A long awaited lifer: the Little Auk

The easterly winds have always been very exciting in the United Kingdom especially this time of the year when rarities are popping in. For the weekend I had two potential life birds to go for within a reasonable reach. One was the Leach’s Storm Petrel and the Little Auk. I monitored the report rate at BirdGuides for both species on Saturday and decided to give some chances of finding my first ever Little Auk in the northeast.

Little Auks were flying over the shoreline allowing us spectacular views. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

As usual, we left early in the morning to get to Lincolnshire’s Huttoft Car Terrace Beach at dawn. It’s always rewarding to drive through the night to a distant destination knowing how bad English traffic can be during the daytime. As soon as we positioned our car on the beach we had perfect viewing conditions. A good mixture of gulls started moving northward from the roosting site with the first lights including Common (Mew) Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and mainly Black-headed Gulls. Later in the afternoon, a juvenile first winter Little Gull joined one of the flocks.

Dawn at the Huttoft Beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Offshore wind turbines in the North Sea. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the sea, I saw Manx and Sooty Shearwaters but there might have been more of these birds but they were too distant for positive species-level identification. A few Pomarine Skuas, a Great Northern Diver (Common Loon) and some Red-throated Loons were also heading north. Scattered, but decent flocks of Brants, Common Scoters and Eurasian Wigeons and a few Common Eiders have been constantly flying towards the north. I also saw a small group of Velvet Scoters and Northern Pintails as well. As the sun came up, I saw a distant Little Auk but for a life bird, I hoped for a little better view. I did not have to wait long, as they started flying north at the shoreline providing amazing close views. Except for three birds, most of them were flying north, some over our head.

In a few cases, two Little Auks flew together. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Little Auks were passing by just over the splash zone. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Imperfect photo with a telephoto lens, but it shows how rough the North Sea was. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Thankfully, the facing winds held these fast flying birds up a little bit making my photography job easier. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

In some cases, we didn’t even have to use our binoculars for enjoying the view of the overflying Little Auks. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

The easterly winds made the North Sea rough and dirty but the Little Auks were kept passing by. Sony a7RIII + Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master OSS © Gyorgy Szimuly

The incoming rain and sleet storms created some spectacular rainbows and lights. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A flock of Brants flying over the waves. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Brants were constantly arriving from the south. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sanderlings were feeding around us at the beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Brants were heading towards the storm. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Ever since I moved to the UK, I wanted to see this high Arctic breeder but always missed the perfect winds. This time I was lucky. Just in the morning, there have been 18 birds reported through BirdGuides from the same spot, although I saw only 14 of them. Considering that by the time other birders arrived, I had already seen a few Little Auks, so this number should be higher. At low tide, they did not show up at the shore but further at the sea where it was challenging to find them.

Spectacular lights over the North Sea with distant showers. Sony a7RIII + Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 G Master OSS © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common (Mew) Gulls were looking for food as the beachgoers passed by. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A first winter plumaged Little Gull flew towards the Humber estuary. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Winter plumaged Common Gull. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

While trying to photograph these fast flying birds, a Snow Bunting flew over me and a swimming Black Guillemot surprised me that slowly headed north. Weirdly, despite the name, it was almost all white.

eBird checklist from the area:

Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) 5
Brant (Branta bernicla) 241
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 1
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) 146
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) 8
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) 32
Common Eider (Somateria mollissima) 26
Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) 6
Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra) 206
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 1
Sanderling (Calidris alba) 19
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) 35
Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus) 5
Little Auk (Dovekie) (Alle alle) 14
Common Murre (Uria aalge) 1
Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) 1
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) 68
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 375
Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) 1
Mew Gull (European) (Larus canus canus) 101
Herring Gull (European) (Larus argentatus) 93
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) 12
Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata) 5
Common Loon (Gavia immer) 1
Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea) 1
Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) 2
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) 24
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 4
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 1
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 3
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 2
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 89
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 10
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) 1

During our stay, a Glaucous Gull was also reported as per BirdGuides, but I missed that. All in all, we had a fantastic experience with the Little Auks and this location. My world life list moved to 2,202.

