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

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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.

Persistence for life birds payed off

The random and necessary change of the trip plan offered a not so comfortable bight in the car. Dani spent ‘some’ time outdoors with his lovely company from the creperie, and I tried to sleep a few hours. While I set the car for sleeping, I heard two different European Scops-Owl calling.

After sunrise we walked to the viewing point and dedicated the whole morning to spot at least one Cinereous Vulture. Soon after we finished our breakfast sandwiches I had a short chat with a local bird guide about my target bird. It turned out that the Rougon viewing point wasn’t exactly the right spot for finding them. Our best chance to spot them was browsing the sky for gliding vultures over the opposite hills south to Rougon village. That turned to be a very useful advice.

Vautour moine - Aegypius monachus - Cinereous Vulture

Incoming Cinereous Vulture. © Olivier Teilhard (Photo was legally embedded from Olivier Teilhard’s Flickr photostream. Check out his work.)

We have been recommended to walk up to the cliffs behind the houses for better chances for Cinereous Vultures. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is at the viewing point. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Viking Optical’s ED Pro 80 flagship scope proved to be a perfect companion for our thip and delivered unforgettable views on many birds including lifers. It’s optical performance isalmost unbeatable at this price point. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

At around 11AM Dani walked back to the car for more water while I spotted a slowly soaring Cinereous Vulture through the spotting scope. I quickly called him and he run back to the viewing point for catching a glimpse of the disappearing bird. What a bird it was. Soon another bird joined it offering some good views before they glided behind the peak. As the guide suggested it might have been the pair breeding just a few miles away to the south. The bird activity was quite high during our stay. Dani had another life bird when a single Red-billed Chough flew over while calling. We enjoyed good views of 2 Alpine Swifts, a singing Wryneck and Cirl Bunting,

Soaring Short-toed Snake Eagle over the rocky slopes of Rougon. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Short-toed Snake Eagle flew over the viewing point quite low. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon gliding just above the créperie. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

I’m very grateful for the unknown guide who shared this little but much needed information with me that eventually helped looking at the right directions for this long wanted lifer. Also we are grateful for Viking Optical’s tremendous support. Without the Viking ED Pro 80 scope this bird couldn’t have been spotted.

Limestone hills south to Rougon where Cinereous Vultures flew over. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Different view to the village of Rougon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from the morning:

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) 2
Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) 42
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 2
Alpine Swift (Apus melba) 2
Common Swift (Apus apus) 42
Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 2
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 1
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 1
Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) 6
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 1
Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 3
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 2
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 21
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) 3
Great Tit (Parus major) 1
Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) 1
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 4
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) 1
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 1
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 3
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 2
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) 1
Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) 1
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 4
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) 2
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 4

One of the roadside lavender fields in Provence. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

By saying a final goodbye to the place and the staff of the restaurant our holiday came to an end. The rest of the day was quiet, and as always, a little sad by ending our short but rather intense holiday.

Was it it a successful trip after all? Yes, it was. The weather was awesome (my kind) and the whole region is one of my favourites in Europe. There is still plenty of reasons to return to Provence.

We are so grateful for Viking Optical’s tremendous support for this trip. Thank you Stuart and the Team!

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Vulture heaven along the Gorges Du Verdon

Leaving the coastline behind we headed to the spectacular Gorges Du Verdon where we hoped to find the long chased life bird of mine, the Cinereous Vulture. We spent the night near the bridge where the turquoise-green Verdon River enters the lake of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. We were about 20 minutes drive away from the vulture breeding area near the gorgeous little mountain village of Rougon.

While being prepared for the short drive through a spectacular Verdon River valley we had a stunning Short-toead Snake-Eagle over our car with a snake in its bill and we saw 4 Alpine Swifts and Eurasian Crag-Martin flying over the limestone cliffs.

 

Almost unreal water colour of a river. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Tourists love kayaking under this breathtaking cliffs. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Panorama photo of the Verdon River from the bridge. © Gyorgy Szimuly

By arriving to the Rougon area we were not 100% sure about the best observation spot to watch vultures but we found one spot along the breathtaking serpentine road. The map bellow shows where we looked for birds. I have to admit this place was one of the most beautiful I have ever birded or been. The view from the small parking lot to the river valley and the giant vertical cliffs is just jawdropping.

