Sunday, December 31, 2017

Welney Whoopers

Yesterday I went to Welney Wetland Centre with my family. It was a lovely day after a very wet system passed through Norfolk. Much of the Ouse Washes were underwater, and aprt for the main hide all the reserved was flooded and closed off. This winter swan numbers are relatively low, yet. Still, Welney delivers and the experience, especially for my family, was superb. Not the best photography conditions out of the main hide, but can't complain. Whooper Swans are always beautiful, and in yesterday's light they looked even better.

I find the young birds very delicate and pretty too

Only when this bird took off

I noticed it is ringed. It's an Icelandic bird ringed at Welney in December 2014 - thanks for the details Kane!

Check those red-eyed Pochards!

Because of the flood, every dry square inch was occupied by roosting birds

BIG numbers of Black-tailed Godwits

One of three Great White Egrets on the reserve:

Sorry for the crooked panorama

Tree Sparrows on the visitor centre feeders were actually a Norfolk tick for me (if I kept a Norfolk list)

Nice, relaxed birding to end the year - roll on 2018! A good way to start 2018 would be Ross's Gull...

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Special post - best of 2017

2017 was a funny year, with high wildlife peaks, mostly outside of England, and rather long idle periods of no birding. In my final year as a PhD student, I had to be a better boy and sit down on my arse more than I had wanted. Still, I think I managed to experience some decent wildlife, learned new things and acquired a new skill or two, so all-in-all a pretty good year. Without further ado, here are my best birding wildlife moments of 2017.

In the first few days of the January I was still in Israel, where I managed to see fine bird or two, including this Egyptian Nightjar:

After I returned back home to the UK, my twitching year started with a hattrick - a few good birds got the twitching machine going. First, a trip up to the northeast provided me with two WP ticks - Pacific Diver and Black Scoter, both in Northumberland. Not the best photo of the scoter, I know, it was hard work!

Pacific Diver, Druridge Bay CP

Black Scoter,  Goswick  

And just a few days later, I headed not that far, to Lincolnshire, for the stunning White-billed Diver on River Whitham. It was actually a global lifer for me:

In February I flew to India where I met up with my brother Gidon, Amir Balaban and another friend,  Eli for a rather short trip. We focused on two parks. First, we spent three days in Ranthambhore NP in Rajasthan, that provided what it says on the tin - Tigers. We had fantastic encounters with two tigers, and I even got to do a tiger selfie 😊 

Beautiful Arrowhead

For various reasons the holistic wildlife experience there was slightly on the slow side; still we saw some decent stuff, like this Brown Fish Owl:

Our next destination was Kaziranga NP in Assam, which was awesome in so many ways. Wish I had a few more days there.

Asian or Greater One-horned Rhino (VU) - Kaziranga is THE place to see them

With Pacific Golden Plover etc.

Pied Harrier - WOW bird

Great Hornbill

Check those eyelashes!

March went by without any widlife highlights. In April I got out of my hibernation. Before going away for PhD fieldwork in Iberia, I got in to some Emperor Moth action courtesy of James Lowen, my moth tutor and guru. 

I spent most of April and May in the field, in Alentejo (Portugal) and Extremadura (Spain). I worked with two brilliant field assistants and friends, Dan and Re'a. We counted birds in agro-steppe landscapes for my PhD project. We saw some cool birds daily, but the variety was somewhat dull. But hard to complain when one gets daily encounters with globally threatened birds like Little Bustard:

Or birds of European conservation concern like Montagu's Harrier:

On our days off we tried to do as much 'recreational' birding as possible. Because the utter lack of migration there, we focused on local breeding specialties. I had three global lifers - none exceptionally rare, but this was the first time I had visited the region this time of year:

White-rumped Swift - Monfrague NP

Western Olivaceous Warbler - Lobon

Red-necked Nightjar - Don Alvaro

And a few other goodies such as this Iberian Imperial Eagle also at Monfrague:

We were lucky to find two different Pallid Harriers; this one in La Serena

Under the influence of Dan, I developed my interest in butterflies, and by the end of our time there I could identify most species...

