Friday, 31 May 2013

May 31st 2013

A slow start today with plenty of low cloud and mist. Not a good look if you want to see raptors. Anyway, after a couple of hours the sun burnt away the clouds to reveal itself.

The birds also made an entrance shortly after. Aside from the expected Lesser Black-backs and Herring Gulls, a local Peregrine made a prolonged appearance on a rooftop. We also scored a couple of soaring Common Buzzards that drifted high overhead from the northwest to head east. One of the birds was in particularly worn plumage and appeared almost tailess. 

A couple of Swifts were seen distantly, three quarters of the way west between us and Wembley Stadium. Later, two birds whizzed west past the south side of the roof right next to us. They seemed so big close up as they bombed past that we momentarily thought falcon then Alpine Swift before settling on their true identity. Lastly, a overflying House Martin heading west was perhaps the first ever to have been seen directly above our heads.

Not a bad day on the office.
 A presumed female Peregrine 
 A classic Common Buzzard

The other Common Buzzard

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Spring 2013 kicks off

The sessions from atop the Tower started amid little fuss or pomp three weeks ago on April 23rd. We quietly ascended the stairs that link the last elevator stop to the roof to be greeted by sunny skies and luke warm temperatures. Our sum total was meagre. Aside from the usual Lesser Black-backs and Herring Gulls a migrant Meadow Pipit was of interest. Our first spring record.

The next session on May 1st was an improvement. A showy Sparrowhawk drifting high above Heron Tower to the north, a spectacularly diving Peregrine first seen way over Shooters Hill to the east and a Common Buzzard directly overhead heading west provided the brief excitement.

This has been a slow spring with seemingly frequent colder snaps. Thus not too many reports of raptors overflying the capital were reported. Today's session resulted in our first ever Marsh Harrier and ringtail Hen Harrier for the location. Both birds were in loose association, at least they were in the same area of sky. The Marsh Harrier - a male - was the first to be seen as it drifted perhaps 200 feet above our heads. As we traced it heading west it was then that we realised that there were actually three birds involved. One was the ringtail, clearly displaying a white rump band and seeming too bulky to be either a Montagu's or an even less likely Pallid Harrier. The identity of the third bird was never established.

Not a bad day in the office - or to be more accurate - on the office. Spring is springing.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Buzzard bonanza!!

Up to 4 of the 5 Common Buzzards that drifted high above the Tower on September 13th
The sun was shinning, the skies blue with mackerel clouds the winds were northwesterly switching to southwesterly. Despite the wrong wind directions we felt good about the possibilities for raptor passage.

We concentrated our collective observational efforts to the north and northeast. We were rewarded by several distant unidentified raptors including a Goshawk-type raptor seen all too briefly before it dipped down below the tree line at Epping Forest to be lost forever.

A pair of Peregrines dogfighting presumably over Ilford were amazing to watch as they talon clasped. Another bird was perched rather more sedentarily on the Tate Modern. Two or three seperate Sparrowhawks entertained whilst being mobbed by crows including a bird that drifted very high over from the north heading southeast.

The most fabulous sight was the five Common Buzzards that were picked up high above us as they neared Tower 42 airspace. As they majestically rode the thermals we all thought why couldn't they have been Honey Buzzards........

The next session will be on Friday 21st September. Let's hope for good conditions.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

5th September 2012

 Our 1st Kestrel in two years
 The only other big thing directly overhead!
Big Brother
The 5th September proved to be quite interesting. A gentle northwesterly prevailed as did some glorious sunshine. Indeed it was warm up on the roof.

We had a very small team so we concentrated on looking to the north and east. We were rewarded by a possible Red Kite drifting low over the Olymic Village, around 2 Common Buzzards, 2 Sparrowhawks and a Kestrel.

A few unidentified hirundines flew south past Canary Wharf and aside from that little else.

It's early days yet.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

We're back on!!

 Searching for Honey Buzzard and Black Kite
 Scanning a Common Buzzard
A Common Buzzard drifting over
What a great comeback!

Our first autumn watch for 2012 kicked off on Thursday 23rd August to a flying start with at least four Common Buzzards plus our first ever Jackdaws. We had a slight northwesterly wind but that did not stop the 16 T42BSG observers from having a great time searching for migrants.

