Furthermore, we received note from friends in Portugal that the two Cat-E species have been recently elevated to Cat-C in Portugal. The Pin-tailed Whydah and the Scaly-breasted Munia, both of which we saw in Portugal.
Also, the Pale Martin (Riparia Diluta) we saw in Kuwait is apparently not accepted by Kuwait rarity committee. The 2017 January bird was the first alleged Pale Martin for Kuwait (and for WP). During 2018 and late 2017 a few more alleged Pale Martins were reported in Kuwait. Apparently these birds are accepted. Hopefully the KORC will review our bird again once the new paper by Svensson, Shirihai and Schweizer on the Martin complex is published, and accept it. However as for now we cannot count it. Thus with the original 761 as per the Greater Yellowlegs in Sweden, 3 Cat-C birds and the pending Martin, we are at 763.
Keep your boots muddy during 2019, and keep on birding.
The Big Year is over. This post is our last post and it’s long overdue to write it. The net result of the Year is 761 different species which AFAWK is the new record. Hopefully we’ll see the record challenged in the upcoming years.
The last bird, number 761, was ticked at home in Sweden, a Greater Yellow-legs. The bird was gone for a while and rediscovered by us. It was a truly great feeling.
Update-2019: Including couch ticks, we’re now at 763
Update2-2019: Lost a few Cat-C species, and we’re now down on 759. For example the Germans removed the Yellow-headed Amazon.
The following list is interesting, it shows the countries visited, number of ticks in that country as well as accumulated.
Lately we have been giving a talk at different conventions. Denmark, Holland and Finland so far. We’re also invited to Switzerland later this year. The talk tries to focus more on birding in the WP than on our year per se.
Future ticks that we may get for free include the 4 Cat-E species we made efforts to see, Javan Myna, Pin-tailed Whydah, Scaly-breasted Munia and Blue-crowned Parakeet.
Future splits are also possible,
Gull split, Barabensis, Heuglini
Mahgreb, Seebohms Wheatear
Saharan/Streaked Scrub Warbler
So – thank you all for following us and making our Big Year better. We have truly enjoyed all interactions with you all. The amount of help we have received in all countries was staggering. So – again – thanks !!! See you in the field somewhere.
The end of the year is getting closer, there are still some twitchable birds around. On our way back from Kiruna, news came with certain sightings of a Dwarf Bittern on Furteventura. We found cheap direct flights from Stockholm direct to Fuerteventura making the choice of going for that gem of a bird easy. The bird was found by Daniel Kratzer, and when we got there Arne Torkler was waiting for us at the site of the bird. We started to scan the valley and soon found the stunner. What a bird!
An additional reason for us returning to Fuerteventura was that the unsubstantiated rumours of Allen’s Gallinule on Fuerteventura were still buzzing around. We heard those rumours on our visit to Fuerteventura just a couple of days ago but were unable to get hold of any actual information. This time we had some slightly better information, we never found the Gallinule though.
There is a really fucked up situation on the Canaries as to reporting of rare birds. There were Allen’s Gallinules on Furteventura on our first visit, and possibly also on our second visit but the sightings are kept secret by local birders for personal reasons – shared to select birders only. Kindergarten mature and I urge all involved to get your act together and start behaving like adults.
Next up was Pine Buntings in Switzerland, we flew to Milan, rented a car and drove an hour north to the village of Locarno where the surrounding fields should hold a number of wintering Pine Buntings. This is a species we were craving badly, we searched for it in the Urals where we had an entire field of hybrids, Yellowhammer x Pine Bunting, some with just a single yellow feather, but others, like this one, almost equal share of both.
Once on site on the fields, we were joined by young local Swiss birders, Samuel Büttler and Jaro Schacht. The buntings turned out to be hard to find, and we searched the area hard until we finally connected with a female.
We wanted pictures of a male though, especially since Swedish club300 disqualified all sightings of female Pine Buntings (this bird would not be accepted in Sweden!!) Later in the afternoon, a fully mature male came flying in and we got short views in the scope, it took off and we never got any photos of it.
Next up was Lisbon, and a returning American Herring Gull in the port of Sesimbra. When we arrived at the port it felt almost impossible to find an AMHG inside the chaos of Gulls.
Thousands of gulls, mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the area. We started to scan the roofs, and later in the afternoon things started to become more manageable with Gulls roosting on the roofs. The AMHG stood out, with its light mantle and clear pink legs.
We had been reading up on the characteristics in Peter Adriaens famous paper Identification of adult American Herring Gull and – well it’s not a walk in the park. The wing pattern on this bird appears to look just right though.
This was tick 760, and at the time down there in the port of Sesimbra it felt like maybe this was the last tick of the year.
Our friend Pedro Nicolau has been urging us to tick off two Category E birds in Portugal. We already ticked one Category E in Portugal earlier, Scaly-breasted Munia, and according to Pedro, both Blue-crowned Parakeet and Pin-tailed Whydah will be moved into Category C soon. Thus we went Cat-E ticking the following day.
So together with Javan Myna from Kuwait, we have 4 possible armchair-ticks to look forward to.
This last journey was strenuous and it felt really good to go home this time, especially since our options were slim and not especially attractive.
Go back to Switzerland for an alleged Eastern Yellow Wagtail (going to need DNA)
Go back to Egypt and look for Goliath Heron without optics.
Go back to The Azores and a still lingering Green Heron. Flights sucked big time.
Go back to Kuwait and the Grey-throated Martin there, found by our friend Markus Craig. It would be fun to revisit there, but it doesn’t feel right with expensive 24h flights for a single bird.
I’ve been wanting to write a piece about what technology we have used over the year. It’s no secret that tech plays a role in todays bird watching, maps, alarm apps, facebook groups, different sites, cameras, chats, cell phones technology all help the intrepid birder towards those ticks. Let’s start with maps.
Maps and Internet access
Google maps is awesome, however we worried like crazy prior to the Big Year because a number of Arab countries do not allow offline of Google Maps. We prepared another map app, called Locus Maps which allows for offline maps. The solution turned out be much simpler – we brought an extra lo-end Android phone and bought SIM cards where ever we went. Then we used WiFi tethering on that phone, providing WiFi for all of us. One drawback with tethering is that most phones have quite a few settings, where stuff is downloaded, synced etc in the background on WIFI only. From the p.o.v of our phones, we were on WIFI, whereas in reality we were all on the 4G network via the extra phone. These settings must be tweaked into manual, otherwise the data traffic becomes to high and you have buy more data all the time.
This gave us perfect map access in all countries. Especially the satellite option in Google Maps turned to be gold over the year. Quite a lot of time has been spent searching for the right bird habitat, the satellite option has given us invaluable clues as to where there are dirt-tracks, marshes, ponds, fields etc.
It’s usually very easy, and also cheap to buy those SIM cards and data. The cost is a fraction of the price at home. Sometimes we have bought them on the airport, but more often we have bought them in small shops in cities. The activation of the SIM card is sometimes difficult though, and you need help with that – typically at the shop/vendor/street person where you buy the card.
Tapping up the phone, i.e buying additional data you also need help with, different countries have different systems. Usually you can buy extra data in all small shops, even small grocery shops or cafes. The sellers always help with the tap-up process though.
Cell coverage is excellent in all the remote countries, we had better 4G coverage in Oued Jenna, Western Sahara than what we ever had in the UK.
In our group we speak Swedish, English, German and Spanish. Important languages we lacked were French, Arabic and Russian. When all else fails, body language is of course the last resort, however a recent addition to Google Translate saved us a few times. It’s now possible to offline an entire language in Google Translate, that in combination with different-language keyboards makes it possible to communicate (slowly) in those remote languages. English is not as prevalent as you would think, and especially on the remote country side, English doesn’t work.
We’ve taken a lot of pictures over the year and those SD cards quickly fill up, especially if you chose (as you should) the RAW option in the camera. The solution is to bring a proper Laptop on the trips, and do all of that pesky image processing in the field, upload (over the 4G network) all pictures you want to save and then throw the rest away. Yes, I realise this hurts, but the opposite would hurt even more. There are plenty of good cloud storage possibilities for pictures. Buy some extra space on Google Drive, sign up at www.smugmug.com, etc. Your choice.
Reporting and keeping track of ticks
There are AFAIK 3 different apps that are good at keeping track of your observations, iGoTerra (which we use) eBird and it’s associated app, and Observado and it’s associated app. Pick one.
Digiscoping and Photography
Learning to Digiscope reasonably well is often the difference between a record picture of the bird and no record at all. If it’s a rare bird, you’ll need that photograph in order to convince other birders of the authenticity of the sighting. There are adapters, but they make you slow. Learn how to just put the phone on the scope and take that picture – fast.
Calls and playback
Traditionally the CD pack from Andreas Schultze has been the best sound recordings of WP birds. Now we have other options. One good option is to use the calls from Collins Bird Guide app, and then complement those with additional calls from Xeno canto for species that are poorly covered in the app. The best loud speaker for birders is JBL clip, just buy one.
We have used Mobtapes sometimes, here is one which has proved successful over the year. Mobtape – use with care.
We have also used a sound recording app, called Easy Voice Recorder. It has been useful a couple of times when we have heard a bird, but were uncertain of the id. Doing a quick recording, gives you time to investigate further without relying on memory only. This particular app has the ability to gain the sound, making even very low recording useful.
Fresh bird information is abundant on the internet, the problem for us has been that there so many different sources of information. We have had to scan all those sites/apps continuously over the year. Here are a few.
RBA, rare bird alerts in UK/Ireland. This is a service you have to pay for, it’s invaluable though and a must.
eBird has in many areas/countries been the main source of information for us. The ability to explore hotspots and all the other search functionality has been invaluable. We have done all our reporting in iGoTerra, but once the year is over I’ll ensure all our data finds its way to eBird as well. Ebird has an excellent app for sight recordings as well, and going all-in on eBird is clearly an alternative to iGoTerra.
Observado is in many ways similar to eBird but with worse search functionality. We have used Observado extensively over the year.
BirdAlarm is the Club300 in Sweden app, it’s used in Norway and Denmark too. Costs money.
All the various facebook pages for various countries are worth to sign up for. Birding Germany/Iceland/Italy/Poland/Cape Verde/
We flew directly from the Canaries to the north, a short stop at home to pick up winter clothes and we were off to Kiruna, northern Sweden. Benny Modig runs a feeder close to Kiruna which attracts the rare Siberian Tit. We did tick the Siberian Tit in The Urals, but apparently the bird in The Urals was just outside the WP border. It’s dark in Kiruna this time of the year, and the sun just barely shows itself. In the very last light the nicely coloured Tit was there though.
We then drove west, five hour drive from Kiruna to Lofoten in the dark. We were still almost shocked by the difference in temperature and feeling from yesterday when we enjoyed Cream-coloured Coursers in the desert.
We were choosing between Lofoten and Tromsö. Advice from Håvard Eggen and Martin Eggen made us decide on Lofoten in the end. The Fjords around Grimsöysand hosts wintering Yellow-billed Loons every winter according to the Eggen brothers. Thanks guys!
The following day we started at dawn, searching for wintering Yellow-billed Loons. The first large loon we found eventually turned out to be a Common Loon though, and so was the second and the third … Finally, we found it, with its characteristic stance with the bill turned slightly upwards.
Lofoten is one spectacular place, usually the weather in winter is bad. We were lucky though with low winds and clear skies.
The sun barely shows itself.
On the way back, we decided to sleep in Abisko, on the Swedish side. Hoping for Northern Lights, no suck luck though. In the morning just as we were to jump into the car, we heard the Crows and the Magpies being agitated, the reason was a slumbering Hawkowl. We called Erik who was doing number two inside and he came running with his pants at the ankles. We showed the Owl to the Chinese and Indian tourists there to see the Northern Lights, they were all very excited.
The last group of Macaronesian islands waiting for us were the Canaries. With planning help from Eduardo Garcia del Rey, we needed to visit only three islands to get all the endemics as well as the Houbara Bustard that we also needed. It feels much better to tick the Bustard on Fuerteventura than to tick it in Merzuga, Morocco where Bustards are regularly released for hunters.
First Island for us was Gran Canaria which hosts a lingering population of Blue Chaffinch that was just recently split into two species, one on Gran Canaria and one on Tenerife. The Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch is rare, maybe less than 200 birds in total, whereas the Tenerife Blue Chaffinch is common. The Blue Chaffinch habitat is high altitude pine forest. Eduardo had told us to search in an area here walking a dirt trail listening and watching. First evening we found none, but next day we were back early in the morning and were able to locate a flock after a couple of nervous hours searching.
Gran Canaria Chiffchaff was present everywhere. Very easy.
With those endemics in the bag, we headed towards Tenerife. We met up with Eduardo and we stayed at his place. Next Eduardo joined us for a full day of birding. First up were the two endemic pigeons, Laurel Pigeon and Bolle’s Pigeon. We stopped at a cafe’ next to a cliff and soon we spotted the first Laurel Pigeons.
No sign of Bolle’s Pigeon though and we headed towards the pine forests and the Tenerife Blue Chaffinch. These birds were considerably much easier to locate than their close relatives on Gran Canaria.
The two Chaffinches were very much alike each other, the calls and the wing bands were distinctly different though. After lunch we went back to one of the valleys hosting Laurel forest and in the afternoon we soon found also the Bolle’s Pigeon.
At the laurel valley, the all-year present Goldcrest was common, it is a subspecies but felt quite different from “our” Goldcrests.
With some extra time on our hands, we started to explore various ponds and marshes. In one of the ponds, a group of Common Shellducks were resting. Eduardo goes all apeshit, SHELLDUCKS!!! and we go .. ehh, yeah,what ?
It turns out to be a first for Tenerife. It’s weird birding on the islands of Macaronesia, the chances of finding the first for something – are high. Nice birding day indeed, thanks Eduardo – see you soon!!
Next up was Fuerteventura where we had two birds, the Houbara Bustard and the endemic Fuerteventura Stonechat. We had good info on both from Eduardo and went to a desert like area where we found the Bustard almost immediately. We love Bustards!!
The Stonechat was easily located, they were virtually everywhere.
Next day we had half a day of birding on our hands, and we explored various reservoirs and marshes. Good birding, in general birding on Fuerteventura was much better than what we expected, good species everywhere.
At the reservoir of Embalse del los Molinos we sat down to just enjoy all the Ruddy Shellducks when suddenly large groups of Black-bellied Sandgrouse came flying in. Beautiful indeed.
On our way from Cape Verde to The Canaries we decided to make a short stop in Lisbon, a Dusky Warbler (lacking its tail) had been resident in Tejo Estuario for over a week. We arrived in Lisbon in the evening and the day after we had received excellent information from Pedro Nicolau regarding the whereabouts of the Dusky Warbler. We spent the entire day staring at this bush.
In the afternoon the wind picked up and it started to rain, no warbler. Eventually we embraced the dip and went back to the apartment we had rented.
We’d made an invite on Facebook, inviting Lisbon birders to come and have a drink with us in the evening and gossip about birds. It was really nice to meet Pedro Nicolau who has been very helpful over the year, providing excellent information over and over again. Other birders that came were Manuel Ribeiro and Frederico Morais, and Frederico had a card to the Estuary gates. The Estuary is closed over night, apparently to protect against thieves!! We borrowed Fredericos card and could access the Estuary in the morning. Otherwise, without a card we wouldn’t have had time to do that, our flight to The Canaries was at 11 am, and the gates open at 9 am. We drove back to the same spot, the same patch of reeds we spent the entire previous day staring at – and as soon as we jump out of the car, we heard the Dusky Warbler calling. It was there !!!
Our skipper Marco set us ashore in the little fishing village of Calhau on Sao Vicente where we arranged a car to Mindelo, the city on the island. Virtually the only birding spot (waders) on Sao Vicente is the sewage ponds just outside the city. Taxi distance, no rental car needed. We took a taxi there just before the sun rose. Once there we immediately understood that the rarity potential was great in the sewage ponds. Lot’s of waders everywhere, Whimbrels, Grey Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers, Greenshanks, Spotted Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers etc.
After a short while we found our first rarity, an Intermediate Egret. A bird we looked for like crazy on Santiago.
Shortly thereafter, we saw a Snipe flying, and none of us saw any white in the trailing edge on the wing of the bird. Could this be that Wilson’s Snipe we had been searching so hard for during the past months. We worked hard on the bird to get good photographs. We then saw two additional Snipes, and all three flew together and one of the birds stood out as slightly darker. Once we got pictures we felt pretty confident that we had found a Wilson’s Snipe.
This is a very difficult bird to safely identify, it can be confusingly like a Common Snipe. All dark underwing and very thin white trailing edge on the wing are the two most important id characters in the field.
The ponds also held a pair of Lesser Scaup. This also is bird that is non trivial to safely identify. One diagnostic character though, is the wing band if you can see the bird in flight. Greater Scaup wing band is all white, Lesser Scaup is half white, half grey.
[update: This was non trivial, there were two ducks here, one was a Lesser Scaup and the other a Tufted Duck. See the pics below:
We had high hopes also to find a rare American wader, apart from the Wilson’s, the sole yank in the ponds were a Lesser Yellowlegs.
eFinally, we were all setup for a pelagic to the famous island of Raso. To access the waters of Raso, the village of Tarrafal on Sao Nicolau is the starting point. There are no organised pelagics there, you have to organise a boat by some of the locals yourself. Arne Torkler and Martin Gottschling recommended a guy called Marco Salvatici who had a decent boat and we arranged with him to take us first to Raso and then to Branco where we haphazardly had decided to spend the night. You also have to organise the chum yourselves, we bought fish, chopped it up and put it in buckets. We bought oil and corn and popped pop corn. Once on the sea, we soon saw Shearwaters and assumed they were all Cape Verde Shearwater. The first one we could safely id turned out to be a Cory though.
Later in the day, we became more proficient at differentiating between the two Shearwaters, the Cape Verde Shearwater was smaller with a different flight jizz. There were more Cory’s Shearwaters than Cape Verde Shearwaters, thus good views are required to safely id a Cape Verde Shearwater.
Somewhere between Sao Nicolau and Raso we saw our first Fea’s Petrels in the distance, not close enough for any good photographs though.
We started chumming in the strait between Raso and Sao Nicolau. We used the same tactic that the Windbird guys did on Madeira. You pick you spot and stay with it. Distribute some chum, drift, drive up wind, repeat for hours. The chum seemed to attract a few birds but it wasn’t nearly as good as it was on Madeira. Some birds came in to inspect though. A single Fea’s came within photography distance.
No Cape Verde Storm-Petrels though which is what we were hoping for. The Boyd’s Shearwater we really didn’t dare expecting, we were told they were all in the South Atlantic by this time of the year.
Eventually we gave up the chumming and drove with the boat towards Raso. Raso is mostly famous for it’s endemic lark, the Raso Lark. It’s pretty amazing that a little rock like Raso can hold an endemic Lark. You are not allowed to go ashore on Raso to get good views of the lark, it’s strictly allowed for researchers only. Our friend Eduardo Garcia del Rei tried sort a research permit for us to no avail. It turned out that it was reasonably easy to see the larks from the boat though.
Raso holds a colony of Brown Boobys. Red-billed Tropicbirds breed next to the Boobys. And, a month ago, 22 Red-footed Boobys were seen in that colony by Arne Torkler and his friends.
Our hopes were set high for the Red-footed Booby but none were there. We decided to set anchor outside the colony and have lunch in the boat.
After a while, chilling in the sun, we saw an odd looking booby in the distance. Marco is quick with the anchor and we drove closer. And – dang – it’s a single Red-footed Booby in an odd immature plumage.
Spirits were high, the feeling when that rarity just comes flying in is hard to describe.
We decided to go to Branco, the next island where we had decided to spend the night. We hadn’t planned ahead for that so we hadn’t brought any gear – thinking that it would be ok to just curl up on a rock.
The skipper set us ashore on a beach where we could jump into the water and wade ashore. Together with us here was a birding team from Austria, Ruper Hafner and friends. We had decided to meet up on Branco with them. Close to the landing spot we found the colony, or at least we thought we did since there were droppings on all the stones and on the ground and we all decided to spend the night there.
Together with the Austrians we sat down, watching the sun set and waited for the dark. Once it got dark, we started to hear the first calls of the Cape Verde Storm-petrels and using our flash lights we tried to get views. The birds were fluttering in the dark, calling everywhere. Using the flash light, Erik spots a bigger bird in the dark, and we all see it well – it’s a Boyd’s Shearwater flying – calling. It turned out the colony was mixed, mostly Boyd’s, maybe a hundred of them. Quite a few Cape Verde Storm-petrel and the occasional late breeder Cape Verde Shearwater. A Storm-petrel flew right into us and we could pick up the confused bird.
Also the Boyd’s Shearwaters were confused on the ground, having troubles finding their bearings in the torch lights.
The whole night was a marvellous spectacle, with Storm-petrels and Shearawaters calling through the whole night. We’ll never forget this night, lying there on a rock, looking up at the stars with all the constellations in odd positions and the birds flying calling all through the night.
The next day, our skipper picked us up in the morning. We had arranged with him to drive us directly from Branco to Sao Vicente instead of going back to Sao Nicolau. We stopped for chumming in the strait between Santa Luzia and Sao Vicente but it was slow, just the occasional Shearwater.
