Some new arrivals again

I was hesitating to wake up at 5AM this morning but as I agreed with my son we would go out for some birding. We had a few hours for birding in along the usual birding routes nearby. Before we visited the Ferencmajor fishponds I checked the actual number of Northern Lapwing breeding pairs at Mocsa village. I found an additional two pairs holding and defending territory, showing nest hollow making behaviour. Maybe we see some chicks in the coming weeks. We heard and saw our first European Golden Orioles.

At the Ferencmajor fishponds nice numbers of Greylag Goose families were seen. Local fisherman counted more than 30 families this week. Red-crested Pochards and Tufted Ducks were flocking together. A pair of Tufted Duck seemed quite shy at the edge of the reedbed. There is one breeding records from 2003 from this area. Hopefully they breed again at the fishponds.

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14 Greylag Goose families with many adorable goslings were seen this morning. © György Szimuly

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Red-crested Pochards are breeding at the fishponds in small numbers. © György Szimuly

I love how Great Reed Warblers fill the air with their powerful songs from the reedbeds. Lots of pairs are keeping territories now. Sedge Warblers were not any different as they were singing almost everywhere.

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Sedge Warbler is a regular breeder at the Ferencmajor fishponds but last year numbers dropped drastically based on ringing data. © György Szimuly

At the pond number 1 over 100 Black Terns, 3 White-winged Terns and 4 Little Gulls were seen.

From the fishponds we moved to the nearby hills of Dunaszentmiklós. I wanted to find some Wood Larks. I was told some birds usually keep territories there. We could find a single bird only which was not singing. European Stonechats, European Turtle Dove and a nice singing Barred Warbler were seen at the edge of vineyards.

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Male European Stonechats are showing rich orange colours at the time of the year. © György Szimuly

Year list increased by four this morning and reached 194.

 

Crashing bird populations?

Little bit less than a year ago I posted a news on the extraordinary cold and rainy weather we experienced here. It had been raining like hell for four days which was followed by heavy and never seen floods. Birds struggled the most and we could do nothing just see the death of adults on the roads as well as the starvation of almost fledged chicks of many species. The most considerable and immediately visible loss was recorded on the local population of Barn Swallow.

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Barn Swallow is an iconic species of the Hungarian countryside. © Szabolcs Kókay

It is the last third of April and Barn Swallows should already have formed pairs and started incubating their eggs. We all agree that arrival of Barn Swallows in late March make the spring official among birders. This March I was excitingly hunting for arriving swallows from the edge of the Old Lake without much success. There is one spot at the lake where a pair used to chirp every year upon their arrival. The last year’s survivor male has appeared in late March but has been singing alone since then. This is one sad segment, written a bit sentimentally, of the current status of Barn Swallow population. Every day I see just a few Barn Swallows (means 2-3 individuals only). Population has crashed in many part of our county. No breeding pairs were recorded in traditional nesting sites. I look forward to comments from other part of Hungary. It should be quite the same…

All three Chlidonias Terns have arrived

I visited the Ferencmajor fishponds this evening with my kids just before sunset. We walked to the pond 6, which was freshly drained and local reports suggested good birding there. On our way to the pond Sandra picked a gorgeous Squacco Heron. Above the water striking White-winged Terns, adorable Black Terns and Whiskered Terns were flying jauntily. These Chlidonias terns are appearing almost at the same time in Spring. They don’t breed in this region but passing through every year in small numbers, however, I think the turnover is high.

On the drained pond Ruffs and Wood Sandpipers were dominant. Nothing special was found but it was nice to see the relatively large number of shorebirds. A single Whimbrel, which is an uncommon visitor, was a nice surprise here.

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Wood Sandpiper is a regular migrant at the fishponds sometimes in good numbers. © György Szimuly 

Records:
Squacco Heron 1
Purple Heron 1
Pied Avocet 2
Northern Lapwing 8
Little Ringed Plover 6
Whimbrel 1
Common Greenshank 8
Common Redshank 2
Wood Sandpiper 250
Ruff 80
Black Tern 34
White-winged Tern 9
Whiskered Tern 2

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White-winged Tern is the most beautiful tern species in this region. © György Szimuly

Year list was increased by 5 species to 171.

My New Facebook Page

I have created a new Page on Facebook on my birding and bird photography experiences. All my birding and bird photography related news, thoughts, ideas and, of course, the images will be shared on this community page. If you like my work on birds just click on the ‘Like’ button and follow me. Link is as follows:

http://www.facebook.com/SzimiStyle

 

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Austrian birding at the soda lakes and in the Alps

The morning was quite grey today in northwest Hungary with some very light rain so we could not enjoy lovely sunrise. Sandra and Dani was with me. Our main target was to have a day long excursion to north east Austria where the 2nd Pannonian Bird Experience was held. Once we were there some birding around the Neusiedler See and at the highest peak of the eastern Austrian Alps was essential.

