Shorebird counting on the east Austrian soda pans

Since there is no suitable habitat for waders around my home I decided to visit the beautiful soda pans of Zeewinkel in eastern Austria. The small pan-system is just a few kms away from the Hungarian/Austrian border. As I had to go to Vienna late in the night, this idea seemed to be plausible. I watched birds with my best friend, Balázs Molnár and we had fun there.

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Balázs is counting Northern Lapwings.

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Me, as counting shorebirds at the Neusiedler See. © Balázs Molnár

On the one hand I was happy to make some birdwatching on traditionally good shorebird sites but on the other hand I was a bit disappointed by the number of birds counted. The conditions on all the visited pans were close to perfect for waders, despite the ongoing noise disturbance what came from the very close viticultures. Anyway there were several hundreds of shorebirds around the salty ponds which I could rarely see on my local sites.

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Common Ringed Plover. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Our first stop was at large soda pan, the Oberer Stinkersee, where three species were dominant. Just under 100 Pied Avocets and <80 Northern Lapwings and 50 Spotted Sandpipers and were counted. From the shallow pan we stopped at Zicklacke near Illmitz. This pan traditionally holds a very good number of birds but this afternoon it was rather quiet. My biggest negative surprise was the almost complete lack of Calidris sandpipers. The only representative was, spotted by Balázs, a juvenile Red Knot which is a very good bird for the continental Europe. Black-tailed Godwits were absent completely. Out of the few Kentish, Little Ringed and Common Ringed Plovers, Northern Lapwing and Spotted Sandpiper produced larger numbers.

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We could count shorebirds in beautiful afternoon lights at the Zicklacke.

A short section of the eastern shoreline of the Neusiedler See just south of Podersdorf am See is a nice place to check for roosting birds. The open water is closed by a wide reedbed providing a calm place for the moulting birds at the shore. The area is fenced and strictly protected. Among the very few shorebirds I spotted a juvenile Pygmy Cormorant. There were 10 Pied Avocets, a Common Snipe, 2 Common Greenshanks, several Spotted Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers and Common Ringed Plovers as well as >50 Northern Lapwings.

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Dunlin. © Gyorgy Szimuly

When we arrived to the western observation tower of the Lange Lacke, near Apetlon, two birders from Vienna were counting birds. As the tower was too small for 4 people we tried look around from the ground but asked for additional information about the shorebird numbers. An adult Caspian Tern were seen (not by me) in the middle of the lake. Eurasian Curlews (>25) were calling continuously making a special atmosphere around. Other birds of interests: 160 Pied Avocets roosting, >10 Common Ringed Plovers, 3 Kentish Plovers, >20 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Little Stints, 40 Dunlins and a few other species like Common Shelduck.

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The view from the Lange Lacke to the Alps half an hour before sunset.

Guys talked about a Pectoral Sandpiper and two more Red Knots found on a close small pan which we hesitated to visit as the sun was about to set. We finally decided to rush there giving it a chance to find this rarity. When we arrived the sun marvellously painted the pan gold. Small sandpipers and lots of plovers were seen in drastically decreasing lights. I felt the need of a modern fluorite optics, although the Apo-Leica didn’t perform bad at all. We could not find the Pectoral Sandpiper but I found a Broad-billed Sandpiper which is also a cool species. The only Common Redshank was also heard only from this pan. Other birds of interest were some Temminck’s Stints, Kentish Plovers, Ruffs, Spotted Redshanks, >60 Curlew Sandpiper, 20 Dunlins, a few Little Stints, Wood and Common Sandpipers, <50 Pied Avocets, 25 Northern Lapwings, and 30 Little Ringed Plovers. The last try at the opposite side of the pan was in almost complete darkness. I actually could not ID the birds then we gave up.

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The silhouette of Schneeberg (the first larger mountain in the Austrian Alps) in the very last lights from the Zeewinkel.

