Rarity hunting in the eastern Camargue

Continueing the report from the second day of our trip, our next stop was at the Collared Pratincole colony on the northeast side of the Camargue. This one would have been missed easily if we didn’t get location information including a fine find from the previous days. A very rare Black-winged Pratincole was found among the Collared Pratincoles and we hoped to see this long time seen shorebird.

Overfying White Stork at the Collared Pratincole colony. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

It’s always a pleasure to see White Storks whereever I am. I’m missing these birds in the UK. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the many beautiful Collared Pratincoles over the colony. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the location (Coordinates: 43.4892, 4.7058 and relevan eBird checklist is here) we soon found the stunning Collared Pratincoles just nearby the main road D36 south of Le Sambuc. We could safely park at a dirt road junction and we set up the spotting scope. Birds were landing on the adjacent arid field but vegetation was too high to overlook the whole colony. We could observe a few closer birds through the scope but soon we put focus on the overfying birds. It took a good 15 minutes to find the suspected Black-winged Pratincole which was first found on the 6th of July. As the lights were rather harsh, I had to wait until it flew with a better angle to be ble to see the all dark secondaries with no white trailing edge. Identifying it by the colour of the underwing wasn’t always helpful as in certain angles Collared Pratincoles underwing seemed completely dark too. While enjoyed the view of this stunning bird I spotted a Short-toed Snake-Eagle soaring high in the sky.

Birds seen at the spot:

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 2
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 4
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 1
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 1
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 1
Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) 36
Black-winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni) 1
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 3
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Great Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) 1
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) (Motacilla flava flava/beema) 9
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 2

Temperatures rose ridiculously to 33.5°C and we were hoping to get some relief at the sea again. Before we could do that we were birding on the southeastern side of the Camargue which is an extensive saltworks system. On 14,000 hectares 500,000 tonnes salt is extracted each year what became the core element of the local chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Some core parts had no access for the public while other parts especially along the road D36D was easily accessible. We stopped at every pond along the road and despite the burning temperatures it was a pleasure to watch some shorebirds.

The famous pink ponds of the salt works resulted by the proliferation of microscopic algae Dunaliella salina. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Kentish Plover nesting site with ver high salinity. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

First salt works experience for Dani. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Exposed salt around the shallow canal system. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Almost lifeless habitat due extreme salinity. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Our first stop was at the Salt Pan Observation mound, along the Route de Salin-de-Giraud where there wasn’t much to see but we found a few Kentish Plovers at the adjacent salt pond.

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) 5
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 1
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis michahellis) 2
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 2
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 1
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica rustica) 1
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 4
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 1

Further down towards the beach larger number of birds, mainly Greater Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts, gulls and terns were seen on the evaporating ponds.

Étang de la Dame

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 3
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 1
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 28
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis) 56
Sandwich Tern (Eurasian) (Thalasseus sandvicensis sandvicensis) 1
Common Swift (Apus apus) 1
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 2
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 2
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica rustica) 3
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 2
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 1
Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) 1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) (Motacilla flava flava/beema) 2

Common Shelduck on one of the salt ponds. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Landscape view of the Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Larger feeding bird community with Black-winged Stilts, Spotted Redshanks and Black-headed Gulls on the Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-winged Stilt in harsh light. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 22
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 107
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 15
Whimbrel (European) (Numenius phaeopus phaeopus) 2
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) 5
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 2
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 35
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 9
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 507
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) 4
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis michahellis) 90
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) 3
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 3
Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) (Motacilla flava flava/beema) 1
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3

Large flock of Greater Flamingo on the They de Sainte-Ursule. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

They de Sainte-Ursule

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 1200
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 6
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 40
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) 1
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis michahellis) 55
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons) 5
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 49
Sandwich Tern (Eurasian) (Thalasseus sandvicensis sandvicensis) 59
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 1

Inviting and refreshing Mediterranean Sea at the Plage de Piemanson what is a popular nudist area. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

After all we didn’t bother swimming in the sea as we decided to find our accommodation get some rest before tomorrow’s early birding. I booked our accommodation for €32 through Airbnb in Istres which located just a short distance drive to the Réserve Naturelle des Coussouls de Crau. The owner was an English speaking kind woman. The accommodation was fine although we were stuggling by the hot night temperatures due to the lack of air conditioning or fan.

 

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Exploring the amazing Camargue continues

Early morning we started birding where we finished the previous evening. I scanned the feeding bird community at the Trabas de Jusiou with the Viking ED Pro scope and also wanted to test its capabilities in low light conditions. The 80mm front lens worked pretty well and even with the first lights I was able to read the colour rings of marked Slender-billed Gulls. On higher magnification there was some degree of light loss but it was still acceptable. As lights improved it gradually but quickly became a top notch field gear. I loved every moment with it and despite it was a new product for me, I have never ever missed a bird due to unfamiliarity.

Roosting Black-headed Gulls and Slender-billed Gulls early in the morning. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Not sure these Little Egrets were roosting somewhere nearby at all. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult Yellow-legged Gull is the most abundant gull in the western Mediterranean. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

For a bird photographer it is not a big challenge to create cool photos of these feeding Little Egrets. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is watching Slender-billed Gulls on the mudflat. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another close encounter with a Yellow-legged Gull. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Simple-looking but characteristic Slender-billed Gull. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Feeding Little Egret group in the rising sun. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Birds seen at the Trabas de Jusiou

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 16
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 1
GrEy Heron (Ardea cinerea) 20
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 180
Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 16
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) 2
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 1
Whimbrel (European) (Numenius phaeopus phaeopus) 1
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 106
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 228
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 16
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 2
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) 7
Common Swift (Apus apus) 23
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 1
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 28
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 14
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 1

The coastal part of the Camargue at the . iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

A view to the Golfe de Beauduc in the Mediterranean Sea from the seawall. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Too bad we had another plan but technically it would have been possible to walk along the coastal part of the Camargue lagoons, called étang, from the werstern part to the eastern beaches. We drove a bit on the seawall with multiple stops, then stroll a short distance. Zitting Cisticola with territorial flight was brand new experience for Dani and we had to work hard to spot these little birds in flight. The coastal part of the Étang de Imperial I watched a larger flock of Eurasian Curlews through the spotting scope. Later I was surprised getting an email from the regional eBird reviewer about this unusual count/observation.

Birds seen from the seawall (500m radius)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 2
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 110 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 2 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 7
Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 4
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 1
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 1
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 9
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 57 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) 1
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 3
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 5+45 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 4+35 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) 2
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) 1
Common Swift (Apus apus) 11
Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) 1
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 2
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 2
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 9
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 51
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 31
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 3
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 1 (Étang Dit l’Imperial)
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 1
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) 9
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) 3
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 2
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) 1
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 2
Eurasian Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) 2
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 47

Sardinian Warbler is one of most stunning of the Mediterranean Sylvia warblers. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

It took a while while this Sardinian Warbler was flitting to a relatively open space in the bush. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Although it was not in its brightest breeding colours it was still an attractive bird. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

This short-cut road runs through salty steppes and dried out lagoons. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Bee-eater with a massive dragonfly. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

This bird was quite cooperative after this successful predation on this giant dragonfly. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Distant and crappy Tawny Pipit shot. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

An even more crappier photo of a perching Zitting Cisticola. It provided satisfying views for Dani. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the coastal areas we headed to the other side of Camargue. Following detailed location informations kindly provided by my Facebook friend, Hugo Touzé, our next main stop was a Collared Pratincole colony where a mega rare Black-winged Pratincole was reported earlier. Instead going on the quicker route I took the road D85a (Route de Cacharel) from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and turned to the first dirt road on the right. This road actuall runs on the western side of the Étang de Malagroy through dried out salt marshes, steppes and tamarisk bushes. I made a combined list from the sevaral kilometers route.

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 1
Great Egret (Eurasian) (Ardea alba alba) 1
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 1
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) 5
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 2
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 8
Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) (Larus michahellis) 18
Little Owl (Athene noctua) 1
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 1
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 22
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 2
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 14
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 6
Great Tit (Parus major) 1
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) 3
Great Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) 6
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 3
‘Western’ Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans cantillans) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 7
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 84
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) 6
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) 3
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 7

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Mediterranean specialities in the scorching hot Camargue

After the very productive morning in the Alpilles we headed south towards the western part of the Camargue National Park. It is the largest river delta ecosystem in Europe with vast salt lagoons, marshes and network of canals agriculture long the borderline. It’s special position along the River Rhône contributed to the development of its unique wildlife. This Important Bird Area is under pressure by heavy tourism but it seemed to be well regulated and under control. Large part of the delta is used for salt works.