At one point we were all straining our eyes looking east after receiving a phone call from Howard Vaughan at Rainham telling us that he had just seen a Honey Buzzard and a Black Kite materialise from out of the heavens to briefly grapple with each other. The Black Kite then apparently started to head our way, hence the excitement on our part. However, unbeknown to us the kite did a u-turn and decided to commute between Crayford Marshes and Rainham instead.

Ah well, there will be another!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Cabot Tower Bird Study Group Launch

Dawn watch Checking migrating pipits
Cabot Tower
Sam Twiddy, founder of the Cabot Tower Bird Study Group points to some pipits Sam Twiddy with David Lindo
On Sunday 2nd October, during the hot spell that the country experienced, Cabot Tower Bird Study Group was born. Situated at the pinnacle of Brandon Hill near the centre of Bristol, this 105 foot high Tower affords excellent views across the city and the nearby Avon Gorge.

Conditions were not perfect with clement weather, yet we saw good numbers of Meadow Pipit (over 100), Siskin, 'alba' Wagtail, Chaffinch plus movements of the local Ravens. Add to the mix a pair of Peregrine and a good morning was had by all.

This project promises to be very exciting and will run alongside T42BSG. For more information consult

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Nothing but blues skies

The Tower 42 birders (Darren Crain)

Last Friday saw the continuation of the extraordinary heatwave we had been experiencing for the previous few days. The sun was beating on our binoculars and in the skies was absolutely nothing bar a balloon and countless airplanes.

With not a cloud in the sky and a sometimes gusty soutwesterly the odds were stacked up against us. We will hit our purple patch. It's only a matter of time.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Friday 16th September 2011

Buzzard skies
Looking for terns
We've waited a very long time, but it had to happen at some point. For the first time in what seemed like eons we finally got some decent weather conditions conducive to migration.

After a slow start we registered:

4 Common Buzzard - including a gorgeous pale phase bird hundreds of feet overhead
c3 Peregrine - including 1 customarily perched on the Tate Modern
3 Sparrowhawk
2 Kestrel
1 House Martin - plus 10 distant hirundines that may have been Swallows
6 Cormorants
3 Great Black-backs
c10 Lesser Black-backs
c20 Herring Gull
c50 Black-headed Gull
1 unidentified tern species watched flying due south over the rooftops
1 Woodpigeon

Let's hope that our luck is beginning to change.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Autumn 2011

Great Cormorant across the face of the moon (Russell F Spencer)
It's amazing just how quickly the months speed by - every year seems to be getting shorter. The spring observation period on Tower 42 only seemed to have ended 10 minutes ago but in reality it was early June. We had a fairly poor spring, dogged by bad weather whenever we chose to attend the roof. It was largely down to bad luck as we have to chose the observation day a week in advance without any real prior knowledge of the weather conditions to come.

As a result, the last few sessions aside from plentiful Peregrine sightings produced nothing more exciting than a Great Black-back Gull. As a consequence we are going to pay even more attention to the prevailing weather conditions to make the most of the time we spend on the roof. We have potentially fallen victim to bad weather because our first session this autumn has already been cancelled due to expected rain.

If you want to take part on this survey in the coming weeks then please contact me at to be added to the emailing list. Don't worry if you are not an experienced birder as it all about being a member of a team collectively pointing out migrating birds to be collectively identified. We are all learning together. The data that we obtain will be forwarded to the British Trust for Ornithology's Bird Track.

Our next session will be next week - weather permitting. See you on the roof!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Are the birding Gods reading this?

Eurasian Hobby (Russell F Spencer)
Our next session on the Tower is this coming Thursday 5th May and the signs are good. For once we may get light southerlies and not the gusty northeasterlies that we've been experiencing of late. Maybe it will be the day when our fortunes change.

Maybe a Hobby or our first Common Buzzard of the season?

Watch this space, or better still come watch some airspace from the top of Tower 42.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Peregrine Party

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Bright and balmy weather and northeasterly breeze didn’t bring us a river of raptors, but today’s observers atop Tower 42 were treated to several observations of central London’s peregrine falcons. The first was noted perched on the tower of the Tate Modern, where it returned off and on throughout our four-hour session. We spotted a second soaring to the east high above the Tower of London. Later, we picked up another circling above The Barbican before it moved off to the northeast.

The only other birds we picked up using central London’s upper airspace were four cormorants soaring to the north (1+3), and around a dozen lesser black-backed gulls and eight or so herring gulls.

