A long awaited lifer: the Little Auk

The easterly winds have always been very exciting in the United Kingdom especially this time of the year when rarities are popping in. For the weekend I had two potential life birds to go for within a reasonable reach. One was the Leach’s Storm Petrel and the Little Auk. I monitored the report rate at BirdGuides for both species on Saturday and decided to give some chances of finding my first ever Little Auk in the northeast.

Little Auks were flying over the shoreline allowing us spectacular views. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

As usual, we left early in the morning to get to Lincolnshire’s Huttoft Car Terrace Beach at dawn. It’s always rewarding to drive through the night to a distant destination knowing how bad English traffic can be during the daytime. As soon as we positioned our car on the beach we had perfect viewing conditions. A good mixture of gulls started moving northward from the roosting site with the first lights including Common (Mew) Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and mainly Black-headed Gulls. Later in the afternoon, a juvenile first winter Little Gull joined one of the flocks.

Dawn at the Huttoft Beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Offshore wind turbines in the North Sea. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the sea, I saw Manx and Sooty Shearwaters but there might have been more of these birds but they were too distant for positive species-level identification. A few Pomarine Skuas, a Great Northern Diver (Common Loon) and some Red-throated Loons were also heading north. Scattered, but decent flocks of Brants, Common Scoters and Eurasian Wigeons and a few Common Eiders have been constantly flying towards the north. I also saw a small group of Velvet Scoters and Northern Pintails as well. As the sun came up, I saw a distant Little Auk but for a life bird, I hoped for a little better view. I did not have to wait long, as they started flying north at the shoreline providing amazing close views. Except for three birds, most of them were flying north, some over our head.

In a few cases, two Little Auks flew together. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Little Auks were passing by just over the splash zone. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Imperfect photo with a telephoto lens, but it shows how rough the North Sea was. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Thankfully, the facing winds held these fast flying birds up a little bit making my photography job easier. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

In some cases, we didn’t even have to use our binoculars for enjoying the view of the overflying Little Auks. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

The easterly winds made the North Sea rough and dirty but the Little Auks were kept passing by. Sony a7RIII + Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master OSS © Gyorgy Szimuly

The incoming rain and sleet storms created some spectacular rainbows and lights. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A flock of Brants flying over the waves. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Brants were constantly arriving from the south. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sanderlings were feeding around us at the beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Brants were heading towards the storm. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Ever since I moved to the UK, I wanted to see this high Arctic breeder but always missed the perfect winds. This time I was lucky. Just in the morning, there have been 18 birds reported through BirdGuides from the same spot, although I saw only 14 of them. Considering that by the time other birders arrived, I had already seen a few Little Auks, so this number should be higher. At low tide, they did not show up at the shore but further at the sea where it was challenging to find them.

Spectacular lights over the North Sea with distant showers. Sony a7RIII + Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master OSS © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common (Mew) Gulls were looking for food as the beachgoers passed by. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A first winter plumaged Little Gull flew towards the Humber estuary. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Winter plumaged Common Gull. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

While trying to photograph these fast flying birds, a Snow Bunting flew over me and a swimming Black Guillemot surprised me that slowly headed north. Weirdly, despite the name, it was almost all white.

eBird checklist from the area:

Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) 5
Brant (Branta bernicla) 241
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 1
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) 146
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) 8
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) 32
Common Eider (Somateria mollissima) 26
Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) 6
Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra) 206
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 1
Sanderling (Calidris alba) 19
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) 35
Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus) 5
Little Auk (Dovekie) (Alle alle) 14
Common Murre (Uria aalge) 1
Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) 1
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) 68
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 375
Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) 1
Mew Gull (European) (Larus canus canus) 101
Herring Gull (European) (Larus argentatus) 93
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) 12
Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata) 5
Common Loon (Gavia immer) 1
Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea) 1
Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) 2
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) 24
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 4
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 1
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 3
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 2
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 89
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 10
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) 1

During our stay, a Glaucous Gull was also reported as per BirdGuides, but I missed that. All in all, we had a fantastic experience with the Little Auks and this location. My world life list moved to 2,202.

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My contribution to the Global Shorebird Counting in Norfolk

Norfolk has always been a rewarding region in the United Kingdom for finding waders for the Global Shorebird Counting Program. Following an exceptional experience with thousands of them at the Snettisham, I headed east to the Hunstanton Cliffs which area is good for waders at low tide. As expected, there were quite a few Eurasian Oystercatcher but other waders such as Eurasian Curlew, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank and Common Greenshank were recorded as well. As the coffee shop was closed at the cliffs, I soon drove to the Titchwell RSPB Reserve for some much-needed cappuccino.

Hunstanton Cliffs eBird checklist:

Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 6
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus ostralegus) 127
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 2
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) 18
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 3
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 22
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 63
Mew Gull (Larus canus) 2
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus argentatus) 39
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) 1
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 2
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 7

Hunstanton Cliffs offer good feeding place for birds at low tide. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Oystercatchers were actively feeding at the beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A flock of Eurasian Oystercatchers along the Hunstanton Beach, Norfolk. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Moult progress on Eurasian (Western) Oystercatchers. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

This Mew (Common) Gull looked rather tired as it walked close to me. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Taxonomy is changing so do English names. The previously used Common Gull name was replaced by Mew Gull according to IOC. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Gull landed next to me for puddling. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Great Black-backed Gull take off. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A very peaceful Great Black-backed Gull at the Hunstanton beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Lights were not great on this Common Wood Pigeon but still looks to be a decent shot. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Titchwell RSPB Reserve and Titchwell Beach are obvious choices when it comes finding waders in Norfolk. That was my next stop along the north Norfolk coast. It did not disappoint although there were not great numbers in the reserve.

Here is the eBird checklist from the Titchwell Marshes:

Greylag Goose (Anser anser) 3
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 1
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 9
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) X
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) (Anas crecca crecca) X
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) 1
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) 2
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 3
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 8
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) 3
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 71
European Golden-Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) 11
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 18
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 5
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) 8
Red Knot (Calidris canutus) 1
Ruff (Calidris pugnax) 63
Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)  1
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) 46
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) 2
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) 1
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 11
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 20
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus argentatus)  1
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii) 1
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 1
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 1
Western Little Egret (Egretta garzetta garzetta) 1
Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo) 1
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 2
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 17
Eurasian Wren (British) (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus) 1
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 3
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 7
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 1
Eurasian Linnet (Linaria cannabina) 2
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 2

Pied Avocets were feeding close to the hides. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Juvenile Pied Avocet is a great symbol of the conservation success of British organisations in recovering breeding populations of Pied Avocet. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Typical Pied Avocet feeding pose. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Titchwell Tidal Marsh with the Parrinder Hide in the background. Sony RX10 IV @ Gyorgy Szimuly

Feeding Common Shelduck in front of the hide at Titchwell Marsh. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Moulting Common Shelduck. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mud souping Green-winged Teal or Eurasian Teal. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Female Green-winged Teal (Eurasian). Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

I found this lone Blak-tailed Godwit with a colour ring combination. It was marked in September 2016 at the River Alde estuary near Inken, Suffolk, east England ever since. Recoveries are from late Summer and September. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

This Black-tailed Godwit was marked by Pete Potts. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Due to a light drizzle, the Tichwell Beach was not as crowded with walkers as expected but some beach-goers disturbed the feeding and roosting flock of shorebirds and gulls.

Count results from Titchwell Beach:

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus ostralegus) 148
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) 12
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 47
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) 63
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) 34
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) 4
Red Knot (Calidris canutus) 6
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 84
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus argentatus) 35
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) 2
Sandwich Tern (Eurasian) (Thalasseus sandvicensis sandvicensis) 3
Little Egret (Western) (Egretta garzetta garzetta) 1
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 9

Black-headed Gull in immaculate winter plumage at the East Harbour of Burnham. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

My last stop was at the Cley Marshes further to the east. After purchasing a rather pricey permit to the marsh, I had close views on feeding Black-tailed Godwits.

eBird checklist from Cley Marshes:

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) 4
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 10
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) 11
Gadwall (Mareca strepera strepera) 1
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) 34
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 1
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) (Anas crecca crecca) 123
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 16
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto decaocto) 3
Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) 1
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 1
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 1
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 52
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa islandica) 349
Ruff (Calidris pugnax) 12
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) 2
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 1
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 45
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii) 3
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus) 2
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 4
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 16
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 1
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 1

A series of Black-tailed Godwit photos from the Cley Marshes. Sony RX10 IV @ Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-tailed Godwit. Sony RX10 IV @ Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-tailed Godwit. Sony RX10 IV @ Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-tailed Godwit. Sony RX10 IV @ Gyorgy Szimuly

All in all this trip to north Norfolk was an amazing experience again. This is the closest coastal area to my home and it’s always a pleasure to return.

Birding for World Shorebirds Day

The Global Shorebird Counting Program of World Shorebirds Day is always a good reason to head out to important (shore)bird areas, like the Snettisham RSPB Reserve. It’s not only an Important Bird Area (IBA) but a shorebird site of hemispheric importance. The murmuration of tens of thousands of roosting birds is a true spectacle.

I managed to catch the peak of the high tide at dawn. It was such a relief not to see anyone at the seawall and I could enjoy the sound of roosting birds without any distraction. I headed to one of the RSPB hides and just watched how the beach and the sea turn from the deep blue tones into pastel pink and purple. It sounds romantic, but it’s rather hard to describe the atmosphere of Snettisham and you only realise where the elevated emotions come from, once you take a visit to this reserve at high tide. Below I share some photos which might give something back from the experience I had on this Saturday morning.

A lovely Western Barn Owl was posing for me just after Snettisham village. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Gorgeous sunrise over Snettisham. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

As the water started to recede, waders started to fly around making it possible to get some blurred movement shots. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A bit of my artistic side with Black-tailed Godwits. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

The spectacular mass of shorebirds created a blast sound at their take off. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

These Red Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits introduced a very speedy aerial performance. Sony a7RIII, Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master © Gyorgy Szimuly

The mudflat got exposed very quickly and waders started to flock over the fresh tideline. Sony a7RIII, Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master © Gyorgy Szimuly

Just like the flames of the fire, the shorebird murmuration is something I could watch endlessly. Sony a7RIII, Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master © Gyorgy Szimuly

Roosting Eurasian Oystercatchers and Eurasian Curlews.Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A layer of shorebird species with Common Redshanks, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits and Common Shelducks. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

As the sun hit the tidal zone, the mood of the picture changed dramatically. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful golden paint on this Bar-tailed Godwit flock. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Just to get an idea of the number of birds, here is a segment of the area. It’s breathtaking. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mixed flock of Red Knots and godwits. Quite a large portion of birds was still in stunning breeding plumage. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

It’s another example of the craziness on the tidal zone. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

With experienced eyes, some other shorebird species can be found on this photo, like a moulting Black-bellied Plover. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

I saw a surprisingly low number of small sandpipers. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

When the sea is receding, a mile long mudflat provides a perfect feeding area for shorebirds and gulls. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mediterranean and Mew (or Common) Gulls among the European Herring Gull flock. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Some Eurasian Oystercatchers has already finished moulting and were in winter plumage. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-tailed Godwits with red Knots. Sony a7RIII, Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master © Gyorgy Szimuly

Icelandic subspecies of Black-tailed Godwit. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

This Eurasian Spoonbill was a nice addition to the bird list of Snettisham. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Soon two more birds joined the lone spoonbill. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A flock of several hundred Red Knots over the open water. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A view from the seawall. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Greylag Goose arrived drinking from the fields. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Nice seaside bungalow with massive oystercatcher art decoration. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Wood Pigeon was resting on this bush in the caravan park. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Photographing Audouin’s Gulls and others: Part Four

After enjoying the Mediterranean Sea and our pool in El Campello, we had a nice cooling time on the Mediterranean coast near El Pinet. The sky was overcast but while Kea played in the sand, I enjoyed photographing the overflying gulls including the local speciality, the Audouin’s Gull.

Below, I share a series of photos from this location and the list of birds seen.

Adult Audouin’s Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult Audouin’s Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult Audouin’s Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult Audouin’s Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Kea enjoyed playing in the sand. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Yellow-legged Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Yellow-legged Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Mediterranean Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Mediterranean Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Non-breeding Little Tern, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult non-breeding Mediterranean Gull. El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult non-breeding Mediterranean Gull. El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sunset tern. El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the area:

Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 1
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) 13
Audouin’s Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii) 9
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)  8
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)  5
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)  104
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)  4
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)  12
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  1

Searching for Black Wheatears: Part two

Having had only a restricted time for birdwatching during my first ever holiday with my little daughter, I searched eBird for potential life birds around our apartment. One of them, the Black Wheatear was often reported from the region and we decided to give it a try. We left for a city called Calpe (northeast to Alicante) very early in the morning to be there before it gets too hot.

