An emotional surprise

I’m not sure I can recall the exact year but somewhere around 1977/78 my Dad got me the most sought after and the only available bird identification book in Hungarian language, A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe (in Hungarian, Európa Madarai) by Peterson, Mountfort and Hollom. It’s still a mystery for me how he managed to get a copy for me, but surely his birdwatcher colleague’s must had helped him. That book played a fundamental role in the development of being a decent(?) birdwatcher. I never forget those times when I endlessly browsed the book and dreamt of seeing an Eurasian Oystercatcher live one day. That page with the oystercatcher caught my eye and that was the date when I fell in love with shorebirds for life.

This inarguably was one of the decisive bird books of my life. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Unfortunately, most of the books of my childhood, including this important one, was lost or damaged during my multiple moves of my life. To make this story short, a few weeks ago I got a parcel from my amazing Hungarian business partner, living in England. Prior to the arrival of this parcel he texted me that it would require some explanation. When I opened the parcel in the taxi, I was left speechless. He sent me a copy of the very same edition of the book, that determined my early years of birding, without knowing I had lost it many years ago. After the death of his enthusiastic bird lover grandfather, he saved this book for me. Such a lovely gesture. I’ll be always grateful for it.

This page from the book made me fall in love with shorebirds for life. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Needless to say, by browsing this book again 40 years later, wonderful birding memories emerged, and it made me remember the way I learned identifying birds on my own.

Thank you my friend.

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Caspian Gull at the Blue Lagoon LNR

Blue Lagoon with roosting gulls. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Several viewing spots allowed perfect views on these roosting gulls. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Utilizing my recreational day off, I had a stroll to the nearby Blue Lagoon Local Nature Reserve in Bletchley. The morning was sunny and chilly but the wind from yesterday calmed down. I haven’t been at the reserve for a while and it was about time to have my first visit of the winter.

Bird composition was as usual all along my path but this time larger number of wintering gulls were roosting at the main lake (Blue Lagoon). I watched them for about half an hour and one bird was different from others with its black eye, clean white head and somehow flatter forehead. It was a 3rd winter Caspian Gull what is an uncommon bird in Britain but more regularly seen during winter.

Red Kites glided from Fenny Stratford towards the waste land. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Other birds of note were a flock of 17 Red Kites over the land fill, a smaller overfying Fieldfare flock and a few European Siskins but I was expecting to see some Redwings as well.

Here is the eBird list from today:

Mute Swan 2
Mallard 2
Great Cormorant 1
Red Kite 17
Common Buzzard 1
Eurasian Moorhen 3
Black-headed Gull 162
Mew Gull 34
European Herring Gull 136
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans) 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii) 250
Great Black-backed Gull 15
Common Wood-Pigeon 8
Common Kingfisher 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker 3
Eurasian Kestrel 1
Eurasian Jay (Eurasian) 2
Eurasian Magpie (Eurasian) 8
Eurasian Jackdaw 4
Rook 65
Carrion Crow 45
Common Raven 1
European Skylark 1
Eurasian Blue Tit 13
Great Tit 4
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus europaeus) 28
Eurasian Wren (British) 7
Goldcrest 2
European Robin 11
Common Blackbird 28
Fieldfare 23
Song Thrush 1
Mistle Thrush 1
Common Starling 8
Dunnock 5
Grey Wagtail 1
White Wagtail (British) 1
Meadow Pipit 2
Reed Bunting 1
Common Chaffinch 2
Eurasian Bullfinch (Eurasian) 5
European Greenfinch 2
Eurasian Linnet 5
European Goldfinch 14
Eurasian Siskin 5

My second handheld Paddyfied Warbler in Hungary

A brief trip to Hungary for resolving pending family issues started with sadness, reunion with a long seen family member and a very kind neighbour, who had looked after us some 40 years ago, and lots of emotions when I entered the room where I had spent my childhood. The trip then continued with a special unplanned meeting with my birder friends from my hometown.

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This was the frst ringed Paddyfield Warbler for the Ferencmajor Bird Ringing Station. It was very probably an early fledged immature bird. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

On the way to the Bird Ringing Satation of the Ferencmajor fishponds I got a news about a Paddyfield Warbler (Acrocephalus agricola) had trapped just minutes before by leading ringers. This is a rare bird in Hungary having only a few records. As I was just a few miles away, I had some time to check this bird before other birders arrived to see it.

