Another Mega species for Hungary: Sharp-tailed Sandpiper – My New Lifer

Yesterday I felt quite bad and had some sleep in the afternoon. Meanwhile an SMS from our birding hotline has been silently received as I switched off the sound on my iPhone. 1,5 hour later I read it and was shocked by the content. The very first Hungarian occurrence of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was reported from eastern Hungary.

I immediately departed for the bird despite I felt it was a bit late. Anyway we arrived about one hour before sunset. The sandpiper was seen briefly 5 minutes before our arrival but were never seen again. Bad luck.

Today I gave it another try. I left early to the Rókás (the name of the site in the Hortobágy National Park) though the light conditions were not good enough in the morning time. As more birders gathered it was a nice opportunity to relocate the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. We were browsing the sandpiper flock but it was hard to ID not Dunlin-like birds as the whole flock had been sleeping.

Another group of local birders arrived to the opposite site of the flooded agricultural field in a hope to find the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Surprisingly they found and adult Buff-breasted Sandpiper instead. What a site! Two mega sandpiper species at the same site on the same day. When they came to us Tamás Zalai, one of the most productive Hungarian birder, soon spotted an unusual bird which seemed to be the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. As the bird was sleeping we had to wait till it was starting to preen. The bird showed its features very well from every side.

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Preening Sharp-tailed Sandpiper which has never ever been recorded in Hungary before. Image was kindly offered by my friend, János Oláh, Jr. © János Oláh, Jr./RareBirds.hu

It was a fantastic feeling to see this species in Hungary. I had been hunting this species since my first trip to Thailand and then in Indonesia. Today I’ve got a lifer, a lifer shorebird plus a bonus rarity. It is just awesome.

Rough estimation of shorebird numbers seen there:
Pied Avocet 8
Black-winged Stilt 6
Northern Lapwing 35
Little Ringed Plover 2
Common Ringed Plover 38
Grey Plover 1
Black-tailed Godwit 25
Common Redshank 15
Wood Sandpiper 6
Common Greenshank 2
Little Stint 15
Temminck’s Stint 1
Dunlin 350
Curlew Sandpiper 20
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper 1
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Ruff 5

When we left the area I visited the Nagyszik soda lake at Balmazújváros for a potential year list addition. An adult Ruddy Turnstone was seen there by János Oláh, Jr. I could not find it but I found a Collared Pratincole instead which is a cool species for the area.

Shorebirds seen here:
Pied Avocet 2
Black-winged Stilt 4
Northern Lapwing 8
Common Redshank 8
Little Stint 6
Collared Praticole 1

Year list moved to 215 by also adding Red-backed Shrike and Lesser Grey Shrike. Life list moved back to 2,178 as I had to delete Eastern Great Egret a few week back.

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Thanks a lot to the local rangers and János Tar aka ‘Mannu’, who found the bird, for the guidance and care.

More nesting shorebirds around

May is one of the most interesting month in birding in Hungary. I love to be out and look for nesting birds as well as for rarities. Still most of the days of May I have to spend at home due to my pollen allergy. The strong reactions make birding almost impossible and noisy. However after a fews days of being restricted in the town I must go out for a few hours.

Today I decided to make a visit to the developing Common Tern colony to the fishponds. Number of birds increased to 28 and a few birds have already been incubating. My birding friend observed egg laying and found full clutches through his spotting scope. The reported Pied Avocet pair was not present at the time of my visit.

Over the ponds 11 Black Terns and 2 Whiskered Terns was seen. Shorebirds were completely missing from the fishponds.

My next stop was at a gravel pit which is an important breeding site for local shorebirds. Important for our region and not by numbers. The extraction of gravel has been stopped leaving the area free for waterbirds and water related songbirds to occupy.

As I entered the edge of the pond a defending Pied Avocet aggressively approached me. There was a small gravel islet in the middle of the pond which was occupied by Pied Avocets, couple of Black-winged Stilts, a pair of Little Ringed Plover and Common Tern. Sand Martins started to build their nesting holes on the wall of the pond. Approximately 150 birds were flying around. Tufted Ducks and Common Pochards were also present but they were quite shy and flushed off when I jumped off the car.

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Territorial Black-winged Stilt. © György Szimuly

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Some birds looked to be incubating while others were feeding on the shallow part of the pond. © György Szimuly

As I watched the birds I was thinking on some habitat management issues to make the pond even more suitable for more shorebirds and more Sand Martins. Just before I left the area 12 migrating Whiskered Terns were jumping down the pond.

Still no Red-backed Shrike was seen this year. This has never happened in the last 30 years.

