Nocturnal migration experiences in a city

Many birds migrate during the night so do the shorebirds. Hearing the calls of passing by birds over a wetland is an everyday story but seeing them overflying is really a rare experience. Since I moved to Milton Keynes I have heard/seen overflying waders in complete darkness in the middle of the city. First I heard a Eurasian Stone-curlew over our Conniburrow home on 18 September 2012. On 21 March 2013 a Eurasian Oystercatcher called over the Stephenson House in Bletchley. On 22 April 2013 two different Common Sandpipers were calling over the Saxon Street at the west side of the CMK Shopping Centre.

Last night, at 23:25 I could even see and count the overflying shorebirds at the exact same place where the Common Sandpipers were calling. First I noticed their calls then, as the street lights reflected on the their belly and underwings, I could see them as well. By the shape, their call and the characteristic of the underwing pattern, I identified them Bar-tailed Godwits. 12 birds flew together towards the northern direction. The local birders would probably just flick (and laugh) on this news. I was really shocked to see them flying that low in the middle of a big city.

Advertisements

A semi-lifer: ‘British’ Western Yellow Wagtail

I simply could not resist not to go out today for another spring bird walk so packed up with the whole family and took a taxi to Caldecotte Lake in a beautiful weather. My wife stayed with our daughter at the play-ground and I decided to walk all around the lake. The number of waterbird species was very low but there were some songbirds which were new for this year. I found a couple of Eurasian Coots and Mute Swans incubating as well as some possibly guarding drake Tufted Ducks on the south lake.

A view to the Caldecotte Lake from the south end. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A view to the Caldecotte Lake from the south end. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the south end of the south lake I saw the first Common Swifts of the year flying together with a dozen of Common House Martins over the Amway HQ. Sedge Warbler was also a new bird for the year. Some birds were singing on the western bank of the south lake. Just next to the sailing club I saw two British subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtails (M. f. flavissima) (alternate name is Yellow-crowned Wagtail). I was happy with this find as I have never seen them before. I probably have a better view of them in the coming days.

Wild side of the Caldecotte Lake with willow trees. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Wild side of the Caldecotte Lake with willow trees. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the north lake a Carrion Crow hunted on a Grey Squirrel and almost collided with a tree after a sharp turn made by the scurried squirrel. At the northern point I saw a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk diving with legs outstretched like an Osprey when hunting. Just after the the sparrowhawk disappeared behind the woods I found a Western Osprey gliding over the lakes towards Willen. This time the sunglass helped a lot to pick up the bird in the sky.

I will revisit the area soon to survey breeding birds around the lakes.

Greylag Goose. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Greylag Goose. © Gyorgy Szimuly

White or Pied Wagtail. © Gyorgy Szimuly

White or Pied Wagtail. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Here is the complete list of birds seen:

Greylag Goose 9
Canada Goose 35
Mute Swan 21
Mallard 52 incl. 2 ducklings
Tufted Duck 9
Great Crested Grebe 12
Great Cormorant 1
Grey Heron 1
Western Osprey 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1 female
Common Kestrel 1 female
Common Moorhen 4
Eurasian Coot 36
Common Wood Pigeon 12
Common Swift 5
European Green Woodpecker 1
Common Magpie 12
Eurasian Jackdaw 3
Carrion Crow 13
Barn Swallow 2
Common House Martin 35
Great Tit 11
European Blue Tit 2
Long-tailed Tit 6
Eurasian Wren 6
Willow Warbler 1
Common Chiffchaff 5
Sedge Warbler 6
Eurasian Reed Warbler 4
European Blackcap 11
Garden Warbler 2
European Robin 18
Eurasian Blackbird 6
Song Thrush 2
Dunnock 4
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima) 2
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarellii) 3
Common Reed Bunting 2
Common Chaffinch 5
European Greenfinch 1
European Goldfinch 4
House Sparrow 5

Reference: Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). 2013. IOC World Bird List (v 3.3). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org [Accessed 29.04.2013].

Mount Farm Lake heronry

The Mount Farm Lake is another nearby site which I have not visited for a while. Today I made a nice walk in a fantastic warm and sunny weather. My target was to start mapping nesting birds and spot the first Common Swift which had already been reported from Wolverton. I didn’t see one but found several birds nesting birds as well as a pair of Greylag Goose with a few days old goslings.