Preening Western Cattle Egrets at one of the rice-fields. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

From Arles we took the road D572N which runs through large flooded rice-fields. These fields attracted a lot of birds including Western Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibises, Black-winged Stilts and Wood Sandpipers. We heard our first Zitting Cisticolas here but couldn’t manage to see one.

Combined list of multiple stops provided the following bird list along the rice-fields:

Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) 1
Great Egret (Eurasian) (Ardea alba) 1
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 6
Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 29
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) 33
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 1
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) 1
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 9
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 1
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 24
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 2
European Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia turtur) 1
Common Swift (Apus apus) 20
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 1
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica rustica) 18
Great Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) 2
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 2
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) 2
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 2
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 3

Massive and probably quite old White Sork nest on this little roadside tower. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

White Stork landed on its nest for our pleasure. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Along the road D179 we had nice views on White Storks, European Roller and European Bee-eaters and multiple Black Kites. At a little pond (43.6138,4.4079) we saw the following birds:

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 1
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 2
Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) 1
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) 6
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 2
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 2
Common Swift (Apus apus) 15
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 8
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 1
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 17
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) 2
Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) 4
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 2
Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) 1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 3

Glossy Ibises were feeding in the rather eutrophic pond. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The view on the stunning Glossy Ibises through the Viking ED Pro spotting scope, kindly provided by Viking Optical, was amazing. Details on the iridescent feathers were cracking. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Squacco Heron was feeding just meters away from the road allowing comfortable photography from our car. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

We saw both heavily worn adults and juvenile Western Swamphens. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Western Swamphen feeding along the muddy shore. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-winged Stilts favoured this small pond even for breeding. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

After turning northwards on the road D779 we stopped for a good half an hour at a small pond on the left. This was the Western Swamphen site, which is just a small part of the massive Étang du Charnier marsh. This shallow, drying out marsh was full of Black-winged Stilts, Little Egrets, some Glossy Ibises and Little Ringed Plovers. Along the northern part of the pond we found Western Swamphens feeding at the edge of the reedbed. They were in rather washed out colours and but Dani was happy to see another life bird. Several pairs of Black-winged Stilts had downy chicks. Black-crowned Night-Herons, Squacco Herons and Yellow-legged Gulls were flying over the area.

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 4
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 6
Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) 9
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) 2
Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) 6
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 3
Western Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) 5
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 8
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 88
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 9
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 1
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 1
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 6
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 4
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 1
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 1
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 1
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica) 6
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 1
Eurasian Reed-Warbler (Eurasian) (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) 3
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) 1

Very pleasant swimming in the Mediterranean Sea was a complete refreshment after the first rather hot birding day. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Feeding group of Little Egrets in the drained Trabas de Jusiou. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Despite their beauty, Little Egrets are quite aggressve hunters when it comes to occupying the best feeding spots. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We decided to camp on the eastern beach of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (Plage Est) which cost us €5 including overnight. Needless to say that sitting at the beach for watching shearwaters wasn’t the first thing we did, but rather enjoyed the much needed swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Birding during fun times provided multiple Sandwich Terns, Yellow-legged Gulls and a Eurasian Oystercatcher. After swimming Dani pulled another life bird. On the nearby eBird hotspot, the Trabas de Jusiou we had cracking views on roosting Slender-billed Gulls and hunting Little Egrets. Several Slender-billed Gulls were colour ringed with green rings. Surprisingly not many shorebirds were present on this muddy lake but a Whimbrel was actively feeding in the middle of the lake. From the sea, low flying Sandwich Terns carried food and one of them was flying with an adult Gull-billed Tern.

Seawatching through the excellent Viking ED Pro spotting scope. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Peaceful waters resulted no seabird specialities. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Unfortunately, seawatching resulted neither shearwaters nor storm-petrels, despite I could identify hunting Sandwich Terns from quite a distance.

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 12
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 4
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 77
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) 1
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) 1
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 46
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 230
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 11
Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) 1
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) 6
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) 4
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 40
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 30
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 16

Wonderfully refreshing rosé from Provence. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

A lovely dinner, a cold rosé in the Bambou Palm Beach Restaurant and the swimming naked French girls only a stone’s throw away, made the night pretty cool…

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Bonelli’s Eagle chase at the Massif des Alpilles

It’s been more than a year I had a holiday so it was about time to organise another one. This time southern France became the birdwatching holiday destination and after a month of preparation my son and me landed on Marseille for a bit of tropical European feeling.

