Sunday, August 5, 2018

So long, and thanks for all the birds

After four years living in the UK, my time here is up. In less than two weeks I am heading back to Israel with my family. Amidst all the packing and farewells, I feel I should take some time to summarize the birding journey I went through in the UK.
We as a family, and me personally, had a great time in the UK. I appreciate the opportunity I got to live in this country, and in the fine city of Norwich. We moved to the UK essentially for my PhD studies. However, I tried to do as much birding as could in between all other duties, and I am glad I did. During these four years I had many lovely experiences, not all bird related. Over the course of my stay here, I was fortunate to travel the length and breadth of the UK, visit fantastic locations, meet wonderful people and see brilliant birds. In this post I will highlight the best birding experiences I had in a chronological order since moving here in September 2014.


In October 2014 I had my first taste of east coast birding, with a good migrant fall along the north coast of Norfolk. This was also my first date with James. With Red-flanked Bluetail, Radde's Warbler and a self-found Little Bunting, this was sure to develop into a deeper relationship...

In November I enjoyed a typical seawatch in northerlies, that produced good numbers of fantastic Little Auks:

On a frozen late December day I headed up to West Yorkshire to see my first WP Blyth's Pipit:


In the early part of 2015 my birding slowed down a bit, but I did enjoy wildlife spectacles in the form of high-tide roost on The Wash, at RSPB Snettisham in late January.

February went by without much birding, while in March I managed to get one WP tick in the form of Iceland Gull.

In late March and early April I first did some fieldwork in Iberia and then visited Israel. Back in the UK, I twitched the Isles of Scilly for the first time, for a Great Blue Heron than lingered on Bryher:

In late May we visited the Yorkshire coast for the first time, spending time with friends in Flamborough, RSPB Bempton Cliffs, and Filey. My friendship with the late and sorely missed Martin Garner, Mark and Amity, and many other local birders, strengthened my connection with this beautiful part of the UK.

Summer 2015 was rather slow, but in July I twitched a long-staying Greater Yellowlegs at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire.

In September birding certainly picked up. First, a quick-response twitch to Dungeness connected me with what was the rarest WP bird I saw in the UK, Acadian Flycatcher, and my first yankee landbird in the WP:

In late September I headed up to Shetland for a fabulous week with Martin, Sharon, Roger and Paul. Birding was a bit hard-going but I did see a wet Pechora Pipit, and self-found a Blyth's Reed Warbler two hours after I started birding:


I know this isn't quite the UK, but in January 2016 I did my first and only Euro twitch, for the popular Siberian Rubythroat in a quiet Dutch village - such a fine bird that it had to make an appearance in this summary:

Winter 2015/16 ended without further drama; in spring I went to Israel again and then to British Columbia. Birding back home was pretty slow. Towards the end of May I enjoyed a brilliant Firecrest in James's garden. Not a big rarity, but what a cracker!

In June things picked up a bit with two WP ticks in Suffolk (Greenish Warbler and Blue-winged Teal) and a superb Great Knot at Titchwell on the North Norfolk coast:


In July Suffolk provided me with another WP tick, a Baird's Sandpiper at RSPB Minsmere:

In August I headed down to Kent for the returning Bonaparte's Gull at Oare Marshes:

Autumn 2016 was one to remember, and I was lucky to enjoy some of the headline birds along the East Coast. In October I headed up to East Yorkshire twice, first for the beautiful Eastern Crowned Warbler that showed superbly at Bempton Cliffs, and then for the first mainland Siberian Accentor at Spurn, amidst a brilliant migrant fall on the peninsula:

Towards the end of the month I was part of a group that found an Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy Dunes (well, Dave found it and we just joined in):

In November action did not end. First, back to Minsmere it was for a lovely Cliff Swallow:

I really enjoyed my first proper Waxwing fix, with nice numbers in Norwich:

In early December I saw my final major rarity of 2016. I visited Derbyshire for the exciting Dusky Thrush in the small village of Beeley:


2017 started with a bang - within a few January weeks I had three WP ticks - Pacific Diver and Black Scoter in Northumberland, and White-billed Diver in Lincolnshire - what a fine bird:

The tail end of the winter went by without further drama in the UK, and I went to India for a couple of weeks in February. Then I spent most of the spring doing fieldwork in Iberia. Back in the UK in June, I headed down to RSPB Pagham Harbour for the Elegant Tern:

In August I went up to Shetland with my family, where we had a lovely time with friends. Wildlife highlight was not a rare bird, but a heart-pounding encounter with Orcas:

In September I returned to Spurn Migfest. Among the many wildlife spectacles and experiences at this special event, headline bird was a Long-billed Dowitcher:

In mid-month I headed down to Dorset to twitch two storm-driven shorebirds at RSPB Lodmoor - Stilt and Least Sandpipers:

Towards the end of the month I worked hard to eventually see one of my most-wanted birds, found by my pub-mate Stu - Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler at Burnham Overy. No photos of it (I was lucky to see it at all); an Arctic Warbler nearby was a bit more obliging:

The rest of autumn 2017 was a complete opposite to autumn 2016 - weather was awful (for birding) and there were basically no birds along the east Coast. In November I visited Israel briefly, and soon after my return I saw several Parrot Crossbills along the border between Suffolk and Norfolk, in Thetford Forest.


Half of the additions to my WP list in 2018 included American shorebirds. In late January I connected with the sweet-looking Spotted Sandpiper in Nottinghamshire:

In February I traveled in South Africa for a couple of weeks which was brilliant. A huge storm in late February brought in a welcome visitor from the Arctic - a fantastic Snowy Owl on the beach at Titchwell:

In March I headed to Israel again, for Champions of the Flyway. After submitting my PhD thesis I had more time but there were not too many birds to see, sadly. Very slow spring migration, and few rarities. In April and May I had luck with two American herons - American Bittern at SWT Carlton Marshes, and Green Heron in SW Wales:

In June I (most probably) self-found a Paddyfield Warbler on Blakeney Point, and later on added another most-wanted species to my list, that showed up exactly as I had anticipated it (albeit in horrible conditions for photography) -a lovely Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Potter Heigham:

In July I traveled in Sweden for a week with my family, and just before the month ended and my birding time in the UK was up I added a last-minute WP tick - Semipalmated Sandpiper at RSPB Snettisham.

Now it's time for some credits and thanks. When I moved to the UK, Martin Garner helped me a lot. One of the most amazing gifts he left behind is links and relationships he helped in formation. Martin recommended that I get in touch with James Lowen. I did, and we became close friends. James was my partner in crime in many of the above twitches. Martin casually invited Mark and Amity to meet me in his garden in Flamborough - what a deep friendship grew out of that first meeting. Thank you again, Martin. 

In this post I wrote 'I headed here' and 'I traveled there' but of course that's not accurate - I almost always birded with good friends. Nick, Mike, Quentin, Phil, Dave, Jake and Drew are just a few of the many generous, lovely people I was lucky to meet here. Thank you all!

So this is it. It has been one hell of a ride. Saw lots of good birds, never stopped learning and had many a laugh. But now it's time to move on. So long, and thanks for all the birds.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Extra time WP tick

I had little expectations to go birding in the UK again, but yesterday a Semipalmated Sandpiper that was found by James McCallum at RSPB Snettisham made me reconsider my priorities... In an atypical display of responsibility and maturity I didn't go yesterday, but this morning I was on site at dawn. First thing there were very few birders (I guess many were waiting at home for news). The tide was advancing up the Wash, and I was scanning the mud like crazy. After a while I spotted THE bird feeding among Dunlin and Ring Plovers - it was distant but I knew exactly what to look for, and as soon as I got onto it everything fell into place - stockier than Little Stint, nice and grey above with no rufous scapulars, thick bill and really obvious flank streaks. Too distant to see the palmations and for photography, so I took in all details I could with x70 magnification on my Swarovski ATX95. I saw it for maybe 20 seconds, and I think another birder got onto it as well; then the whole flock took off with the rapidly rising tide and I lost the bird in a scenario similar to this:

I spent the next couple of hours scanning through the roosting flocks at high tide. Very challenging task to say the least:

Scanning back and forth I did add some quality - a 2cy Roseate Tern (in the field I first had some self doubts but after reading a bit more if seems fine), 2 Arctic terns, 1 Black Tern, 15 Curlew Sandpipers and 2 Little Stint scattered in the Dunlin flocks, 10 Spotted Redshanks and one Turtle Dove that flew south. I was getting a bit worried that I couldn't relocate it, neither did other birders scanning. I was happy to hear that after I had left the bird was relocated in the early afternoon.

Attention: horrible phone scoped images. I really need to buy a phone with a proper camera.

Curlew Sandpiper roosting among Dunlin (adults and a juvenile)


There were several thousand lovely red Knot. Only this grey job was near enough to phonescope.

Snettishem is a special reserve. I must admit that I find the pans unattractive; but the spectacular murmurations of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit over the Wash always impress. Overall it was an enjoyable morning with 81 species - check my eBird checklist here. Thanks to James (good to meet up one last time in the field, mate) and to other birders who worked pretty hard this morning.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Pecless Frampton

Yesterday was possibly my last morning of birding in the UK before heading back to Israel in August. I managed to wake myself and Nick up from our summer coma and we left properly early to get to RSPB Frampton Marsh at dawn for high tide. Since I moved to the UK I always wanted to visit that reserve but never had a chance. The Pec present for the last few days would have been a nice bonus.
We walked between the three hides in the reserve. Water levels are extremely low, resulting in distant scope views of birds and lots of hidden corners. Quite big numbers of returning shorebirds were present, but we could not locate the Pec, tho it was seen again later on. We did see several shorebirds of slight interest - Wood, 2 Green, 5 Curlew Sands, 2 Little Stint, 2 Spotshank. Also 4 Spoonbill, and impressive numbers of Blackwits (islandica I think). All in all a fine morning (eBird checklist here).

RSPB Frampton Marsh - little water!

Early on these two hares played around in front of East Hide:

It was a bit windy so few butterflies, including this Green-veined White:

Little Ringed Plover - several large chicks were seen too

Horrible digiscoped photo of Spoonbills, Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets

By noon we were back in Norwich for our duties. Many thanks to Nick for this fine morning.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sweden part 3 - wildlife

During my week in Sweden I had some wildlife other than birds. As with birds, no unexpected levels of excitement were reached, but overall it was enjoyable. I really wanted to show my family moose but this was the closest we got:

Our short stop at Ålsjön was rather productive. A young 20 cm-long Grass Snake climbed up the walls of an underpassage:

This very pregnant Sand Lizard posed on the boardwalk:

Mush Beetles are impressive beasts!

Heath Spotted Orchids were common around Luleå 

Typical Swedish scenery

The view from the top of Bälingeberget is quite awesome. retreating glaciers created these boulder fields at the end of the last ice age.