Perfect travel companion: thoughts on Opticron’s MM3 50 ED travelscope

Opticron MM3 50 ED travelscope.

Opticron MM3 50 ED travelscope.

Just before the World Shorebirds Day I got a package from Opticron with the new MM3 50 ED travel scope in it. Prior to it Chris Galvin introduced me this tiny but very promising optics at the Opticron Day at the nearby College Lake.

The World Shorebirds Day was a good chance for me to test this optics in wide variety of light conditions. While I didn’t do any hardcore lab test for a sophisticated review, I still have a few thoughts probably worth to share.

It is extremely portable and tiny.

It is extremely portable and tiny.

The MM3 50 ED

The MM3 50 ED was a perfect companion for shorebird counting.

Tiny, yet powerful. This palm sized spotting scope is an ideal companion for a traveling birdwatcher. We all know the feeling when packing for a long-haul trip and we have yo make compromises to find places for important stuff in our luggage. Many times we end up leaving the heavy and large spotting scope at home hoping we don’t really need it. With the MM50 we don’t need to make such compromises. It just a bit longer than a toothbrush and fits easily in any pocket. Suspicious minds would think that poor optical performance comes with such tiny dimensions. Well, I first tried the MM3 50 ED from the Parrinder Hide of Titchwell RSPB Reserve in Norfolk. I arrived in complete darkness and enjoyed being alone surrounded by the mix of shorebird calls. Well before sunrise I spotted a Little Stint in the south west corner of the freshwater marsh. It was feeding with Dunlins in subdued lights but this tiny scope managed to provide enough details for positive identification. As lights improved it became more powerful with surprising clearness and sharpness.

The MM3 50 ED travelscope is incredibly small and lightweight.

The MM3 50 ED travelscope is incredibly small and lightweight.

Tripodless. It is hard to believe that the MM3 50 ED can be held in hand while observing. With a little practice and breath control it can be held steady. The close focus feature definitely widens the target groups in terms of sales. Back in the College Lake, Chris pointed to a nice moth inside the hide and asked me to try close focus. I held the scope in my hand just 2.5 meters from the moth and I could focus on it! It could be a brilliant solution to butterfly lovers.

This palm sized spotting scope easily fits in any size of travel bags.

This palm sized spotting scope easily fits in any size of travel bags.

I finished the Global Shorebird Counting Program on the World Shorebirds Day at the River Blyth Estuary in Suffolk and stayed until dusk. Hundreds of shorebirds were present and I didn’t have to leave because the travel scope wasn’t capable to handle decreasing lights despite having a 50mm front lens. This product is highly recommended not only for traveling birders but every bird enthusiast. The amazingly low £299 (body only) and £199 (HDF zoom eyepiece) price tag makes it an affordable spotting scope.

Huge thanks to Opticron for letting me using this product on the World Shorebirds Day and many weeks after.

Charles Duncan about the World Shorebirds Day

Former director of Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, Charles Duncan wrote an excellent article about the World Shorebirds Day for the International Wader Study Group Bulletin. Charles has been one of the great supporter of World Shorebirds Day and I just hope his article encourages other organisation leaders to celebrate shorebirds in 2015.

Please find the article here. Full text can be accessed here.

Red-breasted Merganser at Caldecotte Lake

A few days ago an adult Red-breasted Merganser was reported from the nearby Caldecotte Lake in Milton Keynes. The bird were relocated by birders in the following days and I hoped I would find it as well.

In the first hour I was walking sll around the north lake in quite a gloomy but mild weather. In the ‘arms’ I saw a beautiful drake Common Merganser (Goosander) and it pretty much was the highlight. In the bushes quite a lot of European Robins called, and tits flocked mainly on the eastern side of the north lake.

As there was no sign of the Red-breasted Merganser, I headed to south lake. Sun came out and painted the lake and its surrounding golden. Again a nice Common Merganser, striking Common Pochards, Eurasian Wigeons coloured the Common Coot groups. At the south end birdwatching point a Water Rail called loudly. I checked every corner of the lake, but I didn’t see the rare merganser.

