Tuesday, September 19, 2017

No pain no gain

What an exhausting day, both physically and emotionally. A day that everything that could go wrong, did. But there was a happy ending to the day. Yesterday evening my mate Stu exploded with a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (aka PGTips) at Burnham Overy. I could not make it yesterday, so this morning I met up super early (again) with James to get to the spot before dawn. We searched for the bird for a couple of hours with a few more tens of people, without success. Dave and I did our very best, alas without reward. It was very windy and cold, and things really did not look good. After the relatively clear night, we all thought the bird had made a move. James had to make a forced early departure, so I thought I'd be a responsible adult, return early to Norwich and go to work. Fail.

Of course, as soon as I got back to Norwich news came of the bird been seen. And again. Another friend, Robin, was heading out there, so I made the quick decision to return to Burnham Overy just few hours after leaving there, demonstrating again that I am not a responsible adult. Arrrgh. While we were on our way, we got some gen that those earlier reports might have been unconfirmed. Noooo! But it was too late to turn around, so we headed on and decided first to visit the Arctic Warbler at Wells Woods and wait for the pgtips to get nailed. The little arctic sprite was easily located by the hordes of twitchers looking at it. It kept high in the treetops, and was pretty mobile, but it did show alright and I even got some half-decent pics:

Smart little bird, but not the one I came for

Everybody look up!

I wondered off with some mates to search for more birds but it was really quiet in Wells Woods. Then I returned with Robin to the pgtips site. We were greeted by quite a large crowd gathered there - gotta love Norfolk birding:

For a couple of hours we saw nothing. Then we saw even less. Things were looking very bad. Had the bird really disappeared? A total fiasco was looming. The wind was still blowing strong, and there were few birds to be seen. I walked and worked very hard with another mate, Ashley, and we didn't produce much more than this Reed Bunting:

But then Ashley saved the day, spotted THE bird briefly, and madness began. Over the next hour or so a handful of us had some brief views of the bird. It did give us the runaround, and never gave itself up. Personally I saw it twice - once in flight, just enough to appreciate its large, dark tail. Then I saw it again in the reeds - I had a good head-on view from very close (3m?) - I saw well the bold supercilium, spotted breast on a yellowish background and streaky back. Phew. I was so pleased with this WP tick - one of my most wanted birds. I hoped for better views, or even a photo? That will wait for the next one. For the time being, celebration time.

It was nice to welcome back the Pink-footed Geese. I estimated 3000 birds. Welcome winter.

What a day. Now, good night.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Twitchin' Aileen

Storm Aileen that crossed the Atlantic and hit UK last week deposited a good number of yank waders in the west and south. Dorset fared especially well with three quality species few miles from each other. That was too much for me and yesterday I joined a car full of Norwich birders for a muddy twitch. We left Norwich at silly o'clock to get to Dorset in the early morning. Driving down we already got news that all three were present. Smiles and cheers in the car. We started off at Lodmoor RSPB. Both local stars were on show - first Stilt Sandpiper. Quite a big WP bird, this lovely juvenile showed very well, albeit slightly beyond my camera capacity. Very elegant on those long, yellow legs; a fine supercilium gives it character; and that long, downcurved bill is so special. Brilliant bird.

In this case, phonescoping didn't get any better results:

Next up was the Least Sandpiper only 200m away. It was even more distant, so my photos are worthless, but another fine little bird. Nice supercilium again, and nice breast pattern. Good size comparison with Dunlin here.

In this case phonoscoping got slightly better results:

Birding there was pretty good with lots of migrants and local birds. Supporting cast to the yank waders was this Great White Egret:

Rubbish bird and two quality geese

While birding at Lodmoor we learned that the Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Portland, just a few minutes down the road, had made a bunk. We decided to search for it anyway, hoping it reappears. But that did not happen. I was quite disappointed - in fact it was my most wanted species of the three. We had a good walk around Portland Bill that produced rather little. A few migrants around - one paddock had over 30 wheatears; and there were pretty good numbers of chiffs and willows; that was no consolation prize. The others connected with a Wryneck in the quarry but I spent that time chatting to the mighty warden Martin Cade, nice to meet at last. In hindsight we were pretty lucky, because a short while after we had left Lodmoor the Stilt Sand flew off never to be seen again. So it could have been worse.