Before we entered the territory of Austria I wanted to visit the habitat reconstruction site at Fertőújlak, in Hungary. This is the site I visited last week. The site slightly changed by the increased water level which was managed by the national park staff to avoid early drying-up of the soda lake in the breeding season.

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Abandoned house from the middle of the past century along the canal of Hanság. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Bird numbers and composition of species was similar to last weekend’s counting. Since the last weekend Eurasian Spoonbills have arrived. We saw 4 busy birds feeding at the edge of the wetland. Greylag Geese were escorting the week old goslings. The Caspian Tern was still present at the lake. Large number of Ruffs continuously left the area in the morning south east direction. Only Dunlin was almost completely missing from the area.

Shorebird numbers:
Pied Avocet 264
Black-winged Stilt 4
Northern Lapwing 15 (many sitting on nest)
Little Ringed Plover 8
Kentish Plover 6
Black-tailed Godwit 70
Eurasian Curlew 7
Common Snipe 4
Spotted Redshank 30
Common Redshank 10
Marsh Sandpiper 2
Common Greenshank 10
Ruff 600
Dunlin 4
Caspian Tern 1

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Eurasian Curlews were beautifully calling while flying to the feeding grounds. © György Szimuly

From Mekszikópuszta some of the Austrian soda lakes were visited. Near Illmitz a classic lake, the Zicklacke was visited, however due to the event, the main hide was closed from the public in the morning. Very few waders was found. Black-winged Stilts, Little Ringed Plovers, a single Kentish Plover and a few Ruffs were seen. Large number of breeding Black-headed Gulls made awesome noise in the corner of the lake. Greylag Geese, Garganeys, Red-crested Pochards, Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers were also seen.

Our next stop was at Darscho which is another lovely lake and used to be a good breeding site especially for Pied Avocet and Kentish Plovers. The breeding island was not seen due to the high water level. Pied Avocets were chasing each other while Black-tailed Godwits were alarming over the grassy edges. This sound mix of these soda wetlands makes me relaxed and I always enjoy every second I can spend with these birds. West to Darscho a Short-toed Snake Eagle was chased by Hooded Crows.

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Only one pair of Kentish Plover was found at Darscho. © György Szimuly

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Black-tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage is one of loveliest wader species in Europe. © György Szimuly

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Green-veined Orchid (Anacamptis morio) was blooming at the edges of the lakes. © György Szimuly

The Central European bird fair, the Pannonian Bird Experience, was held for the second time in the visitor centre of the Fertő-Hanság National Park. A summary of the visit will be posted soon in my blog.

In the afternoon we had a trip to one of the most impressive peak of the eastern Alps, the Schneeberg which is the highest mountain in this region. I also have never been there so it was going to be a nice trip.

Birding wasn’t our primary target there but enjoying the scenic landscape. Anyway the SwaroVision was around my neck… Some of classic mountain species was seen but any special ones like Ring Ouzel, Red Crossbill, Dipper or Golden Eagle etc. Coal Tits were active everywhere as well as Great Tits, European RobinsCommon Chaffinches, Eurasian Greenfinches, Grey Wagtails and Yellowhammers. A nice flock of Western Jackdaws provided a perfect view next to the main road including a funny looking partial albino individual. On the hayfields Carrion Crows and Northern Ravens were looking for food.

Some images taken on our way to the bottom of the snow capped Schneeberg makes our story more enjoyable.

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The weather was not so pleasant for landscape photography but still showing the beauty of the montane scenery. © György Szimuly

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The Bear’s Ear is a common flower in the Alps. © György Szimuly

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This lovely Butterbur was blooming in the wet grasslands of the Alps. This plant was identified by János Soproni. Thanks for it. © György Szimuly

In the evening we spent some time in the city of Graz. This beautiful city has a lovely atmosphere with the mixture of stylish and historical buildings. The car-free and very narrow street makes the center of Graz really livable and calmed. In these days a nice Easter fair got place at the Hauptplatz in front of the Graz Town Hall. I wish I had more time to explore the area but we decided to return on a lovely sunny day. Here are some images taken with my iPhone.

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Disappointing wader numbers

In the afternoon I visited the fishponds again. The drained pond was disappointingly empty regarding the waders compared to the fantastic birding from yesterday or the birding at the same spot 10 years ago. Only a few birds was seen including Northern Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Avocet, Common Greenshank and Common Redshank. The wind was extremely strong but we could watch birds from a shelter.

