Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009... the highlights

Another year almost over. It is difficult to decide just what was my highlight of 2009. I was in so many places, often guiding others, sometimes on my own explorations. The woodpeckers in Brazil, particularly Campo Flicker, were right up there. Sure, it is not a difficult species to find down in its habitat but it was a bird that I have wanted to see for a long time. I am fascinated by those terrestrial woodies. Then there were the woodpeckers in Guyana, I must not forget those, especially the huge Crimson-crested and the near-endemic Blood-coloured. On the mammal front I also saw my number one target, a carnivore I have wanted to see since childhood, the Wolverine. In fact we saw several in Karelia, in eastern Finland. That was truly amazing, a life-time ambition fulfilled. And there was a memorable dawn when we saw a Wolverines, Brown Bears and a pack of Wolves all in the spaces of a few minutes. So, in the end, hard to choose, and there is no winner.... well, perhaps only myself. Happy New Year ! ... see you somewhere in 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Plans ?

So, like me, you are trying to get over all the festive food and drink right ? With more probably coming up on New Year's Eve ? Well, also like me, you might be thinking about your birding holiday trips in 2010. I already know that I will be guiding tours in Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia... and off on a couple of long-haul trips. If you fancy coming along on a birding trip to these places, just drop me a line.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Winter Birding

So it is pretty cold, icy and snowy over much of Europe. But the birding does not stop. There are few rarities around in winter for twitchers to chase, but it is still well worth getting out there. At this time I prefer to walk in woodlands. They are fairly silent but there is something tranquil about them and it is easier to spot things with fewer leaves on the trees, at least in broadleaved woodlands. My favourites, woodpeckers, can often be found fairly easily in winter, too, as they can be heard hacking away at trees and stumps in search of prey and then tracked down. Yes, it's a good time for tracking mammals, too, with all that snow on the ground. This "Festive Season" is also a time for many for eating and drinking in quantities, and walking, birding or not, in the woods helps blow away those cobwebs. Wrap up, take a thermos of hot drink, and off you go.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowed in

Well. Completely snowed in here. I will be out with the shovel soon to clear the drive and I will clear the bird-feeders, too. Must be tough for the songbirds in this...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Intelligent Rooks

So the snow is here now and it is colder, too. The birds will find it harder to find food so I expect more to come into the garden for the free stuff I have put out. I managed to get a shot (poor quality, I know, but they don't let me get close) of this Rook pulling up the string from which the peanuts and bird-cake hang, holding the food on the branch with one foot and then pecking away. Got to admire the Rooks, though the songbirds don't get a chance.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Garden Feeding Up-Date

So the cold weather is here. The sleet (not really snow) is trying to settle, but it is still too warm for that. The bird food is out, as I have mentioned. And the Magpies and Hooded Crows and Feral Pigeons continue to dominate. The two corvids fly off as soon as I step outside but the pigeons don't... umm. This morning I heard a tapping from the adjacent garden as I filled up the feeder with seed and then a Green Woodpecker flew over me and landed onto the false acacia tree before hopping onto the grass. So, different birds, coming and going, things are not settled here yet.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Feeder Disaster

As I mentioned, I put out the bird food in the garden and it worked... for a while. Great Spotted and Syrian Woodpeckers and Hawfinch have all visited. But then a few Magpies and Hooded Crows and Feral Pigeons got wind of this free, all-you-can-eat, seed and bird-cake banquet. I am not against the corvids having a meal, I am not one of those that thinks they are just pests that should be exterminated, no, they have a niche and a role to play in the wider scheme of things, too. The Magpies have worked out how to knock the bird-cake of the nails I used to fix them, and then eat the cake on the ground, it is enough for the Hoodies just to hang about and the songbirds keep a distance. I am going to think it through and find a corvid-proof way of feeding the woodpeckers etc... if the crows beat me again, so be it. If they are smarter than me, then, yes.... probably.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hawfinch In The Garden

Well, putting out the bird food in the garden worked. Best of all at the weekend was a Hawfinch that dominated the bird-table. The Chaffinches and Great Tits did not land on the table when this big, fat finch was there. The black sunflower seeds did the trick. Actually, Hawfinches are common in Hungary, and indeed most of C & E Europe, so it is not such a rare sighting, it is just that they do not often get into our garden.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Birds In The Garden

Here is Budapest it still does not really seem like winter, a bit grey and damp and plenty of folks with "flu" but there is no sign of any snow or ice or even real cold. The birds know something though. Waxwings have been seen and there are more species coming into the garden now. The first seed I put out went in a day. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were foraging in the now bare walnut tree, sometimes picking at the ends of small twigs but I can't see what they are after there. I am going to put out some more fat and bird-cake for them and black sunflower for the songbirds today and see what comes in over the weekend.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Planning Your Holidays!

