Sunday, September 18, 2016

Party's over

Yesterday was a terrific day for seawatching, but sadly I just could not get out. I hoped to pick some leftovers up this morning, but in reality the morning session at Cley was rather quiet. Not a sniff of a tubenose. Few skuas - about 10 arctics and 2 Bonxies when I was there. Big numbers of wildfowl (including my first Pink-footed Geese of the season), shorebirds and fewer Red-throated Divers etc. I wasted my batteries on photographing distant birds in horrible light conditions:

Artistic photo of an Arctic Skua


Brent and Shelduck



Grape Lovers (©Steve Minton)

Bamba was pretty bored too

I had to return home early but had a quick look at Stiffkey Campsite. It was very quiet there too. I actively searched for a Yellow-browed Warbler - I just knew there had to be one there, but failed. My friends Dawn and Pete found one there a few hours later... The only migrants there were a Whinchat and large numbers of hirundines.


Meadow Pipit

 I had this flock of 80 Greylags in off - I wonder whether they are true migrants:

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Wet and happy

After a few days of easterlies, that did bring a sprinkle of scarce birds to the east coast, last night weather shifted and heavy rain and storms hit the Norfolk coast. This was a day I just had to be out, despite my aching body after the bike accident I had a couple of weeks ago. As I switched on my phone in the morning I saw the message: 'PGTips ringed at Spurn'. Shit. A dream bird to see in the WP, but 4 hours drive and there was no positive news of it after it was released. So after a quick consultation with Dougal, my birding companion for today, and a few more friends, decided to skip and and stick with Plan A - East Hills. I had to accept that this is the closest I would get to a PGTips today:

Yesterday our mate Dave had an Arctic Warbler on East Hills which Dougal needed, and I just wanted to get out there and see some birds. We started walking at 09:30, hoping the tide would drop enough to cut across the deepest creek and save time, but sadly the water was too high still, and we had to walk all the way around along the beach. It was raining hard, the wind picked up seriously, so the walk itself was hard work. Also my dislocated shoulder was killing me - maybe this activity today was a bit too extreme? But our spirits were high as it all looked well for a good arrival of birds.

We got to East Hills and it was still raining hard, but it was evident that there were birds around. From the first line of trees we already had Spotted Flycatcher and a few Willow Warblers. Dougal was keen to look for the Arctic Warbler, but I worked my way across the hills slowly. Along the way I picked up more migrants - Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts, two Tree Pipits and more Willow Warblers. After a short while, while scanning a mixed flock of tits and Goldcrests, I found a Firecrest - fine bird. Sadly it was in the canopy of tall conifers, so no photos. Unlike some of the Goldcrests that foraged very low, possibly because of the howling wind.

By the way, this bird with some grey on the nape looks like a continental bird. See here.
It was a very tough day for photography. Most of the time I daren't get the camera out of the bag because of the heavy rain. And light was..., well there was no light today. And all the better birds I saw today did not play ball at all. But good birds kept on coming. Immediately after Dougal called me to say he had just had a Red-breasted Flycatcher (probably the same one from yesterday) I heard a familiar call, a call I had spent many days listening out for - Greenish Warbler! I knew exactly what it was. It gave several clear calls, and then I located it for a second or two very close to me, maybe 4-5 meters away at eye level - it was in  a small conifer, good views but all too brief. I knew excatly what features to look for. I saw the wingbar well, and the good supercilium meeting above the small bill. It was a relatively bright bird so I assume it is a 1cy. It vanished quickly - the whole tit and goldcrest flock had moved on and the bird was gone. I spent some time trying to relocate it, and was joined by Dougal and Pete (another birder who walked with us out to the hills) but without success. I am really happy with this bird. I saw one a few months ago in Suffolk, but it feels good to find a fresh migrant in a migrant hotspot. 
We continued to work the habitat for a couple more hours. I was mostly searching for the greenish. We saw more Pied and Spotted Flys, Redstarts, one Cuckoo and a few other bits and pieces. I actually saw some fresh migrants falling out of the sky into the trees - pretty cool. There was this miserable Siskin there - it was very wet like all birds today:

Eventually I got brief views of the Red-breasted Fly but it was very shy, like most other birds today, because of the fowl weather. All three of us heard and saw a Yellow-browed Warbler - probably the same bird, and one was there yesterday as well so probably the same as yesterday. The view from the far end of East Hills towards Wells Woods was rather gloomy today. Lots of birds on the mud but I didn't have a scope and my brain was on passerine mode anyway. I did notice some 50-60 Brent on the saltmarsh.