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Photographing Audouin’s Gulls and others: Part Four

After enjoying the Mediterranean Sea and our pool in El Campello, we had a nice cooling time on the Mediterranean coast near El Pinet. The sky was overcast but while Kea played in the sand, I enjoyed photographing the overflying gulls including the local speciality, the Audouin’s Gull.

Below, I share a series of photos from this location and the list of birds seen.

Adult Audouin’s Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult Audouin’s Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult Audouin’s Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult Audouin’s Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Kea enjoyed playing in the sand. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Yellow-legged Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Yellow-legged Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Mediterranean Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Mediterranean Gull, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Non-breeding Little Tern, El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult non-breeding Mediterranean Gull. El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult non-breeding Mediterranean Gull. El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sunset tern. El Pinet Beach, Spain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the area:

Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 1
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) 13
Audouin’s Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii) 9
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)  8
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)  5
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)  104
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)  4
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)  12
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  1

Searching for Black Wheatears: Part two

Having had only a restricted time for birdwatching during my first ever holiday with my little daughter, I searched eBird for potential life birds around our apartment. One of them, the Black Wheatear was often reported from the region and we decided to give it a try. We left for a city called Calpe (northeast to Alicante) very early in the morning to be there before it gets too hot.

Yellow-legged Gull over the Calpe Beach before sunrise. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A view to the Calpe Mountain. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Calpe is a typical Mediterranean holiday destination at the northeast side of Costa Blanca with some tourist attractions including the Peñón de Ifach. Adventurous tourists can climb up to the very top of this limestone outcrop emerges from the Mediterranean Sea.

Rising sun at Calpe. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Crocs off and into the water. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-headed Gull picked up human garbage particles from the freshly ‘cleaned’ beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Kea did not waste time and started playing with the sand at our arrival. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull picked up food from the sand. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at the beach with the first lights. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful sunrise from the Calpe Beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Not many adult Yellow-legged Gulls were flying over the beach. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

As we arrived still in the dark we went to the beach for some fun and watching the sunrise. Black-headed Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls were feeding at the beach and flying out to the sea.

This salt pond is surrounded by the charming city of Calpe. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Greater Flamingos fed very close to the shore. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Greater Flamingos were all over the lake. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Should the time have allowed, I could have taken a few much better shots of the flamingos. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Immature Greater Flamingo. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Before we headed up to the Peñón de Ifach we visited the Les Salines de Calpe in the heart of Calpe famous mainly of its Greater Flamingos. Checklist from the salt pan is below.

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 2
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) 175
Eurasian Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) 8
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 1
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 1
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 137
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 12
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 2

The Peñón de Ifach limestone outcrop.

A view of the bays around the hill. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Calpe marina from one of the viewpoints Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A very distant Blue Rock-Thrush and very crappy crop. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Heavily moulting Sardinian Warbler. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

My quite exhausted daughter is having a rest before headed back to the car. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the time we started our trek to the Peñón de Ifach it was already quite hot. The most common songbird was the Sardinian Warbler on the bushy slopes and most of them I could only detect by their calls. Unfortunately, on eBird, it wasn’t specified which part of the hill the Black Wheatear was seen so the only option was to go above the bush-line and hoping for a bird to pop on the cliffs while feeding. I couldn’t find any but I saw a nice but distant Blue Rock-Thrush. Above the peak, Alpine and Pallid Swifts hunted for insects.

Alpine Swift (Apus melba)  3
Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)  17
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)  14
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)  9
Blue Rock-Thrush (Monticola solitarius)  2
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)  2
European Serin (Serinus serinus)  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  2

Finally the first two life birds in Spain: Part Three

After enjoying the Mediterranean Sea and our pool in El Campello, we had a nice time on the west coast of the Laguna Salada de la Mata and the Mediterranean coast near El Pinet.

To get to the west coast of Laguna Salada de la Mata we had to walk through a dry bushland and conifer woodland near Torrevieja village. Just after a short walk, I heard an unfamiliar call from the bushes. A short search brought me a life bird, a Western Olivaceous Warbler. It was flitting from bush to bush and called frequently.

eBird checklists from the same area reported another potential life bird, the Thekla Lark. Just before I reached the shore I found two Thekla’s Lark feeding on the path near an open area.

