Friday, December 31, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Helmeted Woodpecker

OK, I know it is not the best shot in the world, but here it is, a snap of THE bird that I wanted to see in Argentina... Helmeted Woodpecker. It's a record shot and it is clear which species it is. Truth is, we were too busy getting good views and trying to record the bird to get good photos. Indeed, we got good views and heard it calling and drumming. In fact, that is how we found it. It is a superb bird, a rare one, a real specialty of the rain forests of SE Brazil, Paraguay and NE Argentina. We found this female in Misiones Province in November.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Argentina - Magellanic Woodpecker

And here is yet another bird from Argentina, yes, again, another woodpecker! This is a male Magellanic Woodpecker, a superb bird, a real specialty of the forests of Patagonia, which was one of our main targets. Photo taken near Bariloche, Argentina, December 2010.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Argentina - Campo Flicker

Here is another shot from Argentina, another woodpecker, of course. This is a Campo Flicker, the campestroides race which is sometimes called Field Flicker. Note the white throat whereas the nominate race has a dark throat. Taken by Simon Cook, near San Pedro, Misiones, Argentina, November 2010.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Birds in Argentina

We certainly saw some great birds in Argentina and as they often say, there were "too many to mention". That was indeed the case. But I should mention Greater Rhea, Black-throated Piping Guan, Red-legged Seriema, Toco Toucan, Red-tailed Comet and Andean Condor... On the woodpecker front we found 23 of the 29 species that occur in the country. Importantly, we saw the ones we really wanted to see: Chilean and Andean Flickers, Striped, Robust, Cream-backed, Magellanic, Black-bodied and my number one target Helmeted Woodpecker. This female Magellanic Woodpecker was snapped by Yoav near Bariloche.  

Friday, December 10, 2010

Barren Landscape - Argentina

Argentina: We flew south from Salta in the NW to Patagonia. Some of the sights below us were impressive. I snapped this barren, desert landscape near Mendoza.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Back From Argentina

Well, I am back from Argentina. What a great birding destination it is! As you will probably know, my main targets there were the woodpeckers and in the end my friends and I observed 23 species. Particularly fine were Andean Flicker, Helmeted Woodpecker, Black-bodied Woodpecker and Magellanic Woodpecker... I will be posting more on these, the wonderful habitats we visited (there I am in Patagonia kitted out for the wind and the sun) and on the trip in general in the coming days.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mata Atlantica

The Atlantic Forest or "Mata Atlantica“ stretches along the eastern coast of Brazil, inland to Paraguay, and in the province of Misiones in northeastern Argentina and a bit of Uruguay. The biodiversity of this rain-forest is high. But sadly it is said to be just 7% of the size that it was 500 years ago. Many plants and animals here are endangered. I have been to parts of this wonderful forest before (in SE Brazil, see photo) and will soon be there again, in Misiones, spending a week. My main aim is to observe Helmeted Woodpecker Dryocopus galeatus, a relative of Black Woodpecker, a very localised species, classified as vulnerable... I will let you know.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I am preparing for a trip to Argentina, an amazing birding destination with a diverse range of habitats and some very special species. My main targets will be the 29 species of woodpecker in the country, including the likes of Mottled Piculet, Andean and Chilean Flickers, Helmeted Woodpecker and the superb Magellanic Woodpecker... watch this space!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Woodpeckers.... again!

Please do not forget to look at this other blog of mine... Woodpeckers of the World. I think it is coming along nicely. And please do contribute photos...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More Common Cranes

More Common Cranes from eastern Hungary... it really is, was, a great event. Thanks Nigel!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


So that's it... autumn is here proper and my tours in Hungary are done for another year. Even the Common Cranes are heading further south now. This photo of cranes at dusk was taken by Nigel Sprowell on a recent trip in the Hortobagy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New Zeiss Telescope

Those nice people at Zeiss in Germany have just sent me a brand new telescope. To be exact it's the new model, the Victory DiaScope 85 T* FL. And it is excellent with powerful magnification, high resolution and superb brightness due to an objective lens with fluoride glass and a water shedding coating of LotuTec. It's waterproof, rubber armoured and designed to stand any day in the field, is also dust-proof but at the same time quite light. Put it this way... I am very pleased with it!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sound Recording

I have got myself some new sound recording equipment, namely an Olympus LS-11 linear recorder and a Sennheiser shotgun microphone. It's all high quality and fairly portable, too. Ideal for getting bird sounds. I tested it out in the woods the other day, even getting some recordings of a drumming and calling Black Woodpecker at the first attempt. That pleased me! I first plan to work on the woodpeckers more than anything else.... no surprise there I suppose.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Another Great Tour!

