Rarity hunting in the eastern Camargue

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

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

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

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

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

Birds seen at the spot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Étang de la Dame

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

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

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

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

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

Baisse de Cinq Cents Francs

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

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

They de Sainte-Ursule

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

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

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

 

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Exploring the amazing Camargue continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds seen at the Trabas de Jusiou

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

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

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

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

Birds seen from the seawall (500m radius)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Mediterranean specialities in the scorching hot Camargue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peaceful waters resulted no seabird specialities. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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

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

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

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

This trip was supported by Viking Optical.

Bonelli’s Eagle chase at the Massif des Alpilles

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

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

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

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

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

Spectacular sunrise over the Alpilles. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This trip was Supported by Viking Optical.

Preface for testing the Viking Optical flagship spotting scope

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day for Red Grouses

After our lovely dinner in Tarbet we drove through some spectacular landscapes in northwest Highlands towards Inverness. Our destination was another RSPB reserve near Corrimony just west of Loch Ness. We arrived late in the night with the last lights and were welcomed by the calls of Eurasian Curlews and Eurasian Oystercatchers from the nearby fields.

A relatively birdless scenery near Laxford Bridge, nortwest Highlands, Scotland. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Classic Scotish landscape with Loch Stach in the background. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We woke up early morning to be in the reserve with the highest bird activity. Over the car park 3 Common Merganser chased each other and a stunning Common Redstart were feeding from the fences along the road. This upland reserve is a combination of different habitats such as pine forest, moorland and Caledonian forest plantations managed by RSPB. Growing birch plantations in the moorland make the reserve even more interesting. We failed to see two target species in the forest, the Crested Tit and the Scottish Crossbill. In fact we couldn’t see any crossbills. We also couldn’t manage to see Red Grouses and Black Grouses although we heard them both. Red Grouse called right after we were out of the forest and we heard the bubbling calls of Black Grouses from the opposite hillside. We tried hard in the heather covered moorland but failed to find any grouse.

The small River Enrick runs across the reserve. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Most of the Spotted Flycatchers we saw along the River Enrick. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mixture of pastures and woodland on the lower elevations of the reserve. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Willow Warblers were singing everywhere from open habitats to birch covered moorland. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Moving further into the reserve we got to the Loch Comhnard where I hoped to see one of the local breeding waders, the Common Greenshank but again, we were not lucky. The route of a cycling event was through the reserve and there were lots of human activity on the trail in the morning. That might have affected our luck, but anyway we enjoyed the 5 km long trekking. 10 Sand Martin and a Barn Swallow were flying over the loch, Little Grebe was feeding with a company of Black-headed Gulls.

The most abundant species in the whole reserve was the Common Chaffinch (26 birds) followed by singing Willow Warblers (22). We had excellent views of singing Tree Pipits, Spotted Flycatchers, Mistle Thrush, European Siskins and 5 Lesser Redpolls. On the way back we saw a family of Eurasian Treecreeper with freshly fledged youngsters.

Loch Comhnard surrounded with heather. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From Corrimony I drove to the other side of Loch Ness through Inverness in a hope to find a Red Grouse or two. We stopped at the famous Loch Ness which obviously attracted a lots of tourist around the viewing points. Loch Ness itself is probably the simplest and most boring lake in Scotland, so generating this monster story is a quite understandable movement by the locals. From marketing point of view the legend of the Loch Ness Monster works well, judging it from our single visit in a very expensive gift shop.

A view to the famous Loch Ness. As we didn’t try hard enough we failed to see the Scottish monster. iPhone 6s Plus (Gyorgy Szimuly

From Inverness we drove across some extensive heathland when accidentally found ourselves in the car park of the RSPB Loch Ruthven Reserve. Thsi is one of the few nesting location of the gorgeous Slavonian Grebe or Horned Grebe. it was already raining when we walked to the bird hide but was heavily pouring while we were sitting in the hide with two other trapped Scottish birdwatchers. It wasn’t too difficult to find the Eared Grebes in immaculate breeding plumage. An attractive Little Grebe was also swimming just in front of the hide.

image.jpeg

Another lovely and special RSPB Reserve at the Loch Ruthven. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We didn’t want to waste too much time in the hide so we walked back to car. We got totally soaked in the downpour but we soon left the rain behind and continued searching for Red Grouses.

