Monday, July 25, 2016

Baird's Sandpiper @RSPBMinsemere

Had a quiet morning with family when news broke of a Baird's Sandpiper at Minsmere. Not a mega rarity, I know, but still one I 'needed'. I couldn't go before the late afternoon, but somehow I managed to remain friendly for the rest of the day and my family didn't suffer too much from me. At 17:00 I met up with Drew and we drove down. Quick walk to East Hide and the bird was showing immediately. We had great scope views in which we appreciated the unique structure: never-ending rear and slightly down-curved bill. It was an adult with a contrasting plumage and a nice pectoral band. It fed almost constantly on the mud, mostly solitary or with Little Ringed Plover, it stayed away from the Dunlin flock. What a great little yank! I was very happy to see it, in fact it was a lifer. But photography was near impossible. The bird stayed in the distance most of the time, only just before we left it moved a few meters closer, but was still about two hundred meters away. Light was not good too - either too dark or we were looking into the sun. I am playing around now with my new phonescoping adapter - certainly need to get more practice.

Adult Baird's Sandpiper, phonescoped using Samsung Galaxy S5 through Swarovski ATX95 and Novagrade adapter

Tried shooting with my DSLR and 500 mm too, not sure if the results are any better...

We watched it and watched it, and I was mainly faffing around with my gear, failing to produce a decent photo of it. All in all the experience was great. Minsmere is really fun to visit. Tons of birds and some more quality too apart from the baird's. There was a Caspian Gull and a Yellow-legged as well; 3 Spotted Redshank; Green Sandpiper; 4 Little Ringed Plovers; 5 Bearded Tits.

Caspian Gull - 3cy?

Sunset over Minsmere

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Breydon again

I really enjoyed birding in Breydon the other day, so returned very early this morning. Again met up with the locals. Good birding, somewhat similar selection to the previous visit. Highlights were 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 early Turnstone, a (very) local scarcity - Kittiwake (probably from Lowestoft, about 10 miles away). There was some increase in Med Gulls - about 60, 20 Sandwich Terns, 15 Whimbrel, 20 Golden Plovers and that's it more or less.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Nightjar and wheatear mysteries

Got back early this morning from 48 hours in Frankfurt. My main goal was to celebrate my grandmother's 97th birthday. But since I was there I arranged a visit to the scientific collections at Senckenberg Naturmuseum. I met up with the curator Dr. Gerald Mayr. Gerald was extremely friendly and cooperative - many thanks Gerald! I collected there data for my slow Nubian Nightjar project. Hopefully it will pick up soon. There are six Nubian Nightjars in the collection - 2 nubicus from Sudan, and 4 tamaricis from SW Yemen. 

Nubian Nightjars - tamaricis (left) and nubicus (right)

After I was done with the nightjars, out of curiosity, I asked Gerald to have a look at some 'black' wheatears. I hoped to find a lost warriae specimen. In between Black Wheatears from NW Africa I was amazed to find this small wheatear - clearly not leucura. It was collected by Dr. Eduard Ruppell in 1823. The label says 'Egyptien' but back in those days Egypt included parts of Sudan. It seems that in 1823 Ruppell indeed collected along the Nile in northern Sudan, close to Ambukol. But I will need to do more homework to try and come up with a more exact location and date.
This still needs to be confirmed, but it is probably a new specimen of 'Saxicola syenitica' - a lost and mysterious wheatear taxon, that is known from only one specimen collected by Theodor von Heuglin in 1852 in the same general area of northern Sudan / southern Egypt. The holotype is kept at Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, Austria. Check a description and discussion of the holotype here on Researchgate, or an abstract is available here if you're not on Researchgate.
I was in a great rush so didn't have time to take a full set of measurements. But I should be back in Frankfurt fairly soon. However, if it is 'Saxicola syenitica' as it provisionally seems, perhaps it can provide more insight to understand what this poorly known taxon is. Quite exciting. Surely more will be written about this specimen.