Mute Swan sitting on its nest. Images taken by iPhone 4s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mute Swan sitting on its nest. Images taken by iPhone 4s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Coot nesting. Images taken by iPhone 4s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Coot nesting. Images taken by iPhone 4s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Small Heronry on the little island. Images taken by iPhone 4s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Small Heronry on the little island. Images taken by iPhone 4s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A pair of Greylag Goese with cute goslings. Images taken by iPhone 4s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A pair of Greylag Goese with cute goslings. Images taken by iPhone 4s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mute Swans (2 pairs), Eurasian Coots (min. 5 pairs) and Carrion Crows (min. 5 pairs) were found sitting in their nests. Finding a small heronry with about 5 breeding pairs of Grey Heron was a nice surprise to me. Most of the birds were incubating and one pair was mating on the small island. Common Chiffchaffs were active again with carrying nesting materials at the south-west side of the lake.

Grey Heron. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grey Heron. © Gyorgy Szimuly

List of birds was seen today:

Greylag Goose 21 incl. 7 goslings
Canada Goose 42
Mute Swan 8
Mallard 6
Tufted Duck 16
Great Crested Grebe 1
Grey Heron 6 (5 on nest)
Common Moorhen 1
Eurasian Coot 24 incl. 1 chick
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Common Wood Pigeon 12
Common Magpie 7
Carrion Crow 12
Barn Swallow 3
Great Tit 7
European Blue Tit 3
Long-tailed Tit 2
Eurasian Wren 7
Common Chiffchaff 3
Eurasian Reed-Warbler 3
European Blackcap 4
European Robin 5
Eurasian Blackbird 6
Dunnock 1
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 1
Common Chaffinch 3
European Goldfinch 3

 

Blue Lagoon NR visit

I have been excited by the nice spring migration activity 10 days ago so I utilized a free morning and picked-up my binoculars to see what was happening in the nearby Blue Lagoon Nature Reserve. Earlier I tried to figure the best routing out, which covers most of the area as I count birds during my visits and by using e-Bird app the BirdsEye BirdLog (World) app.

Mixed scrub and reed vegetation attracts nice number of songbird species at the Blue Logoon NR. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mixed scrub and reed vegetation attracts nice number of songbird species at the Blue Logoon NR. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The weather was pleasant and silent and luckily no dog walkers were disturbing the birds. There were two new species for the year, the two whitethroat species. Both the Lesser Whitethroat and the Common Whitethroat were continuously singing.

I started to map breeding species around Bletchley by using the GPS Log app which I found it very easy and fast to add a GPS waypoint. Carrion Crows, Common Magpies and probably Common Wood Pigeons are sitting on nests. Common Chiffchaffs have already started to build nests. It was a nice feeling to find adult birds carrying nest materials. It made me remember of the birding times of my young age when searching for nests in spring was always an exciting part of my everyday birding. I could map two different territories.

Surprisingly very few Common Chaffinch territories was found. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Surprisingly I found just a few Common Chaffinch territories. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Complete list of birds counted:

Greylag Goose 1
Canada Goose 5
Mute Swan 2
Mallard 2
Common Kestrel 1 male
Common Moorhen 2
Eurasian Coot 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii) 17
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Stock Dove 2
Common Wood Pigeon 25
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Green Woodpecker 3
Eurasian Jay 2
Common Magpie 1
Eurasian Jackdaw 2
Rook 1
Carrion Crow 11
Barn Swallow 3
Great Tit 10
European Blue Tit 8
Long-tailed Tit 1
Eurasian Wren 12
Willow Warbler 6
Common Chiffchaff 11
Eurasian Reed Warbler 2
Blackcap 9
Common Whitethroat 4
Lesser Whitethroat 3
European Robin 26
Eurasian Blackbird 10
Song Thrush 4
Dunnock 7
Common Reed Bunting 3
Common Chaffinch 1
Eurasian Bullfinch 1
European Greenfinch 2
European Goldfinch 2
Common Linnet 13

Have swallows returned… to wintering grounds?

For me Barn Swallows are the symbol of spring. © Gyorgy Szimuly

For me Barn Swallows are the symbol of spring. © Gyorgy Szimuly

It might be that I am new to the birds and birding in the United Kingdom, but probably the basic principle in bird migration hasn’t changed. In the Northern Hemisphere most of the birds are migratory and spend the winter off their breeding grounds. Swallows are no exceptions. They travel as far as South Africa to enjoy the Austral summer.

In every March I am excitedly looking at the sky and try to pick up the first swallows which is definitely a sign of the end of the winter days. This March I did the same, just like I have been doing it for about 40 years. Then I neither wasn’t able to find one in the first two weeks of April in England despite arriving birds have been reported through Twitter. On the 15th of April I found 2 Barn Swallows and 2 Sand Martins over the Blue Lagoon Park.

Now it is close to the end of April and, despite my efforts, NO swallows have been seen on a daily basis. Today I found the sky completely swallow-free in perfect warm and sunny weather in Central Milton Keynes, as well as in Bletchley. Very few birds have been appearing so far. In Hungary, where I was grown-up, the first swallow chicks normally hatch in May. Now they have not even started mating…

A few questions need to be answered:

– Is swallow migration that different in the UK than in Central Europe?

– Is the city center of Milton Keynes that sterile for swallows to build a healthy breeding population, hence they are absent or restricted to villages?

– Have they already returned to wintering grounds (just a sarcastic question)?

Birding related event calendar

iCal

I have created an iCal calendar, including some of the upcoming major birding events and ornithological conferences. Anyone can subscribe for this calendar and it will be visible in their digital calendar (preferably Google Calendar and iCal).

In my new birding website and resource page a new and more impressive birding event calendar will be announced later this year. If you know about an important birding or ornithological event which is worth to share, and not listed, please send me a message.

The calendar subscription link is here.

Some wader-watching at the Willen Lake

OK, don’t expect a great abundance of waders at the Willen Lake (Milton Keynes). I just liked to find some as this day was a bit different from the usual forest birding. I enjoyed my time at the lakes despite getting there by public transport was a nightmare for me. Public transport is just a time wasting way of travelling. Anyway, after one and half an hour I left home I entered the south lake. I was a little bit disappointed by the low number of waterfowl there, as I expected better diversity and higher numbers. Songbird numbers were also low but that could probably be due to the strong wind. The best bird over the lake was the first Common Tern for 2013.

Mute Swan galore at the Southern Lake. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mute Swan galore at the south lake. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I hope one day I will find the rare Cetti's Warbler in the reedbed of the north lake. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I hope one day I will find the rare Cetti’s Warbler in the reedbeds of the north lake. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The north lake was a bit more exciting and I hoped to find the previously reported Common Redstart around the Willen Hospice. Probably due to my never ending ride I dipped this superb songbird. However, I found several other birds which were new to the 2013 list, including Eurasian Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Common House Martin and Eurasian Reed Warbler (sang at three locations). The mixed swallow flock was flying around the hospice house.

Little Ringed Plover. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Little Ringed Plover was at the Northern Lake. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Drake Mallard. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Drake Mallard. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Complete list of birds seen today (South Lake/North Lake):

Greylag Goose 19/29
Canada Goose 6/26
Mute Swan 78/3
Mallard 22/8
Northern Shoveler 0/2
Eurasian Teal 0/2

Tufted Duck 2/26
Great Crested Grebe 12/11
Great Cormorant 0/6
Little Egret 0/2
Common Moorhen 0/7
Eurasian Coot 29/18
Little Ringed Plover 0/1
Eurasian Oystercatcher 0/3
Dunlin 0/1
Black-headed Gull 4/3
European Herring Gull 2/0
Lesser Black-backed Gull 2/0
Common Tern 1/4
Stock Dove 0/3
Common Wood Pigeon 3/20
Eurasian Collared Dove 1/0
Great Spotted Woodpecker 0/1
Green Woodpecker 1/1
Common Magpie 0/4
Carrion Crow 6/2
Sand Martin 0/9
Barn Swallow 1/8
Common House Martin 0/25
Great Tit 0/2
Blue Tit 2/2
Eurasian Wren 1/3
Willow Warbler 0/5
Common Chiffchaff 1/3
Eurasian Reed Warbler 0/3
European Blackcap 0/1
European Robin 5/4
Eurasian Blackbird 0/6
Song Thrush 2/1
Dunnock 2/1
Common Starling 4/0
White Wagtail 1/0
Common Reed Bunting 0/2
Common Chaffinch 6/3
European Greenfinch 1/0
European Goldfinch 1/6
House Sparrow 0/3

Reference: Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). 2013. IOC World Bird List (v 3.3). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org [Accessed 16.04.2013].

