My Global Shorebird Counting contribution

Work and family duties didn’t allow too much time in the field but I managed to get out to the nearby hotspot. It wasn’t particularly shorebirdy but I enjoyed to see some birds.

Incoming Canada Geese. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Preening Greylag Geese. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Good numbers of Greylag Goose and Canada Goose arrived from the nearby fields for preening and drinking. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A few Northern Lapwing among Black-headed Gulls and large flock of Canada Goose. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Incoming Greylag Geese. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Successful fishing of Great Crested Grebe. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Adult Great Crested Grebe was peacefully approaching the pool in front of the Viaduct hide. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Sandpipers are peak on migration. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Juvenile Common Sandpiper was just in front of the hide. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Calling juvenile Common Sandpiper. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Here is what I found at Manor Farm, Wolverton.

Greylag Goose 170
Canada Goose 638 (Large flocks arrived from the nearby fields)
Mute Swan 16
Mallard 86
Northern Shoveler 23
Green-winged Teal 8
Common Pochard 1
Tufted Duck 5
Little Grebe 6
Great Crested Grebe 2
Great Cormorant 6
Gray Heron 3
Little Egret 6
Water Rail 1
Eurasian Moorhen 26
Eurasian Coot 51
Northern Lapwing 18
Common Snipe 3
Common Sandpiper 6
Green Sandpiper 3
Black-headed Gull 469
Common Wood-Pigeon 20
Common Kingfisher 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker 3
Merlin 1
Eurasian Jay 2
Eurasian Magpie 15
Eurasian Jackdaw 8
Carrion Crow 15
Barn Swallow 9
Common House-Martin 2
Eurasian Blue Tit 20
Great Tit 6
Long-tailed Tit (A. c. europaeus) 24
Eurasian Treecreeper 2
Eurasian Wren 16
Common Chiffchaff (P. c. collybita) 3
Eurasian Blackcap 1
Greater Whitethroat 1
European Robin 18
Eurasian Blackbird 5
European Starling 1
Dunnock 11
Gray Wagtail 1
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 7
Reed Bunting 2
Common Chaffinch 2
Eurasian Bullfinch 2
European Goldfinch 9
Eurasian Linnet 2

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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

Lifers at the sea

Three hours after I arrived home from the Birdfair ‘Birds and Beers’ afterparty I picked up my older daughter, Szandra for a day trip to Portland Bill. We haven’t been out together for years so it was just about time. I targeted to find a Balearic Shearwater which I missed to see in the previous years. Despite the three hours long drive mainly in pouring rain we had a very pleasant weather at our arrival. Sun came out and the visibility was decent although we had a very strong wind. A couple of birders with scope found at a wind-protected area next to the lighthouse.

A view from the lighthouse to the Race. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Early starters at the lighthouse. © Gyorgy Szimuly

There was a large flock of Northern Gannet and some European Herring Gull over the Portland Race. The Race looked spectacular as the top of the waves were sprayed away by the strong guts. Shortly a couple of Manx Shearwater appeared and flew towards the west. One of the birders scanned the race and spotted a most probably European Storm Petrel through his scope. I stood next to him but with my binoculars it was impossible to spott a swallow-sized seabird over themassive waves. He lost the bird almost immediately as disappeared behind the waves. It would have been a life bird for me.

Some very lovely birdwatchers arrived at the spot and some of them seemed to be real experts on seabirds. They soon spotted the first Balearic Shearwaters among Manx Shearwaters. They were not to far and I could see the plumage differences between the Manx and Balearic Shearwater. I had a nice chat with the leading birder of the group and he showed me a few more Balearic Shearwater through his Swarovski spotting scope. I was so happy about the view it provided. He also spotted a storm petrel but I missed it again.

Dunlin

Balearic Shearwater by Juhani Vilpo

Later this birder and another lovely lady found a larger shearwater with much longer wings than the Manx’s have. I could spot it and even through binoculars it looked to be larger with dark upperparts and contrasting white underwing. The underwing was too strikingly white for Sooty Shearwater. It was a Cory’s Shearwater. Just minutes later a Cory’s Shearwater was reported, heading towards the Race, by the Portland Bill Observatory staff.