Yellow-legged Gull over the Calpe Beach before sunrise. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A view to the Calpe Mountain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Calpe is a typical Mediterranean holiday destination at the northeast side of Costa Blanca with some tourist attractions including the Peñón de Ifach. Adventurous tourists can climb up to the very top of this limestone outcrop emerges from the Mediterranean Sea.

Rising sun at Calpe. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Crocs off and into the water. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-headed Gull picked up human garbage particles from the freshly ‘cleaned’ beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Kea did not waste time and started playing with the sand at our arrival. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull picked up food from the sand. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at the beach with the first lights. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful sunrise from the Calpe Beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Not many adult Yellow-legged Gulls were flying over the beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

As we arrived still in the dark we went to the beach for some fun and watching the sunrise. Black-headed Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls were feeding at the beach and flying out to the sea.

This salt pond is surrounded by the charming city of Calpe. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Greater Flamingos fed very close to the shore. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Greater Flamingos were all over the lake. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Should the time have allowed, I could have taken a few much better shots of the flamingos. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Greater Flamingo. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Before we headed up to the Peñón de Ifach we visited the Les Salines de Calpe in the heart of Calpe famous mainly of its Greater Flamingos. Checklist from the salt pan is below.

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 2
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 175
Eurasian Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 8
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 1
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 1
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 137
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 12
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 2

The Peñón de Ifach limestone outcrop.

A view of the bays around the hill. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Calpe marina from one of the viewpoints Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A very distant Blue Rock-Thrush and very crappy crop. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Heavily moulting Sardinian Warbler. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

My quite exhausted daughter is having a rest before headed back to the car. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the time we started our trek to the Peñón de Ifach it was already quite hot. The most common songbird was the Sardinian Warbler on the bushy slopes and most of them I could only detect by their calls. Unfortunately, on eBird, it wasn’t specified which part of the hill the Black Wheatear was seen so the only option was to go above the bush-line and hoping for a bird to pop on the cliffs while feeding. I couldn’t find any but I saw a nice but distant Blue Rock-Thrush. Above the peak, Alpine and Pallid Swifts hunted for insects.

Alpine Swift (Apus melba)  3
Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)  17
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)  14
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)  9
Blue Rock-Thrush (Monticola solitarius)  2
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)  2
European Serin (Serinus serinus)  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  2

Finally the first two life birds in Spain: Part Three

After enjoying the Mediterranean Sea and our pool in El Campello, we had a nice time on the west coast of the Laguna Salada de la Mata and the Mediterranean coast near El Pinet.

To get to the west coast of Laguna Salada de la Mata we had to walk through a dry bushland and conifer woodland near Torrevieja village. Just after a short walk, I heard an unfamiliar call from the bushes. A short search brought me a life bird, a Western Olivaceous Warbler. It was flitting from bush to bush and called frequently.

eBird checklists from the same area reported another potential life bird, the Thekla Lark. Just before I reached the shore I found two Thekla’s Lark feeding on the path near an open area.

Cogujada Montesina, Galerida theklae, Thekla Lark

Thekla’s Lark from Spain. © Luis Sitges (Photo was legally embedded from the photographer’s Flickr profile. Link to his original photo)

This is the arid semi-desert-like habitat where I found the Thekla’s Larks. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Thekla’s Larks were feeding on this open dry area. The Laguna Salada de la Mata is in the background. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the scrubland:

Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 7
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) 3
Common Swift (Apus apus) 3
Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus) 6
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 2
Thekla’s Lark (Galerida theklae) 3
Western Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna opaca) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 2
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) 1
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 1
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor) 2
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 7

Non-birdwatching holiday in Spain: Part One

In the heat of the preparation and organisation of World Shorebirds Day and the Global Shorebird Counts, I forgot to add a summary of my first ever Spanish holiday. So here it comes…

While it wasn’t a birding holiday, thanks to my ever patient daughter, I could manage to add 3 life birds to my World and Western Palearctic list.

