Lesser Spotted Eagle spotted

I was walking around the lake this afternoon and as usual I took the Swaro with me as something is always in the air in Spring. We had a wonderful sunny and warm day enriched with awesome birdsongs along the Old Lake. Eurasian Blackcaps, Black Redstarts, Eurasian Blackbirds and Song ThrushesCommon Starlings, Common Wood Pigeons and Chaffinches kept their territories.

Over the lake Common Buzzards, and even Grey Herons were soaring. I was hoping for migrant Western Ospreys but I found a dark bird of prey slowly circling towards north direction. It definitely wasn’t an Osprey but a Lesser Spotted Eagle. I was not sure I have ever seen Lesser Spotted Eagle in Tata. It has been a breeding bird in the nearby Gerecse Mountains but no confirmed records are available since 2001. This bird was most probably a migrant. Unfortunately I could not photograph it.

Another indisputable representative of Spring was seen today. A single male Barn Swallow was flying at the eastern part of the lake. This was not the first record on the swallow as I saw the first one a few days ago.

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Nice buildings surround eastern and northern part of the Old Lake. The other side of the lake is embraced by forest. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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When web images come alive

What a stunning day we had today. 20 days ago we have had almost the same trip to the Kiskunság National Park what we did today. Dani came with me and he also enjoyed the all day outing despite being quite tired by the school. 

Early morning found us on the northwest side of the park, between Dömsöd and Apaj village, where a large flooded pasture provided perfect habitat for migrants as well as for breeding birds. Northern Lapwings paired everywhere performing lovely acrobatic aerial displays. Common Redshanks were also quite territorial. Here we saw the first Black-winged Stilts and Black-tailed Godwits. Dani was happy by seeing his first European Golden Plovers just over us. Mute Swans, Greylag Geese, Garganeys, Northern Shovelers were also present here. On the fields Western Yellow Wagtails and Corn Buntings were singing everywhere.

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Rising sun painted the landscape gold. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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While Western Yellow Wagtails are still on their way to the breeding sites some sang endlessly. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Nearby forest provided nice breeding site for Common Kestrel and Rooks. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Black-winged Stilt has arrived to flooded fields. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At Apaj-puszta we stopped at several spots as there were so many birds to count. The most numerous species of these wet pastures was the Ruff. On three different sections I counted 1,580 birds. Northern Lapwings, Black-tailed Godwits and good number of Dunlins were also seen here. At another section of the pasture I found a pair of Common Redshanks mating as well as territorial Eurasian Curlews. Some European Golden Plovers were joining the flock of Ruffs. We saw the first Meadow Pipits migrating over the road.

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Ruff migration is peaking. Flocks include transition plumaged gorgeous males. © Gyorgy Szimuly

East of this area we moved towards Kunpeszér village to find some food as we missed the breakfast. On our way I stopped at a sand hill to look for Great Bustards. No bustards was found but we saw our first Black Stork fro 2011. The bird looked quite tired and did nothing during our stay. Two White Stork were also feeding next to it.

Yesterday I was browsing the subscribed RRS feeds on blogs I regularly read. I have a nice online friend from Spain who publish awesome images and stories of the bird migration around southern Spain and the Gibraltar. Stephen Daly has just posted a nice set of images of migrants including White and Black Storks, Western Marsh Harriers and Booted Eagles. When I picked the Black Stork on the pasture his images came to my mind. However the story has not ended here… From the hill we could overlook a quite large area. I was happy to find a huge flock of European Golden Plovers on a flooded arable land. Northern Lapwings and Common Redshanks were endlessly calling (I love the wader songs of spring). Suddenly I picked a few Hooded Crows chasing a raptor. I adjusted the focus on the SwaroVision and I was surprised when I identified the bird. It was an image came alive from Stephen’s blogpost. Yes, it was a light morph Booted Eagle a uncommon visitor and unconfirmed probable breeder of Hungary.

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White Storks are still coming. The breeding pair north of Kunpeszér has arrived. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The bird left the crows behind and landed on the watering pipe allowing us a perfect view. Dani was happy to see another lifer. We could see the eagle for a long time while picking some lizards from the grass. We then left the area. Digiscoping didn’t work without the adapter but I have a very bad quality shot on the bird. Around this area we saw a strong Northern Harrier migration but no Pallid Harrier was found. I was happy to spot a Grey Partridge emerging from the grass.

