125,000th ringed birds

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A moment from Tibor Krúg’s life long passion for bird ringing. © Daniel Szimuly

Two days ago a fantastic milestone has been reached by one of the most experienced bird ringer from my homeland in Hungary. Tibor Krúg, a Hungarian ringer had his 125,000th ringed bird, a Barn Swallow, which was an extraordinary achievement of an individual bird ringer.

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Tibi with his 125,000th ringed bird, a Barn Swallow. © Daniel Szimuly

I met Tibi in the late 80s for the fist time when a few of us decided to start organised summer bird ringing at the local wetland, the Ferencmajor fishponds near the village of Naszály. Tibi has been playing key role in the Ferencmajor Bird Ringing Camp (now a ringing station) since the beginning. In the 90s I had the privilege to work with him and to enjoy his special storytelling and he always made us laugh. His enthusiasm for bird ringing is unquestionable and we would fail to mention a case when he said, “it is impossible to trap that bird…” If he failed, he tried again and again.

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Barred Warbler is one of Tibi’s favourite birds to ring and it is a regular visitor in the bird ringing camp. © Daniel Szimuly

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A day like this could help Tibi to reach his next milestone. This image was taken a few days ago when the ringer marked more than 400 birds. © Daniel Szimuly

Born in 1952, he ringed his first bird back in 1979. It was a Rook, as he remembered, but ringing data was only available from 1980. Twice in his bird ringing career he ringed over 10,000 individual birds within a year. According to him, the best ringed birds were Arctic or Black-throated Loon, White-backed Woodpecker and Yellow-browed Warbler. He also have some remarkable recoveries including a Little Stint ringed in the far Siberian Russia.

During the 36 years of bird ringing he inspired a lot of young birders to start ringing and also taught dozens for proper identification and handling of birds. From here I would like to congratulate Tibi for this great achievement and I wish him to be able to reach the next major milestone in a few years time.

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New technologies, like this special canopy net, helped Tibi to easily get some special birds, like European Golden Orioles, which otherwise would be very hard to trap. © Daniel Szimuly

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My first ever shorebird research program

I was excitedly reading a recent e-mail received from the Head of the Bird Ringing Centre of BirdLife Hungary who confirmed that my application to study the migration of Little Ringed Plovers in Hungary was accepted and permitted. Now I can start to work on my first ever shorebird research program in detail as there is a lot to do. The breeding season is at the corner and we have to be in a hurry to get everything sorted by April.

The Little Ringed Plover is one of the commonest breeding shorebird species in Hungary. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Little Ringed Plover is one of the commonest breeding shorebird species in Hungary. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The program is about studying the migration of Little Ringed Plovers and learning more about the demography of the Hungarian (Central European) population. It is still not confirmed whether Serbia will join the program, but very likely they do. Resident and migratory Little Ringed Plovers will be ringed by inscribed colour-rings what is relatively easy to read in the field. By the rather extensive observation network in Europe higher number of recoveries are expected than by the usage of a single metal ring.

This study is now a part of the WorldWaders Research Program Series what is going to support the New Shorebirds Handbook Project. It sounds complicated, but in fact, I have worked long hours on it to make this integration simple.

Spectacular mega flock video of grackles and blackbirds

Megaflock of grackles and blackbirds in Indiana. Image courtesy of Steve Gifford

Megaflock of grackles and blackbirds in Indiana. Image courtesy of Steve Gifford

I came across this truly unimaginable video posted on Facebook today, showing a real birding spectacle what not every day one can witness. Steve Gifford’s caption tells everything.

This is just a 60-second clip of a flock of grackles and blackbirds that took 20 minutes to pass by.

This short video was taken at the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge near Oakland City, Indiana.

When I watched this video I tried to imagine the what that famous Passenger Pigeon migration could have been. A single giant flock was thought to be 1 mi (1.5 km) wide and 300 mi (500 km) long. The flock was passing over an area in southern Ontario in 1866 what took 14 hours, and held in excess of 3.5 billion birds! I have no idea how many birds flew over the Patoka Rover WR in this video but this was just a fraction of the spectacle.

