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.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Suffolk strikes again

So after Suffolk offered me a WP tick just last week, my neighbouring county 'struck gold' again. Yesterday a drake Blue-winged Teal was found at SWT's Carlton Marshes. I couldn't go yesterday but today I managed to sneak a quick visit into my work day. Less than an hour away from home I couldn't resist. Even though it's not exactly the best time of year for vagrant nearctic wildfowl, nor the best part of the country, local birding community seems to be taking this bird quite seriously, so who am I to ignore it? It may have escaped from a wildfowl collection somewhere - there are so many in East Anglia like this one, but I guess there are just as good chances it is a genuine vagrant.

Anyway, as I arrived on site I met a bunch of frustrated birders. A helicopter that had flown by flushed all the birds on the scrape, and the prime suspect was gone. But there I was to save the day ;-) - scanning through my brilliant Swarovski ATX95 I noticed a small group of ducks roosting in tall grass by the far side of the scrape. Despite the long distance, heat haze (in the UK!) and looking into the sun (in the UK!), I noted that one of them was THE bird - bingo! I got all the others on it, and the communal mood improved quickly. The duck spent most of its time sleeping, head tucked under wing. But occasionally it lifted its head up, and once it even stood up! Exciting times! Because of the tough conditions photography was almost pointless. This award-winning shot is the best I could achieve:

Blue-winged Teal

I really liked this reserve. Should return there with my kids. Pan-listers like James would appreciate it much more than a narrow-minded birder like myself, but there was enough stuff  to entertain me while waiting for the duck to lift its bloody head up: a Cuckoo was singing from the nearby woods; a Gropper reeled from the tall grass; and as a result of the warm weather raptors put on a relatively good show - five Buzzards together, a Red Kite and a Marsh Harrier.

Red Kite

In the bird-food section, I failed to find any Fen Spiders but I gave it not more than a couple of minutes; and among the large numbers of the commoner dragonflies and damselflies there were a couple of Norfolk Hawkers.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

One embarrassing gap less

Today I cleared one of the largest gaps in my WP list - Greenish Warbler! I went to see the individual that was found yesterday at Gunton in Suffolk, just north of Lowestoft. I don't know who found it but whoever it was - it is a good find - not an easy site to work. Anyway, took advantage of the long daylight (light? not really, something like daydark) hours and drove down there after work. I joined the small group of birders there and very quickly I found it but it showed for about two seconds only, very brief but rather good views. Too brief for a photo. We stood around for another hour or so until it eventually showed for another 4-5 seconds... This time I was ready with my camera and fired off 15 images in 2 seconds... Shit light and it was about 20 m away hence the crap photos. But hey, better than nothing. Sadly it did not call or sing at all. Then I had to go home.

Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides)

Just a small practice for fun. In this image the very rounded wing is apparent, and the important in-hand ID features are visible:

I have a bit of a relationship with Greenish Warbler. Unrecorded in Israel, I was sure I would see it easily in the UK. I arrived in early September 2014 and there was one at Winterton a couple of weeks later, but I didn't have a car yet and knew nobody who could take me. Then about a year ago I missed one on Blakeney Point. Since then almost all my birding efforts in the UK were directed towards this little taiga breeder. I had only Greenish Warbler on my mind. And here it is, safely on my list. Now I need to find one myself.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Yorkshire weekend

Had a superb weekend in Yorkshire with my family - got my share of the perfect combination of birds & people. We stayed with our dear friends Mark and Amity in Filey. We did lots of stuff together and enjoyed every minute of it. Birding highlight was of course the annual visit to RSPB Bempton Cliffs. It is such a fantastic place. The reserve was very full but that did not affect the very pure and powerful wildlife experience there. The fact that the birds pass few meters away and pay no attention to humans makes it all so special. Light was shite, and I had Libby on my back and held Bamba on a lead most of the time.  As a result photo opps were rather limited but that's the great thing about Bempton Cliffs  - you don't need much to get great photos there!
Last year when we visited the reserve Puffins weren't that cooperative. This time around they played ball, and showed as well as they can at this site. Stunning birds.


Squadrons of the majestic Gannets patrolled along the cliffs. In this image the huge number of birds on the water is visible: 

At one point the gannets collected nesting material few meters from the main track - magic moments:

Check that eye!

 I always love Kittiwakes - little gulls with an attitude ;-)

Most were on eggs but few failed breeders were rebuilding nests:

There was good Fulmar activity too but I spent little time with them:

 Razorbills are brilliant birds. Funny thing about them is that their eyes are hardly visible in photos:

Here the dark eye is just about visible:

O'mighty cliffs!

Tree Sparrows are sort of a Yorkshire specialty:

This guy collected caterpillars puffin-style but dropped them on the track beside us, don't know why:

Mark introduces me to his superb local patch - Filey Brigg and Carr Naze. We were slightly optimistic with rain and wind almost from a proper direction but our hopes did not materialize into any migrants. Few shorebirds were at the tip of the Brigg:


And a small group of Dunlins and Knots:

Many thanks guys for the great weekend - looking forward to the next time we meet!

Me & Mark with Filey Brigg sticking out into the North Sea in the background

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


What a bird and what a way to start my day. Switched my phone on in the morning to see message from James - 'Firecrest singing in my garden!', accompanied by a stunning photo. I have seen many Firescrests before, including the one and only (to date) in Israel, but never managed to get a decent photograph. Understanding that I might have a chance here, and in UK context it is a scarce bird, I carried my gear with me doing schoolrun, and then headed over to James's. Was greeted by good coffee and warm hospitality, and very quickly the bird was performing. A stunning male. Jaw-dropping, almost like an flippin' Blackburnian Warbler. He was singing constantly and apparently holding territory between a large spruce and an apple tree, complete with crest-pumping. He was constantly chasing the local Goldcrests and was being chased by them. Will it find a mate and breed here? He was quite a feisty little thing, moving constantly and not so easy to photograph, but eventually 'we nailed him' as they say.

Goldcrests are usually personal favourites, but today they were clearly shadowed by the real deal:

Urban birding at its best! I am proud to be the first avian twitcher in James's garden - he has had moth twitchers before. Thanks to Sharon for this photo. Someone should design a camera with a nose-cavity for large-nosed individuals like myself:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Norfolk Birdfair and Biking Birder

This is an unusual post as it doesn't include any direct observations or photographs of wildlife. And the images in it are of lesser quality than average. But on Saturday, after my talk at Norfolk Birdfair on some cryptic and little-known Israeli birds, I met a person I had wanted to meet for a long time. And he made such an impression on me that he deserves a blogpost of his own. It was Gary Prescott Biking Birder. It was one of those encounters that after ten seconds of conversation I felt like we're life-long friends. Gary's personal and professional life story is outstanding. His passion for birding and conservation is infectious. We talked and talked and very quickly our conversation was about Martin Garner - fond memories, including an understanding that are pathes actually had crossed while wasting time in Lerwick looking for an OBP in an October afternoon.

Gary's mobile bird observatory

In a colision some time ago Gary's Robin lost its bill but luckily Gary was relatively alright

Looking forward to our next meeting Gary - in October for the Shetland Bird Festival, or in March with your Zero Carbon Champions of the Flyway team!