Cogujada Montesina, Galerida theklae, Thekla Lark

Thekla’s Lark from Spain. © Luis Sitges (Photo was legally embedded from the photographer’s Flickr profile. Link to his original photo)

This is the arid semi-desert-like habitat where I found the Thekla’s Larks. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Thekla’s Larks were feeding on this open dry area. The Laguna Salada de la Mata is in the background. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the scrubland:

Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 7
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) 3
Common Swift (Apus apus) 3
Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus) 6
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 2
Thekla’s Lark (Galerida theklae) 3
Western Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna opaca) 1
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 2
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) 1
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 1
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor) 2
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 7

Curlew land

After a brief sleep in the car, I drove to the Ford car park and back again to the Upper Burbage Bridge at 3AM looking for night birds. Luckily I saw a Tawny Owl sitting on the drystone wall along the road but didn’t allow me to take any photos. Two Short-eared Owls and Little Owl with singing Ring Ouzels in twilight were the highlights of the dark.

The morning was very misty on the plateau of but it was still very enjoyable to walk. I took a 5.6 km trek from the eastern part of Stanage Edge to the White Path Moss. Apart from some sleeping climbers on the cliffs, I didn’t see a single human what was more than delightful for me.

Territorial Eurasian Curlew near its breeding site. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

On the plateau, I found a family of Red Grouse with eight chicks. The female was very defensive came out to the trail and literally touched my legs. Curlew songs in the dense mist were beautifully haunting and I just wanted to sit and listen to it all day.

This male Ring Ouzel almost lost in the mist. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Curlews were breeding along the public trails and they escorted me until I left the area. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

The United Kingdom has lost almost 50% of the breeding population of Eurasian Curlews and this trend is continuing unless further conservation efforts take place. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Main British bird conservation organisations unite to reverse the negative trend of breeding populations of Eurasian Curlew. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A classic picture of an upland grassland with curlews and sheep. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Roadside breeding pair of Eurasian Curlew. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Curlew in its nesting environment. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Patroling curlew over the breeding territory. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A recent study linked the increased predation, among other factors, to the decline in breeding numbers of curlews. I observed Carrion Crows chased away from the nesting territory. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Guarding adult Eurasian Curlew at the nesting area. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Meadow Pipit is the most abundant breeding bird of the moorland. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

I took this shot from the car as it was calling on this gate. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Sony Cybershot RX10 IV camera performed really well and I just can’t recommend it enough for documentary bird photography. Pictured a Meadow Pipit. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another Meadow Pipit landed next to me. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Livestock and upland waders have a nice symbiosis. In this field, a pair of Eurasian Curlew and at least one family of Northern Lapwing, with 4 chicks, was seen. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Upland nesting habitat of Common Snipe. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful colour of the moorland with Welsh Mountain Sheep, I believe. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the morning trek:

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) 2
Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse) (Lagopus lagopus scotica) 22
European Golden-Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) 1
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 7 (3 ad + 4 pullus)
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 16
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) 7
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 1
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 3
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 3
Eurasian Wren (British) (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus) 1
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) 2
Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) 2
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 1
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 3
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 31
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 2
Eurasian Linnet (Linaria cannabina) 2

After leaving this area I visited another moorland targeting to see a White-throated Dipper which was reported on several eBird checklists in the past. I followed the trails of Shelf Brook east to Old Glossop up to the Mossy Lea Farm bridge. At the bridge, I managed to find an adult with a juvenile White-throated Dipper searching for food in the brook.