Video possibly doesn’t appear under Safari but works fine with Chrome!
Mega flock of grackles and blackbirds

Massive Spotted Flycatcher flock in England

I normally don’t post birding news from the other parts of the country, especially not, if I am not there. Probably I should… Today, however, I couldn’t resist not to post a few lines about the massive migrating flock of Spotted Flycatchers seen by birdwatchers this morning at the Portland Bird Observatory in Dorset, south England. Looking at the site on the map it suggests that this could be a very attractive spot, an entry point, during spring migration.

Spotted Flycatcher by Nikolai Petkov.

Spotted Flycatcher by Nicky Petkov.

Spotted Flycatcher by Yoav Perlman.

Spotted Flycatcher by Yoav Perlman.

On his Twitter feed, Martin Cade, from the Portland Bird Observatory (@PortlandBirdObs) reported 550 birds at around 9AM but by 11AM he estimated their number well over 1,000!!! Most of the birds just flew over the area while some landed in the gardens.

This was such a remarkable moment in bird migration and an event what is not possible to witness every year! According to the tweet of Graham Appleton, the Director of Communications at BTO (@GrahamBTO), it gives hope that the British population hasn’t crashed.

BTO was concerned by actual status of the Spotted Flycatcher  population based on the BirdTrack graph.

BTO was concerned with the actual status of the British population of Spotted Flycatcher based on the BirdTrack graph.

To add something personal to this post, I have still been waiting for the first Spotted Flycatcher to see in the United Kingdom. I hope in the coming days they appear in one of my local patches.

Thanks to Nicky Petkow and Yoav Perlman for letting me use their images!

The spectacular Norfolk

After a successful business event on Saturday it was a gift to spend a whole day with my Hungarian friend, Attila Seprényi, around the northern coastline of Norfolk. He’s also a wader fan, living in Sweden, but been on a training here in the UK for a few weeks. I haven’t met him for about 15 years though we have been keeping in touch for a while now. I wish we had more time together but there is no complaint. Today was magical.

We headed early in the morning to north Norfolk to see waders and possibly find some life birds for Sepi. Departing before 3AM on Sunday was a very good idea. The roads were almost empty so by the first lights we arrived the Titchwell RSPB Nature Reserve. It definitely is one of my favorite sites in England, however I haven’t yet been to most of the other British birding sites.

While it is not visible on the image, the light fog was descended on the waters soon after sunrise. © Gyorgy Szimuly

While it is not visible on the image, the light fog was descended on the waters soon after sunrise. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The waters were still and peaceful. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The waters were still and peaceful. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Muddy islands were occupied by nesting Pied Avocets. They were not worried by our presence at all despite being about 5 meters away from us. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The morning was simply gorgeous. Birds sang everywhere in the misty willow scrubs and reedbeds. I simply wanted to freeze the moment when the sun tried to shine through the light fog. The pictures (taken by iPhone 4s) don’t really give the atmosphere back but yet gives some idea. Nobody was on the trails what was really good. The whole reserve was ours. As we entered the main footpath, I heard a Cetti’s Warbler singing and it soon jumped up to the top of the scrub. We couldn’t spot the scope on it as it moved fast and flitted from scrub to the willow trees. Eurasian Reed Warblers (birders in the UK have already named it Western Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus for some reason), Common Reed Buntings, Eurasian Wren and Sedge Warblers were singing everywhere. Attila spotted a Turtle Dove and we found a Western Marsh Harrier gracefully flying over the reedbeds. As we approached the tidal zone of the North Sea we had some excellent views on Common Redshanks, Common Linnets and Meadow Pipits. A nice number of Pied Avocets have been nesting on the main pool. I saw many birds incubating.

Sand dunes are a unique and beautiful part of the Norfolk coastline. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sand dunes are a unique and beautiful part of the Norfolk coastline. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grassy sand dunes are like natural dams. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grassy sand dunes are like natural dams. © Gyorgy Szimuly

When we crossed the beautiful sand dune we found ourselves at the beach with starting low tide. The view from the dune towards the sea was exceptional for us. A nice number of Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones and Eurasian Oystercatchers were just in front of us. That was really the moment of the morning birding. As we scanned the sea we found two Northern Fulmars flying away over the sea. Later, over the misty waters, more fulmars were coming but we also saw about 660 Common Scoters flying from east to west. Some were swimming close to us. Distant Northern Gannets were flying over the sea while Little Terns and Sandwich Terns were hunting close to the shoreline. In a small flock of Bar-tailed Godwits a Red Knot, in advanced breeding plumage were seen. While watching feeding Sanderlings, a nice flock Brants Goose landed on the shallow pools.

Wide sandy beach at low tide. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Wide sandy beach at low tide. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sand dunes from the sea side. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sand dunes from the sea side. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Bed of Razor Shells were the favourite feeding site for dozens of Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling. Some birds should be on this image. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Bed of Razor Shells was the favourite feeding site for dozens of Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling. Some birds should be visible on this image. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Attila is scanning the mixed flock of waders. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Attila is scanning the mixed flock of waders. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The 'subject' of my favourite shorebird from my childhood, the Eurasian Oystercacther. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The ‘subject’ of my favourite shorebird from my childhood, the Eurasian Oystercacther. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Footprint of Eurasian Oystercatcher. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Footprint of a Eurasian Oystercatcher. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Marks by the running water. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Marks in the sand by the running water. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Home of Eurasian Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and other songbirds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Home of Eurasian Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and other songbirds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Informative interior of the main hides of Titchwell. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We could enjoy Meadow Pipit 'wall to wall' through our binoculars. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We could enjoy Meadow Pipit ‘wall to wall’ through our binoculars. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Complete list of birds seen at Titchwell:

Greylag Goose 16
Brent Goose (bernicla ssp.) 72
Mute Swan 4
Common Shelduck 21
Gadwall 6
Mallard  20
Northern Shoveler 4
Red-crested Pochard 1
Common Pochard 4
Tufted Duck 18
Common Eider (mollissima ssp.) 2
Common Scoter 660
Red-legged Partridge 2
Little Grebe 1
Great Crested Grebe 4
Northern Fulmar (glacialis ssp.) 6
Northern Gannet 3
Great Cormorant 8
Little Egret 2
Eurasian Spoonbill 1
Eurasian Marsh Harrier 2
Common Moorhen 4
Eurasian Coot 13
Northern Lapwing 3
Grey Plover 26
Common Ringed Plover (hiaticula ssp.) 14, (tundrae ssp.) 3
Eurasian Oystercatcher 155
Pied Avocet 46
Common Sandpiper 1
Common Redshank 12
Eurasian Curlew 5
Black-tailed Godwit 31
Bar-tailed Godwit 66
Ruddy Turnstone 105
Red Knot (canutus ssp.) 11
Sanderling 150
Dunlin 17
Black-legged Kittiwake 1
Black-headed Gull 130
European Herring Gull (argentatus ssp.) 220
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Little Tern 17
Common Tern 10
Sandwich Tern 6
Common Wood Pigeon 38
Common Cuckoo 1
Common Swift 7
Common Magpie 3
Eurasian Jackdaw 4
Eurasian Skylark 6
Barn Swallow 26
Great Tit 3
European Blue Tit 1
Eurasian Wren 9
Cetti’s Warbler 1
Willow Warbler 2
Common Chiffchaff 2
Sedge Warbler X
Eurasian Reed Warbler X
European Blackcap 3
Garden Warbler 2
European Robin 4
Eurasian Blackbird 4
Song Thrush 1
Dunnock 1
Meadow Pipit 9
Common Reed Bunting 9
Common Chaffinch 5
European Goldfinch 5
Common Linnet 8

We have been hesitating whether to stay on the Titchwell bach or try for another famous site, the Snettisham RSPB reserve. We we were not advised to go there as the high tide wasn’t good enough to enjoy the wader spectacle. More about it later…

Higher and wider sand dunes of Holme. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Higher and wider sand dunes of Holme. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We then stopped at another nature reserve, the Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve near Holme-next-the-Sea. That is a beautiful site with a mix of different habitats such as salt marshes, sand dunes, small pools and sandy beach. Is is edged by a golf course where Eurasian Oystercatchers were feeding.

