Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Yorkshire weekend

Had a superb weekend in Yorkshire with my family - got my share of the perfect combination of birds & people. We stayed with our dear friends Mark and Amity in Filey. We did lots of stuff together and enjoyed every minute of it. Birding highlight was of course the annual visit to RSPB Bempton Cliffs. It is such a fantastic place. The reserve was very full but that did not affect the very pure and powerful wildlife experience there. The fact that the birds pass few meters away and pay no attention to humans makes it all so special. Light was shite, and I had Libby on my back and held Bamba on a lead most of the time.  As a result photo opps were rather limited but that's the great thing about Bempton Cliffs  - you don't need much to get great photos there!
Last year when we visited the reserve Puffins weren't that cooperative. This time around they played ball, and showed as well as they can at this site. Stunning birds.


Squadrons of the majestic Gannets patrolled along the cliffs. In this image the huge number of birds on the water is visible: 

At one point the gannets collected nesting material few meters from the main track - magic moments:

Check that eye!

 I always love Kittiwakes - little gulls with an attitude ;-)

Most were on eggs but few failed breeders were rebuilding nests:

There was good Fulmar activity too but I spent little time with them:

 Razorbills are brilliant birds. Funny thing about them is that their eyes are hardly visible in photos:

Here the dark eye is just about visible:

O'mighty cliffs!

Tree Sparrows are sort of a Yorkshire specialty:

This guy collected caterpillars puffin-style but dropped them on the track beside us, don't know why:

Mark introduces me to his superb local patch - Filey Brigg and Carr Naze. We were slightly optimistic with rain and wind almost from a proper direction but our hopes did not materialize into any migrants. Few shorebirds were at the tip of the Brigg:


And a small group of Dunlins and Knots:

Many thanks guys for the great weekend - looking forward to the next time we meet!

Me & Mark with Filey Brigg sticking out into the North Sea in the background

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


What a bird and what a way to start my day. Switched my phone on in the morning to see message from James - 'Firecrest singing in my garden!', accompanied by a stunning photo. I have seen many Firescrests before, including the one and only (to date) in Israel, but never managed to get a decent photograph. Understanding that I might have a chance here, and in UK context it is a scarce bird, I carried my gear with me doing schoolrun, and then headed over to James's. Was greeted by good coffee and warm hospitality, and very quickly the bird was performing. A stunning male. Jaw-dropping, almost like an flippin' Blackburnian Warbler. He was singing constantly and apparently holding territory between a large spruce and an apple tree, complete with crest-pumping. He was constantly chasing the local Goldcrests and was being chased by them. Will it find a mate and breed here? He was quite a feisty little thing, moving constantly and not so easy to photograph, but eventually 'we nailed him' as they say.

Goldcrests are usually personal favourites, but today they were clearly shadowed by the real deal:

Urban birding at its best! I am proud to be the first avian twitcher in James's garden - he has had moth twitchers before. Thanks to Sharon for this photo. Someone should design a camera with a nose-cavity for large-nosed individuals like myself:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Norfolk Birdfair and Biking Birder

This is an unusual post as it doesn't include any direct observations or photographs of wildlife. And the images in it are of lesser quality than average. But on Saturday, after my talk at Norfolk Birdfair on some cryptic and little-known Israeli birds, I met a person I had wanted to meet for a long time. And he made such an impression on me that he deserves a blogpost of his own. It was Gary Prescott Biking Birder. It was one of those encounters that after ten seconds of conversation I felt like we're life-long friends. Gary's personal and professional life story is outstanding. His passion for birding and conservation is infectious. We talked and talked and very quickly our conversation was about Martin Garner - fond memories, including an understanding that are pathes actually had crossed while wasting time in Lerwick looking for an OBP in an October afternoon.

Gary's mobile bird observatory

In a colision some time ago Gary's Robin lost its bill but luckily Gary was relatively alright

Looking forward to our next meeting Gary - in October for the Shetland Bird Festival, or in March with your Zero Carbon Champions of the Flyway team!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

BC day 10 - final day in Vancouver

Now I'm back home in the UK, and it's time to report of my final morning in Vancouver on Monday. I spent a few recreational hours with my sister in law in two beautiful Vancouver city parks, Pacific Spirit and Stanley Park. In both we mainly cycled leisurely along the beach, but I did notice that there were notably more migrants in. I had 5-6 Orange-crowned Warblers and 4 Warbling Vireos that I had not seen there before. Also higher numbers of Audobon's, Black-throated Gray and Wilson's Warblers, and a single Townsend's too. However my highlight of the morning was an encounter with a Common Raccoon (Procyon lotor). I know it is a common animal and had seen several briefly in the past, but this individual was extremely tame and showy in broad daylight. In a similar manner to Black Bear, it patrolled the rocky shoreline at low tide and fed on crabs. It is not a powerful bear so it couldn't turn over rocks. It rather stretched its long front paws under rocks and scooped out crabs.


