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

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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.

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


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


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


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.


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


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

Birdwatching trip to Scotland

After a few cancelled holidays in the past few years, I finally managed to make a realistic escape plan for a short, but most probably a rewarding birdwatching holiday to Scotland. The original plan to visit Spain in April was destroyed by private and work related issues and I didn’t want to wait another year till my next major holiday kicks off to California.

The main birding target is to find some of the potential life birds. Not much left from the resident birds of Great Britain but a few would be nice a addition to the Western Palearctic list. European Storm Petrel is one those species and for this cute ‘sea-swallow‘ we plan to visit Handa Island in the northwest, in case we cannot see one during the ferry crossings to or from the Outer Hebrides. Another life birds would be the Rock Ptarmigan, for which we have to hike to higher elevations. The Scottish Crosbill, whether a distinct species or just a subspecies of Red Crossbill, would also be fun to find. For my son, Dani there will be a

Bellow is the map of our route plan I made based on a few recommendations and research on the web. Thankfully, I’m still getting advices where to go so this map might be changed. Recommendations are much welcome and appreciated.

Thanks to Wylie Horn for helping to fine tune this plan and to Harry Martin for the Rock Ptarmigan site suggestions. Special thanks to Chris Galvin and the Opricron staff for the continued support.

European Storm Petrel

Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) by Fabian Fopp on

Rock Ptarmigan. © Fabian Fopp

Blue Lagoon birding walk

Despite my body said ‘stay in bed’, I forced myself to go out and enjoy the first real warm days in shorts at the local nature reseve, the Blue Lagoon. This restored former brick work site is not that exotic as its name suggests although it has a surprisingly rich and busy birdlife. My 2.55mi (4.1km) long birding route is covering three main sites including the new landfill area west of the reserve. It’s has a good variety of habitats with wood and bushland and also marsh and grasslands with larger open weter surface.

New comer for this year was the Garden Warbler what I found on several places singing.

Soaring Red Kite. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Red Kites always find food in the landfill. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Another moult phase in this Red Kite. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Incoming Red Kite. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Here is my eBird checklist for the day.

Greylag Goose 1
Canada Goose 1
Mute Swan 6
Mallard 2
Tufted Duck 1
Great Crested Grebe 2
Grey Heron 1
Little Egret 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 4
Red Kite 11
Common Buzzard 5
Eurasian Moorhen 4
European Herring Gull 11
Lesser Black-backed Gull (graellsii) 81
Common Tern 2
Common Wood-Pigeon 27
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
Common Swift 18
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Eurasian Green Woodpecker 2
Eurasian Kestrel 1
Eurasian Magpie 10
Eurasian Jackdaw 18
Rook 3
Carrion Crow 123
European Sky Lark 3
Bank Swallow (Sand Martin) 1
Common House Martin 3
Eurasian Blue Tit 8
Great Tit 7
Long-tailed Tit (europaeus) 10
Eurasian Wren (British) 14
Willow Warbler 4
Common Chiffchaff (collybita) 14
Eurasian Reed-Warbler 11
Eurasian Blackcap 18
Garden Warbler 6
Lesser Whitethroat 4
Greater Whitethroat 3
European Robin 29
Common Blackbird 18
Song Thrush 7
Common Starling 5
Dunnock 9
Common Reed Bunting 3
Common Chaffinch 3
Eurasian Bullfinch 9
European Greenfinch 6
European Goldfinch 4
Eurasian Linnet 7
House Sparrow 1

Male Common Blackbird. © Gyorgy Szimuly

All photos were taken by a Sony Cyber-shot HX400V bridge camera.

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

Testing my new camera

Today, I got a new megazoom camera for documenting purposes. I have had a lot of instances during my birding career when such a camera could have been helpful in proving my identification of birds. The Sony Cyber-Shot HX400V bridge camera sports a massive 24-1,200mm equivalent zoom range which is more than enough for general birdwatching. The photos are not exceptional but good enough for blogging and other social media purposes. Its price tag is very good and making this camera a great value for the money. I think it will be a great gear for our Scottish birdwatching trip in May.

I share a couple of shots I took this afternoon in a quite overcast, nearly rainy weather at the nearby Mount Farm Lakes. Photos were downloaded from the camera using it as Wi-Fi to my iPad Pro. All photos were slightly sharpened in Snapseed and in a few cases slightly cropped (starlings).


Sony Cyber-Shot HX400V bridge camera on my coffee table. It’s a great gift. © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Starling. 1/250, f6.3, ISO200, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly


European Starling. 1/250, f6.3, ISO200, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly


Greylag Goose. 1/250, f6.3, ISO200, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Canada Goose. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 500, 1,194mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grey Heron. 1/250, f5.6, ISO 320, 480mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grey Heron. close up with nice bokeh. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 320, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

1/250, f5.6, ISO 400, 379mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Getting closer to the subject brings very nice smooth bokeh. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 400, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

1/250, f5.6, ISO 250, 647mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Greylag Goose close-up shot. It’s a bit noisy but acceptable. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 500, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

1/250, f6.3, ISO 400, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Zoom test on the local church in Central Milton Keynes. Unedited photos straight out of the camera. 24mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly


Zoom test on the local church in Central Milton Keynes. Unedited photos straight out of the camera. 1,200mm. © 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


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