What was a bit strange here was that we never saw any Cape Verde Storm-petrels neither any Boyd’s Shearwaters on the sea, we only saw them in the colony. The birds are apparently there now, at this time of the year, but apparently difficult to see on the sea.
November trip to Cap Verde, we’re planning to do 3 different islands here, the first being Santiago. Santiago hosts all the endemic land birds as well as all the passerine WP specialities.
A couple of weeks ago, a Black-headed Heron was seen here and that bird was high on our want-list. The first day we searched for the Black-headed Heron twice in the reservoir where it had been seen previously. First year-tick on Cap Verde was Grey-headed Kingfisher. The Kingfisher is abundant all over.
On our way up to the reservoir, we saw swifts, stopped and photographed the Cap Verde Swift.
Once at the reservoir, we started to scan. Cap Verde has an excellent track record for rare vagrant birds, anything can occur. However the reservoir only held the expected waders and herons. The rarest heron there was a Squacco Heron.
Counting subspecies, the Bourne’s Heron is also rare. It’s counted as a subspecies of Purple Heron.
A common bird around the reservoir as well all over the island was the local subspecies of Common Kestrel, (alexandri)
We walked a small path below the dam, and almost immediately heard the song of the Cap Verde Warbler (which we had just studied in the car) The warbler was cooperative and easy to photograph.
With the warbler bagged, we had a spectacular pork lunch in a little mountain restaurant. The endemic Iago Sparrows feeding around the restaurant.
Next up was the Cap Verde Buzzard, we drove to a mirador recommended by Arne Torkler. After scanning the mountain tops for a while we found two buzzards, we saw them several times and we had decent views in the scope. Too far away for any pictures. At the same spot, we also heard the Helmeted Guineafowl (cat C, introduced species ) calling. After some time a group came flying crashing into the bushes. Too fast for pictures though.
In the evening we went back to the reservoir. It was a show of Cattle Egrets coming in to roost. Nothing rare though. Just when we’re about to leave at last light, the Barn Owl (ssp detorta) came flying in. It felt like a tick, this Barn Owl was dark.
Next day, we headed east to the village of Pedra Badejo. Two pools there that looked interesting on Google maps. The first one held nothing out of the ordinary, but the second one was as MEGA as it can get in a listers life. First we found a Black Heron, it was feeding out in the open, doing it’s Night-time Day-time thing. This was 9’th for WP. Heavy.
Just 10 minutes later, up in the little creek we see a small cormorant fishing and we immediately understood that it was a Reed Cormorant.
This as much MEGA as it gets these days. It’s a first for Cap Verde, and the only other place it can be found inside WP is Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania.
After lunch we went to investigate a couple of ponds in the city of Tarrafal, In one of the ponds a White-winged Tern sat, That just has be a rare bird here given it’s easterly distribution.
Update: It turns out that the Tern is the first for Cap Verde ever.
Tried one under birded reservoir that held nothing special, beautiful place though.
We spent the evening – once again – at the reservoir scanning through all the Cattle Egrets.
After a couple of days at home after the last dip trip, we set out again towards our neighbour countries, Denmark, Norway and Iceland. First up was Stejneger’s Stonechat trapped and ringed at the famous Gedser Birding station. The Stonechat was released and then seen regularly for several days in the area. Driving south from Copenhagen, we see the bird being reported in the BirdAlarm app and we feel tick-confident. Once we arrive, the Stonechat is gone though, never to be seen again. We, together with quite a few Danish birders searched all day to no avail. Our dipping is now starting to becoming more than irritating and we’re starting to crack bad jokes about that this bad streak started just after Erik mocked God in a post.
Next destination is a long staying Stellar’s Eider two hours drive south of Oslo in Norway. When we finally walk down towards the fjord and the Stellar’s is just sitting there waiting to be ticked, we almost don’t feel joy, only relief – now everything turns for the better.
Last – and by far, the most interesting country on this trip is Iceland. There had been westerly winds for some time, and they would continue. Iceland is a vagrant magnet, and American birds are regularly seen there in fall. As we’re sitting in the airport waiting for the flight to Reykjavik, Birding Iceland reports a newly landed Hermit Thrush, the timing couldn’t have been better. The Thrush was seen very close the lake where Barrow’s Goldeneye can be seen, thus that was our first destination on Iceland. Unfortunately, the Thrush was gone, but we did land the Goldeneye.
In the evening we met up with Edward Rickson and spoke about tactics for the upcoming days. Edward decided to join us on the next day. The next morning we met up in he village of Grindavik, according to Edward a sure spot for Harlequin Duck, and also a possible spot for Gyr Falcon. The weather this day was spectacular with high winds, and a gale forecast for the afternoon. It was almost impossible to scan the bay with the scope due to the wind and waves. Finally we spot a few Harlequin Ducks at the other side of the bay. Drove there to get better views, and managed to get poor pictures of the wonderful hardy ducks.
We spent the remainder of the day searching for Gyrfalcon. The Keflavik point west of Reykjavik holds 1cy Gyrfalcons every winter. It’s just a matter of spending time on the site.
Gulling is nice on Iceland in general, both Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull are common.
Other common birds were Long-tailed Duck, Common Loon, Common Eider and also the nice Icelandic subspecies of Wren.
Eventually the weather became unbearable, mean wind was measured to 43 m/s late in the afternoon and we had give up.
The next day was entirely devoted to Gyrfalcon search. We combined driving slowly with the car scanning, with just standing at strategic points watching, waiting for that sign of gulls in panic mode. Late in the afternoon, driving, I see the Gyrfalcon, it went down behind a small hill and was gone. Neither Mårten nor Erik saw it and we had to continue searching. Close to where I saw the Falcon, we spot a group of Ptarmigans, this is the Gyrfalcon favourite food.
Late in the afternoon we tried another bay, where we were able to connect closely with Harlequin Ducks again. Erik got some great shots.
This has to be the most handsome duck in the WP. The same bay also had cooperative Purple Sandpipers.
Last day, flight is booked and we have a couple of hours in the morning to search for the Gyrfalcon. Same tactic as before, just spend time in the area. After a few hours we see that sign of panicking Gulls far away and we scan with the binoculars. Mårten screams JAG HAR DEN, JAG HAR DEN and indeed a Gyrfalcon is patrolling the coast. We drive like crazy down the coast to try intercept the bird at the Lighthouse. Too late though, a minute later we see a large group of scared Gulls further down the coast. We drive down, and sure enough, the impressive Falcon sits there on a pole intimidating a group of Widgeons. We drive closer, and then the Falcon decides to fly just above our heads.
Ten minutes later, we have to leave for the airport in order to catch the plane. Phuwwww.
Finally, thanks for the help Edward, it was a pleasure meeting you. Birding Iceland wrote about our visit here.
On Oct 24 we set out for a fairly unplanned twitching tour. There were quite a few possibilities for us in the UK/Ireland but also on mainland Europe. First destination was a Wilson’s Phalarope that had been present in Kent/UK for over two weeks. This was our second attempt at Wilson’s Phalarope, the first one was eaten by a Pergrine in France a couple of weeks ago. This one seemed certain though, however when we arrive at the site the Phalarope is gone. Dip. This was our second visit to the awesome site of Oare Marshes, the first one, months ago we ticked Long-billed Dowitcher. That same bird was still there this time too.
The disappointment of dipping is hard, it affects the mood in the group and it’s easy to cater dark thoughts only. Furthermore, twitching on Europe scale is both costly and time consuming. It’s probably the case that if we had just thrown ourselves on a plane at first opportunity for every reported bird this fall, we would have had a few more ticks, but we would definitely have had more dips too.
At this point time we had a few options, an Upland Sandpiper in France and two Grey-cheeked Thrushes in Cork/Ireland – we opted for Ireland. Once again, when we arrive at the site – the bird is gone. The Thrush at Rosscarberry had been seen in the afternoon the day before we arrived. Dip again. Some nice birding at the site though.
The other Thush in Cork, at Galley Head was also gone. We had to settle for a few Firecrests.
At this point we either wanted to go to London or Stockholm, tickets there were unreasonably expensive though, so we settled for Copenhagen where a Dusky Warbler had been residing just an hours drive from Copenhagen. WE arrived in Copenhagen late afternoon and since the Dusky had been searched for all day, but not seen, we never even tried for the Dusky Warbler. Instead, we drove from Copenhagen to Öland, and finally, at first light in the morning we’re able to connect with this beauty. A Two-barred Warbler.
At last!!!! a tick.
Quite a few Swedish birders are there at the site, all doing proactive ticking. According to Swedish taxonomy committee this bird is still considered to be conspecific to Greenish Warbler. They were all counting on that to change in the not too distant future.
There is a rule amongst Corvo birders that say – Rule #1 – Never leave Corvo. The reason for this is of course that it’s impossible to predict when that special day arrives, when the yanks come falling down. We had an additional very slow and boring day without an inkling of anything, except of course the impossible Upland Sandpiper around the Resorvoir and the even more impossible Yellow-billed Cuckoo around the Campsite. We walked the Riberia da Ponte, worked the fields of Lapa and walked around the Reservoir. In the evening of Oct 17 we decided to break Rule #1 and leave Corvo for one day on Terceira and one day on the main Island Sao Miguel where the endemic Azores Bullfinch resides. The idea being that we then decide later weather to return to Corvo or not.
On Oct 18 we search for the Upland Sandpiper in the morning and then return to pack up our stuff and fly. Two hours before the flight we receive an alarm in the WhatsApp group, a Dicksissel had just been found on the Lapa fields, we’re able to twitch it in the nick of time. When we arrive to the Lapa fields the bird is gone and we sit down to wait. Time ticks, and eventually we have to call the taxi to get to the airport. Just as the taxi arrives, so does the Dicksissel which flies in and land in the trees it was seen in a few hours earlier.
We fly to Terceira and together with Eduardo Garcia del Rey easily tick the American Coot recently found in the Reservoir there.
Spent some time in the famous quarry trying to get photographs of the snipes, some suspicious individuals but shots probably too poor to safely id that Wilson’s Snipe.
In the evening at the harbour we discover two adult Sandwitch Terns and one 1cy Sandwitch which looks a bit odd to us. We take photographs, and together with Eduardo and Michael Gerber we manage to get some shots. We send the pictures to PAC who replies that the Tern looks very good for Cabot’s Tern. Eduardo has much better photos that can be made available later on.
Next day we return to the harbour to try to get better pictures, the suspicious Tern was seen leaving the harbour at first light. We did return later in the day, and the Tern was back in the harbour at noon. Also visited the quarry again – of course. Plenty of American waders and ducks there.
We leave for Sau Miguel and go searching for the endemic Azores Bullfinch which turned out to be harder to locate than we thought. After a couple of hours of searching we find a few and get decent, albeit short views. No photographs.
In the evening in the hotel room we have to make the decision weather to leave for mainland Europe or go back to Corvo. There had been a few new birds coming in, but no major fallout, thus we decided to leave the Azores. None of us were especially eager to spend another week watching Chaffinches on Corvo. This was probably the biggest mistake we have done in the year. The day we spend flying back, we started to receive the reports back from Corvo. This day, the day we spent in various boring airports turned out to be – the day on Corvo. All in all 14 different American landbirds were seen – and we missed them all. We broke “Rule #1” and payed the price.
First day of this blog post, which is day 7 for us on Corvo, we decided to go up to the famous Caldeira, that is the actual crater of the vulcano. This is one crazy beautiful place. Mårten walking up the Caldeira.
Our main target in the Caldeira was the elusive and difficult to id Wilson’s Snipe. We walked all the moorlands inside the crater flushing snipes trying hard to get photos of all the flushed snipes. Here is Mårten wetting his boots.
All flushed Snipes were deemed to be Common Snipe. It’s not easy though, and observation just though the bins might look perfect, but once you see the pic – not so much. Birding the village in the afternoon.
Next day, day 8 on Corvo, Oct 13, rainy day. We started out with some sea watching. Plenty of Cory’s Shearwater and one Sooty. Other birders found a dying Leach’s Storm-petrel in a garden. In the evening rain stopped, PAC found a Blackpoll warbler in the tamarisk above the garbage dump. Everyone went there.
At the time, we all got decent views, however the bird, or actually birds, there were two, stayed and are still here, and we later get good photos.
Day 9, Oct 14 – our big dip day. We started out by making the most idiotic decision we have done this year by splitting up. Mårten and Erik were so eager to work hard and I was – well not. They go with the first taxi-bus to Ribeira Fojo and I bird the village. Idiotic. They did find two REVs, nice but not a year tick.
I was birding the village and a Common Yellow-throat was reported above the Rubbish dump. I go there and assume they will somehow get the news of this and get down to the village. Hectic. The Yellowthroat is kinda gone so nothing lost. Once we get in contact, an alarm on an unidentified sparrow (very very interesting) as well as an alarm in the Ribeira furthermost on the island, the Lighthouse Valley on a Black-throated Green Warbler. Dip. And even more horrible, after we gave up the on the Black-throated Green in Lighthouse Valley, the one birder, Per Forsberg, that stayed got the bird. Later in the same day Vincent Legrande sees and alarms an Upland Sandpiper, we go there – dip. Also, the impossible-to-see Yellow-billed Cuckoo was seen. So, all in all this was a most horrible day, several fantastic birds seen on the island – and we see zero.
Day 9, Oct 15 turned out to be the day. Now it turned. We started out in the village by trying to relocate the Yellowthroat. Maybe at 10 o’clock Mika Bruun sees and alarms a Blackburnian Warbler in Tennessee Valley, this is 5th for WP. Everyone runs, we on the other hand are so pissed with the experience of yesterday so we (STUPIDLY) decided to stay and continue the search for the Yellowthroat. After maybe an hour, we get more reports that the Blackburnian is re-found and we decide to go there. Once at the site, up the mountain, the bird is just not there. After maybe an hour or so of waiting, a new alarm arrives, unidentified warbler further up on the same mountain. We all run, and soon we got certain id of Yellow-throated Vireo. All birders are running up, except a few that stay on the Blackburnian site. Just 5 minutes after all birders except just a few left the Tennessee Valley site of the Blackburnian Warbler, it’s reported on the radio that the damned Blackburnian shows again – at the original spot. We all run towards the Vireo instead and we got it just in the nick of time.
Just after we saw the Vireo, it disappeared, never to be seen again. We went back to the site of the Blackburnian and sat down to wait. After a short time, it’s seen further up the valley and – again – all birders run. We all got to see the bird, albeit poorly. Lots of adrenaline.
Once down in the village, I’m sort of dead, whereas the young guns still have energy and keep on birding. Again PAC (In PAC we trust) finds the bird we need and they call me and I get running again. Wonderful views of Common Yelllowthroat.
PAC flushed the bird for us, and we all got it good. Together with WP top birders Ernie Davies and Chris Bell.
Top day, 3 new year ticks in a day.
Day 10, Oct 16. Winds have been exceptionally good last days and they appear to continue to be so. This morning winds are very strong westerlies together with heavy rain. A juvenile Surf-Scoter was resting in the harbour.
Once the rain subsided we decided to walk up to the reservoir, searching for the Upland Sandpiper, the alleged Greater Yellowlegs seen there and of course Wilson’s Snipe. We see a few Snipes, but the winds are too strong to get decent photos of flying Snipes. We see a flying Yellowlegs, but it was a lesser. A Semipalmated Sandpiper on the way back was all we had.
We’re finally on that famous birding destination Corvo, a.k.a The Rock. It’s a small island in the western most part of The Azores. When American birds get lost in the storms on the Atlantic, this is where they end up.
It was fairly recently discovered what an amazing migrant trap Corvo was, these days WP birders flock to the island in October, waiting for that MEGA to land. By now it’s very well organised, all birders have walki-talkies and bird news is announced on the radio as well as on a WhatsApp group that everyone is connected to. It’s also a very nice and social environment here, birders from almost all countries in Europe join up and search for vagrants. There is dinner in a restaurant at 8 o’clock every evening and it is jointly organised. Pierre-Andre Crochet is doing great work as organiser of most things. Thanks PAC!
We arrived in the afternoon, and after unloading the luggage at Guest House Comodore which is the place to stay here, we immediately set off. The Comodore is fully booked by birders, and we were told by friends to book well in advance. We booked in December last year. In the old harbour a Belted Kingfisher as well as two Northern Waterthrushes had been seen on and off for the last couple of days. Before trying for the Kingfisher we decided on a quick lunch. When we came out on the street after lunch and started to walk down towards the harbour, an alarm came in – Bobolink up on the Island found by Danish birder Lars Mortensen.
Stressfull, what to choose, Kingfisher or Bobolink. We decided to spend 5 minutes first on the Kingfisher, and then go up on the Island by taxi for the Bobolink. The Bobolink was seen close to one of the Riberias called “Rebeira do Poco de Agua”. It’s important to learn the names of all the birding sites here. A “Ribeira” is a steep valley ravine with forest. The rest of the island is cow pastures and this is probably what makes Corvo so good for birding – there are no forests for birds to hide in.
No luck on the elusive Kingfisher, even though other birders had seen it just 10 minutes before we arrived. Up on the Island, Lars Mortensen was on site helping us to locate the Bobolink. After maybe an hour of searching Mårten finds the bird and calls on the radio.
Erik and I run – but too late – the bird is gone. We continue to search, and finally after a few more hours of searching the steep fields we’re able to connect with the bird again and we all see it. Fast down the mountain with Taxi again. They have an elaborate Taxi system here, driving birders en masse up and down the mountain. The Kingfisher was gone though, the last siting was the one just 10 minutes before we had our short 5-minute attempt. Much searching was done for the Belted Kingfisher this day and the following days, but the bird was truly gone. We also had the Waterthrush to work on, the Waterthrushes had been seen in the tamarisk on the lower fields, next to the airstrip. Several birders search for the shy Waterthrushes and we can hear the birds calling several times inside the tamarisk. Soon we all get it. No pictures though, it’s an elusive quick bird.
Day two, we run on an alarm on Philadelphia Vireo from upper parts of Ribeira do Vinte found by famous WP birder PAC. When we’re accessing the Riberia from the Upper road, two bad things happen. The bird moved down and is now in the lower parts of do Vinte and it starts to rain as if there is no tomorrow. We take shelter for the rain in a cave!! and have no real high hopes for the Vireo. Eventually the rain gives up and PAC calls on the radio and says that he still has the bird, and that he also has a Red-eyed Vireo. We slide through mud down the steep ravine and it’s simply not possible to get any wetter and muddier. We reach PAC together with Lars Mortensen and we get both birds.
Truly a good start on Corvo. Next day we finally had no alarms to act on, and we could go searching ourselves. It’s always more fun to find your own birds than to run after other peoples birds. We decided on Riberia do Cantinho and worked ourselves upwards in the ravine. Mårten and I on one side and Erik on the other. This is extremely exciting birding, slowly working through a ravine full of thickets, moss and high trees. Stopping, listening, looking, playbacking, walking slowly. After a couple of hours Erik calls on the radio in full on falsetto – Shit I have an Ovenbird –
Mårten and I make our way to Eriks side of the Riberia and we start to try to relocate the Ovenbird which is gone by now. This is a very skulky bird who almost never shows well. After many hours we have all three seen the rarity. Erik is in heaven, so are the other birders that arrived when we called out the Ovenbird on the radio. Many people dipped the Ovenbird though since it was almost hopeless.
Day four we decided to start birding in the fields close to the village. Soon there is an alarm on Rose-breasted Grosbeak which was never refound by anyone. Then, by lunch a group of birders call out a flying Yellow-billed Cuckoo that we searched for extensively. This Cuckoo was very shy, and it was seen this day and the following day – briefly – by several. We were never able to connect with i though, although we spent hour after hour searching in the tamarisk bushes the Cuckoo seemed to prefer.
Next day we decided to have reprisal of self-found birds and started in the morning by walking the Riberia da Ponte. Beautiful ravine, but no yanks. Once we reached the top, we got a new alarm on the Yellow-billed Cuckoo from yesterday. Taxi down the mountain and fruitless Cuckoo searching for the remainder of the day. Boring. It’s interesting that a Yellow-billed Cuckoo has been close to the village for two days, many have searched for it and maybe 5 birders have seen it. So, it’s certainly possible to miss out on birds here.
In the evening though some good news arrived, the Belted Kingfisher had re-appeared on the Island of Flores which is close. Erik started to organise a joint boat trip to Flores for the next day. Quite a few birders from quite a few different countries joined up to search on the neighbour island.
It was a dip – and now we feel very very strongly that we need some flow.
We’re on the move again, after doing not so much at home for a week. We’re back on the Azores, the island of Terceira which hosts the best wader spot in all of WP. The pond close to Cabo De Praia, also known as the quarry. We have spent two days here on Terceira before going to Corvo where we’ll search for lost Yanks together with quite a few other WP birders.
The first bird we went for was a Redhead who had been lingering in a pond in the city of Praia Da Vitoria since end of August. The bird has been moulting heavily, however the wings look fresh now so the bird is ready to go. We were probably lucky to get it now before it leaves.
Next we went together with Catalonian birder Rafael Armada to the pond. The Grey-tailed Tattler that had been in the pond since summer appeared to be gone. We did find two Blue-winged Teals though, that was tick number 715 for us.