This white-throated Dipper fed a fledged young at this section of the brook. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

It is not the best dipper photo of the world as I could not come closer due to access restrictions. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Recently fledged White.throated Dipper in its habitat. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

White-throated Dipper gularis subspecies, restricted to Scotland (except w Scotland), Wales and England. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

It ‘s been the first time I saw a dipper in England since I’ve moved to the country. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Feeding Common Wood Pigeon in the meadow. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the 3.6km long trek:

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 3
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 6
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 2
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 2
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) 1
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 19
Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) 2
Common Swift (Apus apus) 15
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)  1
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 2
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 189
Rook (Corvus frugilegus) 29
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 2
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 1
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 7
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 1
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 5
Eurasian Wren (British) (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus) 2
White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) 2
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) 3
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 2
Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) 1
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 4
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 2
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) 1
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 2
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 1
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 1
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 2
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 6
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 4

An overnight in the Peak District National Park

This time I travelled up north to the Lake District National Park what is another never visited region of England for me. Prior to the Saturday afternoon photo shoots in New Brighton, I spent the overnight in the moorlands near the picturesque Hathersage village, fought with the annoying midges(?), slept a few a hours in the car, but it was worth. The scenery and birdlife are just spectacular and the lack of anthropogenic noises made this stay really memorable. Despite choosing a wrong walking shoe, and the massive blister on my toe, I trekked about 11 miles combined.

First I trekked from the Ford car park to the High Neb then at the western side of Stanage Edge I walked back to the car. The tranquillity of the moors with the song of Eurasian Curlews was just something I have always been long for. I wasn’t prepared to write a novel here so again let the photos tell the story.

A view to the Hig Neb moors from the car park with a small patch of woods which was surprisingly bird rich. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Close up photo of a resident breeder Mistle Thrush. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mistle Thrush in its breeding territory near the car park. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Siskin was displaying and and feeding in the woods next the to car park. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

The plateau of High Neb in glorious sunset. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Meadow Pipits, Red Grouses and high-flying and drumming Common Snipes were the most frequent birds on the summit. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A small shed with beautiful cottongrass field. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-faced Sheep is part of the moorland. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A view to the western slopes of Stanage Edge. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Black-faced Sheep in the cottongrass field. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Cottongrass gives a special tone to the moors. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

To my biggest surprise a stunning Eurasian Woodcock was sitting on the drystone wall in the middle of the might. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the area:

Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse) (Lagopus lagopus scotica) 11
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 1
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 7
Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) 4
Common Swift (Apus apus) 1
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 2
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 2
Coal Tit (British) (Periparus ater britannicus) 1
Eurasian Wren (British) (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus) 1
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) 6
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) 1
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 2
European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) 1
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 1
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 1
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 1
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 14
Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) 1
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) 3
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 3
Eurasian Siskin (Spinus spinus)  2

Crazy twitch to Scotland

When it’s been a while we had a chance for birding there is nothing to stop us from finding a sought-after bird. On Twitter, I saw ridiculously perfect photos of the mega American White-winged Scoter from Musselburgh by the local Ian Andrews. As soon as we got permission from my daughter, actually got inspired by her, we started our 6 hours drive to Musselburgh just east to Edinburgh.

Twitchers started to arrive at our arrival but few were already on the leave with a satisfactory smile on their face. The bird was found again despite being super difficult and distant the previous day. After a miserable weather in most of England in the last couple of days, it was a pleasant surprise to see the sun. With a very kind help by a local birder, I spotted the ‘AmericanWhite-winged Scoter among Velvet Scoters just in front of us. The low tide didn’t allow us having as close views as Ian’s had a few days back, but thanks to our brilliant Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope, we had great and crisp views.

White-winged Scoter

This White-winged Scoter was photographed on the Detroit River in East Windsor, ON. © dwajnejava (Photo was legally embedded in from the photographer’s Flickr photo stream.)

male white-winged scoter

Drake White-winged Scoter. © Andrew Reding (Photo was legally embedded in from the photographer’s Flickr photo stream.)

A few twitchers lined up for the White-winged Scoter at the Musselburgh beach. © Daniel Szimuly

A view from the seawall to the Firth of Forth. The scoters must be somewhere there in the frame. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The local birder, who already helped to spot the White-winged Scoter, now assisted in finding the long staying Surf Scoter that was a little further down to the town. It was a cracking adult drake with all its vibrant spring colours. Later it flew to off and landed just next to the White-winged Scoter. It was an exceptional experience to see the Surf, White-winged and Velvet Scoter in the same scope view. While watching these birds a vocal Snow Bunting flew over us.

