The most unpleasant birding in this season

We have been shaking by the cold westerly spell at the edge of the Old Lake this morning while talking about luxurious glassy hides in many western European nature reserves or national parks. We should develop the birding infrastructure here as birding was so nasty today and more similar days are ahead of us this winter.

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Greater White-fronted Geese. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Laci Musicz was picking me up at 6 and we drove to the eastern shore of the lake to count waterbirds as well as the wintering population of Rooks and Western Jackdaws. There is a nice increase in the number of waterbirds. Out of the Corvids about 4,300 waterbirds were counted at the lake which of there was 3,500 gulls.

Wild geese numbers are yet quite solid but more birds are gathering at the western outer lakes in the region. 2-3,000 mixed Tundra Bean Goose and White-fronted Goose flock using that area for night roosting.

List of birds seen today:

Tundra Bean-Goose Anser serrirostris 220
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons 360
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 3
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 130
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca 35
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 7
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 3
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 5
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 22
Gray Heron Ardea cinerea 16
Great Egret Ardea alba 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 10
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3300
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 200
Eurasian Jackdaw Corvus monedula 100
Rook Corvus frugilegus 2000
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 10
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus 1
European Greenfinch Chloris chloris 14
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 25
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 5

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Never processed Wood Sandpiper images

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I have been browsing my Aperture bird photography library for a while for those images which are worth to publish but had been ignored for some reason. This time I cleared the Wood Sandpiper project and processed many of the series I took back in 2007.

RAW conversion and cropping was made in Aperture 3.1 while image resizing and sharpening with other minor editing like dust spots clearing and adding canvas or texting was done by Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended.

Here I add a few samples of those images I have just processed. The full gallery with a new Facebook “Like” plugin is here. Use the plugin if you have Facebook account! I can learn a lot of your feedback.

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Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola. North West Hungary, April

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Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola. North West Hungary, April

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Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola. North West Hungary, July

All images was taken by a Canon EOS-1D MarkIIN body with a Canon EF f4/600mm L IS USM lens with 1.4x Teleconverter.

Multi-authored birdingblog launched

Gunnar Engblom is known by many of us, as a very cool birder, a birding tour operator and nice human who loves and uses social media. A few months ago he came up with the idea to launch a new birding blog with a few bird bloggers from around the world. Four days ago the birdingblogs.com has been published and the first posts were already out by the multi-author team.

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Gunnar is in action with his sweet-heart somewhere in Peru.

The idea is cool however it is not new. By different views, aspects and interests of the team members will make this blog enjoyable and attractive on a long run. The team was set by Gunnar as follows:

Sundays: Dale Forbes
Mondays:  Tom McKinney
Tuesdays:  Rich Hoyer, Martin Garner (UK)
Wednesday: Jeff Gordon, Gunnar Engblom
Thursdays: Rebecca Nason, Kenn Kaufman
Fridays: Dawn Fine, Gyorgy Szimuly
Saturdays:  Susan Myers

I’m really looking forward to the progress of this blog. It is a privilege to be included in this project. I have several ideas in my mind what you can see in the blog in the coming weeks. Keep following it!

New tick to my country list: Red-flanked Bluetail is the 343th

Two days ago I felt little chance to see any of the Red-flanked Bluetails trapped at two different locations of Hungary. Since my failure to find this rarity in the last few days, ongoing reports has been received about the relocation of both bird. I just had to decide if I give it the third try. Andi supported my endeavour to finally get it and we packed for an early morning departure. I am grateful to her.

I had to decide which place to visit and finally decided to go to northern Hungary as I found that place easier to overlook for the bird. Weather wasn’t so pleasant where I live but it was nice at the scene. Sun was about to shine near Salgóbánya, where the bird was seen every day since its discovery. Later in the morning wind became stronger, and the constantly falling golden coloured leaves made spotting a single bird in the bushy area really challenging.

I started birding just before 9AM and seen almost exclusively European Robins again. I had no luck to pick the Red-flanked Bluetail in the mixed Common Hawthorn and Blackthorn bushes despite I heard it many times. The Black Redstart-like call was repeated successively which sometimes sounded like the call of the Willow Warbler. That gave me a little hope to force searching for it. A few minutes before midday it called repeatedly when I could find low in a bush without any coverage. The 1st winter female bird provided a perfect view for a few minutes but looked to be jumpy. Lastly I left it alone and was happy to see all its characteristics well.

Other birds seen in the area: Red Crossbill 17, European Robin 12, Great Tit 14, European Blue Tit 5, Long-tailed Tit 11, Eurasian Bullfinch 6 (first for the season to me), Eurasian Jay 7, Common Raven 2, Common Blackbird 40, Redwing 2, Hawfinch 7, Eurasian Siskin 25, Dunnock 2, Eurasian Wren 1.

I could not take an image of this rarity so let me share some awesome fall colouration from the bordering beech forest.

Special thanks to Peter Szeimann who lent his binocular for this trip, to Róbert Gődér and Tamás Zalai for precise direction of bird.