This was my second encounter of this species as in 2001 I trapped and ringed one in northwest Hungary while I was there for ringing shorebirds.

I was just about writing a short blog about the amazing result our ringing station including lots of unusual and some very rare capture, but this Paddyfield Warbler was just to special and deserved a separate posts.

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Adult Paddyfield Warbler at its nesting site in Dobrogea, eastern Romania. Canon EOS-1D Mark II + Canon EF f4 600mm L IS USM lens. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A self-found Yellow-browed Warbler for Buckinghamshire

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler from the Hauxley Nature Reserve, Northumberland. © Tim Mason (Photo was legally embedded from Tim Mason’s Flickr photostream. Check out Tim Mason‘s photos on Flickr.)

Finally we had a short time for birdwatching at the nearby lake and we didn’t return home empty handed. After playing with the digiscoping adapter from Viking Optical around the Caldecotte Lake north we had a short birding around the northern car park of the south lake.

Around the lakes there was a lot of movement of small passerines including Long-tailed Tits, European Blue Tits and Common Chiffchaffs. Next to the car park towards the lake we found a small flock of songbirds heading towards the car park. Suddenly two Phylloscopus warblers popped out from the bottom of the hedge just 3 meters away. A Common Chiffchaff was chasing another similar sized bird. They were flitting so fast but we both clearly seen the strikingly yellow wingbar and darker panel next to the bar. It looked much whiter on the belly than the chaser. Eyebrow was prominent yellow. It was a stunning Yellow-browed Warbler.

From the hedge they flew to a group of bush. It was full of Great Tits, European Blue Tits, a Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaffs a European Blackcap and House Sparrows. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it again as we had to see our taxi. However, on the way back we heard the higher pitch calls of the Yellow-browed Warbler from the willow edging the lake.

I posted the news to the local hotline as a ‘probable’ Yellow-browed Warbler but I was positive with my identification. I was one of the lucky ones in Hungary who trapped a Yellow-browed Warbler And seen some in Thailand as well.

Later in the afternoon we got a text message confirming our observation as another birder found the bird further north next to the car park.

Life bird number 2,192…

Time by time I have crazy ideas for finding life birds. This time everything came together for a potentially wonderful birding day in Cornwall. As I live in the middle of England every prime coastal area several hours of driving away. Cornwall is among the ‘worst’ of all. It requires 5 hours 30 minutes drive in ideal scenario. Yet, I thought I could squeeze everything in one day.

Spectacular sunrise over the cliffs of Porthgwarra. © Gyorgy Szimuly

It’s hard not to be sentimental by those morning colours. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Reading multiple reports about Great Shearwaters and European Storm Petrels, two of the several missing European seabirds from my life list, made me want to give it a try. My original idea was to have a day at sea traveling by the Scillonian III ferry from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly. Sadly, having a bank holiday Monday, the return ferry was fully booked and we had to give seabird watching a try from the land.

On the Biritsh Facebook Birders group a few sites have been recommended by experienced British birders and big thanks to them for the information. Dani and me arrived to Porthgwarra at 4:30AM and enjoyed the view of the spectacular Milky Way and the absolute silence. I don’t even remember when was the last time there wasn’t any noise around me. After a bit of rest in the car we started our walk uphill to the local RSPB Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). From the first higher point we had spectacular view of the sunrise and the beautifully calm sea.

Hundreds of Northern Gannets passed by during our entire stay. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another flock of Northern Gannets. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sevaral flocks of European Shag were among the firsts to go out feeding followed by the constant flow of Northern Gannets. The biggest spectacle, however, was the incredible number of feeding shearwaters within a close distance from the cliffs. We found a perfect viewing spot just in front of the coastwatch station of Gwennap Head and started browsing the calm waters through the excellent Viking Optical’s ED Pro 80 spotting scope. We have been blown away by the large number of seabirds. Thousands of Manx Shearwaters flew all around and I thought it was impossible to spot something different from the ‘crowd’ but despite having not much seabirding experience, it turned up less challenging to find other species as well.

Great shearwater

Great Shearwater became my latest life bird. © Andrew Malcolm Photo was legally embedded from Andrew Malcolm’s Flickr stream with direct link to his portfolio. Check out his work.

Gear in action: The Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope delivered perfect views of thousands of seabirds. The swwet spot (size of sharp area of the whole image) was large enough. Early morning means colours are dull and lights are dim. Thanks to the excellent ED 80mm front lens this scope allowed us watching birds with the first lights. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Scillonian III has crossed the sea in front of us with fully packed deck. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The view from the headland to the Celtic Sea. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another view to the very distant Isles of Scilly. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The first surprise was a juvenile Sabine’s Gull which could have been easily be mistaken with juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake. I was happy to show it to Dani and he scored his second lifer of the day. Soon after I lost the juvenile Sabine’s Gull, a shearwater with dirty-looking underwing appeared. It was a Balearic Shearwater and Dani was happy again. We didn’t have to wait long for something larger and different. A Great Shearwater landed on water gently mobbed by a stunning Sooty Shearwater. The size difference of this capped shearwater was obvious even on water. Further watching the sea a ‘yellow-nosed’ Cory’s Shearwater turned up that was sadly missed by Dani.

Meadow Pipits were actively feeding on the headland. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

Meanwhile songbirds landed around us. Small flocks of Western Yellow Wagtails, Grey and (British) White Wagtails, Meadow, Tree and Rock Pipits, Barn Swallows, European Jackdaws were regularly seen.

Coastwatch station of Gwennap Head with the lovely birdwatcher lady. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A lovely birdwatcher lady approached me while Dani went back to the shop for getting a parking ticket. She was local and was very kind especially when she highlighted the chance to misidentify juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake as Sabine’s Gull.

Stunning bay at Porthgwagga with amazingly freezing waters. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Seafront at Land’s End with splashes on the right by a feeding Basking Shark. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Terrible digiscoped photo of an adult Sabine’s Gull. Sadly we had no adapter for a much better photo but Dani tried it hard.

This is again a digiscope video still. Dani held and positioned the iPhone in the air. Anyway, the bird is identifiable.

Dani ended the day with 5 life birds and obviously was happy about it. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

All of a sudden almost all the shearwaters flew towards the waters of Land’s End, the place we wanted to see anyway. Land’s End, that is just a few miles from Porthgwarra, is the most westerly point of England. As expected on the bank holiday Monday, it was fully packed with tourists but that didn’t stop us watching birds despite the £6 parking fee! Right after I set up the tripod and scope, came another lifer, but it wasn’t a bird this time. A massive Basking Shark was feeding right to the light house. During our stay it was hunting at the same area providing spectacular views through the scope. What an animal it was.

From this spot I found more Sooty Shearwaters but unarguably the best find was an adult Sabine’s Gull with a company of a juvenile Sabine’s Gull, Black-headed Gulls and a few Europen Herring Gulls.

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Persistence for life birds payed off

The random and necessary change of the trip plan offered a not so comfortable bight in the car. Dani spent ‘some’ time outdoors with his lovely company from the creperie, and I tried to sleep a few hours. While I set the car for sleeping, I heard two different European Scops-Owl calling.

After sunrise we walked to the viewing point and dedicated the whole morning to spot at least one Cinereous Vulture. Soon after we finished our breakfast sandwiches I had a short chat with a local bird guide about my target bird. It turned out that the Rougon viewing point wasn’t exactly the right spot for finding them. Our best chance to spot them was browsing the sky for gliding vultures over the opposite hills south to Rougon village. That turned to be a very useful advice.

Vautour moine - Aegypius monachus - Cinereous Vulture

Incoming Cinereous Vulture. © Olivier Teilhard (Photo was legally embedded from Olivier Teilhard’s Flickr photostream. Check out his work.)

We have been recommended to walk up to the cliffs behind the houses for better chances for Cinereous Vultures. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is at the viewing point. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Viking Optical’s ED Pro 80 flagship scope proved to be a perfect companion for our thip and delivered unforgettable views on many birds including lifers. It’s optical performance isalmost unbeatable at this price point. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

At around 11AM Dani walked back to the car for more water while I spotted a slowly soaring Cinereous Vulture through the spotting scope. I quickly called him and he run back to the viewing point for catching a glimpse of the disappearing bird. What a bird it was. Soon another bird joined it offering some good views before they glided behind the peak. As the guide suggested it might have been the pair breeding just a few miles away to the south. The bird activity was quite high during our stay. Dani had another life bird when a single Red-billed Chough flew over while calling. We enjoyed good views of 2 Alpine Swifts, a singing Wryneck and Cirl Bunting,

Soaring Short-toed Snake Eagle over the rocky slopes of Rougon. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Short-toed Snake Eagle flew over the viewing point quite low. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon gliding just above the créperie. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

I’m very grateful for the unknown guide who shared this little but much needed information with me that eventually helped looking at the right directions for this long wanted lifer. Also we are grateful for Viking Optical’s tremendous support. Without the Viking ED Pro 80 scope this bird couldn’t have been spotted.

Limestone hills south to Rougon where Cinereous Vultures flew over. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Different view to the village of Rougon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the morning:

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) 2
Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) 42
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 2
Alpine Swift (Apus melba) 2
Common Swift (Apus apus) 42
Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 2
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 1
Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) 6
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 1
Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 3
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 2
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 21
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 3
Great Tit (Parus major) 1
Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) 1
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 4
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) 1
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 1
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 3
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 2
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) 1
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) 1
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 4
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) 2
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 4

One of the roadside lavender fields in Provence. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

By saying a final goodbye to the place and the staff of the restaurant our holiday came to an end. The rest of the day was quiet, and as always, a little sad by ending our short but rather intense holiday.

Was it it a successful trip after all? Yes, it was. The weather was awesome (my kind) and the whole region is one of my favourites in Europe. There is still plenty of reasons to return to Provence.

We are so grateful for Viking Optical’s tremendous support for this trip. Thank you Stuart and the Team!

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Trying again for Cinereous Vultures

We started birding before sunrise at the Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre and soon realized we should have brought some warmer clothing with us. Even summer mornings at 2,000 meters is not the same as it was at the Camargue. Just to warm up we made a short trek towards the mountains and looked for Rock Partridges.

No Rock Partridges were seen but we loved this morning having no anthropogenic noise around, just birds and the sounds of water flow from the stream bellow were heard. We saw overflying Citril Finches but sadly none perced on the nearby trees. Dani secured another life bird after I spotted a female Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush.

Sweet first lights landed on the side of the surrounding peaks. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Preparing for breakfast while listening to the metallic call of Citril Finches. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (Monticola saxitilis)

I hoped for for a stunning male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush but having a close view to a female was equaly satisfying. © Imran Shah (Photo was legally embedded from Imran Shah’s Flickr photostream. Check out his work.)

eBird checklist from Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre:

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 1
Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) 8
Coal Tit (Periparus ater) 3
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 2
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 4
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 1
Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush (Monticola saxatilis) 1
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) 9
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 3
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 2
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) 1
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) 2
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 15
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3
Citril Finch (Carduelis citrinella) 2
European Serin (Serinus serinus) 3

After a few hours birding we left the hotel area and slowly descended down towards the village Saint-Martin-Vésubie. We had some stops and tried for Citril Finches at higher elevations. Along the Rivière La Vesubie we found a Crested Tit and a White-throated Dipper.

On the way back we decided to give another try for the Cinereous Vulture at the Gorges du Verdon. Another accident and road closure almost ruined my plan to get there before the vultures leave the roosting sites. From midday we enjoyed the views again on these majestic birds in full sunshine. In 4.5 hours we had 2 Egyptian Vultures, 16 Eurasian Griffons, a Short-toed Snake-Eagle and other songbirds but there was no sign of Cinereous Vulture. Needless to say we continued birdwatching from the creperie and had some chat with the lovely Thais who was serving food.

Dani tirelessly browsed the cliffs under the burning sun for all dark vultures. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon trio just above the viewing point. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A sunny version of the Gorges du Verdon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Short-toed snake eagle

Short-toed Snake-Eagle often soared above the rocky hillsides next to the viewing point. © Dave Pot (Photo was legally embedded from Dave Pot’s Flickr photostream. Check out his work.)

Picturesque river valley of the Gorges du Verdon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the southern peaks of the Gorges du Verdon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Again the creperie where unexpected things can happen (and it did…). iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

It wasn’t a good feeling to leave the area for variety of reasons but we travelled back to the coast for a short visit to Saint Tropez.

Charming mountain village of Lantosque, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Castillon Lake and its surroundings with gorgeous blue waters. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

In the evening golden hours we arrived to Saint-Tropez. The purpose of this visit was purely to experience the atmosphere of one of the most favourite Summer destinations of celebrities and rich people. The port of Saint-Tropez was full of futuristic and posh looking yachts with super confident staff while average tourists walked around with moth open in a hope to get a glimpse of at least one of the celebrities.

Traditional-looking yacht at the Port of Saint-Tropez. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Cafés and restaurants were fully packed by tourists along the Place Frédéric Mistral. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

this futuristic yacht wasn’t the only one at the Port of Saint-Tropez. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The vibration of the Port of Saint-Tropez is a wonderful result of the mixture of history and modern times and tecnology. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

This is one of the funniest and most eye catching street sculptures I have ever seen. This was an exclusive exhibition of the works of Niki de Saint Phalle on the streets of Saint-Tropez. These feminine sculptures, “made of papier-mâché, yarn, and cloth, represent white, black, yellow women with round shapes and decorative features”, according to Saint-Tropez Tourisme. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

After sunset we left Saint-Tropez and headed towards Marseille as long as I changed my mind. I took the risk of driving in the night on the serpentines with animals frequently crossing the road and drove back to Gorges Du Verdon, giving it a one last chance to see the Cinereous Vulture. Just after midnight we arrived to the car park of Rougon.

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Vulture heaven along the Gorges Du Verdon

Leaving the coastline behind we headed to the spectacular Gorges Du Verdon where we hoped to find the long chased life bird of mine, the Cinereous Vulture. We spent the night near the bridge where the turquoise-green Verdon River enters the lake of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. We were about 20 minutes drive away from the vulture breeding area near the gorgeous little mountain village of Rougon.

While being prepared for the short drive through a spectacular Verdon River valley we had a stunning Short-toead Snake-Eagle over our car with a snake in its bill and we saw 4 Alpine Swifts and Eurasian Crag-Martin flying over the limestone cliffs.

 

Almost unreal water colour of a river. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Tourists love kayaking under this breathtaking cliffs. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Panorama photo of the Verdon River from the bridge. © Gyorgy Szimuly

By arriving to the Rougon area we were not 100% sure about the best observation spot to watch vultures but we found one spot along the breathtaking serpentine road. The map bellow shows where we looked for birds. I have to admit this place was one of the most beautiful I have ever birded or been. The view from the small parking lot to the river valley and the giant vertical cliffs is just jawdropping.

Egyptian Vultures provided excellent views through our perfectly performing Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Some of the Eurasian Griffons stayed on the roosting sites until midday. iPhone SE through Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope (handheld) © Daniel Szimuly

It is rather painful not having prime photo gear with you as opportunities to photograph vultures, like this Eurasian Griffon, are endless. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon clearly is a majestic and ruling bird of Rougon. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon used the uplifing thermals close to the cliffs to elevate to incredible heights. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Spectacular view from the Rougon viewing point to the Gorges Du Verdon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the many Eurasian Griffons in a roosting (or nesting?) hole. iPhone SE + Viking ED pro 80 spotting scope © Daniel Szimuly

We soon started to feel the stuck heat between those massive cliffs and the comfi fleece soon landed in the back of the car. Euriasian Crag-Martins flew just over our car and Black Woodpecker flew over the river to the opposite slopes. Western Bonelli’s Warblers and Eurasian Treecreepers passed by next to our car. As heat picked up we had a Golden Eagle flying over the cliffs from the direction of Rougon village. Short-toed Snake-Eagle was looking for lizzards or snakes in lover elevations providing excellent views.

We got excited when the first Eurasian Griffons took flight. Dani spotted a beautiful adult Egyptian Vulture dropped from the cliffs of the northern side. My favourite Alpine Swifts flew over us with larger flock of Common Swifts and slowly moved towards northwest. As no Cinereous Vulture showed up we decided to go to Rougon village for finding a good spot for overlooking the entire valley.

What a charming and picturesque little mountain village Rougon is. Just a few houses on a top of a hill with a little shop kind residents and a yummy creperie. But more about it a bit later…

Lovely crest of Rougon on the wall of a small well. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Cliffs over the the houses of Rougon provides an amazing 360° view to the wider region. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Incoming Eurasian Griffon. Photo was taken from the creperie. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Topside view of Eurasian Griffon. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

We saw great variety in plumages of Eurasian Griffons. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

If we understood correctly these birds are marked in a special way. Some of the primaries or secondaries are clipped (cut) allowing identification of individuals. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful (probably undulatus asperatus) cloud formation over the Gorges du Verdon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Egyptian Vulture gliding over the valley. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A group of Eurasian Griffons climbing higher and higher in increasing temperatures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Luckily a vulture viewing point just hehind the creperie was well signed and for obvious reasons we spent the rest of the afternoon there. Lots of Eurasian Griffons elevated by thermal spells using the eastern slopes of the village as heat peaked. A pair of Red-backed Shrike fed youngs under the viewing point, Black Redstart was hunting for insects in the garden of the houses behind us and a nice male Rock Bunting was singing on the top of the nearby buildings. Common Ravens attacked and mobbed another Egyptian Vulture very close to us.

The terrace of the family run La Creperie Le Mur d’Abeilles. Delicious food, quick service and breathtaking views to the valley and vultures gliding over. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Oh yes, that creperie… having a tiny open terraced family run restaurant next to viewing point means you don’t have to stand on your feet all day. It came very handy sitting there and watching the soaring while eating the delicious crepes ala Provence. The staff was more than friendly what made the whole experience even more memorable. This is a highly recommended place to visit.

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) 3
Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) 32
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 2
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) 1
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 2
Alpine Swift (Apus melba) 19
Common Swift (Apus apus) 78
Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 1
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 2
Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) 3
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 10
Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) 33
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica) 1
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 1
Great Tit (Parus major) 5
Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) 2
Eurasian Wren (Eurasian) (Troglodytes troglodytes) 1
Western Bonelli’s Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli) 2
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 8
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 1
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 1
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 1
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) 1
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 3
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 5
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 2

After several hours of birdwatching we gave up looking for Cinereous Vulture as we had to follow our plan. We headed to another spectacular alpine reserve, the Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre what is part of the extensive Parc National du Mercantour.

Panoramic view of the Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre and its spectacular surroundings. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Just had to take another pano photo at the ‘U’ turn. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is searching for perching Citril Finches. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We had not much time left for birdwatching at the spot as roads were closed for a long time due to a traffic accident in the Gorges Du Verdon. The reason of our visit was to find the Citril Finch and Rock Partridge. We parked nearby the hotel at the elevation of 1,906 meters (6,253 ft). It was fantastic to listen to all the bird songs from the valley and the slopes. During my short walk towards the sharp ‘U’ turn I spotted two Citril Finches landed on the top of a small tree just above me. Sadly Dani was not around but I was very happy to see this species. I saw a Citril Finch in the Austrian Alps a few years back but the bird was flying away from me and had no chance to have proper views. Shortly after the two Ctril Finches flew off the tree we had two more birds calling and flying over us. It was already worth to have a trip here.

Venturone alpino - Citril Finch

Perching Ctril Finches. © Fabrizio Moglia (This photo was legally embedded from Fabrizio Moglia‘s Flickr photostream. Please check out his work)

After dusk we tried for European Pygmy-Owls at lower elevations but we had no luck.

List of birds we saw around the hotel:

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) 1
Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) 9
Coal Tit (Periparus ater) 2
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 1
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 2
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 1
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 3
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) 2
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 2
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 1
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 1
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) 1
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) 2
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 3
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3
Citril Finch (Carduelis citrinella) 4
European Serin (Serinus serinus) 6

 

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Somewhat disappointing birding at the Réserve Naturelle Coussouls de Crau

Of course no time spent with birds should be disappointing in any circumstances, but when it comes to a foreign birding trip for potential life birds, it is a bit disappointing when one has to leave the area without seeing the desired lifer.

We started our Réserve Naturelle Coussouls de Crau adventure in the dark based on some information from my Facebook friend, Hugo Tuzé. Unfortunately, we enterered this massive semi desert from the wrong direction but after all we got there and it shouldn’t have affected the outcome of this morning’s birding.

Stunning sunrise over the La Crau. © Gyorgy Szimuly

My main target for the area was to find the stunning Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, my only potential life bird. By approaching the northeast corner of the reserve we saw a Little Owl along the paved road. We left the car behind in twilight and bird songs started to fill the bushes and the nearby woods. European Scops Owl, Sardinian Warblers, Common Nightingales, Cetti’s Warblers and Corn Buntings were all around that brightened up the disastrous trekking in the prickly and stinging lower vegetation. It probably wasn’t a good idea to walk in shorts.

The beautiful Réserve Naturelle Coussouls de Crau. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the north, the reserve was surrounded by bushes where Red-legged Partridges were roosting. As we entered the actual steppe area we soon saw our first low flying Little Bustards for Dani’s pleasure. White Storks roosted on trees started feeding on grasshoppers and small flocks of Western Cattle Egrets flew over the area. It didn’t take long to see the firtst Calandra Larks while European Turtle Doves were calling from the trees. A larger flock of European Bee-eater flew over the area in the early phase of the morning.

Birding in grasslands has been one of my favourites (probably because it’s a flat landscape and requires no climbing) since I started birding, and this morning brought back nice memories of bare foot birding on the steppes of the Hortobágy National Park in Eastern Hungary. As the undisturbed sun brough the heat, kestrels appeared on the famous Crau stone heaps. I tried hard but ended up finding only a single Lesser Kestrel in the haze. That wasn’t too satisfying for Dani. Most of the kestrels were Eurasian Kestrels.

Not with my basic bridge camera, but with a decent lens, it is not a big challenge to photograph Black Kites in southern France. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the kettles of Black Kites around La Crau. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Abandoned barn in the northern part of the reserve was a shelter for a Little Owl family. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is looking for grounded Greater Short-toed Larks with the brilliant Viking ED Pro 80 scope. iPhone © Gyorgy Szimuly

In an abandoned barn we found a family of Little Owls while Greater Short-toed Larks were singing over the bare land with sparse vegetation. Next to the opposite building European Thick-knees were calling and we had very nice views on them. Two stunning Montague’s Harriers were hunting over the southern fields and by midday the number of Black Kites peaked. Several large group of kites formed incredible kettles totalling 81 birds.

This barren ground is ideal habitat for European Thick-knees. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Hoopoe were often seen in the reserve. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

After 6 hours of birding our water supply has gone and we had to return to the car. European Rollers and Eurasian Hoopoes were hunting around the bushes and I found another lifer for Dani. Two Southern Grey Shrikes were percing on dead trees just where we parked. Over a hundred Common Swifts were flying above us while having our camping style but very enjoyable lunch.

More and more Black Kites arrived by midday. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

White Storks were flying with Common Swifts over the pastures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Camargue horses grazed the bushy pastures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

White Storks enjoyed the uplifting thermals. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from La Crau

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) 18
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 27
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 7
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 26
Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) 2
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 81
Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) 13
Eurasian Thick-knee (Burhinus oedicnemus) 12
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 3
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 11
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 4
European Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia turtur) 4
European Scops-Owl (Otus scops) 1
Little Owl (Athene noctua) 4
Common Swift (Apus apus) 145
Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) 6
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 4
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 80
European Roller (Coracias garrulus) 4
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 4
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) 1
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 3
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) 2
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 8
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 11
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 5
Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) 7
Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) 8
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 9
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 2
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 5
Great Tit (Parus major) 1
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) 5
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 12
Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) 11
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 46
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) 7
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) 41
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 1

The conclusion of birding in the La Crau is that it requires multiple mornings for proper coverage. In the afternoon I found the route where we should have entered the area by car. This habitat was amazing to bird in despite missing some key species.

The Côte d’Azur is a popular and crowded touritst destination in Summer and almost all year long. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Relaxing time at the beach with Dani. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

After a short and refreshing swimming we left the girls in bikinis behind for more birds. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The rest of the afternoon we spent swimming south of Marseille and had a short visit to the Cap Croisette. Before sunset we wanted to get to our next birding spot, the Verdon Natural Regional Park. I continue from there…

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Rarity hunting in the eastern Camargue

Continueing the report from the second day of our trip, our next stop was at the Collared Pratincole colony on the northeast side of the Camargue. This one would have been missed easily if we didn’t get location information including a fine find from the previous days. A very rare Black-winged Pratincole was found among the Collared Pratincoles and we hoped to see this long time seen shorebird.

Overfying White Stork at the Collared Pratincole colony. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

It’s always a pleasure to see White Storks whereever I am. I’m missing these birds in the UK. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the many beautiful Collared Pratincoles over the colony. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the location (Coordinates: 43.4892, 4.7058 and relevan eBird checklist is here) we soon found the stunning Collared Pratincoles just nearby the main road D36 south of Le Sambuc. We could safely park at a dirt road junction and we set up the spotting scope. Birds were landing on the adjacent arid field but vegetation was too high to overlook the whole colony. We could observe a few closer birds through the scope but soon we put focus on the overfying birds. It took a good 15 minutes to find the suspected Black-winged Pratincole which was first found on the 6th of July. As the lights were rather harsh, I had to wait until it flew with a better angle to be ble to see the all dark secondaries with no white trailing edge. Identifying it by the colour of the underwing wasn’t always helpful as in certain angles Collared Pratincoles underwing seemed completely dark too. While enjoyed the view of this stunning bird I spotted a Short-toed Snake-Eagle soaring high in the sky.

Birds seen at the spot:

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 2
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 4
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 1
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 1
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 1
Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) 36
Black-winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni) 1
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 3
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Great Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) 1
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) (Motacilla flava flava/beema) 9
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 2

Temperatures rose ridiculously to 33.5°C and we were hoping to get some relief at the sea again. Before we could do that we were birding on the southeastern side of the Camargue which is an extensive saltworks system. On 14,000 hectares 500,000 tonnes salt is extracted each year what became the core element of the local chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Some core parts had no access for the public while other parts especially along the road D36D was easily accessible. We stopped at every pond along the road and despite the burning temperatures it was a pleasure to watch some shorebirds.

The famous pink ponds of the salt works resulted by the proliferation of microscopic algae Dunaliella salina. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Kentish Plover nesting site with ver high salinity. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

First salt works experience for Dani. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Exposed salt around the shallow canal system. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Almost lifeless habitat due extreme salinity. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Our first stop was at the Salt Pan Observation mound, along the Route de Salin-de-Giraud where there wasn’t much to see but we found a few Kentish Plovers at the adjacent salt pond.

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) 5
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 1
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis michahellis) 2
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 2
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 1
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica rustica) 1
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 4
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 1

Further down towards the beach larger number of birds, mainly Greater Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts, gulls and terns were seen on the evaporating ponds.

Étang de la Dame

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 3
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 1
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 28
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis) 56
Sandwich Tern (Eurasian) (Thalasseus sandvicensis sandvicensis) 1
Common Swift (Apus apus) 1
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 2
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 2
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica rustica) 3
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 2
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 1
Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) 1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) (Motacilla flava flava/beema) 2

Common Shelduck on one of the salt ponds. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Landscape view of the Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Larger feeding bird community with Black-winged Stilts, Spotted Redshanks and Black-headed Gulls on the Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-winged Stilt in harsh light. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 22
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 107
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 15
Whimbrel (European) (Numenius phaeopus phaeopus) 2
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) 5
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 2
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 35
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 9
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 507
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) 4
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis michahellis) 90
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) 3
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 3
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) (Motacilla flava flava/beema) 1
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3

Large flock of Greater Flamingo on the They de Sainte-Ursule. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

They de Sainte-Ursule

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 1200
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 6
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 40
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) 1
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis michahellis) 55
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) 5
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 49
Sandwich Tern (Eurasian) (Thalasseus sandvicensis sandvicensis) 59
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 1

Inviting and refreshing Mediterranean Sea at the Plage de Piemanson what is a popular nudist area. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

After all we didn’t bother swimming in the sea as we decided to find our accommodation get some rest before tomorrow’s early birding. I booked our accommodation for €32 through Airbnb in Istres which located just a short distance drive to the Réserve Naturelle des Coussouls de Crau. The owner was an English speaking kind woman. The accommodation was fine although we were stuggling by the hot night temperatures due to the lack of air conditioning or fan.

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.