Driven by the sixth sense, I returned to west side of the north lake to give it another try. After passing the Caldecotte Arms pub the male Red-breasted Merganser was meters away from the walkway. It showed very well in beautiful lights. I had time to take a few record shot through the Zeiss binoculars with my iPhone. The outcome is definitely not jaw dropping, but enough for documenting.

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Photo taken by an iPhone through my Zeiss binoculars handheld. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Records from Caldecotte Lake North/South, Milton Keynes from today

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 46/47
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) 19/11
Gadwall (Anas strepera) 2/4
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) 5/18
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 9/6
Mallard (Domestic type) (Anas platyrhynchos) 53/67
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) 2
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) 0/4
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) 0/14
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) 7/24
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) 1/1
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) 1/0
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) 4
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) 25/12
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 8/32
Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea) 3/4
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 2/1
Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) 1
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 24/15
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) 51/147
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 78/115
Mew Gull (Larus canus) 3/6
Herring Gull (European) (Larus argentatus) 1/4
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus fuscus) 0/12
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii) 1/1
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) 0/1
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 4/4
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 2/1
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) 1/0
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 0/1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 0/1
Eurasian Magpie (Eurasian) (Pica pica [pica Group]) 16/10
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 6/5
Great Tit (Parus major) 6/3
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 15/11
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) 14/31
Eurasian Wren (Eurasian) (Troglodytes troglodytes) 5/5
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) 2/0
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 21/28
Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) 14/10
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) 2/0
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 14/0
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 8/14
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 2/0
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 2/0
Eurasian Bullfinch (Eurasian) (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) 1/0
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) 1/0
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 0/2
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 9/4
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 8/0

Milton Keynes rarities and ridiculous birders

There have been a few rare bird news circulating in town in the last few weeks. Among those there was Bearded Reedling, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Rough-legged Buzzard. These reports appeared on Twitter and Birdguides, but have never been through the local SMS alert system.

Most of the records were posted by an unknown birder and as usual local birders (twitchers) became suspicious immediately. That didn’t really surprised me as I’ve been going through this process since I moved to England. Despite the Bearded Reedling was relocated by a local birder and the record became kinda ‘accepted’, the community remained suspicious when the Great Northern Diver was reported. Nobody managed to see that.

Then a few days ago a Slavonian Grebe was reported from the Willen Lake and yet again a series of cynical posts appeared in the local mailing list. One of the biggest twitchers in England had to say this: “I have been in the game of news dissemination long enough to smell a rat and this one leaves a long trail of doubt.” He said this without going to Willen Lake and tried to find the grebe.

Then all the cynical twitchers has been put to shame, when one of the locals finally got out to Willen and re-found the Slavonian Grebe. I also have seen it a few hours ago.

When I moved to England I had a few cases, when I had to think, I was a bad birdwatcher and it’s better to sell my binoculars. It started with the observation of a family of Common Cranes in Tyringham about two years ago. Nobody believed me. Then I saw a Redpoll and I got a feedback, that it was quite uncommon (in fact it wasn’t). I got another one, after I reported a Common Crossbill. None of them are mega species. Probably I can say, I am from a Common Crane kingdom, where I’ve seen tens of thousands of them in Hungary.

All these happenings are forcing me into giving up reporting and just focusing my own birding. I don’t even give a damn who trusts me or not, whether my records will be included in the annual reports or not. I’ve been birding long enough not to play with rarities just to make my whatever lists more impressive. I’m happy that other Buckinghamshire birders share my thoughts about those self-conceited birders. Luckily there are many kind and approachable ones.

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Bearded Reedling. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The price of being a bird conservationist

Many years ago one of my non-birding friends tried to help me to get my life sorted. One of the ‘lessons’ he taught me, and what many of my current friends would argue with, to get rid of all the negative things from my life. Keep or move away from people with toxic souls, stop listening news on media. I immediately questioned him, but tried reducing negative news to reach me. Suddenly, it worked. And it worked better and better, day by day.

However, I couldn’t completely exclude negative things from my life, simply because I’m addicted to the conservation of birds. In our time being a bird conservationist of any level is one of the most challenging activities. To do it right we have to be emotionally connected to birds and the whole ecosystem. And it is a ‘Catch 22′. State of birds reports are emerging weekly, more and more bird species are in the brink of extinction, less and less money is available to avoid the irreversible processes. We are touched emotionally every day, yet we keep fighting.