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All images were taken in the Karancs-Medves Nature Reserve. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Chasing the Hungarian Red-flanked Bluetails

I’ve been hesitating to write about the happenings of the last two days but by now I am fine with lurking smiles on your face after reading the following story.

On October 12 a Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus was trapped in western Hungary at a ringing camp. Unfortunately the bird was in a bad condition and was immediately released. The bird was seen every day since then, expect on October 17, when we were there. We tried to find it on the place it was repeatedly recaptured without any luck.

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The bird was very close to the Fort of Somoskő where I hunted for the White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis this January.

In the meantime, on October 16, another Red-flanked Bluetail was caught in northern Hungary in good condition. The bird were also seen every day since then by many birdwatchers. Yes, it was relocated on the same spot even this morning when I got an SMS “We see the bird now.” Despite heavy rain here we packed for a trip to northern Hungary to give it a chance. I was alone in searching the bird in the scrub and had about 3.5 hours to find it.

Unfortunately the bird did not show up. I saw tons of European Robin in the scrub. Overflying Red Crossbills and many flocks of European Siskins provided no compensation.

And if all these failures would not be enough I read the following news when opened my MacBook: “the Red-flanked Bluetail in western Hungary was again recaptured today at 4PM and was released. The bird is gathering fat.” I am not sure what I should add to this. Should I go tomorrow morning for the third try? If it was a general rarity I would stay home but no-one has ever seen this species in Hungary before therefore is considered to be a mega species.

By the way, Red-flanked Bluetail is not lifer to me as I have seen it in Finland a couple of years ago. Anyway I want to see it in Hungary. I need some success…

Increasing wild geese numbers at the fishponds

Just shortly after midday I drove to the Ferencmajor fishponds to find the last shorebirds in this season. Despite suitable feeding habitats are available just a single overflying Wood Sandpiper was heard and seen. It was quite disappointing but on the other hand it was nice to see the increasing number of wintering geese which group is normally replacing the shorebirds on the local migration timeline.

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Grey Heron was less abundant than the Western Great Egret. This is not usual here. Western Great Egret number has increased drastically compared to my previous visit about 10 days ago when I counted about 60 birds.

Full list and numbers of species seen (49) (of eBird report) during my 3 hours long birding:

Taiga Bean-Goose Anser fabalis 120
Tundra Bean-Goose Anser serrirostris 80
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons 89
Graylag Goose Anser anser 183
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 73
Gadwall Anas strepera 11
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 92
Northern Pintail Anas acuta 2
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina 4
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 205
Ferruginous Pochard Aythya nyroca 7
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 27
Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 22
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 77
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Gray Heron Ardea cinerea 115
Western Great Egret Ardea alba 227
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 5
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 1
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo 2
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 1
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 660
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 855
Mew Gull Larus canus 1
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 8
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 2
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis 1
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius 2
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 20
Eurasian Jackdaw Corvus monedula 35
Rook Corvus frugilegus 200
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 40
Bearded Reedling Panurus biarmicus 16
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris 1
Great Tit Parus major 4
Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus 10
Eurasian Penduline-Tit Remiz pendulinus 3
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus 4
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 1
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 3
European Robin Erithacus rubecula 5
Stonechat Saxicola torquatus 1
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris 98
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba 2
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 28

Roosting gulls at the Old Lake, Tata

Winter is knocking at the door. While quite a few fall migrants can still be seen, winter visitors are arriving in growing numbers. I spent the whole afternoon at the northern and eastern side of Old Lake, Tata and looked for late migrants and waterbirds arriving to the lake for night roosting.

At the lake I saw the very first flock of Tundra Bean Geese which was flying to NE silently. Their number will reach its peak just before the end of the year.

The waterbird and some interesting counts from today:

Taiga Bean-Goose 10
Mallard 145 – growing numbers day-by-day
Eurasian Teal 2
Great Cormorant 39
Grey Heron 5

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Adult winter Black-headed Gull. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-headed Gull 650
Yellow-legged Gull 310
Great Spotted Woodpecker 4
Black Woodpecker 1
Green Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Jackdaw 10
Rook 45 – I could not wait for the roosting birds coming but saw 1,900 yesterday while hoovering over the roosting forest.
Barn Swallow 4 – yesterday a flock of 160 birds arrived to the lake late in the afternoon
Spotted Flycatcher 1
Black Redstart 2
White Wagtail (alba) 35 – one migrating flock just at the sunset

The lake is emptying now for fishing and will be half drained for the whole winter. Central mud island, which is a favourite roosting spot for the wintering geese, should be visible in a few days. That will attract more birds so I guess the number of wild geese should boom to 2,000 within 10-14 days. It also depends how many birds will chose the fishponds which is just 6 kms away (north) from the Old Lake.