Egyptian Vultures provided excellent views through our perfectly performing Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Some of the Eurasian Griffons stayed on the roosting sites until midday. iPhone SE through Viking ED Pro 80 spotting scope (handheld) © Daniel Szimuly

It is rather painful not having prime photo gear with you as opportunities to photograph vultures, like this Eurasian Griffon, are endless. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon clearly is a majestic and ruling bird of Rougon. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Griffon used the uplifing thermals close to the cliffs to elevate to incredible heights. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Spectacular view from the Rougon viewing point to the Gorges Du Verdon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the many Eurasian Griffons in a roosting (or nesting?) hole. iPhone SE + Viking ED pro 80 spotting scope © Daniel Szimuly

We soon started to feel the stuck heat between those massive cliffs and the comfi fleece soon landed in the back of the car. Euriasian Crag-Martins flew just over our car and Black Woodpecker flew over the river to the opposite slopes. Western Bonelli’s Warblers and Eurasian Treecreepers passed by next to our car. As heat picked up we had a Golden Eagle flying over the cliffs from the direction of Rougon village. Short-toed Snake-Eagle was looking for lizzards or snakes in lover elevations providing excellent views.

We got excited when the first Eurasian Griffons took flight. Dani spotted a beautiful adult Egyptian Vulture dropped from the cliffs of the northern side. My favourite Alpine Swifts flew over us with larger flock of Common Swifts and slowly moved towards northwest. As no Cinereous Vulture showed up we decided to go to Rougon village for finding a good spot for overlooking the entire valley.

What a charming and picturesque little mountain village Rougon is. Just a few houses on a top of a hill with a little shop kind residents and a yummy creperie. But more about it a bit later…

Lovely crest of Rougon on the wall of a small well. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Cliffs over the the houses of Rougon provides an amazing 360° view to the wider region. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Incoming Eurasian Griffon. Photo was taken from the creperie. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Topside view of Eurasian Griffon. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

We saw great variety in plumages of Eurasian Griffons. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

If we understood correctly these birds are marked in a special way. Some of the primaries or secondaries are clipped (cut) allowing identification of individuals. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful (probably undulatus asperatus) cloud formation over the Gorges du Verdon. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Egyptian Vulture gliding over the valley. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A group of Eurasian Griffons climbing higher and higher in increasing temperatures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Luckily a vulture viewing point just hehind the creperie was well signed and for obvious reasons we spent the rest of the afternoon there. Lots of Eurasian Griffons elevated by thermal spells using the eastern slopes of the village as heat peaked. A pair of Red-backed Shrike fed youngs under the viewing point, Black Redstart was hunting for insects in the garden of the houses behind us and a nice male Rock Bunting was singing on the top of the nearby buildings. Common Ravens attacked and mobbed another Egyptian Vulture very close to us.

The terrace of the family run La Creperie Le Mur d’Abeilles. Delicious food, quick service and breathtaking views to the valley and vultures gliding over. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Oh yes, that creperie… having a tiny open terraced family run restaurant next to viewing point means you don’t have to stand on your feet all day. It came very handy sitting there and watching the soaring while eating the delicious crepes ala Provence. The staff was more than friendly what made the whole experience even more memorable. This is a highly recommended place to visit.

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) 3
Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) 32
Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 2
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) 1
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 2
Alpine Swift (Apus melba) 19
Common Swift (Apus apus) 78
Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 1
Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 1
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 2
Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) 3
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) 1
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 10
Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) 33
Barn Swallow (White-bellied) (Hirundo rustica) 1
Common House-Martin (Delichon urbicum) 1
Great Tit (Parus major) 5
Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) 2
Eurasian Wren (Eurasian) (Troglodytes troglodytes) 1
Western Bonelli’s Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli) 2
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 8
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 1
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) 1
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 1
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) 1
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 3
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 5
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 2

After several hours of birdwatching we gave up looking for Cinereous Vulture as we had to follow our plan. We headed to another spectacular alpine reserve, the Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre what is part of the extensive Parc National du Mercantour.

Panoramic view of the Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre and its spectacular surroundings. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Just had to take another pano photo at the ‘U’ turn. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is searching for perching Citril Finches. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We had not much time left for birdwatching at the spot as roads were closed for a long time due to a traffic accident in the Gorges Du Verdon. The reason of our visit was to find the Citril Finch and Rock Partridge. We parked nearby the hotel at the elevation of 1,906 meters (6,253 ft). It was fantastic to listen to all the bird songs from the valley and the slopes. During my short walk towards the sharp ‘U’ turn I spotted two Citril Finches landed on the top of a small tree just above me. Sadly Dani was not around but I was very happy to see this species. I saw a Citril Finch in the Austrian Alps a few years back but the bird was flying away from me and had no chance to have proper views. Shortly after the two Ctril Finches flew off the tree we had two more birds calling and flying over us. It was already worth to have a trip here.

Venturone alpino - Citril Finch

Perching Ctril Finches. © Fabrizio Moglia (This photo was legally embedded from Fabrizio Moglia‘s Flickr photostream. Please check out his work)

After dusk we tried for European Pygmy-Owls at lower elevations but we had no luck.

