Thursday, January 29, 2015

Living Dead

Yesterday I visited the Natural History Museum at Tring for the first time. As a keen birder from an early age, I grew up on Hadoram's myths of the endless aisles there. Now that I live not too far away from Tring I had a chance to finally visit this fascinating place. The main purpose of my visit was a project I am doing on Nubian Nightjar subspecies - hope something useful will come out of it. I went there with Quentin who is doing a project on Snow Buntings, and we met up there with Yosef who's working on his moult project there.
The NHM is quite an amazing place indeed. The incredible amount and diversity of birds found in their bird collections is unimaginable. It is an invaluable resource for any ornithologist. The opportunity to work with huge sample sizes, available at NHM, is impossible to achieve in a lifetime in the field. 
However, my excitement of seeing so many birds was slightly shadowed by the fact they were all dead. Very dead. Most birds I saw were collected in the late 1800's or early 1900's. Quiet a few of the species receive attention and are the focus of research, but I guess that some of the thousands of cupboards there remain untouched. So to think about how many birds were 'collected' (laundered term for shot) is sad. For instance I walked past the Brown Fish Owl cupboard and couldn't resist having a look - I shuddered a bit when I saw a couple of hundreds of these majestic owls lying there, each one of them was taken down by someone many years ago. I know that back then people didn't know better etc., and I acknowledge the importance for modern science to have this incredible infrastructure for research, but still it's just sad. Or Gurney's Pitta, how much I sweated in the jungles of Khao Nor Chuci in Thailand in 1999 until I finally managed to see one of these gems - one of the most excelling birding moments of my life. And at NHM, half a cupboard full of this Globally Endangered species. The only, and big, consolation is the good science that does come out of NHM, contributing back to conservation, that to my eyes justifies these mighty collections nowadays.

Anyway, I worked efficiently to get the data I need on the nightjars - here's a quick sample:

Nubian Nightjar subspecies - typical males:

And before leaving I had time for some 'fun':

White Wagtail subspecies - all 2cy males in spring / summer:

'Isabelline' Shrikes - adult males:

Gurney's Pittas RIP 

All images in this post are copyright of The London Natural History Museum (Yoav Perlman).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Birds and poeple - Brilliant day in NW Norfolk

Wow, what a day. So good to be out for a full day, great company, brilliant birding, good weather - can't ask for much more can I? 
Headed off with James to the NW coast. Started off at Snettisham RSPB as the tides were right. The main departure of the roosting Pink-footed Geese was a bit too early for photography, but the 10,000 (?)-strong noisy mass was very impressive as they passed overhead and headed east towards their feeding sites in N Norfolk:


And then as the tide came up the shorebirds started moving towards the roost at Pit 4, so we followed them there. Unfortunately, the hides that were destroyed in the December 2013 have not been restored yet. So, if anyone from the RSPB reads this, please make some effort to get these hides operating again, because at the moment the viewing conditions are not welcome. Anyway, we managed to find ourselves an inch and a half of clear view, and watched the thousands of Knot and Oyestercatcher fly in to roost. Knot in a very tight flock, Oystercatcher in a looser, noisy group. Nice to catch up with some good friends there.

And when they fly up for some reason, the show begins:


Over above the mudflats impressive whirling flocks of Barwits and Knot did their obligatory performance, but we were a bit too distant to appreciate:

On the way out this pretty drake Goldeneye was attractive enough:

Our next stop was Huntstanton Tesco. First coffee and sandwiches, then we crossed the road to the coach park where Waxwings were seen over the last few days. Apparently the berries on their bush have all been eaten up, so they are more mobile now. As we approached James spotted from a fair distance one Waxwing perched just above the Pay and Display sign... I asked James: "It will let us approach, won't it?". James answered: "Of course.". I thought to myself, let's put the coffee and sandwich aside for a second and get an insurance distant record shot. James laughed at me, but sure enough two clicks later and it was up and off and gone. Despite searching through gardens and hedges in the general direction where we saw it flying too, it wasn't relocated.


Melanistic form of wankwing

We headed south and paid the Wolverton Triangle a quick visit. James has a tradition of trying for the Golden Pheasents there each time he is in the area, and always fails. Today was not different...

Then we continued on to Welney WWT. Short walk into the main hide, and we arrived just before noon feeding session. There weren't too many swans about, only 20 something Whoopers and more mutes. However they are so pretty and impressive that we enjoyed the entertainment very much. Unfortunately the main hides are shit for photography (next time we will book the photography hide in advance).

Whooper Swans


I was impressed by the local guide Katy who talked really well while feeding the swans:

There was a bit of pushing and shoving when Katy was feeding:

Pochard - so pretty, deserves some focus, don't you think?

