Sign of fall migration

I put another site on my eBird map today. I walked 2×5.5 km along the Grand Union Canal from Stoke Hammond to Three Locks, also from Three Locks to the northwest edge of Leighton Buzzard. The birdlife of this section of the Grand Union Canal has proved to be surprisingly interesting. The first 5 km I walked in pouring rain, although I wasn’t really equipped for that massive rain. Anyway, I tried to enjoy it as much as I could. Using a wet touchscreen iPhone wasn’t always easy (sometimes even the rain drops clicked on unwanted parts of the screen).

British weather requires efficient protective clothing for birding, what I apparently lack. © Gyorgy Szimuly

British weather requires efficient protective clothing for birding, what I apparently lack. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The site actually holds the usual bird community that can be expected for such a habitat. Amongst the unexpected, there were quite a few Mandarin Ducks; both male, female and a duckling. This could be a regional hotspot for this introduced exotic duck species.

The long boats are very popular not only for traveling but for living. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The long-boats are very popular not only for traveling but for living. © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the boatman said, "This weather is for digs". Indeed it was dreadful. © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the boatman said, “This weather is for dogs”. Indeed, it was dreadful. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I think from now it is worth checking bird flocks as we are approaching fall migration. It’s time to think about post-breeding dispersal of tit flocks a bit differently, following my observation at km 99. I started watching a Long-tailed Tit flock of 16 birds (mainly juveniles) followed by 12 European Blue Tits and 9 Great Tits. Together with the tit flock 3 European Blackcaps and 9 Common Chiffchaffs were flitting between bushes. At least two of the chiffchaffs seemed to be worn plumaged adults. I think as the migration progresses, this area could be really attractive for birds moving south.

British White Wagtail families were feeding on a horse field. © Gyorgy Szimuly

British White Wagtail families were feeding on a horse field. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I had perfect views on preening and feeding (British) Western Yellow Wagtails, beautiful Stock Doves, a hovering adult Red Kite, differently aged adorable downy chicks of Common Moorhen and singing Lesser Whitethroats. A lonely, about a three weeks old Mute Swan cygnet were continually calling for its parents, but they were not visible anywhere close. I also saw a Common Cuckoo flying very high over the canal. I have never seen a cuckoo flying that high. Was it already on the move south?

Mandarin Ducks occupied this woody parts of the canal and raised their ducklings. Image was taken by an iPhone 5s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mandarin Ducks occupied this woody parts of the canal and raised their ducklings. Image was taken by an iPhone 5s. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Boat is crossing through the special sluices. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Boat is crossing through the special sluices. © Gyorgy Szimuly

As I walked on the towpath, a boatman (towman) kindly greeted me from his long boat and expressed his feeling about the amazing birds living along the canal, including the gorgeous Common Tern which was just flying over his boat. Then he mentioned, that he had seen a turnstone further south towards Leighton Buzzard. I asked twice whether that was really a turnstone, but he was confident in his observation and apparently seemed to know the birds well. I walked all along the canal from that point, but I didn’t see it.

Here is the combined eBird report from two checklists:

Mute Swan 1
Mandarin Duck 14
Mallard 16
Gray Heron 3
Red Kite 1
Common Buzzard 1
Eurasian Moorhen 19
Eurasian Oystercatcher 1
Northern Lapwing 19
Black-headed Gull 4
Lesser Black-backed Gull 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull (graellsii) 29
Common Tern 3
Stock Dove 16
Common Wood-Pigeon 46
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
Common Cuckoo 1
Common Swift 24
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Green Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Kestrel 1
Eurasian Magpie 4
Eurasian Jackdaw 12
Rook 5
Carrion Crow 22
European Skylark 7
Barn Swallow 24
Common House Martin 8
Great Tit 11
Eurasian Blue Tit 17
Long-tailed Tit 16
Eurasian Wren 15
Common Chiffchaff 17
Sedge Warbler 1
European Blackcap 8
Lesser Whitethroat 2
Greater Whitethroat 10
European Robin 11
Eurasian Blackbird 32
Song Thrush 7
European Starling 23
Dunnock 12
Western Yellow Wagtail (Yellow) 4
White Wagtail (British) 21
Reed Bunting 1
Common Chaffinch 10
Eurasian Bullfinch 2
European Greenfinch 8
European Goldfinch 15
House Sparrow 3

Kea and her bird-of-paradise

Last summer, probably exactly at the same time I bought a book for my best friends’ birthday. It was the National Geographic Birds-of-Paradise. As usual, I had to browse it with Kea as she loves birds. She only focused on the birds and turned ‘boring’ pages (means containing no bird) quickly. She was amazed by the transformation of males when displaying. Then I took the book for the birthday party and she never seen it since.