Winter birds with Summer birds

This morning I walked to the closest local nature reserve, the romantic named Blue Lagoon Park in Bletchley. I started birding at 10:25 and spent there nearly 2.5 hours. The weather was pleasant and the wind wasn’t that aggressive than as it was yesterday. Apart from the warm spell I had a spring feeling by the lots of singing birds.

Blue Lagoon Nature Reseve. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Blue Lagoon Nature Reseve. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Willow Trees are blooming. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Willow Trees are blooming. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Couple new species were seen in 2013 including the first Barn Swallow and Sand Martins, Willow Warblers and Common Chiffchaffs. While the song of spring migrants filled the valley some late winter migrants were still present. I was surprised by a small flock of Common Redpolls feeding on the Willow Trees. I tried to spot an Arctic Redpoll in the flock but all seemed to be Commons. I saw Bullfinches and two Redwings as well.

A Canada Goose and a Eurasian Coot were sitting on nests at the main lake. I saw Dunnocks displaying and pre-mating.

Complete list of birds recorded:

Canada Goose 3
Mute Swan 2
Mallard 2
Great Crested Grebe 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 2
Common Buzzard 1
Common Kestrel 1 male
Common Moorhen 2
Eurasian Coot 6
European Herring Gull 8
Lesser Black-backed Gull 4
Common Wood Pigeon 25
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Green Woodpecker 2
Common Magpie 6
Eurasian Jackdaw 2
Carrion Crow 8
Sand Martin 2
Barn Swallow 2
Great Tit 8
European Blue Tit 5
Long-tailed Tit 5
Eurasian Wren 8
Willow Warbler 6
Common Chiffchaff 12
European Robin 23
Eurasian Blackbird 15
Redwing 2
Song Thrush 5
Dunnock 4
Reed Bunting 1
Common Chaffinch 2
Eurasian Bullfinch 2
European Greenfinch 2
Common Redpoll 22
European Goldfinch 3
Common Linnet 10

European Robins were singing everywhere. © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Robins were singing everywhere. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I couldn't see nest of the Mute Swan pair. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I couldn’t see nest of the Mute Swan pair. © Gyorgy Szimuly

In the evening I revisited the reserve in a hope to see a migrating Eurasian Woodcock or any kind of patrolling owls. None of these species appeared but it was nice to see the bushes full of Common Chifchaffs, Willow Warblers and other newcomers, like Eurasian Blackcap and Garden Warbler. Garden Warbler was singing in the Hawthorn bushes just next to where I was sitting. As I had more time to look around I found incubating Carrion Crows in at least two nests. RooksCarrion Crows and Western Jackdaws use the area for night roosting.

At twilight small bats appeared which must have been lifer for me…. Sadly I had no clue of which species I have seen but I felt the same in the morning while looking at the first beautiful butterflies. It is time to get a good field guide for butterflies.

Reference: Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). 2013. IOC World Bird List (v 3.3). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org [Accessed 15.04.2013].

Incredible bird galore at the Old Lake of Tata

As I hoped this morning was simply mind-blowing. I made a 3.5 hours birding around the Old Lake, totaling about 8.5 km, with Dani. There was nothing exotic observed today but the bird abundance was like never before. During the 22 years I had spent in Tata this was the strongest of the spring migration days. The forest was literally moving like everything around me after 6 bottles of Champagnes.

When we started our peaceful walk it was still dark but lights improved quickly. Just after counting the first Great Crested Grebes two Barn Swallows appeared and I knew the spring migration was finally back on track. I again tested the BirdsEye BirdLog (World) app in offline mode, and while I wasn’t impressed by its very slow performance (while typing bird names) it was good to learn that it really took care of the battery life of my iPhone.

Dani loved to watch the displaying and courtship behavior and even mating of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. It was really incredible as they did everything just around and above us.

Late flock of Greater White-fronted Goose. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A part of a late flock of Greater White-fronted Goose. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-headed Gulls using the Old Lake as a night roosting site from October till late March, early April. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-headed Gulls using the Old Lake as a night roosting site from October till late March, early April. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Common Sandpiper was seen again at the reconstruction site. Green Sandpipers have disappeared. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Common Sandpiper was seen again at the reconstruction site. Green Sandpipers have disappeared. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Today amazing number of woodpeckers were counted. Middle Spotted Woodpecker is one of the resident bird. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Today amazing number of woodpeckers were counted. Middle Spotted Woodpecker is one of the resident bird. © Gyorgy Szimuly

This was the complete bird list of the day:

