I can't wait to go away on holiday and discover some culture, explore unknown areas and see new things. How often do you hear people say that? I've said it myself before now. Yet when the weekend comes, do I explore the area around my house? Do I seek out culture and new things? Nope.
That's part of the philosophy behind ThamesWatch, a joint initiative between the RSPB and The River Thames Guide. A free bird identification sheet is available online and if you submit your results, a winner will be drawn from the entrants and could land themselves a cruise on the Thames. It runs from 27 April to 4 May.
ThamesWatch takes in the whole 215 mile length of the river and its tributaries. It's not a scientific study, it's mostly for fun but it's also a way for people to find out more about wildlife and the area they live in. Give it a go.
Don't forget to take a camera. You never know what you may see. If you're exploring the Thames somewhere around London and you're going by public transport, take a look at the Mind the Bird website before you go. We're running a photo competition in partnership with London Underground. The idea is to show off the birdlife found within a five minute walk of a tube station.
Transport for London are a major land owner in the Capital. Their tracks are green corridors linking the countryside to the heart of the City and a wealth of birds and other wildlife rely on this land for food, shelter and safe passage. We've had reports of pheasants living near Brixton tube station, woodcock near Westminster station and sparrows living in tube tunnels.
There's an adult and a children's category. Show us what's living in London. All entries can be viewed on the official Mind the Bird Flickr site. It's free to enter.
Both of these activities, ThamesWatch and Mind the Bird, are about discovery and giving yourself permission to take time to enjoy the world around you. They're free, easy to do and can be done individually or with family and friends. Make like a bird, be part of the world, stretch your wings and take flight.
Peregrine fans, have I got news for you. But first, this Wednesday the results of January's Big Garden Birdwatch are publicly released, you can see the London results here.
For data dweebs this is an exciting time, the results give a snapshot of the state of our garden birds. It's not the immediate figures that are most interesting. Every year has its own story that changes with the weather. The real interest lies in the long term results. The survey, now the world's biggest, has been running for thirty years.
It was the first study that really triggered national alarm bells over the decline of both the house sparrow and the starling. These are our two most common garden species. They probably still are nationally. Look at the more local statistics and you get a different story. In 2008, house sparrows were more or less absent from Central London, surviving in a few isolated colonies.
The RSPB, along with local authorities and other conservation groups are working hard to reverse this decline. The mystery of the vanishing cockney sparra, hasn't yet been resolved, but we're getting closer to the cause. Gardening for wildlife is not the holy grail of sparrow restoration, but it will certainly help. That's why were on a crusade to convince gardeners of the need to plant hedges, shrubs and flowering plants. Sparrows need a seed and berry diet most of the year, but in the breeding season, they need insects to survive. London isn't bug free, but we've done a good job of reducing the number of creepy crawlies in our gardens.
Finally, here's the gossip you bird of prey fans clicked in to read:
I've been hearing good gossip on the sex lives of a pair of our London peregrines. They normally pair for life and the male does most of the hunting to feed their offspring. A couple of years ago, Misty, the female of the pair we showcase at the Tate Modern ditched her old mate (Houdini) and took up with a younger male (Bert). Now it appears he's got a young mistress! He's shuttling between Misty and the new one. Poor boy will be exhausted by the end of this breeding season. We'll have to wait and see what happens in this new soap opera. Let's call it Peregrinations; the wandering of a young bird about town.
Globally, it's a busy day for conservationists. There are meetings in Brussels and Istanbul and a report on the world's forests is due to be published in Rome. For someone famous for rasping out the phrase "I don't like Mondays" Bob Geldof could be putting himself in the firing line today (Monday 16 March). He'll argue that biofuel production could eradicate poverty across Africa when he addresses the World Biofuels Markets Congress in Brussels. As the song has it, "I'm going to shoot the whole day down". Biofuels may be a great cash crop, but it will take up land and water resources and more importantly, result in the devastation of land that supports fragile ecosystems and already threatened species. Sir Bob's heart is in the right place but this policy is not thought through. Tell me why, Sir Bob?
Water is a growing world concern. Global fresh water supplies are fast becoming an issue.The fifth world water forum, run by the World Water Council, gets underway in Istanbul. They meet every three years and this year, the stated aim is to move towards global collabortaion to address water problems. It's made up of water businesses so has been criticised in some quarters.
