Monday, December 28, 2015

Special post - the best of 2015

As I do every year, I will summarize here my birding year of 2015. This has been an unusual year. First of all, this was my first full year in the UK. I am busier here than ever with my PhD research, and my fieldwork is very short and concentrated, so my birding capacity has decreased seriously. Personally this is pretty difficult and rather frustrating. I had been working in the field all of my adult life, and this change in my lifestyle is not simple. It leads to pretty funny daily corridor conversations with two other keen birders in my department who are as frustrated as me, about what birds we cannot see and where we'd want to be rather than modelling in R... But I am a grown-up (?) and shouldn't complain too much. So I will try to look back here at the best moments of 2015, and looking back there were many wonderful moments indeed.

From my blog's point of view, this has been my slowest year ever:

Looking at my annual blogging activity patterns, it is apparent what are the normal rates in which I go out birding, and where my two annual peaks occurred - in spring when I did my fieldwork in Spain and Portugal, and in my autumn trip to Shetland. I assume you can see the effect of my first year of PhD has had on me...

And now, let's look at some birds at last!
Winter was mild and birding was fairly slow. After enjoying my first winter in Norfolk by the end of 2014, I got pretty bored of geese... In early January I did find a nice feeding spot near the Great Grey Shrike at Stanton Downham, where lots of pretty and colourful birds came in to feed:

A few days later I had my first WP tick of the year - an inland Great Northern Diver at nearby Rockland Broad:

A well-timed high tide visit to Snettisham in mid January with my mate and regular birding companion James Lowen was awesome:

We had an brilliant day - we paid a visit to Welney's swans as well:

And we also saw briefly a Waxwing at Hunstanton:

Bird-related news was that I got a new Swarovski ATX95 scope that turned me officially into a Swarovski boy - thanks Swarovski Optik Nature!

In February I saw very little in the UK but luckily towards the end of the month I squeezed in a few hours of birding in Portugal and Spain in between meetings during a short visit there. Another WP tick for me was this Glaucous Gull at Peniche, Portugal:

I also enjoyed some Bonelli's Eagle action at Alange Castle, Extremadura. I missed the Black Wheatears there but I settled the story with them later on in spring.

March was still cold and quiet in Norfolk. I had a look at this sweet Iceland Gull at Weybourne:

Towards the end of the month I went to Portugal and Spain for two weeks of intensive fieldwork. I spent most of my time with my Great Bustards. Only on the first morning I sat in a hide at La Serena in Extremadura to get close and personal with them. The rest of my encounters were more typically distant.

I spent all my morning in the  cereal steppes of Extremadura and Alentejo, where I had all of the other expected species, such as Little Bustards:

In the afternoons I had opportunities to explore some other sites and birds. I had several lifers, including Black Wheatear:

And two unexpected Nearctic shorebirds - Lesser Yellowlegs and Long-billed Dowitcher (WP tick):

From Spain I flew over to Israel for a short family visit. It was so good to be in Israel, meet up with friends and family and to see birds everywhere, but I had very limited time for proper birding. I managed to escape one early morning to connect with the long-staying Hypocolius in Ashkelon - cracking bird:

Back in the UK, not much was going on until in late April I went with my regular companions to twitch the 2nd Great Blue Heron for the UK, on the Isles of Scilly. Sadly on the way back we managed to dip on the Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset.

During late May's half term holiday I went with my family up to Flamborough and Bempton Cliffs RSPB in East Yorkshire, and we thoroughly enjoyed it:

It was great to spend time with Martin Garner and family:

In June I did see a Paddyfield Warbler on Blakeney Point but did not get any photos of the shy bird. I tried very hard to find a Greenish Warbler, perhaps my most wanted WP bird at the moment, but with no success. Something for next year.
In mid July I drove all the way to Titchfield Haven in Hampshire to see the long-staying Greater Yellowlegs (WP tick). It was a fine twitch and I really enjoyed the reserve there:

In August my seek after the holy grail (Greenish Warbler) continued without success and I saw nothing of interest. I participated in the BirdFair at the Israeli Ornithological Center stand and had a good time with lots of friends from Israel, UK and all over the world. My boys were excited to meet up with BBR Springwatch superstar Chris Packham:

In early September I participated in the Spurn Migfest - a fantastic event. Birding was sort of on the slower side but seawatching was alright with Balearic Shearwater and three Sabine's Gulls. This Spotted Flycatcher was very popular because of its beautiful perch:

In mid September I saw what was probably 'Bird of the Year' for many birders, the one-day Acadian Flycatcher at Dungeness, Kent, the first for the Western Palearctic:

On the way back added Wilson's Phalarope to my life list at Vange Marshes, Essex...

In late september I went for a week with Martin and Sharon up to Shetland. We stayed in the south of Mainland, and I birded there most of the time, often with some birding legends. Birding was touch most of the time but I did see some good birds, and even found a few semi-decent birds. But as always, the company made the trip amazing, and I had precious quality time with Martin.