On the long way back to Norwich we picked up a couple more coastal birds blown inland by the storm. The Sabine's Gull at Daventry CP in Northamptonshire went missing for a few hours. However, a few minutes after we had arrived it reappeared and showed really well. Gorgeous-looking thing, though it looked quite miserable with its eyes half-closed and a 'I'm-going-to-die-soon' vibe to it.  

I don't like Northamptonshire!

Eyes closed even when flying

Why are those funny looking Polar Bears looking at me?

Then in the fading light, a few miles down the road, we paid a quick visit to the Grey Phalarope at Hollowell Reservoir. Sorry, until I see a red one in Iceland I will continue calling it Grey!
Beautiful bird. Shame about the (no) light.

I can swim!

Many thanks to Jake, Michael and Daniel for a great day out. Lots of driving (by Jake) but a good daily tally overall.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Spurn Migfest 2017

Glad to be back home after another brilliant Spurn Migfest weekend. So many stories to tell but in short - great birding, good time with friends old and new, fantastic talks (hope mine was good too?), incredible young birders and lots of smiling faces. Stellar job, as always, by Spurn Bird Observatory team, BTO, RSPB, Migfest volunteers, Westmere Farm - congratulations!
For me, personally, it was a charged weekend. Last time I was here, in 2015, I spent most of my time with Martin. Since then also Andy had passed away and the gap in the Spurn heart seems to have increased even more. But Migfest team, led by chairman Rob Adams, certainly made this weekend so good for me - thank you!
Birding was very good - beyond weather-expectations. On Saturday morning vismig was brilliant with huge numbers of Meadow Pipits, hirundines and Tree Sparrows going through. I heard one Richard's Pipit call but nothing more than that. Other vismig and seawtching highlights were Roseate Tern (sweet call! First time I hear it), several Short-eared Owls and two Bonxies.

Short-eared Owl

Tree Sparrows

Great Spotted Woodpecker working the fence poles by Numpties. Yummy grubs!

Then I lead a walk with Terry. Five minutes after starting news broke of the headline bird of Migfest - Long-billed Dowitcher at Corner Pond / Holderness Fields. Brilliantly picked up on call by Paul - legend! We did make the group run a bit; completely ignored a cracking juv Little Stint en route. By the time we got there quite a crowd had already assembled. Great bird - distant views though.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Digiscoping results were not much better

Dowitwichers (copyright Jonnie Fisk)

The great Darren Woodhead in action. That's how far the bird was

After a few minutes of admiring this beauty of a shorebird, we moved on to look for the Wryneck at the top of Beacon Lane. We saw the bird immediately as it was feeding on aphids. As I was leading I spent no time on photography, hence the poor photo. Others got some great photos and footage of this cooperative bird.

Then a few minutes of seawatching produced Little Gull and 2 Arctic Skuas. Not a bad walk... And look at this daily summary, complete with a swallow:

Enjoyed this brilliant Comma sunning itself

On Sunday morning I helped with ringing at Church Fields. Pretty quiet but nice to see the Caspian Gull fly over, first seen over Numpties a few minutes before. This female Migrant Hawker was sweet:

Perhaps my best photo of the weekend was taken on Friday morning near Kings Lynn - while waiting at a meeting point to swap cars this Muntjac sped across a cut wheat field in the warm morning sun. Stunner. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Taylor Swift

Warm temperatures in Norwich this evening meant open windows. In turn, these meant moths in the house. Four (!) new house species among several more moths I have already had inside the house - common but fine moths. Still need to improve my self ID skills; luckily I have friends who help me out.
After reading this interesting piece by James about ethics of moth ticking, I am very happy with ethics of my non-refrigerated moths. All moths photographed on their self-chosen perches, captured and released outdoors.