Cory's Shearwater

Cory’s Shearwater by Xavier Martínez

eBird checklist from Portland Bill (07:50 – 10:52):

Northern Fulmar 7
Cory’s Shearwater 1
Manx Shearwater 27
Balearic Shearwater 5
Northern Gannet 130
Great Cormorant 3
European Shag 6
Common Murre 1
Black-legged Kittiwake 3
Mediterranean Gull 2
European Herring Gull 68
Great Black-backed Gull 19
Eurasian Jackdaw 2
Carrion Crow 3
Rock Pipit 8
Eurasian Linnet 2

Great Black-backed Gulls were flying against the wind over the Bill. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Me watching the passing shearwaters in a little rock shelter. © Szandra Szimuly

This boat must have a had a very rough ride next to the Race. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Juvenile European Herring Gull in the quarry of the Bill. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Enjoying coffee at the Bill with Szandra. © Szandra Szimuly

Spectacular view to the Chesil Beach and the Portland Harbour with the village. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Spectacular view to the Chesil Beach and the Portland Harbour with the village. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another photo of the Portland Harbour.

Another photo of the Portland Harbour.

From the Bill we drove to the Ferrybridge where waders were waiting for low tide. A small flock of roosting Mediterranean Gull and a few Dunlin with two Common Ringed Plover were close to the bridge. As salt water started to recede small flock of waders arrived for feeding. While we had lunch in the cafe two Ruddy Turnstone and an Eurasian Oystercatcher joined the feeding wader flock. Unfortunately, tourists and visitors don’t respect the small area and disturbance was quite frequent.

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Roosting Mediterranean Gulls at the Fleet. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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A view to the Fleet from the Ferrybridge. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Feeding flock of Dunlin and Common Ringed Plover. © Gyorgy Szimuly

(Ferrybridge eBird checklist (11:39 – 13:30):

Eurasian Oystercatcher 1
Common Ringed Plover 46
Ruddy Turnstone 2
Sanderling 1
Dunlin 136
Black-headed Gull 5
Mediterranean Gull 73
European Herring Gull 6
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Sandwich Tern 2
Eurasian Linnet 2

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Standing on the Chesil Beach of Portland. © Szandra Szimuly

I have been in the darkest emotional depths with hopelessness in the last couple of months but this should be over now. This weekend was and excellent breakthrough and hopefully many will come.

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

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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.

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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!

Self found rarity: Iceland Gull

After some shopping in Ullapool we headed further up north to a tiny village at the west coast, called Tarbet. This is a village where we will have boat ride from tomorrow morning to the adjacent Handa Island, a real paradise for seabirds including breeding skuas. From Ullapool we drove through some astonishing landscapes and habitats. Scotland is truly magical just as we’ve been told by everyone ever visited this part of Great Britain. Birdlife was pretty much the same on most of the open areas. European Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were singing almost everywhere. Common Cuckoos called frequently and been chased by these potential host birds.

We kept our eyes on the heather covered moors for Red (Willow) Grouse. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

A vintage car, an abandoned and ruined house at the lake surrounded by hills is all you need for a perfect love story movie. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

A very interesting geological formation is visible on the opposite Glencoul Thrust. In the diagonal pink layer of the 540 million years old Cambrian quartzite in covered a much older, 3,000 million years old Lewison gneiss. Unthinkable powers must have turned these hills upside down? iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The blooming Gorse made this beuatiful landscape picturesque. iPhone6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Not far from Tarbet I spotted a Golden Eagle glided towards to main road behind the Loch A Bhadaidh Daraich. Unfortunately, I could stop the car a just a little further up on the hill and subsequently I lost sight of this majestic bird.

4 Common Cuckoos have been cahsed by Meadow Pipits around the hill and the lake. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The family restaurant at the Tarbet port was already closed at our arrival so we prepared for a nice evening dinner at the hillside bench with a company of about 200 cheeky and annoying midges. Long daylight hours allowed us birdwatching quite late. I sat on a rock and enjoyed the acoustic of the little port surrounded by cliffs and hills. 4-6 Common Sandpiper were endlessly calling and making display flights around us and the territorial calls of Eurasian Oystercatchers filled the whole harbour. A Red-breasted Merganser and Red-throated Divers were fishing in the peaceful water. There were some gull activity as well. Common Gulls, British Lesser Black-backed Gulls, European Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls and a few Black-headed Gulls turned up or flew over the bay. As I followed an Artic Tern chasing away a Great Black-backed Gull a strange looking and flying gull crossed the field of the binoculars. WOW, it was a juvenile, 2Y Iceland Gull. A self found rarity finally.