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Northern Lapwings have already sitting on their nest across the country and only a few migrants remained at the fishponds. © György Szimuly

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Pied Avocet migration is still under way. Birds are appearing and leaving even within the day. © György Szimuly

Black-headed Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls were present on the mudflat and later two beautiful breeding plumaged Mediterranean Gulls joined them.

We saw some late migrant Tundra Bean Geese flying north without stopping at this internationally important bird area. A few Barn Swallows were also moving north.

I had a short break at the Old Lake as the first Little Gull were seen yesterday for this year but I could not find it. In a few days dozens will hunt over the water. Pallas’s Gull did not show up today despite extensive search by other birders, twitchers.

Numbers:
Tundra Bean Goose 5
Pied Avocet 4
Northern Lapwing 5
Little Ringed Plover 24
Common Greenshank 2
Common Redshank 2
Mediterranean Gull 2 ad
Black-headed Gull 70
Yellow-legged Gull 7

New comers: Tringa sandpipers and terns

I woke up quite early this morning to check the night roosting gulls at the Old Lake before they fly off to fields. I missed to check the time of sunrise so I spent some time at the lake still in the dark. Anyway it was nice to ‘hear’ and see the awakening nature. Wind was incredibly strong so I had to sit on a lakeside bench for reducing tripod shake. I thought I might find the Pallas’s Gull and other local birders would also see this rarity.

Laci Musicz was also coming to the lake. In the meantime lights turned good enough to identify birds in the dawn. The Swarovski spotting scope worked really well au to 30x magnification on the zoom eyepiece. It was incredibly sharp and crisp. There were about 1,000 Black-headed Gulls a single Mew Gull and I again could pick three adult and 3 joining immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls. They soon left the lake towards the Ferencmajor fishponds. Pallas’s Gull was not appearing during our half an hour stay. We didn’t want to stay too long as we were driving to northwest Hungary to participate a specific workshop on geese, cranes and swans.

Before the workshop kicked off we made some birding despite wind was even stronger on the plains. The site we stopped at was an important bird area. At Mekszikópuszta, where a wetland restoration project was completed more than a decade ago, hundreds of birds were seen. The shallow water provided perfect feeding habitat for migrating birds. View was not really enjoyable by shaking scope due to the wind storm. Luckily the sun was shining and lights were perfect.

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Restorated wetland at Fertőújlak. © György Szimuly

We saw several new comers for the year. First Spotted Redshanks, Marsh Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers were seen at the lake shore. Among Dunlins we found two Little Stints. At the drier mudflats beautiful Kentish Plovers were seen among Little Ringed Plovers. Among the roosting Black-headed Gulls I found a Caspian Tern in full breeding plumage. Later the first Common Terns was seen. Another new for this year was a few passing by Red-throated Pipit.

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Marsh Sandpiper is one of the finest Tringa sandpipers in Europe. © György Szimuly

List of some birds recorded with estimated numbers:
Common Shelduck 1
White-tailed Eagle 1
Black-winged Stilt 9
Pied Avocet 245
Little Ringed Plover 20
Kentish Plover 10
Northern Lapwing 20
Eurasian Curlew 15
Black-tailed Godwit 90
Spotted Redshank 17
Common Redshank 10
Marsh Sandpiper 4
Wood Sandpiper 4
Green Sandpiper 1
Ruff 1,000
Dunlin 250
Little Stint 2
Caspian Tern 1
Common Tern 4

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Some Kentish Plovers were in full breeding plumage while many were still grey. © György Szimuly  

The workshop went really well. It was nice to meet some good birders of Hungary and we were listening some excellent and instructive talks on population dynamics and migration of goose species. A presentation about Common Crane migration in Hungary showed an interesting migration route and wintering pattern. We enjoyed the day including the delicious and spicy pizza a la Hungarian Style.

On our way back home I found the first Bank Swallow over the main road.

At home I found an e-mail by a local birder. They saw the Pallas’s Gull 2 times at the Old Lake in the afternoon but it was not landing on the water.

Gulling success

Without reflecting a too selfish picture of me I have never browsed the Collins Bird Guide (for Europe) for a while. Simply there was no need to confirm an identification. Today my young birding mate picked me up and we headed to the Ferencmajor fishponds to look for the gulls. As yesterday I missed to find the Pallas’s Gull, as I had only a few minutes to look around, we hoped to find it among the night roosting gulls.