Moments before landing in Marseille we had stunning views to the Camargue and the Réserve Naturelle des Coussouls de Crau steppes. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We flew by EasyJet from Gatwick Airport in London and a little more than one and the half hours later we landed in Marseille. Europecar served us a budget car through HolidayAutos, what proved to be a great support during our whole journey as the car was supplied with Apple CarPlay. It made navigation from my iPhone so easy. Our biggest problem was to find a supermarket for some food. Unfortunately, shops were closed so the only option was to get something for breakfast is to go to a nearby McDonald’s. A lovely young staff member with sexy french accent offered help to find a non-stop shop. That wasn’t the most healthy food we have ever bought but we survivied till we made a full shopping in the E’Leclerc in Arles. After this hassle we soon hit the roads to the Chaînes des Alpilles.

Dani didn’t have to wait long for the first lifer. At random stops we heard European Scops Owls and one of them was close enough to go for it. It took less than ten minutes to locate one in the complete darkness and enjoying a perfect views of this calling bird. It’s been more than 20 years I’ve seen this bird in Hungary. On the way up we heard a several other birds at the foothills of the Alpilles.

Alpine Swifts were hunting around the tower and the cliffs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Spectacular sunrise over the Alpilles. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Huge limestone cliffs are emerging on the northern side of the Massif des Alpilles. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Panoramic view from the watchpoint where Bonelli’s Eagles were seen. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We had a beautiful view to the Alpilles and the distant lowlands of Provance. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We woke up with twilight and headed up to the Massif des Alpilles on foot. A few miles walking to the summit provided nice birding opportunities and gave us a hint of the difficulties having proper views on the Mediterranean Sylvid warblers. Patience payed out but we also had to focus on our primary target bird, the Bonelli’s Eagle. Since my first foreign birding trip to Turkey I have been chasing this bird. On my previous trip to southern France I failed to find one, although that wasn’t entirely a birding trip. Before sunrise at least one European Nightjar was heard calling. The Sun was high up when we got to the tv or radio tower (not sure what is that for). That was the time for the Viking Optical’s ED Pro spotting scope to shine and support our quest to find this majestic eagle. It did a GREAT job! I’ll put up some thoughts on this optics later. Alpine Swifts with Common Swifts were flying low around the tower and Western Subalpine Warblers were carrying food around our spot. Technically this warbler is a life bird for me but as IOC hasn’t been accepted this split so I cannot list it as a lifer. Another life bird was the Spectacled Warbler. Walking on the summit towards northeast, multiple Dartford Warblers crossed the path. Amazing number of butterflies were all around and I just wished I could identify a single one.

It’s hard to call this a bird photo but there is an Egyptian Vulture in the frame. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

An adult Egyptian Vulture was soaring over us for a few minutes before disappearing behind the east slope. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Back from the short walk on the summit, we soon had our first excitement with a close encounter of an Egyptian Vulture. It must have spent the night in one of the nearby cliffs. After a few circles it glided down to the valley and disappeared temporarily. Later when wind picked up it was soaring just above us. Temperature rose rapidly and as drinking water supply decreased dramatically we were close to leave the summit. When I walked towards the deep walley to find the singing Cirl Bunting a large soaring raptor appeared on the west horizont. It glided towards to foothills and slowly emerged higher and higher. Soon after a second, a third and a fourth bird joined to this soaring bird. There was obvious size difference between the birds. Two with same size were Bonelli’s Eagles and two smaller ones were dark phase Booted Eagles. One of the Bonelli’s was flying towards us providing great views. A distant flying Black Terns distracted the view and I lost the bird forever. Later we learned that Booted Eagles are rather uncommon here this time of the year but their breeding grounds is relatively close to this place.

If time allows there are a lot to explore in this fascinating natural park. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Birds counted from the car park near the road D5 to the tower on the summit:

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) 1
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) 2
Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) 2
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) 1
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 2
Eurasian Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) 1 heard only
Alpine Swift (Apus melba) 16
Common Swift (Apus apus) 50
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 3
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 2
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 10
Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) 1
Western‘ Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans cantillans) 5
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) 4
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) 5
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 2
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis) 4
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 1
Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) 3
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) 3
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 12

It wasn’t a bad start of the trip. Dani ended the day with 6 life birds for his happiness.

