Sunday, May 31, 2009

And Ural Owl Wins It!

So another birding tour successfully completed... highlights included dazzling Bee-eaters in several colonies, a Black Woodpecker looking out of its nest-hole, masses of herons and egrets, a total of 8 different Sakers, 2 majestic Eastern Imperial Eagles, hoardes of superb Red-footed Falcons and 3 White-tailed Eagles. But, in the end, the ultimate highlight was judged to be those Ural Owls in the Bukk Hills... especially the bird that swooped past us, alighted on a bare branch and peered at us... great views!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ural Owls

Here I am in the Bukk Hills in Hungary, guiding a group of UK birders. Bird of the day today ? No, not that close Lesser Spotted Eagle, nor that family of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers... but Ural Owl. After a hard day searching the forests in warm weather, a regular site of mine for this impresive owl came up with the goods. Two adults swooping through the beech trees and one of them landing in full view below the canopy...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Estonian sea-watching

We always indulge in a session of sea-watching in spring in Estonia. Here are two of my recent group (Laurence and Bill) at Poosaapea, a headland that juts into the Baltic at the very north-west tip of the country. It was a bit windy, a bit chilly, but nothing serious. After a bit of searching we found a raft of over 100 Long-tailed Ducks in varied plumages here: winter males and females, summer males and some in-between. They really are an attractive duck.   

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Estonia... birds

Just got back from a week guiding birders in Estonia. It was a great tour in one of my very favourite destinations. Birding highlights were: 10s 0f 1000s of Barnacle Geese, close views of 2 Wrynecks, a raft of Long-tailed Ducks in varied plumages, an obliging Pygmy Owl, several White-backed Woodpeckers, one feeding young, 5 point-blank Temminck's Stints, 2 bright male Citrine Wagtails and 5 Great Snipe lekking. I will post a few more photos here in the coming days.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Red-footed Falcons in Hungary

As already mentioned, Red-footed Falcon was voted the "bird of the week" by a group of birders I guided in eastern Hungary last week. This wonderful little raptor was a worthy choice. We had superb close views of males and females occupying nest-sites, flocks circling above us, birds hunting and one of two pairs mating. In the Hortobagy National Park nest-boxes have been put up and the Red-foots readily take to them. As they do not build their own nests Red-foots depend upon corvid nests and the provision of man-made boxes eases the pressure on birds to find and take over such nests. The photo here shows a typical setting: grazed grassland with scattered trees, each with a nest-box.  

Sunday, May 10, 2009

First May Tour of the Year Done

I have just returned from a week in eastern Hungary guiding a group from the UK. We recorded 168 bird species including many of the region's specialities.  Highlights of the week (as voted by the group) were: Red-footed Falcon, Bluethroat, Great Bustard, Ural Owl, White-winged Black Tern and Collared Flycatcher. Red-footed Falcon was voted the overall "bird of the week". My favourite, White-backed Woodpecker, did not even make the short list!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Croatia - Cirl Bunting

The Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus is a common bird in much of Dalmatia. On our recent visit we heard them just about everywhere, usually singing from the tops of trees and bushes. My co-leader on the trip, Alan Outen, really wanted to get a good photo of this species but despite them being common, that is easier said than done. After a few attempts I finally managed to entice one towards us, and Alan got this fine shot of a well-marked singing male.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Grass Snake... deceased

I found this unfortunate Grass Snake Natrix natrix near Visovac in Dalmatia. It was dead and had probably been run over by a car though there were no real signs of damage on its body. Sometimes snakes "play dead" but I checked carefully and this one was deceased for sure.