches in various locations since but they always remind me of the first one on a feeder in a back garden in Huddersfield.

Despite the lack of bird feeders, my own back garden in Stafford is not an avian desert. Whilst sunbathing in our glorious summer last year I amused myself by watching Dunnocks in the undergrowth. As I clean the rabbit out every Friday Common Starlings adorn the rooftops, chattering and whistling to each other, their iridescent plumage gleaming in brief flashes, reflecting the sunlight. House Sparrows flutter and hide amongst the hedges. My favourite bird, the humble Common Blackbird, often takes an earthworm meal from our lawn.

Juvenile European Starling (J. Charman) copy

Common Starling (John Charman)

One morning saw me gazing out of my bedroom window at nothing in particular when I noticed a rather scruffy looking ball of feathers on the fence. I scrambled for my binoculars to make out more detail; a faint rosy blush across the breast and a long dark tail. I recognised the bird but my mind went blank when I sought the name. I flicked frantically through my bird book knowing exactly what picture I was looking for. Upon reading the name, Long-tailed Tit, I laughed at myself for it eluding me and then watched a small flock flit between gardens in search of food.

I’ve come to realise that I very nearly made a grave error in coming close to over-looking the value of a back garden when working on bird identification skills. It’s the perfect place to begin. You can stay in the warm and dry, where any noise or movement shouldn’t disturb the birds and get closer views of the birds than you can out in the field. It provides an opportunity to work out what the key features are to pay attention to with birds that you have not encountered before. Watching the commonly occurring species gives you an insight into their behaviour and secret lives. These are all skills that I’ve found really useful when trying to work out the identification of birds out in the field. Plus, nothing beats the excitement of spotting a new species right on your doorstep; you never know what could appear!

Bye bye Blackbird

The deceased Blackbird

For the past few evenings I have been noticing a male Blackbird hopping around in my concrete backyard. I would be working on my sofa that faces the garden and then I would notice the familiar black shape of this common urban thrush just outside my french windows. Nothing unusual you might think. But there was something weird about the whole scenario. I was seeing this bird hopping around very late into the evening just as dusk was really taking hold.

Any self respecting Blackbird would have been safely tucked up in a lofty, leafy roosting site and certainly not still out in the open in a confined space. What is more, there was something odd about its behaviour. It seemed a tad lacklustre and at the back of my mind I thought that it might not be well.

This morning, I returned to my sofa to see its slumped shape face down on the concrete. I actually felt upset. I went out to examine the corpse to find a bloody streak of missing feathers from the base of its neck to its crown. I could only surmise that it had just been attack by something like a Sparrowhawk and it’s blind panic, flew straight into a wall.

That’s life and that’s death.

Such a beautiful bird.

Grey geese over The Scrubs

 Although only feral Greylags they were still a special sight flying over the prison.

I will keep looking up!

Let the sun shine…….please?

Black-headed Gulls

 It was another grey day in London and my visit to The Scrubs did nothing to lift that grey mood.

 Carrion Crow
 Long-tailed Tit
Better days are coming.

January 2015 – Wormwood Scrubs Sightings

Interpretation Board (Paul Thomas)

It’s been a long time since a monthly
report was written about the birds of this internationally known and now
threatened patch of green nestled in urban west London. But the hope is that
over the next 12 months you will see a story unfolding. This story will feature
the day-to-day (or at least, visit-by-visit) avian goings-on at The Scrubs.
There will be mentions of interesting behavioural notes, estimates of flock
sizes, territories held and of course, inexplicable disappearances and

We began January 2015 as we left it in
December 2014. With fewer regular observers than what we have had in many years
and consequently, fewer species being seen. We ended last year on around 82
species, our lowest year list in over 10 years. Of course, it’s not just about
the number of species we end up seeing, but with less active observers means
that there is more chance of missing scarce regulars like the legendary passage
Ring Ouzel. It remains to be seen how 2015 will pan out.
If you choose to visit the hallowed turf
this year, please don’t forget to let us know what birds you encountered. It’s
always good to hear about other people’s birds – just don’t make them too rare!

 Overhead view of The Scrubs
 The habitats
Our trusty groundsmen have been an invaluable
source of information for the past 20 years or more. They are the guys that are
on The Scrubs everyday doing their work. But whilst they work they look up.
They are normally first on the scene when
our early Wheatears show up and are the ones to tell us about all the Buzzards
and Peregrines we have missed. Last year, we recorded around four Red Kite
sightings. But according to these guys, there were a spate of Red Kite
sightings throughout the summer indicating that they are far more regular over
The Scrubs than what we realise.
Let the journey commence.

Contributors: Rob Ayers, Andy Cameron, Charlie
Farrell, Nick Gibson, David Jeffreys, David Lindo, Des McKenzie, Roy Nuttall, Bob
Still, Paul Thomas et al.

A singleton headed over on the 17th.
Our only report was of five grazing on the
grass within Lynford Christie Stadium on the 1st.
A single bird headed through on the 2nd
and became our earliest E-goose to be seen during a calendar year. We normally
expect to see these exotics flying over during the late summer.
A singleton was occasionally seen hunting
over the grassland during the month often accompanied by attendant angry crows.
One was watched repeatedly stooping at the
assembled crows on the pitches by the groundsmen in early January.
A single female was observed on the 20th.
We experienced good numbers of this common
gull during the month. At their peak there were at least 200 birds mostly on
the sports pitches.
 A Black-headed & Common Gull duo
Our first record for two years appeared on
the 18th. It was a winter adult found in the afternoon with some
Black-headed Gull. It did the classic Med Gull thing of being slightly aloof. When
the flock it was associating with was flushed by dog walkers it flew south of
the prison whilst the other gulls simply circled around and landed a few metres
from where they were originally flushed.
It was reported again on the 26th
feeding on the sports pitches.
The peak count for this regular winter
visitor was c22 on the 2nd.
Low numbers were noticed during the month.
No doubt there were more birds floating overhead that were plainly missed. The
best count was around 20 on the 27th.
We rarely record large numbers of this
rather attractive larid. No count exceeded six birds.

 A rack of gulls
No amazing counts were made during the
month with around 40 birds being the norm.
At least 1,000 were seen most mornings
after leaving their roost in Scrubs Lane Wood. Nearly 3,000 were watched coming
into roost on the 18th.
A bird was calling regularly from the
western end of the site throughout the month.
Spotted Woodpecker
A pair was at large in the western end of
The Scrubs throughout January.
Our wintering population varied from
day-to-day peaking at around 16 roving birds on the 2nd.
Occasional birds were seen and heard flying
over during the month.
A couple singers were heard on the 17th.
Spring came early when a couple of
threesomes were seen displaying to each other on the 18th. The best
count was around eight on the 27th. 
 A Robin holding territory
The peak count of 14 was had on the 17th.

A male has been wintering on the grassland
for a least the past month. It was not always easy to catch sight of however,
despite being not particularly shy.
Our wintering male Stonechat
Up to four birds were seen during the month
with at least two singers in full voice.
Braybrook Street was the main epicenter of
our Redwing sightings this month. At least six were located on the 17th.
This, the largest thrush in the UK, is a
real scarcity at The Scrubs. We normally expect to see the occasional family
party during the late summer. Two were seen on the 2nd.
It has to be a harsh winter before we start
to see this regal thrush in any numbers. On the 17th at least six
were with Redwings and an additional individual was seen later.
At least 10 were seen per visit throughout
the month. The maximum number was 15 on the 17th.
Small numbers were seen during the month.
The peak count was 10 on the 18th.
A good count of 13 was made on the 17th
and 16 the following day.
Small numbers were seen during the month,
never more that four birds.
At least 10 were seen throughout January.
One was noticed on the 20th.
Around 100 birds was the average figure
found throughout the month.
No huge numbers this month with the peak
count being around 25 birds found mostly on Braybrook Street.
Away from their Braybrook Street stronghold
sparrows are still very much a rarity on our patch. At least 10 birds were
found around the community centre and Braybrook Wood on the 16th and
the 18th.
At least two pairs have set up territories
in Central Copse and around the cottage in the western end. Four birds were in
Central Copse on the 27th.
A small number were present during the
month with eight being the most on the 17th.
Small numbers were seen during the month
mostly situated along Lester’s Embankment.
A female wintered during the month. A male
was found on the 17th.
2015 Year List
1. Cormorant
2. Canada
3. Egyptian
4. Kestrel
5. Peregrine
6. Sparrowhawk
7. Black-headed
8. Mediterranean
9. Common
10. Herring
11. Lesser
12. Wood
13. Rose-ringed
14. Green
15. Great
Spotted Woodpecker
16. Meadow
17. Pied
18. Wren
19. Dunnock
20. Robin
21. Stonechat
22. Song
23. Redwing
24. Mistle
25. Fieldfare
26. Blackbird
27. Great
28. Blue
29. Long-tailed
30. Magpie
31. Jay
32. Carrion
33. Starling
34. House
35. Chaffinch
36. Goldfinch
37. Greenfinch
38. Reed
38 species thus far

(31 species in January 2014 & 50 in
January 2013)

Football at The Scrubs

Things have been pretty quiet at The Scrubs of late. The grassland is almost devoid of life. I flushed a solitary Meadow Pipit the other day – and nothing else.
Last Sunday I journeyed down to my patch a little later than my normal early start and thus was confronted by a horde of shouty amateur footballers. Despite the human activity, added to by a load of dog walkers, around 300 gulls managed to find space to loaf. They were mostly standing or squatting in a northerly direction face on into a decidely nippy brisk north wind. I immediately set about sifting through the masses on the lookout for the unusual amongst the usual. That tactic worked a couple of Sundays ago when I managed to pick out a lone and aloof Mediterranean Gull.
No such luck today.  
 A Black-headed Gull hanging out with a Common Gull
 Another pair of the above-mentioned
 2nd-winter Herring Gull
 A near 3rd-winter Herring Gull
Part of the bigger picture

It was quite interesting to count and just watch the assembled throng of gulls as the wafted up into the air when disturbed by a passing dog only to swoop down to land a short distance away.

On leaving, I looked up and saw an adult Great Black-back heading over. Our first for the year. All of a sudden that target of 100 species for the year began to feel real. But only for five minutes.

You’ve got to have hope. Right?

More from Poole

Here’s a few more images from Poole, Dorset.
 Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-headed & Mediterranean Gulls et al
Paul Morton (Sound Approach) & TUB

A Rich Poole

Spent a fantastic day last Friday in and around Poole Harbour, Dorset in the company of Paul Morton of the Sound Approach 
The idea was for me to attend a boat trip into the harbour with a bunch of local school kids before being shown the delights of urban Poole for a forthcoming Bird Watching Magazine article. The harbour in the morning was totally mesmerising. It was freezing but the light was amazing and the waters like a mill pond.
 The harbour in the am
 A passing Shag
 An Adult Shag
 A younger bird

On dry land there were a host of interesting species many of which were quite approachable. The urban Spoonbill was particularly surprising.

 Mute Swan
 Spotted Redshank
 Spotted Redshank taking a swim
 A ridiculously close Spoonbill
 Little Egret
Grazing Brent Geese

The Urban Birding Challenge

 TUB & Doug Gochfeld – one of the founders of UBC

There’s a great new challenge being put to the world’s cities. It’s one that got me really excited the moment it came to my attention. The brainchild of my American urban birding buddy Doug Gochfeld and some of his friends, The Urban Birding Challenge is all about getting cities around the world to compete against each other in a Big Year to see as many species as possible.

At least a dozen cities have already signed up for it including New York (Doug’s stomping ground), Lima, Toronto and Miami. There are loads more cities on the verge of involvement including the likes of Jerusalem, Singapore, Paris and Beijing. All records of birds will be fed into eBird, the online checklist program who will monitor the grand totals. If cities don’t input their lists on eBird then they won’t be counted. It’s as simple as that. Of course, there needs to be a level playing field. London for example, will not be able to live with Beijing or Nairobi in a straight head-to-head. So, there will be a handicap system put in place that will take into consideration the particular city’s official bird list total.

What I love about The Urban Birding Challenge is the fact that it is so easy to get involved. You just go birding and record your list on eBird. Of course, once things start heating up I’m sure that people will be going out as often as possible urban birding to get their city up in the stakes.

I am registered as a supporter and taking the lead with London but if you would like to involve your city simply register your interest at

It’s really easy to get involved, you don’t need to be an expert and it will be great fun. Plus, The Urban Birding Challenge will be a great way to promote urban birding!

A bit more from Extremadura

A few more of the birds I’ve seen during my short break in Extremadura.
 Female Stonechat
 Male Sardinian Warbler
 Black Vulture
 Meadow Pipit
Male Spanish Sparrow

Happy New Year from Extremadura, Spain!

I’m hanging out in Extremadura for the first couple of days of the New Year for a bit of rest, relaxation, birding, writing and plotting.
I’d like to wish everyone a peaceful and prosperous 2015 filled with love and lots of urban birds!
 Crested Lark in the forecourt of a petrol station near Merida
 A bunch of Griffons with a solitary Black Vulture
 Female Blackcap
 Male Blackcap
 Zitting Cisticola
Male House Sparrow

Last day at The Scrubs – for this year!

The Scrubs: looking south at The Scrubs

I have to say that 2014 has been a pretty abysmal ornithological year down at The Scrubs. Well, a bit of a lie because we’ve recorded a couple of great birds with Wryneck and Hawfinch heading the list, plus I glimpsed a possible Waxwing dashing south over the prison this morning. Lists have been a bit of a major problem this year. I’ve already mentioned it but I’ll mention it again – we have very few observers out in our urban field trying to find stuff.

Yesterday, I managed to score our very first Snipe for the year. This bird materialised seconds after I was publicly lamenting the absence of this characterful wader. Another case of The Force in action. If only I was asking for a flock of Sociable Plovers!

This morning I pulled some Lapwing out of the bag to make it 83 for the year – our smallest annual total in 11 years. I also noted some interesting behavior between a male Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few Rose-ringed Parakeets that were unfortunate enough to be sharing the same tree as him. I watched as the woodpecker made repeated physical attacks against parakeets that came too close, chasing them clean out of the tree. He would return again to the branch from whence he came, tap it a few times before launching yet another attack against another hapless parakeet. Despite possessing a formidable looking beak, the parakeets turned tail and seriously scarpered.

Our 1st Lawings of the year

I titled this blog ‘the last’ because as from Sunday I will be seeing out 2014 from the hopefully sunnier and warmer climes of Southern Spain.

Watch this space!

Birding the Tagus and the Alentejo

Portugal is one of my favourite birding destinations and for European urban birding, Lisbon takes some beating. Over the four days of my Lisbon Tourism sponsored trip I spent the time birding the delights of the expansive Tagus Estuary and the wonderful Alentejo Region which spans the landscape between Lisbon to the north and the Algarve to the south.
 Views around the Tagus

 My guide was my old friend Joao Jara and I was also in the company of nature writer and dragoneer (dragonfly enthusiast) David Chandler. As well as exploring the Tagus we also spend a brief day taking a look at the varied habitats in the Alentejo from the gently cork oak wooded hills to the expensive steppes of Castro Verde.

 Black-winged Kite
 Little Owl

Despite the lack of sunshine and occasional spot of rain we saw a load of good birds including a very obliging female Merlin in the Tagus.

 A male Hen Harrier against the backdrop of suburban Lisbon

By far my favourite area for birding was the Tagus. Despite its close proximity to the city it was absolutely stuffed with birds and is a very important wintering/refueling area. In excess of 5,000 flamingos and 7,000 Teal share this food rich habitat with many thousands of waders and other waterbirds.

This is truly a fantastic urban birding venue.

Lisbon & the Alentejo Region 11-14 December 2014

Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Great Egret
Grey Heron
White Stork – Seems that quite a few overwintered. Some already standing on their nests.
Glossy Ibis – c2,000 on the Tagus.
Greater Flamingo – c1,500 on the Tagus.
Teal – At least 7,000 in theTagus.
Garganey – 4 separate birds found (2 males
& 2 females) amongst 5,000 Teal in the Tagus.
Osprey – a couple seen carrying fish in the
Iberian Imperial Eagle – c5 seen in Castro
Booted Eagle – 1 briefly in the Alentejo.
Bonelli’s Eagle – 1 1st calendar
year bird watched in the open sitting in a tree in the Tagus.
Red Kite
Marsh Harrier
Hen Harrier 
Black-winged Kite
Merlin – A couple seen.
Red-legged Partridge
Purple Swamphen – A couple seen in the Tagus.
Common Crane
Great Bustard
Little Bustard
Black-winged Stilt
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Golden Plover
Little Stint
Green Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Spotted Redshank
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-headed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Great Black-back
Lesser Black-back
Black-bellied Sandgrouse – c50 all told.
Feral Pigeon
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Short-eared Owl – 9 together in the Tagus.
Little Owl
Great Spotted Woodpecker (heard)
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark – a coupled noted near Mertola, Alentejo.
Calandra Lark
Crag Martin
Meadow Pipit
White Wagtail
Black Redstart
Song Thrush
Sardinian Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Cetti’s Warbler (heard)
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
Iberian Grey Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie
Jackdaw – only 1 noticed in the Alentajo.
Carrion Crow
Common Starling
Spotless Starling
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Reed Bunting
Corn Bunting
110 species

The Tagus Estuary, Lisbon in pictures

Just spend a stupendous four days in the Lisbon area including one day in the Alentejo Region – my favourite part of Portugal. The weather wasn’t amazing. Mostly cloudy skies with some rain. Indeed, on our first day it was foggy most of the day.
The most mind-blowing moment was when I witnessed the vast clouds of Glossy Ibis and Greater Flamingo swilling around near Evoa in the Tagus Estuary.
I’ll give you more of a breakdown of my trip tomorrow.

 Female Common Stonechat
 Great Bustard
 Eurasian Spoonbill
three of the nine Short-eared Owls in the vicinity

Serbia 2014 winter owl trip

As you can probably gather, my proposed daily update from the Serbian owl frontier never happened. This was partially down to poor internet but mostly due to being totally knackered by the time we all arrived back at the the hotel in Ecka (pronounced Echka) our base in Northern Serbia near the Hungarian border.

In short, we saw a ton of owls. In four days my group and I easily saw in excess of 1,000 Long-eared Owls. Many of my group had not seen an owl of any description before so I loved seeing their glowing faces!

We wandered around a few small towns urban birding as well as visiting fish farms and open countryside under mostly grey skies with spots of rain on occasion. Despite that and the cold we had an amazing time birding.

 1st winter Caspian Gull

Aside from the owls we also saw a few Caspian Gulls including this confiding bird (above) who posed beautifully displaying its salient identification features including its pink lankey legs, drooped tail-end of its body, largely white head with slooping forehead, pigeon-chest and long, thin-looking black bill.

Collared Doves

I’m already excited about coming back next winter with more people to show them the amazing phenomenon that is the huge numbers of Long-eared Owls that chose to winter in the towns of Northern Serbia.

Trip List
Kikinda and environs, Serbia Nov 30 – Dec 4 2014

Great Cormorant
Pygmy Cormorant
Great Egret
Grey Heron
White Stork
Eurasian Spoonbill
Mute Swan
White-fronted Goose
Northern Shoveler
Common Teal
Ferruginous Duck
Marsh Harrier
Hen Harrier
Common Buzzard
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Common Kestrel
Common Coot
Common Crane
Eurasian Curlew
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Caspian Gull
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Long-eared Owl
Little Owl
Common Kingfisher
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Syrian Woodpecker
Meadow Pipit
Black Redstart
Blackbird (heard)
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Marsh Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Penduline Tit (heard)
Common Treecreeper
Hooded Crow
Raven (heard)
Common Starling
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Reed Bunting

I really love owls! Day 1 Serbia Long-eared Owl Trip

Day one of my TUB Tours trip to Serbia went very well. Over 750 Long-eared Owls plus a possible Short-eared Owl had my group in raptures.
Other birds seen today and yesterday afternoon included a drake Goosander seen in flight over the Danube in Belgrade (a very scarce bird), Pygmy Cormorant, Sparrowhawk and a Marsh Harrier. There were an unusual large number of Long-eared Owls this winter due to an exceptional breeeding season. The town square in Kikinda, the world’s Long-eared Owl capital, was alive with owls. We counted just under 500 birds!

A gaggle of owls in Kikinda

Pygmy Cormorant
Great Spotted Woodpecker

Azores: Rare & Scarce Bird Report 2013

For those of you that know me well it will ring true that I am not much of a twitcher these days. I would rather scout my local patch than eke out a skulking rarity lurking on a remote headland on Fair Isle. I would rather wander the expanses of my patch than to even twitch a local rarity.

Rare birds in the country has the opposite effect on me. Instead of rushing to try and see them, rather, it inspires me to find my own rarity somewhere no one is searching or would have thought to have looked. Rarity hunting within the UK is one thing but for some there is a far more important pinnacle to reach in the search for rarities. It is perhaps the ultimate high for those ultra-serious rarity hunters. The Azores is the capital of rares for the international Western Palearctic twitcher. Every autumn sees a delegation of Western Europe’s finest decend upon these nine scattered volcanic islands at the extremety of the Western Palearctic, far from anywhere in the middle of the North Atlantic.

Their quarry? The multitude of American stragglers that turn up without fail. Hence the attraction to the European twitchers who would otherwise struggle to get birds like Upland Sandpiper on their lists. The above-mentioned bird report does what it says on the tin. It’s a compilation of rare North American migrants with a few Old World species thrown in for good measure. Even visitations from Canada Geese are included, after all they could well be genuine migrants.

Most of the twitchers visiting the islands make a beeline for Corvo, the smallest and northernmost island of the group. It also has very few accommodation options, so things can get a little cozy at times. I visited the islands some four years ago and absolutely hated the vibe on Corvo. However, a short boat ride away is the island of Flores; a much larger island and much less frequented by birders. Much more my cup of tea. There is a move now to try to attract more international twitchers and birders to cover this island. I think that this is a great idea that sits well with my sensibilities. When I visited Flores I ended up being there for a week and it wasn’t long before I was swept up with the rarity hunting. But the great thing was that as a result of there being so few sets of eyes looking for stuff meant that you automatically stood more chance of finding your own birds. Between myself and my three companions we clocked up some marvelous sights like five White-rumped Sandpipers flying around until one was suddenly picked off by a hungry (and gorgeous looking) tundra race Peregrine, replete with buffy tones.

However, I digress. The Azores: Rare & Scarce Bird Report 2013 will serve to whet the appetite of any would be intrepid rarity hunter who can afford the airfare to these beautiful island. If I were you though, don’t spend all your time on Corvo. Get off to the other islands and become a FINDER.

For a copy of the report please contact Peter Alfrey:


It’s not often that I actually go away for an unashamed holiday, a bit of r&r. But that is what I have done for the past five days – spend time chilling and even enjoying cultural highlights!
 Skywatching from the hotel roof

I spent a couple of mornings avidly scanning the skies before breakfast. I was rewarded by passages of low flying finches (mostly Chaffinch), unidentified larks, a few Meadow Pipits, Wood Pigeons with Stock Doves amongst them, a Red Kite, Kestrel, a couple Griffon Vultures, Cormorants and a flock of distant geese. Strolling around the streets also resulted in a fine Peregrine soaring between the office blocks.

 Flamenco star, Sara Baras

I also saw my first ever flamenco theatre production by a dancing genius called Sara Baras. The show was called La Pepa and it was amazing. How she (and the rest of the cast) were able to tap their feet so much for so long was beyond me!

 Real Madrid taking the stage at the Bernabeu Stadium

I also watched Real Madrid (Gareth Bale, Ronaldo et al) put five past neighbours, Rayo Vallecano. The end result was 5-1. Superb atmosphere!

Of course, there was plenty of urban birding to be had in the city’s parks.

 Bathing Great Tit
 Iberian Green Woodpecker
 Monk Parakeet
 Great Spotted Woodpecker

Meanwhile outside of town in Pastrana, over an hour’s drive west of the capital I stayed in a country house enjoying the rural idyll plus clocking Firecrest, Hawfinch, Serin, Cranes, Griffon Vultures, Cetti’s Warblers, Blackcaps, Rock Sparrow, Rock Bunting plus….

 Black Redstart

A great break was had. Now back to the grindstone…


Had a busy couple weeks recently behind the mic chatting about the virtues of urban birding. It started with a very enjoyable talk at the North Bucks Local RSPB group. It was my second time in front of this group as I also spoke there two years ago. Both occasions were thankfully enjoyed by all.
The next day saw me journeying to Portugal to speak at the ObservaturaNatural in Setubal, a 50 minute drive south from Lisbon. Again, this was my second appearance in as many years. My talk on urban birding in Europe’s cities was a hit.

 Images by Vanesa Palacios
Finally, I was honoured to be invited to speak at the RSPB’s AGM in Birmingham. It was held in the city’s prestigious ICC. The venue itself was a class act. It was fabulous to speak in front of around 500 members. 
Laurence Rose


This morning was an amazingly sunny affair, despite the weathermen’s warning that summer had come to a close with winter not too far from us. Okay, it was a bit bit chilly at first but by lunchtime I could almost taken my jacket off as the sun’s strong rays hit me.
One of the first birds I noticed when I arrived at The Scrubs this morning were two Hawfinches that flew overhead ‘ticking’ as the went. I caught them in my bins as they headed northeast over the grassland. Their chunky, pot-bellied forms caught my eye as did the distinctive white wingbar that showed from under their wings. They were my first for my patch, first for London and perhaps my third or forth ever in the UK. I was well happy!
 Female Reed Bunting 

I’ve started teaching a course on Urban Birding at the City Lit College in Covent Garden. My class consists of five women and a guy and today I took them to The Scrubs to teach them about sussing common birds.

Of course, they arrived after my Hawfinches but were present to see at least four Stonechats, at least 12 Jackdaws and best of all 1 Red Kite and at least five Common Buzzards migrating over. They were absolutely delighted!

I love patch birding. I love my patch!


A fat Wood Pigeon with a far slimmer Starling