Hesitation seems to be over

Canon has just announced the exhibition of prototypes of both the brand new Canon EF 500mm F/4L IS II USM and Canon EF 600mm F/4L IS II USM at Photokina 2010. The updated lens are predicted to be a must have lens for sports and bird photographers. I have been hesitating for a long time whether the Nikon or Canon products I will stand by.

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Credit: http://www.dpreview.com

Brands are taking over each other all the time. Today Canon, tomorrow Nikon brings out something spectacular. The availability of updated AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II tele zoom was the mean reason to think about system change from Canon to Nikon not talking about the sick performance of the Canon’s EOS-1D Mark III a few years back. Things are changing fast and there are new winners all the time. This is a mess if one wants to follow the race.

By the new announcements and predictions I made a rough comparison with the weight of the new 600mm lenses by both of Nikon and Canon. At this point I don’t see a reason to make full analysis as other big blogs will do it anyway.

The just announced Canon EF 600mm F/4L IS II USM will be about 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) lighter that the updated AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR II lens (announced almost exactly 3 years ago). It means it could be fine even for handholding for photographing birds in flight. Many bird photographers uses the recent Canon EF 500mm F/4L IS USM lens for BIF which has the weight equal with the new Canon EF 600mm F/4L IS II USM telephoto lens. That is a nice improvement.

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This image of a Great White Pelican was taken in the Danube Delta from a boat by the Canon’s 600mm lens with 1D Mark IIN handheld the approximately 6kgs gear. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The new Canon 600mm lens is supposed to be 1.2 kg lighter than the Nikon’s 600mm VR II which means Canon lens with a pro body will be as heavy as the Nikon 600mm VR II lens alone. Knowing how fatiguing carrying the 600mm lens with all the stuff could be, this tiny factor cannot be ignored. Of course this is just the last of the lists of the excellent improvements what Canon has announced.

Looking at my best bird photographer friend, Jan’s images taken recently in Australia I cannot imagine how these could be any better by any future killer lens (I had a luck to see higher resolution images as well). Those images simply rock. One factor however is very important while on the trails: the weight of the gear you carry for miles.

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Chestnut Teal. © Jan C. Wegener

Burning Birding

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Sunrise at the Ferencmajor fisponds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sun was just popping up from the horizon when I arrived the bird ringing camp today. Members of the camp were just waking up as so the birds. My target was to watch the sky for migrating storks and raptors in that perfect weather.

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Common Whitethroat ringed for the first time for this fall season. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The misty morning was really nice and produced some good birds ringed and seen. Another Thrush Nightingale was ringed and I found another unringed bird in the Black Elder bushes via the spotting scope. A beautiful male Barred Warbler was moving around the mist nets. Watching an unusually large flock of European Golden Oriole was a nice surprise. 19 birds were counted in the first 3 hours of my birding! I am not I have ever seen so much golden orioles together (16 in a flock).

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Black Elder bush habitat where mist net network has located. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Temperature soon rose over 32 °C (89.6 °F) which presumed to be good for soaring raptors or storks. Migration is still light and birding is slow but today birding was really productive. I spent all day on the observation tower with a spotting scope under the burning sun. It was a real challenge to watch birds but was worth.

The highlight of the day was definitely the appearance of two Long-legged Buzzards which is very rare west of the Danube river. It breeds in Eastern Hungary only. Last records in our region was also from August in 1995. Birds were moving together with another Common Buzzard. They spent just a little time over the camp and disappeared to western direction making other birders unhappy.

Raptor movement were quite nice for this area. The best moment was a small flock of raptors soaring just above us including an adult Western Osprey, a White-tailed Eagle and 9 Common Buzzards.