The second wave: immature Little Gulls

This evening I visited the fishponds with Dani to find some year list “new comers”. The 1st pond was quite exciting by the flock of tiny Black Terns. They were hunting together with 2 Whiskered Terns, 2 White-winged Terns and and a few Little Gulls. The group contained only immatures. Adults have left already the area and they already reached their Scandinavian breeding grounds. On the lake two gorgeous Ferruginous Pochard joined the resting Common Pochards.

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Immature Little Gulls were missing from the first wave of Little Gull migration this spring. © György Szimuly

On the pond 3 the island became slightly larger and the number of Common Terns have increased. Many pairs formed and they started to build and decorating their nest hollow. It was fantastic to listen the loud territorial song of Great Reed Warblers mixed with the softly tinkling song of Common Reed Buntings which apparently started to raise the second clutch.

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Great Reed Warbler were dominantly singing. © György Szimuly

Before we left the fishponds we saw a female Little Bittern and a singing Common Whitethroat.

Records:
Ferruginous Pochard 2
Northern Lapwing 1
Little Gull 13
Common Tern 20
Black Tern 45
White-winged Tern 2
Whiskered Tern 2 

Among the feeding Barn Swallow flock I saw an all rufous-orange bellied male bird with a complete breast band. Breast band and throat colour looked to be very dark. Was this a probable Hirundo rustica savignii, the resident Egyptian subspecies? They should not be migrating, as far as I know. I found in the literature that 10% of Italian H. r. rustica birds are having “reddish” underparts. Anyone have a comment please share it here.

 

Year list is at 203 by now. I’m still waiting for some late migrants like the European Bee-eater, Red-backed Shrike and Lesser Grey Shrike.

How to Become a Birder…

A few days ago I found a post on the blog of The Nature Conservancy saying how to become a birder in four easy steps. It describes the tools, from the binoculars to field guides, and actions better to take for being a birder or birdwatcher.

I clearly remember how I became a birdwatcher 30 years ago. That wasn’t started by simply buying a binocular. To be honest didn’t even know a field guide existed until the Peterson guide was introduced to me. That time there was no internet, no mailing lists just a nice old ornithologist who directed me to find the right way to be a good birdwatcher.

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White Stork is an easy target species in Europe. © György Szimuly

Prior to this I was admired by the richness of birdlife and their colours. Great vocation and respect is also needed to become a good birdwatcher. In order to make ethical birding thus becoming a good birdwatcher, we have to know or have to acquire the knowledge on the life of birds, we have to listen and understand the actions our birds are doing in the field. If we don’t listen these moments a fatal step would easily taken.

I rarely see young or beginner birders birding alone. The best is to join to an expert and pick up knowledge on birds, their life-cycle, the habitat they prefer or the song they sing and so on. Birding camps and courses are a useful opportunity to get close to birds. A birder having 3,000 bird species on his/her list is not necessarily a good birder but a good traveller who count the bird species seen/heard/showed. Start birding around your home and try to go green. It is not always possible but if you can do it then do it. Later, when you have knowledge you can travel across the world for new species.

One said: if you read 10 different books on the particular topic you are close to be called as an expert on that topic. That is also true in birding. Start reading tale-like birding novels. I loved them so much and encouraged me to go out and listen even more carefully. Then read conservation related articles (not hard-core research papers!) to understand the status of birds around you.

You are a good birder if you mix the joy of birdwatching with active field work to support conservation programmes. Bird counts are essential and indispensable tool for bird conservation. Without data on bird numbers and the trends of their populations decision makers cannot stand by birds. Lets pick up your binocular, place your field guide into your backpack and carefully listen to birds, learn to count them and share your data with others.

The noisiest day in the mountains

Again we had a very early wake up. I departed with Dani at 4AM to the most beautiful valley of Gerecse Mountains. As we arrived birds started to sing in twilight. Their song spread fast in the extremely cold morning. The thermometer of the car showed 2℃(!) at the entrance of the valley.

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The forest showed spectacular colours and lights when the sunbeam found a way through the leaves. © György Szimuly

Tawny Owls were continuously calling at the edge of the forest. Later we heard them at two other spots. This beech forest holds several breeding pairs of Tawny Owls. Years ago I helped to place some artificial nest boxes to support their breeding.

We wanted to find two relatively uncommon breeding birds in this area. The White-backed Woodpecker was seen recently and at least two territories was identified. We heard one bird but as the canopy has well developed I couldn’t find the bird. Dani was sorry by not finding his potential life bird. Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a Black Woodpecker were distant calling while we were looking for the White-backed.