The Iceland Gull crossed the bay and landed behind rocks on the left side where I lost sight. it was a clear and nice view but it would have been nice to see it through the scope. Anyway, I am very happy about this finding, as it was my first British record of this bird.

Sunset at the Tarbet harbour. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Ferry crossing to the Outer Hebrides – Part 2

I had to be strict with waking up in time to be able to catch the first ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy, North Uist. I didn’t feel overly freshed by the 4 full hours of sleep after driving hundreds of miles. The place we have spent the night was actually a Willow Warbler ‘factory’. They were singing everywhere. I’m sure there is no better way to wake up than to the wonderful morning chorus of songbirds. I think that atmosphere and lack of anthropogenic noise added another hour to our short night relaxation.

This is how northwest Scotland looks like from a driver point of view. This spectacular scenery makes you stop for a photograph every minute. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

As we drove through the beautiful montane area at the bottom of the Isle of Skye, I spotted two divers on the Loch Cluanie. This is a smaller loch with rocky shores and diverse vegetation. Dani quickly set up the Opticron MM3 60 GA ED spotting scope which was kindly provided by Opticron with the tremendous help of Chris Galvin. We were delighted by two Black-throated Diver In full summer plumage. For us it is a very rare opportunity to watch them in breeding plumage. Such a perfect and elegant design they have. From the shoreline of the loch the summer song of Common Sandpiper was heard, while Tree Pipits, European Stonechat, Willow Warbler, Dunnock and Lesser Redpolls were singing at the car park.

We arrived to the Uig Ferry Terminal in time but had a little uncertainty about our boarding without booking. I didn’t book the ferry as I didn’t know the registration number of the rented car and when I got the car online booking wasn’t possible for this ferry anymore. It turned out that during the booking process the care registration number doesn’t needed to be provided but leaving a text, ‘Rental Car‘ in the field instead. The staff in the ticket office was extremely helpful and they even helped redesigning the whole trip as there was no more slot for our car on the ferry we wanted to cross the sea with. However, a last minute lorry cancellation saved our trip and we could stay with our original plan. It is needless to say, we were not the only one birdwatchers in the terminal. A couple of hardcore twitchers, including Lee Evans, were hoping to get on the ferry and tick the mega Black-billed Cuckoo which was spotted a couple of days earlier.

Seabird activity started right around the harbour of Uig with this scenery. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

It was a little bit cold on the deck but the weather was ideal for good visiblity. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

The cuckoo twitchers watching Arctic Skuas near Lochmaddy. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

On the ferry we had a comfortable viewing point from the rear deck and I started to document what we had seen during the 33.4 miles long crossing in just under two hours. Dani had a very good day with lots of life birds. We saw 2 migrating Red-throated Divers, Northern Fulmars, 2 Manx Shearwater, a couple of Northern Gannets, Great Cormorants, Eurasian Oystercatcher (at Lochmaddy), 1 Pomarine Skua, 2 Arctic Skua, Common Murres, Razorbills, Black Guillemot, lots of Atlantic Puffins, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Mew or Common Gull, European Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Arctic Terns and Common Raven at the Lochmaddy port. It was a great experience as felt like we were on a pelagic trip.

As we touched the mainland we decided to follow the twitchers to get a better chance to find the cuckoo. I had a racing feeling on the way to the house where the cuckoo had previously been spotted. After all I managed to see the Black-billed Cuckoo for a short but satisfying view but Dani couldn’t spot it. When one of the questionably ethical twitchers climbed over the private fences and chased the anyway lurking and elusive rarity away everyone, who stayed on the main road, was rather disappointed and upset. Luckily long minutes later the bird was again spotted and provided much better views than before. Dani could also see it well through the scope before the bird flew high up and landed some 500 meters away from the garden. That was the point we carried on exploring the Outer Hebrides according to our plan.

This is the mega Black-billed Cuckoo which was found days before our yrip commenced. It was a lucky and accidental twitching. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

North Uist is wonderful. Based on the photographs or online maps one could think we were on one of the Caribbean Islands with those spectacular white sandy beaches and the turquoise to deep blue colours of the ocean. When I was standing at the beach I even forget about the water temperature which was just bellow 10°C.