This trip was Supported by Viking Optical.

Preface for testing the Viking Optical flagship spotting scope

Early July I’m heading to southern France with my son, Daniel for various reasons. Obviously, the main attraction beside enjoying the warm and azure Mediterranean Sea, the gentle food and refreshing wines of Provance, will be exploring the birdlife between the famous Camargue Natinal Park and the Provance Alps of Côte d’Azur.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse by Nimit Virdi on 500px.com

One of the most beautiful of all sandgrouses is the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Photo was legally embedded from the photographer portfolio. © Nimit Virdi

Not surprisingly, there are a few potential life birds for me (a lot more for Dani) from the area and what a great opportunity we got to much easily find and to have splendid views on those life birds. The Britain based Viking Optical has granted us to use their flagship spotting scope during the entire trip. The scope has already been received and we had a short run with it. It is an impressive glass and I’m fully convinced I can easily spot the desired Bonelli’s Eagle or Cinereous Vulture in the sky or the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in the semi desert, just to mention a few.

Viking ED Pro 80mm Spotting Scope. Image courtesy of Viking Optical

During the trip (or shortly after) I will be posting bits and photos including a non-professional review (rather just a personal impression) of the set we will have used. Thanks for Viking Optical for the opportunity to try these products. Should you be at the BirdFair, pop in to Viking Optical stand in the Optics Marquee this August.

No more Javan Plover? – Further mixing the Kentish Plover complex

The New Shorebirds Handbook Blog

The Kentish Plover have always have been the subject of taxonomical debates (e.g. Snowy Plover Charadrius nivosus split from C. alexandrinus) and research outcomes were not always popular among birdwatchers (e.g. confirming the ‘White-faced Plover’ to be conspecific with Kentish Plover, Rheindt et al. 2011).

Recent paper published in Biosaintifika found no evidence of genetic differences between Javan Plover and Kentish Plover (Ashari & Astuti 2017). There are slight morphological differences between the two ‘species’ but Javan Plovers’ traits are way less conspicuous compared to Kentish Plover than that of to the ‘White-faced Plover‘. Genetic distance was found to be much smaller (1.2%) than other plover species (8-14%). Kentish Plover is widely overlaping in winter range distribution with Javan Plover (del Hoyo et al. 2017). Interestingly, this study didn’t include Malaysian Plover (Charadrius peronii) among the control sister species which morphologically and geographically is not too far…

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Elusive Cetti’s Warblers

Cetti’s Warblers Cettia cetti is the least common breeding warbler in England. In fact it is a bush-warbler and despite its unique and loud song, one has to be very patient to get a glimpse of this bird. I remember my first encounter with this bird in southwest Hungary where I spent a long hour near the bush it was singing. I could see the bush moving and shadows here and there, but after all it decided to perch for us for a little preening.

Cetti’s Warblers have been reported from a few locations only in Milton Keynes, including the Caldecotte Lake. Phot was taken with a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Today I found two Cetti’s Warblers at Caldecotte Lake in Milton Keynes. One was at the north lake, the other one in the south lake. Both birds were singing in their possible breeding territories. I couldn’t spot the north lake bird but I was lucky with the south lake one. It perched in front of me but became quite alerted by a singing Common Blackcap but it even allowed me to take a few shots but none of them rock the world.

Songs of waders in the mist

Weather forecast loked fabulous for today’s birding and Manor Farm in Old Wolverton just looked to be a perfect place to wander. It was a frosty and misty morning but as the Sun rose the fog lifted offering perfect visibility for the gravel pads. Bird sounds in the mist at dawn is truly magical and this time of the year, when birds start to arrive from wintering grounds, it is quite hard to isolate a single bird song. Rather than being in surveying mode it would have better just sitting  down and enjoying the spectacular dawn choirs.

Sunrise over the Manor Farm pastures. iPhone 7Plus. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Misty Manor Farm in Old Wolverton. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

By the floodplain we heard display songs of Northern Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover and Common Redshank spread perfectly in the mist. Some Green Sandpipers and Common Snipes were also feeding on the muddy pebble pads, increasing the diversity of waders.

Another sunrise photo from the floodplain. iPhone 7Plus. © Gyorgy Szimuly

While the visibility was very poor it was just good to stay there for minutes and just listen and watch the shape of closer birds in the mist. That experience is definitely a good medicine for everything. iPhone 7Plus. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Classic photo subjects in misty mornings are the spider webs with beautiful water droplets. iPhone 7Plus. © Gyorgy Szimuly

I just cannot have enough of the trilling territorial song of the Common Redshank. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The beauty of the Northern Lapwing is much underrated. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Northern Lapwing were kept busy by Carrion Crows with territorial defense. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A pair of Canada Goose were feeding in front of the hide. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

As soon as the fog lifted we watched the acrobatic display of Northern Lapwing and the patroling flight of the Little Ringed Plover with its characteristic call.

I wouldn’t call it a bird photo but there is a Little Owl on that branch. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Just before we reached the hide where we planned to have a breakfast, I spotted a flying Little Owl which briefly landed on a tree nearby. I rarely come across this local breeder so it was a pleasure seeing it. From the hide there was limited visibility to the sky but we watched feeding Eurasian Wigeons, lapwings and a redshank landing in front of the hide.

It was a very approachable Eurasian (British) Wren. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The British race of Eurasian Wren was the most abundant songbird in the area. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Robins were actively holding territories and already busy with building nest. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The most obvious change in the birdlife of this popular birdwatching area since my last visit from March, is the arrival of breeding birds. The number of singing Eurasian Wrens, Blackcaps, European Robins, Song Thrushes and Common Reed Buntings was a clear sign of the beginning of the breeding season. I saw the first Willow Warbler of the year along the river.

Flused Little Owl in the willow. This record shot was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grey Wagtail fed on the shore of the river. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Just behind the Aqueduct another Little Owl was flushed by the growing number of walkers. When it landed next to the canal an Eurasian Magpie disturbed it and flushed again into the woods. Further along the river a beautiful pair of Grey Wagtails provided excellent views in wall to wall sunshine.

In the afternoon I took a visit to the nearby Blue Lagoon Nature Reserve where more Willow Warblers were singing. Over the new landfill area 14 Red Kites, a Common Buzzard, 2 Common Ravens and an European Kestrel were soaring with Lesser Black-backed Gulls. At Knot Hole pond I saw the first Common Redstart of the year.

Birding on the eastern Ridgeway hills

Birding along the eastern end of The Ridgeway always seemed to be very exciting in Spring based on former bird reports. As birds had already started to return from their wintering grounds I thought it might be good to explore the area even by using public transport – what I don’t like at all.

A view from the top of Aldbury Nowers. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The day didn’t start flawless as the train was delayed by 20 minutes with a ridiculous explanation: no one was available to drive the train. Anyway, even with a half an hour delay I was fine starting my birding just after dawn. Off the railwaystation I was on The Ridgeway straight away. I had to walk through the Aldbury Nowers SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) which was filled by the song of European Robins, Dunnocks, Common Blackbirds, Eurasian (British) Wrens, Common Chiffchaffs but I also saw Mistle Thrush, Fieldfares, Redwing, Song Thrushes and a couple of stunning Stock Doves.

One of the several Red Kites gliding and hovering over the ridges. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera © Gyorgy Szimuly

In sunlight these Red Kites looked amazing. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera © Gyorgy Szimuly

Pitstone Hill top. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Coming out of the forest I reached the ridge of Pitstone Hill with a nice view to the surrounding gravel pits. I had very close encounters with stunning Red Kites. On the other side of the hill I saw a larger flock of European Golden Plovers flew high then soon descended to the plow land. As I was looking at the golden plovers a Merlin flew over me towards the west with a company of a chasing and mobbing Carrion Crow. Not an everyday bird for me.

Loose flock of European Golden Plovers on the plow field next to Pitstone Hill. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Golden Plover in beautiful breeding plumage. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera © Gyorgy Szimuly

The song of Yellowhammer brough some very nice memories of my childhood when these birds were much commoner than today. Photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera © Gyorgy Szimuly

Lower end of the Pitstone Hill with the golden plover field. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

A poor record shot of a small Corn Bunting flock. Photo was taken by Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

On the lower end of the hill I found the feeding flock of golden plovers. Some males were in stunning breeding plumage already. I counted 84 birds and some Corn Buntings feeding among them. European Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Meadow Pipits were singing all around. A real spring feeling.