Passing by Barn Swallows, late Black Storks and arriving Greater White-fronted Geese

What a busy week-end. Planting oak saplings in our birding camp area, celebrating EuroBirdwatch 2010 and a birders garden party made this week-end. OK, I am a bit silent by dipping a Common Eider at the Lake Balaton yesterday. Anyway the last few days was really nice with some birding and some lovely birds.

This evening I picked up two young and local birders and drove to Ferencmajor fishponds to see possible night roosting gulls. There’s been 3 ponds drained with huge mudflats available for migrating birds. At our stop of the most busy ‘shorebird’ pond there was a slight increase in the number of birds and some new species have appeared as well. Dunlins makes their turnover really fast. A few days ago only summer plumaged birds were counted while yesterday and today only moulting or juveniles were seen. New comers are Grey Plover and Common Ringed Plover (both new to me for 2010 – Hungary only!). Shorebird diversity was just the same as in the past couple of days but species composition is changing all the time. Today we found our first ‘in-water’ Spotted Redshanks but have not seen Common Snipe.

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This is the first day I could see some Common Ringed Plovers this year in Hungary. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Shorebird list from this evening.

Northern Lapwing – Vanellus vanellus: 1
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 2
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 3
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 7
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 3
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 5
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 5
Little Stint Calidris minuta 3
Dunlin Calidris alpina 98
Ruff Philomachus pugnax 13

At another drained pond large number of herons and gulls were seen. Over 200 Grey Herons were hunting for large fishes with about 60 Western White Egrets and 5 Little Egrets. Surprisingly 2 juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons was spotted which is not so common in early October. On both ponds which has large area of mudflat a sum of 130 White Wagtails were seen.

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It was a fun to see large number of White Wagtails today. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Among other interesting sightings there were a Peregrine Falcon (possibly female) chasing about 400 Common Starlings behind the ponds, a big flock of Barn Swallows with about 95 birds and two late juvenile Black Storks.

On the duck-pond the number of Eurasian Coots and Mallards have increased to about 1,500 and 1,100 accordingly. Water is running out of the pond for fishery but the site is still good for waterbirds. A very small group of wild geese contained the first Greater White-fronted Geese (2) and 6 Tundra Bean Geese. Lights were decreasing heavily when we left the fishponds.

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Greater White-fronted Geese is at the corner. Soon several thousand birds will be using the area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Finally gulls have left the fishponds as night roosting site should be somewhere else.

Year list moved to 204.

Fishponds are drained: shorebirds should be here

We have been waiting for the first fall drainage of fish ponds at our local wetlands. Normally it happens way earlier but this year there is a month delay in fishery resulting the lack of shorebirds from the whole region. This is a bad news not only for us, birders, but for the migrant shorebirds which count on landing on suitable habitat for fuelling to reach the next stop over site.

I visited the fishponds by a local group member, Péter Csonka and we had 2 productive hours of birding. Unfortunately shorebird numbers were very low and the lack of some regular species, like Common Snipe, Little Ringed Plover and Spotted Redshank, disappointed us. Especially Spotted Redshank is a late migrant and occurs in larger numbers (a few hundreds) here annually. We’ve seen any during our 2 hours stay.

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There were better times for migrating Common Greenshanks in our region. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The best wader was definitely a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit which was found last week-end by a young local birder. We saw the following species:

Northern Lapwing 11
Bar-tailed Godwit 1 juv.
Eurasian Curlew 7
Common Greenshank 2
Green Sandpiper 6
Little Stint 2
Dunlin 42
Ruff 12

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Black-headed Gulls are feeding on “junk” fish while fishermen are ‘harvesting’. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Over the “fish channels” about 500 Black-headed Gulls and a few Caspian Gulls were seen. Some elegant Little Egrets were also picking up small fishes from the remain of the water.

Since counting shorebirds was not a challenge we jumped to another pond which holds almost 3,000 wildfowl. The pond was still filled by water but drainage had already started. Diversity was amazing with almost all the duck species seen. I found three Tundra Bean Geese, with about 300 Greylag Geese. This is the first record of this Arctic species for this coming winter season.

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The Mallard is an abundant but a lovely local species. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Among 1,000 Mallards and 1,200 Eurasian Coots there were my first Eurasian Wigeons (9) for this year, Ferruginous Duck (2), Gadwall (15), Northern Shoveler (10), Northern Pintail (10), Eurasian Teal (6), Red-crested Pochard (10) and Common Pochard (5). No Tufted Duck was found.

Usually when there is such a high number of waterbirds at the ponds White-tailed Eagles are regular visitors. We saw two different aged birds. Beyond the usual birds we saw two late migrant birds. A juvenile Red-backed Shrike was flushed off by our car and a very late European Bee-eater was also seen. It seemed to be a juvenile (short tailed). The majority of migrating flocks of the European breeding population has already passed Tanzania, so this bird is way behind the ordinary schedule.

Three year list additions helped to cross the “magic” 200. Now at 201 (what a shame!). During the week-end we celebrate the European Birdwatching Days and we count every birds we can. I hope there will be at least as cool numbers on Sunday as we had on the last day of September.