We experienced the unpredictable face of Scotland. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

On the way to Fort Augustus we drove through some beautiful upland moorland areas. We came across our first Scottish Red Kite near Aberarder. I made several stops for quick scanning for Red Grouses. On the hillside of Cairn Ardachy I spotted six Black Grouses feeding on the heather. As they were distant we set up the spotting scope and watched them for a few minutes.

In a hope to get a lovely coffee we made a short turn to the Foyers Falls. It was probably the worst experience during our whole stay in Scotland. The aged staff wasn’t too keen to focus on customers and above that some rude customers and the rubbish coffee made this break rapid. The only good thing was about this detour the finding of two singing Wood Warblers behind the coffee shop.

Continuing our way on the road B862 towards Fort Augustus, Dani spotted two Red Grouses just a few hundred meters from the Suidhe Viewpoint to the north. I Stopped immediately and we shortly found the constantly but slowly moving birds. The pair was with 8 chicks. We could enjoy clear view of a few chicks but the adults were quite elusive and escorted the chicks down to the valley. Our hard work paid off after all and Dani got another life bird. Happy times.

This is the only record shot I could take of the Red Grouse while escorting their chicks into safety. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A wider perspective of the upland moorland where we found the Red Grouses. iPhone 6s Plus© Gyorgy Szimuly

Once we were around we included a short visit to the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct which was opened for public railway services in 1901 after 4 years of construction. The viaduct has been a popular location choice for film makers including the Harry Potter movie series as probably the most known. Birdlife around the area was not any special but screaming Common Swifts and chirping Common House Martins over the viaduct created a nice atmosphere. It’s too bad that a train was passing on the viaduct when we were on our way back to the car.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct from one of the viewpoints. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Under the Glenfinnan Viaduct. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Crystal clear water of the River Finnan running under the viaduct into the Loch Shiel. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From this point birdwatching was ruined by family issues and we headed back home. All in all this Scottish trip was a wonderful escape from dailly pressure and almost permanent working without any holday since 2010. Based on what we experienced I am sure I will return to Scotland once I am able to get my professional bird photography gear again.

We love Scotland!

Seabirds of Handa Island – Part Two

Northern Fulmars were breeding in loose colonies on the cliffs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Northern Fulmars were breeding in loose colonies on the cliffs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The northwestern tip of the island, the first sport to see seabirds on nest, was a very noisy place with tens of thousands of seabirds, maily Alcids. Handa Island is the stronghold for the British population of Common Murre (Guillemots) with around 120,000 breeding pairs. The whole atmosphere was spectacular, the views on nearby seabirds through our mini Opticron scope was unbelievably intimate. There were as many seabirds on the sae as on the cliffs and skuas often patrolled over the water for some easy meal.

Following our way on the route we headed west and southwest of the island. We have passed the magnificent Great Stack sandstone pillar which alone holds more than 7,000 pars of Common Murre. We had very close views on Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins and Northern Fulmars touched our head while gliding over the cliffs. Rock Pipit songs and calls often broke the noise of the colonies and Northern Wheatears were active on the southern slopes in looking for food.

image

Common Mutres roosting rocks. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Sea Thrift Was blooming everywhere on the island. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Spectacular lone seacliff is hosting hundreds of Common Murre. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Close encounters of overflying Great Skuas are not uncommon on Handa Island. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

The graceful Northern Fulmar became one of my favourite seabirds. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

The wind and precipitation eroded these sandstone cliffs which is perfect nesting place for Common Murres and Razorbills. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

I enjoyed the view of a close Atlantic Puffin and the open ocean. It was really relaxing. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Guillemots are able to occupy the smallest edge for laying eggs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Hundreds of beautiful Razorbills were also nesting among Common Murres. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

The breeding success of everyone’s favourite and adorable seabird, the Atlantic Puffin might be lower this year as Brown Rats returned to the island. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Swimming and feeding Common Murres at sea. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Seabird-scape of Handa Island. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Nesting Northern Fulmar. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Northern Fulmar dispute over the nest burrow.. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Spectacular sea cliffs in the northwest part of the island. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

I believe this is a Heath Spotted Orchid. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Sweet warning to stay on the track. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Scenery from the top of the island. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Incredible vertical seawall holds tens of thousands of seabirds in Summer. iPhone 6s Plus

image

What a privilege is finding this cooperative Atlantic Puffin and having a breakfast next to it. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Puffins can melt the hardest heart. Simply beautiful bird. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

An elegant Razorbill was guarding next to its nest. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Razorbills were very active and flew to and off the cliff very often. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

If I had a sharp prime lens… Anyway, these photos are decent results from this Sony camera. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Razorbills were like photo models. They never stood still. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Communicating Northern Fulmar. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Northern Fulmar in flight. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Close-up flight shot of a Northern Fulmar. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

My favourite Razorbill photo from the island. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

This is the Great Stack. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Patrolling Great Skua over the cliffs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

This Razorbill was just three meters away from us. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Razorbill has an absolutely perfect plumage and it’s hard to believe it is actually a mass of feathers. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Atlantic Puffins are simply lovable creatures. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Razorbills have bright yellow mouth which is useful visual alarm in threat and also during display. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Another angle of the confiding Razorbill. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Incubating Northern Fulmar with its mate. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Singing Rock Pipit on a sea cliff. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

We found a couple of Rock Pipits on the island. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

It’s never enough to photograph Atlantic Puffins. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

It was a bit early in the season to see Atlantic Puffins full of fish in their beak. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Close view on Common Murres or Common Guillemots. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Wing flapping of an Atlantic Puffin. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Another seascape photo from the western side of Handa Island. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the southern end the habitat changed from rocky shores to sandy beaches and so its birdlife from seabird colonies to Arctic Tern colony and nesting Eurasian Oystercatchers and Common Ringed Plover.

image

Sandy beach on the southern part of the island and the rocks with Arctic Terns. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Adult male Northern Wheatear on its perch. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Adult female Northern Wheatear was busy in collecting food. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Beautiful colours everywhere. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

At the end of the 6km long trekking the Sun was about to shine again. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The last ferry was leaving at 16:45 and we decided to have a proper dinner in the Shorehouse Restaurant before we left for RSPB Corrimony Reserve. We had a healthy salmon with a mix of vegetables. We still had plenty of daylight for the next few hours of journey enabling enjoyment of the drive in the usually stunning northwest Highland.

image

On the way back to the Tarbet port in lovely sunshine. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Nice salmon dish from the Shorehouse Restaurant. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

 

Handa Island skua paradise

We woke up quite excited this morning knowing that in just a few hours we will be spending our time with thousands of seabirds. The lovely and for us, southern guys, the rarely heard Common Sandpiper territorial songs filled the whole bay. I want to wake up to this trilling song every day. What an underrated bird. As I sat on my ‘usual’ rock one of the Common Sanpipers flew high up to hillside and landed on a rock and started singing. It looked to be guarding over its nest or territory.

A well camouflaged Common Sandpiper on the hillside ner Tarbet harbour. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A well camouflaged Common Sandpiper on the hillside ner Tarbet harbour. Can you see it? Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

There was a surprising couple of Twite just landed in front me and started feed on the dead seaweed. They were soon followed by House Sparrows, Eurasian Linnets and 3 Lesser Redpolls. In the restaurant garden there was two Song Thrush, Rock Pigeons and an overflying European Siskin. At the hillside a Northern Wheatear and Barn Swallows were hunting.