Orange Swift on Libby's towel

Yellow Shell on the wall

Square Spot Rustic on the bed

Garden Carpet on a travel bag

Friday, August 25, 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Birdfair 2017 summary and thoughts

Another Birdfair done and dusted. As every year, I worked for my Israeli organisation, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, to showcase our conservation work in Israel and promote birding tourism to Israel. This year our team included Dan, Jonathan, Noam and Tsadok from IBRCE, Nadav from Hula, our Godfather Yossi Leshem and his wife, Richard and Anette - quite a team! It felt like a family reunion to be together with my old friends. And they provided free, extended babysitting services 😃

Nadav and Noam

Our main efforts this weekend were geared towards Champions of the Flyway - recruiting teams for next year, meeting sponsors and increasing the reach and impact of our project. We had a huge and highly successful event on Saturday night to celebrate Champions - success stories from previous recipients about the birds saved using COTF funds (see example here) were truly inspirational. The event was endorsed by our partners at BirdLife International, and CEO Mrs. Patricia Zurita's words touched everyone's heart. Here is Dale Forbes from Swarovski Optik temporarily handing over a new pair to John Kinghorn of Youth Africa Birders. In COTF 2017 they won the titles 'Knights of the Flyway' and 'Guardians of the Flyway', and donated this pair to Doga Dernegi (Birdlife Turkey).

Then the new COTF movie by Yuval Dax was unveiled - brilliant movie:

The celebration ended with a fab live gig by the wonderful Morning Bride and Bill Thompson III of The Rain Crows.
On a presonal note, Mark and Amity are dear friends and my family spent much of the weekend hanging out with them - huge pleasure.  This is from an intimate fringe gig they did on friday:

As we have done in recent years since our move to the UK, I was joined by my family which was great fun. Here is my son Noam with Prof. Yossi Leshem, very pleased with himself after winning a beautiful prize draw - stunning artwork by the tallented Jo Ruth:

Here are some more personal highlights from the weekend, all with phone camera so sorry about poor quality. More photos, mainly even-poorer selfies, are on my Facebook wall.

Marc Guyt - a great friend from NL

Fine Islay whiskey. Lagavulin 16 was especially good.

Progress of the traditional Birdfair mural. Day 1:

Day 2

Day 3 - final product!

From a personal point of view, it's an empowering but exhausting event. Empowering, because of the strong sense of a large, powerful conservation family I belong to. Exhausting, because I talked, and smiled, non-stop, for three full days. On Sunday the effects of this constant chat and smile were evident on the faces of all exhibitors. Thousands and thousands of people walked past our stand, many stopped to talk; a 100m walk to the toilet or for a coffee could take an hour. But the rewards are great. Some cynical souls may keep away from Birdfair, but for me these connections and networking opportunities with friends and colleagues from around the world are invaluable. And great fun.

Using social media, online criticism by 'anti-Birdfairers' against the commercialism of the event, and the Celebrity-selfie culture that is picking up, with the increasing virtual 'power' of birding and conservation 'celebrities'. I understand this criticism, and for a person who feels at his best when I'm birding, outdoors, three days of intensive shoulder-rubbing is not my natural passtime. However, I must confess, I like selfies; it's always a slightly awkward moment, and very often they look bad because they are taken with the poor reverse camera phone. They look almost-alright on phone screens, but on computer screens they look awful. But in today's social media world, selfies are almost a necessity. And in selfies people normally smile, and hug, which are two positive activities IMO. My kids were really keen to spot big TV starts such as Chris Packham and Steve Backshall, like rarity-spotting. They were thrilled that I had a meeting with Chris Packham - so had to grab the selfie-opp, and an autograph for the kids. This is by Jonathan:

Arjan Dwarshuis, with whom I spent some time in Israel during his incredible Biggest Year in 2017

After all, selfies are part of the game. All those who work in the interface between birding, conservation and 'The Public' need to use social media in this way or another. I don't think that my selfie with Chris or Arjan increased my 'public leaverage', if there is any. But looking at the Big Picture, these are the 'rules' in the world we are working in.

Another slightly less pleasent aspect of Birdfair is the occasional expression of anti-Israeli opinions towards us during Birdfair, by casual visitors and also by some 'higher-ranked' figures in the birding industry. The main argument to try and weaken Champions of the Flyway is the support we get from Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Even though I do not enjoy listening to this often uninformed criticism, the only thing I can do, and my colleagues too, is to shrug our shoulders and try even harder to do our best to promote cross-border collaboration for Bird Conservation in our region. We have been doing it for many years, because we believe it's the right thing to do. If some people get confused and fail to identify that we try to be the 'Good Guys', despite what they think about the Israeli Government's policy, that's alright with me. And when people approached me during Birdfair and started a conversation of bigotry and hate, I used my good British manners and thanked them very much for their kind words.