At our arrival we found only about 60 Black-headed Gulls on the muddy ground but no large gulls were seen. After waiting about 1.5 hours suddenly all the birds took off. As usual we searched for a raptor over the drained pond but we could only see a large gull heading towards us. We both spotted the gull by our binoculars and realized its large body size and bill. I soon found the bird in the viewfinder of the spotting scope and could follow its movement even at 50x magnification.

The flushed Black-headed Gulls have never returned back as they moved towards the Old Lake, Tata such as the ‘great’ gull. The gull was huge billed with wide black tail band and dark hind neck collar. I could not find any literature on the moulting phases and timing of Pallas’s Gull. Our gull looked like the bird on this image found on BirdGuides page. I was confident we saw the yesterday’s Pallas’s Gull. It probably spends the night on the Old Lake in Tata but we stayed at the fishponds until dusk in gorgeous orange lights.

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Having no relevant image for the first three paragraph here is an image of the recorded Black-winged Stilt. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Other birds of interest:
Pygmy Cormorant 50
White-tailed Eagle 1 ad
Black-winged Stilt 2
Pied Avocet 13
Little Ringed Plover 32
Common Ringed Plover 1
Eurasian Curlew 1
Ruff 3
Pallas’s Gull 1 2y
Black-headed Gull 60
Barn Swallow 35 (migrating)

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Spectacular sunset at the Ferencmajor fishponds this evening. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A mega species and some more uncommons

This morning I got a call of my local fellow birder about a mega finding at the Ferencmajor fishponds. I could not imagine what that species could be and was really surprised when Peter said that a 2nd year old Pallas’s Gull had been found at the drained pond.

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Adult Pallas’s Gull is a striking and easily identifiable. Image was kindly offered by my Indian friend, Mital Patel. © Mital Patel

Pallas’s Gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus) which has an eastern range from Ukraine eastwards and has a very low number of records every year for the whole country. I saw this species for the last time at the Danube Delta back in August 2008.

I was on a business trip this morning to Budapest and had no chance to visit the pond before 2PM. As for the Eurasian Oystercatcher as couple of days ago, I had no luck neither today to relocate the gull on the pond number 2. There were a nice number Black-headed Gulls but the Pallas’s was not seen on any of the surrounding ponds.

 

On the completely drained pond there was 6 Pied Avocets, 2 Common Greenshanks, 1 Common Redshank and 25 Ruffs. In the reedbed the first Savi’s Warbler was seen.

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Common Greenshank is a regular migrant in the area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

As many gulls are using the Old Lake for night roosting I tried to find the Pallas’s at the lake. While we were guarding over Kea I looked over the hundreds of hunting Black-headed Gulls over the water but there was no sign of the mega species. However I saw to uncommon bird species flying over the lake towards northern direction. Two striking Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single Western Osprey was seen just over the Castle of Tata.

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From the Castle of Tata there is a nice view towards the lake. I could spot many nice species from here. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I hope I have a better luck in the coming season…

Unsuccessful search for a pair of Saker Falcon

Today I went out with Dani for raptor search to the northwest side of Gerecse Mountains. The idea was to try to locate the territory of a Saker Falcon pair as well as a new Black Stork territory as they have not yet been found. We had a nice weather which further improved by the afternoon.

Our spot was a regular raptor watching place where we could see a large area. As we are in the beginning of migration of raptors I did not expect so many species and exciting movements. However there was a clear sign of migration. While Common Starlings have started holding territories in Hungary we saw many migrant groups. About 150 birds in small flocks passed the area towards northwest direction. Similarly Common Wood Pigeons are building nests in my town while many migrants were heading northeast sometimes flying quite high. Those are most probably the breeders of Scandinavia.

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Eurasian Hoopoe is a regular breeder in the area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We heard and saw the first Eurasian Hoopoes on the sandy grassy dunes in front of us. Raptors did not started to fly before 11AM so the first two hours was a little bit eventless. A single adult White-tailed Eagle and a Western Marsh Harrier kept us awake. The White-tailed Eagle was carrying a fish for the chicks or the incubating female. They have been breeding very close to our spot for many years. Common Buzzards performed awesome display flights but we witnessed their mating as well.

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Common Buzzards were seen frequently when temperature raised. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Records:
White Stork 1 (soaring together with the Western Osprey)
White-tailed Eagle 1 ad
Western Osprey 1 ad
Western Marsh Harrier 1 ad male
Common Buzzard 15
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 4
Common Kestrel 1
Northern Raven 17
Common Wood Pigeon 46
Stock Dove 8
Eurasian Hoopoe 2

There was no sign of Saker Falcon neither the Black Storks today so we repeat this raptor watch in a few weeks maybe by involving other birdwatchers on other spots.