Monday, January 30, 2017

Bridled Monsterbill

Today I paid respect to the White-billed Diver / Yellow-billed Loon in Lincolnshire. It was rude of me not to go till now - EVERYONE in the country went and saw it. Some photographers got better results than others but generally it's a showy bird. So eventually I couldn't resist temptation and managed a neat twitch before work with Dave and Keith. We were the first birders on site this morning, and were happy to find the diver almost instantly, happily swimming in the River Witham not more than 200m from Kirkstead Bridge. We had the bird to ourselves which was nice. It was diving constantly, and looked rather relaxed. What a fantastic bird! And showing fabulously - as a good rarity should. This monstrous bill is quite impressive innit? It was a lifer for me - my first for 2017. 

White-billed Diver, 2cy 


Then more birders arrived, and the bird became wary and moved up the river quite a bit. We did walk upstream to catch up with the diver for final views before departing home. But eventually our best views were right at the start. Other than the diver we did not see much. A Kingfisher, some Yellowhammers and that's all more or less.

As you may notice from all the images, some piece of string or net is dangling from either side of its huge bill. This piece of string was apparent since the bird had been found, though in some images by others it is not seen - check Rich's photos for example. Today the net, or whatever it is, was very prominent. I don't know what was the diver's fishing success in previous days. Today we did not see it catch a single fish or crustacean. I am sure that the net or string does not improve its fishing success. I hope its fate will be better than the famous 1996 bird just down the river.


 Looks like a piece of net?

River Whitham

Thanks to Dave and Keith for the good company!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


(I know James used this title a few days ago, but copyright is actually mine...)
This morning I left home at ridiculous o'clock to meet up with Alison and Chris. Our plan was a 5-diver-spp day and bonus Black Scoter. Our first destination was Druridge Bay Country Park in Northumberland for the Pacific Diver. I have a bit of a bad history with this species. In late April 2015, before boarding the Scillonian to twitch the Great Blue Heron, I scanned the bay and failed to find the diver there. Next day it was seen. A few months later, I had a seat in a car that went and saw it, but I couldn't go. So when this Northumberland star started performing, showing 'slightly' better than the Penzance bird, I understood that this is an opportunity I was not going to give up. Despite the long drive.
And a long drive it was! We forged through Newcastle traffic to arrive on site before 9, when the light improved and positive news already relaxed our tension. We got on the bird immediately, as it foraged offshore the visitor centre. What a great start to the day! WP tick #1. It was showing well all the time we were there, but not really close enough for proper photos. But I cannot complain.

Pacific Diver - 2cy. Nice solid dark flanks, lacking rear flank patch of black-throated

At some angles, chinstrap was sort of evident... I have seen more convincing chinstraps in my life, but hey-ho. We traveled so far to see it, so no doubts please...

At some angles, head shape was not so round... But forehead is steep and bill is petite.

Here the massive dark flank and vent bar is evident:

And then it was time to move on. Nice to see Tree Sparrows and Bullfinches in the feeders at the carpark

Druidge Bay Country Park

Our next target was the male Black Scoter at Goswick, about an hour north. We headed straight east from the golf club carpark. We joined some birders already on site, but there was no sign of him this morning. We worked hard, scanning back and forth. There were tons of seaducks, and there was clearly stuff moving around, but no show. The sun was bright and brilliant, and the frontal views of yellow bills of male Common Scoters fooled us, but no sign of the real deal. We split after a while, I went south, also to try and photograph a 2cy Glaucous Gull that didn't cooperate, and I scanned the south side of the bay. Nada. 

Glaucous Gull 2cy - phonescoped through Swarovski ATX95

Then, after several hours of searching (which meant we had no chance to get to the White-billed Diver / Yellow-billed Loon in Lincolnshire on time), I got a call from Alison that they had found our bird further north. I hurried to join them and the bird was showing well, albeit distant. WP tick #2! It was swimming with other male scoters (interesting to see single-sex flocks of scoters), and oh boy, that yellow bulge was huge! And it was nice and black too. Great bird and really satisfying to see it after working pretty hard - somewhat more challenging than the Druidge diver.

Black Scoter (right) with Common Scoter (left)

Looking north from Goswick - Berwick-upon-Tweed in the distance

Supporting cast was absolutely fantastic. Hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks and Red-throated Divers, nice numbers of Eiders and Red-breasted Megansers. Quality birds included an out-of-season Manx Shearwater, 4 Slavonian and 1 Red-necked Grebe, 3 Great Northern and 2 Black-throated Divers, and 4 flyover Twite. See my eBird checklist here.
Then it was the L O N G drive back. Many thanks to Alison and Chris for the good company and for the driving. The White-billed Diver will have to wait for another day. Now it's time to get some sleep. Good night.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Here goes the sun

Now I am back in cold and grey UK, but I have a small debt from my final day in Israel to cover. I had a few hours around midday to bird with my mates Jonathan and Meidad. It was lovely and sunny. We birded around some reservoirs in the Judean Plains. Nothing special, rather quiet in fact. But still lots of species - check my eBird checklist for the morning. I already miss this type of casual birding. So what did we see? There were many raptors up in the air, making the best of the sunny day to gain altitude. There were several Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles, but only this spot was close enough to photograph, just about:

Greater Spotted Eagle

Near Kedma a large flock of about 1000 Common Cranes provided an ambiance similar to Agamon Hula:

The reservoirs had large numbers of waterfowl, but we found nothing special. Fair numbers of White-headed Ducks in most reservoirs, and small numbers of White-headed Ducks too.
Some time ago I started a project to photograph as many bird species in Israel as possible. Obviously I am not very living in the UK, but in every trip I try to cover some gaps. I stand now at 409 'species', collated in a Facebook album. Checking the reservoirs, I added three missing species, like these Tufted Ducks:

Some Israeli brightness:

White-throated Kingfisher

To summarize my trip, I had a lovely time in Israel with family and friends, but very little birding. I dipped on the Asian Hoiuse Martin, and had no time to connect with some quality species present in Israel currently - Lesser White-fronted Goose, Slavonian Grebe, Basalt Wheatears etc. Next time.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Desert Nights

Oh, how I missed these. Spent a night and two days with my family at Ein Gedi by the Dead Sea. Daytime birding was rather quiet, as expected for this time of year, but it was good to get reunited with 'my' familiar desert birds and mammals. The birding highlight of the weekend was a couple of hours of night birding in the northern Dead Sea region with my brother and Rami (thanks!). A small resident population of Egyptian Nightjars was found breeding there last summer by a team that included Amir Ben Dov and Ady Gancz. We went to check if we could find any on a chilly mid-winter night. They did. Very quickly we found three nightjars on the deck. They offered brilliant views. Quality!

We left them in peace and moved on to nearby date plantations to see if Pallid Scops Owls overwinter there too. They do... We had only brief views of one, but heard about three singing and calling. Great stuff. It is quite amazing how we can still learn new things about our breeding birds in Israel.

Here are few unimpressive wildlife images I got:

Barbary Falcon - perched on the tall communication mast in the kibbutz (huge crop)

Grey Wagtail

White-crowned Wheatear - 2cy

Disgraceful Nubian Ibex

Rock Hyrax