This is the satellite map of the bay we stopped for watching shorebirds. Courtesy of Apple

This is the photo of the very same stunning sandy beach with rocks and the endless Atlantic Ocean. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

This is the photo of the very same stunning sandy beach with rocks and the endless Atlantic Ocean. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

In the small bay, pictured above, there was a nice activity of waders. A surprising 55 Common Ringed Plover, 4 Eurasian Oystercatcher, 1 Sanderling, 21 Dunlin, 1 Common Redshank were actively feeding on the shore while a single Common Eider was swimming behind the rocks.

The main attraction of the region was the Balranald RSPB Reserve which actually was much larger as I thought. To save time we drove to the last possible parking lot where we continued on foot. Before we did that we met one of the well know British bird photographer, Dean Eades aka BirdMad, who straight away pointed to the long staying juvenile Glaucous Gull roosted opposite to the visitor centre. Another perfect view of a life bird for Dani.

Second Summer Glaucuos Gull at the Balranald RSPB Reserve. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Abandoned house at the RSPB Visitor Center. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Abandoned house at the RSPB Visitor Center. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

This peninsular reserve represents a variety of habitats from extensive rocky shores, sandy beaches, the blooming machair and little marshy ponds. There was so much to see and most birds provided excellent views. On the southern beach a larger flock of Dunlin (136 individuals), 33 Eurasian Oystercatcher, 1 Common Redshank, 44 Common Ringed Plover and 7 Sanderling was feeding on the bed of dead seagrass.

Another beautiful beach on the southern part of Balranald. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another beautiful beach on the southern part of Balranald. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Heading towards the westernmost tip of the peninsula we walked by a unique Arctic Tern colony. The machair provides nesting site for these aggressive birds. Interestingly they are hardly visible on the ground and their true numbers became obvious when an intruder, like a frequently patrolling Great Skua enters the territory of the loose colony. In the middle of the tern colony, miraculously, a Common Gull pair nested with continuous tern attacks whenever they tried to settle down on the nest. From the tip we saw Common Loons and Black-throated Divers very close to the shore, a migrating Bar-tailed Godwit, 6 Ruddy Turnstones on the rocks, Black Guillemots flying offshore and a songle Rock Pipit. We also had a Peregrine Falcon flying next to the car park. On one of the small marshes a male Ruff in full breeding plumage was feeding in denser vegetation. Although we missed to see Corncrakes and Corn Buntings this reserve gave us a lot and makes me want to return once I have my proper bird photography gear.

Interesting nesting site of shorebirds, terns and gulls. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Interesting nesting site of shorebirds, terns and gulls. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Roosting Eurasian Oystercatchers. Note the white throat collar of the leftmost individual which normally disappears well before Spring.

Roosting Eurasian Oystercatchers. Note the white throat collar of the leftmost individual which normally disappears well before Spring. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Ringed Plover silently walked away from its nest which was somewhere on the pebble verges. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Ringed Plover silently walked away from its nest which was somewhere on the pebble verges. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Eurasian Oystercatcher nest on grassland. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Wider perspective of the same nest illustrating the nest site selection. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Ruddy Turnstones often used these rocky shores despite being distracted by splasing waves. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Ruddy Turnstones often used these rocky shores despite being distracted by splasing waves. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

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I was hoping to see some late Purple Sandpipers but they seemed to be gone by now. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Before we checked in the Wireless Cottage Bed & Breakfast in Lochboisdale, we had another stop at the Àird a’ Mhuile peninsula on the west coast of South Uist. I knew the weather was too good for seabird-watching from the shore, but it was worth to visit this remote little land with the Loch Àird a’ Mhuile in the middle. We didn’t spend too much time but had funny times with a couple of very confiding Atlantic Grey Seals. Here we saw 6 Common Shelduck, 12 Common Eider, 8 Northern Gannet, 46 Eurasin Oystercatcher, 1 European Whimbrel, 6 Ruddy Turnstone, 18 Dunlin, 27 Common Gull, 24 European Herring Gull, 6 Arctic Tern, 1 Peregrine Falcon and an unusually high number of 32 Common Raven on a possible carcass at the edge of the pasture.