Other birds of interest:

Little Egret 1
Black Stork 1
White Stork 3 ads
Western Osprey 1 ad.
European Honey Buzzard 1
White-tailed Eagle 2 juv.
Western Marsh Harrier 2
European Sparrowhawk 2
Common Buzzard 14
Long-legged Buzzard 2
Common Kestrel 2
Eurasian Hobby 2
Peregrine Falcon 1 juv.
Common Snipe 4
Spotted Redshank 1
Green Sandpiper 1
Ruff 5
Common Swift 2
European Bee-eater 19
Green Woodpecker 1
Barred Warbler 1
Thrush Nightingale 2

Year list is at 192. 

Danish ringed Marsh Warbler at the Ferencmajor fishponds

I couldn’t visit the bird ringing camp today but I got a call around midday about a recovery of a Danish ringed Marsh Warlber Acrocephalus palustris. The ring of the adult bird was quite worn and letters was hard to read, which suggest to be ringed earlier than 2010. Reports has been sent to the Hungarian Bird Ringing Centre. Hopefully detail of ringing and origin of this bird comes soon.

Strong Little Bittern movements

Finally we had a pleasant weather today at the Ferencmajor fishponds. Sun was shining and temperature was just good for birding. I spent almost all day at the camp and apart of a few hours meeting, held in the camp, I continuously watched the sky for passing by birds.

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One of the ringed female Little Bittern. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Number of ringed birds is still very low and yet under the average. The only positive figure is coming from the number of Little Bitterns ringed or observed here. Anytime I looked down to the reedbed I saw a flying adult bird. This morning I could even see 5 different birds at the same time. There is a very strong movement of this species although juveniles has not even started southbound migration. We ringed 16 adults and only a single recently fledged juvenile in a week.

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As for most of the songbirds mainly adults has been ringed in the first week of the camp, like this male Bearded Reedling. We are guessing there won’t be a large number of migrating juveniles due to the probably very low nesting success as a result of the extraordinary conditions in May. © Gyorgy Szimuly

In the morning I spotted the first gliding Black Storks, the first Western Osprey and later a flying over adult White-tailed Eagle. The very poor year in Western Marsh Harrier is quite obvious by the low number of observations. In a week I counted only 3 birds in two different days despite 4-6 pairs breed at this location! Today only one bird showed up.

Other birds counted on the adjacent ponds:

Purple Heron 6
Pygmy Cormorant 2
Mute Swan 185

Little Grebe 29
Great Crested Grebe 46
Black-necked Grebe 1
Red-crested Pochard 9
Ferruginous Duck 1
Eurasian Hobby 2
Common Kestrel 1
Eurasian Coot 450
Common Sandpiper 1
Green Sandpiper 2
Dunlin 1 

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Year list again improved by two species, the Western Osprey and Wood Warbler. It is at 191 now. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Signs of fall migration

We could ring an extremely low number of birds in the ringing camp this week. Number of trapped birds hardly exceeds 50 while in average years 150-200 caught birds are quite normal. First fall Garden Warblers (new addition to year list…) has been ringed just today. Little Bitterns are moving intensively and seems to have a good year for them. Today I birded an hour in the tower and saw 9 birds flying south. One female is still carrying food.

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The Castle of Tata with the Old Lake today just before another storm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

As the weather was so cold and rainy I returned home for some work. Then in the afternoon we walked along the shoreline of the Old Lake here in my town but the weather turned so bad again. In the last two days tropical storm hit our region resulting awesome amount of rain again. The supercell, which resulted tornados not too far away, has now moved but rain is still here. I was surprised by the sudden increase of swallow numbers hunting over the lake. Yesterday I could count about 60 birds flying over the water surface. Today there were more than 250 birds with a majority of Barn Swallows and some Common House Martins and Bank Swallows.

I hope the weather turns warmer and swallows will find enough food.

Missed Little Tern and another boring birding day

It feels like early July here. Despite the weather is normal and not hot at all there is just a little sign of southbound migration. Actually nothing happens daily at the ringing camp. The number of ringed birds is only a fraction of the last years figures in the same period.

