Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Taylor Swift

Warm temperatures in Norwich this evening meant open windows. In turn, these meant moths in the house. Four (!) new house species among several more moths I have already had inside the house - common but fine moths. Still need to improve my self ID skills; luckily I have friends who help me out.
After reading this interesting piece by James about ethics of moth ticking, I am very happy with ethics of my non-refrigerated moths. All moths photographed on their self-chosen perches, captured and released outdoors.

Orange Swift on Libby's towel

Yellow Shell on the wall

Square Spot Rustic on the bed

Garden Carpet on a travel bag

Friday, August 25, 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Birdfair 2017 summary and thoughts

Another Birdfair done and dusted. As every year, I worked for my Israeli organisation, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, to showcase our conservation work in Israel and promote birding tourism to Israel. This year our team included Dan, Jonathan, Noam and Tsadok from IBRCE, Nadav from Hula, our Godfather Yossi Leshem and his wife, Richard and Anette - quite a team! It felt like a family reunion to be together with my old friends. And they provided free, extended babysitting services 😃

Nadav and Noam

Our main efforts this weekend were geared towards Champions of the Flyway - recruiting teams for next year, meeting sponsors and increasing the reach and impact of our project. We had a huge and highly successful event on Saturday night to celebrate Champions - success stories from previous recipients about the birds saved using COTF funds (see example here) were truly inspirational. The event was endorsed by our partners at BirdLife International, and CEO Mrs. Patricia Zurita's words touched everyone's heart. Here is Dale Forbes from Swarovski Optik temporarily handing over a new pair to John Kinghorn of Youth Africa Birders. In COTF 2017 they won the titles 'Knights of the Flyway' and 'Guardians of the Flyway', and donated this pair to Doga Dernegi (Birdlife Turkey).

Then the new COTF movie by Yuval Dax was unveiled - brilliant movie:

The celebration ended with a fab live gig by the wonderful Morning Bride and Bill Thompson III of The Rain Crows.
On a presonal note, Mark and Amity are dear friends and my family spent much of the weekend hanging out with them - huge pleasure.  This is from an intimate fringe gig they did on friday:

As we have done in recent years since our move to the UK, I was joined by my family which was great fun. Here is my son Noam with Prof. Yossi Leshem, very pleased with himself after winning a beautiful prize draw - stunning artwork by the tallented Jo Ruth:

Here are some more personal highlights from the weekend, all with phone camera so sorry about poor quality. More photos, mainly even-poorer selfies, are on my Facebook wall.

Marc Guyt - a great friend from NL

Fine Islay whiskey. Lagavulin 16 was especially good.

Progress of the traditional Birdfair mural. Day 1:

Day 2

Day 3 - final product!

From a personal point of view, it's an empowering but exhausting event. Empowering, because of the strong sense of a large, powerful conservation family I belong to. Exhausting, because I talked, and smiled, non-stop, for three full days. On Sunday the effects of this constant chat and smile were evident on the faces of all exhibitors. Thousands and thousands of people walked past our stand, many stopped to talk; a 100m walk to the toilet or for a coffee could take an hour. But the rewards are great. Some cynical souls may keep away from Birdfair, but for me these connections and networking opportunities with friends and colleagues from around the world are invaluable. And great fun.

Using social media, online criticism by 'anti-Birdfairers' against the commercialism of the event, and the Celebrity-selfie culture that is picking up, with the increasing virtual 'power' of birding and conservation 'celebrities'. I understand this criticism, and for a person who feels at his best when I'm birding, outdoors, three days of intensive shoulder-rubbing is not my natural passtime. However, I must confess, I like selfies; it's always a slightly awkward moment, and very often they look bad because they are taken with the poor reverse camera phone. They look almost-alright on phone screens, but on computer screens they look awful. But in today's social media world, selfies are almost a necessity. And in selfies people normally smile, and hug, which are two positive activities IMO. My kids were really keen to spot big TV starts such as Chris Packham and Steve Backshall, like rarity-spotting. They were thrilled that I had a meeting with Chris Packham - so had to grab the selfie-opp, and an autograph for the kids. This is by Jonathan:

Arjan Dwarshuis, with whom I spent some time in Israel during his incredible Biggest Year in 2017

After all, selfies are part of the game. All those who work in the interface between birding, conservation and 'The Public' need to use social media in this way or another. I don't think that my selfie with Chris or Arjan increased my 'public leaverage', if there is any. But looking at the Big Picture, these are the 'rules' in the world we are working in.