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Dani was checking the difference between female Northern and Montagu’s Harrier. © Gyorgy Szimuly

From Kunpeszér I drove to the southern part of the national park. South of the famous Zab-szék a classic soda lake was holding a nice number of Black-tailed Godwits. Usual waders seen here include Black-winged Stilts, Northern Lapwing, Common Redshank. We also seen many Black-headed Gulls and two gorgeous Mediterranean Gulls.

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Flooded fields near the Zab-szék. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Sand Lizard was enjoying the warming up grassland. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Along the road to Fülöpszállás Black-winged Stilts were mating. We saw 5 birds on this shallow flooded grassland together with Ruffs, Black-tailed Godwits, Common Redshanks and Eurasian Curlews. On the other side of the road deeper water provided nesting site for Eurasian Coots, Little Grebes and Black-necked Grebes. We saw 2 beautiful adult Black-necked Grebes in full breeding plumage.

Our last hotspot was a nice soda lake near Dunatetétlen, named Böddi-szék. The lake was holding a lots of waders. Presence of 1,000+ Black-tailed Godwits, 450 Ruffs, 80 Dunlins, 20 Northern Lapwings, 2 Common Redshanks and 36 Pied Avocets coloured my life. Here we saw the first Purple Heron of 2011. Unfortunately no Kentish Plover was found.

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Common Redshank is facing a good breeding season based on the number of suitable nesting sites. I hope weather supports them. © Gyorgy Szimuly

This was one of the best birding day for ages. I could see so many shorebirds and very good other species. Year list increased to 140.

Missed local rarity

This morning I got a call about the presence of an Eurasian Oystercatcher at the Ferencmajor fishponds. I could not react fast enough but visited our local hotspot in early afternoon. Usually the pond 2 is drained first in spring providing an important food source for migrating birds.

We had a very short time to visit the pond so, as usual, I concentrated on counting feeding waders as this week-end is for international shorebird counts. Over the ponds some nice raptors were circling. Within 30 minutes we saw Common Buzzards, Western Marsh Harriers and an immature White-tailed Eagle.

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Eastern European race of Eurasian Oystercatcher is a irregular vagrant in our area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Unfortunately the Eurasian Oysterctacher was no longer present on the pond 2 but we saw some first for 2011.

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Common Redshank migrates in good numbers in spring in our area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Results:

White-tailed Eagle 1 imm
Eurasian Oystercatcher 1 (seen by other birder)
Pied Avocet 2
Northern Lapwing 125
Little Ringed Plover 2
Common Snipe 12
Common Redshank 14
Green Sandpiper 2
Dunlin 8
Ruff 47

Also we saw the first Willow Warbler for this year. Year list jumped to 130 species (Hungary only).

Friends of Social Media Made My B’Day

I have been hanging on social media for a while but have never experienced such a high traffic as I did today. So many birthday wishes and kind words has landed in my Facebook inbox and on my wall which really made my morning. Let me express my gratitude to your thoughts. I am delighted!

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As I write these lines my 2y old daughter are stroking my face and wishes happy birthday. Outside a Song Thrush is singing. What else I need?

In the afternoon I was out to the Old Lake with my family and tried to find some migrating White or Black Storks. None was seen but found some birds.

Pygmy Cormorant 11
Great Crested Grebe 4
Greater White-fronted Goose 600
Tundra Bean Goose 100
Mallard 30
Black-headed Gull 50
Common Wood Pigeon 3
Stock Dove 4
Song Thrush 2
Northern Raven 1 

Old image file processes: Pied Avocet

I soon start to reorganise my image library and archiving old files from the beginning of my bird photography ‘career’. I have just played with some never processed files and I am happy to share it here. My new website is under development and till it gets ready I test some processing method. Result is not so bad but yet need to be fine tuned.

You might have heard about my addiction to shorebird conservation and photography thus I add here a few freshly processed Pied Avocet images.

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Adult Pied Avocet feeding on a flooded filed in Dobrogea, Romania in May. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Adult Pied Avoce preening at the Ferencmajor fishponds, Naszály, Hungary. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Incubating Pied Avocet at the Ferencmajor fishponds, Naszály, Hungary. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Birding through the eyes of a wildlife artist

This interview was originally posted on Birdingblogs.com a few weeks back but I thought I also share it with my readers.

I have been birding for 30 years now and I think I am carefully watching birds all the time I have chance to go out. Positive ID and enjoyment of the view through any optical equipment has been my primary birding philosophy. It’s been even more important for the past 6 years since I photograph birds.

However, I am always thrilled by the even more detailed observation, or better saying, completely different approach of watching birds by most of the wildlife artists. I have a privilege to be in daily contact with Szabolcs Kokay, the multi award winning Hungarian wildlife artist who is a very talented, awarded and young artist.