The number of species of waders in the pond was staggering, of the more exotic it’s worth to mention: Two Temminck’s Stint (apparently rare on the Azores we learned today), 7 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 4 Pectoral Sandpipers, 1 White-rumped Sandpiper, 4 Lesser Yellowlegs, lots of Semi-palmated Plovers and one Baird’s Sandpiper.
We spent quite some time scanning through flocks of Yellow-legged Gulls, looking for that one American Herring Gull. No luck. We revisited Lago da Junco where we last time saw quite a few Common Snipes, this time we went back looking for Wilson’s Snipe. There were no snipes at all there this time.
We also searched hard in various little patches of forest on the western side of the Island searching for lost American songbirds. Exciting type of birding, walking slowly by your self listening attentively for that odd call. Mostly found Atlantic Canaries and odd sounding Chaffinches.
Checked the pond in the city late in the evening and thought we found a Spotted Sandpiper, apparently Rafa had already found it earlier today. Great bird anyways.
Tomorrow, Corvo in October – pretty famous WP birding spot.
As previously planned we went on a September twitch tour. WP twitching on this scale is pretty strenuous, it involves many boring kilometers in rental cars and many boring flights. Also the amount of actual birding is pretty low, OTOH once you reach that target bird it’s a good bird. Good – as in rare.
We started out with a flight to Nantes, France and a reported Wilson’s Phalarope at Ollone-sur-Mer. We arrived in the evening and had a few hours to search for the bird. Next day we had an additional couple of hours to search. A local birder we met said that they had seen the Phalarope being chased by a Peregrine. We never found the Wilson’s and the most likely explanation is that it was taken or injured by the Peregrine. Bad luck.
Next on our improvised itinerary was Terceira, Azorez. Quite a number of good birds had been reported from the famous quarry at Cabo de Praia including a Western Sandpiper. However, the Western was gone (or it was a Dunlin) so we decided to throw away the tickets to Azores and go to the UK instead. First up in the UK were two yankee birds in Weymouth, Dorset, a couple of hours drive from Gatwick. Both birds were found after some searching in the marsh.
We contacted Chris Batty for advise on how to plan the UK tour and Chris told us what we already knew – that we had to go for the American Redstart on Barra, Outer Hebrides. There is a bit of inertia before embarking on such a trip, the Hebrides are remote – to say the least. We decided to drive there. The alternatives with flights were slower and much more expensive. Decided to pick off a couple of other vagrants en route. First was a Long-billed Dowitcher reported from Yorkshire. When we were driving north in the morning, there were no RBA alerts on the Yorkshire Dowitcher so we decided to detour through Kent instead and another Long-billed Dowitcher that had been stable for several weeks. Wise decision, the Yorkshire bird turned out to be gone.
Picked up a wind-blown Sabine’s Gull at Daventry Country Park, east of Birmingham
Finally arrived at Oban where the ferry took us – and quite a few other Redstart twitchers – to Castlebay, Barra. Quite an outpost.
With at least an hour of decent daylight left we all went straight to the bird which was eventually very cooperative – showing well. The local birder (never got the name of the guy) who had found the Redstart was proudly acting welcome committee at the church. All in all, a very friendly and social twitching experience.
Year-Ticked a fairly common bird on Barra too, the Lesser Redpoll, Acanthis cabaret which is split by the IOC into a proper species.
At this point we decided to stay for a while on the Western Isles. We went slowly north, ferry-jumping the Islands scanning the large flocks of Golden Plovers for that American Golden which we needed.
Suddenly Mårten reacts to a smaller bird in one of the flocks. Our second self-found Buff-bellied Sandpiper this year.
No AGPs though. On Uist, we suddenly, just before dark, saw an alarm in the Rare-Bird-Alert (RBA) app for Snowy Owl on Uist, very close to where we were. The Brits don’t use GPS coordinates though, making it impossible for us to find the exact location of where the Owl was last seen. This is a major deficiency in the otherwise decent RBA app. Our only explanation for this is that 3G/4G coverage is so poor in Britain that the birders in Britain cannot yet use their phones to report/find birds. This is in stark contrast to rest of the world including not so developed countries as Mauritania and Egypt.
Eventually we find ourselves at the famous “Butt of Lewis” the most northern tip of the Western Isles scanning for Sooty Shearwaters in the early morning hours. Sure enough, soon we pick up a couple of Sooties – another year tick. At the Butt, we also had a few overflying Common Loons which is a very good bird – at home at least.
Returning back to the mainland from the Hebrides, we had a hard choice to make in the car going south. A Black-billed Cuckoo was just reported on Shetland and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler was reported from Norfolk, just north of London. After a longer stop at an unexpected point with 4G coverage we made up our plans and decided against Shetland. We drove through the night to Norfolk and arrived at the site 4am. Slept a couple of hours in the car and was at the site of the PG Tips (UK slang for Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler) at first light.
It was a pleasure meeting up at the site with Dan Pointon, WP birder with whom we have discussed many issues of birds, countries and tactics over the year. Quite a few UK birders were present and the PG Tips is a skulky bugger. Together with Dan, we started to more actively search for the bird, trying to flush it. Soon we found it, and the three of us all got decent to good flight views of the bird. Especially some of the views from the back, with the bird flying away along the ditch showing well the round tail, the buff rump and the patterned back were good. None, or almost none of the famous white tips were present in the bird. After we left, quite a few of the present birders hadn’t seen the bird at all. More and more birders arrived at the site, and apparently things got almost completely out of hand later in the day.
Besides, the decision to drive to Norfolk instead of trying for the Black-billed Cuckoo on Shetland was the right one, the Cuckoo was gone by the morning.
With the PG Tips in the bag, we decided to go to Ireland. Two good birds awaited us there and both were easy to pick up due to some excellent support from the Irish Birding Community with help from Niall Keogh, Wilton Farrelly and Gerry O’Neill.
At this point there was nothing left for us in the UK/Ireland except for the small matter of a reported Siberian Thrush on Shetland. We deemed the Thrush as un-twitchable and decided go to Holland instead. Quite a few people told us it was madness to leave the UK now that it was raining rarities. Holland turned out to be the right move though, the Thrush disappeared and short of an Helicopter we wouldn’t have made it there in time. Two uglyish birds bagged the first afternoon in Holland. Cat-C Cackling Goose and an alleged Cat-A Ross’s Goose.
The real reason we decided to go to Holland was to try a little bit harder for Dotterel, a bird that had been regularly reported at various sites, mostly over flying on waarneming, the Dutch bird reporting portal. We got a tip to search the fields near Europoort which we did to no avail. At the very last moment when we had given up to find one ourselves, Dutch birders came through and a Dotterel was reported in southern Holland. We went there and found it in a flock of several hundred Golden Plovers.
Home at last, only to see Magnolia Warbler being reported from The Azores and a Radde’s Warbler present in Uppsala, just 100 km north of Stockholm. We cannot go for the Radde’s though, Erik is out sailing in the Baltic and Mårten is stuck on an island in the archipelago. Stressful.
We strung our Rüppel’s Vulture in Spain. Apparently, according to Dick Forsman we’re not the first to do so. Quite a few experienced Spanish birders, familiar with dark Griffons Vulture told us that our photo was indeed a Griffon Vulture, not a Rüppels.
We’re still struggling though, to find a picture of a Griffon Vulture on the internet that looks as our bird. So, that was backstep #1.
Backstep #2 is the American Herring Gull we twitched in Southern Portugal. There has been quite a lot of discussions on the Internet on that bird, including the famous two-bird-theory which was effectively disproven by Yoav Perlman in a facebook post where he showed that the bird that was originally identified as an AMHG was indeed the same bird that later in the spring developed an orbital ring and started to look like a Yellow-legged Gull. Discussions are still ongoing, but for now we step back on the bird.
Upstep. This weekend we gave a talk on Falsterbo Birdshow, as we get out from the talk, there is a brand new alarm on Swedish BA for Baird’s Sandpiper on Öland. We skip the (probably very nice) dinner, go to Öland together with Anton Castelius and Eric Sandelin and twitch successfully.
When we started to plan the Big Year, one of the birders we turned to for advice was Bosse Carlsson, Swedish WP lister. Bosse thought that maybe 650 was a realistic upper goal for a Big Year, later on when the planning started to become more detailed we realized that maybe even 700 was attainable. Now that we’re at 700 before the end of August we’re starting to fantasize about 750.
It wouldn’t have been possible to be at 700 now without all the massive amounts of help we have received from birders in WP. You are too many to mention, but you know who you are. Thank you !!!!!
On our way back from Madeira we did a short stop in Lisbon to pick up some additional birds. First off were two Cat-C birds in the Tagus estuary.
The next morning we hung at the gate of privately held Sesimbra Nature Park where a Pie-billed Grebe has been residing for quite some time now.
Got better views of the Iberian Chiffchaff than on our last visit to Iberia at the place of the Grebe.
Finished off by driving all the way to Tarifa in southern Spain, same place where were we earlier in the year and ticked Iberian Chiffchaff and White-rumped Swift. This time we found the Rüppels Vulture almost ridiculously easy. The first place we stopped, and for me, the first vulture I looked at in the scope was a clear Rüppels. We also got the opportunity to compare the bird to the more common Griffon Vulture. When watching the Rüppel in the scope and a Griffon came into the same scope view, the two vulture species are really different.
So, according to our iGoTerra list this was bird number 700. However, we have a few questioned birds already up on the list. In particular.
American Herring Gull. This was the bird from southern Portugal originally identified as an AHG by Mårtens friend Pieter Adriaens. The bird starts to look bad though. Pedro Nicolau wrote us: “By the way guys, I’m not sure if you’re aware but the American Herring Gull you’ve seen in Portugal is a heavily controversial bird, and will most likely be dismissed as a michahellis. As the moult progressed the bird was showing red orbital ring and yellow legs.. to me the bird is a michahellis. I’d go for another one.”
We’ll see what happens with this bird.
Pale Martin. Highly controversial bird, but recently confirmed by Lars Svensson to be a Riparia Diluta, Pale Martin.
Long-toed Stint. The Stint found by Erik in Kuwait, we’re still working this bird since we’re still convinced it’s an LTS. KORC has tabled the bird until additional information is presented. Pics and video of that bird on our Google Drive
Maybe some or all of these three questioned birds eventually has to be removed from our list.
Well back in Stockholm, we got picked up at Arlanda by Andreas Bohlin. We do look confused.
Andreas drove us to Hjälstaviken close to Stockholm. Quite a few Lesser White-fronted Geese there, so if we remove the American Herring Gull, we’re still on 700.
Madeira is a must for sea watching and pelagics. We flew directly from The Azores to Madeira. We had arranged previously a three day trip with Wind Birds. Wind Birds with Catarina Fagundes and Hugo Romano organises very professional sea watching pelagics off Madeira. Compared to the pelagic we just did on The Azores, Hugo and Caterina truly know their stuff, especially the chumming techniques that they have fine tuned over the years.
The first day we went east, heading out beyond Ponta de São Lourenço with the aim of seeing Zino’s Petrel. This is the price bird of Madeira with an estimated number of below 100 breeding pairs. The Zino’s breed on cliffs at the highest mountain peek of Madeira, very hard to access the breeding grounds.
The Zino’s Petrel is very similar to the Desertas Petrel, but it is possible to distinguish the two in the field. Desertas is a chunkier bird, with a noticeable thicker bill. We saw our first Desertas just outside the port of Machico, no pictures of those birds though.
They drove the Rib Boat, aptly named Oceanodroma, eastward for almost two hours and eventually picked a spot and threw in the chum. A 15 liter bucket of frozen, chopped fish together with some shark liver oil as well as some alleged secret sauce.
They drifted over the area with the chum over and over again. Once the chum started to melt/shrink they threw in onother 15 liter bucket. Alltogether 3 buckets in a session. Good numbers of Great Shearwater, Bulwer’s Petrel and Cory’s Shearwater came inspecting the smelly goo.
The first really good bird that came were Wilson’s Storm-petrel. A spectacular bird that dances on the water with it’s long legs, dipping into the chum, feeding. It looks as if they are running on the water. The Swedish apt name of the bird is Sea-runner.
A diagnostic feature of Wilson’s Storm-petrel is the yellow webbing on the feet.
Long-tailed Jaegers came feeding on the chum.
So did a Blue Shark, not good.
Finally towards the end of the day, a clear Zino’s Petrel came close enough to be safely identified and photographed. Earlier in the day we have had a few Petrels that were too far away to safely id. Note the slim body and the thin bill. Nice article about Zino’s here.
Day two was much windier, I asked Hugo how bad the weather must be for them to cancel. He answered that they don’t cancel for bad weather, they cancel for good weather. They’re called Wind Birds for a reason, and this second day, with the wind we headed straight south from Machico, far out off shore. The wind turned out to be good indeed, the amount of Bulwer’s Petrels was staggering, we estimated over 500 Bulwer’s this day.
The first really good bird to show was a Barolo’s Shearwater. This was unexpected and the Barolo is clearly one of those birds we could have missed entirely on the Big Year. Luck. Later in the day we saw yet another Barolo’s Shearwater.
Similar to the first day, quite a few Cory’s and Great Shearwaters as well. After a few hours on the sea the next super bird comes feeding, White-faced Storm-petrels. These birds run on the water similar to the Wilson’s Storm-petrel, close to the boat providing excellent views. At this point we were in heaven.
Just as we’re enjoying the White-faced, Band-rumped Storm-petrels start to show on the slick (oily surface of see surrounding the chum). These are most probably of the Madeiran variety, not Grant’s but its difficult to tell.
As we photograph the various Band-rumped I looked at one of my out-of-focus shots and saw indications of a forked tail. We started looking closer at the Band-rumped Storm-petrels and soon Hugo identified one, or maybe two Leach’s Storm-petrel amongst the Band-rumped. We were not able to get any sufficiently good photographs of the Leach’s but Martijn Verdoes did and we’ll got a copy of his shots. It was far from easy to identify these Leach’s Storm-petrels but the id was verified by Nils Van Duivendijk, Brian Patteson and Bob Flood which is hard to argue with.
Not an entirely satisfying experience, we would have thought it would have been easier to distinguish a Leach’s from a Band-rumped – apparently not.
Day three we headed back eastwards again, to the same waters of day one. Our primary goal was to get better views of Desertas Petrel. We saw several Desertas in the day, some close enough to be photographed and safely identified.
Compare the chunkier body and the thicker bill to the Zino’s Petrel. Day three was by far the slowest day, mostly due to the wind. Apparently high winds (and bumpy rides) are what is needed. Desertas Petrel is recently split from Fea’s Petrel which breeds on Cap Verde. It’s not possible to distinguish Fea’s from Desertas in the field, thus this is pretty much a geography tick.
We saw quite a few Dolphins and whales in the three days. Flocks of Cuvier’s beaked whale, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and Atlantic Short-nosed Common Dolphin. Spectacular to have a group following the Rib Boat, jumping.
Finally, Madeira host a few land birds too. The pelagics started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and went on into the dark, thus we had the mornings free to explore the island. Two endemics, the Madeira Firecrest and Trocaz Pigeon.
Furthermore Berthelot’s Pipit and Plain Swift reside here as well as on the Canaries.
One more of the small Islands of the Azores to visit. This time Graciosa. Small place with just a few thousand inhabitants and very few tourists. Here the Monteiros Storm-petrel nest and we had booked a pelagic trip with Calypso Azores. The place to visit is called Bank of Fortune and is situated at least an hour off shore. On the way out we enjoyed the massive amount of Cory’s Shearwater. They gather in rafts, floating.
On the way out to the Bank we also see a few Bulwer’s Petrel. A lifer for all of us.
Once out on the Bank, the Crew spilled about a liter of shark-liver oil into the water. The oil has a very strong smell and it almost instantaneously started to attract Storm-petrels.
The Monteiro’s Storm-petrel nest on the Islets outside of Graciosa. It’s a summer breeder. The id of these birds is difficult (to say the least) . Alternative birds are Grant’s Storm-petrel which is a winter breeder. The Grant’s should arrive to Graciosa now, or maybe soon. Yet another alternative is Madeiran Storm-petrel. They exist on the Azores, there are sound recordings of Madeiran from the colony of Monteiro’s. We believe the birds above are Monteiro’s though. A good id article can be found on Birding Frontiers.
On the way back, we enjoyed the Cory’s again, as well as quite a few Bulwer’s Petrels. We saw thousands of Cory’s, maybe 15 Bulwer’s and 3 Great Shearwater. Inside a raft of Cory’s we found a lone Manx Shearwater.
The bird we were hoping for didn’t show up though. The Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel has been seen off Graciosa this time of the year in recent years.
We returned to the port of Praia later in the evening, and got good scopes views of a pair of Sooty Terns nesting on the Islet.
Next day, we had planned for yet another pelagic, it got cancelled due to bad weather. And today, when I write this the weather is even worse. Thus, of three days on Graciosa, two were spoiled due to weather. Thus, most probably Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel is a lost bird for us on the Big Year. This makes it the third bird which is definitely lost, the other two being Goliath Heron and African Skimmer from Egypt.
For quite some time we have had a scheduled trip to Madeira. A trip focused on Tubenoses (Petrels, Storm-petrels and Shearwaters) with three days of pelagics. On short notice we decided to go to the Azores prior to the Madeira trip. A few heavy-weight rarities have been present on the Island of Terceira for a while. It’s surprisingly easy and cheap to go a place as exotic and far away as the Azores. While fiddling with the rental car at the airport a birder approaches us and asks – Are you going for the Tattler. Hey yeahhhhh. We hung out with WP twitcher Thierry Jansen for two days. Terceira has one pond, called “The Quarry”.
It’s fed by tidal water and boy is that a good pond. It’s just a few minutes drive from the airport. We immediately went there together with Thierry and the Gray-tailed Tattler was there.
The Tattler has been present in the quarry for the better part of the summer. It has proved to be a tricky bird though, this was the second trip to the Azores for Thierry. We were lucky, it just stood there begging to be photographed. Phuuuwww. Flying all the way to the Azores and dip would have been horrible. The quarry was teeming with waders. Mostly Sanderlings, Kentish Plovers and Turnstones.
Quite a few Semi-palmated Plovers were feeding in the pond.
Soon though – Erik screams – or rather makes funny noices. A White-rumped Sandpiper was there.
Earlier in the year, we were very very close to a Hudsonian Whimbrel on our England twitch tour in January. At the time, we decided to skip that Whimbrel, it’s not an IOC species and we were in a hurry. We got it now now though, in the quarry. We love the quarry!!
Off from the quarry to the southern end of Terceira where a Snowy Egret had been reported. This has also been a tricky bird, people have searched for it for days without finding it. When we came, with our usual luck, it just stood there with it’s yellow legs and lore.
At the same place where the Egret hung out, there was a colony of terns with mostly Common Terns but quite a few Roseate Terns. Our original year-plan was to get the Roseate Tern on Ireland, they were very easy to find here.
From a rarity point of view a very good bird we found at the site with the Roseate Terns was a Bridled Tern, apparently the 17’th find on the Azores.
After lunch we obviously had to go back to the quarry – and what do you know – a few new birds had arrived. Self found Semi and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.
What a place – the quarry. Next time we go the Azores we’re definitely going to plan for a stop on Terceira.
Next morning, new birds again in the quarry. A Pec stood there.
Quick trip to northern Norway. Eva Wikström and Anna Bohlin joined up on this short touristy trip. Two target birds, a Snowy Owl on Röst and a 3-year-returning White-winged Scooter in a fjord inside of Bodö. There are actually cheap direct flights from Stockholm to Bodö, this is a place I will return to, next time with bins and my fishing gear!! – it’s sport fishing mecka. Once on Röst, we were able to find the Snowy Owl easily – thanks to the folks on Röst Fuglestation.
Here is a pic of the gang – post tick. Chilling.
Röst is a pretty little place, and the village by the harbour has a hostel which is mostly occupied by Kittiwakes.
Once back in Bodö, we went for the White-winged Scoter. This is a returning bird that has spent the summer in the same fjord the last couple of years. It usually leaves in the beginning of August so it was far from clear that the Scoter would still be there. It was – albeit far out and tricky to id among all the Velvet Scoters.
After the successful twitch of the Elegant Tern in Valencia we flew to Corsica. The Island hosts a number of endemics and specialities. The first morning we woke up in the dark so that we could be at the spot for California Quail well before sunrise. Mårten and his friend Martin Berg slept in this very same vineyard almost ten years ago. We playbacked the quail at first light and after a couple of minutes we hear a response from inside the forest. We go closer and position ourselves silently, hidden, waiting for the Quails to come out into the vineyard. The male responds several times and soon we see a few birds poorly some distance away. We playback some more but eventually go closer. The family group took to the wings and flew into the forest. No pics, but decent quick views. The Quail is supposedly difficult to hear and see, so I guess we were lucky.
We moved on towards a spot known for Marmora Warbler, we stopped abruptly on the mountain road instead because we saw Siskins along the road side. And, yes, for sure the Corsican Finch were abundant in the right habitat.
With that cleared up we continued to one of the spots for Marmora Warbler. This is July and nesting season is over, birds are in principle not singing any longer. The Marmora Warbler responded to playback as if there was no tomorrow though. With non-singing birds, finding a skulky Sylvia without playback would be a most time consuming activity.