Song Thrush on the top of a shed of the restaurant yard. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Song Thrush on the top of a shed of the restaurant yard. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The harbour was pretty calmed with a single Red-breasted Merganser a couple of Common Eider, 3 European Shags, 4 Eurasian Oystercatchers, 4 Razorbills, a Common Murre, an overflying Great Skua and of course gulls.

image

Rocks around the island provided roosting sites for Common Gulls, Arctic Terns and European Shags. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Male Red-breasted Merganser was fishing all morning in the harbour. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful morning with calm water. Sitting at the shore and switch off mind is the best thing one can do. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful morning with calm water. Sitting at the shore and switch off mind is the best thing one can do. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Herring Gull next to the restaurant. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Subadult European Herring Gull next to the ferry pier. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Just before 9AM the ticket office opened and we faced with a little challenge. On the Handa Island ferry website there was no mention about the ‘cash only’ ticket purchase and of course we had no cash with us. I suspected that when the first visitors arrived with cash in their hand. Unfortunately, there is no ATM in Tarbet so we had to miss the first crossing and pick up some cash from the slowest cash machine of the world in Scourie.

An hour later we finally jumped in the boat and in just 10 minutes we were greeted by a lovely girl, a local wardenwho gave a short introduction to the area then we started our 6km long trek. The first speciality was a dark form Arctic Skua which was standing next to its nest. On the way to the peak we passed some potential habitat of the few pairs of Red Grouse but we couldn’t find one. The whole island was under the reign of about 200 breeding pairs of Great Skua. I counted 49 of these formidable sea raptors on and around the island. It was a good introduction to the different colour phases of Arctic Skua for Dani, as both were present. The inner island has a relatively low diversity with just a couple of songbird species, including Meadow Pipit, European Sky Lark and Northern Wheatear but we saw Willow Warblers in the bushes and also British White or Pied Wagtails. Orchids were blooming along the wooden path.

Our first Arctic Skua on its guarding rock. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Our first Arctic Skua on its guarding rock. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The plumage of the Arctic Skua is almost seems like a velvet and even with the sharpest lens it would be hard to get feather details. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The plumage of the Arctic Skua is almost seems like a velvet and even with the sharpest lens it would be hard to get feather details. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Light morph Arctic Skua over its nest. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Whichever direction we looked to we saw incubating Great Skuas. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Arctic Skua silhouette against the cloudy sky. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

It was a fun to play with the camera on these tame birds

image

This Arctic Skua was standing just next to the footpath. There was a plenty of opportunities for terrific bird photography on the whole island. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A group of Great Skuas had long bath time in the freshwater pool. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A group of Great Skuas had long bath time in the freshwater pool. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

A flock of preening Great Skuas after having a bath. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Incubating Arctic Skua. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Great Skuas often returned to the pool for anouther round of bath after shaking most of the water off the feathers in flight. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Great Skuas off for patrolling over the cliffs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Great Skua is shaking water off the feathers after having a bath and returning to the pool again. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Dani is under attack by an Arctic Skua couple. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Dani could easily have touched these defending breeders. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

On the northern part of the island there was the big thing. Visitors, photographers and birdwatchers enjoyed the view of thousands of seabirds on the cliffs and on the sea around the colonies. Amazing numbers of Common Murre and Razorbill with dozens of Atlantic Puffin are breeding on the island. On the top of the island, possibly the only freshwater pool provided excellent bathing opportunities for a flock of Great Skuas with the company of a pair stunning Red-throated Loon.