A view to the Steps Hill. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The next hill was the Steps Hill from where Ring Ozel were frequently reported during spring migration in previous years. I kept my eyes on the slopes and bushes but didn’t find any. European Blackcaps, Common Chiffchaffs and European Robins sang everywhere. On the north end of the Steps Hill I heard and found two Marsh Tits fast moving from one bush to another. These birds are getting really hard to find.

The hillside of Steps Hill might be a potential place to find migrating Ring Ouzels. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

If only I had a proper camera for these spectacular birds of prey. A view from the top of Aldbury Nowers. Photo was taken with a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Meadow Pipits were ruling on Beacon Hill. Photo was taken with a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera. © Gyorgy

Beacon Hill provides lovely views to Leighton Buzzard and as far as to Central Milton Keynes. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

On the top of Beacon HillI realized I left my drinks at home and I already felt dehydrated. I decided to go down to Ivinghoe village for buying some drinks before heading towards The Grand Union Canal. After getting some drinks I found my first Barn Swallows of the year. What a difference they can make in my mood with their aerial songs.

Birding along the canal was rather boring and long. I underestimated the length of this leg of my walking. I have already had 15kms in my feet before I got there. The only notable bird was a year new Sedge Warbler singing briefly in the canalside vegetation. At the Grove Lock I saw my first Sand Martins circling over the lock. From there I speeded up to catch a bus to Milton Keynes. A cup of caramel cortado was a pleasure at Costa.

My activity summary according to the Apple Health app.

It is needless to say that early in the afternoon a Ring Ouzel on the Ivinghoe Hill and a singing Wood Warbler on Steps Hill were seen by other birders. Anyway I enjoyed birding on the hills and will return in a few weeks.

Ticking a long chased bird: Little Bunting in Bedfordshire

In 2002 when I was on a Scandinavian birding trip, I thought the Little Bunting wouldn’t be too difficult to add to my life list. The only morning when I got exhausted and some fever the team located a bird around Kuusamo, Finland. I failed to find one later on the very same spot. I also missed several opportunities to see trapped birds in the last couple of years.

A couple of weeks ago a Little Bunting was reported from the neighbor county, Bedfordshire. I simply wasn’t able to find a clean weekend to get there, but this time everything was perfect for a good birding trip. I took a train to Bedford and a cab to Willington. Unfortunately, the location info in the BirdGuide app wasn’t correct and I just realised it later that the grid reference points to the other side of the river. First challenge was to find a bridge near Great Barford.

After a bit of trek I manged to find the footbridge and a single birder at the spot. He couldn’t see the bird during his one and a half hours stay. This wasn’t something I wanted to hear. Luckyly, I didn’t have to wait another 1.5 hours to see the bird. 10 minutes later Common Chaffinches and Common Reed Buntings started to feed on the seeds followed by an indeed little, neat-looking Little Bunting. I asked the birder if he had seen it but he wasn’t sure. As female Common Reed Buntings were also feeding closer to the bushes making it was easy to see the differences in the plumage traits of the two species. What a bird it was.

The characteristic head pattern and bill shape made this bird easy to pick. © Gyorgy Szimuly This photo was by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera.

The Little Bunting fed on seeds and wasn’t mix with the aggressive Common Reed Buntins. © Gyorgy Szimuly This photo was taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera.

I have to say, this is a loveable little taiga visitor and it was well worth the very early wake up and 10 miles walk. Just after the birder left the sun came out and I could enjoy the perfect views of this rarity.

The colours and patterns of the Little Bunting perfectly blends with the habitat it was feeding on. © Gyorgy Szimuly This photo was by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera.

The Little Bunting became the 2,186th bird species on my life list. © Gyorgy Szimuly This photo was by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera.

It wasn’t easy to locate this bird once in the bush. © Gyorgy Szimuly This photo was by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera.

This is the small bush area where the Little Bunting and other birds fed on the seeds. © Gyorgy Szimuly This photo was by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V camera.

Here is the list of birds I added to eBird at the spot:

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) 2
Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) 2
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 1
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 1
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Eurasian) (Picus viridis viridis/karelini) 1
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) 1
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 8
Eurasian Skylark (European) (Alauda arvensis) 4
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 4
Great Tit (Parus major) 3
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus europaeus) 2
Eurasian Wren (British) (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus) 2
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) 1
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita collybita) 4
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 2
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 4
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 2
Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla) 1
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 7
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 9