Juvenile Woodchat Shrike is on the hunt. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A small flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew over our car at the lower slopes. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Upper hillside. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

As travelled by car from the UK, I had chances to see the Spanish countryside and saw birds I don’t see often. After we passed the western side of Pyrenees, we visited a location where Dupont’s Lark has been reported several times on eBird. We spent the night in the wild east of Arbitas, Navarre. We had a nice walk in the morning and saw a few birds but sadly, the Dupont’s Lark was not among them.

This is the bird list from the area:

Rock Dove (Columba livia) 1
Common Swift (Apus apus) 3
Eurasian Thick-knee (Burhinus oedicnemus) 1
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 3
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) 1
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 1
Eurasian Marsh-Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) 2
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 2
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) 1
Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)  1
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 2
Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) 19
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 6
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 14
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 35
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) 1
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 13
European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) 1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flava) 12
Eurasian Linnet (Linaria cannabina) 3
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) 68

It was really nice to watch a bird composition different to what I can see on my local patches. I really love the rugged and arid landscapes and this small lake was surrounded by dry hills. As I drove up to the hills and saw a flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Sadly, they fed behind a fenced area but I saw them flying over the road. Sandgrouses are one of my favourite bird families.

Eurasian Griffon ruled the skies. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Female Eurasian Kestrel over the hillside. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Bee-eaters hunted along the dirt road. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Here is the eBird checklist from the upper hill area:

Rock Dove (Columba livia) 4
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 11
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata) 8
Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) 3
Eurasian Marsh-Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) 1
Red Kite (Milvus milvus) 3
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 2
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 11
Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) 17
Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) 9
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 6
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 19
Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 1
Eurasian Linnet (Linaria cannabina) 5
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 1
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) 22

On the way to our apartment in El Campello, I gave finding a Dupont’s Lark another chance. I didn’t have any expectations really, as it was too late in the morning and was already scorching hot. As expected we couldn’t see much at the Reserva Onitológica El Planerón managed by SEO.

Sign post of the Reserva Ornitológica El Planerón with the iconic Dupont’s Lark. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

It would be rather fashionable to say this is the result of global warming but in fact, this has been happening every summer in large parts of Europe for decades. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Reserva Onitológica El Planerón. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the Reserva Onitológica El Planerón (12:25 PM):

Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) 3
Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) 1
Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)
Lesser Short-toed Lark (Alaudala rufescens) 36
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 2
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)1

During the rest of the journey, I could only do incidental birding as we were running late. One of them was a short sandwich break with a few cool birds.

N-420, Montalbán Teruel, Aragón (40.8246,-0.8418)

Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) 12
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) 1
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 2
Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) 42
Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) 4

Our accommodation in El Campello was lovely and more importantly a quiet place, near Alicante. Red-rumped Swallows and Pallid Swifts flew over the private villa and while having fun in the pool I enjoyed the close views of these birds.

Red-rumped Swallows were feeding over our apartment. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another Red-rumped Swallow shot from the villa. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Not quite a lifer but still a cracking bird

I took my second ever visit to the Oare Marshes in Kent for seeing the long staying Bonaparte’s Gull which is now in stunning breeding plumage. It took a while to find it in on the mudflat of The Swale estuary. At low tide, it normally goes feeding on the mud but uses the Oare Marshes for roosting. Late in the morning, it left the mud an for roosting allowing birdwatchers to watch it from a close distance. Here are some not so impressive heavily cropped record shots.

The fine black bill, all black head and feather structure on the wings made identification rather straightforward.Sony RX10 IV. © Gyorgy Szimuly

This Bonaparte’s Gull has been a returning visitor of the area for the last 7 years, according to local birders. Sony RX10 IV. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the roosting place, it landed on the closest mud islet and started preening immediately (second bird from the right). Sony RX10 IV. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The views through the spotting scopes were cracking. Sony RX10 IV. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Northern Lapwing in its breeding territory. Sony RX10 IV. © Gyorgy Szimuly

By now this is a very rare sight in England but still a few pairs of Eureopean Turtle Doves breed near the Oare Marshes. Sony RX 10 IV. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Watching purring European Turtle Doves reminded me to my childhood in Hungary where it was quite common. Sony RX 10 IV. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Red Fix is passing through the roosting flock of Black-tailed Godwit and Common Redshank in the Oare Marches. Sony RX 10 IV. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Here is the eBird list from the area.

Greylag Goose (Anser anser anser) 18
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) 7
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) X
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca crecca) X
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) 4
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 1
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 2
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta garzetta) 10
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 3
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) X
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 4
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 29
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus ostralegus) 4
European Golden-Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) 1
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 30
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus phaeopus) 1
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 6
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) 360
Ruff (Calidris pugnax) 6
Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 1
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) 2
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 138
Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) 1 ad.
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 190
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus argentatus) 12
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 9
European Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia turtur) 1
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) 1
Common Swift (Apus apus) 1
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 2
Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus) 11
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 4
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 9
Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus) 1
Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus scirpaceus) 13
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 1
Greater Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) 1
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 26
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 5
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 1
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 6
Eurasian Linnet (Linaria cannabina) 3
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 3

Sony announces a new super tele lens and it looks awesome for bird photography

Fellow Sony bird photographer, Christopher Dodds might agree with me that the newly announced Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens is a real game-changer for bird and wildlife photographers. I wasn’t lucky enough to put my hands on this new and long-awaited lens but based on the first hands-on reviews, it seems to perform superbly.

Amazing features for even faster focusing, like the new Power Focus mode. Image courtesy of Sony

The new Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens was announced today. Image courtesy of Sony

I’ve been shooting with Sony cameras (Sony a7RIII) for a few months now and I love it. I also love the whole concept of Sony how they target larger and larger segments of the market. I had been a Canon photographer before I started to use Sony, and I know what weight of the lens means. I often had to handhold the 500mm and 600mm lenses with a massive camera body and most of the time shooting were restricted to a few seconds only. Sony’s new lens is under 3 kgs (102.2 oz) and having any of the lightweight Sony mirrorless cameras attached would still be a lighter combo than the Canon or Nikon lenses alone. That’s a huge benefit for birds in flight photography.

Another advantage of this lens over the competitors is the autofocus speed thanks to the development of the linear autofocus system. Again, it is a huge benefit for fast moving birds. Tested in the field, it has an incredibly high rate of in-focus photos when shooting high frame rates with the a9. In Gordon Laing‘s preview you can see how perfectly the Sony a9 camera and the new 400mm lens combo is keeping the focus on the cyclists (see video bellow at 6:57 minutes).

The new Function switch allows to set the camera to APS-C crop mode what crops the image by 1.5 times and halves the resolution but on the a7RIII it still produces a 21 megapixel image what is more than enough for publishing purposes.

Yes, It is not cheap… $11,998 is a lot of money and a bit more expensive than the competitors’ similar lenses, but it is a superior lens (based on the previews!!!) what seems to outperform the big brothers in many ways. Eventaully, the price will drop anyway.

European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus argenteus) by Gyorgy Szimuly on 500px.com

This European Herring Gull was photographed by my Sony a7RIII camera with the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master lens. More photos in my gallery at https://500px.com/szimistyle. © Gyorgy Szimuly

 

Nightjaring

After a short distance drive in the middle of the night, we found ourselves at a never visited nature reserve near the Heathrow Airport. The Chobham Common National Nature Reserve is an ancient remnant of the formerly extensive lowland heath. We targeted to see European Nightjars and Dartford Warblers at the same place.

Beautiful mixture of habitats in the Chobham Common. Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Cotton Grass patch in the Chobham Common. Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Chobham Common is a beautiful nature reserve with a large variety of habitat types and amazing bird choirs at down. Out from the northern car park, we heard two European Nightjars churring. Just after a short walk, we saw one singing bird in the trees. Amazingly two birds were flying around us allowing to watch them without binoculars. They went quiet as it turned lighter. Two Dartford Warblers were singing at the lower part of the common. In the western corner of the reserve, a singing Woodlark perched on a dead tree and sang beautifully.

Woodlark was singing from this dead tree next to the trail. Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist:

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) 2
Stock Dove (Columba oenas) 2
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 5
Eurasian Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) 5
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis viridis) 1
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) 1
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 2
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 6
Wood Lark (Lullula arborea) 1
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 1
Coal Tit (British) (Periparus ater britannicus) 5
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 3
Great Tit (Parus major) 1
Eurasian Wren (British) (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus) 8
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) 2
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 5
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 1
Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) 1
Greater Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) 1
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) 2
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 3
European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) 2
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 13
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) 10
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 1
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 5
Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) 1
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 1
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 1
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) 2
Eurasian Linnet (Linaria cannabina) 4
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3