A few weeks earlier I came home from work and I was greeted by Kea with a drawing in her hand. I was shocked to see a Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise showing its basic characteristics. She painted this by hard without using any photos or references. I was speechless and just tried to understand this. It is so heartwarming to witness her development and the tiny achievements she is capable to reach day by day. She is just 5!

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Common Quail on Beacon Hills

I’m sure, England will offer me hundreds of new sites to be exported for the next few decades. I try to find new places worth to visit and today I chose the Beacon Hill (or Ivinghoe Hills) near Ivinghoe village, which is part of the 136 km long national trail, The Ridgeway.

Panorama photo of the hills and the view to the northwest. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Panorama photo of the hills and the view to the northwest. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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The southern hills is perfect for Yellowhammers. © Gyorgy Szimuly

As I missed waking up early, the popular area was rather crowded. It probably didn’t affect the species richness, but the site could be more enjoyable without loud people. The southwest, Mediterranean-like, slopes seemed to be perfect for Pyramidal Orchids and Common Spotted Orchids.

Common Spotted Orchids were still blooming. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Spotted Orchids were still blooming. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Apart from the common birds, this place holds a few pairs of Meadow Pipit and Yellowhammer. A male Common Kestrel and Common Ravens were of note. As I walked towards the eastern slopes, a Common Quail was calling very close to me. Based on BirdGuides there was another record of this uncommon bird just north of the hills.

Meadow Pipits were actively singing and carrying food. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Meadow Pipits were actively singing and carrying food. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I’m not a big expert of butterflies, but the place is pretty good for them. I could identify Small TortoiseshellSpeckled Wood and Meadow Brown.

Dozens of Small Tortoiseshell fed on Wild Thyme. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dozens of Small Tortoiseshell fed on Wild Thyme. © Gyorgy Szimuly

All in all, the site is very nice and could be attractive during migration. Ring Ouzel and Common Redstart have been reported from here numerous times.

eBird report:

Common Quail 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1
Common Buzzard 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Common Wood Pigeon 10
Common Swift 3
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Kestrel 1
Eurasian Jay 1
Eurasian Magpie 2
Eurasian Jackdaw 11
Carrion Crow 5
Common Raven 4
Eurasian Skylark 6
Eurasian Blue Tit 7
Eurasian Wren 2
Willow Warbler 1
Common Chiffchaff 4
Eurasian Blackcap 5
Greater Whitethroat 7
European Robin 2
Eurasian Blackbird 4
Song Thrush 1
Meadow Pipit 7
Yellowhammer 9
Common Chaffinch 5
European Goldfinch 3
Eurasian Linnet 8

In search for the Short-toed Eagle pair

In a hope to find the previously seen Short-toed Eagle pair in the northern part of the Gerecse Mountain (Süttő, Hungary), we climbed to the top of the Nagy-Teke Hill. A very talented birdgirl, Hanni, a professional and well experienced raptor expert, Peter, Dani and myself tried to overlook a large area from the hill.

The survey team on the way to the top of the hill. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The survey team on the way to the top of the hill. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The morning started slow allowed us to talk about birds and their future locally and globally. It is always nice to learn something from each other. In the meantime, a Tree Pipit was endlessly singing next to us. Despite we had a rather hot weather (34°C) birds didn’t show up before 9AM. The first Common Buzzards were followed by European Honey Buzzards, providing amazing views by flying just above us. We could enjoy seeing different plumage variations in perfect light conditions.

The working team. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The working team. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Unfortunately, the Short-toed Eagles didn’t show up, at least until we left the hill shortly after 12PM. However, I spotted a pair of Black Stork, showing territorial behaviour over the Great Gerecse Hill.

Compared to the previous years’ raptor-watch, the species richness was much lower. No Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle nor Northern Goshawk were seen. There could be multiple reasons, including the extreme weather during the breeding season, as well as the lack of food resources, but the increasing breeding population of Peregrine Falcon could also result ‘cleared space’ areas. We witnessed the local breeding pair of Peregrine Falcon chasing away every bird of any size around the Pisznice Hill.