Then the weather became so bad that we hardly saw birds anymore, and we just wanted to get back home. The walk back was again very wet and quite cold - bye bye summer I guess. We got back to the car drenched but rather pleased. It was a good day, with quality and decent numbers. This is very good compared to the rather weak results from nearby strategic points in N Norfolk - Blakeney Point and Scolt Head - very few migrants in both these sites today.

Migrant totals for today 11:00 - 14:00 on East Hills:
10 Pied Flycatcher
5 Spotted Flycatcher
1 Red-breasted Flycatcher
8 Redstart
5 Song Thrush
15 Willow Warbler
10 Chiffchaff
20 Goldcrest
1 Firecrest
1 Yellow-browed Warbler
2 Blackcap
1 Garden Warbler
2 Tree Pipit
1 Cuckoo
2 Wheatear
30 Swallow
2 House Martin

Friday, September 2, 2016

A week in the Swiss Alps

Got back yesterday from a family holiday in the Swiss Alps, south of Interlaken, in a small village called Stechelberg. It is a very scenic part of the country - the village is situated in the top of a huge cliffed gorge, that is an international hotspot for paragliders and base jumpers. I must admit that I chose this part of the world because I knew there would be very few birds, and no potential lifers or too much quality for me to be tempted to sneak out of bed early. It was a relaxed week indeed. Sadly we could not get to the highest elevations - cable-cars and mountain trains are outrageously priced there. So most of our time was spent in the mountains near the village, up to 1900 m.

Scenery was breathtaking - Jungfrau (4197 m) towering above us constantly:

Birds were few and far between. Admittedly I did not try too hard but still saw very little. Relative highlights were a high flying Lammergeier, 2 flyby Citril Finches at Allmendhubel, a flock of 10 Crossbills, some Alpine Choughs, a Nutcracker and a family of Dippers. On the lake at Botingen there was one 2cy Med Gull and some Yellow-legged Gulls. Check my eBird checklists here and here.

Dipping Dipper

Dedicated to my UK friends who get excited by Black Redstarts

I was sometimes so bored I even looked at Butterflies:

Old World Swallowtail

Small White

Red Admiral

Silver-washed Fritillary

Please correct me if I got IDs wrong.
I apologize for the poor quality of images in this post. I carried my 'bridge' lens (400 mm/f5.6) only, and photographed mainly using my phone, hence the crappy photos.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Birdfair 2016

Or, continuing the title of my previous post, what all birders do.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Birdfair once again. I worked most of the time in the Israeli stand, mainly promoting Champions of the Flyway.

Before the storm began

Friday was pretty hectic

We launched Champions of the Flyway 2017 - we will work together with Doğa Derneği, Birdlife Turkey, to prevent illegal killing there. It was an honour to meet their president Dicle Kilic - what an impressive woman. Looking forward to work with her in the future.
It was also great to see how the global reach of COTF extends from year to year. This year, COTF2016 Knights of the Flyway decided to donate a pair of Swarovski SLC to Aves Argentinas - here Hernan Casañas recieves the bins from Swarovski's Dale Forbes and Bill Thompson III. Hopefully, this will help them in their efforts to save Hooded Grebe from extinction.

It felt almost like I was back in Israel - great to spend time with my friends and colleagues who came over from Israel - Dan, Jonathan, Meidad and Amir.

We had wifi!

Thanks to my son Uri for the snap

I participated in two major events this Birdfair. On Friday night I spoke in the main RSPB events - Frontiers of Migration, in tribute to Martin Garner. I joined Paul French and Keith Clarkson who were both brilliant. Adam Rowlands hosted the event - he did a great job.

