Monday, July 30, 2018

Extra time WP tick

I had little expectations to go birding in the UK again, but yesterday a Semipalmated Sandpiper that was found by James McCallum at RSPB Snettisham made me reconsider my priorities... In an atypical display of responsibility and maturity I didn't go yesterday, but this morning I was on site at dawn. First thing there were very few birders (I guess many were waiting at home for news). The tide was advancing up the Wash, and I was scanning the mud like crazy. After a while I spotted THE bird feeding among Dunlin and Ring Plovers - it was distant but I knew exactly what to look for, and as soon as I got onto it everything fell into place - stockier than Little Stint, nice and grey above with no rufous scapulars, thick bill and really obvious flank streaks. Too distant to see the palmations and for photography, so I took in all details I could with x70 magnification on my Swarovski ATX95. I saw it for maybe 20 seconds, and I think another birder got onto it as well; then the whole flock took off with the rapidly rising tide and I lost the bird in a scenario similar to this:

I spent the next couple of hours scanning through the roosting flocks at high tide. Very challenging task to say the least:

Scanning back and forth I did add some quality - a 2cy Roseate Tern (in the field I first had some self doubts but after reading a bit more if seems fine), 2 Arctic terns, 1 Black Tern, 15 Curlew Sandpipers and 2 Little Stint scattered in the Dunlin flocks, 10 Spotted Redshanks and one Turtle Dove that flew south. I was getting a bit worried that I couldn't relocate it, neither did other birders scanning. I was happy to hear that after I had left the bird was relocated in the early afternoon.

Attention: horrible phone scoped images. I really need to buy a phone with a proper camera.

Curlew Sandpiper roosting among Dunlin (adults and a juvenile)


There were several thousand lovely red Knot. Only this grey job was near enough to phonescope.

Snettishem is a special reserve. I must admit that I find the pans unattractive; but the spectacular murmurations of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit over the Wash always impress. Overall it was an enjoyable morning with 81 species - check my eBird checklist here. Thanks to James (good to meet up one last time in the field, mate) and to other birders who worked pretty hard this morning.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Pecless Frampton

Yesterday was possibly my last morning of birding in the UK before heading back to Israel in August. I managed to wake myself and Nick up from our summer coma and we left properly early to get to RSPB Frampton Marsh at dawn for high tide. Since I moved to the UK I always wanted to visit that reserve but never had a chance. The Pec present for the last few days would have been a nice bonus.
We walked between the three hides in the reserve. Water levels are extremely low, resulting in distant scope views of birds and lots of hidden corners. Quite big numbers of returning shorebirds were present, but we could not locate the Pec, tho it was seen again later on. We did see several shorebirds of slight interest - Wood, 2 Green, 5 Curlew Sands, 2 Little Stint, 2 Spotshank. Also 4 Spoonbill, and impressive numbers of Blackwits (islandica I think). All in all a fine morning (eBird checklist here).

RSPB Frampton Marsh - little water!

Early on these two hares played around in front of East Hide:

It was a bit windy so few butterflies, including this Green-veined White:

Little Ringed Plover - several large chicks were seen too

Horrible digiscoped photo of Spoonbills, Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets

By noon we were back in Norwich for our duties. Many thanks to Nick for this fine morning.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sweden part 3 - wildlife

During my week in Sweden I had some wildlife other than birds. As with birds, no unexpected levels of excitement were reached, but overall it was enjoyable. I really wanted to show my family moose but this was the closest we got:

Our short stop at Ålsjön was rather productive. A young 20 cm-long Grass Snake climbed up the walls of an underpassage:

This very pregnant Sand Lizard posed on the boardwalk:

Mush Beetles are impressive beasts!

Heath Spotted Orchids were common around Luleå 

Typical Swedish scenery

The view from the top of Bälingeberget is quite awesome. retreating glaciers created these boulder fields at the end of the last ice age.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Sweden part 2 - Hökugla!

Without sharing my dark ideas with my wife, I had two bird targets for the trip to northern Sweden. One was Hawk Owl, the second was Pine Grosbeak. I birded Scandinavia as an advanced teenager in the early 1990's, so I didn't 'need' other classic Scandinavian species. Both targets are not easy in the relatively southerly and coastal region of Luleå - 'only' 66° N. I got some pre-trip intel from a local birder, but news from my friends Nanette and Thomas who were birding the area and found a family of Hawk Owls about 1.5 hrs north of Luleå, near Boden, enticed me to lose one night of sleep. I headed out of Luleå on July 1st shortly after midnight. I checked some other small roads where Hawk Owl was possible, and tried for other owls too, but only had quite many roding Woodcock. At 02:30 I got to the spot provided by Nanette, and as I drove in I heard many thrushes mobbing aggressively - it had to be an owl. A quick scan in the big tree and - Ural Owl! It quickly flew off and out of view, leaving me astonished. Unexpected and awesome, but not quite the owl I wanted... A short drive further, and as I got out of the car I immediately heard begging Hawk Owls - boom!

Quickly I spotted an adult, presumably daddy owl sitting on top of a spruce - my heart skipped a beat. What a bird! I have been dreaming to see this boreal owl for many years. I quickly secured some record shots in the low sunlight:

Then, in a more relaxed mode, I just enjoyed the family action. The adult did a few fly-byes, displaying its remarkable hawk-like silhouette. So cool! 

I did not see any actual feeding but at first the chicks were hidden so I might have missed it. Then they moved out to the open, but stopped begging and the adult disappeared.

Can you spot all three?

Here they are:

The habitat was very nice, some proper boreal forest but like everywhere in Sweden, logging created open patches. Dawn chorus was nice but nothing more exotic than Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Common Redstart etc.

Very happy with this encounter, I left the owl family in peace. I had a spot for Pine Grosbeak near Luleå airport, but when I got there I was disappointed to find degraded forest by a landfill - not very attractive and very few birds. At 06:00 I snuck back into bed for a snooze before the family woke up for another day of activities...

Thanks again to Andreas, Nanette and Thomas for the info.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Sweden road trip part 1 - birds

Got back last night from a week-long family trip to Sweden. Sweden is a wonderful country. We landed at Västerås and drove from there up north. First night we stayed near Sandvik, second near Bispgården and then we reached our destination - Luleå in the far north of Sweden. Lots of driving...
From a family point of view it was a great holiday - weather was perfect, we did lots of outdoor stuff and got to know special people. From a wildlife point of view I could have achieved more. At this time of year, best hours for birding are between 22:00 and 04:00. Because of all the driving I did, and long days of family stuff, I could afford only one night of proper birding. Other times when I was outdoors during hours when normal people are awake were rather quiet, and light conditions were horrible.
However, all in all, I saw some stuff and enjoyed the common birds Sweden has to offer.
I enjoyed seeing in good numbers migrants that are doing pretty bad in England. Red-backed Shrikes, Pied Flycatcher and Willow Warbler were present at almost every stop in the south and centre. Pied Flycatchers were breeding in almost every nestbox I saw.

Pied Flycatcher

Heading up north, a short stop at the lovely nature reserve Ålsjön was productive with breeding Whooper Swans and Slavonian Grebes.

Luleå is a special town, with lots of wildlife in it. Urban birding with Arctic Terns and Whimbrel can't be bad. 
Arctic Tern

Whimbrel - taken at 00:45 without flash...

On my final morning, before flying out, the kids had an hour at a play area in Västerås. I had time for a quick walk around Mälarpark which was rather nice with Icterine and Wood Warblers. The Icterine was singing from high up in the trees. 

Icterine Warbler

Up in the north I did have a couple of target species. I succeeded with one - more on my next blog.