End of Part One. To be continued…

Seabirds of the Butt of Lewis – Part 4

We walked to the viewing point of the reserve. It is almost impossible to get close to the birds and disturbe them through such a wet bog, so having a simple hand piled stone wall was more than enough and it is a less distracting element than a covered hide. From here we again successfully located the Red-necked Phalaropes. The pair was in the very same blooming vegetation in the middle of the lake. They were actively preening during our stay. There were not much bird activity over the boggy lands. Great Black-backed Gulls made a couple visits what kept the local Northern Lapwing pair busy. Two Dunlin, a European Golden Plover, a Common Ringed Plover, 2 Eurasian Curlew, 3 Eurasian Oystercatcher and 3 Common Redshank called from the other corner of the lake and sometimes overflying Red-throated Divers broke the European Sky Lark songs. Around the gate 7 Rock Pigeon, a Northern Wheatear, 5 Hooded Crow, 1 Common Cuckoo, 2 Meadow Pipit have been seen. This protected area was clearly not the most exciting RSPB reserve I have ever seen, but the fact that Red-necked Phalaropes are nesting here makes this place special.

This is a good place for absolute distraction-free birdwatching. Dani obviously enjoyed it. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Wild Rock Pigeon with local sheep. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Wild Rock Pigeon with local sheep. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

I quite liked watching these pigeons no matter how similar they were to the feral relatives in most of England. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Red-necked Phalaropes must be in this frame somewhere in the dense blooming vegetation. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is watching a Great Black-backed Gull mobbed by a Northern Lapwing. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Beautiful cotton field bog around the lake. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

RSPB viewing spot with 360° visibility. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We finished relatively early plenty of time remained until to get to Stornoway ferry port. We used this opportunity to explore the extreme northern part of Lewis. Anyway the whole island could comfortably be driven through within a few hours. On the way to the Butt of Lewis we stopped at a few exciting places. At Borve village we watched feeding Eurasian Oystercatchers and a Dunlin, roosting European Whimbrels and found an Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit in gorgeous breeding plumage at the rocky tidal area. The godwit later took off and disappeared over the ocean. It must be on its Icelandic breeding grounds by now. Over the sea dozens of Northern Gannet flew to the north, a Great Northern Diver (Common Loon) was feeding close to the shore and Northern Fulmars were gliding over the waves.On the cliffs a pair of Rock Pipits chased each other.

Mainly Eurasian Oystercatchers were feeding among these mossy rocks in this small intertidal zone. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

After an emergency breaking at the Loch Barabhat we enjoyed wonderful views of a surprising Whooper Swan couple. I recognized them immediately by their jizz. At the edge of the loch two Common Sandpiper were displaying while a territory defending Eurasian Curlew attacked overflying Great Skuas. All of a sudden more and more Great Skuas turned up from the wast boggy area from the other side of the road. We loved the stunning views of 10 birds soaring over the pond and moving slowly towards the ocean.

Stunning Whooper Swan couple was peacefully swimming on the lake. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

As we moved closer to the lake these Whooper Swans started singing. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A couple of the 10 Great Skuas soaring over the loch. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Reaching the northernmost village, Eoropie, we walked through a pasture where lots of Arctic Tern were flying over the rocks. As we got through a herd of sheep and rabbits we had 3 Northern Wheatear and a Meadow Pipit. This place is turned to be a breeding territory of Arctic Terns and Common Gulls and possibly European Shags. We had 36 Northern Fulmar, 40 Northern Gannet, 70 European Shag, 11 Eurasian Oystercatcher, 1 overflying European Whimbrel, 4 Common Murre, 2 juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake, 17 Common Gull (probably under-counted), 18 European Herring Gull, 3 Great Black-backed Gull, 120 Arctic Tern and 2 Rock Pipit.

Some adult Common Starlings were feeding on the lawn. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dani is trying to find a whale. Seawatching was very convenient with this tiny but powerful Opticron spotting scope. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Loose Arctic Tern colony on the rocks and on the shore. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

A few times all the birds blasted off the ground and loudly were flying around us. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Gulls were also nesting on the adjacent rocks. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The beauty of the elegant Common Gull is rather underestimated in breeding plumage. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The green ness in the background is the Butt of Lewis with the North Atlantic Ocean. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Most of the terns seemed breeding on this sandy, shell covered platform. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Arctic Terns over the colony. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Shags roosting on the rocks farest from the shore. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Ringed Common Gull on a fence in blue. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

A little road lead us the Butt of Lewis, the tip of the Hebrides.This is place is marked by a nice old lighthouse (which was built between 1859 and 1862) and exciting cliffs with hundreds of nesting seabirds.It was just after 10AM and we thought it was a perfect place to sit at the edge of the cliffs and having our well deserved breakfast. While having our breakfast Northern Fulmars glided centimeters from us. The wingtip of one of them even touched Dani’s hand. It is a truly spectacular place and knowing that there is no Great Britain’s land further to the west from this point. The cliffs were mainly occupied by European Herring Gulls, Northern Fulmars, Common Murres, Black-legged KittiwakesRock Pigeons and Rock Pipits, but we saw British Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Great Black-backed GullsNorthern Gannets and a Hooded Crow as well. Around the lighthouse a Northern Wheatear, a Barn Swallow and a British White Wagtail was singing. This place offers excellent opportunities for birds in flight photography with a good camera and fast lenses. Unfortunately, we couldn’t spot any whales from the calm ocean.

Lighthouse of the Butt of Lewis. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

For some reason people love photographing lighthouses, so do I. iPhone 6s Plus

Great Black-backed Gull is the king of these cliffs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Rock Pipit often made a visit to the yard of the lighthouse. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

This beautiful Sea Thrift is abundant around the coastal areas of Scotland and the Western Islands. it just makes the coastline even more beautiful in late May. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

How many shades of blue the ocean has. I whad been watching the waves for long long minutes and wondered why humans have been destroying this beautiful planet. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Northern Fulmar is one of my favourite seabirds. They were abundant around the colonies and their majectic flight was a pleasure to watch. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Most of the Northern Fulmars were incubating on their nest while the other parent were hunting over the ocean or rested around the nesting site. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

We didn’t really want to leave this place. Its remotness and extremetity is fascinating knowing that the next land behind this point to the west is North America itself. These cliffs have survived incredible storms and waves in the history and keep providing breeding spaces for the returning seabirds.
Our next primising trip was a ferry crossing bck to mainland Scotland from Stornoway to Ullapool. Interestingly it proved to be a bit different trip to compared to the crossing to Lochmaddy. During the 148 minutes the most abundant seabird was the Common Murre (183 birds counted but most probably a lot more overlooked). We had a Black-throated Diver, around 40 Northen Fulmar, 30 Northern Gannet, 3 European Shag, 3 Great Cormorant, 7 Great Skua, 1 Arctic Skua, 4 Razorbill, 3 Black Guillemot, 10 Atlantic Puffin, 93 Black-legged Kittiwake, 40 European Herring Gull, 1 British Lesser Black-backed Gull, 4 Great Black-backed Gull, 8 Common Tern, 3 Arctic Tern and a Common Raven (at Ullapool port). Just a few miles from Stornoway I saw bigger splashes in the water close to the ferry. I got real excited when I saw the large and tall dorsal fin and thought it was a group of Orca. I became a little suspicuous when I found that the fin was slightly bended backwards and not pointed upwards as the Orca’s. Based on my research on internet, the six animals I saw, must have been Risso’s Dolphins instead, although the body color was dark or even blackish (the Sun was behind me) and nothing close to grey or grayish and there were white patches in the side of the body. Feedback on this observation is much appreciated.
Stornoway Port from the ferry. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Stornoway Port from the ferry. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Spectacular hills emerge from the sea near Ullapool. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The happenings of the rest of the day will be summed up in my next blog post.