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Obviously the Eurasian Oystercatchers are my favourite shorebirds with their bay-filling display and territorial call. The Western European coastlines would not be the same without them. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Immature European Herring Gull drinking from the loch. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Territorial Eurasian Oystercatcher above us. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Shooting birds in flight with my new bridge camera wasn’t easy but surprisingly I managed to get a few decent-ish shots. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Against the lights shot of a Common Gull pair. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The single-track road network with passing places is a very clever and surprisingly well working system in Scotland. It was a joy to ride onthis road. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

The single-track road network with passing places is a very clever and surprisingly well working system in Scotland. It was a joy to ride onthis road. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

Our cottage room was very comfortable with a shared but very clean bathroom. The owner is a charming eldery lady with a sense of humour. She could accept only cash but there was an ATM next to the cottage. The room for a night was £27 per person. Despite the name, there was no wireless connection in the room, but we after we got the wi-fi password  it worked properly in the dining room. They are highly recommended. We had warm dinner in the restaurant of the Lochboisdale Hotel. It didn’t blow our mind but at least we didn’t eat junk food. We both loved the waitress though.

Falling asleep was just a fraction of a second…

Entering British Scandinavia – Part 1

We had high expectations of our first Scottish birdwatching trip as well as the first father-and-son holiday. It was the first holiday for me in 6 years and it was just about time to escape from the daily stress what my private life crisis caused. Scotland seemed to be a reasonably cheap yet a very exciting destination not only from birdwatching point of view. I can only talk in superlatives about our one week. Spectacular landscapes, incredibly kind and tolerant people, motorways with a car a minute, outstanding driving experiences on the single lane roads, crowdless villages and towns, unusually wonderful weather and the reflection of the ancient atmosphere of the British ‘Scandinavia’ made this trip unforgettable.

After collecting my last minute parcel (a very cheap but very good Coleman Pathfinder sleeping bag) from my company, we started our 900+ km long journey up the north-west. Prior to that Dani had his first life bird, a Red Kite, over the M1 motorway just 10 minutes after we left the Luton Airport. After crossing the Scottish border we got really excited by the scenery. Our first birding spot in Scotland was along the River Clyde close to the M74 motorway just south of Glasgow between Elvanfoot and Watermeetings villages. This valley is a mixture of different habitats such as pebble islands of the river, extensive meadow and moorland, pastures surrounded by forests on the eastern side. Songs and territorial calls of Eurasian Oystercatechers, Eurasian Curlews, Common Redshanks and Northern Lapwings with the company of Meadow Pipits and Eurasian Skylarks filled the whole valley. For a shorebird lover this is simply a heaven. These habitats are not exciting by the high variety of waders but the special atmosphere what they create with their characteristic display flight songs. We especially liked the rarely heard bubbling song of the curlews.

River Clyde valley with meadow and surrounding forests. iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly


The Eurasian Curlew is one of the rapidly disappearing moorland waders what deserve full protection. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly


Eurasian Oystercatcher is a rather common off-coast breeder in the Scottish moorland and upland meadows. Sony Cyber-shot HX400V © Gyorgy Szimuly

As we headed towards the north we were caught by the jawdropping scenery and the calmness of the first lochs. After a couple of short stops we finally managed to get close to our destination, the Uig Ferry Port on the Isle of Skye. Well, we thought we were close enough. In fact there was a lot to see what was almost impossible to ignore. As we hoped to get good views of Golden Eagles, I made an emergency stop at a foothill when Dani spotted a raptor. It was a Common Buzzard but the opposite hillside looked really good for Red Grouse. Shortly after the buzzard disappeared I heard a characteristic Red Grouse call from the bottom of the valley. As lights decreased we gave up finding it but I made a record of it in eBird.

Due to the increased night activity of deers along the way, I decided to stop before one of them jumped out of the darkness in front of our car. We had fun sleeping in the car. Well, not really, but it was the only option…

This heather covered hills seemed to be perfect for finding Dani's second life bird, the Red Grouse (Willow Grouse). iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

This heather covered hills seemed to be perfect for finding Dani’s second life bird, the Red Grouse (Willow Grouse). iPhone 6s Plus © Gyorgy Szimuly

Frozen Spring

By the first of May I normally wear sandals and shorts and enjoying the first spells of Summer. This year however, spring is pretty much missing. At my departure the temperature was 0C°! This morning I went out to the Manor Farm, the only place to see some shorebirds around Milton Keynes. Being at the site with the first rays of sunlight always provides some special athmosphere for birding. At this time of the year birds are singing with full power, some of them are already busy defending their offspring from intruders.

The morning started with some new birds of the year in the UK. A Common Sandpiper was feeding along the rocky shores of the quarry and Common Terns were loudly chasing each other. As I approached the hide an Arctic Tern flew over the area towards the west without stopping. It’s always exciting to see this rarely and infrequently occuring seabird inland.