On Saturday I represented OSME in Bird Brain of Britain. It was great fun and I shared 1st place with Ashley Banwell, but all contestants did a great job. I was happy to learn that my prize went to support a youth camp on bird migration in Azerbaijan.

As always, Birdfair is an amazing place to meet old and new friends. It is like a neverending conversation, lots of laughs and good fun. One of my personal highlights was when I met the legendary D.I.M. Wallace, together with my good friend Mark Pearson from Filey - we talked about Basalt Wheatears. Ian actually read the article I wrote for Birdwatch some months ago.

I had little time to walk around but as always I was captivated by the mural created by some of the world's finest wildlife artists:

I think my family had a good time too

Till next year, good night.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What proper birders do

This morning I wanted to go birding. I Needed a change from scoping distant shorebirds at Breydon, so I decided to scope distant seabirds instead. The forecast said NW winds, but eventually the wind was more westerly. Anyway, bad conditions won't stop me. At 06:00 I was at Cley beach hide, and the first bird I saw through my scope was an Arctic Skua at mid range - cool. It was followed shortly by another four skuas - 1 dark Pomarine and another three Arctics, at mid-long range.

Atmospheric shot of an Arctic Skua (couldn't get the pom)

These were promising first two minutes. I was there until 08:30. It wasn't that busy all the time but there was enough stuff moving through to entertain me and some of Norfolk's finest birders who happened to share the shelter with me. A steady trickle of Common Scoters and other ducks, some more skuas and shorebirds headed west. We had another skua that might have been a / the pom again, but too distant for positive ID. There were many hundreds of terns feeding offshore - Sandwich and Common.

Common Scoters

Apparently someone had a Sooty Shearwater after I had left. Oh well.
My highlights 06:00 - 08:30:

Pomarine Skua 1
Arctic Skua 6-7
Skua sp. 5-6
Common Scoter 50
Fulmar 1
Gannet 20
Knot 15
Grey Plover 5
Sanderling 1

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Lazy yank

This morning I had an airport drop-off duty, so took advantage of minimal brownie point usage and headed southeast towards Oare Marshes Nature Reserve in Kent. Since I moved to the UK two years ago, the returning Bonaparte's Gull was on my radar, but until today I hadn't the chance or excuse to go for it. I timed it right today and arrived there at high tide - what a lovely reserve! Packed with birds. The gulls were roosting close to the road and I found the petite gull quickly. I was very happy to see it - nice WP tick for me, though I saw many only a couple of months ago in Canada. These were my initial views:

The problem was that this lazy gull was fast asleep, and did nothing at all. All the other gulls and shorebirds were preening and feeding, but not my gull. Too much junk food I guess. Then it started raining, and then the rain became torrential, and I was standing there like a wet idiot, waiting for the bloody thing to show its bill. After about an hour or so it finally woke up, started preening and eventually wing-stretched. Sadly a bloody Black-tailed Godwit got in the way:

Then a Peregrine flew by and flushed everything. The gulls landed on the water a bit further away:

But eventually bonny swam closer and resumed preening, scratching and wing-stretching on a small island. It is moulting (or molting?) very quickly into winter plumage - two weeks ago it had a complete black hood. Also it wing moult advanced quite a bit.

Note the size difference compared to a Black-headed Gull:

 A couple more images I took using my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone through Swarovski ATX95:

Wet gull

Despite the rain I really enjoyed the reserve. I was especially impressed by numbers of Black-tailed Godwits - around 600. This is a section of the main flock:

And another phonescoped image:

The locals were as excited by this adult Curlew Sandpiper as by the gull - it was showing very well:

Other highlights were Wood and Green Sands, Greenshank, and about 40 Golden Plovers. Nice to see shorebirds up close and personal, unlike Breydon...

Very wet scope

I had obscene thoughts to twitch the purple chicken on the way back home, that almost materialised. But a car crash at Dartford Tunnels changed my plans and I only wanted to get back home.