By the Nelson-Lyle hide there were 13 Pink-footed Geese - quite distant so digiscoped them with Swarovski ATX 95 and Canon 7D: 

Eurasian Wigeon -  digiscoped with Swarovski ATX 95 and Canon 7D

On the way back onto the A11 we encountered some mixed flocks of Whooper and Bewick's Swans loafing in the fields:

And near Prickwillow (love this name) we had a hunting Barn Owl - unfortunately for the bird and for us it had one bad eye - always on my side...

Bad eye

Thanks to James for his good company and driving!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Goosander @ UEA

Just a quick one, had a lunch-look at a female Goosander found by Drew on the UEA broad - new to my UEA list... Terrible digibinned shot with phone...

First digiscoping attempts with Swarovski ATX95

A couple of days ago I got a brilliant optics kit - Swarovski Optik have very kindly agreed to support the Great Bustard conservation project I am conducting with the best optics possible - Swarovski ATX95 scope, and TLS APO DSLR adapter for digiscoping. This morning I went out for a couple of frozen hours to Whitlingham to try it out for the first time. Personally, digiscoping is a bit of a retro activity. I bought my first digital camera (Nikon Coolpix 4500 - that was one hell of a camera, for it's time at least) and used it for digiscoping for a couple of year until I decided digiscoping sucks and I purchased my first DSLR. Since then I have avoided digiscoping for many years, but when now I got the opportunity to use such a supreme scope, digiscoping became an option for some proper photography - the world of digiscoping has evolved a bit since I abandoned digiscoping...
My fingers were frozen this morning, but the light was quite OK after a grey start so conditions were not too bad. I really enjoyed just birding with the scope first, before I began shooting through the scope. It was fun to check the waterfowl at the far end of the broad in dim light, at a magnification of X60, and get a crisp and clear image. I picked out a male Sparrowhawk flying low over the water away to the far bank. It perched on a post and I could see clearly its yellow iris and all plumage details - I was really impressed by the image quality.
With digiscoping, I need to practice more and improve my own skills. After years of using auto-focus, I need to remember how to focus manually... And I need to test different methods of light metering in order to get properly exposed images. Unfortunately didn't shoot in RAW this morning - don't know why, so I had some exposure problems that I couldn't correct. But for sure I will try to improve my skills and hope to come up with better results in the future.

Great Crested Grebe - taken with Swarovski ATX95 and Canon 40D

So thanks again to Swarovski for their contribution to conservation!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Local Great Northern Diver

Since I moved to the UK some months ago I have been working slowly on my WP list, clearing up embarrassing gaps formed because I had never spent enough time in Europe in winter. These have included Iceland Gull and Great Grey Shrike that now I 'got out of the way'. I needed Great Northern Diver as well but missed it while seawatching off the north coast several times. But I knew I had to wait with some patience until an easy bird turns up inland near Norwich, and that's what happened - one was found yesterday at Rockland Broad RSPB. I was a bad boy today, and when I saw that the sun was out, I escaped from uni and decided to go out for a quicky with James. We had very good views of the bird (though too distant for proper photography), a 2cy, as it swam and dived for fish, often harassed by the local gulls. Very cool bird. I have a soft spot for divers as all divers are very rare in Israel, so I always enjoy watching them. 

Actually quite many birds around - Marsh Harrier, 4 Buzzards together, 3 Snipe etc. On the way out this Treecreeper was very confiding and did its best to get photographed but I failed quite miserably and only got this semi-OK shot, but what a lovely bird.

Eurasian Treecreeper 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Who needs rarities at all?! Common birds rule!

Went this morning to look for the Great Grey Shrike at Staton Downham, before a meeting in Thetford. As I got on site the shrike was showing west of the bridge over Little Ouse, but at quite a distant. I watched it through the scope for some minutes but then it flew out of sight and was not seen again for the next couple of hours. I searched the wider area well but it was just gone. Quite frustrating as I didn't get even a record shot. Ah well. 
On the way out had a quick look at St. Helen's campsite. A nice local lad kindly laid seeds out for birds on the wooden bollards surrounding the carpark, and tons of local birds visited this small feeding site. I was there for about 15 minutes, appreciated the good sunlight and enjoyed every minute! Beautiful, common birds kept coming and going. Next time I should stick some nicer perches up for them.

Marsh Tit - so quick!

Marsh Tit and Blue Tit

 Blue Tits

Great Tit and Blue Tit

Great Tit

Coal Tit

Bugger off! These seeds are mine!



Great Spotted Woodpecker

 Some nearctic birds of prey kept flying over making noise:


 Shrike habitat