If we count the number of issues waiting for being solved and the success stories in bird conservation up to date, we see huge differences. Yes, issues are more frequently coming up than success stories. Still, those success stories give us power not to stop fighting. Fighting means we have to let negative news in our life. Somehow they are different from those we see on news channels about wars, murders, corruption, global warming, lies or who know what else.

I dedicate this post to Everyone who cares about wildlife. Should he or she be a celebrity standing out for birds, a scientist, an ex-hunter who works as a ranger against poachers, a volunteer or a simple parent who teach his or her child not to hate, but respect wildlife and Everyone in between!

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I’m happy to be have nature loving kids with equipped with tenderness and sensitivity towards our feathered friends. © Gyorgy Szimuly

 

Record numbers of Red-breasted Goose in Hungary

Watching tens of thousands flying Red-breasted Geese is definitely one of most incredible birding spectacle in Europe. © Nikolai Petkov

Watching tens of thousands flying Red-breasted Geese is definitely one of most incredible birding spectacle in Europe. © Nikolai Petkov

Earlier this week the first ever Red-breasted Goose census took place in Hungary, following an increased number of observations across the country. The census resulted incredible numbers of these beautiful and globally threatened goose species.

On 6 November 1,733 Red-breasted Goose were counted. Most of the birds were found in the Hortobágy National Park in Eastern Hungary. A single flock of 581 birds and another big one of 412 birds were present on two fishpond. On the wetlands of my former local patches, the Old Lake of Tata and the Ferencmajor fishponds resulted 5 Red-breasted Geese, but this number has increased to 29 by today.

One of the big Red-breasted Goose flocks over the puszta of Hortobágy National Park. © Sándor Borza

One of the big Red-breasted Goose flocks over the puszta of Hortobágy National Park. © Sándor Borza

Hungarian goose experts speculated that this event was the beginning of the split of the wintering sites. It is known that the Arctic breeder Red-breasted Goose is wintering along the northern and western coast of the Black Sea, but small number of birds spend the winter in the Carpathian Basin (Central Europe). It needs further investigations wether something has happened on the traditional wintering sites or this is just a one-off event.

Another classic photo of the puszta with Red-breasted Geese. © Zsolt Ampovics

Another classic photo of the puszta with Red-breasted Geese. © Zsolt Ampovics

On the very same day more than 50 Lesser White-fronted Goose and tens of thousands Greater White-fronted Goose were counted across the country. However not all goose species are doing well. Worryingly low numbers of Tundra and Taiga Bean Goose have been registered in my hometown where it had been a dominant goose species in the ’90s. Less than 1% of the total number of wild geese (15,000 birds) was Tundra or Taiga Bean Goose on the Old Lake of Tata this morning. One of my very best friends, László Musicz said.

Soon we have to initiate the legal protection of the Tundra Bean Geese. A decade ago everyone would have been laughing on such a proposal, then a few years ago we started scratching our head, and today it became a reality.

I will follow the progress reports from Hungary and post updates regularly. Huge thanks for the photos to Sándor Borza (Hungary), Zsolt Ampovics (Hungary) and Nikolai Petkov (Bulgaria).

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More information about the Red-breasted Goose conservation project can be found on http://redbreastedgoose.aewa.info About the Lesser White-fronted Goose visit http://www.piskulka.net © Nikolai Petkov

Update on 10 November 2014

The Hortobágy National Park (HNP) Authority published an update on their website with the final total number of Red-breasted Geese counted during the census. According to the report over 2,000 Red-breasted Geese have been recorded in the whole country including 1,806 birds within the Hortobágy National Park territory.

Sadly, the Tundra/Taiga Bean Goose numbers equalled with the Globally Threatened Lesser White-fronted Goose, while more than 230,000 Greater White-fronted Geese were present in the HNP alone. This issue has to be taken seriously without any further delay!

Source

Self assessment crisis

I have not been living peaceful times in the last few years. Besides family issues, I cannot get rid of the frustration I’ve been feeling by one the distant happenings. This is the lack of graduation, which forced me to work in areas I didn’t want, and in most of the cases, I didn’t like. Life wasn’t simple in the communism era and, at least for our family, sending me to the university was not possible. Without blaming anything or anyone, it certainly affected my entire life.

Getting closer to 50, I know how many wonderful things I could have done for birds by simply being graduated. That document can open lots of doors as easily as the lack of it keeps doors closed. I just recently faced a not so pleasant reaction on the lack of graduation, when I prepared my first shorebird migration research project. I honestly told one of the biologists, who studied Little Ringed Plover, that I wasn’t a scientist. He immediately stopped communicating me, despite he was quite enthusiastic about my plans.

I know, and many would agree, that one doesn’t have to be graduated to be good in an area. I have been trying to work accordingly, and trying to educate myself, but it still makes unhappiness. I’ve been dreaming about working in an organisation for shorebirds for ages. For the reasons described above, it doesn’t seem to be realistic or at least not easy. I saw so many ‘officers’ working for bird conservation without having any related background or even the slightest interest in birds. They simply had a kind of degree, and this makes me even more frustrated. They are career builders and can’t wait for 5:30PM to come every day. Saving birds without feeling passionate about them is like having sex without love. I might be too passionate about birds, I don’t know.

Sometimes I feel, that the only way to work more seriously for shorebirds is to establish an own organisation. Luckily there are successes, what keeps me going on. The World Shorebirds Day is definitely one of these success stories I have to be proud of. Nobody asked me about my graduation and yet it worked wonderfully. I might need professional advice or feedback from my community to step over this self-assessment crisis. It certainly affects my future productivity.

I feel some relief since my son’s been a university student and working hard for his degree.

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Frampton Marsh visit

The RSPB Frampton Marsh is one of the key roosting sites in the area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The RSPB Frampton Marsh is one of the key roosting sites in the area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

It’s been a busy weekend with the BirdFair at Rutland Water, but birding somehow wasn’t on the priority list. As expected, by Sunday afternoon I couldn’t stay indoor anymore, so I decided to explore another new coastal birding site. We visited the RSPB Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire.

From the seawall beautiful salt marsh can easily be watched. © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the seawall beautiful salt marsh can easily be watched. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Plenty of Ruffs were feeding in the area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Plenty of Ruffs were feeding in the area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Only a part of this vast area is accessible, but it still holds a nice number of birds including many waders. Birding was rather challenging today due to the strong wind, what made holding the binocular steady nearly impossible. The most abundant species of the marsh was the Black-tailed Godwit with both Icelandic and Europen subspecies. Northern Lapwing, Mallard and Eurasian Teal (Or Eurasian Green-winged Teal) was the most abundant species. Among the rarities I saw two unseasonal Brant Geese and a long staying Glossy Ibis, which was feeding just next to the footpath. While the visit was short, it gave me an impression of the birdlife of Frampton Marsh. It definitely worth for more frequent visits as this is one of the closest coastal areas to my home.

There must be a Glossy Ibis on this image. © Gyorgy Szimuly

There must be a Glossy Ibis on this image. © Gyorgy Szimuly

List of birds seen:

Graylag Goose 3
Brant Goose 2
Barnacle Goose 1
Canada Goose 183
Mute Swan 14
Common Shelduck 33
Eurasian Wigeon 4
Mallard 317
Northern Shoveler 9
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) 83
Common Pochard 1
Tufted Duck 9
Little Grebe 4
Great Crested Grebe 4
Great Cormorant 6
Gray Heron 4
Little Egret 7
Glossy Ibis 1
Eurasian Spoonbill 1
Eurasian Moorhen 22
Eurasian Coot 49
Pied Avocet 15
Northern Lapwing 101
Common Ringed Plover 3
Common Redshank 6
Eurasian Curlew 3
Black-tailed Godwit 396
Ruff 27
Dunlin 2
Common Snipe 8
Black-headed Gull 127
Lesser Black-backed Gull 4
Stock Dove 1
Common Wood Pigeon 3
Common Swift 1
Common Kingfisher 1
Bearded Reedling 1
Bank Swallow 280
Northern Wheatear 1
European Starling 398
Western Yellow Wagtail (Yellow) (M. f. flavissima) 10
White Wagtail 2
Meadow Pipit 3
European Goldfinch 1
Eurasian Linnet 8

Pectoral Sandpiper at Manor Farm

Most probably as a result of the remnants of the Hurricane Bertha, hit southwest England early Sunday, a local mega turned up close to my home. Rob Hill, the local expert of Manor Farm spotted a Pectoral Sandpiper on the west end of the quarry.