Another local breeder, in low numbers, was the Red-breasted Flycatcher which would have also been a lifer to Dani. We checked the whole 5km long forest section but no singing male was heard. It might be a bit early so we try it next week or weekend.

The most abundant species was the European Collared Flycatcher. Its density is very high in this part of the Gerecse Mountains. Eurasian Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Common Chaffinches and Eurasian Wrens were performing powerful singing. Wood Warblers were also singing at the outer part of the forest. A pair of European Golden Oriole was also joined the choir. Tits and Eurasian Nuthatch were quite silent today. We saw the first Spotted Flycatcher acrobatically hunting from a large tree while Stock Doves were cooing everywhere. Late in the morning we still heard a Tawny Owl calling.

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Eurasian Wrens were actively singing at their territories. Jan Wegener’s image clearly represents what we saw in the valley. © Jan Wegener 

From the valley we moved to another spot for picking the breeding Short-toed Snake-Eagle but we didn’t stay long enough to see them flying in the rising temperature. At the top of the Wind Hill we saw the first migrant Common Swifts a single Tree Pipit and a European Sparrowhawk. Surprisingly only one Common Buzzard were seen in the whole mountains. On our next visit we’ll climb to a hill and will sit for watching raptor, if weather allows.

Tardos

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Tardos is a small village in the heart of the mountains surrounded by beautiful hills and forests. It was a view of the Wind Hill. © György Szimuly

Thanks for Jan for the usage of his image.

Probable first breeding of Great Egret at the fishponds

Periodically I need to go out birding as an escape from the numbers and calculations. It seemed to be a good decision this evening. I visited the fishponds with my son and my business mate in a beautifully calm and warm weather.

On our way to the fishponds I saw the first Whinchat of the year. OK, they have already been feeding their chicks so that was my laziness not to find them earlier. By entering the gate of the fishponds some lovely Common Terns were calling and flying over the pond. On the other side 17 Great Egret were flying off the reedbed. One of the bird were carrying dead reed in its bill. This was an indirect sign of the breeding attempt for Great Egret for the very first time in the history of Ferencmajor fishponds. Independently another local birder had also observed this behaviour on the same day.

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Great Egret is a common bird at the fishponds. We are focusing on proving its breeding. © György Szimuly

Based on an agreement with the site owner the water level of the pond number 3 was decreased for providing suitable nesting habitat for Common Terns and Pied Avocets as well as for Little Ringed Plovers. The small island was immediately occupied by 2 pairs of Common Terns. Ground and aerial display has been seen during our presence. Surprisingly an uncommon Little Tern was also seen on the island. This species has at least one record of every year of the last few years but we consider it a rare migrant. As I informed the local birders, some of them could come and they also saw the bird. Later Black Terns and White-winged Terns landed on the small island for preening. 

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Beautiful White-winged Tern hunting. © György Szimuly

Some records:
Greater White-fronted Goose 3
Common Ringed Plover 1
Little Ringed Plover 2
Black-tailed Godwit 2
Eurasian Curlew 1
Common Greenshank 3
Wood Sandpiper 15
Common Sandpiper 4
Curlew Sandpiper 1
Dunlin 2
Ruff 40
Little Gull 5
Common Tern 9
Little Tern 1
Black Tern 60
White-winged Tern 6

Year list moved to 198.

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Whinchat was observed for the first time in 2011. © György Szimuly

Some thoughts on the 2nd Pannonian Bird Experience

It was the second time I made a visit to the Pannonian Bird Experience held three weeks ago in Illmitz at the Information Center of the Nationalpark Neusiedlersee Seewinkel. It was a great opportunity for all those who couldn’t afford a visit to the very well known and recognized British Birdwatching Fair held every year in England. 

I was also excited, especially, by the new optics I have never ever tested or tried. Zeiss, KOWA and Swarovski was displaying their excellent products but Nikon and Leica and Minox didn’t thought worth to promote their optical solutions for birdwatchers and nature lovers of Central Europe. I was more than disappointed by this which was probably due to the low number of visitors compared to BBF(?). Anyway it was a shame in my honest opinion.

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Of course not only optical products but artists and NGOs were exhibiting their portfolio. © György Szimuly

Another disappointment was clearly an organisational mistake. Testing or trying an optical product, especially a spotting scope, is quite impossible indoor. Last year many kind of spotting scopes were set on the “balcony” of the hall and on the observation tower which made us, visitors, possible to spot on birds or whatever we wanted to see. This year almost every scopes were placed indoor and we had to find a very narrow tunnel through the door to see something (mainly the blue sky).