Another slightly less pleasent aspect of Birdfair is the occasional expression of anti-Israeli opinions towards us during Birdfair, by casual visitors and also by some 'higher-ranked' figures in the birding industry. The main argument to try and weaken Champions of the Flyway is the support we get from Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Even though I do not enjoy listening to this often uninformed criticism, the only thing I can do, and my colleagues too, is to shrug our shoulders and try even harder to do our best to promote cross-border collaboration for Bird Conservation in our region. We have been doing it for many years, because we believe it's the right thing to do. If some people get confused and fail to identify that we try to be the 'Good Guys', despite what they think about the Israeli Government's policy, that's alright with me. And when people approached me during Birdfair and started a conversation of bigotry and hate, I used my good British manners and thanked them very much for their kind words.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Scotland #4 - grouse, still alive

After Shetland we headed back to the mainland and spent a few days in the beautiful Cairngorms National Park. We were based at the Grant Arms Hotel - I was invited by Birdwatching and Wildlife Club to give a talk and do a walk for their guests. It was a lovely experience - many thanks to BWWC for the invitation.
Most time was spent with the families (we were joined there by my brother's family). After a week of brilliant weather up in Shetland, we were greeted by miserable weather in the Cairngorms. Still we made the best of our time. Birding options were limited, and frankly it's not the best time of year for birding the year. On Sunday, almost a week ago, we spent a great morning birding with Peter, local birding ace, in a large circuit around Grantown-on-Spey where we stayed. My brother had never seen a Capercaillie before, so that was our first target. Not an easy bird in August, but we faired well - first a beaten male, who obviously had a tough lekking season; then a close encounter with a female with two large chicks right on the road outside of Carrbridge. As usual, my camera failed on me and refused to produce sharp images of the male. The beautifully-patterned female was too close - so only portraits possible:

Then we tried for crossbills, checking some spots near Loch Garten in RSPB Abernethy Forest, without success, but had some Scottish Crested Tits. Always nice birds to see.
Our last spot was Lochindorb, that was completely empty - not a single bird in this heavily disturbed lake. The grouse shooting moors around the lake were packed full with stupidly-tame Red Grouse. Unnatural density of this game bird. Not a single harrier, falcon or eagle was to be seen. Sad testament of the ruthless persecution of Scottish raptors. It was lovely to see Red Grouse, my first actually, but sickening to think that today, Inglorious 12th, many of them will probably get killed on these moors. 

We did see a single Short-eared Owl hunting voles over the moors - lovely bird but my camera wouldn't focus properly. I have said this before, I really need to get a new camera. If anyone from Canon is reading this, my birthday is in October 😉

Juvenile Cuckoo

Speckeld Wood

Loch Morlich from the top of rainy Cairngorm Mountain

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

Then it was the long drive back home to Norwich. I drove the car with my brother, while our families flew out from Inverness. We stopped for some birding in Northumberland - Coquet Island was full of birds but we were too late for a boat trip so scoping at 1.3 km is somewhat disappointing. Still we saw Roseate Terns and two lingering Puffins

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Scotland #3 - seabird extravaganza

Back home in Norwich already, but I have some more Scottish tales to tell. On July 31st we went out to sea with my mate Phil from Shetland Seabird Tours. We left Lerwick harbour and headed towards Noss NNR. Phil boat is great - small enough to get close to water level, but sits very well on the water. 
Noss is an impressive rock and has even more impressive gannet numbers - in fact 22,000 pairs breed there. The sea was somewhat choppier than normal but we all did well, especially Libby who fell asleep halfway through the trip...
The gannets there know their duty and showed up when they were invited by Phil. I was so unprofessional and forgot my small lens onshore. At these distances, my 500 was useless, so all these photos were taken with my phone. Phone photos should never be displayed on a computer screen, I know. But all in all they're not too bad I think, for phone photos at least.

Quite a few Bonxies joined the feast too:

As did the local Great Black-backed Gulls:

Most breeding gannets had Masked-Booby-like fluffy chicks still in the nest:

Lots of non-breeders too

Shags, made in 2017

On the way back we stopped for some seabirds away from the cliffs. We encountered some feeding concentrations of puffins and Arctic Terns. Closer views on Sumburgh Head but lovely to see them at sea:

Most Common Guillemots had already left - only few seen

Several Black Guillemots (Tysties) were loafing in the harbour - losing their summer plumage:

 Some more Arctic Terns in the harbour:

And a few Common Eider families: 

Back on land, one of the few Common Terns on Shetland was especially obliging just in the carpark:

Many thanks to Phil for the brilliant tour. Great fun and quality birding. Highly recommended to anyone visiting Shetland. Till next post...

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Scotland #2 - Stromie Nights

During two of the three nights on Shetland I joined the local ringing team on their routine storm-petrel sessions. I was very keen to join because the only previous stormie session I took part in (Spurn August 2008) was minimal with only two birds. So I really wanted to participate in a busy Shetland night session. We worked in RSPB Sumburgh Head, with all necessary permits obtained. The A-Team included Roger, Phil, Will and Paul among some others. Both nights were successsful: first night produced about 140 European Storm-petrels, and the second night about 170. Nights were still pretty short (trapping between midnight and 0300 only) so it was busy and we worked hard. Most of these birds are non-breeders. Interestingly, there was a huge turnover of birds with only two birds retrapped from previous sessions this season. They are lovely wee birds. Little is known about ageing them. I tried to make some sense of the variation in different patterns - more on this to follow.

European Storm-petrel

There was some variety too. On the first night Will heard a Swinhoe's Storm-petrel, but we never caught it. I really enjoyed handling Leach's Storm-petrels. On the first night we caught two, and on the second night another six (equal to Shetland record). They are super birds. So large and powerful compared to the toy Euro Stormies.

Leach's Storm-petrel

Some variation in rump pattern on these too:

I paid a day visit to Sumburgh Head with the family too. Light was harsh but Puffins are always pretty. Great to see so many from up-close.