Today I was talking with Szabi, as we call him, about the process of creating an painting from the ‘mind-kick-off’ to the displayed art.

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© Szabolcs Kókay

Szabi, I was always wondering whether an artist fully relies on field experiences or a part of the work is a result of a combination of fiction and reality.

Large part of my work was based on special, exceptional or just memorable moments captured in the field. Of course this is valid only when I work on my own projects and not for ordered illustrations. Typical example is the roosting Long-eared Owls which I liked to draw and paint.

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© Szabolcs Kókay

The composition was so perfect when I found these owls. The vegetation on the left and the position of roosting birds allowed me to make only a slight change in the composition. I think myself to be an open eyed artist with strong birding background.

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© Szabolcs Kókay

The other favorite factor which drives my work is the light. When I see a bird in gorgeous lights it immediately grabs my attention and try to fix the moment as is. These Curlews were landing on a pasture when I was there. The golden light was stunning. That was the reality. The Slender-billed Curlew is a fiction in this artwork.

I have several other ideas coming from many totally independent field observations which I’d like to get together on a single painting.

How much does the optical or digital equipments help you in your field work? Have you become faster of more precise?

Since most of my subjects I draw in detail I need references both from my own collection or from various other sources. Today a good optical gear and a digital camera is extremely helpful in recording the moment I witnessed in the field. On the other hand these technics somehow block me progressing on the learning curve. Many great artists, I admire, apparently work without any image references used. Of course when I have to make an illustration for a field guide or a poster I have to be precise and as detailed as possible. In those cases reference images taken by myself or my friends is widely used.

Since we have been working together on the shorebirds book I was always stunned by the way you are commenting and recognizing a tiny feature on a bird and its plumage. You have incredibly focused eyes on details. What helped you in being so eagle-eyed?

Let me explain through an example. In my early times I always painted a singing bird with frozen open bills. When I carefully examined the pose of a singing Reed Warbler I realized that the lower beak is almost never stop moving creating a blurred effect. The human eye doesn’t have such fast shutter speed to freeze these moments. Superficial observer never recognizes it but many keen naturalists going into details when out to nature. Sometimes I must go into depth to draw the bird as they are.

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© Szabolcs Kókay

Since I learned this I consciously apply it for my other artworks.

Do video clips more useful than stills?

Normally an image would be more ideal for detailed illustrations but I tend to believe that a short high quality video footage is even better. I can play it in slow motion and select the most perfect pose or composition for my needs. The less is sometimes more, many says. This is really true. I have hundreds of reference images and many times I cannot pick one for further use. Of course for sleeping owls no need to record a video.

What is your future orientation and what is needed to reach the goals?

As I mentioned earlier I’d like to unite myself from using reference images. An artwork should be processed exclusively by using my field sketches. This would affect my style which might be disliked by some but would be an acceptable and pleasant change for others. I don’t tend to illustrate wildlife photo-realistically but by using more improper lines and colors. On the other hand many birders like more realistic artwork than freestyles. I need to fit the needs.

Do you have many ideas in your mind you are keen to go after?

Absolutely. I imagined some nice moments like a Great Bittern in a winter reedbed, a Short-eared Owl sitting in a boggy grassland, or an Eagle Owl in a abandoned quarry and many more. I just need more time to go out sketching.

You are always quite humble despite you have been awarded many times. Do you need to be awarded? Which of these awards is the most memorable?

Recognition is important for me as that drives me to the right direction. Most of us need recognition otherwise enthusiasm will be lost. I am not any different. Of course honest critique is as important as praise.

I have been awarded for some occasions but the most memorable was when I won the ‘Birdwatch Artist of the Year‘ award in 2008. The winning artwork was an unusual composition of juvenile shorebirds. It was a composition what some bird photographers could not understand. I simply did not want to include the whole body of all the birds in the frame but loved to cut some of them, reflecting that they are in continuous motion.

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© Szabolcs Kókay

Last year I applied a selection of my best artwork for the Don Eckelberry Scholarship Award run by the ‘Society of Animal Artists‘. This scholarship gave me a chance to spend two beautiful weeks in Trinidad this January, dedicated fully for field work. I think this will greatly affect my career.

Thank you Szabi, and we want you to be back soon with more awesome artwork.

PS: In the meantime Szabi returned back from Trinidad with awesome field sketches. I can’t wait to see the finished artworks. He was kindly offered scans of two of his favourite subjects.