Finally, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation is today publishing a report on the state of the world's forests. Incidentally, did you know that it's World Forest's Week? If you've forgotten what a forest is, or if you've never visited one, nip out east from London to Epping Forest. It's a wonderland of plants, wildlife and trails where you can climb stumps and fallen trees, wiggle your toes in sparkling streams and luxuriate in fresh grass while this week's warm and sunny spell thaws our winter stressed bones.
The three events mentioned above seem far removed from our daily grind. But in reality, it's our daily grind that has created the need for the meetings and the report. We are dessicating our planet. We could celebrate St Patrick's Day in style Tuesday and forget about it all... alternatively, we could act today and start to reduce the impact of our individual daily grinds.
Ideas for this include eating less meat, turning any electrical kit off when it's not needed, fit low-energy lightbulbs, recycle more and don't leave taps running unnecesarily. Planting hedges and cutting grass less often also have a positive impact on wildlife and water retention. These are all often low-cost, simple actions.
Listen to the cacophony from the birds outside your windows this week. They're all full of life, hope and vigour as they get into their breeding season. They're all chirping and showing off to attract mates and mark territories. They are planning for their species' future. I like their song.
As luck would have it, I had to attend a training course at our Rainham Marsh nature reserve the other day. Now, you can't visit a place like that without taking a stroll.
Along with a couple of colleagues, we walked along a boardwalk, parallel with the Thames, and within five minutes had seen a pair of water voles, noisily crunching on some reeds. The size of a toddler's football but fluffier than a fluffy thing in the middle of the fluffy season, they were sooooo cute. We went on to see eight or nine of them. I was even luckier and saw a kingfisher skim across the water in front of the newly built Marshland Discovery Zone. It was a soul-lifting walk.
In fact, my soul has had so many uplifting experiences this week that it's in danger of drifting off into space beyond our atmosphere. Another moment crept up on me after Sunday dinner as I sat chatting with family, while looking out the window. Apart from the usual great tits, blackbirds and pigeons, one of the two local jays spent a good ten minutes admiring the nodding daffodils and purple heather that have added more than a hint of spring to my garden.
There are enormous fat bees floating around and so many new shoots and buds on the trees and shrubs. The fact that I don't need bike lights to cycle in to work and that I hesitate to switch them on for the return journey, means the depressingly dark winter is almost over. So, that means baby birds will soon be with us. In Africa, swifts are fattening themselves up ready to migrate here from their wintering grounds. What will they find? Will there be enough food or nesting sites for all these new arrivals?
I can't answer that, but I can predict that lots of people will soon be finding young helpless birds that have either fallen from their nests or have not yet perfected the art of flying. The advice is simple; leave them alone. The parents aren't usually far away. If your heart won't allow you to walk away, put the baby back in its nest or at least somewhere sheltered, off the ground but nearby. Baby birds are supposed to explore beyond the nest and are quite resilient. If you have any queries of this nature, contact our national wildlife enquiries people. Real people on the end of the phone (01767 693 690) with real solutions and answers.
They are the soundtrack of our days, especially mornings, yet I wonder how many people just don't acknowledge the presence of birds?
It's coming to a time when we'll all need to ask, how important are birds? Research published this week shows that many birds are going to vanish as a result of climate change. This finding supports earlier research by the RSPB (Our Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds), which predicted some birds will simply run out land to support them as our climate changes.
A few birds may vanish from London. But they're the lucky ones that will have land north of here to provide the comfortable surroundings they need to survive. Birds in Scotland will find there's nothing between John O'Groats and the North Pole, and it's these birds that could die out.
The birds are being forced to move by climate change. They are early victims of the global effect of CO2 emissions into our atmosphere. At what point do we dial the removal company to head north I wonder?
So how much do we care if some birds vanish? Personally, I care a lot. Tackling climate change requires well thought through, long-term solutions. Solutions like this are not instant and are rarely cheap. King Canute demonstrated that mere humans cannot turn the tide. Halting the juggernaut of climate change may or may not be possible, but we believe we can, indeed MUST do something to lessen its impact.
Please don't take our birds for granted. They struggle to survive on a daily basis and have developed all sorts of tricks and techniques to help them get through bad spells. Some of them have the equivalent of superhero powers, like the ability to see things more than a mile away. Our world would be a poor and barren place without birds to fulfill the eco-services they provide us.
To help wildlife threatened by climate change we need to do more, much more. We need to:
The RSPB is advocating all of this, and more. But our voice is too quiet compared with the cacophony coming from those with vested interests in polluting industries and technology. Join us today so we can shout louder for wildlife. Call me on 020 7808 1260 and I'll go through the joining papers with you over the phone; before the dawn chorus becomes the dawn silence.