'My' Blyth's Reed Warbler

Pechora Pipit 

As it is in recent years, the commonest migrant was Yellow-browed Warbler:

This young male Lapland Bunting was very friendly:

In mid October North Norflok was a real Purple Patch, but I skipped most of the mega-popular rarities and saw only one Pallas's Warbler and the Hume's Warbler, both of which I couldn't photograph.
In November I participated in The EBBA / EBP workshop in Mikulov, Czech Republic. No real birding there but did enjoy this cute Red Squirrel:

In December winter mood settled on me and I didn't do much birding and as a result did not see much... But this fine Red-necked Grebe at Brancaster Staithe was a nice bird to end the year with:

So that was my year. First of all, I want to thank my many readers who continue to follow me despite my slacking rate of blogging. I wish I could do more, and I really hope that in 2016 I will get out more often. It was very encouraging for me to see that during the short periods that I did produce more often, for instance during the week I was on Shetland, many 'dormant' followers returned to read my blog. So thank you all! I am very grateful to my birding friends, especially James and Quentin, for driving me around and keeping me entertained.
And as always, many thanks and lots of love to my wonderful family. I miss Israel very much, especially the birding, but my life here in the UK is full of happiness thanks to you!
Happy New Year and all the best wishes for 2016!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Highs and lows

What a day, very intensive emotionally. One of these days that demonstrate to me how birding is the best therapy. This morning after seeing the boys off to school I headed up to Flamborough to say goodbye to my dear friend Martin Garner (see also here). On the way to King's Lynn I stopped briefly for the 2000ish-large gull flock near Middleton. I had wanted to check this flock properly many times before but never had the chance. Today I couldn't resist, but I was not focused - my mind was elsewhere. I had no time and patience to get the scope out and work them properly. A quick scan with bins revealed no unusual gulls, so I thought I'd be a wiseguy - I took a video of the flock planning to check them on the computer screen at home and fish out all the caspos hiding in there. Of course the plan didn't work - my video movements were too quick and shaky and it was impossible to identify anything. Later on some proper birders checked the flock and found a caspian and 6 yellow-legs in that same flock. Well done. 

In King's Lynn I met up with Terry who joined me for the drive up to Flamborough. The connection with Terry was immediate, as often happens with fellow birders. Sadly grim circumstances to meet for the first time, but it was great to meet Terry at last. Anyway, we started heading up, talking about Martin and about China and all kinds of stuff. About halfway I got a call from close friends advising us not to come. So we made a U-turn and head back, sad and frustrated. As I had already taken the day off and couldn't think about getting any work done today, we decided to go for Plan B and headed over to N Norfolk for few hours of birding. 
We started off at Brancaster Staithe (Terry you were correct - it's a place for loading or unloading boats), where a Red-necked Grebe has been showing for the last couple of weeks or so. We didn't even need to step out of the car - the bird was on show immediately in the canal by the beach carpark. But we did step out of the car. At first the grebe kept its distance but slowly it approached us and eventually was pretty close. Pity the light was poor. Quality bird, though I'd rather see this one in Israel
Red-necked Grebe


Quite a few other birds around. Of note was one Goldeneye.
We then continued to nearby Choseley Farms. We positioned ourselves on top of the hill. It took us some time to connect with a Rough-legged Buzzard after seeing about 10 Common Buzzards. At first we had distant scope views sat on the ground. Then we approached it along the road to get closer views. I walked out of the car without the camera to see if it is on view from the new angle. Then it decided to fly off, heading towards us. Dashed back to the car for the camera but by the time I got it out the buzzard was already heading away. And as if at noon the light wasn't bad enough, now at 15:00 it was getting dark. So these are horrible record shots of another quality bird.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Other birds in the area were about 30 Corn Buntings, and several Fieldfares. Nice to bump into James up there. Then Terry and I parted and I drove back home to Norwich.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Goose day

After a too long period without birding, went out this morning for a few hours before work with Quentin. We checked Cantley and Buckenham - in fact my first time ever there. The day started grey and grim but then the sun came out and it was quite brilliant. At Cantley there were quite many geese, and of note were 15 European White-fronts and 4 Taiga Beans.

There was a huge Lapwing flock there, I estimated about 1500 - good to see such a large flock of this declining species. About 25 Ruff among them. Also the mandatory Peregerine and several Marsh Harriers. 
Then we continued to Buckenham. The flock of 21 Taiga Beans was showing very distantly by the railway - not even a chance for a record shot. There was this group of about 20 barnacles - I assume they are feral? Among them is the famous Ross's X Barnacle hybrid - odd looking bird:

Some large Wigeon flocks were about, here they are showing the typical grey axillaries, a good feature to separate them from American Wigeon ;-)

Among the four-legged animals we had a Weasel and two Chinese Water Deer (thnx JHM).
Thanks to Quentin for the fine morning.

Cantley Marshes

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Middle Eastern Dodo

So while my mates had a great day seawatching off Norfolk, I behaved like I was a grown-up and headed to London to participate in the joint OSME / BOC winter meeting at the Natural History Museum. It was in fact my first visit to the museum but I had very little time to explore - was slightly delayed arriving because of heavy security causing huge queues. Couldn't ignore this rather sad-looking Dodo - what an incredible bird.

Dinosaur sp. 

I talked about bird monitoring in Israel, and was very impressed by all the monitoring efforts and activities presented by other speakers. Was especially moved by the talk by legendary Richard Porter about the great work done in Iraq. In this image OSME council members Rob Sheldon (chairman) and Nick Moran pay their respect to Mr. Porter: