Great birding day with some nice additions to the year list

I always love to visit non local birding sites and meet birding buddies on the other side of the country. Today I picked my kids up and drove to Jászberény where I met my birding friend, Tamás Zalai, who helped us to visit a local site where awesome concentrations of wildfowl and waders could be seen.

Tamás has reported an unusually large number of Black-winged Stilts on a agricultural land which was flooded in May after the extraordinary rainfall in the Carpathian Basin. The water covered about 1000 ha and bird started to discover soon after. Nice colony of tern developed and some waders species nested on the area where normally Skylarks and Stonechats occur.

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Flooded agricultural fields. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Tamás counted the birds a day prior to our visit when 610 Black-winged Stilts and a rough estimate of 1,100 Wood Sandpipers are using the area. Pied Avocet numbers halved to about 50 birds. We had not much luck this morning as there was a light shower with dark clouds. Light condition was not so pleasant for enjoyable viewing. Anyway the slippery off-roading was exciting what my kids enjoyed a lot.

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Tamás is scanning the area for Stilts. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Due to the bad weather and the tough condition of dirt roads we could not visit the whole area but could see a nice number of feeding Black-winged Stilts. Many times they flocked together with Wood Sandpipers but shortly dropped back to the feeding grounds. An adult White-tailed Eagle was also seen flying over the area.

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Black-winged Stilt. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Based on a rough calculation there are over 1,000 Black-winged Stilts in Hungary at present which seems to be a record number this time of the year.

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The beautiful and a traditional ‘puszta’ style hotel in the middle of Kiskunság. © Gyorgy Szimuly

As the original plan was washed away by the rain I decided to visit the Kiskunság National Park for some nice specialities cannot be seen in our region. Luckily the sky cleared by our arrival and only a few passing clouds disturbed the pleasant sunshine. The scattered key sites of the national park was extremely wet. In average years all the natron lakes and the steppes should dry by July but now the May floods and the extreme amount of rain keep them wet. Our first visit was to a former natron lake system around Fülöpháza where despite the wet year no water left and the bed is totally covered by dense grass. It was a kind of emotional visit as I had never been there for more than 15 years.

Next stop was at another natron lake complex, the Böddi-szék, where some waders are expected. On the nrothern part of the lakes we found 6 Red-footed Falcons, 3 European Rollers, an European Hoopoe and 5 Lesser Grey Shrikes. All of the species are local breeders.

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Beautiful natron lake with salty dry edges. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The southern part of the natron lakes produced some nice waders. We saw the following waders: 11 Eurasian Curlews, 30+ Pied Avocets, a single Dunlin, 5 Common Sandpipers, 1 Wood Sandpiper, 16 Northern Lapwings and 35 Ruffs. There were 9 Eurasian Spoonbills and about 50 moulting Greylag Geese with about 20 Black-headed Gulls. On our walk to the lake 5 Common Quails were flushed from the path. It was a nice surprise.

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Little Owl. © Gyorgy Szimuly

In a hope to see Eurasian Stone-curlew we crossed the main road and checked another natron lake. No sign of Stone-curlew but we saw 4 White Storks, an alarming Black-winged Stilt (no chick was seen), 6 Northern Lapwings and a Little Owl in the window of a close barn.

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Lake Balaton before storm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Leaving the national park we drove to the western part of the country and visited the Lake Balaton. Dani wanted to swim and despite the stormy weather he finally jumped into the waves. We had some fun there but any birds seen.

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The Sarrét Nature Reserve is washed way by extended floods. © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the Balaton another flooded area was visited near Székesfehérvár where amazingly large areas are still under water. The biggest challenge to explore the area is the lack of access point. Actually all the dirt roads are under water and the only way to survey the area to get a low profile boat and check the birdlife from there. The Sárrét Nature Reserve is nice wet meadow which is about 10 times larger than it is in normal years. What we could see is the large number of heron species. Mainly Western Great Egrets (80+), Grey Herons (20+) and White Storks (40+) were seen from the spot we could access the edge of the flooded area. Large number of Black-headed Gulls, many flying Black-winged Stilts and Wood Sandpipers were seen.

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Large hayfields are flooded in May. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At least one family of Black-winged Stilts found with fledged chicks. Many Eurasian Coots and a Common Gallinule escorted their chicks. Nice number of Whiskered Terns and a few Common Terns were also seen. On the trees under water 40+ Pygmy Cormorants were seen and many in the water swimming for food. I’m sure they normally don’t occur in this area.

All in all this day was a great one with lots of nice species and 6 new to the year list which is at 185 now.

Looking for inspirational stuff for the second phase of my photography

Bird photography has became my passion not such a long time ago and the first years on the learning curve is over. By today I know how to execute shutter on the camera to get any kind of image. I risk to say I also know how to make more keepers for the hard drive than for the thrash.

And yet, there is a very long way ahead to be a good photographer by learning more about the background of current technology, using other tools for making outstanding images of wild birds, just to mention a few. Now I can set a deadline for getting my new gear and as the date is closing I look for inspirational images and other stuff. My photography friend, Jan, who has moved to Australia for a year, sent me many very cool images taken during his Florida trip this spring and the results just amazed me. Following the website updates of all of my bird photographer icons is always pleasant but more inspirational.

Some of my long time followers can remember my first interview with Alan Murphy, who I think is one of the most talented bird photographer in the planet. He said the following “the best bird photographers are the best birders“. It is very true and I would underline it twice. I have to learn even harder about the behaviour and life cycles of birds to be seen elsewhere than Europe. It is simply needed for a perfect image.

Today I found an incredible footage on Alan’s website which clearly shows the importance of having knowledge of birds, as photography subjects, and their behaviour and food supply, etc. This video inspired me a lot with the tons of other images found today on the net. No more word is needed for now. Look at the superb video.

Almost empty skies

I should not say that in my childhood the sky was full of Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica and Common House Martins Delchion urbica. Where I grow up we had 3-4 paris of Common House Martin in the balcony on the 7th floor of our block. This year only one pair tried to raise their chicks.

As we make our daily walkings with Kea, I always look for birds on the sky but now there are long-long minutes without seeing any Barn Swallows or Sand Martins Riparia riparia over the Old Lake. Oh, I just realised that I have seen Sand Martins for a single occasion this summer… In Spring it seemed to be a good year for the swallows but then in May we had a never experienced cold and rainy weather resulting a huge loss of adult birds which already started to incubate. Our local guys found several dead or completely exhausted birds which tried to find food in the heavy rainfall without any success. Rain was falling non-stop for 4 days making it really challening to find enough food for survival. Finally many died of starvation. As a consequence the chicks were also lost from the first clutch in most of the cases.

Above all, there was only a single nesting attempt after the failed one which is, in a way, unusual in Central Europe. Normally swallows raise their chicks two or even three times during a single nesting season. Having only a single nesting attempt in this season results a very low annual reproduction rate. It means next year we cannot expect decent number of birds to be returned and the population crash will continue.

According to MME/BirdLife Hungary the population of Common House Martin has decreased by 67%, Barn Swallow by 44% and Sand Martin by 30% in Hungary in the past 10 years (1999-2009). The future of swallows in Hungary seems to be quite dark. I’m waiting for the first reports on the effectiveness of artificial nests which is supposed to be useful tool to stabilise the population at this level. Until it comes out I keep enjoy watching the few still alive…

Equal judgement is unlikely

I’ve been thinking to write about a sensitive topic for a while but somehow I always postponed to do it as felt uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I am ready now to live with the chance of possibly being unpopular after releasing this note. I must admit I prefer equal judgement when we sentence any company or personnel causing any kind of environmental disaster.

Any oil spill would have happened anywhere in the world could get steep attention in the media almost immensely. Social media helps to spread the news faster than any other source does. When the devastating and tragic event happened in the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico caused by a series of human mistakes of BP’s employees(?) we immediately realised human- and wildlife was going to suffer the most. And sadly it came into reality which we all have been witnessing for months now. Thos images, what media released out, spread the world and were indeed distressing. Humans have been affected by those news and additionally some powerful and loud speakers, and finally messages were about the revenge and the wish of hanging up the leaders of BP. I don’t want to agree and I would never go so far despite I fully disapprove the lack of technology and a waterproof solution for the very worst or fatal scenario.

We should stop here and look into the mirror, before we make unilateral statements, and have a deeper look at other crimes against the wildlife what people are more quiet about or in worst case most of them are not even aware of.

It seems we are resistant by the fact that skyscrapers, different towers or power lines are responsible for fatal loss of hundreds of millions of birds annually!!! As described in the AP’s article “only habitat destruction kills more birds.” I have never read such hectic reactions on this issue than on the BP’s oil tragedy. Most probably BP’s catastrophe kills way less living orgasm than all those towers together do in long term, even if we calculate with a long regenerating period from the oil spill. Again, I am not an employee of BP nor a relative of any of the BP’s CEO member. Have we ever asked who is responsible for the loss of millions of live of birds and other flying creatures?

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Northern Royal Albatross on the Chilean waters © Gyorgy Szimuly

What about the fishing lines which causes millions of deaths underwater invisibly and quietly. Scientists blame loss of entire populations of seabirds in long term due to the extensive use of this fatal fishing technology but we, humans, are quiet about it. Or better to say, not enough loud against this issue. Do we think about it when ordering the Chilean Seabass or other delicious items from the seas in the local restaurant? I would guess no! What happens with those responsible companies? They are ‘allowed’ to continue the silent slaughter.

And this list is almost endless! The rain forests vs aloe vera or palm oil plantations as well as draining wetlands, all causing vast loss of wildlife and many times great loss of rich soil. To be honest we are perfect in creating deserts and fish-free seas. I am not targeting to list all devastating issues but asking a question if we judge the responsible bodies equally? It would be nice, and I would love, to see as many news and hard comments on the long-line fishing on the leading medias as many I heard about the BP’s oil spill. Oh true, those stories are not for headlines and lack of sensation… so it will never work. Don’t only boycott BP but boycott the system we are living in. We should challenge the architects of sky touching buildings and habitat destroyers who is responsible for the death of billions of birds and other animals.

I wish we had a better world!

Time to change my computer for faster image processing

Image processing is still not a fast task by this basic MacBook but yesterday I decided to browse the image library again. As usual all the other apps should be closed during that process. We have visited the Budapest Apple Store I could try the 21.5″ iMac which was so fast. As a comparison my MacBook would be a turtle and that iMac is a swift… not the same class. So a new iMac with 2.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB RAM is placed in the list of the next purchases, as high priority.

Anyway I added a few images again and some of them have never been processed. Again for larger and full size images visit my gallery and add your comment if you like it.

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Greater Rhea l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Satanic Nightjar l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Least Flycatcher l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Bearded Reedling l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Bearded Reedling l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Bronzed Cowbird l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

New images added to my gallery

I think it is better to say that reprocessed old images has been added to my online gallery. Time by time I browse the archive and select a few of the unprocessed images taken a few years back and reprocessing them for a better look. As I learn new processing techniques and as softwares are performing better the result is always more pleasant than years ago. I hope I can add a few more images in the near future and tons of really new ones when I finally get my new photo gear again. I count the days now…

Note that by clicking on any image in this blog it will be enlarged only to a certain extent. For viewing my images in full size, without quality loss, click on the link under the image which is directing to the original image.

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Pied Avocet l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Northern Lapwing l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Moustached Turca l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Moustached Turca l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Northern Mockingbird (Cuban race ‘orpheus’) l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Northern Mockingbird (Cuban race ‘orpheus’) l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

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Northern Mockingbird (Cuban race ‘orpheus’) l © Gyorgy Szimuly l Full size image

For full gallery overview please visit this page.