Last endemic was the Corsican Nuthatch. After a fantastic breakfast in a little mountain village we drove higher, into the high altitude pine forests and almost immediately found a family group of Corsican Nuthatch.
That was fast, all four of Corsicas specialities cleared up in a single morning.
Also common on the Island as a whole was the Mediterranean
Flycatcher. This picture shows nicely the lack of spots on the belly, it’s not a Spotted Flycatcher.
Time to move on, we had no fresh information on the Albatross in Sylt, so that – in combination with very expensive flight tickets to Hamburg made us decide to just fly to Paris and decide there and then what to do next. Once in Paris, we opted to go to London instead of Hamburg. There were quite a few good birds waiting for us on the English east-coast. We drove north from London and slept halfway. When we woke up, we received some boring news. Two of the target birds on the east-coast were gone, and American Golden Plover and a White-rumped Sandpiper had decided to move on the day before. We went for the remaining Pectoral Sandpiper which we failed to find. Just as we’re about to leave the reserve, a local birder found the Sandpiper. Nice.
Spectacular sanctuary with awesome birding in general. The brits have some amazing birding areas.
At this point we were at a loss what to do, nothing more for us in England really. It’s not especially easy to be spontaneous while traveling in England. We have become used to proper Internet connection while driving. This is just not the case in England and it’s irritating. We did see quite a few signs advertising “Psychic Mediums” though and Mårten suggested that – maybe that is how they communicate here.
However a report came in showing that the Albatross had been seen in Sylt the day before. We found cheap tickets from Manchester to Hamburg and immediately embarked on the quite complicated trip to Sylt which including a car train out to island itself. We drove to Niebull, parked as number two the queue for the train and slept a few hours in the car. Took the first train at 5 in the morning. Arrived at the spot and the Albatross was not there, and it also started to rain and we didn’t really have proper rain gear with us. Had breakfast and waited for the rain to stop. Went back to the area where the Albatross had been seen most of the times and the bird still wasn’t there. At this point we started to argue about tactics, and then suddenly it just came flying in. What a twitch.
The Elegant Tern was the sole reason for us going to Valencia. We had earlier given the Tern 2 days, driving all the way to Calais and dipping was hard. Furthermore, when we were in souther Spain, in the Gibraltar area an Elegant Tern was reported in the harbour of Cadiz. That was just a single report, so we decided to not go for the Cadiz bird.
When we arrived at Valencia thing started to go sour, first the car rental agency under performed Secondly on our way to the booked hotel, we call them and they say that they have no rooms. Later we get an SMS from that same hotel, where they say that they have another house for the same price. Fine we drive there only to be told that the house is not available. Booked another hotel, arrive there and there is no booking, nor any available beds. Bad start on the Valencia twitch.
Saturday morning, we park ourselves on the beach, between the litle lake with a Sandwitch tern Colony and the sea with the idea of catching the terns when they move between the nesting colony and the sea. Lots of Sandwitch Terns pass by between morning and noon, no terns with orange beaks though. Lots of Common Tern though. Mediterranean Gulls and Audouin’s Gull are patrolling the beach. Different age classes.
Finally we can connect with the Elegant Terns – What a twitch.
We’re on a Euro trip, picking off birds here and there. Lithuania, Poland, South Germany, Calais France, back to Germany, Gibraltar, Mallorca, …..
The first bird was Aquatic Warbler in Poland. It was a close call that we went for the Albatross that had been seen regularly on Sylt, north-west Germany but the Albatross decided to leave just as our Euro trip started, so we went to Poland instead.
Our original plan was to try for the Aquatic Warbler during migration. We were told that it’s reasonably easy in Portugal during migration, late August. It’s also a possibility in Holland during migration. We felt this was a bit random and decided to twitch it at one of the breeding sites in Poland instead. Flew to Lithuania and drove to Bialystok in eastern Poland. Arrived late at the site and slept in the car. At dawn the warblers were singing in the marsh and we were able to locate a singing male fairly easy.
Off to Germany and their two iconic Cat-C species. The Yellow-headed Amazon in downtown Stuttgart and the Swan Goose in downtown Heidelberg. Both were easy to find.
At this point, we had a few options available. A White-winged Scooter in Scotland, the possibility of the Albatross becoming twitchable again as well as an Elegant Tern that had been very stable close to Calais on the English Channel. We opted for the tern. This was also close to forests with known populations of Reeve’s Pheasant. We twitched the pheasant easily. Our friend PAC said that these pheasants are not tickable, however other birders (on Netfugl) tick Reeve’s Pheasant around Calais and until some French birding committee says that these birds are cage birds we tick it. The former population on Îles d’Hyères is apparently extinct.
These birds, the pheasants are assisted by humans. They are bred and released for hunting. OTOH, so are Ring-necked Pheasants, all over Europe. We tick the Ring-necked Pheasant without hesitation (unless you are Dutch)
Then we went for the tern. It had been seen regularly amongst a colony of Sandwich Terns on a beach just north of Calais. We arrived at the beach in the evening and scanned through the Tern colony. Next day we started at dawn, and searched and walked the beaches to no avail. The Elegant Tern just wasn’t there.
Eventually we gave up on the tern and drove all the way back to Stuttgart to return the car and fly on to Malaga, southern Spain. (Today, when I write this, we see that the damned Tern is back again)
Two important birds in the Gibraltar area, the first one – where we had received a good spot from Mårtens friend Rafa Benjumea (from Ecotonobirding ) for Iberian Chiffchaff. We played our mobtape, which has proved extremely successful. No Chiffchaff appeared so we gave up and went to another spot, a spectacular cliff overlooking the strait of Gibraltar. The bird which was possible here was White-rumped Swift. We scanned the area for a few hours. An Eleonora Falcon came flying – this was a year tick and a lifer for Erik and me.
Balearic Shearwaters flying outside the cliffs, also a good bird. Far away, but identifiable.
So – with this streak of bad luck, dipped Tern, no Chiffchaff nor the Swift we had lunch. No time to relax, just push on. We eBirded another point for the Swift and went there, just north of Gibraltar. Lots of swifts in the air, and after maybe an hour, we found two White-rumped Swifts flying. We got good views in the scope but no pictures. Phuuu, at last, now it’s turning. Went to a strange hotel very close to the site for the Chiffchaff, the idea being that we jump up very early in the morning looking for it again. Just as we park the car at the hotel, an Iberian Chiffchaff shows well in the hotel garden. Dang.
Move fast, next day we flew to Mallorca. Two important birds there, the newly split Mediterranean Flycatcher which was very easy. They were virtually everywhere on Mallorca.
Harder bird to find was the Balearic Warbler. We tried first one place close to Port de Pallenca where it had been reported, we only saw Sardinian Warblers there though. Next we tried a valley close by. Walking into the stony valley, Mårten and Erik hear the bird calling faaaar away. Hyper-hearing. It’s in the bushes, and they sort of hear it maybe calling very low. I cannot hear a thing, but we make our way through the thorns and suddenly we flush a small dark bird. It lands maybe 100 meters away and we can see it, it’s the Balearic Warbler. It came in closer as we playbacked the song and the call and we got excellent, but short views.
Mallorca cleaned up, next stop before we go to Corsica is Valencia where a pair of breeding Elegant Terns appears to be possible.
We decided to go to Svalbard quite some time ago. There was a twitchable Ivory Gull in Germany this spring, the bird was slowly dying on a muddy field in Germany and we wanted better. The Ivory Gull is the breeding price bird of Svalbard, all the other species are in theory possible to get at other, more easily accessible places. Thus, we went for 3 full days of birding on Svalbard.
First day was spent birding in and around Longyearbyen and we fairly quickly racked up all the expected species – except Ivory Gull. First bird was Snow Bunting, singing through the hotel windows. Common everywhere.
A walk along the estuary at Longyearbyen is awesome birding. Fairly few species but high quality birds. Unexpected – to us – was the amount of Purple Sandpipers, they were everywhere. All time high for all of us on that bird.
Many of them ringed by local ornithologists. Barnacle Goose were abundant as well as Pink-footed Goose.
You are not allowed to wander around by yourself on Svalbard due to the Polar Bear hazard. We never saw any Polar Bears during our three day visit, they are further north where the pack ice is. Regardless, in order to walk about you need a gun. We had brought a gun from home and were thus free to walk around as we wanted.
Other birds along the estuary were both Phalaropes, Dunlins, Glaucous Gull, Kittiwake, Arctic Skua and Common Eider.
The Common Eider were nesting just along the road, next to the gravel.
Just as we stood looking at the cute Ducklings, and Arctic Fox turned up and smartly snatched one of the Ducklings.
After Lunch we walked the valley Björndalen, west of the village. There we found our first close and possible to photograph, King Eider.
Later we found a few female King Eiders too, they have a nice smile in their appearance contributing to our smiles.
On the way back from Björndalen we saw our only Ptarmigan on the trip. These Ptarmigans are clearly bigger than the ones we have at home. We heard that the Norwegians have already split it, calling it Spetsbergsripa.
No Ivory Gull though, there were quite a few recent reports of Ivory Gull from Longyearbyen and we searched all the Dog Kennels and the harbour to no avail.
Next day we went on a boat trip some two hours north of Longyearbyen. The goal was a known herd of Walruses. Birding on the sea from the boat was spectacular and we got excellent views of the sea birds. Especially the groups of fast flying Little Auk were nice.
Other sea birds were Brünnich’s Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin and Norhern Fulmar.
We saw two Blue Whales in the distance and went closer. This is one impressive mammal. Eventually we arrived at the place for the Walruses. As from now on, we’re in love with Walruses, they way they look, move and fart is world class.
On the way back, close to Longyearbyen a Long-tailed Skua was resting on the water.
Still no Ivory Gull though. In the evening we took another walk up the valley from Longyearbyen. Pectoral Sandpiper had been reported there recently but we never found any.
Next, and last day, we took yet another boat trip, this time much further away to the most northerly village in the world Ny-Ålesund. Ivory Gull had been seen there just a few days by our friend Jens Wikström who works as a guide on ships that cruise Svalbard. This time the weather was even better than the day before, the sea was completely calm and the sun was shining giving us even better views and photographs of the sea birds. When we finally see the village we’re hyped to max, expecting the Ivory Gull. Just as the boat enters the harbour, I’m squeezed in by other passengers, Mårten is inside putting on his shoes, then Erik screams IVORY GULL. Any .. yeyyy, it came flying in.
Mission complete. We then spent a couple of hours in the village and never saw the Gull again. We were lucky – again. On the other hand someone once said that if you’re lucky all the time – then it’s skill.
The last leg of our long trip that started with Alexandrine Parakeet in a park in Amsterdam in March is a trip to the Ural Mountains.
It’s a wild mostly inhabited area with large spruce forests. The mountains themselves are not especially high, more like the mountains at home, the Swedish Fjällen.
We went by night train from Yekaterineburg to Serov, and then by bus to Severouralsk where we were picked up by Victor the driver/camp master and Galina, camp cook from heaven. We packed all the gear into their UAZ and drove to the first camp site, just below Kvarkush plateau. White’s Thrush and Red-flanked Bluetails singing whenever we made a stop. We spent in total 5 nights at the first camp site. Around the camp, one of the most common bird was Arctic Warbler, singing everywhere.
Day two we hiked up to the plateau, good birding along the path as well as up there. Weather was bad though, rainy and cold. We found a nest of Little Buntings along the path.
Up on the Plateau we spread out and searched for Grouse. Soon we found a few Willow Grouses.
The Siberian Rubythroats were singing from the bushes, their throats shining inside the grey foliage.
Great Snipe was displaying in the rain, and with playback we got to see one very well.
The bad weather forced us to go back. In general here, the weather was usually good or even very good early in the mornings, with heavy rain in the afternoons.
In the late afternoon we birded the lower areas around the camp. Black-throated Thrush was reasonably common.
Next day we drove with the UAZ to an area with an open marsh and wet forest. The habitat was ideal for Rustic Bunting and we split up into two teams searching. Nutcrackers were abundant in that area, flying around in loose groups making ruckus.
Eventually we hear the Rustic Bunting singing, and we’re able to get to the bird.
The next day we made yet another hike up onto the plateau. This time going further up. Singing Bluetails on the way up.
This was a bird very high up on my want-to-see list. Almost twenty years ago me and hacker/math/computer friends of mine started our first Internet company and we named the company Bluetail. Now I finally got to see the bird.
Once above the tree line, we stumble onto a family of Weasels.
And just shortly after that, a large Brown Bear stands on its hind legs looking at us, it takes off running and three cubs follow. Stunning.
We go higher, aiming for an area that from a distance looked good for Dotterel. We never found any Dotterels, however we found both a singing Lapland Bunting and Rock Ptarmigans. The Bunting is very rare in the area.
Next camp site was close to the Ridge. Here Bluetails were singing constantly around the camp. The price bird on the ridge is the Black-throated Accentor. First day was just rain, we walked halfway up to the ridge anyway and found a nest of White’s Thrush.
Next day, we hiked up towards the ridge and soon hear singing Yellow-browed Warblers. This is a species we thought would be common in the area as a whole but it was only here, just below the ridge it was common.
We started to search the forest which is known to hold the Accentors, and fairly quick, we hear a bird singing. It responds to playback and we get exceptional views.
This is a very good WP bird, and to be able to see and hear it singing at the breeding site is a privilege.
With Black-throated Accentor in the bag, we were now almost done in the Urals, only Siberian Tit remaining. The forest around our camp, and also along the path up to the ridge looked like ideal habitat for Siberian Tit. Next day we split up from the camp and started to search for the Tit. We haven’t even begun the actual search when Raul calls out, he found a pair just 50 meters away from our camp.
Cleanup in the Urals. We thought that maybe we had allocated too much time for our Russia trip, we hadn’t. It takes time to find these species. Also, quite a lot of time in Russia was lost due to rain and bad weather.
Night train back to Yekaterinenburg. Arrived early in the morning and this time, a friend of Sasha had located a nest of Azure Tit. It felt really good to be able to finally get the Azure Tit which we had searched so hard for. Cred to Ural Expeditions here, they knew we craved this bird, and found a nest in Yekaterinenburg for us.
This is last birding day in Russia, and we attempted a long shot. We went back to the place where we earlier had a few hybrids Yellowhammer/Pine bunting. No Pine Buntings, but quite a few Oriental Turtle Doves close to Monetny.
The Russia trip has been a success, we have found everything we wanted to find and more. Spent the last night in the city drinking copious amounts of vodka in bars and playing chess with Russians.
We’re in Russia, and we love it. This country rocks. Putin may do strange things, but what we see, this sure looks good. We have a setup here with a full-package deal from Ural Expeditions. This is sort of required to do a proper Ural tour, expensive but good. In the Yekaterinburg area we have a van, a driver Igor and our guide, Sasja.
First day of birding we went straight to a famous site close to the airport, packed breakfast and dawn. The first Booted Warbler sung as we opened the car doors.
These marshes held a plethora of new WP birds for us, and just in a few hours we ticked off Grasshopper Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, Long-Tailed Rosefinch and a fast over flying Oriental Turle Dove.
Other nice species at the Airport marshes:
After a wonderful breakfast in the lingering morning, we went to another spot close by which held a number of breeding Great Snipes.
Nice little wetland with breeding Godwits and Red-shanks
Keep at it, we went to another local site called, Monetny which is an amazing site, with a dirt road passing thorough prime marsh habitat. First thing, we came into the habitat and we heard River Warbler calling, next we hear Greenish Warbler and then Lanceolated. Dream birds.
Oriental Cuckoo called from far away and we found the first of hopefully many Olive-backed Pipits. The site is famous for Azur Tit, we didn’t find any though.
At the end of the day, we had picked up 11 new WP ticks. We remember when we had the pelagic in April in Kuwait, we had 10 new ticks that day and Paul Chapman said, this was probably the last day you had 10 new ticks. Haha, he was wrong.
Day two, started out early in a park close to the city, Lake Shartash where Sasja had seen the Azur Tits just two weeks ago. No tits there. Tried a few other spots, and finally went to a spot an hour north of the city. This was the place where Sasja had seen Yellow-breasted Bunting two weeks ago, a known nesting site. Fairly long walk through woods and moor, and we arrived at the spot. Entirely different habitat to what we believed was the right habitat for the enigmatic bunting. The spot was a classical Swedish/Russian taiga marsh with small Pines and Cloudberries. We split up, and after half an hour Mårten calls on the Walkie and says – WE HAVE THE BIRD. Raul and I run there but when we arrive, the bunting is gone. We walk back and forth, searching, no Bunting. Eventually the bird responds to playback and flies over, Raul and I see a Bunting, but that’s all. Sigh. One hour later, after thorough search we connect with a male. Poor pics, but better video. What a bird.
Day three, rain. We’re sleeping in a wonderful camp full of well behaving children on some sort of Russian wilderness course. We eat with the kids and it’s just great – apart from the rain which pretty much rules out birding. Nevertheless we ignore that and walk along a swampy area for a couple of hours searching for Rustic Bunting. None there. Back to camp and drink coffee and read. Eventually, bored out of our sculls we go out again for a walk. Mårten and Erik gets to see a Capercaille!! The infamous Difference List is finally empty, it hasn’t been empty since January 1 when Mårten saw a Moustached Warbler and Erik and I did not.
Day 4 in Lower Urals, this is Azur Tit day. We’re on a quest. Started out really early in Monetny, walking slowly playbacking the darned Tit. Apart from not finding the Azur Tit during the entire day, we had some fantastic birding this day, with sightings of Oriental cuckoo and much more. Best, and a bit unexpected were in total three Siberian Ruby-throats.
What a stunner. Pretty wasted after a long walk through the marshes we come back to the van, the driver, Igor, sees us and waves – come come. A Great Grey Owl has parked just by the van.
Another good bird on this second visit to Monetny was White-backed Woodpecker, quite a few individuals were seen and heard.
We gave up on Monetny and tried a few other sites nearby for the Azur Tit. Tricky bird, the current theory is that due to the late spring, they had failed nestings and are now sulking in the woods.
On a field, on the way back, we heard Yellowhammer/Pine bunting song and stopped to investigate. A few Yellowhammers, but also a number of clear hybrids. Interesting to see such a clear mix of two species.
Tomorrow it’s going to rain, and we’re having Azur Tit panic.
Kazakhstan is mostly steppe, that is also the main reason for visiting the country. The steppe habitat is, grass and scrub continuing for endless hours in the car. Before going north from Atyrau, we revisited the place on the Ural river where we found a Black-headed Penduline Tit, the goal being better pictures.
Headed north towards the little village Inderbor. This is a good place to stay a couple of days, it has an old-school soviet-style hotel which was just great.
Next day we headed out onto the steppe. We drove a long round about towards north west of Inderbor. We had received good information from the unthreatened WP king, PAC. Larks were abundant, especially Short-toed Lark. We estimated the number of Short-toed Larks seen in the day to 7000. White-winged Larks were reasonably common all day too.
After a few hours driving west, we soon found the first Black Larks. They were common in an area along the dirt track stretching approximately 10 km. The steppe favoured by the Black larks was possibly more sandy than other parts of the steppe. We counted all together 104 Black larks.
The Black Lark is a bit of a dream bird, it stands out like a beacon of want in the Collins Guide. We drove on heading towards a lake on the steppe. The lake hosted quite a few Dalmatian Pelicans which were easy there.
We heard a Bittern at the lake, possibly uncommon. Soon we also found our first group of Demoiselle Crane, altogether we saw 4 different groups of Demoiselle Crane, one pair nesting with chicks.
Turned east after the lake, continued to bird from the car with numerous stops and short walks. Pallid Harrier and Montague’s Harrier were fairly common, also Steppe Eagle was fairly common.
Halfway between the lake and the main road, a group of 3 Saiga Antilope runs across the dirt track. A very rare and strange animal indeed, threatened on the brink of extinction. Later, one more ran along the road.
Next day was spent searching villages and disturbed areas along the road back to Atyrau. There is always the possibility of that rare bird from far away. Rosy Starlings were seen a couple of times.
Our last day in Atyrau, we went back to the Ural Delta. We had gotten all psyched up on the possibility of the Lesser Short-toed Larks in that area actually being Asian Short-toed Lark. We photographed several individuals. The Advanced Id Guide, says that t6 should be almost entirely white.
We concluded though, slightly disappointed that the birds in the Ural delta most probably are not Asian. This complex needs further investigation, and we have heard that Per Ahlström is conducting just that right now.
Kazakhstan, western part of the country is part of WP. This is an area which not especially easy to access. The city to go to is called Atyrau, and there are AFAIK zero car rental agencies in the city. We opted for a solution organised by Yekaterina Dotsenko (email@example.com) which has turned out to work well, albeit expensive. The setup is a UAZ bus with one driver, one guide and one translator (I guess this explains the price)
Nevertheless, we arrived yesterday and took a day privately with a taxi driver, birding some of the parks in the city and also some nearby marshes. Long-tailed Shrike was found breeding in Victory Park, Atyrau last year. This was our first target, and we birded that park and nearby shrubbery along the Ural River. No Shrike, but quite nice birding, especially in the shrubbery.
After the park, we took the all-day-cab to a sewage pond north-west of the city. Lot’s of Caspian Gulls, lots of ducks and warblers.
In the shrubbery next to the sewage, we found a few Red-headed Buntings.
Drove on towards wetlands just north of the city, plenty of Black-winged Pratincoles there. We sort of ignored a few sightings of the Pratincole when we were in Kuwait, the idea being that we should get the Pratincole here. This was right, Black-winged Pratincole is common here.
The next day, we had a date with the Kazak team, 5.30 outside our hotel in Atyrau. The destination was the Ural delta. This area is possibly difficult to visit. We have heard of groups who lately had problems getting access to the area. There was a military checkpoint, but our guide just spoke to them and we had access. The area is covered with dirt roads, and a 4WD is required.
Anyways, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, just 100 m prior to the checkpoint, we search bushes and reeds, and found at least two Black-headed Penduline Tits. This is MEGA, and AFAWK a first for Western Palearctic. The distribution maps for the Tit shows that is should occur in the Ural Delta, but no one has to our knowledge ever reported it. Poor pics, but it sure looks good.
With this gem under our belt, we entered the Nature Reserve, the Ural Delta.
Birding in the area was excellent, the salty steppe combined with reeds, canals and marshes.
On this leg, the Kazkhstan and Russia, Raul Vicente joins up with us. Raul in the middle on the picture above. So far he has called out two WP ticks for us, more to come !!
A wide variety of species, waders, ducks, Sykes Warbler, Red-headed Buntings, Calandra Larks, Short-toed Larks and Lesser Short-toed Larks in the delta.
After a few hours, we also found a few White-winged Larks.
Cyprus has three specialities, one we’d already seen in Israel, the Cyprus Warbler. The other two are the Cyprus Scopes Owl and the Cyprus Wheatear.
Arrived late in the evening in the North/Turkish part and made a short stop close to our hotel. Heard the owl calling on our second stop.
Second day we went birding on a point into the sea, the idea being that once we had picked up the Wheatear, we could do some sea watching. The sea was completely empty and in retro perspective, the short stop we made close to Antalya before the Romania Amur Falcon twitch, was a lucky strike. Then we had good views of both of the two occurring Shearwaters in the eastern Mediterranean, Scopoli’s and Yelkoan Shearwater. Without those two bagged in Turkey, especially the Yelkoan, we would be in Shearwater-panic-mode now.
The Wheatear was a bit tricky to find though, we saw one individual from the car briefly. Eventually, at one stop where we flushed a Little Owl we got it.
The Little Owl woke a whole lot of Sardinian Warblers, and also a Cyprus Wheatear. They all were very irritated with the owl, including the Wheatear which was then easy to photograph close to the Owl.
Late in the season, birds here are already breeding and birding is generally poor. Slightly interesting was the lightly coloured subspecies of Hooded Crow.
We never had any views of the Warbler, on the other hand we didn’t search that hard.
After dinner at night, slightly drunk, we went owling again. This time we not only heard the cool little Scopes Owls, we got good views. Sneaked into a graveyard and whistled the calls.
Listen carefully to the two-note-call, this is what mainly separates it from the normal Eurasian Scopes Owl which has a one-note call.
Last day here, spent by the pool, emailing and planning the remainder of the year. Lazy.
Quite a few people suggested that we should have skipped Cyprus, or maybe shortened it and gone twitching the famous Albatross on Sylt in Germany. Lucky thing we didn’t, the Albatross is gone again (as far as we can see on Internet) . Had we hurried like crazy from Milan, we would have arrived on June 6, and dipped the Albatross. Much better then to drink beer by the pool in Cyprus.
Finally, Northern Cyprus appears to be an undiscovered gem. The three of us generally hate tourist resorts. For example the Lago d’Orta in Italy, the lake with the Muscovy Duck. That place was crawling with tourists, horrible place. Not to mention Hourgada in Egypt … brrrr. The coast of Northern Cyprus is beautiful and very relaxed. Well worth a visit.
The category C species is a constant topic of conversation in the car as we travel. Since we wanted to know more about it we asked our friend Paul Chapman, British birder, who we met on our second trip to Kuwait to make matters more clear. Paul is now “guest blogger” here and wrote the following informative and entertaining piece for you all.
LAST CHANCE TO C
Nothing is more likely to produce a gasp from a competitive lister than to realise that he has missed a species which he’ll now never get. In a Western Palearctic context, this would seem reserved for Slender-billed Curlew and the like, but in fact, a new series of blockers has started to appear. There’s always that dream that you’ll get a chance at Aleutian Tern or Ascension Island Frigatebird – mythical birds like these can always recur – but with tighter regulations on bird imports and a heightened approach in many countries to preventing invasive species taking hold, will there ever be another self-sustaining population of Lady Amherst’s Pheasant? For those that have visited that same farm near Rilvas, Portugal to be greeted by the revelation that there aren’t any Black-headed Munias any more or walked those same streets near the shops in Pardes Hanna-Karkur, Israel only to see Ring-necked after Ring-necked Parakeet rather than their Nanday cousins, they will be aware of that feeling.
Howls of derision are directed towards self-sustaining feral species – Category C species. They are often referred to in slang as ‘plastic’. Indeed, I’ve lost count of the number of blog posts that I have seen over the years ironically entitled ‘Plastic Fantastic’. In fairness, few words rhyme with plastic.
But for a WP lister intent on a 800+ life list or a 700+ year list, they are difficult to ignore. In a WP context, not far short of 5% of the species likely to be seen in a year will be Category C species. I counted 33 species which I believe are only on the Western Palearctic list as a result of feral populations. These can be broadly broken down into wildfowl (6), gamebirds (6), parrots (5) and cagebirds (16).
For the wildfowl, the species are generally located in northern Europe – a day out in the Netherlands and Germany should get you a clean sweep of Black Swan, Bar-headed Goose, Swan Goose, Mandarin Duck and Ruddy Duck. Probably the admission that has caused most howls is that of Muscovy Duck. Recently added in Northern Italy, this species was also considered to be self-sustaining in Britain before an intervention on that population.
The gamebirds are more problematic. It is far more difficult to tell if a species routinely released and artificially fed is really self-sustaining. California Quail requires a trip to Corsica. Northern Bobwhite can be targeted in Northern Italy as well as still in France and also available in France (and perhaps the Czech Republic) is Reeve’s Pheasant. Whereas Golden Pheasant clings on in Britain but for how much longer, two species now appear to have become ultimate blockers being Lady Amherst’s Pheasant in Britain – a victim of golf courses, increased disturbance and loss of understorey – and Erckel’s Francolin which never really took to Italy. I’m not sure how many listers got to the forbidden ‘orgy island’ Zannone (as CNN described it) before the demise of the species. Maybe if they saw that headline then they would have tried but lets face it, birders aren’t normally known for that type of thing.
The parrots again are in the main an easy enough bunch. Ring-necked Parakeet is found in a number of countries and Monk Parakeet is heading the same way though despite fulfilling self-sustaining status according to the bird committee, it was prevented from admission to the British list and control measures are in place. Alexandrine Parakeet has recently been admitted in the Netherlands and Yellow-headed Amazon in Germany. Nanday Parakeet is a problematic one. The true extent of the Israeli population – now lost – has always been unclear and its Canaries and Barcelona populations are part of a whole bunch of parrot species which occasionally escape and breed – Blue-crowned, Red-masked and Mitred perhaps most notably. Indeed, Blue-crowned has bred in the Britain. One species admitted and then removed is Fischer’s Lovebird. Many took the trip to the stunning backdrop of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat but eventually the cages and the feeding proved just too much for the list compilers….. The species is now totally erased – a mistake in time eradicated from all lists. At least you could always have a seawatch from the nearby headland.
So then you get the ‘true’ cagebirds. In the main, these split between the Iberian Peninsula and the Middle East. The former with planning should produce Red-billed Leiothrix (also in France and Italy), Crested Myna (Portugal), Black-headed Weaver, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Common Waxbill (also on the Atlantic Islands) and Red Avadavat. Black-headed Munia (Portugal) has reached blocker status with the birds apparently being recaptured for the bird trade – an ironic twist and a reminder to move fast.
The Iberian Munia puzzles are probably not over yet though as various species have a tendency to get themselves established at least temporarily and perhaps Scaly-breasted Munia will slip seamlessly into the list in the next decade. Otherwise the Middle East adds Common Myna (increasing throughout), Bank Myna, White-cheeked and Red-vented Bulbuls and Ruppell’s Weaver (Kuwait) and Vinous-breasted Starling (Israel).
At least four of those appear to have pretty restricted populations. This leaves Vinous-throated Parrotbill – one species to chase despite some earlier listing confusion – mainly in Italy and as a recent vagrant from there to Switzerland but also with a population in the Netherlands, Red-billed Leiothrix in France, Spain and Italy and Indian Silverbill in at least France, Israel and Kuwait.
So there you have it, 33 species and 4 of them already likely to be extinct in the countries in which they were admitted.
Is that the end of the matter? Well not really. Four species are pretty much exclusively ticked as Category C species though they continue to occur (or at least occurred) on a Category A basis. Egyptian Goose and Ring-necked Pheasant are most often seen in their feral European populations and I doubt that many would twitch a Sacred Ibis in the Middle East having seen the European ones. Also, Helmeted Guineafowl is now extinct as a Category A species and listers resort to the Cape Verde introduced populations. Further, where does House Crow sit on this list? A slightly different proposition being human assisted in its arrival rather than escaped or released but nevertheless as a result, this is seen by many as a variant on the Category C conundrum. So that takes us to 38!!
It then gets really murky. Ironically the Eurasian Collared Dove expansion, that has made certainty of identification of African Collared Dove in its former haunts including Egypt and elsewhere difficult, has also confused the identification of the feral populations in at least the Canaries and the identification of vagrant Snow Goose and Greater Canada Geese from their self-sustaining feral relatives is more a matter of art than science.
So why have these species got such a poor reputation amongst ‘serious birdwatchers’? Often by their nature they are tame, some are brightly coloured and some just look out of context. Another reason is that there is no clear definition of what self-sustaining means and by their very nature, it is difficult to separate recent escapes or supported populations from truly self-sustaining ones. In Britain, the Lady Amherst’s Pheasants in North Wales were considered untickable whereas the ones in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire were counted. In France, arguments continue over which are tickable populations of Reeve’s Pheasant. In Kuwait and indeed in Israel, a species seems more likely to be officially accepted onto the list than elsewhere. Does one well at Jahra Farms really support a self-sustaining population? At least the Bank Mynas have moved wells in the last few years! I once had a conversation with a member of the Israeli committee who was genuinely surprised that Nanday Parakeet was on their list. So at times, it does really seem a lottery.
What next? Do any of those Indian Peafowls breeding in Britain tick the boxes? What about the Greater Rheas in Germany? Those Scaly-breasted Munias and maybe Pin-tailed Wydahs in the Iberian Peninsula or the Red-whiskered Bulbuls on Fuerteventura may be next let alone the next parrot off the conveyor belt?
Although not to everyone’s tastes and certainly beset with problems of interpretation and confusion, Category C species are an intrinsic part of any geographically limited list. I know British listers who count Capercallie for their British list but will only admit it to their World List when they have seen a Scandinavian bird. That said, this is a species with at least some European assistance and reintroduction programmes so at times you cannot really tell the origin of the bird in front of you. In reality, whether it is a Houbara at Merzouga, a Double-spurred Francolin at Sidi Yahya des Zaer or a Red Kite in Oxford, if you scratch the surface, in an overcrowded world with the impact of man at every corner, the position is a lot less straightforward than some with absolute views would like to think. I am far less fussy. I’m not sure when I first saw my Category A Red-legged Partridge or Little Owl away from Britain and I wouldn’t know where to start in working out a Category A British Mute Swan. My personal view is just enjoy the birds for what they are unless they are causing an environmental impact. In an average year, a WP year lister may well end up with 37 Category C targets, a furrowed brow over some extinct friends and a bit of insurance to acquire over a few that may soon be joining the party.
Since we were able to finish our Turkey trip way ahead of time, we went twitching in Romania, but we also rescheduled our summer trip to Italy. This coincided well with a Black Heron rarity in Puglia, Southern Italy.
Arriving in Rome Italy, we immediately headed south towards the reported Black Heron. Ticked number 600 en route at a gas station, trash bird. It would have felt good to have the Amur Falcon as 600, but then again you can’t have everything.
Arrived at the sleepy little Mediterranean city of Porto Cesaro. We had received pretty good information from Italian friends, and we were able to find the Heron just after a few minutes scanning the bay.
This is an African bird, as far as we know, 7th find in WP, very good. On the shore there were also some normal Mediterranean birds, such as Yellow-legged Gulls, Audouin’s gulls, a few Little Terns and a lost Little Stint.
Slept in Porto Cesaro after a spectacular full-on Italian dinner. Now, this is a country with food culture. Morocco, eat your hart out.
In the morning, drove north, long drive towards the mountains north-east of Lucca, close to Pisa. Camped late at night, high up. Early start, searching the steep wet slopes for Red-billed Leiothrix, an Asian bird introduced, probably by mistake as result of cage birds fleeing their captors. We found quite a few after maybe an hour of searching. Quick birds, hard to photograph.
Went from Lucca to the little village of Deiva Marina (where incidentally I were a few years ago, a bicycle race started from there) There were eBird reports of Moltoni’s warbler from that village. We found a pair almost immediately, too easy. This was a bird we had worried a bit about.
It’s not as hard to distinguish from the regular Subalpine warbler as you would think, the call is entirely different and the song has a different twang to it. Also, the coloration is pinkish, not red. However, the main distinguishing feature is the wren-like call. Some things are harder when you read about them than when you actually do them.
Tick on – drove further north, ticked Sacred Ibis from the highway. Abundant in the rice fields. Arrived in the afternoon at Lago Orta which hosts a category C population of Muscovy Duck. These birds were surprisingly hard to locate and we also feel uncertain of the actual category C categorisation of these birds. Anyways, the Italian ornithology organisation has deemed these birds wild.
Italians don’t speak english. Traveling Italy without being able to speak Italian you have to get by with body language. When we had ticked the ugly ducks, we got into a conversation with an Italian couple that just – well – spoke a lot of Italian. A lot. I couldn’t hold back and countered with Paperi Poperi
Drove to Milano and made a late evening attempt at Northern Bobwhite before crashing in hotel. Tried another site in the early morning and walking into the right habitat at dawn, we could hear the Bobwhites displaying inside the thick bushes. These birds were hard to see, hadn’t it been that the Bobwhites were calling we would never had been able to find them. Thus, it was lucky that we were able to do this Italy trip now in June, instead of as originally scheduled in July when we believe they are silent. Excellent birding in general at that site with singing Nightingales and Melodious Warblers everywhere.
Drove on, this time into France and the Alps. Arrived in the afternoon with spectacular weather over the Alps.
Birded the slopes of the mountain roads north east of Modane and shortly found the Citril Finch.
Started to walk the mountain slopes and found a displaying Rock Partridge after a few hours. The call is surprisingly loud.
Drove down the mountain in search of a camping spot and a Spotted Nutcracker flew over the road. We were able to tape in the Nutcrackers and got good views.
Woke up in the morning in rain and complete mist. Bad weather just came in. In this weather the Partridge would have been impossible, probably the Citril Finch too.
A couple of days ago we were in the car, close to the tourist resort Antalya in Turkey, heading towards a lake in the area where we could tick Dalmatian Pelican, the last bird for Turkey for us. We had heard about recent sitings of an Amur Falcon in Romania, it was reported on Tarsiger and also on Tommy Holmgrens Facebook. Someone dropped the comment – how far is it to drive there?
Our Turkey trip was finished, one week ahead of schedule, much due to all the help we got from Emin, but also due to the fact that we nailed the Caucasian Black Grouse in Georgia. Thus, we had extra time on our hands so we went twitching to Romania.
For our non-hardcore-birder followers, I now repeat some lister terminology.
Twitch – Fly/drive/run/whatever to a reported rare bird.
Twitchable – The reported rare bird is supposedly still there if you decide to go there.
Tick – If you run a bird list (as we do) , a tick is a seen or heard bird.
Tickable – Some birds cannot go on the list, they are not tickable due to the bird not being wild, but rather an escaped previously caged bird.
Lister – a person that keeps a list.
Dip – Go on a twitch, and not find the bird
So, with the extra time on our hands we went twitching in Romania. Easy and cheap to fly from Antalya to Bucharest and we went straight to the Red-footed Falcon colony in the Donau Delta where the Amur Falcon had been seen. Spent the better half of the afternoon and the evening scanning the colony.
Zero warblers in the patch of forest, probably due to the 60 pairs of Red-footed Falcons nesting there. The only other bird in that patch was an Oriole. Apart from the nesting Rooks, Red-footed Falcons steal the nests from Rooks. Seems to be a never ending fight.
No Amur Falcon though, but it was a delight spending time in the Red-footed Falcon colony, actually getting to know the individuals.
Next day we were in slight panic mode, we also needed to get Dalmatian Pelican. Some local guides we spoke to suggested we needed to go on their boat tour. Started early in the morning at the Red-footed Falcon site, but then went searching for Dalmatian Pelican. After an hour or so, we found a 2 cy bird.
Went back to the Falcon site, scanning. Yet another Dalmatian came flying over.
There is a lot of tea-drinking going on in Turkey. We think that one should always say yes when offered a cup of tea, and we’ve been offered many. Nice.
Going west from Birecic, where we all had our hair and beards sorted by a Syrian barber we drove towards Aladaglar NP. We didn’t make it all the way though, and decided to camp before sunset. Once at the camp site, Mårten thought he should check how Krüpers Nuthatch sounds and played it from the phone. Dang, an aggressive nuthatch came flying in immediately.
The habitat was pine forest, lot’s of Mistle Thrush, Coal Tits and more.
After a slow morning with slow birding and lots of coffee we eventually drove towards Aladaglar where we met up with Basar Safak who runs a wonderful pension just below the mountain. Anyone who decides to go to Aladaglar to see the Caspian Snowcock should seriously consider to stay in ÖzŞafak Pension and let Safak show you the area.
Before sunrise we drove up to the mountains to look for Caspian Snowcock and Radde’s Accentor. Here we need to give some extra cred to Basar Safak who broke his arm one day prior to our arrival. We thought it was strange how his messages suddenly changed character and his english got really bad. This time it was not a case of someone using spellchecker at the start and then later, not botherin. No, Basar was still drugged and had just left the hospital having to write with is left hand… And the day after he was with us up on that mountain, his arm in a cast and a big smile on his face. What a guy!
Birding in Aladag mountains was very different to our birding in the Caucasus mountains in Georgia. In Aladag the weather was perfect. No wind, no mist, no clouds, no snow (except at the top of the mountains). A fantastic morning and it was not long until Basars and Martens whistling payed of. A Snowcock was calling back and after some minutes scanning the slopes Klacke found two birds on a not to distant ridge. Very nice!
Me and Erik decided to try and get some pictures of a nice looking Rock Thrush while looking for Radde’s Accentor, our remaining target in Aladag. As the Thrush moved closer and closer we got more and more excited and then from under a small bush four meters away a brown bird crawled out. Radde’s Accentor Erik whispers to me! A dream bird for Erik and nice photos too.
Loads of other mountain birds too
After dropping off Anna Bohlin at Adana we drove further west. Picked a camping spot close to Akseki where Olive-tree Warblers should nest. Parked the car and open the doors, one-two-three-tick. They were singing everywhere. Very very hard bird to photograph though, the area where we camped hosted many many Olive-tree Warblers, singing constantly, always hiding.
Nice, that concluded the three eastern grey, Eastern Olivacious, Upcher’s and now Olive-tree. Other nice birds we saw in the morning were Middle-spotted Woodpecker, Eastern Orphean Warbler and to us unknown race of Eurasian Nuthatch.
One more slow morning with loads of coffee and birding.
Drove further west towards the well known site of the Turkish Brown Fishowls, Oymapinar. We choose a small mountain road there and did several stops looking for Rüppel Warbler. We saw Rüppel Warbler in Israel, but it would be nice to see on the breeding site as well. One stop had breeding Cretzschmar’s bunting singing.
And one had:
High quality birds.
Once we got close to the site, we tried to scope the owls from a site we had heard of.
But we couldn’t see the owls, the nest is known and the owls are down there. This lake has tourist boats driving around, but the skippers know that birders are prepared to pay up to get to the known owl site, thus they charge. Hence we had to pay up, 50 Euro/pers to get to the owls. Initial price was 100.
Driving further west towards a site for Dalmatian Pelican where we have a date with a friend of Emin, we start to talk tentatively about a recent siting of Amur Falcon in Romania – How far to drive there? – There are Dalmatian Pelicans in the Donau Delta too, right – so we change plan completely and fly to Romania. Flexibility is king.
So, this is last post from Turkey, and we’re giving Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu more than big thanks. Emin, we never met you, and now we’re leaving Turkey. Must meet some day !!!
When we started to plan our WP year and the first time heard of, and read about the birding site in southern Turkey called Birecik, we were fantasising over the amount of good WP species that were possible to find in that area. However, as the year has gone by, we have one by one found those good species in other countries. By now, we only had three remaining target species in Birecik.
We still were missing the Pale Rock-sparrow and Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu provided a spot close to Sanliurfa which was good both for the Sparrow, but even more interesting, See-see Partridge. At sunrise we drove on the dirt road into the right habitat. The Partridges were common, this was a bird we had been worrying quite a bit over.