Further north in the Hebrides for Red-necked Phalaropes

The plan to explore the closer area around Lochboisdale early in the morning, died last night. My bed was ridiculously comfortable and I simply couldn’t wake up at 4AM. I tried hard again at 5AM and I thought at 6AM I will jump out of the bed. It just didn’t work. At 7AM the lady of the house knocked on the door saying that the preordered classic English breakfast was already on the table. The breakfast was nice. Well, sort of… Dani still needs to get to used to this sausage and mushroom thing. After we checked out we headed back to the north to catch our ferry from Berneray to Leverburgh allowing enough time for birding slong the way.

As we got some insight of the birdlife of the west coast of the Uists, I wanted to see how the landscape and its birdlife changes on the eastern part (east of the A865 road). Our first stop was at the Loch Eynort which is a massive but narrow loch at the beginning but turns into a huge loch towards the Sea of the Hebrides. As most of them, this loch is enclosed by hills and higher mountains. The 620 meter high Beinn Mhòr looked to be very promising for Golden Eagle, from the other side of the loch. A pair of Red-breasted Merganser moulting into breeding plumage provided cracking views, then further to the east we heard a Corncrake, but annoyingly it didn’t pop out of the grass. From the foothills a Common Cuckoo was calling Near the Pier at the bottom of the Beinn Bheag Dheas, a familair bird song emerged from the tiny scrub. It took a good 5 minutes before we had perfect views of the endemic Hebridean subspecies of Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes t. hebridensis). This unusually pale wren was busy in collecting nest materials from the lichen covered scrub and mossy rocks. Over the little cottages wild Rock Pigeons flew.

Bad angle shot of the Red-breasted Merganser pair feeding just under the bridge. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Bad angle shot of the Red-breasted Merganser pair feeding just under the bridge. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Panoramic view of the Loch Eynort at low tide. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From the other side of the loch we had much better view to the opposite hills, the Beinn Bheag Dheas and the giant Beinn Mhòr. We started scanning the mountain ridge in a hope to catch a gliding or soaring Golden Eagle and after two minites a majestic bird flew opposite to us. Dani quickly spotted the scope on it and we enjoyed the view until it descended in the valley of the two named hills. Unfortunately, we couldn’t spot it again.

image

The cloudy Beinn Mhòr is the highest hill of the South Uist with the 167m high Beinn Bheag Dheas in front of it. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Just after returned to A865 a Merlin entered a nesting territory of a Northern Lapwing pair. It took just a fraction of a moment for the lapwings to start chasing away the intruder – with success.

By crossing the lovely Bagh nam Faoileann strait we took a left turn to possibly the only Red-necked Phalaorpes site in Benbecula. A NatureTrek team was already at the site and saw Red-necked Phalarope sleeping in the vegetation at one the little islands. The bird was later disturbed by a pair of Common Shelduck and flew to the other small island. It wasn’t a satisfying view so we left the area after a 20 minutes wait.

image

This is the gorgeous An Ceòthan bay with sandy dunes just next to the Benbecula Airport. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Driving through the azure Oitir Mhòr intertidal zone. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Our deadline to catch to booked ferry approached slowly but we allowed a few minutes for ourselves to try for a better view of the Black-billed Cuckoo. At the same house a small group of twitchers looked at one direction at our arrival. I slowly and quietly pulled over and we were ready for the bird to reunite. It was out sight for a more than 10 minutes when I saw a bird movement from the other side of the yard. I was the only one looking to the opposite direction and when I spotted the cuckoo one of the twitchers had to say, – That must be a House Sparrow. – without even raised his binoculars. I was sure in what I saw and walked to the other side of the hedge where the Black-billed Cuckoo was sitting on the fence with no cover at all.

image

This is one of the 16 Black-bellied Cuckoos ever recorded in Britain. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Black-billed Cuckoo frequently used this fence for looking for insects and catepilar larvae.

image

More detial of finding this spectacular bird was published in the BirdGuides online Webzine (click on the photo for getting the article) Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

After the cuckoo watching we headed to the port of Berneray to check in on time. I don’t know how, but even with GPS navigation in front of my nose, I missed a junction and almost missed the ferry check-in. Thanks to the drivers with the same risk of being delayed, I quickly and easily adopted to their racing style and got in the lane three minutes before deadline.