Although the sky was blue, there was a persistent haze looking out horizontally that limited our view into the distance, but even so, little was moving. Perhaps a change in the weather will bring us more action for the next session. Hope springs eternal in the birders breast!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A marathon and not a sprint

Looking west
Media & birders
Our inaugural session was something of a letdown with gorgeous sunshine and blue skies. The winds were a light northeasterly and perhaps as a consequence, not a raptor in sight. Well, not quite true. A few of the birders on the roof glimpsed an all but brief Peregrine over the Kings Cross area and two inexperienced observers saw the most interesting bird of the day. They described seeing a large brown raptor high directly overhead with fingered wings. Lord knows what that could have been.

Last week was a bit of a washout in more ways than one, so our next session will be tomorrow. With some mighty fine weather promised and a trickle of migrant birds of prey reported during the week over London, what will tomorrow bring?

Thursday, 7 April 2011

It all starts tomorrow!

Tomorrow sees the launch of the T42 Bird Study Group's spring 2011 sessions. Hopefully, the weather gods will be looking out for us as the forecast seem to indicate.

Our first session has attracted some media interest mostly from the press including the French national press association. More importantly, nearly 20 observers have put their names down to be involved.

Tune in to read about what we see - if anything!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Spring is coming!

Barn Swallow (Russell F Spencer)
Spring is approaching as is our first spring 2011 sessions in April.

If you want to be part of the observation team then contact us on the blog and get yourselves standing on Tower 42 to preside over the whole of London!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Poor show!

The nearest we got to a Wood Pigeon!
Despite yesterday's fairly good numbers of Wood Pigeons winter thrushes and finches across the Capital, this morning was absolutely rubbish!

Despite a visitation from top BBC Producer/Director and prolific writer, Stephen Moss, the birds were not behaving themselves. Let's hope that this Sunday's Migrant Bird Blitz, that will also incorporate an early morning blitz at Canary Wharf, is more successful. The forecast on Sunday is for northerly winds and the chance of showers.

What will be will be.

Tower 42 list: fairly clear with the wind swinging from several directions.

7:30 50 Black-headed Gull Thames
8:08 1 Peregrine Tate Tower
9:10 200 Black-headed Gull Thames (updated count)
9:20 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls Over Liverpool St. Station
9:40 1 Peregrine (returned to perch) Tate Tower
9:40 1 Mute Swan Thames

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Tomorrow's the day?

The cityscape looking east from Tower 42 (Geoff Nutter)
The past few Fridays have been frankly rubbish. We'd get up on the roof to be greeted by thick mist, rain and no birds. Well, I say no birds, there was evidence of movement with a couple Meadow Pipits passing over. Of course, we can't hear any migrants due to the loud extractor fans that kick in every 15 minutes.

Tomorrow promises to be the best one for weather in several weeks. If it is anything like today then we should be recording good numbers of passage Wood Pigeons, Chaffinches and winter thrushes.

Roll on tomorrow.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Our Next Autumnal Watch and How to Get Involved

Our next migration watch session will be this Friday 8th October.

The autumn target species will be any passerines, hirundines, waders, gulls, terns (along the Thames) and of course raptors - although we may be up on the roof too early in the day to get any significant numbers though. During mid-October until early November we will also be collating the numbers of passage winter thrushes and Wood Pigeons using London's airspace.

If you wish to be involved then please email Des McKenzie at as David is currently on The Azores. There is a limited number of people allowed onto the roof (for security, health and safety purposes) therefore the first people to get back to me before noon on Thursday will be invited to meet outside the Tower 42 building at 25 Old Broad Street, London EC2N 1HQ (nearest tube Liverpool Street - Bank is not too far away) at 6:30am sharp so that we can be escorted up by security en masse. There will be a secondary meeting time of 7:30am for those having transport issues. Please stipulate which meeting time you would like to make. If you are significantly late you may not be granted access. Please also let me know if you have to leave early to get to work so that a mutually agreed time can be set to suit the group and the Tower 42 security.

Here are a few helpful tips for high-rise birding:

The final ascent to the roof involves climbing two sets of steep ladders and hauling yourself onto the roof. Please take this into consideration.

All participants must arrive outside the Tower 42 at 6:30am or 7:30am on time.

You may find that a telescope will be useful for scanning the horizon.

Bring a flask of tea and some food.

Dress warmly as it can get a bit nippy or wet.

Be prepared for long periods of inactivity but keep your eyes peeled.

Wear dark glasses in order to cut the glare from the sky and to pick out birds more easily.