It is quite a comic animal that uses often its hands, and has a weird, drunken walk. It think it looks funny with those skinny wet legs and humped back:


Marine mammal

It walked past a Great Blue Heron that was utterly uninterested in it:

I think I also entertained the passers by, rolling in the mud with my big lens - a comic figure as well.
In Stanley Park I found a dead Western Grebe on the coastal road - pretty bizarre. Too revolting to share here. There was also this Cackling Goose on Lost Lagoon. I have seen quite a few during my visit here but they all behaved like proper wild geese. This individual was at first associating with the plastic Canada Geese there, but as soon as it had noticed I had my eye on it, it started moving away from me quickly and was clearly alarmed by my presence. Not sure if it's plastic or not.

And that was that. British Columbia was great. Breathtaking scenery, and some great wildlife experiences (the bears were my personal highlight). Seabirding and shorebirding was alright but there were painfully few migrant landbirds. Ah well, can't complain I guess. Many thanks to my brother Gidon and his family for their warm hospitality, and to Amir for another great trip together. Looking forward to the next adventure!

Monday, May 9, 2016

BC day 9 - dawn chorus and two life birds

My last full day in Canada. I had a good day of birding in and around Vancouver. In the early morning I joined a dawn chorus walk in Queen Elizabeth Park led by David Bradley from Bird Studies Canada, which was part of the Vancouver Bird Week events. Weather conditions were not favourable with low temperatures and clouds and strong wind, so relatively few birds were singing. But still we had a nice morning. Several singing Yellow-rumped Warblers and a single Western Tanager were the sole proper migrants we encountered. Other than those we had some fine local birds in the form of Brown Creeper and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Brown Creeper in terrible light

Red-breasted Nuthcatch

Thanks David for a great morning.
Later on I headed up with my brother and his family to Cypress Mountain. We walked the Yew Lake trail that held more snow than we had expected. But it was very pretty there. I had two main targets there - and I succeeded to see both, though none photographed. I first saw Varied Thrushes. These epic thrushes are dead common in winter in my brother's garden in Vancouver, but now have retreated to high-elevation coniferous forests. From a very early age I was dying to see them. I saw two birds today, brief but good views. What a cracker. I also wanted to find Townsend's Warblers that I couldn't find in Vancouver's parks in recent days. We first had a couple of singing birds, but couldn't get visual contact with them. When we got back to the carpark I finally saw one just above our car. Phew. Other highlights were a couple of Black-headed Grosbeaks, and a Hairy Woodpecker. 

'Pacific' Dark-eyed Junco

Sunday, May 8, 2016

BC day 8 - Boundary Bay - great birding and cool people

At last we did some proper birding this morning. We met up with Tom Plath who courteously invited us to go birding with him in some sites around Boundary Bay - many thanks Tom! We started off checking Blackie Spit and some adjacent fields at high tide. The fields were nice with lots of Grey Plovers and one or two American Goldies among them, and also 3 American Buff-bellied Pipits and some Vaux's Swifts. At the spit itself there were not too many shorebirds. Two Marbled Godwits made a brief appearance but didn't settle for long. There were some nice gulls including a brief California, two Common Terns and a large group of Greater Scaups. 

Ring-billed Gull 2nd cycle

'Puget' Gull (Glaucous-winged X Western hybrid) 3rd cycle

Bonaparte's Gull - stunning bird

House Finches

Savannah Sparrow

Our next stop was Iona Sewage Farm - what a great site! Good shorebird numbers despite the dropping tide, and lots of waterfowl too. Among the many Western and Least Sandpipers there were some Semi-p's:

Semipalmated Sandpipers with dirty legs

Nice palmations

Wilson's Snipe

The ponds held both dowitcher species. These are long-billed:

Additional species included Lesser Yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpiper. This Northern Harrier flew over a few times:

Blue-winged Teals

Lesser Scaups

American Wigeon

We paid a causal visit to the adjacent Iona Island Bird Observatory, and had a great time.  They trapped Rufous and Anna's Hummers. The rufous is so tiny:

Recently-fledged male Anna's Hummingbird

 Lincoln's Sparrow

Wilson's Warbler

Many thanks to our new friends from WildResearch - Christine, Dan, Paul and Louise, for the hospitality. Keep up the good work! Here is Christine and moi, sporting my brand new WildResearch shirt:

On the way out we said hello to BC's only breeding Yellow-headed Blackbirds in the adjacent wetland:

Nice afternoon in Stanley Park with the family. Couldn't resist the male Buffleheads: