Monday, April 27, 2015

Almost perfect Scilly twitch

On Friday night I embarked on my first ever mega-island-twitch. Together with Nick, James and Dave we went for the Great Blue Heron that has been present now for about two weeks on the Isles of Scilly, the 2nd ever in the UK. For me it was also my first opportunity to visit these famous islands, so obviously I was very excited about this trip. We left Norwich before midnight and at first light we were parked at the Marazion Marsh carpark to recuperate a bit after the long drive. The others tried to catch a few minutes of sleep and I tried to see if the Pacific Diver that had wintered there was still present. It was not, but then I saw a Great White Egret roosting in the woods behind the reserve, so I had to wake the guys up. Common bird in Israel, but still pretty good in the UK and not bad as a first bird of the day. The egret soon left the roost and disappeared into the marsh.
Then we headed into Penzance for breakfast. 12 Purple Sandpipers were still present by the swimming pool:

Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone

All morning flights were fully booked so we took the Scillonian. As we were boarding the boat we got news about a Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset, not too far away. Immediately we started calculating how to combine a sweet little detour on the way back with our plans to head back home as quickly as possible. Not easy.
Quite a few seabirds were seen along the passage until we sailed past Land's End: several good rafts of Manx Shearwater, quite many auks (Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills), and one Fulmar.

Manx Shearwaters

When we sailed into St. Mary's harbour we had distant views of a Long-tailed Duck:

Quickly we caught a speedboat to Bryher, for the main dish. The Great Blue Heron was quickly spotted as it flew in to Big Pool and showed well to the medium crowd that came on the Scillonian. At first the weather was poor, and the bird looked quite miserable too:

Great Blue Heron

Then the rain got lighter and the bird walked around a bit and tried to fish. What a cool bird! Forgot how massive they are compared to Grey Herons.


After we were satisfied with our views, as much as possible in these awful weather conditions, we went into the village to celebrate with a beautiful Lemon Drizzle at the Vine Cafe. On the way up stopped for a panoramic view of the heron and its surroundings - see it down at the bottom?

We spent the next few hours birding Bryher, as it felt that there were some fesh migrants in, possibly knocked down by the foul weather. As an Israeli I had to work hard on myself to get excited by the few migrants around, but the locals were quite choughed with our good fortunes: we had two Wrynecks, one Golden Oriole, 8 Tree Pipits, 3 Whitethroats, several Willow Warblers and three Wheatears. In addition, I had a probable Sibe Chiffchaff below Samson Hill. I had too brief views but it looked good. Unfortunately we had to run for the boat back to St. Mary's so I couldn't nail it. Too bad.


During the walk back to the Key where the boat waited for us the sun came out and it became quite beautiful. I desperately scoped Big Pool of Tresco hoping to see the Black Duck but failed to string any ducks there.

We had an hour to kill before the Scillonian took us back to the mainland, so we birded the Garrison that was completely devoid of migrants. Peculiar to see these black rabbits all over the place there:

Good to see House Sparrows and Song Thrushes are doing very good on Scilly:

2cy Song Thrush - note moult limit in GC

We got into Penzance close to midnight and were too knackered to go anywhere. We found accommodation nearby and decided to hit Shapwick Heath early in the morning despite the fact that the Hudsonian Godwit had taken off with a flock of blackwits yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately the bird did not return this morning. Really classic. All blackwits return, only the one bird of interest does not. 

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits - sadly all with neat white underwings

We heard there some heartbreaking stories about birders who came from NE Scotland to miss the bird by an hour etc., so our situation was not that tragic. We were all disappointed by not seeing the bird we wanted, however I enjoyed the superb reserve. During the short time we were there we had 2-3 booming Bitterns, Wood Sand, Garden and Willow Warblers, one Cuckoo and generally pretty birdy there. The drive back home was uneventful.
Despite the slightly sour flavour that ended our trip for not seeing the Hudwit, still it was a mega experience. I really enjoyed the Scillies - very unique and beautiful (when the sun came out). Of course our main target, the heron, was great indeed, and we added some more quality birds.
Huge thanks to my brothers in arms - Nick, James and Dave.

Friday, April 24, 2015

First international Yellow-legged Gull recovery and nice morning at UEA

Got nice news today from Cyprus. Robin Snape, David Preece and their colleagues from North Cyprus Society for Protection of Birds and Nature (KUŞKOR) read a colour-ring on a Yellow-legged Gull. They traced it back to me and Amir Ben Dov - we ringed it as a chick in the colony breeding in the Tel Aviv University Zoological Gardens in May 2013. This image is by David Preece!

This is our first international recovery after four years of ringing Yellow-legged Gulls at this colony. Only 365 km away but still a significant piece of information. Gulls from this colony move around quite a bit in Israel, but until this one we knew nothing about their longer-distance movements. It's about time we stick some GPS tags on them.

I don't have images of the specific individual that was resighted in Cyprus, but this one below was ringed together on the same day, photographed in March 2014 when it was almost one year old:

And this is how it should look like now, almost two years old:

Nice walk around the UEA broad this morning with Drew. He found a Grasshopper Warbler reeling earlier on and I heard it as well when I arrived. Lots of singing Reed Warblers, Garden Warbler, several Willow Warblers and generally nice to be out.

Off to Scilly soon, wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

And the commonest migrant is: Ring Ouzel!

Went birding today at Winterton Dunes NNR. I knew weather was not good for migrants but I did expect a bit more than what I had. The commonest migrant was Ring Ouzel... I had two very shy and mobile group - first three females (I think) and then another group of six males. Next migrant was Swallow with six. Other than that very little - not even a Wheatear. On the sea 8 Arctic Terns and one latish Red-throated Diver. 
Three Adders snuck away in the heather - no photos of them either but found this impressive intact skin:

Skyfull of skylark song - that's always nice

I always like Stock Doves - maybe because they're rare in Israel

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

UEA Rouzel

Had a tough day at work. The sun was out, I could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing out of my office window, and the young undergrad birders kept sending messages about migrants and stuff. After lunch I gave in and went for a short walk around the broad. At last some migrants around - several Willow Warblers, a Garden Warbler found earlier by Michael, and Sand Martins. About an hour later Michael and Drew found a Ring Ouzel on campus - not surprising with all those reported in Norfolk in recent days, but nice find anyway. I couldn't resist another dose of sunshine and headed out for a quick mini-twitch. Nice female thing, was rather skittish but showed OK for short periods. Too quick for phonescoping though.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Nice spring days

Nice days in Israel. Not much birding done, but so many birds everywhere, driving from here to there. I almost got excited by flocks of storks and kites...
This morning visited the JBO briefly. Weather was suddenly almost British - cold and grey, and even light drizzle, but birds were not British at all. Tons of Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps, and smaller numbers of Eastern Orphean, Eastern Olivaceous, Balkan and Great Reed Warblers, Nightingales, Tree and Red-throated Pipits. Highlights were one female Eastern Subalpine Warbler, and one late Hawfinch. Nice daytime encounter with the local Porcupine. Didn't get any photos of migrants but had more success with local birds out of the hide. 

Hooded Crow with Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)

White-throated Kingfisher

Staying at my parents' in laws. There are a few families of Long-eared Owls in their village, in addition to Scops, Little and Barn Owls I heard or saw there in recent days.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Thank you Mrs. Hypocolius!

I am in Israel now for a short visit. Easter school holiday in the UK coincided well with Passover in Israel, so we came here for a week of family and friends basically. Lots of fun but very exhausting, physically and emotionally. Great to be here in Israel during migration - so many birds everywhere. I miss birding in Israel so much.
On Sunday morning I managed to escape for a couple of hours in the early morning to connect with the long-staying female Grey Hypocolius in Ashkelon NP, found by Oded Lewy about 10 days ago. I have seen hypocolius in Israel several times before (for instance in 2011). But because it is such a quality bird, and it's still a good rarity, and the first outside of Eilat area, and because it's been so patient and waited for me, and because I just had to get outdoors...
I met up with Amir there which was good because stupidly I left my camera at home by the door... Amir was generous enough to let me use his camera. Thanks Amir! The hypocolius itself didn't show too well during the short time I was there. It was quite shy and mobile but for a few seconds it did perch on a tree right above our heads. Unfortunately light conditions were shit but a great bird nevertheless!

I really enjoyed the nice stroll through a small section of the lovely park. So many nice migrants around. Nothing unusual apart for the hypocolius, just a quality selection typical for Israel this time of year: Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, several singing Savi's Warblers, Nightingales, Tree and Red-throated Pipits, Masked Shrike. You can check my full checklist here.
That's it for now. Hope to squeeze in a little more birding before returning to UK on Friday. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Signing off from Portugal, off to Israel!

Last day in the field today in northern Alentejo. Worked in Torre de Bolsa, and the situation for Great Bustards was grim. In fact it is possible that we witnessed the extinction of this once-prominent sub-populations. We found no Great Bustards today in the over-intensified SPA. Very sad.
However, good numbers of Little Bustards were present in several sites - they seem to be more resilient to over-intensification, and manage to utilize smaller patches of suitable habitat.

Other birds included the usual suspects - Montagu's Harriers, Black-winged Kites etc.
After thoroughly cleaning my dirty car, I returned to Lisbon. I am at the airport now, waiting for my flight back to the UK. But I am hardly touching down in the UK - I continue almost straight away to Israel. My wife and kids already traveled to Israel a couple of days ago. I am joining them for a quicky in Israel. Expect to be occupied with family and friends most of the time, but hope to get some birding done. There's a very patient Hypocolius still waiting for me at Ashkelon. Will it still be there on Saturday? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Northern Alentejo

Yesterday and today I worked in northern Alentejo with João Paulo. We worked in the main lekking areas - Campo Maior, Vila Fernando, Monforte and Alter. These sites still hold medium-sized sub-populations that somehow hold on despite the rapid intensification of agriculture in the region. Nice days out in the field with nice warm weather that enhances the display of males. Working in this region is complicated as often the bustards hide in olive groves or montados, and are difficult to locate and watch. Also in some irrigated sites the cereals are very tall, making the females almost invisible. Here are two males and five females, with necks like periscopes:

I was happy to see good concentrations of Little Bustards in many sites. Always difficult to photograph on the deck:

Montagu's Harriers breed in the area in good numbers. Also Black-winged Kites. Other birds included Booted Eagles, Black Stork, some Black Vultures etc.

Montagu's Harrier

Iberian Grey Shrike 

Working at Alter