Musselburg is a charming town at the Firth of Forth. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Kea was curious just about everything on the mudflat and picked up all sort of stuff. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

In bird taxonomy, I have been following IOC’s classification for many years where the White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi) is a full species. The eBird/Clements Checklist lists it as subspecies of Velvet Scoter, but names as White-winged Scoter (North American) (Melanitta fusca deglandi). I keep my life list at bubo.org and now it shows 2,198 life birds of the world. My Western Palearctic list moved up to 484 and my British list is at a modest 254.

Common Shelduck was a colourful addition to the grey goose flock. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

It is always enjoyable to watch these birds on the ground and flying as we don’t come across with them in Buckinghamshare very often. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

Pink-footed Geese in light snow storm. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

This must be one pf the last flocks of Pink-footed Goose before they are heading to Iceland or other breeding grounds. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

A very approachable and cooperative European Robin. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

On the way home we had a few stops along the coastal scenic route south of Cove. We found a flock of Pink-footed Goose and two Common Shelducks on a field.

Moorland of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Sony RX10 IV © Kea Szimuly

Red Grouse (Red phase of Willow Grouse) seemed to be rather common in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

As we started our journey back home relatively early we decided to visit the south east corner of the Yorkshire Dales National Park for a potential life bird for Dani. The Short-eared Owl was the target for him that I managed to find for him with the last decent lights. It was hunting along the road just south east to Grimwith Reservoir behind the Stump Cross Caverns. Our conclusion was that we had to return to this spectacular national park when all birds are back from wintering.

This birding was kindly supported by Viking Optical. Thanks for this support!

Duck galore in Cornwall and Devon

Following a proper sleep and a delayed breakfast we headed down to Penzance to find a life shorebird for Dani. Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones were reported from the Battery Rocks. It’s been a while I have seen a Purple Sandpiper so it was an obvious move. Around the rocks we soon found a bigger flock of Ruddy Turnstones and a few Purple Sandpipers. They were very close for providing amazing views even by binoculars. As the high tide receded the flock started feeding on the bottom of the rocks.

A flock of Ruddy Turnstones and some Purple Sandpipers at the Battery Rocks. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Roosting Ruddy Turnstones waiting for receding tides. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mediterranean feeling of the Yacht Inn in Penzance on this picture but in real it felt we were at the Varanger Fjord. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Bird list of Battery Rocks from this morning:

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)  3 overflying
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) 63
Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima) 21
Herring Gull (European) (Larus argentatus) 42
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 2
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 2

Our next destination was the Lower Porthpean Beach south of St Austell where I hoped to find a long awaited rarity. The Surf Scoter was long on my wish-list but logistically it has been always very difficult to manage one to see. This time we had great chances to find them off the Lower Porthpean Beach. It didn’t take long to spot a group of seaducks. A female and two first winter drake Surf Scoter with an adult female Velvet Scoter was followed by adult female Long-tailed Duck. They were frequently feeding but when popped up we had perfect views on higher magnifications. Northern Fulmars were all around both offshore and sitting on the cliffs. As my dearest friend from Ohio, Barb, would have said, it deserved a “happy lifer dance” from both of us. Dani collected his second and third lifers on this beach.

This is the Lower Porthpean Beach at low tide. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani in birding model mode after a successful find of two life birds. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the Porthpean Beach:

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) 3
White-winged Scoter (Velvet) (Melanitta fusca fusca) 1
Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) 1
Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)  24
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)  1
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 1
European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) 8
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 2
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 24
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 4
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 2
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 1

What a day we had so far and we still had one life bird to find for me, three for Dani on the way home. The next stop was at the Walker Quay near Antony west of Plymouth. Five minutes before our arrival a birder had seen a long staying adult drake Green-winged Teal. It took a while we found the bird among Eurasian Teals as they moved down to the river bed as low tide peaked. We didn’t have perfect views but was good enough to enjoy it for a few minutes. Life bird for both of us!