Opticron was a new exhibitor with a wide range of their products. The guys at the Opticron box were quite helpful and proactive. On the balcony only Swarovski were actively present. KOWA with the Meopta (by the same reseller) left some binoculars on a table without any supporting background. The superior KOWA scopes were not displayed outdoor. I wanted to share the excellence of birdwatching through these perfect products with my kids, like the KOWA Prominar and Swarovski spotting scopes. Unfortunately only Swarovski could think as being a curious visitor.

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The Opticron stand with helpful experts. © György Szimuly

Regarding the products, Zeiss and KOWA didn’t display any new binoculars or spotting scopes. From my side the most “wanted” product was the recently unveiled EL 10x and 12×50 SwaroVision. They were displayed both in- and outdoor. The new x50 binoculars are made by perfection. The lightness and balance of these ‘thought-to-be-heavy’ binoculars has impressed the whole world so did me as well. I felt comfortable holding it steady on the way I hold the binos. Of course when wearing the little bit less than 1kg heavy binocular around my neck on a birding trip during the whole day, it could be painful but holding it for watching birds was really cool. Sharpness and clarity was stunning. I could not try them in low light conditions but I know how perfectly the EL 10×42 SwaroVision is working in a challenging environment. These new products could work even better.

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The brand new EL 10×50 SwaroVision powerful binocular. © György Szimuly

KOWA displayed a new telephoto lens for photographers. The Telephoto Lens/Scope PROMINAR 500mm F5.6 FL was made by the famous and successful Prominar technology making it a promising alternative to the killer priced Canon or Nikon telephoto lenses with the same focal length. With a special adapter it can be switched back into a weird looking spotting scope. I could not try it but could look through of it.

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KOWA Prominar Telephoto lens. © György Szimuly

Dani, my son, liked the small KOWA Genesis Prominar 10×33 binocular which fit his hands well and its image was crystal clear to him (I agreed). I loved how they enjoyed testing. It seemed Sandra was addicted to the powerful Victory FL 10×56 T* binocular.

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My kids were testing the complete product line of Swarovski. © György Szimuly

Overall it was a nice day with an extension excursion to the Alps. The fair itself was okay but there is room for improvement (especially from marketing and practical point of view). I would have liked to visit a bird book seller’s stand. The staff obviously did a hard job in guiding the visitors. Again: I am not working for any of the above mentioned manufacturers…

My poll on binocular brands

Earlier this week I created a poll on my Facebook Page. I wanted to know how diverse birders, birdwatchers, nature lovers and bird feeders’ preference is. The list of manufacturers is far not complete as you definitely could add other brands. There is nothing particular to do with this poll. If you have a Facebook account feel free to vote for your choice whether the brand you own, you would prefer, you think to be good. I would be happy to see your friend’s opinion as well so please share it on your Facebook wall.

Poll link is here.

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Dani would be happy by a pair of the new compact Swarowski or a KOWA Genesis 33. © György Szimuly

New compact binoculars from Swarovski Optik

SWAROVSKI OPTIK has announced a new compact binocular family which could be ideal for travelers, traveling birders and especially for ladies. The new CL Companion models, the 8×30 and 10×30, will hit the shelves in three colours: the usual ‘Swarovski green’, the known sand-brown (Traveler) and the unusual black. All models will be available from 1st July 2011.

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The press release says: The proven SWAROVSKI OPTIK precision guarantees excellent viewing comfort and bright, high-contrast images for truly memorable viewing experiences. The distinctive new design of the new binoculars combines a modern look and feel with the compact construction and proven ergonomics typical of this long established Austrian manufacturer. At only 500 g (17 oz), they are the lightest binoculars in their class.

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Its impressive benefits mean that, in addition to being perfect for birdwatchers and nature observers, the CL Companion 30 is also a useful companion for anyone who travels or enjoys an active lifestyle.

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This is the first time that SWAROVSKI OPTIK is accompanying its product launch with an exciting social media campaign. At www.facebook.com/swarovskioptik.leisure, all travel and leisure enthusiasts have until 29 May to enter the new “World Traveller’s Challenge” Facebook game, an entertaining game which, in addition to testing their geographical knowledge, will also put their creativity to the test with a challenging photography competition. There are a host of attractive prizes to be won, including a CL Companion binocular. From June 2011, SWAROVSKI OPTIK will also be launching a product test campaign from this Facebook fan page, giving successful applicants the chance to test the new CL Companion for a whole six months.

More info on the SWAROVSKI Optik website.