Birding abroad is not always free of danger

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Diademed Plover in north Chile © Gyorgy Szimuly

Travelling a little bit back in time here is a story of one of my most memorable birding day. In November 2005 I travelled to Chile and Argentina with my friend, Zoltán Ecsedi and we had a wonderful time. One of the target species was the much sought after Diademed Plover (or Diademed Sandpiper Plover) which we have seen in the Lauca National Park, north Chile.

We had lot of challenges during the trip but one of those moments was really something I will never forget. It happened on our way to the El Yeso National Park in the central Chilean Andes where we went for some nice local birds and although we had seen the Diademed Plover earlier we decided to find it on the other known nesting site as well. Driving on the dirt road was a real challenge by a street car. On the left side of the road there was a huge aquifer (I was driving about 100m higher than the water level was) while on the right side steep rock walls emerged. I was a little bit afraid by possible falling stones as the erosion was more than visible. Finally the road was blocked by a huge landslide and we had to return.

Nothing exciting happened until we turned back and after a few hundred meters from the landslide the road was completely blocked by a huge cliff had fallen right after we moved inside the national park. We could not continue our way till the crampon cleared the road completely and pushed the cliff and huge pieces of stones down into the aquifer. I had no idea where that machine had come from that fast but it definitely was there and working on our release.

It was a terrible feeling after all and I pushed the accelerator as much as I could, and we finally left that tough road.

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Road maintenance started right after the incident happened. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I think it seemed to be more dangerous at home by browsing the images than as we felt it at the scene.

Life list again increased without a single birding event: 2042

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Cuban Vireo © Gyorgy Szimuly

Anyone having a 2000+ life list can win one or more species upon the updates of the world bird list. IOC again issued an update, named v2.5, on the accepted splits, taxonomy, English names and range of bird species. I always enjoy to go through the changes as it is exciting to find new splits which might increase the number of lifers seen.

Version 2.5 includes one species split which affected my list. The taxonomic revision of Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus resulted the split of the North and South American races named Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata. I have seen Common Gallinule in many countries in the region including Mexico, Cuba and Chile.

The version 2.5 contains 10,396 species classified in 39 Orders, 222 Families (+7 Incertae Sedis) and 2218 Genera which means I’ve seen 19.64% of the world’s birds so far. Further details of the recent update and the downloadable master file (which is not really usable in my opinion) could be found on the IOC website: http://www.worldbirdnames.org/updates.html

Later today I will edit this entry and will add my enhanced version of the full IOC bird list.

Quiet Summer

Finally I had some chance to escape from my office to my local path and make some birding. I had limited time so I picked up Dani at 5 and headed to the fishponds and adjacent areas. I was not expecting too much for today as this time of the year is always very quiet and slow.

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© Gyorgy Szimuly, Mist over the pasture.

There was any drained pond at the Ferencmajor fishponds and mainly moulting Red-crested Pochards and Common Pochards were seen. Approximately 100 Mute Swan were also feeding on one of the central ponds.

The only excitement was the presence of 7 Common Terns which didn’t breed this year due to the lack of suitable nesting ground. I hope next year we can manage to create at least one floating island for those birds. Preparation is under way by a small team of the local nature conservation society.

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© Gyorgy Szimuly. One of the White Stork nest which is inhabited near the fishponds. It’s been the poorest breeding season in our county for decades. Survival rate is very low.

I was happy to add a single species to my year list however I am not sure keeping a list has a sense at all. Maybe it would be better to start a year list when I actually go birding… Anyway a Little Bittern was seen hunting in the reedbed. Outside the fishponds I heard a Tree Pipit but could not spot it. My life list is at 179 now which will be up for sure in the next couple of weeks and also during the annual bird ringing camp we are kicking off in a month.