Greater White-fronted Goose 75
Gadwall 10
Mallard 60
Garganey 6
Green-winged Teal 3
Common Pochard 225
Tufted Duck 2
Common Goldeneye 7
Great Crested Grebe 34
Great Cormorant 22
Pygmy Cormorant 16
Grey Heron 4
Great White Egret 2
Common Buzzard 1
Common Sandpiper 1
Black-headed Gull 500
Common Wood Pigeon 12
Common Kingfisher 2
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 2
Middle Spotted Woodpecker 5
Great Spotted Woodpecker 22
Black Woodpecker 1
European Green Woodpecker 5
Grey-headed Woodpecker 2
Eurasian Jay 7
Eurasian Jackdaw 3
Hooded Crow 6
Sand Martin 1
Barn Swallow 35
Common House Martin 1
Great Tit 37
European Blue Tit 14
Long-tailed Tit 2
Eurasian Nuthatch 16
Eurasian Treecreeper 1
Common Chiffchaff 25
Marsh Warbler 2
Eurasian Blackcap 55
European Robin 24
Black Redstart 3
Eurasian Blackbird 36
Song Thrush 19
Mistle Thrush 6
European Starling 140
Dunnock 2
White Wagtail 5
Bohemian Waxwing 20
Common Chaffinch 38
European Greenfinch 4
European Goldfinch 7
Hawfinch 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 9

What a contrast: Spring is here!

Two days ago I have whined about the lack of migrants. We were not sure whether they were at the corner, or we should completely forget the 2013 spring migration. Today, by the company of a very good friend, the spring migration witnessed. There was at least one bird in almost every bush. As the weather allowed the birds to move further north, they were spreading immediately.

This morning Döme (Ferenc Dömsödi, who is a Hungarian nature enthusiast and has been living in the UK) and I visited the two main local birding sites of the region, the Ferencmajor fishponds and the riparian forest southwest of the Old Lake in Tata. Obviously the migration is going to be very short and massive this year. I have never seen visible migration of Song Thrushes but today they were flying from bush to bush and we saw them even higher in the sky as well, like Fieldfares or Redwings do. At the Old Lake their density was unusually high, while only a few territorial singing bird was seen or heard.

At the Ferencmajor fishpond three species were new for 2013. We saw the first Eurasian Reed WarblerBlackcap and Purple Heron. Compared to the observations from two days ago everything was quite the same although Water Pipits have disappeared. We saw two different thunbergi ssp. of Western Yellow Wagtail but no feldegg ssp. The observation of three swimming European Otters in the pond 10 definitely was the highlight of the day. We don’t see them every day however several paths were found in other ponds as well.

The riparian forest, which embraces the Old Lake at the southern side, offered a very nice birding experience with the arriving migrants while we still found a large flock of Bohemian Waxwing. Over 400 birds were feeding on the mistletoe berries along the Által River until two Eurasian Sparrowhawks chased them away. Eurasian Blackcap and Icterine Warbler were already singing in the forest and all the woodpeckers (mainly Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker) were very active and territorial. The migration of Common Chiffchaff should be peaking. Similarly to the fishponds we saw plenty of them.

Watching large flock of Bohemian Waxwing is not an everyday birding experience in April. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Watching large flock of Bohemian Waxwing is not an everyday birding experience in April. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Like last year, I wanted to visit the habitat reconstruction site which was established last year. It was more exciting than a year ago. Pygmy and Great Cormorants, a very nice male Western Marsh HarrierGreen Sandpipers and the first Common Sandpiper were seen around the islands, created for terns and gulls to breed. Some habitat management is needed to avoid the growth of the vegetation in case we want to give the terns a chance to breed. One of the biggest challenges is the erosion of the islands by the ongoing attack of water. Stones on the northwest side are needed to break the waves. All in all the reconstruction looks promising and once the Common Reed is spreading around the edge of the sub-lake the diversity of the habitat will be way better.

Some vegetation has appeared at the wind-proof side of the islands. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Some vegetation has appeared at the wind-proof side of the islands. © Gyorgy Szimuly

This isolated island should be cleaned for the arriving Common Terns. © Gyorgy Szimuly

This isolated island should be cleaned for the arriving Common Terns. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At least 10 meters wide reedbed would be nice to attract more songbirds to breed. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At least 10 meters wide reed bed would be nice to attract more songbirds to breed. © Gyorgy Szimuly