As we approached the beach I found a Eurasian Oystercatcher nest with four eggs. Soon after a large family arrived and started to unpack for a picnic just 10 m away from the nest. I was worried about the nest so asked them kindly to consider moving a bit further on the beach to save that nest. Surprisingly they were cooperative and understood the situation. Within the restricted area we found several territories/nests of Eurasian Oystercatcher and Common Ringed Plover. At the western edge of this area a Common Redshank was guarding, possibly over its nest.

Nice variety of different coastal habitats. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Nice variety of different coastal habitats. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Warning sign for beach nesting birds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Warning sign for beach nesting birds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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‘Nest’ of Eurasian Oystercatcher outside the restricted area. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Oystercatcher nest. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A bit closer view of the Eurasian Oystercatcher nest. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Black-legged Kittiwake, flying close to the shore, was a nice addition to the daily bird list. We sat on the beach where Sanderlings were feeding. The water pushed them towards us. They were mainly in transition plumages but many of them were in advanced stages of moulting. I loved to watch every feather detail through the scope. While Sepi tried to digiscope the Sandperlings, I spotted a Common Dolphin and a Common Seal.

The checklist of the Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve:

Common Shelduck 6
Mallard 6
Great Crested Grebe 1
Northern Fulmar (glacialis ssp.) 1
Northern Gannet 13
Great Cormorant 3
Little Egret 2
Common Ringed Plover (hiaticula ssp.) 12
Eurasian Oystercatcher 44
Common Redshank 3
Black-tailed Godwit 25
Sanderling 130
Black-legged Kittiwake (tridactyla ssp.)  1
Common Gull 2
European Herring Gull (argentatus ssp.)  11
Sandwich Tern 12
Common Wood Pigeon 2
Common Swift 3
Common Kestrel 1
Eurasian Jackdaw 5
Eurasian Skylark 4
Barn Swallow 13
Lesser Whitethroat 1
Dunnock 2
Meadow Pipit 6
Common Linnet 4

Despite the high tide was just over we made another leg of the already successful trip in north Norfolk. Snettisham is the place for huge wader flocks and what else two wader lovers need than such an experience. I was happy to visit Snettisham even though we had been told the site wasn’t really worth to visit due to the lack of really high tide.

After a long walk towards the hides, where I have never been to, we saw the a large flock of waders flying over the sea wall. Slow walk turned into a hurried run to get a better view on the mudflat as soon as possible. The majority of the flock were Red Knots. I estimated about 1,500 birds in that flock. Reaching the top of the sea wall was a real WOW factor for both of us. Not only by the view of the vast area of the Wash but the huge number of shorebirds whirling over the fresh mud. That was one spectacular view we wanted to see. Conditions weren’t good indeed, yet it was amazing to see that high number of waders.

The vast mudflat of the Wash at low tide. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The vast mudflat of the Wash at low tide. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The large colonies of Black-headed Gulls are easy to watch from the hides. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The large colonies of Black-headed Gulls are easy to watch from the hides. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A pair of European Herring Gull attacked the Black-headed Gull colony without success. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A pair of European Herring Gull attacked the Black-headed Gull colony without success. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Non incubating Pied Avocets were feeding on the little pools of the mudflat of the Wash. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Non incubating Pied Avocets were feeding on the little pools of the mudflat of the Wash. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The water was running away from the shoreline so fast and birds moved accordingly to feed on the fresh mud. Another challenge was the haze over the area which limited the visibility. Anyway we estimated the numbers and tried to determine species composition. The most abundant species was the Red Knot, with about 4,500 birds, followed by nearly 2,500 Bar-tailed Godwits. Other birds included Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin a few Eurasian Curlew and Common Redshank. Interestingly here we saw more Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits in full colourful breeding plumage than in Titchwell (None was in Titchwell!).

In the pits, behind the sea wall we watched the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls nesting on the islands. I was amazed by the large Pied Avocet colony. In the larger colony 64 birds were sitting on the ground. They were most probably incubating. On the western side of the pit another 10-20 birds were possibly nesting. In front of the first hide Black-headed Gulls were feeding in the ditch of the mudflat with 5 beautiful adult Mediterranean Gulls among them. Along the sea wall I mapped nesting Eurasian Oystercatchers and Common Ringed Plovers.