At the tiny Berneray ferry port a Spotted Flycatcher was flycatching. I was looking forward to have another ferry crossing which this time took only 1 hour. The ferry crossed the Sound of Harris between Berneray and South Harris zigzagging between small islets. As I expected it was quite birdy. 12 Red-throated Divers crossed this small strait during this single hours. I’m not sure they were still in migration or just moved in an out between inland nesting sites and the open sea for feeding. The strait must be rich in food as Northern Gannets were actively hunting around the ferry. A Great Skua and Arctic Skua was flying northeast and around 90 Arctic Terns were hunting around the islets and larger rocks. We haven’t seen to many alcids but Black Guillemots was the most abundant among them with 28 birds.

Ferry crossing the Sound of Harris. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Ferry crossing the Sound of Harris. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Rocky islets accross the ferry route. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Rocky islets accross the ferry route. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From Leverburgh we drove west on the A859 and enjoyed the spectacular scenery, the sea, the mosaic of sandy and rocky beaches with emerging hills straight from the other side of the road. We passed the beautiful Blue Reef Cottages offering amazing view to the North Atlantic Ocean.

We couldn’t resist walking into the shallow water of the large intertidal sandflat between Northton and Scarista and enjoying the close company of a small feeding shorebird community including 12 Eurasian Oystercatcher, 2 Northern Lapwing, 1 Common Ringed Plover, 4 Common Redshank, 1 Dunlin, 4 Black-headed Gull, 2 Common Gull and 6 European Herring Gull. At the coastal marshes we heard a singing territorial Dunlin, found a family of Northern Lapwing and an incubating Eurasian Oystercatcher which kept an eye of a patrolling Common Raven.

image

Beautiful sandy intertidal zone with crystal clear shallow water preferred by shorebirds. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Dani enjoyed the warming up water in the chilli wind. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Guarding Northern Lapwing over it's chicks. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Guarding Northern Lapwing over it’s chicks. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Another interesting Eurasian Oystercatcher nest just at the edge of the main road photographed from a wider perspective. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Beutiful shiny oystercatcher eggs. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Northern Lapwing chicks are master of hiding when parents are alarming. We didn’t manage to locate them in the grass until they started feeding again. It’s just fascinating. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

It’s very hard to think about birdwatching when driving through such places like this stunning bay. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Almost every bay, like this, had a few Eurasian Oystercatchers or European Herring Gulls. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Dani promised himself to swim in the ocean no matter how cold it was. I joined him and hell, it was a freezing 8°C cold. I couldn’t feel my legs and pretty much anything… iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

While Dani was swimming and enjoying photographing in the cold water, like a good dad, I prepared our beach style breakfast. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

This was the beach where we stopped for doing something different than birding. Of course I kept my eyes on the distant waters. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Just another visual orgasm from Scotland. Could you believe it? iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

image

Son and his dad selfie time. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

From this beautiful coastal area we started our journey up to the north to the Loch na Muilne RSPB Reserve which is known to be another nesting site for Red-necked Phalaropes. On the way, at Arivruaich, we stopped to watch European Golden Plovers flying over the road, but we couldn’t manage find them on the hillside moorland.

image

Away from the coastline we drove through magical lochs, hills and moorlands. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

We arrived late and it was very cold there. We managed to make a short visit to the viewpoint just to know where we go next morning. We did see a Red-necked Phalarope pair, a few Eurasian Curlew, Northern Lapwing, Rock Pigeons and a lot of Common Starlings were flying for roosting to the cliffs at the shore. The night was very cold and misty.