So, it is that time again, the winter months when many of us birders sit down and decide where we are off to next year. Here are some ideas for you: South Moravia (Czech Republic) in February for Geese, Raptors, Wallcreeper & the Valtice Wine Festival! Estonia in March for Owls, Grouse, Woodpeckers & Steller's Eiders! Serbia in May, an exciting new destination for Breeding Balkan Birds! Romania in August, the classic tour in the Danube Delta and along the Black Sea Coast! All kinds of birding delights in this selection and I will be guiding these trips myself. Just get in touch if any appeal to you and I will gladly send more details.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Owl Food

One of the reasons so many Long-eared Owls, and for that matter Common Buzzards, winter in northern Serbia is that there is LOTS of food. For example, the Steppe Mouse Mus spicilegus is abundant. Fallow fields, harvested crop fields and grasslands are dotted with their storage mounds which can contain up to 10kg of grain and be around a metre in diameter. Here is a photo of one taken near Zrenjanin in the Banat region.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Owls In The Mist

Here you go... more Long-eared Owls in the fog in Serbia. As I mentioned, we found dozens of roosts like this.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Owls In The Mist

Just back from Serbia. Another original and great trip with 8 nice folks from the UK. Only downside was a good deal of fog, but that did not stop us seeing about 1000 Long-eared Owls. We visited various parks, yards and cemeteries in villages in the Banat region with 722 seen on day 2 of our trip. The most owls in one place was 432.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud...

Here you go, the therapeutic mud of Lake Rusanda in Serbia. I know lots of places in Eastern Europe where the locals swear that their mud, usual around a thermal spring, is a cure for all kinds of aches, pains and diseases. You do not eat the stuff, of course, but rather dab it on or wallow in it. I will be at Rusanda soon and if I get a minute away from searching for owls, I will try it out (just a dab) and let you know how feel afterwards...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Serbia Trip

I am now getting ready for a short birding trip with some folks from the UK to Serbia. To be precise in the north-east in the Banat region. We will look for all kinds of resident and winter birds in the open country there, such as goose flocks, Saker, Great Bustard, Common Cranes and Syrian Woodpecker, but the highlight will probably be in some villages where there are large roosts of Long-eared Owls. In parks, yards and cemeteries there 100s can often be seen together, the average roost has 50 birds, many are 250 birds strong and some number over 400. Just look at the droppings and pellets below the trees in this photo! The roosts develop in October and numbers build up before the owls leave around March. This species will not be "new" for any of us, no, it is the numbers are are impressive and the photographic opportunities are superb. Watch this space!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Moravia... Next March...

I am just finishing off some arrangements for a trip to South Moravia, the southernmost region of the Czech Republic. From March 4 - 7, 2010 we will be looking for a good mix of late winter and early spring birds, including 7 woodpecker species such as Black, Grey-headed, Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted and Syrian, Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Long-eared Owls in roosts, Eagle Owl, Eastern Imperial Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Red Kite, Smew, Red-crested Pochard, Tundra and Taiga Bean and White-fronted Geese. Last March we also saw some Red-breasted Geese there, too. South Moravia really is a favourite birding area and one I visit every year. The visit coincides with a local wine-festival, too, for those who like that sort of thing! Drop me an email if you'd like more info on this trip and might want to come along.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back to Summer... Again !

So just when I thought it was save "to go back into the water" I look through another batch of summer photos and remember the sun. It is now wet and miserable here, and the winter tyres are on the the car in preparation for ice and snow. So here is a photo (thanks again to John Pitts) of some of the "keen" lepidopterists I took around Croatia last summer. What a trip that was! I can tell you that it is a myth that all birders are mad keen twitchers whilst butterfly-watchers carefully pick their way around the countryside. When a real rarity was found it was like a rugby scrum... well, almost... not quite...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Romania: A Birding Holiday

It's winter and next summer seems far off, but I am fully into the arrangements for several tours I will be guiding then. One I do every summer is Romania, to be precise the Danube Delta, Dobrudja and the Black Sea Coast. Dates next year are August 21-28, 2010. It is a bird-filled trip. A comfortable trip, too, cruising the Delta on boats, sipping drinks as you watch flights of White Pelicans flat over, herons exploding from the reedbeds, shorebirds on the lagoons and European Rollers sitting in the bare tops of trees. Really special birds here include Dalmatian Pelican Levant Sparrowhawk and Caspian Gull. Non-birding partners always enjoy this trip and photographers are in heaven! Drop me a line if this appeals to you...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Woodpecker versus Snake

I came across this amazing video on YouTube. I am sure the person who shot it in Peru won't mind me linking to it here. Now, as you might know, I am keen on woodpeckers, and I like snakes, too. So, ladies and gentleman, here it is... Olive Whipsnake versus Crimson-crested Woodpecker! Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Last Summer...