List of birds seen in the Snettisham RSPB Reserve:

Greylag Goose 8
Brent Goose 25
Canada Goose 2
Mute Swan 1
Common Shelduck 50
Gadwall 2
Mallard 8
Tufted Duck 2
Common Scoter 1
Grey Partridge 1
Great Cormorant 8
Little Egret 3
Eurasian Marsh Harrier 1
Common Moorhen 3
Eurasian Coot 4
Northern Lapwing 3
Grey Plover 65
Common Ringed Plover 25
Eurasian Oystercatcher 420
Pied Avocet 140
Common Redshank 20
Eurasian Curlew 10
Black-tailed Godwit 800
Bar-tailed Godwit 2,400
Red Knot 4,500
Dunlin 300
Black-headed Gull 650
Mediterranean Gull 5
European Herring Gull (argentatus ssp.)  60
Common Tern 8
Sandwich Tern 2
Common Wood Pigeon 12
Eurasian Collared Dove 1
Common Swift 7
Common Magpie 2
Eurasian Jackdaw 9
Barn Swallow 13
European Blue Tit 1
Sedge Warbler 5
Common Whitethroat 3
Song Thrush 1
European Starling 2
Dunnock 2
Pied Wagtail (yarellii ssp.)  2
Reed Bunting 1
Common Chaffinch 2
European Goldfinch 3
Common Linnet 2

What a fantastic day we had. Today, again, verified that I have lived on a wrong part of the country and I have to find a home close, if not next to the Wash. Attila had two and half (non-native Red-legged Partridge) lifers today what he has been happy with (just like with the wader spectacle what amazed both of us).

Nocturnal migration experiences in a city

Many birds migrate during the night so do the shorebirds. Hearing the calls of passing by birds over a wetland is an everyday story but seeing them overflying is really a rare experience. Since I moved to Milton Keynes I have heard/seen overflying waders in complete darkness in the middle of the city. First I heard a Eurasian Stone-curlew over our Conniburrow home on 18 September 2012. On 21 March 2013 a Eurasian Oystercatcher called over the Stephenson House in Bletchley. On 22 April 2013 two different Common Sandpipers were calling over the Saxon Street at the west side of the CMK Shopping Centre.

Last night, at 23:25 I could even see and count the overflying shorebirds at the exact same place where the Common Sandpipers were calling. First I noticed their calls then, as the street lights reflected on the their belly and underwings, I could see them as well. By the shape, their call and the characteristic of the underwing pattern, I identified them Bar-tailed Godwits. 12 birds flew together towards the northern direction. The local birders would probably just flick (and laugh) on this news. I was really shocked to see them flying that low in the middle of a big city.

Have swallows returned… to wintering grounds?

For me Barn Swallows are the symbol of spring. © Gyorgy Szimuly

For me Barn Swallows are the symbol of spring. © Gyorgy Szimuly

It might be that I am new to the birds and birding in the United Kingdom, but probably the basic principle in bird migration hasn’t changed. In the Northern Hemisphere most of the birds are migratory and spend the winter off their breeding grounds. Swallows are no exceptions. They travel as far as South Africa to enjoy the Austral summer.

In every March I am excitedly looking at the sky and try to pick up the first swallows which is definitely a sign of the end of the winter days. This March I did the same, just like I have been doing it for about 40 years. Then I neither wasn’t able to find one in the first two weeks of April in England despite arriving birds have been reported through Twitter. On the 15th of April I found 2 Barn Swallows and 2 Sand Martins over the Blue Lagoon Park.

Now it is close to the end of April and, despite my efforts, NO swallows have been seen on a daily basis. Today I found the sky completely swallow-free in perfect warm and sunny weather in Central Milton Keynes, as well as in Bletchley. Very few birds have been appearing so far. In Hungary, where I was grown-up, the first swallow chicks normally hatch in May. Now they have not even started mating…

A few questions need to be answered:

– Is swallow migration that different in the UK than in Central Europe?

– Is the city center of Milton Keynes that sterile for swallows to build a healthy breeding population, hence they are absent or restricted to villages?

– Have they already returned to wintering grounds (just a sarcastic question)?