Very bad quality phone scoped photo of the drake American Green-winged Teal. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

List of birds from this spot:

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 97
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) 4
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) 4
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) (Anas crecca crecca) 14
Green-winged Teal (American) (Anas crecca carolinensis) 1
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 3
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) 92
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 2
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 10
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 2
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 4
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 4
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 17
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 1
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 9

At the next stop near Exeter, Devon we aimed to find a reported American Wigeon. The Matford Marsh RSPB Reserve is a little wetland along the main train-line south of Exeter. We arrived about 90 minutes before sunset and we still wanted to get to Exmouth before total darkness. The first pond hold a good number of Eurasian Wigeon that was disturbed by a wandering fox but the rarity wasn’t among them. After multiple browsing the area we quickly walked to the viewing point of the other lake where Dani spotted an adult drake American Wigeon. It moved with the Eurasian Wigeons and we could confirm that this individual wasn’t ringed. Another life bird, the 5th for Dani and 8 new for the whole trip.

Matford RSPB Reserve photographed from the carriageway. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Bird list from the Matford Marsh RSPB Reserve:

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) 1
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) 10
Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) 116
American Wigeon (Mareca americana) 1
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 7
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) (Anas crecca) 35
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) 3
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 3
Eurasian Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 6
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) 3
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) 16
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 117
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 14
Stock Dove (Columba oenas) 5
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 4
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Eurasian Magpie (Eurasian) (Pica pica) 3
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 6
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 3
Great Tit (Parus major) 3
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 1
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 1
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 2
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 1

We had no time for finding another long staying bird, a Bonaparte’s Gull at Exmouth, but we have nothing to complain about at all… My life list moved up to 2,197, Dani’s to 344.

Productive birding in Cornwall

After a ‘birdingless‘ January, we finally managed to escape to the wilder corner of England for finding some rarities. Potentially, I had 5 life birds to see within a relatively small radius in the magical Cornwall. As usual we sacrificed quite a bit of sleeping for an earliest possible start at the Pendower Beach in southern Cornwall. On the way we had several cracking views on Western Barn Owls perching on roadside fences.

Beautiful purplish lights on the Pendower Beach near Portscatho. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Small strean with a cafe in the background. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Any animal death makes a wildlife lover sad but seeing a dead dolphin is deeply touching. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We couldn’t see any injuries on this Common Dolphin but it might have stranded with high tides. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Compositional send-off of this gorgeous animal. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

With the first lights we reached Pendower Beach from where a long staying Pacific Diver was planned to find in the Gerrans Bay. At dawn European Robins, Dunnocks and Song Thrushes started to sing around the little cafe with low key and as I scoped the beach for two louder Eurasian Oystercatchers, I saw something I wasn’t really prepared to see. A Common Dolphin washed out by high tides. We quickly went to the beach to see if we could do anything for this incredible animal but it was too late. We have never seen a dolphin as close as this dead one. This was a fresh carcass and touching the poor thing was more emotional than I thought I would be. Locals told us later that this was the second dead dolphin on this beach within a week.

After this emotional experience we tried to focus on seawatching. As reported by others, we saw many loons on the calm waters including good number  Great Norther Divers (or Common Loon) and Black-throated Divers. Three Slavonian Grebes (or Horned Grebe) was feeding together but separated from Black-necked Grebes (Eared Grebe). Also Red-necked Grebes were feeding separately. Hours of eye-tiring scanning resulted no Pacific Diver but then a local birdwatcher joined the search and after a hour of searching he managed to pick our bird. He kindly invited us to see the bird through his Swarowski scope. We both had great views on it but we lost the bird when dove for feeding. Just before we left an Arctic Jaeger (Arctic Skua) flew inshore providing great views in the scope.