Well, actually, the summer just gone. It seems so far away now as it is getting colder here by the day.But John Pitts just reminded me of it, in particular our butterfly tour to Croatia in June, by sending me a CD of photos. Here is one, from up in the Velebits, that is all blue skies!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Absolute Nuts!

As I walked down a street in Buda this morning, I heard the sound of something falling on the road behind me. I turned to look and there was a Hooded Crow pecking at a walnut in the road. The bird then picked up the nut and flew up to the top of a telephone pole from where he took off and dropped the nut. As the nut hit the tarmac it's shell cracked this time and the crow quickly ate some of it before hopping off the road as a car approached. Another crow then flew from a garden with a walnut in its beak up to a metal gutter on a house. There it started to hammer the walnut against the hard gutter. So.. intelligence. These crows were using the hard road and the hard metal to crack a problem.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A New Blog To check Out...

I'd like to point you in the direction of a new blog: Wildlife & Birding Destinations It's focuses on the great places around the globe where you can watch wildlife or go birding as well as highlighting travel and wildlife guide books. There are also, of course, photos on wildlife. Take a look.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guyana Again - Black Caiman

Getting back to my recent Guyana trip, well here is another photo. Some of us went out in the night with guys researching Black Caimans on the Rupununi River. What a night! Bats and insects all over the place. Saw quite a few caimans, too. This small one was the first caught, then measured and tagged with a chip. If I remember well, it was the 501 that they had tagged.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Common Cranes at Dusk

Not the best quality, I know, and it was dusk and overcast, but here is a video clip of Common Cranes Grus grus coming into one of the roosts at Hortobagy, Hungary a few days ago. The total number estimated last Thursday on a synchronised count was 140,000 roosting in the Hortobagy area. That is a record!

Monday, October 19, 2009

8 woodpeckers in 1 day

Yesterday it was a hard day's birding in the Bukk Hills in Hungary. Chilly, quite quiet in the woods... but, we still managed to get all 8 of the woodpeckers that are resident in Hungary... in one short day! We saw Lesser Spotted, Middle Spotted, Great Spotted, White-backed, Syrian and Grey-headed, and heard Black and Green.... not bad, not bad at all...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Parrot Roost in Guyana: Video Clip

At dusk we cruised to a roost of parrots on an island in the Essequibo River near Baganara. In this video clip you can hear one of our local guides excitingly shouting that an Anhinga is in front of the boat. Sorry about the quality, it was going dark and the boat was moving!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Another photo from Guyana: a boy with freshly caught fish, including a large Piranha. Taken at Karanambu on the Essequibo River.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Kaieteur Falls

There were many impressive sights and sounds to experience in Guyana. For example, on our first full day we flew from Georgetown to the remote Kaieteur Falls. We flew over and around this sheer 741 foot (about 228m) high drop of thundering water along the River Potaro in a small plane before landing nearby on a simple airstrip from where we hiked a short way to the very edge of the falls. It was the dry season so the falls (see photo) were not "full" but still very impressive.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back from Guyana

Well, I am back from Guyana. What a place, what an adventure! My companions and I saw all sorts of wildlife, including 12 of the 21 species of woodpecker possible there. I also heard but did not see Ringed Woodpecker. Not bad at all and thanks is due to my companions and local guides for helping me in my quest. More on all this in the coming days.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Guyana... I am off there very soon to check the destination out. There is a chance of 21 species of woodpecker species in Guyana and so, as mentioned a few posts ago, my woodpecker quest will continue there. I will try to keep you informed but, as ever, that's not always easy when one is birding in far-away places where internet connections may be lacking.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pale Tussock Moth

I found this hairy beauty, a caterpillar of the Pale Tussock Moth Calliteara pudibunda, making its way along the fence outside a hotel in the High Tatras, Slovakia.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rowan Berries

In autumn Rowan trees (aka Mountain Ash) burst with bright red berries. In the High Tatras in Slovakia last week they lit up the forest edges impressively.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Camberwell Beauty in Slovakia