Well, another birding tour successfully completed! Some nice folks from the UK and Japan came out to Hungary. We saw all the Hungarian specialties, like 10 superb Great Bustards which flew into a field in front of us (and which was voted THE bird of the trip) and also Saker Falcons, Eastern Imperial Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Greater White-fronted and Red-breasted Geese and 1000s of Common Cranes. My favourite was not one species but the fact that I managed to find and show 7 species of woodpecker to the group in one day... hard work but we did it!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Season Nearly Over

I am now preparing for the final birding tours of this year. I will be in eastern Hungary again, searching for the usual suspects... Great Bustards, Saker Falcons and Eastern Imperial Eagles on the plains and a range of woodpeckers in the woodlands. But with it being autumn flocks of Common Cranes and wildfowl will also be on the agenda... watch this space.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Roman Snail

I found this fine Roman Snail Helix pomatia recently in the garden. They are also known as "Edible Snails" though several other species are also edible. They are very common in central and southern Europe where there is limestone and chalky soils. Photo taken in Budapest, Hungary.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cranes on the Hortobagy, Hungary

Just back from a trip to the east of Hungary. There were all kinds of birding highlights, of course, but the main focus was to watch the Common Cranes that spend the autumn there. On one evening we stood in a secluded spot for an hour or so before dusk, from 5 to 6, and counted over 7000 of these impressive birds flying over us. Groups ranged from 1 bird to 200 birds and we were able to get flight photos and video footage. An official count that same evening produced a total of 22,550 in the whole Hortobagy area.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Birds Matter: Feathers"

I was sent this link to an excellent short documentary on birds (in Spanish with English subtitles). It lasts about 5 minutes. The title is "Birds Matter: Feathers" and it is the first in a series planned by Dani Morcillo in Spain. Take a look:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tree Frogs

There has been a burst of activity of Tree Frogs Hyla arborea this week. I have heard lots of them on the days I have been out of the city. It will soon be time for them to find places in which to hibernate for the winter and I wonder whether all this calling is connected in some way to that? Folk tradition says that they call before it rains... well, it is raining now! I snapped this one in roadside vegetation, he posed nicely probably thinking he was out of sight.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Flooded Fields

I went out yesterday with a nice chap from Ireland... his main targets were Great Bustard and Saker and we saw both... in fact we found the bustards in record time, about 30 seconds after making our first stop in the north of the Kiskunsag. The Saker took a bit more time but in the end we saw one being mobbed by a Kestrel. Besides the birds, a feature yesterday was the water and mud. There has been lots of rain this year and the result was evident as every track was wet, muddy, a mess. And the Kiskunsag mud is a special kind of mud, a milky, creamy colour due to the saline soil. Many farmers fields are under water, too... it has been a bad year for them. But we still got the birds!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Black Woodpecker book

Time for another up-date on my monograph on the Black Woodpecker... The manuscript is now being edited and the layout and design worked on at the publisher. Besides the text, the maps, waveforms, sonograms, artwork and photographs all have to be edited and fitted in, too. Seems that I will get the proofs to look at in January. Here is another sneak preview of a draft of one of the sketches that might be included. Just to whet the appetite.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Biggest Twitch

Well, after writing my monograph on Black Woodpecker in the summer (it lies at the publisher being designed and edited) I now have a little time for reading... before the batch of tours I have to guide. A book I have just finished reading was written by two friends of mine, Alan Davies and Ruth Miller. THE BIGGEST TWITCH tells the story of how they went round the world to see as many birds as possible in one year. In doing so they beat the existing world record after seeing over 4000 species! It is full of adventures and told with some wit (Ruth) and humour (Alan?). Sorry Alan! Anyway, I promise that it is a great read for all birders and for all those who travel in search of birds. It is published by Helm (A&C Black), London.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Poland - Moor Frog

This photo of a Moor Frog Rana arvalis was taken on our recent Poland tour by Phil Briggs. I spotted this little amphibian hopping through grass in the rain in a forest near Krakow. This species is interesting because many males turn blue for a time in the mating season.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back from Poland

So, back from southern Poland! Most of our time was spent exploring the numerous fishpond systems around Zator and Oswiecim, east of Krakow, and we had some great sightings. In particular, great views of Temminck's Stints, loads of Whiskered Terns, close views of Short-toed Treecreepers and two different Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, and a memorable moment when a White-tailed Eagle chased an Osprey that was carrying a fish! Some of us even took time out to visit the museums and remnants of the former concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau... disturbing places those.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Southern Poland

So now it is off to Poland again! This time to the south, around the lovely old city of Krakow, where I will be guiding a group of naturalists from the UK. We will explore some great forests for woodpeckers and fishponds for migrating wildfowl and waders. And no trip to Poland's forests is complete without a scattering of fungi and now, in September, there will most likely be loads, of all shapes, sizes and colours... edible and unedible!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back from the Bird Fair

Well I am back from the UK! My visit to the 2010 British Birdwatching Fair was a great success. It was very good to meet everyone, old friends and new. Plenty of business done and plenty of laughs, too. More later...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

British Birdwatching Fair 2010

Another year has flown by. Yes, the annual British Birdwatching Fair is almost upon us. The venue, as ever, is Rutland Water, England. Dates are 20-22 August, 2010, next Friday to Sunday. I will be there all 3 days "doing the rounds" some call it "networking". If you wish to meet, ask for me at the stands of travel companies such as Wildwings, Heatherlea or Birdfinders, or at publishers and booksellers such as WildSounds and Bradt. See you there!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

August Natural History Tour

Back from my latest tour in Hungary! We had all kinds of weather, again, as has been the norm this year. But we did well seeing many specialities, birds like Saker, Red-footed Falcon, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Black Woodpecker and 30 Great Bustards, butterflies galore when the sun came out, a range of dragonflies and mammals such as Suslik and even a Polecat that ran across the road as we approached Budapest Airport. We neglected nothing, as you can see in this photo of Roman Snails which were just about everywhere.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Off Again!

They say there is no rest for the wicked! That is right, so I am off again, but not far this time, just around the plains and hills of eastern Hungary with a group of folks from the UK. It is an all-round natural history tour so we will be looking for birds, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, plants... you name it. Should see the likes of Swallowtail Papilio machaon ... here is one I got a snap of last month.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beavers: European v Canadian

I recently took this photo of a birch tree in the Patvinsuo National Park in Finland. It shows the work of a beaver, but this is not the work of a European Beaver Castor fiberis as you might expect, but rather that of a Canadian Beaver Castor canadensis (aka North American Beaver). Such field signs are identical for both species but it is know that this area and indeed most of Finland only has the Canadians, which where introduced to Finland when the locals became rare due to trapping.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Brown Bear at dawn

Another photo from my recent Finland trip. A Brown Bear in forest near Lieska at dawn.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Back From Finland

Another great trip in Finland with the Karelia region once again turning up the goods! In the border zone between Finland and Russia we saw 11 different Brown Bears and 5 different Wolverines, at 3 different places. Including, incredibly, a male Wolverine that hopped, in that funny way that they do, through the forest before us as we ate breakfast! The clip below (sorry for the poor quality, I just had to grap it quick on a small camera when the Wolverine appeared) is of another one we saw from a hide. We also saw Forest Reindeer and Arctic Hare and birds such as White-tailed Eagle, Waxwing and Hazel Grouse.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Off to Finland again

So I am off to Finland. Guiding a similar trip to the one I did last year (time has flown... again) to the Karelia region in the border zone between Finland and Russia. Main targets are Brown Bear, Wolverine and Wolf. Hopefully I will have some photos to put on here when I get back...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Board or Bored Beaver?

Just sorting through a few photos and I came across this from my recent trip to Poland. It shows the gnawed wooden planks on a birding trail board-walk... the work of a European Beaver. Why do they do this ? There is nothing to eat there! They cannot be trying to fell a board-walk! Are they simply sharpening their teeth ? Do they gnaw timber for fun ? I await your answers...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Purple Emperor

Another great European butterfly is the Purple Emperor Apatura iris. This one, snapped in the Bull Hills recently, is a bit scruffy and it looks like a bird has taken a peck out if its right wing, but it is still a stunner!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The "Butcher Bird"

When out birding or butterflying or just walking, you find all sorts of things and learn much about other aspects of natural history. For example last week when in the Aggtelek National Park in NE Hungary I found this.... a Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita impaled on a thorn by Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio. This small shrike is known as the "butcher bird" in folk-English because of its habit of storing prey in this way, on thorns, sharp twigs, barbed wire, etc. The victim is half-eaten and there is a parasitic wasp on the exposed flesh near the thorn. Aggtelek, Hungary, June 2010.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Butterfly Trip

Just finished a trip around NE Hungary with a group of butterfly and moth enthusiasts. We ran up a spectacular list of these amazing invertebrates including some large colourful species like this Swallowtail Papilio machaon in the Bukk Hills.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Black Woodpecker book progress

Almost everything is ready... the manuscript just needs fine-tuning, I am now writing captions for the photographs, the waveforms of drumming and sonograms of calls. The colour plates are nearly ready, too, and the drawings under way. It has been a huge task, but my book will soon be at the publishers ready to be edited and designed. Here is a sneak preview of a draft sketch of one of Szabolcs Kokay's black and white illustrations for the book. Just to whet your appetite.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Birds and Football...again

Well, 1-1 in the football match (that is "soccer game" sorry) between the US and England... my US birders and I agreed it was rubbish. And yesterday even worse... Algeria v England was 0-0. Terrible. So bad that a pigeon even landed on one of the goals during the match and sat there undisturbed! You see, birds and football !

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Birds and Football...