List of birds we saw around the hotel:

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) 1
Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) 9
Coal Tit (Periparus ater) 2
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 1
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 2
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 1
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 3
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) 2
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 2
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 1
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) 1
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) 1
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) 2
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 3
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 3
Citril Finch (Carduelis citrinella) 4
European Serin (Serinus serinus) 6

 

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Somewhat disappointing birding at the Réserve Naturelle Coussouls de Crau

Of course no time spent with birds should be disappointing in any circumstances, but when it comes to a foreign birding trip for potential life birds, it is a bit disappointing when one has to leave the area without seeing the desired lifer.

We started our Réserve Naturelle Coussouls de Crau adventure in the dark based on some information from my Facebook friend, Hugo Tuzé. Unfortunately, we enterered this massive semi desert from the wrong direction but after all we got there and it shouldn’t have affected the outcome of this morning’s birding.

Stunning sunrise over the La Crau. © Gyorgy Szimuly

My main target for the area was to find the stunning Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, my only potential life bird. By approaching the northeast corner of the reserve we saw a Little Owl along the paved road. We left the car behind in twilight and bird songs started to fill the bushes and the nearby woods. European Scops Owl, Sardinian Warblers, Common Nightingales, Cetti’s Warblers and Corn Buntings were all around that brightened up the disastrous trekking in the prickly and stinging lower vegetation. It probably wasn’t a good idea to walk in shorts.

The beautiful Réserve Naturelle Coussouls de Crau. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the north, the reserve was surrounded by bushes where Red-legged Partridges were roosting. As we entered the actual steppe area we soon saw our first low flying Little Bustards for Dani’s pleasure. White Storks roosted on trees started feeding on grasshoppers and small flocks of Western Cattle Egrets flew over the area. It didn’t take long to see the firtst Calandra Larks while European Turtle Doves were calling from the trees. A larger flock of European Bee-eater flew over the area in the early phase of the morning.

Birding in grasslands has been one of my favourites (probably because it’s a flat landscape and requires no climbing) since I started birding, and this morning brought back nice memories of bare foot birding on the steppes of the Hortobágy National Park in Eastern Hungary. As the undisturbed sun brough the heat, kestrels appeared on the famous Crau stone heaps. I tried hard but ended up finding only a single Lesser Kestrel in the haze. That wasn’t too satisfying for Dani. Most of the kestrels were Eurasian Kestrels.

Not with my basic bridge camera, but with a decent lens, it is not a big challenge to photograph Black Kites in southern France. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

One of the kettles of Black Kites around La Crau. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Abandoned barn in the northern part of the reserve was a shelter for a Little Owl family. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is looking for grounded Greater Short-toed Larks with the brilliant Viking ED Pro 80 scope. iPhone © Gyorgy Szimuly

In an abandoned barn we found a family of Little Owls while Greater Short-toed Larks were singing over the bare land with sparse vegetation. Next to the opposite building European Thick-knees were calling and we had very nice views on them. Two stunning Montague’s Harriers were hunting over the southern fields and by midday the number of Black Kites peaked. Several large group of kites formed incredible kettles totalling 81 birds.

This barren ground is ideal habitat for European Thick-knees. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Hoopoe were often seen in the reserve. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

After 6 hours of birding our water supply has gone and we had to return to the car. European Rollers and Eurasian Hoopoes were hunting around the bushes and I found another lifer for Dani. Two Southern Grey Shrikes were percing on dead trees just where we parked. Over a hundred Common Swifts were flying above us while having our camping style but very enjoyable lunch.

More and more Black Kites arrived by midday. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

White Storks were flying with Common Swifts over the pastures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Camargue horses grazed the bushy pastures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

White Storks enjoyed the uplifting thermals. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

eBird checklist from La Crau

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) 18
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 27
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) 7
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) 26
Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) 2
Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 81
Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) 13
Eurasian Thick-knee (Burhinus oedicnemus) 12
Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 3
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) 11
Common Wood-Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 4
European Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia turtur) 4
European Scops-Owl (Otus scops) 1
Little Owl (Athene noctua) 4
Common Swift (Apus apus) 145
Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) 6
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 4
European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) 80
European Roller (Coracias garrulus) 4
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) 4
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) 1
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 3
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) 2
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) 8
Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 11
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) 5
Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) 7
Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) 8
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 9
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) 2
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 5
Great Tit (Parus major) 1
Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) 5
Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) 12
Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) 11
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 46
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) 7
Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) 41
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 1

The conclusion of birding in the La Crau is that it requires multiple mornings for proper coverage. In the afternoon I found the route where we should have entered the area by car. This habitat was amazing to bird in despite missing some key species.

The Côte d’Azur is a popular and crowded touritst destination in Summer and almost all year long. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Relaxing time at the beach with Dani. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

After a short and refreshing swimming we left the girls in bikinis behind for more birds. iPhone 7Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The rest of the afternoon we spent swimming south of Marseille and had a short visit to the Cap Croisette. Before sunset we wanted to get to our next birding spot, the Verdon Natural Regional Park. I continue from there…

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

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.