We searched the area for hours for the Pale Rock-sparrow. We found a small pond in the dry area which attracted quite a few nice birds.
Crested Lark were ridiculously common everywhere. We’ll never forget the easily recognisable call of the Crested Lark for the remainder of our lives.
As opposed to the Nemrit Dagi, Finch’s Wheatear was common in this area.
No Pale Rock-sparrow though, and eventually we gave up. On the way out from the good habitat, through an industrialised area a Little Owl perched wonderfully.
Now, on to Pale Rock-sparrow. On our Facebook chat, Jani Vastamäki suggested to search the area around Yeniakpinar. We went there and spread out with the Walki-talkies. Short-toed and Lessed Short-toed Larks were extremely common in the area.
Mårten finally stumbles on to a nest of the Pale Rock-sparrow with a nesting female, and the male singing nearby. Took pictures and withdrew quickly.
Possibly the most boring bird in the Collin’s guide, but the more you bird, the more interesting the so called LBJs or Little Brown Jobs become. So, not boring at all, on the contrary, amazing.
Drove down to the wonderful little city of Birecik. The war in Syria is evidently near. Refugee camps along the road, and people we spoke to had recently lived in Kobane, occupied by Daesh devils just recently. On the Turkish side life goes on as usual though. On the way into the city, on a cliff we see the first of several Northern Bald Ibises.
We’re not sure if these birds are tickable, a few years ago the Ibises were extinct from this area and they have been re-introduced. Cool bird nevertheless. The ones we saw were all ringed.
Evening walk along the reeds of the mighty Euphrat river.
Soon we hear the target bird, the Iraq Babbler calling in the reeds.
In the last light, a group of Dead-sea Sparrows came chattering.
So, half a year ago, we though we were going to spend a week in Birecik – how wrong we were. On the other hand, Birecik has always been the placeholder as a backup site for various birds. Like Menetrie’s Warbler – if we don’t see it here, we’ll pick it in Birecik we have said. As it turned out, we only had three birds here, the Pale Rock-sparrow, the See-see Partridge and the Iraq Babbler.
The plan was to go by car from Van all the way to tourist resort Antalya on the Mediterranean coast. Long drive, but for reasons unknown to me Turkey has better roads than countries like Sweden and England. Actually, this is a mystery, how come countries like Morocco, Egypt and Turkey have better roads than what we have.
First stop was a quarry, close to Van where Eastern Rock Nuthatch had been reported. Western was common there, but no Eastern (string?)
The ubiquitous Rock Sparrow was everywhere in the quarry.
Anna Bohlin joined up on our Turkey leg.
Slightly surprising was the amount of Rooks at this site. This is
barren high elevation, and we think about the Rook as a typical
bird of agricultural landscape.
After dipping the Eastern Rock Nuthatch it was high time for breakfast. We drove down to a lake with reeds close to Van. Again, same as camping, having breakfast at the birding site is very nice. In the reeds Reed Warbler and also Great Reed-warbler were common. Great Reed-warbler was earlier on the
difference list, Erik saw one at Muttla Ranch in Kuwait.
Soon we also found a few Paddyfield warblers, a good WP bird.
The lake also hosted a few White-headed Ducks. When we were planning our WP year we never though that we would just see White-headed Duck as a regular species several times over the year. We though it would have to be specifically targeted at a known site.
Driving west, around the large Lake Van we made a short stop to
have a good look at the common Armenian Gulls. Fully adult birds
are easy to distinguish from other Gulls due to their stocky four-coloured bills.
Arrived at the famous site of Nemut Dagi in the afternoon.
At the foot of the mountain we tried a spot recommended by Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu. We almost immediately found a few Cinerous Buntings at the spot.
According to Emin also Eastern Rock-nuthatch and Pale Rock-sparrow was a possibility at that spot but we couldn’t find any. Nemut Dagi is a major tourist attraction with large stone statues from 30-60 BC, i.e more than 2000 years old statues.
The tourist business in Turkey has apparently collapsed the last couple of years. Since (for completely strange reasons)
Booking.com is blocked in Turkey we just drove there and picked a hotel at random. Driving up on the cozy hotel driveway, the owner simply cries out in joy – Tourists !!.
We spoke to them and they had seen very few tourist the last few years and we also saw quite a few shut down places on the mountain.
After checking in, in the afternoon as well as the entire following day, we drove slowly up and down the mountain birding with many
short stops. Below the tree-line quite a few high quality birds were
There are many reports of Finch’s Wheatear on the Numut Dagi mountain, however we couldn’t find any. The odd looking pale Black-eared Wheatears are quite similar though. This is one of the drawbacks of systems like eBird and Observado, there is never any checks for correctness, but then again, how could there be. The whole point is that everybody reports what they see which is exactly what makes these system so powerful and useful.
Below the tree-line we also found a couple of Eastern Rock-nuthatches. The nest is especially strange, a hole right into a vertical cliff.
Above the tree-line we soon found the price bird at Nemut Dagi, the Kurdish Wheatear.
The Wheatear as well as Cinerous Bunting were very easy on the mountain. What was not easy though was Pale Rock-sparrow, the Rock-sparrow should apparently be common on the Nemut Dagi mountain. We searched and listened for hours for the sparrow. This is a nomadic species, and some years they are abundant at a site whereas the next they can be missing. Other common species on the mountain were Rock Sparrow and surprisingly enough Wood Lark.
as well as Horned Lark.
Climbing all the way to the top –
we get to see the strange statues. Among the statues, Snowfinches nest. Strange and nice.
The trip from Georgia to Lake Van, in eastern Turkey was a bit awkward. We flew via Istanbul, an alternative would actually have been a bus trip from Tbilisi to Van. Had a bit of luck with the rental car at Van airport. This is the second time we are sloppy entering the arrival time at the airport, and when we arrive the car is gone. A local company had a car though, which was better than the one we had booked. We want to return the car in Antalya, making car rental a bit more complicated.
Van appears to be a very nice little city, friendly atmosphere, restaurants everywhere. It appears as if European visitors are rare here too, wherever we go people gawk curiously, albeit friendly.
First day birding started with pouring rain, thus we got a few well deserved extra hours of sleep. In the late morning, we went to a spot an hour away we received by Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu, turkish top birder who has been very helpful. It is very valuable to have a local birder to talk to when visiting foreign countries, Emin is the guy!
Just after a few kilometers up the mountain side, we connect with the first target bird. We hear it singing, and soon see it.
A very good WP bird, soon after we hear (and see poorly) over flying Crimson-winged finches. Very characteristic flight and call, after a few kilometers more up the mountain we get close.
The price bird of this mountain though is the Mongolian Finch. This is a bird Mårten has searched for in Armenia on numerous occasions without ever finding the bird. The tactic according to Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu is to just sit and wait at the spot. We do that for a while but soon get restless and spread out. After an hour or so, we find one, and then later two birds.
What we thought was going to be one of the hardest birds to locate in Turkey bagged on the first day.
Down by the car again, we see a couple of Black-headed Buntings. We’ll probably see lots of those as we travel Turkey. And finally, driving down the mountain we’re talking about Bimaculated Lark, and Mårten reads from the Collins Guide – They like high elevation area, just where agriculture is almost not longer possible. We all look out and say, well that’s here then and stop the car. First thing we hear is a singing Bimaculated Lark high in the sky.
Six new ticks in a day, we’ll probably never do that again during the year. Or maybe on Madeira in August!!
Absolutely wonderful to go birding in a normal country where we don’t have to look out for police and militaries all the time. Normal customs, normal traffic, normal. The goal was to visit Kazbegi National Park. We rented a 4WD in Tbilisi and drove to Stepantsminda which is the mountain village at the foot of the impressive Kazbegi mountain.
We did a number of short road stops, the first by a small river which had some nice birds, nothing spectacular though.
Next short stop was better, with Green Warbler and Red-throated Flycatcher.
Nice lunch en-route where we, after traveling many muslim countries, could both satisfy our cravings for pig meat and some alcohol.
While eating a Lammergeir came flying over the lunch restaurant. A bird we have been worrying a bit over.
Finally, at Stepantsminda, we went birding immediately. New WP ticks came flying in directly. The Caucasian Snowcock calling from the mountainside, a few Red-fronted Serins and two Caucasian Black Grouse displaying on the mountainside.
The second day we started birding the bushes along the valley in Stepantsminda. We’d spoken to a few birders we met and apparently both the Great Rosefinch as well as the Güldenstädt’s Redstart had been seen in the valley. Griffon vultures were very common.
Scanning the bushes below the petrol station I (Klacke) see one Güldenstädt’s Redstart flying over, the others were not able too see it though. This would be a horrible species to have on the Difference List. We searched for that bird to no avail.
Close to the village a sure spot for Wallcreeper was easy. This was a lifer for both Erik and me. One of those birds that stand out like a beacon in the Collins Birdguide.
After lunch we went with the car up to the famous Gergeti Trinity church on the mountain.
No Redstarts and no Rosefinches. A couple of Cinerous Vultures came soaring. Also a difficult WP bird which was very good to get.
Scanning slopes is the birding tactics in Kazbegi
Now the Güldenstädt’s Redstart and the Great Rosefinch both sailed up to an unthreatened position of most wanted bird, thus we decided to hike up the mountain next day. Both these species are true high altitude species. They winter in the valley, but as spring come they go high. Unbelievably high, it’s hard to fathom how birds can live during such harsh circumstances. We started early in the morning in light rain. As we came higher the rain just continued to pour. Eventually it became snow which was easier to handle, but cold and windy.
Birding conditions were poor, however the high altitude species were active. The Snowcocks were playing like crazy in the mountains. Once we got up sufficently high, we were able to relatively easy locate the Great Rosefinch, we saw at least 10 birds.
No Redstarts though and eventually we gave up, cold and wet. One of the most common birds on the mountain was the Ring Ouzel, they were resident at very high altitude as well as way down in the valley.
In the afternoon the skies cleared and Erik and Mårten decided to make yet another attempt climbing the steep hill just below our hotel.
You see them as two small dots in the far. Again, the Snowcocks were displaying and Mårten managed to shoot a video.
Still no Redstart though. Next morning we decided to pursue the tactics of searching bushes in the valley. It had rained all night, and the theory was that with such bad weather, some birds might have decided to fly down to the valley. We went to a new place recommended by Frans De Schamphelaere just north of the village and – dang – we found one Güldenstädt’s redstart after just 5 minutes of scanning. Took the car down to those bushes trying to get better views and maybe a photograph, but we were never able to relocate the Redstart. Did get the best picture of the fast moving Mountain Chiffchaff though.
Also found a group of Rosy Starlings (new WP tick) and the best picture of Common cuckoo.
Our Egypt trip is now almost finished, yesterday we got our last two remaining target birds here in Egypt. The Senegal Coucal and Streaked Weaver. They were both relatively easy to locate in the agricultural fields close to Abou Hamad just north-east of Cairo. The Coucal we found almost directly
The Weaver was harder lo locate and we walked the foot paths among the fields for quite some time. Eventually three birds came flying over and landed shortly in some reeds so that we could all get good views. Pretty good birding in general in that area, with lots of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and also quite a few Greater Painted Snipe.
Apart from the debacle with binoculars at Egyptian customs, the Egypt trip must be considered a total success. We missed two species, the African Skimmer and the Goliath Heron, neither were present we believe.
Despite the chaotic traffic, we have managed to have zero incidents with the car, which by the way was a great car. Jeep Wrangler.
We were very happy with the 4WD jeep, so when we got stopped by the military at Suez and they asked if the car was 4WD, we said yes yes officer – it’s 4WD. That turned out to be the wrong answer there, no 4WD vehicles are allowed at all on the Sinai peninsula. Apparently this was part of a drive from the Egyptian authorities to fuck with the beduins – who they for some reason don’t like.
We have received a lot of help from various friends during out two week trip here in Egypt. Thanks a bunch !!!
Tomas Axen Haraldsson has led several trips to Egypt over the year. Tomas provided valuable information during the entire trip. He also set us in contact with:
Haitham Ibrahim, who also provided good info several times. Haitham set us in contact with:
Atyat Ghareeb, she borrowed us Haithams old binoculars. We would have missed species without those.
Mohamed Habib provided good info.
Bob Swann, provided the call of the Yellow Bittern. Without that we would have missed the bird. The song that exists on Xeno Canto is all wrong. We later also got the same song by email from Santamaa Markku.
Dan Pointon had good information on the Saunders Tern.
Istvan Molodovan who does field work in Egypt had good information on which roads were possible to use.
Pierre-Andre Crouchet, who provided the final piece of the puzzle for the Yellow Bittern.
With this trip to Egypt it’s clear that the character of our project is slowly changing. We are doing less and less of what us birders call primary birding e.g going to good birding spots and just observe whats there. Now with over 550 species on our list, the days with twenty new species in a day are long gone. Our focus now is almost exclusively very specific targets, like the Yellow Bittern in Lahami mangroves. It was discovered in 2012 by Jens Hering and his german research team. Only 26 birders have registrerad the bird on their Netfugl list. We went there determined to find it.
The mangrove is fairly small and in 2013 at least 3 pairs where breeding there. It might sound like an easy mission but nevertheless the birds proved extremely tricky to locate. We arrived in evening just before sunset and went straight out into the mangroves wading in waist deep muddy water. But no sign of the Bittern. Went back the next morning now walking around and into the mangroves again, for hours, listning and play-backing hoping to get contact. No luck.
Durring low tide we moved on to another patch of mangroves where another target bird, Goliath Heron sometimes hang out. Walking the tidal mudflats in the 40 + heat is some what energy consuming. Saw some nice birds there but no Goliath…
Next morning we where back at Lahami mangroves before sunrise, again trying for the bittern. All of a sudden a bittern-sized bird comes flying centimeters from Klackes nose and crashes into a mangrove tree just next to us. Hearts pounding we encircle the bush, almost sure that we would now get our precious bird. Mårten sticks his head into the tree and surprisingly calls out. “It’s a fucking Corncrake!”
An hour south of Lahami lays El Shalateen, a small town just on the Sudan border which is famous for it’s big camel market and amongst us birders as THE place to see Lappet-Faced Vulture in the WP. We went there. To enter the town you must pass a good number of military check-points making the day trip a nervous one for us. Utterly afraid that they would find and confiscate our last remaining scope. Luckily they didn’t and the vulture was easy.
On our third day of searching for the bittern in the mangroves it felt like an impossible task. The birds where clearly not calling and seeing one felt even more unlikely. We had decided to give it one last try before continuing north and where back at the same spot wading out in the mangroves as the sun was rising from the turquoise sea. Then it happened! A Yellow Bittern was calling three times with it’s characteristic “whop whop whop” BINGO! We where relieved to leave the mangroves, never to go back!
Some other nice birds from the mangroves.
Or next target turned out too be much much easier. After a nine hours drive with Valerie June and Swedish Radio documentary about the spectacular Arlanda Airport robbery in 2002 we arrived at the site for Chestnut-Bellied Sandgrouse south west of the small town Al Bahnasa.
It was a hot day, too hot to move so we found a good vantage point and started scanning. After about 1 hour I spotted three birds in the distance going down in some fields one km away. We quickly drove there and as we entered the field the owner of the land approached. As always we took our Collins Bird guide, smiled and said “Tayir” bird in arabic, and pointed at the picture in the book and the area where the birds where. The owner smiled and said something in arabic and after some advanced body language we had access to his fields and where invited for a nice cup of tea. Very nice!
The following day it was time for another WP speciality namely Saunder’s Tern on the Sinai peninsula. A few years ago our friend Mohamed Habib found a nesting colony close to Ras Sedr again showing how under birded this country is. The terns where very easy and present in good numbers. Another one down! Two more to go before we leave Egypt and get our binoculars back!
I wanted to write a bit about how we travel, what we do and what we don’t do. What works well and what doesn’t. We’ve now traveled quite a few countries and learned quite a bit. So here goes.
The advantages of camping are several, it’s cheap (free actually) but the best is probably that it gets you species. Usually we try to camp on the spot for one or several birds. A good example is the Golden Nightjar spot in Western Sahara. Camping lets us be on the spot late in the evening, and then also waking up on the spot early is obviously good. We’re carrying a 3 person dome tent as well as cooking gear. The stove we use is a Primus multi fuel stove that runs on petrol as well as on diesel. Petrol and diesel are easy to buy everywhere. The dish we have settled on we have nick named Golden Rice, since the first time we cooked it was at the Golden Nightjar spot. The ingredients vary, but it’s basically rice, tomatoes, onions, chilli powder and whatever. If sausages are available they go in too. Fry everything, add rice and water – boil – eat. Everything in one casserole.
We’re also traveling with sleeping bags and sleeping mattresses. All this is pretty bulky, and almost one entire bag is full of camping gear. It’s worth it though, especially since it makes us much more flexible. When driving, we know that we have the camping gear, thus there is almost never any panic as to where we shall sleep, we can always choose to set up the tent somewhere in the dark.
So far we have managed to have proper internet in all countries we have visited. We have a low-end Android phone, and we buy new SIM cards in the countries we visit. This can sometimes be a bit of a hazzle, but usually works fine. The low-end phone has the local SIM card, and then we use WIFI tethering on that phone to share internet to our regular phones and laptops. We consume almost 1 Gig per day. Internet is cheap though, especially so in countries like Morocco and Egypt. It’s invaluable to have Internet on the road. It makes things like eBird research and hotel bookings just so much easier. Prior to the year – while researching which birds are where, we did enter a lot of eBird/observado GPS points into a shared “Google My Maps”. From there it’s possible to export a KML file, which can be imported into an (Android only) map app called Locus. Thus, even without internet, we would have access to offline maps with GPS points for the important birds. So far we haven’t used the Locus Map that much since we have had proper Internet.
Usually we sleep in hotels or sometimes in apartments. We use the booking.com app or sometimes just the regular hotel search on google maps. This has worked very well. We usually try to make the bookings as late as possible en route in the car. We don’t want to be tied up by hotel bookings, it’s better to focus on the birding tactics and late in the afternoon decide where to sleep. Flexibility is key. Prices of hotels are very different and sometimes it can be ridiculously cheep. Especially in Egypt, we have had a few full board hotels for as little as 10 Euro / night for the three of us. It’s probably subsidised by the Egyptian government.
Customs, police and checkpoints
Countries like Morocco and Egypt have checkpoints on the roads pretty much everywhere. Especially the Moroccan ones were irritating since each stop could take up to 10 minutes with police men writing down the details from our passports. A good trick is to have ready made copies of your passports that can just be handed out to the police at a checkpoint. In Egypt the checkpoints are military, not police, and pretty relaxed.
In Morocco we developed the ultimate checkpoint tactics. Here goes – read this and use for the remainder of your lives. When driving in to a police checkpoint you must never ever, under no circumstances have any eye contact with the officer standing there making the split-second decision weather to stop the car or let it through. That’s it, and it works unbelievable well. Since we started to employ this tactics, our checkpoint track record is stellar.
Customs and Airport Security is a harder nut to crack. In Rabat, Morocco we had our cameras and scopes confiscated by the customs. There the story was that we needed a permit from the “Ministry of Communications” in order to travel the country and photograph. We think they were just generally afraid of journalists, especially journalists travelling south into Western Sahara. We were able to get the damned permit, but it took the best part of a day to get it. However, the trick when flying with optics into Morocco is easy, just don’t fly to Rabat, choose Casablanca or Marrakech where they are more accustomed to tourists and optics are fine there in the customs. On our second trip to Morocco, we flew to Casablanca. The customs inspected our optics and there were no problems.
Egypt is a different story altogether though. In short – it appears to be a random process. Some birders get optics through customs, some don’t. We had almost all our optics, including the binoculars confiscated at customs. We’re not the only ones, others have had similar bad experiences with Egyptian customs. This situation is so bad, and random, so until this changes we cannot recommend Egypt as a birding destination at all. Unless you’re desperate for those (pretty awesome) WP ticks, choose another country. If you do go to Egypt, put all optics into the checked in luggage. If possible, choose a camera lens that is smaller. We have Cannon 100-400/5.6 lenses and those went through.
This is something for Birdlife International to work on. Egypt is a fantastic birding country, and it would be a shame if birdwatching tourism died out due to idiotic rules.
We spend a lot of time driving. Offline music in the car is extremely important. These are some of our offline Spotify lists. Enjoy.
An expression amongst birders is – to go naked. That means don’t go without binoculars. That’s what we’re doing here since customs and airport security confiscated our binoculars and scopes upon entry to Egypt. We did some manoeuvring with different flights etc, so we actually have one Swarovski scope and we also have the two 400mm lens cameras, plus a borrowed bin, thus we actually get by. Gear will be returned to us when we leave the country. Anyways, apart from the authorities here, birding is great.
First actual birding day, we went on a short boat trip in Hurugada, vaguely searching for Sooty Falcon over the city. We did get excellent views of the common White-eyed Gull.
As well as one single Sooty Gull.
Started the long dive through the desert towards Luxor and the famous Crocodile Island. The road was strange, almost empty and good asphalt. Lots and lots of Spotted Sandgrouse along the road.
Stayed at a fancy pants hotel in Luxor, and we throughly enjoyed a beer in the evening, watching the massive Nile flow by and listening to the displaying Senegal Thick-knees.