The hill top is scattered by Downy Oak. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The hill top is scattered by Downy Oak. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Cow Parsley covered Mediterranean-style hilltop. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Cow Parsley covered Mediterranean-style hilltop. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Breeding habitat of Tree Pipits. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Breeding habitat of Tree Pipits. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Birds detected:

Black Stork 2
Gray Heron 1
European Honey-buzzard 3
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 2
Common Buzzard 15
Stock Dove 2
European Turtle Dove 1
European Bee-eater 1
Middle Spotted Woodpecker 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Green Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Golden Oriole 3
Eurasian Jay 2
Common Raven 5
Common House Martin 1
Great Tit 3
Eurasian Blue Tit 6
Long-tailed Tit 3
Eurasian Nuthatch 2
Eurasian Wren 1
Blackcap 2
European Robin 2
Collared Flycatcher 1
Eurasian Blackbird 2
Song Thrush 1
Mistle Thrush 1
European Starling 4
Tree Pipit 1
Yellowhammer 3
Hawfinch 4

The most touching birding moment ever

One would think that after more than 34 years of birdwatching experience there is not much new left to explore in a homeland birding site. In fact, I say, I have seen very little after an extraordinary and probably one of the most touching birding moments I have ever witnessed today.

I was very happy to learn that the annual Common Tern and Black-headed Gull ringing scheme is held right after I arrived for a short visit in Hungary. Being a shorebird addict, it is always exciting to have chance catching and banding Pied Avocets and Black-winged Stilt chicks. The tern and gull chicks are banded by colour rings with inscription codes. Pied Avocets chicks are marked only with a metal ring, but from next year we start a countrywide Pied Avocet migration research project, using the same, coded colour rings.

The Hungarian Summer was once again on its peak with 36 Celsius in shadows. Due to the extreme hot weather, we postponed the whole action until late afternoon. It is always important to keep the chicks safety the first priority. A good number of people ensured a fast and effective action and it has been working really well over the years.

While ringers were doing the job, we searched for hiding tern and gull chicks. On the gull island a talented young birdwatcher girl, Hanni found a Pied Avocet nest with a chick just been hatched. I sat next to the nest and watched this little beauty putting enormous efforts to leave the egg completely. I have never ever felt such heartwarming emotions in my whole birding life, watching this little shorebird being born. This was something I will never forget.

Some photos might give something back of the whole ringing action.

The ringing scene near the village, Mocsa. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The ringing scene near the village, Mocsa. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Tern chick collected by Dani. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Tern chick collected by Dani. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Only one third of the Common Tern chicks have been hatched so far. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Only one third of the Common Tern chicks have been hatched so far. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A handful of Black-headed Gull chicks. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A handful of Black-headed Gull chicks. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Pied Avocet nest on the muddy pebble islands. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Pied Avocet nest on the muddy pebble islands. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-winged Stilt nest. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-winged Stilt nest. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We found more than 45 Common Tern nests  still being incubated. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We found more than 45 Common Tern nests still being incubated. © Gyorgy Szimuly

There is nothing more adorable than a shorebird chick. © Gyorgy Szimuly

There is nothing more adorable than a shorebird chick. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Freshly hatched Pied Avocet chick. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Freshly hatched Pied Avocet chick. © Gyorgy Szimuly

About 10 days old Pied Avocet chick before being ringed. © Gyorgy Szimuly

About 10 days old Pied Avocet chick before being ringed. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Nesting islets of Pied Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Little Ringed Plovers.One would think that after more than 34 years of birdwatching experience there is not much new left to explore in a homeland birding site. In fact, I would say that I have seen very little after an extraordinary and probably one of the most touching birding moments, I have ever witnessed. I was very happy to learn that the annual Common Tern and Black-headed Gull ringing scheme is held right after I arrived for a short visit in Hungary. Being a shorebird addict, it is always exciting to catch and band Pied Avocets and Black-winged Stilt chicks. The tern and gull chicks are banded by colour rings with inscription codes. Pied Avocets chicks are marked only with a metal ring, but from next year we start a countrywide Pied Avocet migration research project, using the same coded colour rings. The Hungarian Summer was once again on its peak with 36 Celsius in shadows. Due to the extreme hot weather, we postponed the whole action until late afternoon. It is always important to keep the chicks safety the first priority. A good number of people ensures a fast and effective action and it has been working really well over the years. While ringers were doing the job, we searched for hiding tern and gull chicks. On the gull island a talented young birdwatcher girl, Hanni found a Pied Avocet nest with a chick just been hatched. I sat next to the nest until the ringing was on and watched this little beauty to put efforts to leave the egg completely. I have never ever felt such heartwarming emotions in my birding life, watching this little shorebird being born. Some photos might give something back of the whole ringing action. The ringing scene near the village, Mocsa. © Gyorgy Szimuly The ringing scene near the village, Mocsa. © Gyorgy Szimuly Common Tern chick collected by Dani. © Gyorgy Szimuly Common Tern chick collected by Dani. © Gyorgy Szimuly Only one third of the Common Tern chicks have been hatched so far. © Gyorgy Szimuly Only one third of the Common Tern chicks have been hatched so far. © Gyorgy Szimuly A handful of Black-headed Gull chicks. © Gyorgy Szimuly A handful of Black-headed Gull chicks. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Nesting islets of Pied Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Little Ringed Plovers. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Second flagship Zeiss binoculars unveiled

The Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 is claimed as the world's best binoculars. Photo courtesy of Zeiss.

The Zeiss Victory SF 10×42 is claimed as the world’s best binoculars. Photo courtesy of Zeiss.

2014 seems to be the ‘Big Zeiss Year‘. Since the beginning of this year, the Germany based company, Carl Zeiss is continuously updating its nature observation product line. In January the Conquest HD family was extended by the 8x, 10x and 15×56 models, mainly targeting the hunters. In early March the 8×54 and 10×54 models were added to the flagship Victory HT binoculars line. A few days ago another best was unveiled in the historic town of Wetzlar, Germany.

The brand new Zeiss Victory SF binocular line contains two models. The 8×42 model comes with a wide field of view while the 10×42 model offers incredibly bright image and excellent ergonomics. Some lucky Facebook friends were invited to the introduction event in Wetzlar, and all of them has been more than impressed by the quality and performance of these bins, even if they are a slightly biased.

Here are the main features of the Victory SF:

Triple-link bridge – the focusing mechanism extends above the focusing wheel, which resulting a more convenient and fast focusing;
Anti-slip focusing wheel – improves the grip and reduces slipping in wet conditions;
Smart Focus Concept – only 1.8 rotations needed from the closest focusing point to the greatest resulting a very fast reaction;
World class close focus – the closest focusing distance is just 1.5 meters;
Ergobalance – the focal point of the lens was shifted further back towards the eyepiece allowing a much comfortable viewing for a lengthy observation;
Large field of view – Class leading 148m field of view for the 8×42 models nearly matching the 150m FOV of the legendary ZEISS 7×42 Dialyt.
Light weight – by the use of lightweight materials, the Victory SF binoculars are the lightest in its class;
New Ultra-FL lens – The high quality and newly developed Schott glass allows 92% light transmission. The all new eyepiece with seven lens elements features field flattener, which creates sharp images to the edges without the ‘globe-effect’.

Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 binoculars. Image courtesy of Zeiss.

Zeiss Victory SF 10×42 binoculars. Image courtesy of Zeiss.

Technical data for the 8×42 / 10×42 models:

Magnification: 8x / 10x
Effective lens diameter: 42mm
Exit pupil diameter: 5.3mm / 4.2mm
Twilight factor: 18.3 / 20.5
Field of view: 148 m@1000m 64° (wide angle) / 120 m@1000m 65° (wide angle)
Close focus: 1.5m
Diopter adjustment range: +/- 4 dpt
Eye relief: 18mm
Prism system: Schmidt-Pechan 
Height: 173mm
Width at an eye width of 65mm: 125mm
Weight: 780g

Price incl. 19% VAT. GER: €2.385 / €2.435

I am a proud user of a pair of Zeiss Victory HT 10×42 binoculars, what I think is going to be one of the very best glasses in the market for many years to come. It is unlikely that I sell my HT to replace it with the SF, but I always wanted to have a 8×42 binoculars more suitable for raptor watching. What else could it be than the Victory SF 8×32?

I predict that the Zeiss booth will be invaded during the British Birdwatching Fair in August, where visitors can try and test these new benchmark models. I will definitely be there! With the entry of the Victory SF line, Zeiss is unprecedentedly offering another premium product line beside the Victory HTs family. The company wants future premium binoculars buyers to choose between Zeiss and Zeiss binoculars, not between Zeiss or products of another brand. This interesting marketing concept might generate a product boom in the nature observation optics industry in the coming months and years.

What could be the next update by Zeiss? Birders are eagerly waiting for the update of the spotting scope family equipped with the perfect Schott HT glass. The Victory DiaScope was introduced a bit more than 4 years ago, so it could probably the best time for an upgrade for the coming holiday season. Another long desired release could be the x32 models, both for the Victory HT and SF product line. I think with these additions we could see other market leading features.

It is time to arrange a joint birding with Alan McBride for a day long field and comparison test. 😉

It is worth visiting the Zeiss Birding Facebook Page or the official Zeiss Nature Observation website for more details.