I found the first Northern Lapwing brood with three chicks feeding along the densely vegetated gravel islands. The female was around them while the male was guaring and chased approaching Carrion Crows and Lesser Black-blacked Gulls. Along the quarry route a lot of Greater Whitethroats were singing. They were new additions to the year as well, just like Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Swift.

Here is the complete eBird checklist:

Greylag Goose 1 injured
Canada Goose 14
Mute Swan 5
Gadwall 7
Mallard 22
Tufted Duck 25
Great Crested Grebe 1
Gray Heron 4
Little Egret 1
Eurasian Moorhen 21
Eurasian Coot 19
Eurasian Oystercatcher 3
Northern Lapwing 9 (3 chicks + 6 adults)
Little Ringed Plover 5
Common Sandpiper 2
Common Redshank 4
Black-headed Gull 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull (L. f. graellsii) 12
Common Tern 6
Arctic Tern 1
Stock Dove 2
Common Wood-Pigeon 20
Common Swift 24
Common Kingfisher 2
Eurasian Green Woodpecker 2
Eurasian Magpie 4
Eurasian Jackdaw 8
Rook 4
Carrion Crow 31
Europen Sky Lark 2
Barn Swallow 4
Eurasian Blue Tit 7
Great Tit 3
Long-tailed Tit 5
Eurasian Treecreeper 3
Eurasian Wren 19
Cetti’s Warbler 1
Willow Warbler 2
Common Chiffchaff 6
Sedge Warbler 6
Eurasian Reed-Warbler 3
Eurasian Blackcap 6
Lesser Whitethroat 1
Greater Whitethroat 23
European Robin 11
Eurasian Blackbird 11
Song Thrush 2
European Starling 4
Dunnock 4
White Wagtail (British) (Motacilla alba yarrellii) 7
Common Reed Bunting 8
Common Chaffinch 3
Eurasian Linnet 5

A part of the eautiful pasture aroung Manor Farm early in the frosty morning. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Mist emerged from the river. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Peaceful waters with waterbirds and displayinh Little Ringed Plovers. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dunnock was singing undisturbed. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Terns were looking for the best nesting spots. © Gyorgy Szimuly

British White Wagtail. © Gyorgy Szimuly

A very noisy shot of one of the Nortern Lapwing chicks. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Male Nortern Lapwing guarding around the chicks. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The Iron Trunk Aqueduct from the Manor Farm. The bushes right to the river is a busy songbird spot with singing Cetti’s Warbler. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Back to my Hungarian birding sites

I wish my recent Hungarian visit was for pleasant birding. I made a short trip to my homeland for sending off my late mother who died just before Christmas. As birding always brings joy and peace to my life, I decided to visit my former local birding sites with my son and friends. We had a very nice time in the morning and I truly enjoyed being out and forget everything what had happened in the last couple of months.

Our first stop was, as usual, at the Old Lake of Tata where I have birded for 25 years. This internationally important wetland is famous by holding tens of thousands of wintering waterbirds but most importantly wild geese. While there was a slight drop in their numbers from the previous night (9,000), we still could see 6,800 roosting geese on the mainly frozen lake. The majority of the roosting flock was Greater White-fronted Goose and Greylag Goose, but a few Tundra Bean Goose, a single Taiga Bean Goose and also a Barnacle Goose made the flock diverse. The forest around the observation tower was unusually alige and very noisy. The largest ever recorded Redwing flock in the area made us surprised. An approximate 80 birds invaded the forest with lots of Fieldfares and higher number of Hawfinches. During a two hours stay we saw Greater Spotted and Syrian Woodpecker, Eurasian Green and Black Woodpecker. Over the tower a few Pygmy Cormorants flew towards the nearby feeding sites.