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Mute Swan on peaceful waters in the Ferencmajor fishponds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

In the peaceful and lightly misty morning we started with a little birding as an adult Little Tern Sterna albifrons was found yesterday by camp members. We walked to the area early where it was observed but had no luck to relocate it. Little Tern is not a common bird in our region and always a pleasure to find one.

The rest of the morning we spent on the bird observation tower and watched the sky for moving birds. Any raptors or storks and not even Common Starlings are around. As there is no suitable feeding habitat for migrating waders they are just flying over the fishponds and try for another site which is not available within the next 60kms (c37 miles). This showed how critical is to have suitable stop-over sites during migration for waders as they have used to stop here for fuelling for many years. In the last 10 or more years large mudflats welcomed arriving birds but this year no ponds will be drained before mid of September due to fish production reason.

Among the few overflying waders we saw or/and heard an Eurasian Curlew, 2 Common Greenshanks, a single Green Sandpiper, a Spotted Redshank and 3 Common Sandpipers.

Birds of interest:
Little Grebe 14
Mute Swan 163
Ferruginous Pochard 1
Red-crested Pochard 6
Purple Heron 6
Black-crowned Night Heron 9
Eurasian Hobby 2
Common Kestrel 1
Eurasian Coot 350+
Common Tern 6
Common Swift 1
European Bee-eater 1

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Thrush Nightingale. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Barred Warbler. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Among ringed birds three exciting species was trapped. The second Thrush Nightingale, a Barred Warbler and an Eurasian Wryneck coloured the quiet day.

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Eurasian Wryneck. © Gyorgy Szimuly

By the way, two species have been added to my year list which is at 188 now.

Note: images has been taken by a Nikon CoolPix P6000 compact camera…

20th local bird ringing camp opens with a stormy afternoon

Twenty years ago a very few of us decided to organise a bird ringing camp for local birders and nature enthusiasts rather for educating purposes than scientific one. I was the leader of the camp for the first 7 years and was a memorable part of my birding career.

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Common Nightingales was calling everywhere around the mist nets. It was also ringed today. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Today I visited the camp for bird watching from the camp’s hide. It is a good spot to cover a very large part of the northern ponds as well as the sky for migrating flocks. The morning was hot and humid but a cold spell forecasted for the noon and it is arrived. At the time of writing this report there is a huge thunderstorm a few miles away from the camp.

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A freshly fledged Little Bittern was ringed early in the morning which posed for the camera for 5 minutes after being released. © Gyorgy Szimuly

In the morning a few birds were seen mainly flying over the area. Birding was generally quiet. Purple Herons moved intensively between suitable feeding sites. Purple Heron was first confirmed breeding in the Ferencmajor fishponds this year. Last year it was supposed to breed here but we could not find evidence.

Regular birds like moulting Mute Swans, hundreds of Eurasian Coots and the local breeder Greylag Goose families were dominant on the site. Other birds of interest is listed as follows:

Greylag Goose 75
Mute Swan 110+
Mallard 45
Grey Heron 4
Purple Heron 2 ad + 5 juv
Little Egret 2
Black-crowned Night Heron 10
Little Bittern 9 (one pair still carries food to a certain spot in the reedbed)
Common Buzzard 2
Western Marsh Harrier 2
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 2
Common Kestrel 1
Eurasian Hobby 1
Eurasian Coot 200+
Wood Sandpiper 4 (flew over the ponds)
Black-headed Gull 25
Common Tern 6
Black Tern 6
Stock Dove 2
Common Wood Pigeon 3
Common Swift 12
Eurasian Golden Oriole 4
Hooded Crow 45

Yesterday while setting the line of mist nets a Thrush Nightingale was caught.

No Black or White Stork were seen. Many still breeding country-wide but in the next few days or a week some movement should be visible. I am expecting the first Western Ospreys in a week and hopefully there will be a drained pond available for migrating waders during the camp.

I am planning to post update on the numbers of the top 5 ringed birds on a regular basis.