Here is the complete bird list from the bay:

Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra) 5
Arctic Loon (Gavia arctica) 6
Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) 1
Common Loon (Gavia immer) 14
Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus) 3
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) 4
Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) 4
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) 12
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 6
European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) 9
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) 1
Common Buzzard (Western) (Buteo buteo buteo) 1
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 6
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 1
Arctic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus) 1
Common Murre (Uria aalge) 6
Razorbill (Alca torda) 9
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) 4
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 125
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) 1
Mew Gull (Larus canus) 18
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 134
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) 11
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 3
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 1
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 13
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 6
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 3
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus europaeus) 1
Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes indigenus) 4
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 1
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 5
European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) 2
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 2
Redwing (Turdus iliacus) 2
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) 2
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 6
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) 1
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 2
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 2
Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) 1
Eurasian Linnet (Linaria cannabina) 3

I still don’t give up finding an adult Ring-billed Gull. Phone scoped with the Viking ED 80 Spotting Scope and an iPhone 7 Plus © Daniel Szimuly

After the successful but time-consuming twitching we drove to another location where a long-staying Ring-billed Gull have been reported. It was an hour-long drive which was enough to warm up a bit. At the Trevemper Lake in Newquay we soon found the first winter Ring-billed Gull. It was perching on a fence but later made some attempt to pinch some bred from the greedy European Herring Gulls, without any success. It often landed just next to us and Dani managed to take some acceptable phone scoped photos with my iPhone 7 Plus through the excellent Viking ED 80 Spotting Scope. It was very useful to see the structural differences between the North American visitor and resident gulls.

Godrevy Island with the lighthouse surrounded with a grumpy Atlantic Ocean. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

A bit of rainbow over the ocean. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

This photo probably gives something back about the conditions we decided to birdwatch under. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Visually the Sun was nice to be out but that didn’t made us feeling much more comfortable. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Moving down to the sandy beach offered some kind of protection against the strong cold wind making Dani thrilled. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

As Dani have never seen an Iceland Gull we headed southwest towards Lower Boscaswell but first we stopped at the very stormy Godrevy Beach where Glaucous Gulls have been reported. After having parked it started to rain heavily what turned into sleet straight into our face. Walking on the top of the seafront wasn’t short of danger as winds picked up massively and even standing was a great challenge. We enjoyed these extreme conditions and on the way back to the car we saw one of the three reported Glaucous Gulls flying just meters away from us.

Birds recorded from the seafront:

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)  4
European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)  35
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)  44
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)  16
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)  22
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  1
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii)  2
Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)  1
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)  14
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)  1
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)  3
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  1
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)  14
European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)  1
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)  36

Nice lighthouse at the Pendeen Cliffs. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Breathtaking view to the stormy Pendeen Watch. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Hi-tech gear was a must all day and Daniel seemed to be prepared for the worst. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

As we were about to run out of time we quickly headed towards Pendeen Watch, a stunning viewing point from the Pendeen Lighthouse. It was extremely windy with very rough water but that didn’t stop Northern Gannets to feed just meters away from the coast. I soon found the first winter Iceland Gull for Dani’s happiness. Soon after a first winter Glaucous Gull joined the gull-fest.

Our Pendeen Watch eBird list:

Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) 2
Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) 210
European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) 8
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) 14
European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 15
Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)  1
Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)  1
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)  76
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  1
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)  1

It was already dark when we went back to the car and it was just about time to book a cheap bed & breakfast room somewhere nearby…

Supporting locals we decided to try the Pale Cornish Ale before we had a traditional English dinner at the Wellington Hotel in Saint Just. iPhone 7 Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani ended the day with 3 life birds while I had 2.

Life bird number 2,192…

Time by time I have crazy ideas for finding life birds. This time everything came together for a potentially wonderful birding day in Cornwall. As I live in the middle of England every prime coastal area several hours of driving away. Cornwall is among the ‘worst’ of all. It requires 5 hours 30 minutes drive in ideal scenario. Yet, I thought I could squeeze everything in one day.

Spectacular sunrise over the cliffs of Porthgwarra. © Gyorgy Szimuly

It’s hard not to be sentimental by those morning colours. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Reading multiple reports about Great Shearwaters and European Storm Petrels, two of the several missing European seabirds from my life list, made me want to give it a try. My original idea was to have a day at sea traveling by the Scillonian III ferry from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly. Sadly, having a bank holiday Monday, the return ferry was fully booked and we had to give seabird watching a try from the land.