It is hot here now, mid 30s C. But I am off to pick up 3 birders from the US of A soon, for a week around the plains and woods of eastern Hungary. And guess what? Tonight it is England v USA in the football World Cup, sorry "soccer"... Maybe we will watch it together, I know one of these guys is a "soccer" fan. Could be a tough day birding together tomorrow, depending upon the result! It could get hotter!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Apologies again...

Again... sorry for not up-dating my blogs as regularly as I usually do... as mentioned before I am just just very busy trying to finish my Black Woodpecker book manuscript... deadline is approaching ! Anyway, here is another photo from my recent Poland trip... the group were admiring the mosquitoes!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

White Storks in Poland

We saw 100s and 100s of White Storks in Poland last week... pairs breeding in almost every village on houses and telephone poles, huge nests on barns and farmstead roofs, birds following tractors, small chicks popping up from nests and flocks of non-breeding birds in fields.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Poland Tour Finished

Just finished a week-long tour of Poland. Lots of water about, some rivers have burst their banks and a few towns are in trouble. But we were lucky, being in the NE away from the main problem areas. Though we met a fair bit of mud! On the bird front we saw many of the very special birds of NE Poland... Great Snipe, Greater Spotted Eagle, Aquatic Warbler, Citrine Wagtail and 8 species of woodpecker. We also came across Elk and European Bison. And some great sounding places, too! Look at this one! More later.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Poland Next!

So now it is off to Poland... yes, another great birding destination. I have been going there for over 20 years and things have changed quite a bit, but still very good indeed. We will be mostly in the north-east, in the vast wetlands and woodlands, and the likes of Hazel Grouse, Greater Spotted Eagle,Pygmy Owl, all 10 Euro woodpeckers, Great Snipe, Corncrake, Citrine Wagtail and Collared Flycatcher (as in photo here) etc, etc, are all on the cards... watch this space.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weather This Year

Terrible year for weather. I have written about the long winter, the snow, about Estonia and the frozen sea, and now we have heavy rain and high winds in Hungary... now in May. What is going on ? I just finished another tour, with a group of great folks from Sweden, and we "lost" a day and a half because of the weather. No one complained though and we still got the main targets... Great Bustards, lots of Red-footed Falcons, Saker, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Middle Spotted and White-backed Woodpeckers (both feeding young), Rock Bunting, Bee-eaters, Rollers, and Moustached Warbler. Out-door pursuits are always at the mercy of the elements, but this year is at times tough.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pond Terrapin

It is not all about birds. When on trips we find all kinds of things. For example, here is a European Pond Terrapin Emys orbicularis that was crossing, slowly, a road in the Kiskunsag in Hungary. I picked it up and moved it as it was in real danger of getting hit. Of course, it thanked me, as they do, by withdrawing into its shell.

Monday, May 10, 2010

All Go... Busy, Busy, Busy

Sorry for not up-dating my blogs as regularly as I usually do... just very busy. Guiding birding trips and trying to finish my Black Woodpecker manuscript. Anyway, last week with a group from England we saw some great birds in eastern Hungary... Great Bustards displaying, Aquatic Warblers singing, Ural Owls seen and calling, White-backed Woodpeckers feeding young, etc, etc, etc. Of course, we saw and heard a few Black Woodpeckers, too!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Black Woodpeckers in action

I went up to the beech and oak wood above Budapest where there are a few pairs of Black Woodpecker. I have been watching these birds, and their ancestors, for many years now. So far this year I have not been able to find the nest hole of one pair as the undergrowth has really shot up. Usually the birds nest in one of the large beech trees in a clearing, but the scrub in that clearing is getting higher and thicker and it is hard to get through it. The birds are there alright, doing everything they do in spring, drumming, calling, flying about, but I just cannot get to the trees where I think the hole is.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Film Of Budapest Birding

You might recall that David Lindo (The Urban Birder) from London came out to Budapest last year. Well, he and his pals have produced a short film about his visit. It includes time with me birding in my local patch and talking about woodpeckers. Take a look:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Black Woodpecker monograph

After years of working upon it I am now within weeks of finishing my manuscript on the Black Woodpecker. Yes, one of my greatest ambitions is about to be achieved: a monograph on this wonderful bird. The publisher's deadline is approaching fast. Watch this space.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Red Squirrel in Moravia

Another photo from South Moravia. But this time not a bird but a mammal. A Red Squirrel which is common and widespread in central Europe. They are all RED but come in a range of shades, some almost all black, this one very pale. Photo Phil Briggs.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring In South Moravia

Nesting White Storks are always a great sight, and a sight that shows spring is definitely here. But those that nest on trees (like these in South Moravia on the old oaks in the flood-plain along the Austrian border) are especially popular. More so I'd say then those that nest on telephone poles. That's presumably how most nested before modern man came along. Photo Phil Briggs.