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White-bearded Manakin. © Szabolcs Kókay

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White-tailed Trogon, Trinidad. © Szabolcs Kókay

Szabi’s work could be found on his website: www.kokay.hu

Chilling Pygmy Cormorant counting

Brutal! This is how I could describe the weather of this afternoon. I tried to cover the whole afternoon with Dani with counting the overflying Pygmy Cormorants. Despite we spent 1.5 hour more at the lake than yesterday, the number of Pygmy Cormorants have decreased since yesterday. Some birds might have stayed at their feeding sites (the reedbeds of fishponds) due to the very bad weather. We might organize synchronised counts involving other local birders.

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Mallard. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Birds of interest include an adult White-tailed Eagle and a female Northern Harrier.

Other records:
Great Crested Grebe 9
Grey Heron 1
Great Cormorant 6
Pygmy Cormorant 144
Greater White-fronted Goose 16
Tundra Bean Goose 1
Mallard 40
Common Pochard 85
Tufted Duck 20
Common Goldeneye 45
Eurasian Coot 18
Yellow-legged Gull 18
Black-headed Gull 140
Common Wood Pigeon 4
Black Redstart 1 

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White Wagtails showing migration. Several birds were seen along the sandy beaches of the lake. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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The weather as it was today at the Old Lake. Taken by an iPhone. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Trying for breaking a record

It’s been raining since last night and I spent all day home. By the afternoon I couldn’t stay at my desk and decided to go out to Old Lake for counting Pygmy Cormorants. A few days ago I counted a record number of Pygmies for the lake and hoped to break this record.

As we reached the lake I immediately saw the first small flock. I suspected they were already started moving cross the lake towards their roosting site. All in all I counted 137 birds until dusk. While we were waiting for the coming Pygmy Cormorant flocks 4 Western Yellow Wagtails were seen. It was a surprising addition to the year list.

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Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flava) became my 125th observed bird species in 2011. © Gyorgy Szimuly

If weather allows I go out again tomorrow an hour earlier.

Funny looking Fieldfare

Fieldfares love to visit my town. There are plenty of food sources in large parks and around te Old Lake. When they arrive I go out for possible accompanying rarities like the sought after Black-throated Thrush. Some years ago I found a large flock of Fieldfares in the English Park with many Bohemian Waxwings. In a separate small group of birds I found an unusual looking thrush which immediately pumped some adrenalin into my veins. After setting up my scope it became obvious that it was a leucistic Fieldfare. I took a record shot of this bird.

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Leucistic Fieldfare in the English Park, Tata, Hungary. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A mix of migrating and territorial birds

It was the warmest day of the spring. Awesome lights and lovely 17°C made the morning birding really enjoyable. Earlier I was informed about a larger Northern Lapwing flock including some nice European Golden Plovers next to the adjacent village so we drove there to see them. Unfortunately no Golden Plover was found but we saw some nice waders on a temporarily (now it seems to be permanent) flooded agricultural field.

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Flooded agricultural field is turning into permanent marsh area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Our county is having one of lowest wader density regarding breeding populations. Only a few site is suitable for breeding for a few species. On this site I counted several Northern Lapwings (14) and some of them already displayed in flight. A Ruff, 4 Common Snipe and a single Green Sandpiper were also seen. Greylag Geese (8) and many Mute Swan (18) fed on the adjacent field. A distant call of a migrating Common Redshank was also heard.

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Green Sandpiper. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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The flooded area was divided by an alley. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Ferencmajor fishponds was also visited. Since no pond has been drained yet no shorebird was found on the grounds. Four Common Redshanks however crossed the area. We saw the first Garganeys and some very nice Red-crested Pochards. An immature White-tailed Eagle was in action for Eurasian Coots on pond 2 but soon was chased away by Mew Gulls and Black-headed Gulls.

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Common Redshank occurring in small numbers during spring. © Gyorgy Szimuly

180 Greylag Geese, 1,300 Greater White-fronted Geese and about 150 Tundra Bean Goose were landing on pond 4 for drinking. Greylag Geese pairs were quite territorial. Some additions to year list include Bearded Reedling, Penduline Tit and Common Chiffchaff. Common Reed Buntings were starting to sing everywhere bringing life to the pale coloured reedbeds.

From the fishponds we headed to mountains just for enjoying the landscape. Nothing special was seen. Circling Common Buzzards a Rough-legged Buzzard and many songbirds including a Common Goldcrest was seen. We saw the first butterfiles and very late blooming Snowdrops.

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Nice stream valley in the Gerecse mountain. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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A month late blooming of Snowdrops. © Gyorgy Szimuly