Southern Gatekeepr

Back in the UK, in June, I returned to work in full blast, but still managed to twitch the Elegant Tern down at RSPB Pagham Harbour in West Sussex (and another global lifer):

Later in the month, and during July, with the warming evenings, open windows meant moths inside the house. Moths were found mainly in my bathroom - I have young kids so we leave the light there switched on overnight. Not quite a moth trap but every morning, with the help of my kids, I found some moths. Most were common species, but there were some nice-looking moths, and I even have a copyright on a Twitter hashtag: #bathrommmoths. This Orange Swift, snoozing on my daughter's towel, was one of the finer moths of the summer:

James continued to provide me opportunities to get to know proper moths. Using his set-up I got some decent photos too:

Yellow-legged Clearwing

In August I travelled with my family up to Scotland. We started with a few days on Shetland, staying with our good friends Roger and Agnes. About two hours after disembarking the ferry, we found ourselves face-to-face with a pod of Orcas, hunting for seals in small bays as they sailed south past Virkie. Unbelievable.

The rest of our stay in Shetland provided us with several other brilliant wildlife experiences. The boat trip to Noss NNR with our friends from Shetland Seabird Tours was incredible:

On Sumburgh Head I joined a couple of overnight Storm-petrel ringing session, that brought in also good numbers of Leach's Petrels:

Sumburgh Head also provided daytime intimate encounters with Puffins:

After those magical days on Shetland we headed back to the mainland, where we stayed for a few days in the lovely Grant Arms Hotel, courtesy of Birdwatching and Wildlife Club. Weather was quite horrible most of the time, but I managed to see Capercaillie and another embarassing lifer - Red Grouse:


Red Grouse

Autumn 2017 will be remembered as the worst ever for East Anglian birders. The winds were wrong all season, and we basically had no birds. Early in September, I joined Spurn Migfest. The event was a huge success, but the star bird of the week came from the wrong direction:

Long-billed Dowitcher

In mid month I went southwest with some friends, to pick up a few quality birds dumped by Storm Aileen: Least Sandpiper and Stilt Sandpiper, both at Lodmoor RSPB in Dorset. 

Least Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper

And on the way back home we connected with two lost inland seabirds:

Best views ever of Sabine's Gull

Grey Phalarope

Towards the end of the month I saw the only top-quality sibe of the autumn to turn up in Norfolk, Pallas's Grashopper Warbler found by my mate Stu. No photos of it but that day I also saw an Arctic Warbler nearby at Wells:

The rest of the autumn went by without any distractions from my PhD, thankfully... In the last week of October I headed over to Yorkshire and Wales with my family, but I saw no birds of note at all. Snowdonia was stunning nevertheless:

In November I returned to Israel for a very quick and busy trip. I had very little time for birding. But one morning in the desert delivered two prominent highlights of my year. At a distance of few hundred meters from each other, two camera-uber-friendly mega wheatears put on an outrageous show:

Red-rumped Wheatear

Basalt Wheatear

Nearby I also twitched a rare and beautiful butterfly in Israel, Blue Pansy:

Towards the end of the month, back in frozen Norfolk, I enjoyed another global lifer - Parrot Crossbills at Santon Downham:

Followed shortly in early December by a Coues's Arctic Redpoll at Eccles, my last proper bird of the year:

And that was that. The rest of December was devoted to work, family, and more work. But looking back at 2017 as a whole, it was a pretty brilliant year.

As always, I am grateful to all the friends who shared with me these wildlife highlights. They are too many to mention by name, but guys - you are awesome! Deep love and gratitude to my wife and kids who allow me to spread my wings a bit (too much). Apologies to my bosses for all the days I was off work... And of course, special thanks to all my followers and readers. Year 9 of this blog; this year I crossed a special landmark - 1,000,000 pageviews. I hope that in 2018 I will increase the activity volume of this blog, with my expected PhD graduation, and return to Israel next summer. I also intend to twitch a bit more as long as I am in the UK - currently three birds are waiting for me in the southwest...

I wish everyone a fantastic 2018, full of brilliant wildlife experiences. May this year bring better news for our planet, environment and people. Happy New Year!