Frozen Spring

By the first of May I normally wear sandals and shorts and enjoying the first spells of Summer. This year however, spring is pretty much missing. At my departure the temperature was 0C°! This morning I went out to the Manor Farm, the only place to see some shorebirds around Milton Keynes. Being at the site with the first rays of sunlight always provides some special athmosphere for birding. At this time of the year birds are singing with full power, some of them are already busy defending their offspring from intruders.

The morning started with some new birds of the year in the UK. A Common Sandpiper was feeding along the rocky shores of the quarry and Common Terns were loudly chasing each other. As I approached the hide an Arctic Tern flew over the area towards the west without stopping. It’s always exciting to see this rarely and infrequently occuring seabird inland.

I found the first Northern Lapwing brood with three chicks feeding along the densely vegetated gravel islands. The female was around them while the male was guaring and chased approaching Carrion Crows and Lesser Black-blacked Gulls. Along the quarry route a lot of Greater Whitethroats were singing. They were new additions to the year as well, just like Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Swift.

Here is the complete eBird checklist:

Greylag Goose 1 injured
Canada Goose 14
Mute Swan 5
Gadwall 7
Mallard 22
Tufted Duck 25
Great Crested Grebe 1
Gray Heron 4
Little Egret 1
Eurasian Moorhen 21
Eurasian Coot 19
Eurasian Oystercatcher 3
Northern Lapwing 9 (3 chicks + 6 adults)
Little Ringed Plover 5
Common Sandpiper 2
Common Redshank 4
Black-headed Gull 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull (L. f. graellsii) 12
Common Tern 6
Arctic Tern 1
Stock Dove 2
Common Wood-Pigeon 20
Common Swift 24
Common Kingfisher 2
Eurasian Green Woodpecker 2
Eurasian Magpie 4
Eurasian Jackdaw 8
Rook 4
Carrion Crow 31
Europen Sky Lark 2
Barn Swallow 4
Eurasian Blue Tit 7
Great Tit 3
Long-tailed Tit 5
Eurasian Treecreeper 3
Eurasian Wren 19
Cetti’s Warbler 1
Willow Warbler 2
Common Chiffchaff 6
Sedge Warbler 6
Eurasian Reed-Warbler 3
Eurasian Blackcap 6
Lesser Whitethroat 1
Greater Whitethroat 23
European Robin 11
Eurasian Blackbird 11
Song Thrush 2
European Starling 4
Dunnock 4
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 7
Common Reed Bunting 8
Common Chaffinch 3
Eurasian Linnet 5

A part of the eautiful pasture aroung Manor Farm early in the frosty morning. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mist emerged from the river. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Peaceful waters with waterbirds and displayinh Little Ringed Plovers. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dunnock was singing undisturbed. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Terns were looking for the best nesting spots. © Gyorgy Szimuly

British White Wagtail. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A very noisy shot of one of the Nortern Lapwing chicks. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Male Nortern Lapwing guarding around the chicks. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Iron Trunk Aqueduct from the Manor Farm. The bushes right to the river is a busy songbird spot with singing Cetti’s Warbler. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Testing my new camera

Today, I got a new megazoom camera for documenting purposes. I have had a lot of instances during my birding career when such a camera could have been helpful in proving my identification of birds. The Sony Cyber-Shot HX400V bridge camera sports a massive 24-1,200mm equivalent zoom range which is more than enough for general birdwatching. The photos are not exceptional but good enough for blogging and other social media purposes. Its price tag is very good and making this camera a great value for the money. I think it will be a great gear for our Scottish birdwatching trip in May.

I share a couple of shots I took this afternoon in a quite overcast, nearly rainy weather at the nearby Mount Farm Lakes. Photos were downloaded from the camera using it as Wi-Fi to my iPad Pro. All photos were slightly sharpened in Snapseed and in a few cases slightly cropped (starlings).

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Sony Cyber-Shot HX400V bridge camera on my coffee table. It’s a great gift. © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Starling. 1/250, f6.3, ISO200, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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European Starling. 1/250, f6.3, ISO200, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Greylag Goose. 1/250, f6.3, ISO200, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Canada Goose. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 500, 1,194mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grey Heron. 1/250, f5.6, ISO 320, 480mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grey Heron. close up with nice bokeh. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 320, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

1/250, f5.6, ISO 400, 379mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Getting closer to the subject brings very nice smooth bokeh. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 400, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

1/250, f5.6, ISO 250, 647mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Greylag Goose close-up shot. It’s a bit noisy but acceptable. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 500, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

1/250, f6.3, ISO 400, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Zoom test on the local church in Central Milton Keynes. Unedited photos straight out of the camera. 24mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Zoom test on the local church in Central Milton Keynes. Unedited photos straight out of the camera. 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

 

Back to my Hungarian birding sites

I wish my recent Hungarian visit was for pleasant birding. I made a short trip to my homeland for sending off my late mother who died just before Christmas. As birding always brings joy and peace to my life, I decided to visit my former local birding sites with my son and friends. We had a very nice time in the morning and I truly enjoyed being out and forget everything what had happened in the last couple of months.

Our first stop was, as usual, at the Old Lake of Tata where I have birded for 25 years. This internationally important wetland is famous by holding tens of thousands of wintering waterbirds but most importantly wild geese. While there was a slight drop in their numbers from the previous night (9,000), we still could see 6,800 roosting geese on the mainly frozen lake. The majority of the roosting flock was Greater White-fronted Goose and Greylag Goose, but a few Tundra Bean Goose, a single Taiga Bean Goose and also a Barnacle Goose made the flock diverse. The forest around the observation tower was unusually alige and very noisy. The largest ever recorded Redwing flock in the area made us surprised. An approximate 80 birds invaded the forest with lots of Fieldfares and higher number of Hawfinches. During a two hours stay we saw Greater Spotted and Syrian Woodpecker, Eurasian Green and Black Woodpecker. Over the tower a few Pygmy Cormorants flew towards the nearby feeding sites.

The almost completely frozen Old Lake. © Gyorgy Szimuly

My best homeland birding friend and local wild goose expert, László Musicz is counting waterbirds, so do I in the background. © Daniel Szimuly

Here is the eBird checklist front the Old Lake:

Taiga Bean-Goose 1
Tundra Bean-Goose 100
Greater White-fronted Goose 6,000
Graylag Goose (European) 500
Barnacle Goose 1
Eurasian Wigeon 1
Mallard 1,800
Northern Pintail 3
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) 42
Common Pochard 18
Common Goldeneye 6
Common Merganser (Eurasian) 9
Great Cormorant (Eurasian) 48
Pygmy Cormorant 2
Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea) 4
Great Egret (Eurasian) 2
Eurasian Coot 26
Black-headed Gull 80
Mew Gull (European) 70
Caspian Gull 260
Great Spotted Woodpecker 3
Syrian Woodpecker 1
Black Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Eurasian) 2
Eurasian Jay 2
Eurasian Jackdaw 80
Rook 500
Hooded Crow 12
Coal Tit 1
Eurasian Blue Tit 11
Great Tit 9
Eurasian Nuthatch 2
Eurasian Wren (Eurasian) 1
Eurasian Blackbird 13
Fieldfare 28
Redwing (Eurasian) 95
Mistle Thrush 2
White Wagtail 2
Eurasian Bullfinch 2
Hawfinch 33
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 1

Our next stop was at the Ferencmajor fishponds north of Tata, from where I have wonderful memories. The lakes were not terribly productive as only a few of them had ice-free open water. The biggest surprise was to find a larger calling flock of Water Pipit in unusually high numbers. Pygmy Cormorants were flying all over the area and Water Rails were very active and easy to see at several places.

Roosting Pygmy Cormorants. © Máté Szabó

Summarized eBird checklist from the area:

Greater White-fronted Goose 1
Greylag Goose (European) 60
Mute Swan 2
Gadwall 36
Mallard 433
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) 78
Smew 6
Great Cormorant (Eurasian) 24
Pygmy Cormorant 32
Grey Heron 34
Great Egret (Eurasian) 24
Common Buzzard 3
Water Rail 10
Eurasian Moorhen 1
Eurasian Coot 331
Green Sandpiper 2
Caspian Gull 53
Black Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Magpie (Eurasian) 2
Hooded Crow 15
Eurasian Blue Tit 4
Eurasian Wren (Eurasian) 1
Mistle Thrush 1
Dunnock 1
White Wagtail 1
Water Pipit 34
Reed Bunting 5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 2

The birding team at the Ferencmajor fishponds. Daniel Szimuly (on the left), then Máté Szabó, myself and László Musicz. © Daniel Szimuly

On the way home we stopped the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Tata, where a rare Wallcreeper has been spending the winter. As this is a rare opportunity to see this unique bird, we gave it a try to find it. Luckily, Laci spotted it within a minute and we could enjoy watching its butterfly-like wing flicking. Thanks for the young birdwatchers, Máté Szabó and Levente Pribéli, for offering me a few of their photos of this bird.

Wintering Wallcreeper on the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Tata. © Máté Szabó

Wintering Wallcreeper on the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Tata. © Máté Szabó

Wintering Wallcreeper on the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Tata. © Levente Pribéli

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Open winged moth-like Wallcreeper while feeding. © Levente Pribéli

 

 

Dying Martin Garner’s way

Martin Garner’s family announced his passing yesterday after a long and painful battle with cancer. I have never met Martin Garner aka Birding Frontiers, but I know he was one of the true birding legends in the United Kingdom. The reason I post here about him is to express my admiration for his work and to make my readers remember to celebrate the life of the living.

I’m not targeting to summarize Martin Garner’s wonderful life and achievements, but I couldn’t resist to share my thoughts about the way he left this earth for good. In the last couple months Martin fought to gain just a little more time before the inevitable coming. I know it from social media and I was deeply touched by his energy and motivation and the way he inspired hundreds through his last video messages while he was in pain. As I read the sad posts about his death by his family and birding friends, one thing became obvious. Martin Garner have been loved and respected by so many birdwatchers not only in the United Kingdom but from different corners of the world. Martin felt privileged to see and feel this love. He knew he’s been loved by hundreds.

Most of us post emotional messages to family members of someone who passed away. How sad, however, that this love remains unseen for the departing in most of the cases. I’m sure Martin’s life had been prolonged by days if not weeks just because he had a chance to read all the wonderful messages his admirers sent him. I think everyone dreams to die Martin Garner’s way.

His death reminded me about the importance and power of knowing being loved. We should never miss an opportunity to express our love to someone we love!

Rest in Peace Martin Garner.

One of the excellent works of Martin Garner. Image courtesy of Birding Frontiers.

One of the excellent works of Martin Garner. Image courtesy of Birding Frontiers.

American shorebirds at the south coast of England

It’s been a while I posted anything here but there was no time for birdwatching in the last few months. Earlier this week a Hungarian birdwatcher, Attila Simay, surprised me by his temporary move to England. He planned to visit a coastal site where a ‘Hudsonian‘ Whimbrel had been reported. The bird was first found on 9 June 2015 on the mudflat of Pagham Harbour at Church Norton in West Sussex. ‘Hudsonian‘ Whimbrel is a subspecies of ‘Eurasian‘ Whimbrel breeding on the North American Arctic. The British Ornithologists’ Union  has already elevated Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus to species level. 

This bird have regularly been seen since then on the same spot by hundreds of birdwatchers and twitchers and we hoped we can also be among the lucky ones.
Upon arrival it started to drizzle but it didn’t last long so we could explore the area. We spotted a few Whimbrels alongside Eurasian Curlews but none of the bird seemed to be special until I became suspicious about one bird. It was obviously different even on the ground. As it was walking next to another Whimbrel we could compare them. The longer we watched the feeding birds, the more obvious the differences became. At that point we were 99% certain about our bird being a ‘Hudsonian‘ Whimbrel. Here are the main differences we could see, but that doesn’t mean these are the key characteristics in separation of two subspecies:

Size: ‘Hudsonian‘ looked well built and slightly larger than the ‘Eurasian‘ Whimbrel. It also could be a reason of sex difference.
Colours:Hudsonian‘ was obviously tawny toned in general and wasn’t any close in colouration to the overall greyish ‘Eurasian‘.
Head markings:Hudsonian’s eyebrow and crown stripe was broad and clear white in prominent contrast with the dark eye stripe and brown cap. The same parts in ‘Eurasian‘ Whimbrel looked diffused greyish with dirty creamy tones without any sharp or contrasty separation around the stripes. Crown stipe was narrow and inprominent in ‘European‘.
Bill:Hudsonian‘ had Eurasian Curlew-like long and massive bill. It seemed to be darker then the ‘Eurasian‘ Whimbrel’s, but the length was the most considerable difference. This, however, could also be sex-related issue.

Until the ‘Hudsonian‘ took off we were not entirely sure about the identification, but we always kept our eye on the bird in question and ignored watching the other one. Right after it took flight the all brown rump and back without any white colouration became obvious making us feeling proud about being able to separate this bird on the ground. Not everyday one has a chance to see both subspecies side by side.

To celebrate this Western Palearctic tick we decided to move over another place where another long staying ‘yankee’ shorebird has been present for months. A Greater Yellowlegs was on the pond of Titchfield Haven NNR right next to Cliff Road. Wind was shaking us but we had perfect view on this summer plumaged bird. Unfortunately, a group of idiots released 4 colourful balloons straight over the pond, which were pushed down by the stormy wind towards the feeding birds. All birds flew off and we couldn’t relocate the yellowlegs again.

Now, the weekend is over and it’s time to run another tough week at work.

Launching my first study on waders

I have been connected to shorebird science for more than 20 years, since I first attended the International Wader Study Group conference in Hungary. Working on the shorebird handbook brought science even closer to me allowing to learn more about research despite I’m not a scientist.

This year I kick off my first migration study on Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubious).

The Little Ringed Plover is among the commonest breeding shorebird species in Hungary and the Carpathian Basin (part of Slovakia, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Romania Ukraine and covering the entire territory of Hungary) thanks to its relatively high flexibility in habitat use. Despite being one of the commonest and most widespread species, little is known about the migration and wintering sites of this impressive wader species. Based on the data, published in the Bird Migration Atlas of Hungary, over 2,000 Little Ringed Plovers have been ringed until 2006 (55 years of ringing) but only 8 birds were recaptured abroad, while just 5 foreign ringed birds recovered from Hungary.

The knowledge on the migration of other European subpopulations of Little Ringed Plover isn’t any better. Using new technologies give more chance to get better understanding of the migration of smaller shorebirds.

The goal of the project

  • Learning more about the migration strategies, routes and wintering sites of the Little Ringed Plover breeding in Hungary and the Carpathian Basin part of Serbia.
  • Determining which European subpopulations of Little Ringed Plover use the Carpathian Basin as a stopover region.
  • Getting better understanding of the migration strategies of different European subpopulations of Little Ringed Plover.
  • Getting data on site and mate fidelity of adults and return rate to the place of birth of juveniles.

10mm tall red rings with two white engraved characters (two letters or a letter and a number) will be used to have a chance better recovery rate of birds without the need of recapturing. The supporting ring will be plain orange and a national metal ring have to be used as well. The red ring will be placed on the left tibia (upper leg above the knee), metal ring in on the left tarsus (lower leg) and the plain orange ring on the right tibia.

During the next two breeding seasons breeding adult and juvenile Little Ringed Plover will be captured and ringed/banded in Hungary, Romania and possibly in Serbia. We also target to ring birds during post-breeding gathering and both on spring and fall migration.

Follow the project on our dedicated Shorebird Studies wordpress site.

Into crowd sourcing

Having no computer in the last 9 months made my life full of hassle. Being restricted to a smart phone made progress of everything a bit slow. Now this old buddy is fixed, probably for the last time, and I jumped into multiple tasks to be able to catch up. Surprisingly, I made nice progress with the species accounts of the shorebird handbook and could manage to do some birding on the Global Big Day on 9 May.

For me, the most important ‘event’ of the past few weeks was the release of a crowd funding campaign for the handbook. As funds are limited and not available for many things, including participating shorebird conferences, I asked my friends and social media community for donating the project. I’m normally sceptic about the positive outcome of such donation campaigns, but since I’m quite frequently donating, I thought I could also be successful. The campaign proved to be a good idea and as of today I’ve got £475. I’m not only happy by the amount donated, but the feeling others think this project worth to ‘invest’ in. With this help I probably can attend an important conference to be held in Virginia in September. I still have some time to get the desired £2,000 for this travel. Here is my GoFundMe campaign for further details.

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The next couple of weeks will be spent working harder to be able to travel in September and also will be sitting in front of my laptop and finishing the oystercatcher accounts.

If you feel this publishing project is worth to support, please donate even with a small amount.

New to my British list: Common Nightingale

A Common Nightingale was reported yesterday from the nearby Blue a Lagoon Nature Reserve but nobody could relocate it since. I gave it a try this afternoon as it normally actively singing in late afternoon (also during the night).

I followed my usual, all inclusive routing, including the new pits (now waste land) near Newton Longville. The approximate location of the nightingale was in the last quarter of my route. While I had a glimpse of a Water Rail in one of the small pools, a familiar song hit my ears. A Common Nightingale was singing his heart out. It was a slightly different song I got to used to, but it was amazing to hear. Probably, this bird song is what I have missed the most from Hungary.

I quickly walked towards the bird and within a minute I spotted the bird singing from one of the trees. I had a great view on it and I was surprised to see a metal ring on its left tarsus. The ring was quite tall and still shiny.

Here is the sound (in video) recording I made with my iPhone:

Here is the location info on this Google Map for those who want to see this superb singer.

Red flag is the viewing spot, the green pin showing the parking lot.

Birding in general was very nice in such a gorgeous weather. Ride Kites, Common Buzzards and large gulls were soaring all over the place and songbirds were singing from every corner of the reserve. April rocks!

Gorgeous evening lights over the Blue Lagoon. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mixed vegetation is key for dicersity. Reed buntings, reed warblers prefer this havitat. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Complete checklist from today:

Canada Goose 1
Mute Swan 2
Mallard 8
Great Crested Grebe 1
Red Kite 13
Common Buzzard 5
Water Rail 1
Eurasian Moorhen 4
Eurasian Coot 6
Little Ringed Plover 1
Common Sandpiper 1
European Herring Gull 67
Lesser Black-backed Gull 33
Lesser Black-backed Gull (L. f. graellsii) 140
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Stock Dove 4
Common Wood-Pigeon 41
Common Kingfisher 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker 2
Eurasian Magpie 8
Eurasian Jackdaw 127
Rook 48
Carrion Crow 244
Common Raven 2
European Skylark 5
Great Tit 11
Eurasian Blue Tit 12
Long-tailed Tit (A. c. europaeus) 6
Eurasian Wren 12
Willow Warbler 8
Common Chiffchaff 12
Sedge Warbler 1
Eurasian Reed-Warbler 4
Blackcap 19
Lesser Whitethroat 2
Greater Whitethroat 1
European Robin 33
Common Nightingale 1
Common Blackbird 16
Song Thrush 4
Dunnock 12
White Wagtail (M. a. yarellii) 1
Common Reed Bunting 2
Common Chaffinch 4
Eurasian Bullfinch 4
European Greenfinch 4
European Goldfinch 2
Eurasian Linnet 5

Little Terns at Manor Farm

Panoramic photo of the Manor Farm quarry. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Panoramic photo of the Manor Farm quarry. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Despite a Common Nightingale was reported from the Blue Lagoon Reserve, I decided to go to Manor Farm in Old Wolverton. I made my usual routing around the farm and the gravel pits.

It was quite birdy with some ‘new to the year’ birds like Common Sandpiper, Lesser Whitethroat (seen along the River Great Ouse), Common Whitethroat and Western Yellow Wagtail.

A single Common Sandpiper was feeding along the muddy edges of the gravel islets. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A single Common Sandpiper was feeding along the muddy edges of the gravel islets. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Shorebirds were in territory and counted a couple of incubating Northern Lapwings and at least one Little Ringed Plover. Eurasian Oystercatchers were aggressively defending territory from a raven sized Carrion Crow. On the eastern side two Common Terns occupied a small gravel islet.

Food number of Northern Lapwings were keeping territories in the quarry. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I spent half an hour for counting birds from the southern side bridge. Suddenly a Common Tern and two gorgeous Little Terns appeared from the Aqueduct. This is not an everyday sighting. Little Tern is quite rare in Buckinghamshire. Unfortunately, I couldn’t report it from the scene as I run out of credit. Anyway, half an hour later I could talk to Andi who sent the message out. I was still questioned by the operator of the local rare bird alert about a slightly late reporting.

Low water level offers nice nesting habitats for shorebirds, but also offers easy access for predators. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Here is the list of birds reported to eBird:

Greylag Goose 2
Canada Goose 18
Mute Swan 5
Gadwall 2
Mallard 29
Northern Shoveler 3
Eurasian Teal 4
Common Pochard 3
Tufted Duck 46
Common Pheasant 1
Little Grebe 1
Great Crested Grebe 2
Great Cormorant 1
Grey Heron 2
Little Egret 1
Common Buzzard 2
Eurasian Moorhen 11
Eurasian Coot 13
Eurasian Oystercatcher 2
Northern Lapwing 24
Little Ringed Plover 13
Common Sandpiper 1
Common Redshank 7
Black-headed Gull 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Little Tern 2
Common Tern 3
Common Wood-Pigeon 22
Eurasian Green Woodpecker 2
Eurasian Magpie 26
Eurasian Jackdaw 38
Rook 56
Carrion Crow 23
European Skylark 3
Bank Swallow 17
Barn Swallow 2
Common House Martin 8
Great Tit 11
Eurasian Blue Tit 24
Long-tailed Tit (A. c. europaeus) 6
Eurasian Treecreeper 3
Eurasian Wren 13
Goldcrest 2
Willow Warbler 2
Common Chiffchaff 7
Sedge Warbler 1
Blackcap 12
Greater Whitethroat 3
European Robin 7
Common Blackbird 11
Song Thrush 2
Common Starling 21
Dunnock 5
Western Yellow Wagtail (M. f. flavissima) 4
Grey Wagtail 1
White Wagtail (M. f. yarellii) 7
Common Reed Bunting 5
Common Chaffinch 10
Eurasian Bullfinch 2
European Greenfinch 2
European Goldfinch 15
Eurasian Linnet 3

Solar Eclipse 2015

As of writing the Solar Eclipse is under way. It is now of 69% coverage. We could manage to take several good photos with an iPhone through my binoculars. Nice stuff.

Solar Eclipse viewd from Milton Keynes with a Lesser Black-backed Gull in front of the Sun. Photo was taken by an iPhone 6 through a Zeiss Victory HT 10×42 binoculars. © Andrea Szimuly & Gyorgy Szimuly