Here is the Camberwell Beauty we saw in the High Tatras in Slovakia last week. It landed on a rock and posed for a few seconds. And it was indeed a beauty.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Back From Slovakia

Just back from Slovakia. My companions and I walked in the High Tatras and the Volovske Mountains where the scenery was often stunning. The Rowan (aka Mountain Ash) trees were ripe with red berries and the forest fungi out in force. Bird highlights included Lesser Spotted and Golden Eagles, Ural Owl, Black, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, lots of Common Crossbills and Crested Tits and many Nutcrackers, two feeding on the ground at point-blank range. Invertebrates included a freshly emerged Camberwell Beauty butterfly and a large Long-horned Beetle which I have yet to identify to species. More later...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Slovakian Forests

I am off into Slovakia for a few days. To be precise, taking two English chaps around the upland forests of the east of the country. Their bird targets are pretty tough... a collection of forest owls and woodpeckers, in particular Three-toed (like the one in the photo here) which is often tricky. Hazel Grouse is another "difficult" one we will try for. Looks like the weather will be with us, and we have time, with dawn at 6am and dusk some 12 hours later, so I am quietly confident. But forest birding can be hard work... we will see and I will let you know how we get on.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ivory-billed Woodpecker

One woodpecker that I very much doubt I will ever see is the Ivory-billed Campephilus principalis. You will have heard of this giant, if not you must have been hiding away for the last few years, as the debate on whether it still exists or is extinct, whether it was found recently or not found, has raged. I have been reading up on the species and the debate... there are more books on Ivory-billed than any other woodpecker. They include IN SEARCH OF THE IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER by Jerome Jackson, THE GRAIL BIRD by Tim Gallagher and THE IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER by James T Tanner. The story is all very sad, often strange and at times shocking.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Back to Finland

My mate Godfrey has just sent me a spreadsheet of all our wildlife sightings in Finland in July. Mammals were our main targets on that trip and our final totals were: 6 Brown Bears, 8 Wolverines, 5 Wolves, 1 Red Fox, 2 Elk, 25 Forest Reindeer, 3 Red Squirrels and 3 Arctic Hares. Not bad at all! Certainly brings back the memories. By the way, I am off there again in July 2010 with another small group.... if you are interested, drop me a line.

Friday, September 4, 2009


My research for my woodpecker quest goes on. You might recall that when I was planning my Brazil "woodpecker" trip earlier this year my number one target was Campo Flicker. I do not know why, but the more terrestrial woodpeckers such as the flickers fascinate me. My up-coming trip to Guyana offers the chance of another Colaptes species Spot-breasted Woodpecker aka Spot-breasted Flicker.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Woodpecker Quest

Most of you will know that my main passion on the bird front concerns woodpeckers. You probably know, too, that I wrote the handbook WOODPECKERS OF EUROPE and also keep a blog of that name. Truth is, the only birding list that I am really concerned with these days is my world woodpecker list... yes, I am trying to see all of the world's 220 (or so) species. Probably impossible to do that. But this autumn and winter I will be off, again, long-haul, to woodpecker rich places. South America is likely as I need to see the likes of the one in the photo here... Lineated Woodpecker. I will keep you informed.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Roman Snail

The Roman Snail Helix pomatia is very common in Hungary and indeed in most of Central and Eastern Europe. It is also known as Edible Snail, though it is not the only snail that can be eaten... if you are that way inclined. The shells can be quite large, up to 5cm in width, and are usually pale in colour with subtle brown spirals, bands and lines. I often find them up trees, sometimes half-way up a trunk or, like this one here in the photo, nestled in a good spot. Does anyone know why they climb trees like this ?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Yaffle and Yaffler etc

I am reading a book entitled The Cult of the Green Bird by Antony Clare Lees. It's about the mythology of the Green Woodpecker through the ages and it's full of fascinating stuff. For example, many of you will know of the English folk names Yaffle and Yaffler for this bird, due to it's laughing call, but what about these other names, many with a weather theme: Awl-Bird, Woodwall, Hakel, Laughing Betsy, Ecall, Eccle, High Hoe, Rain Fowl, Wet Bird, Fina, Speke, Galleybird, Sprite, Cut-Bill, Yappingale, Snapper, Weather Cock ?

Monday, August 24, 2009

So, I am back from the British Birdwatching Fair. It was a busy event with guides and tour companies from all over the world offering their birding trips and conservation organisations doing their stuff. There were stands packed with optics and books, outdoor clothing and other birding gear on sale and talks and lectures on not only birds but other wildlife, too. I caught up with many friends and it was a great success all round.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

British Birdwatching Fair... again!

A year has flown by and it is that time again... the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water, UK, is upon us again. Dates are 21-23 August, this coming Friday to Sunday. On the Friday from 2.30 I will be signing books on the WildSounds stand. Otherwise I will be "doing the rounds" strolling around (laid-back networking?) and spending time on the stands of travel companies such as Wildwings, Heatherlea, Birdfinders, answering any questions that clients have on destinations like Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic etc. I will also drop in to see the publishers Bradt and no doubt bump into some of you folks as I go.... see you there.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Urban Birder in Budapest

David Lindo, aka The Urban Birder, has a piece in the latest issue of Bird Watching Magazine (a monthly mag in the UK) on his trip to Budapest. He mentions his time with me birding my local patch and a few other sites in the city. Look it up...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Droppings And All That

When on birding and wildlife watching trips I never neglect the other stuff. I mean, I encourage folks to look at everything... birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, plants etc. And I am also very interested in the tracks and signs that animals make and leave. And here is a recent photo of a nice Beech Marten Martes foina dropping. In fact, I have another blog totally devoted to this wonderful subject called, yes, that's right, TRACKS & SIGNS:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Rain Did Go Away

Well, the rain did go away and our trip round round eastern Hungary produced a good list of birds, butterflies, moths, reptiles and amphibians. Weather is always a factor on such tours and can really influence where you go and what you see. Anyway, we did well and some of the bird highlights were Black Stork, lots of White Storks in fields and some still on nests, 15 Great Bustards, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saker, Long-legged Buzzard, swirls of Bee-eater, Rollers, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Barn Owl, Long-eared Owl and masses of passage waders on the last day...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

It happens and when it does, it is hard work. Rain. Yesterday it poured down several times while I was guiding folks on a natural history tour in the Bukk Hills. We still managed to find things... flowers, some birds and a few butterflies and other invertebrates like this bee on a thistle, when it cleared. But it is never easy or as pleasant as when the weather is kind. On we go today, and it looks like it might get better.

Monday, August 3, 2009


The Silver-washed Fritillaries Argynnis paphia are really out in force thesedays. They are one of the largest butterflies hereabouts and when fresh are bright and flashy. They can be locally common in warm bushy and wooded areas and I snapped this one in the Bukk Hills, Hungary.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Tree Frog

Here is a European Tree Frog Hyla arborea that I snapped recently at Hortobagy, Hungary. They are great little amphibians that once found are easy to photograph. Note that it is a rather dull green colour as it has been sitting on a dark surface. Most are bright green but this changes depending upon the habitat they are in and colour of the surface they have been on.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Green Lizard

Here is a photo of a young male (non-breeding) Green Lizard Lacerta viridis that I took in a garden at Lake Balaton at the weekend. He was popping out of a flower-bed and basking in the sun for a while on a concrete step each morning before heading off to hunt for insects in a nearby wood-pile.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Patvinsuo NP Finland

One of the places we visited by day in Finland on our mammal watching trip was the Patvinsuo National Park. This 105 square kms of bogs, lakes and forests is a quiet, out of the way place, in the very east of the country not far from the frontier with Russia. We walked the 3km long board-walk of the Kuusipolku Trail where there is some great old mixed forest. A key bird here is Three-toed Woodpecker (see photo) though we did not actually see it on the rainy day we were there. There were, however a quite a few mosquitos... though they don't bother me much!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Border Zones and Wildlife

Last week in Finland we spent some time looking for wildlife in the Karelia region in the border zone between Finland and Russia. Indeed all the Bears and Wolves we saw were in that zone. On the Finnish side there is a 2-3km strip of land that cannot be entered without permission (my Finnish friends kindly arranged this for us). Over the border in Russia this "no-mans-land" is said to be 20km or so in width. Thus there is an strip of land where few people go, indeed almost no one lives there and hence wildlife is mostly undisturbed and thrives and has done so for decades. Now I have travelled extensively throughout Eastern Europe over the last 25 years and have to say that such frontier zones, those that formed (and in some cases still form) the borders between "East" and "West" often contain the very best wildlife habitats.

Friday, July 17, 2009

More Bears!

The Bears that fed in front of that Finnish hide certainly had a "pecking order". Though we saw 8 different Bears there were never more than 2 individuals together. Some individuals would come in confidently and the Bear eating at that time would grab a piece of food and leave in a hurry. Other Bears would hang around on the periphery waiting for the Bear that was eating to leave before rushing in to the table. We were soon able to see who was dominant over who.