Try to bring a whistle to help alert other observers of distant birds over the din of the extractor fans that are on almost constantly.

Here's to an amazing autumn studying the migrants flying over our heads in London.

Tower 42 Bird Study Group
Keeping our eyes to the skies

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Things are warming up

Black-headed Gull (David Fettes)

It was a seemingly grim and foreboding morning that greeted us last Friday when we climbed through the narrow manhole to gain access to the T42 roof. But there was a feeling in the air. We knew that there was the possibility of good movement. We were not disappointed.

24 Sept 2010

low overcast, temp 55, wind NW

Herring Gull 2 6:55

Wood Pigeon 2 6:57

Meadow Pipit 1 7:03 heading south

Black-headed Gull c20 7:18 (Thames)

Mallard 1 7:18 (Thames)

Misc Gull sp. 16 7:30 Black Friars

Carrion Crow 1 7:30

Meadow Pipit 5 7:31 heading south

Meadow Pipit 2 7:35 heading south

Lesser Black-back 3 7:35

Peregrine 1 7:40 (Tate)

LB-bG juv 1 7:43

Meadow Pipit 5 7:45 heading south

Meadow Pipit c10 7:55 heading south

Black-headed Gull c40

Herring Gull 3

Lesser Black-back 1

Cormorant 5

Great Black-back 2 8:00

Great Black-back 1 8:07

Meadow Pipit 6 8:11 heading south

Meadow Pipit 3 8:20 heading south

Meadow Pipit 4 8:25 heading south

Meadow Pipit 2 8:28 heading south

Sparrowhawk 1 8:31 over Barbican

Common Swift 1 8:49 over PO Tower

Peregrine 2 8:52 Tate

Coot 1 9:00 Thames

Swallow 4 9:00 past Canary Wharf

Meadow Pipit 3 9:27 heading south

Carrion Crow 8 9:33 around helipad

Meadow Pipit 4 9:40 heading south

Meadow Pipit 3 9:44 heading south

Common Tern c15 9:58 together heading up river

Kestrel 1 10:06 right over T42, then down to south

Common Tern 3 10:08 heading up river

Common Tern 2 10:20 up and down south of London Bridge

Species Totals

5 Cormorant

1 Mallard

1 Sparrowhawk

1 Kestrel (possibly 2)

2 Peregrine (possibly 3)

c60 Black-headed Gull

4 Lesser Black-back

5 Herring Gull

3 Great Black-Back

c20 Common Tern

2 Woodpigeon

1 Swift

4 Swallow

c48 Meadow Pipit

9 Carrion Crow

Thames Count

8 Cormorants

370 Black-headed Gulls

7 Lesser Black-backs

12 Herring Gulls

5 Great Black-backs

Friday, 17 September 2010

Cold, bright and a distant Red Kite

This morning's rooftop vigil dawned clear and chilly for the five assembled watchers.

It was clear from the get-go that Meadow Pipits were on the move, literally from dawn, however the winds were less than conducive coming, as they were, from the west / north-west, something that seemed to have supressed any real movement of hirundines. A Peregrine Falcon was found perched on the Tate Modern and the usual liberal scattering of larids moved up and down the Thames, including Great Black-backed Gull.

Cormorant, Woodpigeon and three distant Grey Heron went south and although eyes were peeled for anything resembling Glossy Ibis (19 of which were seen over the Catford area of south-east London yesterday) that wasn't to be and the morning's undoubted highlight was a Red Kite seen way off to the north-west at 08:55.

By the end of the session some 50 Meadow Pipit were counted, many of which were moving below the level of the horizon, goodbyes were said and thoughts turned to the next rooftop watch - and what avian highlights that would bring.

Monday, 13 September 2010

A poor show

Great Black-back (Russell F Spencer)
It is such a hit and miss affair standing on top of a tower once a week for a few hours at a time. You never know what to expect and even when conditions are supposedly good.

Last Friday was murder. 6am on the Tower was grim with a southwesterly and absolutely no birds. In the 2 hours that we spent scanning the skies and cityscape resulted in 2 Peregrines sitting on the Tate Modern, a handful of Black-headed Gulls, a sprinkling of Lesser Black-backs and Herring Gulls, some Feral Pigeons and a Wood Pigeon. The most exciting bird was a Great Black-back.

We shall keep going. Autumn is young. The birds are coming......

The Urban Birder