The almost completely frozen Old Lake. © Gyorgy Szimuly

My best homeland birding friend and local wild goose expert, László Musicz is counting waterbirds, so do I in the background. © Daniel Szimuly

Here is the eBird checklist front the Old Lake:

Taiga Bean-Goose 1
Tundra Bean-Goose 100
Greater White-fronted Goose 6,000
Graylag Goose (European) 500
Barnacle Goose 1
Eurasian Wigeon 1
Mallard 1,800
Northern Pintail 3
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) 42
Common Pochard 18
Common Goldeneye 6
Common Merganser (Eurasian) 9
Great Cormorant (Eurasian) 48
Pygmy Cormorant 2
Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea) 4
Great Egret (Eurasian) 2
Eurasian Coot 26
Black-headed Gull 80
Mew Gull (European) 70
Caspian Gull 260
Great Spotted Woodpecker 3
Syrian Woodpecker 1
Black Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Green Woodpecker (Eurasian) 2
Eurasian Jay 2
Eurasian Jackdaw 80
Rook 500
Hooded Crow 12
Coal Tit 1
Eurasian Blue Tit 11
Great Tit 9
Eurasian Nuthatch 2
Eurasian Wren (Eurasian) 1
Eurasian Blackbird 13
Fieldfare 28
Redwing (Eurasian) 95
Mistle Thrush 2
White Wagtail 2
Eurasian Bullfinch 2
Hawfinch 33
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 1

Our next stop was at the Ferencmajor fishponds north of Tata, from where I have wonderful memories. The lakes were not terribly productive as only a few of them had ice-free open water. The biggest surprise was to find a larger calling flock of Water Pipit in unusually high numbers. Pygmy Cormorants were flying all over the area and Water Rails were very active and easy to see at several places.

Roosting Pygmy Cormorants. © Máté Szabó

Summarized eBird checklist from the area:

Greater White-fronted Goose 1
Greylag Goose (European) 60
Mute Swan 2
Gadwall 36
Mallard 433
Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) 78
Smew 6
Great Cormorant (Eurasian) 24
Pygmy Cormorant 32
Grey Heron 34
Great Egret (Eurasian) 24
Common Buzzard 3
Water Rail 10
Eurasian Moorhen 1
Eurasian Coot 331
Green Sandpiper 2
Caspian Gull 53
Black Woodpecker 1
Eurasian Magpie (Eurasian) 2
Hooded Crow 15
Eurasian Blue Tit 4
Eurasian Wren (Eurasian) 1
Mistle Thrush 1
Dunnock 1
White Wagtail 1
Water Pipit 34
Reed Bunting 5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 2

The birding team at the Ferencmajor fishponds. Daniel Szimuly (on the left), then Máté Szabó, myself and László Musicz. © Daniel Szimuly

On the way home we stopped the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Tata, where a rare Wallcreeper has been spending the winter. As this is a rare opportunity to see this unique bird, we gave it a try to find it. Luckily, Laci spotted it within a minute and we could enjoy watching its butterfly-like wing flicking. Thanks for the young birdwatchers, Máté Szabó and Levente Pribéli, for offering me a few of their photos of this bird.

Wintering Wallcreeper on the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Tata. © Máté Szabó

Wintering Wallcreeper on the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Tata. © Máté Szabó

Wintering Wallcreeper on the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Tata. © Levente Pribéli

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Open winged moth-like Wallcreeper while feeding. © Levente Pribéli

 

 

Dying Martin Garner’s way

Martin Garner’s family announced his passing yesterday after a long and painful battle with cancer. I have never met Martin Garner aka Birding Frontiers, but I know he was one of the true birding legends in the United Kingdom. The reason I post here about him is to express my admiration for his work and to make my readers remember to celebrate the life of the living.

I’m not targeting to summarize Martin Garner’s wonderful life and achievements, but I couldn’t resist to share my thoughts about the way he left this earth for good. In the last couple months Martin fought to gain just a little more time before the inevitable coming. I know it from social media and I was deeply touched by his energy and motivation and the way he inspired hundreds through his last video messages while he was in pain. As I read the sad posts about his death by his family and birding friends, one thing became obvious. Martin Garner have been loved and respected by so many birdwatchers not only in the United Kingdom but from different corners of the world. Martin felt privileged to see and feel this love. He knew he’s been loved by hundreds.

Most of us post emotional messages to family members of someone who passed away. How sad, however, that this love remains unseen for the departing in most of the cases. I’m sure Martin’s life had been prolonged by days if not weeks just because he had a chance to read all the wonderful messages his admirers sent him. I think everyone dreams to die Martin Garner’s way.

His death reminded me about the importance and power of knowing being loved. We should never miss an opportunity to express our love to someone we love!

Rest in Peace Martin Garner.

One of the excellent works of Martin Garner. Image courtesy of Birding Frontiers.

One of the excellent works of Martin Garner. Image courtesy of Birding Frontiers.