As weather improved slightly, we left for some birdwatching, targeting to find the reported male Whinchat. A few minutes after our departure, I got the news about the Pectoral Sandpiper. Sharp turn and I was on my way to Old Wolverton, hoping that Rob Hill, the finder, was still there.

Manor Farm quarry in late afternoon. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Manor Farm quarry in late afternoon. © Gyorgy Szimuly

He was there and another birder was coming next to me. I’ve never met any of these local birders before, so it was nice to see some of them. Rob was very kind and let me watch the bird through his spotting scope. One of the guys thought it was an adult bird, but I thought it was a fresh juvenile. The bold rufous-creamy edges on the scapulars and the whitish line on the sides of mantle made it a juvenile bird.

The last Common Swifts soared against these beautiful clouds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The last Common Swifts soared against these beautiful clouds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I didn’t walk on the route as I used to, but enjoyed the beautiful sunset with dramatic clouds on the sky. Among the regular shorebirds, Northern Lapwings, a Ruff, a Dunlin, Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, Little Ringed and Common Ringed Plovers were present, but the Pectoral Sandpiper was feeding alone and separated from other birds.

Just before light started to decrease, Rick and Elis Simpson arrived to see this rarity. It’s always nice to see the Wader Quest couple, especially in the field.

It was my first Pectoral Sandpiper seen in the United Kingdom, but unfortunately no image is available to illustrate.

A bitter taste conclusion

I don’t consider myself a big ‘give-uper’, but sometimes I just can’t figure out what step would be necessary to move forward. Today I made a decision to stop working on the WorldWaders News Blog. I don’t feel good at all as it was my child and my passion at the same time. A bit more than 4 years ago I set up this WordPress site driven by an idea to collect news about shorebirds from around the world and publish them in a single website. I thought it was a good idea to offer a more comfortable way to learn more about shorebirds (or waders if you like).

Despite it didn’t get much attention by wader scientist and larger conservation bodies, I carried on and kept asking permissions re-posting news. I failed to find co-authors who could help making this news platform more diverse and colourful. Finally the numbers, the cruel numbers made my decision.

The blog was born in May 2010. During the 51 months I posted 254 news, what is 4.9 news per month. It is definitely not enough for keeping the audience awake, although I didn’t really run the blog in 2014. In 51 months the blog got only 70 followers. A part of the followers have nothing to do with shorebird conservation or research and not even the birds in general. Since the site moved to WordPress from Posterous it got 30,855 clicks. There were about an additional 70,000 clicks when the site was running under Posterous, which was later stopped offering blogging service. So, the blog altogether got about 100,000 clicks, which means 65 clicks a day. One of the clicks always made by my dear Son. Haha… The best ever day in its history was earlier this year, when a Slender-billed Curlew was supposedly seen in Serbia. On the day we released the news, it got 6,419 views. The total views on this single news exceeded an unbelievable 10,000 views. If I deduct it from the 100,000 total views, the number of daily visits is just 58.

These are the numbers. Let’s say, it had a quite modest publicity despite my best efforts, social media sharing with a potential reach of about 5,000 friends/followers (90% of them are connected to birds). I must have done something wrong or the failure might be related to my personality, I don’t know. It definitely pulls me back from shorebird conservation in general, but the devotion of loving shorebirds will never be taken away. However, I’m still hoping that the World Shorebirds’ Day can make a difference and it can be a success. I enjoy organizing it, and at least I’ve got some encouraging feedback. Despite I’ve got some quite frustrating feedback from leaders of some national bird conservation societies, I keep working on this event. I know, it never will be a boom event until a big organization is offering an ‘umbrella’ (not financially), but I keep working on it.

I’m very sad about the WorldWaders News Blog. I keep the blog open for anyone who wants to read old news, but I stop posting items.

I don’t blame anyone, not even myself…

This image is about patience and faith, what I seem to have lost somewhere. © Andrea Szimuly

This image is about patience and faith, what I seem to have lost somewhere. © Andrea Szimuly