On the Biritsh Facebook Birders group a few sites have been recommended by experienced British birders and big thanks to them for the information. Dani and me arrived to Porthgwarra at 4:30AM and enjoyed the view of the spectacular Milky Way and the absolute silence. I don’t even remember when was the last time there wasn’t any noise around me. After a bit of rest in the car we started our walk uphill to the local RSPB Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). From the first higher point we had spectacular view of the sunrise and the beautifully calm sea.

Hundreds of Northern Gannets passed by during our entire stay. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another flock of Northern Gannets. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sevaral flocks of European Shag were among the firsts to go out feeding followed by the constant flow of Northern Gannets. The biggest spectacle, however, was the incredible number of feeding shearwaters within a close distance from the cliffs. We found a perfect viewing spot just in front of the coastwatch station of Gwennap Head and started browsing the calm waters through the excellent Viking Optical’s ED Pro 80 spotting scope. We have been blown away by the large number of seabirds. Thousands of Manx Shearwaters flew all around and I thought it was impossible to spot something different from the ‘crowd’ but despite having not much seabirding experience, it turned up less challenging to find other species as well.

Great shearwater

Great Shearwater became my latest life bird. © Andrew Malcolm Photo was legally embedded from Andrew Malcolm’s Flickr stream with direct link to his portfolio. Check out his work.

Gear in action: The Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope delivered perfect views of thousands of seabirds. The swwet spot (size of sharp area of the whole image) was large enough. Early morning means colours are dull and lights are dim. Thanks to the excellent ED 80mm front lens this scope allowed us watching birds with the first lights. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Scillonian III has crossed the sea in front of us with fully packed deck. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The view from the headland to the Celtic Sea. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another view to the very distant Isles of Scilly. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The first surprise was a juvenile Sabine’s Gull which could have been easily be mistaken with juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake. I was happy to show it to Dani and he scored his second lifer of the day. Soon after I lost the juvenile Sabine’s Gull, a shearwater with dirty-looking underwing appeared. It was a Balearic Shearwater and Dani was happy again. We didn’t have to wait long for something larger and different. A Great Shearwater landed on water gently mobbed by a stunning Sooty Shearwater. The size difference of this capped shearwater was obvious even on water. Further watching the sea a ‘yellow-nosed’ Cory’s Shearwater turned up that was sadly missed by Dani.

Meadow Pipits were actively feeding on the headland. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Daniel Szimuly

Meanwhile songbirds landed around us. Small flocks of Western Yellow Wagtails, Grey and (British) White Wagtails, Meadow, Tree and Rock Pipits, Barn Swallows, European Jackdaws were regularly seen.

Coastwatch station of Gwennap Head with the lovely birdwatcher lady. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A lovely birdwatcher lady approached me while Dani went back to the shop for getting a parking ticket. She was local and was very kind especially when she highlighted the chance to misidentify juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake as Sabine’s Gull.

Stunning bay at Porthgwagga with amazingly freezing waters. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Seafront at Land’s End with splashes on the right by a feeding Basking Shark. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Terrible digiscoped photo of an adult Sabine’s Gull. Sadly we had no adapter for a much better photo but Dani tried it hard.

This is again a digiscope video still. Dani held and positioned the iPhone in the air. Anyway, the bird is identifiable.

Dani ended the day with 5 life birds and obviously was happy about it. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

All of a sudden almost all the shearwaters flew towards the waters of Land’s End, the place we wanted to see anyway. Land’s End, that is just a few miles from Porthgwarra, is the most westerly point of England. As expected on the bank holiday Monday, it was fully packed with tourists but that didn’t stop us watching birds despite the £6 parking fee! Right after I set up the tripod and scope, came another lifer, but it wasn’t a bird this time. A massive Basking Shark was feeding right to the light house. During our stay it was hunting at the same area providing spectacular views through the scope. What an animal it was.

From this spot I found more Sooty Shearwaters but unarguably the best find was an adult Sabine’s Gull with a company of a juvenile Sabine’s Gull, Black-headed Gulls and a few Europen Herring Gulls.

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.