Putative 'Saxicola syenitica' (top) and Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura (bottom)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A day in the Broads

Had an enjoyable day today birding in the Broads. Started off very early with James to check Breydon Water. Embarrassed to admit it was the first time I have properly birded this hotspot. We spent two hours there between 05:00 and 07:00 until we both had to return to our respective awaking families. As it always is at Breydon birds were very distant but there were lots of birds and stuff was coming and going all the time. Highlights (in UK standards) were 2 Spotted Redshanks, 1 White Stork from Thrigbey Wildlife Park, about 30 Med Gulls including one with a green ring that was too distant to read, and 15 Whimbrel. Good to meet up with the legendary Pete Allard.

In the afternoon I went with my family to Hickling Broad. It was very windy so no chance for Bittern of Reedling. We took the short boat trip which was great. I enjoyed views of Rush Hills Scrape from the hide on better side. We had 2 Little Gulls, 4 Spoonbills and about 10 Ruff there. Good conditions for shorebirds there but nothing out of the ordinary. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Successful warblers

This morning I went with UEA ringing group to our constant site near Whitlingham. It's a lovely site with mixed habitat - wet marshy bits and nice scrub and low bushes. An early start (04:00) meant an impressive dawn chorus when we approached the ringing site. Especially nice were two reeling Groppers. Ringing was pretty good. In an era of declines, especially of trans-Saharan migrants, it was really nice to have a ringing session dominated by migrant warblers: Garden, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow and Sedge. All were present in good numbers and evidently had a good breeding season - lots of juveniles.

 Garden Warbler

Sedge warbler 

Willow Warbler - recently fledged juvenile

Reed Bunting - recently fledged juvenile

Our ringing site

Thanks to Iain, Phil and Thom for a great morning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Great Yes!

Normal day at work, trying to solve a spatial analysis problem. Needed a coffee after lunch.
Call from James: 'Do you need Great Knot?!?!'.
Me: 'Yes!'.
James: 'Pick you up from yours in 15'!.
And we were off to RSPB Titchwell. Relieved by the understanding that the tide was going up and the bird was showing, it was a relatively relaxed drive for such a monster bird. As soon as we joined the crowds the bird showed itself well, albeit very distant. I understand that compared to the previous birds it showed comparatively well (some were affectionately nicknamed Great Dot), but still it was probably 400 m away? However scope views were great. Luckily it was always showing in the front row of the tight flock, sleeping most of the time and not doing much while we were there. It must be one of the best shorebirds on earth, and sadly it's also Globally Threatened (EN). Those lovely rufous scapulars, and the black mottling on the breast sides - phwoaar! And it's so big, and the bill so long - what a bird. Great find by Chris Booth - 5th for the UK. Congrats!
Photography was very difficult. I tried three options and results from all are rubbish to be honest, more like water colours. This is with my old phone through Swarovski ATX95, no adapter so extremely shaky:

This is with my old 7D connected to the scope with TLS adapter:

And this is a huge crop of a photo using my 500 mm:

This is the original - really distant!

I have spent so many days looking for this bird in Israel but without success (only two records to date, last in 1991). I missed the Breydon Water one in 2014 by just a few days (recce visit before our big move to the UK). So it was great to see this new bird to my WP list. I really wanted this to happen after I couldn't go for the Spotted and Buff-breasted Sands last weekend. And this is one hell of a compensation...

Is it or is it not the same bird that was on Texel, Holland about a month ago? Maybe, hard to say. This is obviously the parsimonous explanation to the occurence of such a rare bird in the same neighbourhood (Texel is about 270 km from Titchwell but that's nothing for a bird that migrates normally from NE Asia to Australia). However, if it is the same it has moulted quite a bit, and now it's hard to pick up any diagnostic markings on it to confirm this.

Numbers of happy twitchers did build up through the afternoon, and by the time we left there must have been several hundreds lined up there. Good to meet up with lots of friends - such a quality bird in an accessible site does attract the crowds.

I just love Titchwell. What a great reserve. Exploding with birds there. Must admit I did not spend loads of time scanning for other stuff but still I did pick up a Med Gull and three out-of-season Common Gulls, two Ruff, Red-crested Pochard. The shorebird roost was impressive with over 1000 Red Knot (only few red ones in summer plumage, mostly failed breeders?), and nice numbers of Barwits and Blackwits too.

Many thanks to James for this little adventure.