Once on Crocodile Island, we went with the first light searching for the Painted Snipe, which was fairly easy to locate. Apparently it is common in suitable habitat along this stretch of the Nile. It’s a skulky bird though, and if they are inside the reeds, they can be missed.
The impressive African Swamphen was also common on Crocodile Island.
The Island also had quite a few of Green Bee-eater, the Cleopatra sub species which lacks blue. Nice bird.
Herons breed by the thousands along the Nile, especially Squacco is common.
Driving south along the Nile we did several short stops looking for African Skimmer. Later we learned that the Skimmers are only present along the Nile in the winter. The Nile is spectacular, wherever you look into the water it is just boiling with fish and other critters. No wonder there are so many Herons and Kingfishers.
The Barn Swallows in Egypt are of the sub species savignii and they are beautifully dark.
Next spot was the city of Aswan where we arrived in the evening. Mårten suggested that we should check out the dam, so we drove to vantage point in the last light and brought up our only scope, soon we saw militaries in the distance coming running towards us, thus we packed up real fast and drove off real fast feeling real stupid. Of course the dam is protected, what were we thinking of. Close call.
First light next day, we went to the fish ponds of Aswan where we were able to quickly locate the Three-banded Plovers. These fish ponds are well known to birders, and if you go really early in the morning, there are no guards and you can enter freely.
Birding in the ponds was generally good, and we got our first good views of the Nile-valley Sunbird which we’d only seen poorly earlier (No bins !!)
Heading further south towards the WP border and the city of Abu Simbel where I now sit and write this. Staying at a nice, albeit pricey place called Nubian Guesthouse (not much to choose from here)
Abu Simbel is truly a famous WP birder spot, just on the border of Sudan. Many african vagrants have been found here over the years, and the big Lake Nasser also hosts a couple of WP price birds. Arrived here in the afternoon and immediately went birding along all the small bays north of Abu Simbel. Two tools are invaluable here, Google Maps Satellite and a good 4WD car, not just any 4WD but a rough one. We have a Jeep Wrangler and driving mud and sand is almost as fun as birding, but not quite. The third or fourth bay we checked, a Kittlitz’s Plover came flying in calling ‘kittlitz’ ‘kittlitz’ (Is that a coincidence or what’s the story behind that ?? Kittlitz was a naturalist in the early 19’th century, was he given the Plover due to the call ??)
Next day we had organized (through the Guesthouse) an all-day boat trip on Lake Nasser. Went at first light with packed lunch. On one small island, we found two African Pied Wagtails.
Soon the wind picked up, and we were not able to pursue further north towards a bay where we the previous day had seen a couple of Pelicans in the far distance. We had to turn back. After a short stop on an island, the motor broke down. Eventually help arrived and we headed back to the guesthouse for lunch. Good birding in the lake though, few but good species.
Clamorous Reed Warblers and Graceful Prinias are abundant.
The Island where we were stranded when the motor broke down hosted a number of Senegal Thick-knees. In the evenings you hear this species everywhere but they hide well during daytime, requiring some work to get good views.
The temperature here now is nice, not too hot. Swimming in the lake is refreshing though.
In the afternoon we took the car, heading for the bay where we had earlier seen the Pelicans. Off road driving like crazy, we come to a couple of sheds. Suddenly a couple of guys take off in a hurry, running. They are as afraid of the authorities as we are. Our black Jeep looks intimidating. Mårten understand quickly what’s happening and manages to hold the guys off. Once they understand that we’re not authorities, Mårten offers some cigarettes, we’re all friends. Their bay does indeed host a couple of Pelicans. The first ones we see are Great White Pelicans though, we’re looking for the Pink-backed Pelican. Eventually two Pelicans come flying in, landing in the distance, and the looked smaller. Drove there and – Dang! – Pink-backed.
Tried some more bays and points for the African Skimmer, but no luck. The Skimmer is the second bird this year that we miss, the first was the Shikra in Kuwait. We met a group of German ringers at the Guest House, they had been on the Lake Nasser for two weeks, ringing on the islands. They hadn’t seen any Skimmers in two weeks on the lake, so I guess they are still in Sudan. Win some – loose some.
Second trip to Morocco. Since we picked off all the important migrating warblers in Mauritania, the target list for this Morocco trip was pretty short. This time we flew to Casablanca, not to Rabat where they confiscate optics gear at the customs. This seem to be a general tip for birders visiting unstable countries, go to the tourist resorts, not the capital unless you want to gamble with confiscated scopes and cameras. Our next trip is Egypt, and we have chosen to fly to Hourgada instead of Cairo for this very reason.
Started off with a long drive up into the low Atlas, the first good birds we encountered was a group Seebohm’s Wheatear. Especially the females appear to be poorly documented on the Internet. Here are two females.
On our February trip to Morocco, we had a suspicious female Wheatear, possibly Seebohm’s, but we could not find sufficient documentation to safely determine if it was a Seebohm’s female or not.
The Seebohm’s Wheatear is still considered to be a subspecies of Northern Wheatear by IOC, we would not be surprised if the Seebohm’s Wheatear is soon elevated to full species status. Especially the male stands out.
Kept driving into the evening all the way to Zaida for the Dupont’s Lark that we couldn’t find in February. We made a short attempt on the Zaida plains the same evening to no avail. It was raining and the wind was high. Instead we took up on information from our friend Arjan Dwarshuis that the birds start singing in the dark, one hour before sunrise. Thus, the morning after, in the pitch black dark on the Zaida plains we go. We drive up to the area and just before we stop the car, Mårten says “Ett två tre kryss” (One, two, three, tick) and as we open the car door we can hear the very characteristic song of the Dupont’s Lark out in the dark. Later as the light came, we got good views.
A very secretive bird indeed, we saw the Larks running away in the grass, fast runners with a hunched fast running style. Like mice.
With the Lark finally secured we headed west towards Rissani where we met up with Hamid Gbt of Gayuin Birding who met us at the entrance to Rissani and graciously showed us the needle in the haystack, a day roosting Egyptian Nightjar. Very very difficult to find.
What a camouflage. Hamid and his brother Brahim Gbt run a professional bird guide company here in Morocco, Gayuin Birding. Nice setup.
Headed back towards the Ifrane area in the Low Atlas. This is a most beautiful part of Morocco with green slopes, cattle and sheep. Found a wonderful Auberge, and Eriks girlfriend Anna Malmström met up there. Next bird on the list was the Atlas Flycatcher, it was easy to find the NP close to Ifrane.
The forest was nice to walk in, and the high altitude temperature was a relief compared to what we’ve had earlier.
When we woke up the next morning, stepped out on the balcony at the Auberge the first Roller of the year sat on a wire.
In the forest we also had Firecrest, and the Short-toed Treecreepers were everywhere.
After an excellent lunch in Ifrane, we went to the Lac Oaua, which we also visited in February. Nothing new there, but we got some exceptional photographs of Black-necked Grebe.
As well as of the
Next group of target birds were way down on the coast south of Casablanca, a looong drive to a spot for the weird bird Small Buttonquail. I remember the first time I read about the Small Buttonquail many years ago and thought – I will never see this bird, ever. Now we were on the spot. It turned out to be very difficult. We spent the entire evening on and around the spot. We walked fields, playbacked and waited. During the entire evening the Buttonquail called two times. The call is very strange, it sounds like a distant cow. We never saw the bird, only heard it.
We found a beautiful little hotel in the little tourist village of Oualidia. First slow time during the entire year, several days to spend and very few target birds to chase. As a freak accident, just as we are here in Morocco, IOC decides that the subspecies ambiguus of European Reed Warbler should in fact be part of the African Reed Warbler complex. Good writeup at Magornitho by Muhamed Amezian.
I remember we spoke of this when we heard singing Reed Warblers in Western Sahara in reedy breeding habitats. Thus, we go Reed Warbler hunting along the coast wherever we see reeds. Soon we find several singing males. This one is African.
Shorter Primary Projection and very light underparts and throa are the characteristics as well as pale back.
Next day had some good winds, and we decided to do some sea watching from a point on the coast. Good winds, and hundreds of Northern Gannet. Quite a few Cory-like Shearwater, but we never got sufficiently good views to nail them. Cory’s and Scopolis Shearwater are very similar, this article is a good writeup on the differences.
Last day, made a stop in the early morning hours at the Buttonquail site, it would be nice to see the bird. This time we heard the bird once. It’s gotta suck to be British here – when you HAVE to see the bird….
We finally went to Mauritania, we have been wavering back and forth weather we should go here or not, eventually we decided for. It’s not an especially easy country to visit, logistics are difficult. Through a friend of Markus Craig, who joined us for this trip, Rob Tovey who lives in Mauritania, we got in contact with a Dutch guy called Just, running a hostel called Bab Sahara in the city of Atar. Anyone who ventures to follow us here, and go for the WP price birds in northern Mauritania should get in contact with Just. It’s not possible to rent a car, you have to get hold of a good 4WD such as a Landcruiser, and getting a good driver is invaluable. Just arranged this for us in an excellent way. We met up with our driver, Sidaty, at the airport and spent the first night in Nouakchott at a decent hotel. Early in the morning we headed towards Iwik, a small fishing village in the Banc d’Arguin National Park .
Banc d’Arguin is mostly famous for its impressive amount of wintering waders. From a WP lister point of view it also holds a healthy population of Grey-hooded Gulls.
As well as two species of cormorants, the Reed Cormorant.
More complicated are the White-breasted Cormorants that breed by the thousands in Banc d’Arguin. They are not easily distinguishable from the Marrocanus ssp of Great Cormorant. Possibly more research is required to determine which is what here. There were thousands of Cormorants, all looking like this adult.
The Banc d’Arguin was truly an interesting place to visit, the rich sea meets the barren desert, and the shores were teeming with waders. The large flocks of Spoonbills, White-breasted Cormorants, Great White Pelicans and Royal Terns flying by.
Ruddy Turnstones in particular were abundant.
This is possibly also the easiest place in WP to see the Royal Tern.
Migrating Black terns were a bit unexpected.
There are decent sleeping and eating facilities in the little fishing village of Iwik. We had a nice fish meal for dinner prepared by the villagers and slept in a small house. No need to camp.
The borders of WP are essentially the 21st latitude, with an exception for the islands outside of Banc d’Arguin. Thus, nothing on the mainland is tickable, only birds over the ocean and on the islands. We also, must not be on the mainland. So are the WP rules and we abide by them.
Next target was a small wadi just south of Choum. Pierre-Andree Crouchet recently found Blue-naped Mousebird there, and we just followed his footsteps. Easy.
The area of these Mousebirds was very barren, with vast areas of rock. A wadi with sparse trees and bushes held the birds.
This is the habitat of Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, the third time we see this beautiful Sandgrouse this year.
The distances of Mauritania are huge, the country is big. Driving between the sites take time, long time. And every little stop takes time, if there ever was a time to quote the Douglas Hofstadter theorem it is now. It goes: Everything takes more time than you would expect, even if you consider Hofstaders theorem. Next target was an area north of Oudane, close to the famous Eye of Sahara. The Auberge Bab Sahara was ideally situated in between, and it was truly a relief be welcomed there with excellent food and some home brewed cold beer. Thanks Just!!
The drive to Oudane was also a long drive on a dirt road. Once we reached the wadi, which is just north of the 21st latitude we started to search for African Grey Woodpecker that was recently seen there by Pierre-Andree. Birding in the wadi was good in general, lots of good WP birds. Sudan Golden Sparrow was the most common bird with large groups seen all the time. Cricket warbler was also there, not as common though.
Also common was the western variant of Eastern Olivacious warbler, a.k.a Saharan Olivacious warbler, as well as many Isabelline Warblers, Namaqua Doves and Western Orphean Warblers.
A Fennec Fox had it’s den close to our camp, certainly the cutest fox.
Another rare WP bird that was common in the wadi was the African Collared Dove. The call was unmistakable and it’s easy to distinguish from European Collared Dove.
However, it was the woodpecker we were searching for, not the regular WP birds. The bird was not easy to locate, and just before sunset Mårten has the bird on playback, he never sees it, but it responds to tape. We were all searching in larger and larger circles, and gathering the group took some time. Eventually when all 4 of us were gathered at the spot where the woodpecker responded, we could not relocate the bird before the sun set. It was a pretty frustrated group that went back to camp for dinner. We did enjoy the beautiful desert sunset though. No denying.
Woke up before sunrise to pursue the search for the Woodpecker. Went back to the crime scene and playbacked the call. No response. Again, started to search the area in general. This time together though, since the batteries of the Walki-talkies were dead. Finally we connected with the Woodpecker – which this time did not respond to playback at all.
We decided to do some additional birding further up in the wadi, and found one additional African Grey Woodpecker there. This upper area is smaller, and for the benefit of other WP listers trying to find this bird, the upper area is probably the best bet.
With the Woodpecker secured we had lunch and decided to go back. Waiting for our driver, Sitatty to fix some broken tires in the village of Oudane, just outside the WP border we hung out in the shade, enjoying the Black Scrub-robins.
Dear, Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, Emir of Kuwait. I’m writing this open letter to you as a result of our recent visits to your country. We are foreign bird watchers, ornothologists and naturalists, and we have just spent a couple of weeks in Kuwait in January, and now a week in April bird watching.
We are chocked by the amount of immoral hunting we have seen. We think that hunting and nature conservation can co-exist, but clearly not the way your people are currently behaving. The way hunting is practiced here in Kuwait, or rather should I say killing is immoral for the following reasons.
It’s not your birds, the migratory birds are just passing through here, they are not yours to kill.
Hunting should always have an element of sportsmanship, driving a 4WD through the nature reserves where exhausted migrating birds rest on their way north and shoot from the car window is barbaric.
Some birds are rare, whereas other are not. Many people, all over the world appreciate hunting. Indiscriminate killing of rare birds is unacceptable, the hunter MUST know what he or she shoots. Case in point, a group of 16 Caspian Plovers were resting in north Kuwait recently, this is an endangered species where elsewhere in the world, people spend time and money to ensure the survival of the species, here in Kuwait, this winter, they were all shot, for fun.
And finally, the worst of them all, killing for fun is clearly immoral. Shooting arbitrary birds for target practice is almost evil. This we saw several times. An especially memorable moment was one of the days when we came down to the beach at Jahra. A father and a son were there, the father playing bird calls from the car, and the son, maybe of age 15, was shooting swallows over the sea. When we started to watch the birds through our binoculars, while they were killing them, they both must have felt ashamed as they left the beach looking down into the ground.
With just a few days – and birds left in Kuwait, we’re trying to focus on the few important birds we have left. In particular Basra Reed Warbler and Shikra. The weather is getting worse, the first few hours in a day are good, but then mid day the temperature goes haywire (+43) and bird activity drops to nothing. All birds we see in the trees sit exhausted with beaks fully open. We get exhausted too, the strength just runs out when walking in bushes.
We reached out to an expert in Pratincole identification, Gerald Driessens, and the suspected Oriental Pratincole from yesterday was rejected, it was a regular Collared Pratincole. It was a tricky bird indeed where many good birders and friends of us also thought it was an Oriental. Well well – win some – loose some.
Started in the morning, went to a pool at Al-Liyah checking for Pale Rock Sparrow which had been seen there previously. The Al-Liyah is a reserve, with guards. The guards were friendly, and when they saw that we were birders and not hunters, we were allowed to enter. Just as we enter, they wave at us and make “photo” signs. We get out of the car, a bit confused, but they just wanted us to photograph a roosting Eurasian Scopes Owl, roosting right next to their little shed.
Remember the stir-up with the feathering of the claws on the Pallid Scopes Owl, this one clearly has no feathering on the middle tow.
No bird at the pool though, a nice male Montague’s Harrier came in. Also an awesome lizzard ran in the desert, a massive Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizzard, a beast.
With the morning spent, we went to Mutla searching for Shikra. The heat was devastating and bird activity was at all time low. In a dry tree, we found a Yellow-throated Sparrow.
Hardy bird to handle that heat so well. Chilled out in AC area and then went back to Al-Liyah. Birding there was pretty good, with for example several Upchers Warbler.
Also saw a few Hume’s Whitethroat there again. When we were just about to leave, a flock of European Bee-eaters came in to roost in a tree. Beautiful.
Saw several hunters in the reserve, cruising with 4WD cars, guns sticking out the windows, ready to shoot down any Bee-eater they see. Sad sight indeed.
Next day was Basra Reed-warbler and Shikra day at Al-Abraq. Woke up real early and were at Al-Abraq at first light. Plenty of Sparrowhawks flying around, we photograph everyone in hope of a Shikra – non alas. We walked the thickets, searching for Basra Reed. Mårten and I stand together peeing on a tree, think father-son moment, when we hear very very close the call of an Eastern Nightingale inside the tree/bush. We look at that at 50 cm distance, when Mårten whispers – I have a Basra Reed Warbler inside here, very close. It took us a few hours to secure good footage of the Reed Warbler.
It says something of skulky and slow the birds, when it took us 30 minutes to realise that a White-throated Robin
was also sitting inside that same small tree without us seeing it. We notified everyone else on Whatsup about the Basra, and AbdulRahman – with two clients, Paul Chapman and Maximilliano DeTorri arrived to see the bird too. Now, the heat was once again unbearable, chilled out in AC/coffee area, and finished the day in Jahra East where some Eurasian Curlew (ssp orientalis) were feeding. The bill is really impressive.
Next day we went back to Mutla, once again searching for Shikra. Met a local birder there, Bassel, who had just found a Black Bush-robin at Mutla, an exceptional bird for Kuwait. We on the other hand – hit a rock with the car in an manoeuvre to get better view of a flying Sparrowhawk. Car is broken and we are depressed, waiting for toll.
Day two in Kuwait, we started at Mutla Ranch, Markus Craigs favourite patch. Mutla is a low-end ranch where whey grow dade and some grass. It’s scruffy and has exactly the right size to be thoroughly searched. Lots and lots of migrating birds, everywhere. Mostly Redstarts, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers (who finally went off the difference list)
Better birds were Semi-collared Flycatcher and White-throated Robin. Primarily though, we were searching for Shikra and Basra-reed warbler. Erik found a Reed Warbler that looked very promising.
We got pictures of the bird in two different sessions and there and then – at Mutla – we convinced ourselves that this indeed was the rare one. We ticked it and reported on iGoTerra. Later at night – scrutinising the pictures we had second thoughts and made a back step on the Warbler, it’s just a Eurasian Reed Warbler (ssp fuscus) with a longish beak. Not an easy bird to safely id the Basra Reed Warbler, we will make further attempts later this week, maybe at Abraq.
After the debacle with the Reed Warbler we went together with Markus to Al-Liiah, a strange nature reserve in the north where an odd row of trees had been planted in the desert. The reserve turned out to be better than good for migrants, a drivable dirt track with small scattered sparse trees along both sides. Migrants everywhere, mostly Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Blackcaps. First good bird was an Icterine Warbler.
Sufficiently good to make Omar get into his car and drive there. Other good birds were a cooperative Eastern Orphean Warbler .
And a few Nightingales (ssp golzi) aka Eastern Nightingale (possible future armchair tick) and a few Turkestan Shrikes.
After a few hours though we briefly saw, several times, poor views – a suspicious looking Whitethroat. It looked dark and big, and we spent quite some time until we finally tracked it down and nailed it as a Hume’s Whitethroat. A really rare bird in WP – and difficult to id safely too.
Omar had arrived for shots of the Icterine warbler, and we helped him search for it but unfortunately it couldn’t be relocated. Omar suggested we should go nightjaring at JPL in the dark. He has seen Egyptian Nightjar on the dirt tracks there at night this time of the year. No Nightjars, but a Jack Snipe hiding from the lights as well as a wounded (hunter gunshot or snakebite) White-tailed Lapwing.
What a birding day, high energy adrenaline birding.
Next day, our third day here in Kuwait we decided to go Jahra Pool Reserve and search for vagrants. The first bird on the way in was a nice perching Isabeline Shrike as well as a Spotted Crake.
We started to scan the beach for waders, there were quite a few but not massive amounts.
The first good bird, which is a bird we would have screamed in joy for just a few weeks ago, now we just call out – without ant major agitation – Pacific Golden Plover.
Next, Erik finds a bird he thinks looks suspicious, and part of this post is going to be a study of the psychology of rarity birding. Mårten has a friend at home who birds by the devise – everything is a rarity until proven otherwise. If you think like that, you find rarities, otherwise not. Anyways, the Stint Erik bitches about looks like nothing to me, and when Erik suggests that we should pursue that bird – actually by wading across a creek – I just dissed, nah it’s nothing.
Erik persevered, and going for the Stint, we first flushed a Caspian Plover !!!! Also a Pratincole was sitting next to the Caspian Plover – more on that later.
Once we got close to the Stint, we got some footage of it, and also a crappy video.
And it looks like a Long-toed Stint. We got this confirmed by first Raul Vicente and later by Arjan Dwarshuis and we had our first self found MEGA in the WP. Other Kuwaiti birders arrived at the scene and the Stint could eventually later be re found. A first for Kuwait. It’s got long toes !!
Now, back to the Pratincole. We had seen it fly, and I saw zero white trailings on the wings, and wanted to see more of the bird. Both Erik and Mårten had a Colared Pratincole feeling and just wanted to move on. Anyways, we flushed the bird again, this time with cameras ready and we got some poor shots of both sitting as well as of flying bird. Looking at the pictures, I persisted, it’s got no trailing white edges on the wings, whereas both Mårten and Erik said – well it has some … on this pic here … see.
We gave up on that and went back across the creek, back at the parking lot, a British birder (Pete ??) found a Kitiwake, the second for Kuwait.
Going back to the hotel, scanning the pics on the Pratincole while Erik drives, I again – said – the bird looks good, and back at the hotel room, both Erik and Mårten starts to get excited about the bird. And, given help by friends, Raul Vicente and Arjan, we came to the conclusion that the bird was an Oriental Pratincole.
The Pratincole is questioned, and it may very well turn out to be a Colared Pratincole in the end. It’s matter of tail-streamers and nostril shape. It’s up to KORC now, hopefully someone can secure better footage of the bird today.
I keep the original text, and add the update here. The Pratincole has now been confirmed by the premiere expert on the matter, Gerald Driessens, who co-authored the Dutch Birding paper on how to distinguish a Collared Pratincole from an Oriental. We reached out to Gerald who promptly replied:
“Thanks for your mail. Interesting bird. This is for sure a Collared Pratincole with worn-off trailing edge. On the outerweb of the outermost tail feather, the proportion of blak along the shaft is too large for Oriental. Tail feathers also seem to show strong emarginations and look long. Contrast between coverts ands remiges is obvious. Also head pattern is more in favour of Collared.”
Thus the matter is settled and we of course retract the tick. Thanks Gerald, it feels good to have this settled. A learning and humbling experience.
— END UPDATE
So – back the psychology part – the Stint was secured by Eriks stubbornness and the Pratincole by mine. It’s good to be a team, a team that can argue without pride getting in the way. What a rarity day – hard to beat.
Arrived in the middle of the night to Kuwait, our second visit to the country. This time in search of migrating birds as well as rarities. Markus Craig called a couple of days ago and said that AbdulRahman had arranged a pelagic out into the gulf. We were invited. A few hours sleep and then off to a boat trip out into the Gulf. On the boat we met all our old friends from Kuwait, Markus Craig, Omar Alsaheen and AbdulRahman. A bunch of British birders were also on the boat – nice group.
Right off the coast we saw the first Bridled Terns perching.
Close to shore we also saw the first Lesser Crested Terns.
These two were most expected, the first good bird we saw a few miles off the coast. The Socotra Cormorant.
Kuwait was our only chance to see this bird in WP, and we now think it would have been hard to find the Cormorant off the coast. Thanks AbdulRahman!!
Off the coast of Kuwait, there are a few coral islands, we went ashore on two of them, both real rarity vagrant magnets. I we were resident Kuwait birders we’d own a boat 🙂
A bunch of Skuas were nice, Pomarine was called out, but as far as we could judge they were all Arctic.
Nice group of Phallaropes was found way out in the Gulf.
Wikipedia states – Kubbar is a sandy island of Kuwait in the Persian Gulf, covered with shrub. It is located roughly 30 kilometers off the southern coast of Kuwait and 29 kilometres off the coast of Failaka.
Lesser and Greater Crested Terns nest there in good numbers.
We went ashore on Kubbar and the small island was teeming with vagrants. The whole group scattered on the island and species were rapidly called out from all directions. A problematic female Pied Wheatear caused some headache – possibly a Variable. Very difficult – need a male (or exceptional footage) to determine for certain.
Soon Mårten found the good bird, a Sykes Warbler.
Here we see the core of the Kuwait birding community running towards the BYWP team and the Sykes Warbler.
The Kuwait Birding community is small, nice, friendly, competent and inclusive. It’s a privilege to hang out with you guys.
Since it’s impossible to fly directly from Israel to Kuwait we had to make a forced layover somewhere en route. I’ll refrain from making any sarcastic commentary on this, anyways we decided to make a short stop in Hungary. The Saker Falcon is possible to get in Israel, Turkey and almost anywhere in South-eastern WP. They breed in Hungary though so we decided to go there.
Out of chance I saw a comment on our FB from a birder with a Hungarian sounding name and I reached out to Bence Kokay who provided perfect instruction to a pair of nesting Saker Falcons one hour south of Budapest. The birds were perching on pylons close to a nest box mounted high in the air on a pylon.
We had allocated yet another day to search for the Saker, so we decided to go to Hortobagyi National Park for some general birding.
We disrespectfully wrote on our FB once the Saker was secured, “It took us five minutes to clean up Hungary! Saker falcon, near Dömsöd”. We’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to Hungary for that comment. Hortobagyi is possibly the single best birding site in all of Europe, it cannot be cleaned up in 5 minutes. It’s situated on the famous Hungarian steppe, the Puszta, some two hours drive east of Budapest. Vast steppe and enormous reeds with lot’s of water (fish ponds) We had a full day of amazing birding, totalling 111 species making this day our best so far during the year.
Savi’s warbler was very common with maybe up to 50 singing males during the day.
Also Bearded Reedling was common.
Whitestared Bluethroat was nice too, the Bluethroat race with a white patch on the throat.
At the very end of the day, we bumped into a group of French birders who said that they had had a group of 120 wintering Lesser White-fronted goose far out into one of the lakes. It was already getting dark, and it was 7 km walk to the place. Strenuous, but worth it. Spectacular birding at the tower at the end.
Thousands of Black-tailed Godwits, thousands of everything except the White-fronted Goose. A flock of approximately 120 birds could be seen on the grass on the other side of the lake, the birds were small and had a clear white front. This could very well be the birds, too far to make sure though. We decided to wait into the dark and hope for the birds to choose to spend the night on the lake instead of on the grass. They didn’t.
On the way back in the dark, freezing and tired we had awesome views of calling Barn owl and Long-eared Owl. Especially the spooky Barn owl is something extra.
Goodbye Israel, thanks for two marvellous weeks of birding. What a birding country, great birding, great people. Zero problems with authorities or police. Excellent food. Just a ok.
Our last three days started slow, mostly because we spent an enormous amount of time failing to find a Caspian Plover. We woke up early in Eilat, hotel night, sorely needed. Birded Ofira and Central parks before breakfast. The parks of Eilat attract quite a few exhausted migrants. Nothing new (tick wise) but generally good birding.
We also spent some time in IBRCE where I got to capture Little Crake from the hide. Imagine how much we fuzzed about Little Crake in Kuwait when Erik found one and Mårten and I didn’t. Probably not the last time we fuzz about a bird we get easy later on.
Always nice with a good hide. Birds come close.
Here we are in IBRCE.
Bought food and prepared for a few camping nights. The temperature in Negev is now high, birding mid day sucks, activity is very low. We went to Kilometer 20, searching for Caspian Plover. Instead we found the Red-necked Phalarope that had been reported from the salt pans earlier. A tick and a species which is not rare, but we had no plan to see it anywhere it breeds, thus this was good.
Searched Yotvata fields for the Plover all afternoon. Just when we had raised the tent at Yotvata, dusk arrived, and a Nightjar flew by the camp. No one saw any white markers on the wings, but too poor views to definitely id the bird. We drove the roads around Yotvata in the dark, saw nothing but a few jackals and foxes. Mårten birded in Israel some 5 years ago, and had great birding at Yotvata at the time. It’s been a standing joke in the group, whenever Erik or I ask about a bird, Mårten has said – Yotvata. We have had good, but clearly not spectacular birding at the famous Yotvata fields.
During night, we rigged my cellphone together with the bluetooth speaker and a power bank, playing the call of Caspian Plover all through the night. The idea being that it should bring down migrating Caspians right down to our tent, so that we can just find them first thing in the morning. Brilliant idea that didn’t work, instead we searched all the fields – again – to no avail. A compost had attracted a nice mix of Pipits and Wagtails though.
Came back to the camp and a short sand storm had wreaked havoc with our camp, which was now dispersed in the desert.
We decided to spend the mid day birding a few of the Kibbutzes nearby, there are several and they all have pretty good birding. Lotan produced no new ticks, but some nice photos.
Drove to Nizzana, close to the Egyptian border and birded the small village of Ezus which produced absolutely nothing. Set camp at the exact spot where Barak Granit had told us the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse appearr in the morning. Awesome camping in the desert, whiskey, stars and the moon, close to an IDF army camp.
Early morning, rise and shine. We’re standing at the spot, at the time according to Barak Granit, and sure as clockwork they arrive.
Drove north, and decided to make one final effort on the Batteleur. We set up the scopes at the same spot again, just north-west of Gal’on. Mårten, finds the eagle almost immediately.
Tenaciousness pays off, what a goddamn WP bird. Mmmmm. Towards Tel-Aviv and then spent a few hours in the afternoon in the Yarkon Park. This turned out to be a struck of genius, we just ticked off migrants there. Especially the Semi-collared Flycatcher which was a wanted bird but also a Levant Sparrowhawk was very nice.
To finish up, we want to thank the Champions of the Flyway teams for sharing info about observations, Barak Granit for guiding (Hume’s Owl and Nubian Nightjar) and accuracy with the spot for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Markus Lampinen and Hannu Huhtinen for providing the spot for Baillon’s Crake. Also thanks to Gal Marinov and Leor Dor for helping us to id the Barbary Falcon.
Israel is now running out of birds, we only have a few birds left here. We’ll make an effort for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, and we will continue to search for that possible Caspian Plover. Anyways, I’m getting ahead of myself here. The first day for this post was allocated in it’s entirety to search for a Batteleur, an African Eagle lost in Israel for the last couple of years. Large beautiful fields in the area of Gal’on, we spent the entire day searching the fields. No eagle, enormous amounts of White Storks and raptors though. Black Kites, Short-toed Eagles, Steppe Buzzards, Long-legged Buzzards and one Greater Spotted.
No Batteleur though, maybe we’ll make time for one more effort on that bird, it is there.
Camped just outside Sde Boker kibbutz, with the idea to jump up early and search for Barn Owl in the Kibbutz. Just before we went to sleep, we heard wolfs howling, then just after that, the jackals also howled and we got confused. But then we saw them, two Arabian wolves walking in the moonlight. Mmmm.
No Barn Owl there, we’ll get it later, no harm in trying except sleep deprivation. Once in the car again, Erik checked Facebook, and shouted out – hey – President Trump has resigned. Uhh, we go – maybe not. it’s April first. We then post on our FB that we give up due to “social tension in the group” – we thought that was funny. Sde Boker is not as good for migrants as the Ben-Gurion memorial site close by, we went there and found a Hume’s Warbler (which we already had from Kuwait)
As well as a pair of migrating Collared Flycatchers.
Next wanted bird was Dead Sea Sparrow, which we had already halfheartedly searched for. Now we went to – tada – the Dead Sea, they have to be there. Searched tamarisk bushes here to no avail, and then died in the shadow of a nearby petrol station. Once the heat became non-lethal we went back to the same bushes and continued the search, and now with less heat the birds were more active and we could easily find them.
Set camp nearby the site of the Dead Sea Sparrows, perfect camping spot in a small wadi. In the evening we had a date with Barak Granit for a session to see Nubian Nightjar and Hume’s Owl. Two difficult species. Barak Granit delivers.
We had excellent views of the Hume’s Owl as well.
I’ve said it before – camping is great. And what is absolutely best with camping is that you wake up on the birding spot. At first light – even before coffee – we all wander about and do random birding. Lovely and completely unorganised. We had:
With the Dead Sea species pocketed we went south again, towards Eilat, with a short stop at some ponds where Red-billed Teal was seen last year .. hmmm. Spent the entire afternoon on the famous Yotvata Fields. Spectacular birding there, nothing new though. A tricky Pallid Harrier forced us to look close at the characteristics.
We camped at Nizzana with the idea that we should wait by the drinking pools for Pintailed Sandgrouse to come drinking. They didn’t, or maybe they did, but not where we were. The Pintailed Sandgrouse would be good to get here, although if we don’t get it here – it’s possible to repair later in Spain or France. While waiting at the pools, we did find a resting Collared Pratincole.
Gave up on the Sandgrouse before noon, we started to drive – again – towards Eilat. Eilat is one of those world famous birding sites, up there together with Cape May and Falsterbo. On the way we stopped at some salt ponds, teeming with waders. Red-necked Phalarope had been reported there, but we just found all the regular expected waders.
Finished off by birding the famous North Beach of Eilat, the White-eyed Gull was common.
The Whatsup group for the Champions of the Flyway had announced a drinking session at a bar, downtown Eilat. We were eager to meet all the COTF guys. Very nice to meet many the participants of this great bird race. We will surely attend one day, maybe next year.
Late hungover, morning with some slow birding in Eilat city parks. Lots of migration birds in the parks. We were looking especially for flycatchers, no luck though. House Crows are everywhere in Eilat.
Went up into Eilat Mountains to check for raptor migration. Some raptor days are better than others, this was a slow raptor day. Picked up the Hooded Wheatear on the mountain.
In the afternoon, we went to a pond at kilometer 19, searching for Crakes and it turned into Crake bonanza. Best Craking ever, we got all 3 crakes in the same pond. Especially the Baillon’s crake is good, possible the most elusive little bird in the entire Collin’s Guide. When dusk settled, a group of Lichtensteins’s Sandgrouse came flying in to the pool to drink. Birding doesn’t get much better than this.
Woke up in the dark at the hippie hostel at Mitzpe Ramon and had breakfast at sunrise at nice sewage ponds outside the city. The idea being that Baillon’s Crake could possible be there. No Crakes but plenty of other nice birds.
We also had a suspected Marsh warbler, it wasn’t hanging out in the reeds, instead it choose the thick bushes close to the water. It was grayish in general, and the rump was clearly without red and brown. Since Marsh warbler is uncommon in Israel during spring, instead of ticking Marsh, Mårten took the extra time to do a deep study in the Advanced Bird Id Handbook: The Western Palearctic and the picture below shows that the emargination on outer web of p3 levels with secondary tips, in Marsh warbler more towards the wing tip, thus it is indeed a Reed Warbler ssp fuscus. Very very difficult, and truly hard to id in the field without the bird singing.
The book Advanced Bird Id Handbook, is an invaluable complement to the Collins guide.
Drove on to Sde Boker to look for Syrian Serin. First thing we heard when jumping out of the car was a calling Syrian Woodpecker.
Also the Palestine Sunbird was everywhere.
We met two local young birders there, Gal Marinov and Leor Dor. When we said that we were looking for Syrian Serin in Sde Boker, they said – uhh – why? You should be searching at Ben Gurion Memorial, we have the spot. A swimming pool next to our school. We went there but couldn’t
find the Serins. Desert Finches outside the Kibbutz though.
Gave up and went to a wadi close to km 152 where Rikard Ek had seen Arabian Warbler a few days ago. We found the warbler in the dry wadi at the very last light of the day.
Next day we started in Wadi Yahel, supposedly a safe spot for the Syrian Serin. Almost all birders we met have said that the Serins are easy in that wadi. Starting a day with some birding in the sunrise, and then do breakfast after an hour or two is a good way to start a day. No Serins though, Cretzschmar’s bunting, Scrub Warbler, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Subalpine Warbler and Ortolan Bunting.
At this point, the damned Serin sailed up to an unthreatened most-wanted-bird position. The Syrian Serin winters in the south, and breeds in the north at high altitude. When we received fresh reports from Avner Rinot with 6 Oriental Skylarks close to Kfar Rupin and a group of Cinerous Buntings at Mount Gilboa We decided to go north, to Mount Hermon where the Syrian Serins are easy.
Since we were now in the South, very close to the known site for the Black Scrub-robin, we decided to tick that first.
We arrived at the right fields in the north with maybe an hour left to sunset. The fields were packed with Yellow Wagtails, several thousands. Mostly Felldegg, but also Beema and Superciliaris. Difficult to search for the Larks with the distracting flocks of Wagtails. We didn’t find the Larks, but it felt good. Thus we decided to give the same field another go the next morning. Started at sunset to methodically walk the fields. Soon we flush one Oriental Skylark, and then another. Decent views and we all heard the call perfectly. Nice, a hard-to-find bird in WP.
Went to Mount Gilboa to search for Cinerous Bunting. A nice hike up the mountain. No buntings though. They are on their way to Turkey. We did find Long-billed Pipit again though. A few days ago we worked really hard to get it, and now we just got if for free.
Compare to the picture from the Collin’s Bird Guide – it’s the right bird ehh.
Continued north, via a lunch at the shore of Sea of Gaillei, where we got Pygmy Cormorant and Pallas’s Gull.
Arrived at Mount Hermon, Majdal Shams in the afternoon. Now it was time to nail that boogey Serin. No Serins, a few year ticks though, Western Rock-Nuthatch and Sombre Tit. Birded the slopes of Mount Hermon into the dark and gave up, freezing like crazy.
Next morning, at dawn, we’re back in the same hills, and we find the Serin immeditaly. Perseverance pays off.
With everything in the north ticked off, we went south again. Passing through the city of Pardes Hana-Karkur where Nanaday Parakeet was seen many years ago. The Paraket is considered exterpitaded from Israel, however nothing wrong with having lunch there – dreaming – you never know. Pushed on towards Nizzana where we after a few hours searching found the McQueens Bustard in the last light.
This was a bird on the difference list, Mårten saw it in Kuwait, but although we searched for hours there after that bird, we never saw it again. It feels good to be able to remove a bird from the difference list.
Mårten maintains the difference list, and we have quite a few birds on that list today. Whenever there are two good beds and one not so good, whoever has the most birds on the difference list gets to get the poor bed. The idea being that the person that is worst at sharing gets the worst bed. Erik got a really good bird on the difference list this morning, one that’ll be hard to repair. Boring.
We’ve arrived in Israel. What a birding country, and spring migration is in full swing. Warblers everywhere and a steady stream of raptors, storks and cranes pumping northbound.
It’s not just birds that abundant, but also birders. The competition Champions of the flyway runs now, and all the teams are scouting. We have been gratiously invited to their WhatsUp group as well as the Telegram group for rare-birds-alert in Israel so we are all set information wise.
Yesterday, we just had a few hours in a park in Tel-Aviv and started out in Israel where we left off in Holland, a Cat-C bird! Vinous-breasted Starling, a bird from south-east Asia.
Generally good birding in the park, including all 4 WP kingfishers in the same park. Lots of good bird and year ticks.
Drove through the night towards the Dead Sea and slept in Arad.
This morning, we started real early, with Wadi Salvadora as the first goal. This is a well know spot for Sinai Rosefinch, a price bird. Also an important bird for us, since if we can find it here, our trip to Egypt later will be much easier and we can fly to Hurghada instead of Sharm El-Sheik. Walking the steep slope up the wadi we soon found shy Striolated Buntings.
A good bird, soon thereafter we also found a pair of Sinai Rosefinch, picture sucks, but hey.
With the Rosefinch in the pocket, we descended and found a Cyprus warbler on the way down, mmmm and also a Scrub Warbler.
We continued to Ein Gedi and the tourist trap Wadi David where a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler had been seen for quite some time. The touristy paved path was teeming with birds, warblers everywhere. Common and rare.
The Tristram’s Starling was abundant and everywhere.
Our goal was the Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, however it’s not easy to keep focused when such new lifer birds as Cretzschmar’s bunting appear. Erik screamed ROSTSPARV (Swedish name) and physically vibrated when he saw it.
Finally we found the lost vagrant, the Pallas’s Leaf warbler in a small stream of water.
With a spectacular start of the Israel trip we had a slow lunch at Arad and then went searching for Long-billed Pipit in an area where both of our friends Joachim Bertrands and Markus Craig had seen the bird previous years. An area with a habitat that exactly fitted the description of preferred habit in the Collins Guide, slopes with flat rocks and herbs. We walked those beautiful slopes for several hours, each step a joy for the nose. It smells of kitchen while walking in herbs. The area is some distance north of Arad, and birding in general there was just great. Blue Rock thrush, Spectacled Warbler, Rüppels’s warpler, Eastern Orphean warbler, Prinias, Finch’s Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike, Subalpine Warbler, Chukars, Steppe Buzzard, Pallid Harrier, Masked Shrike, Cyprus Warbler and more. Finally after many kilometers in the legs, Mårten found the bird.
Finished off the day with searching for Crakes in a sewage pond close to Mitzpe Ramon where we spent the night in a cheap weed-smoker hippie hostel. Long day, but a spectacular birding day, 87 birds in total and 23 new for the year. Maybe later during our two weeks in Israel when/if we run out of new species we’ll try for a Big Day.
On our way to Israel, we decided to stop in Holland to get the lingering rarities as well as all the goddamn Cat-C species they have in Holland.
For the benefit of readers who are not up to speed on the categorisation of birds into categories A-E I’ll now diverge a bit on what that is. The list is different for each country. We have the following list:
Cat A. Regular birds that breed or appear naturally in a country.
Cat B. Birds seen in the country but not since 1949
Cat C. Introduced, but now with a self-sustaining population.
Cat D. Odd shit
Cat E. Cage birds
Many birders (and listers) do category A (and dream on, B) whereas e.g the WP listers to A-C. Since we’re doing a Big Year WP, we have to go through the Cat C species since that is what other WP lister do. At home, this is easy and a no brainer, Ring-necked Pheasant and Canadian Goose breed and have healthy populations. In the more southerly parts of WP it’s different though, there are quite a few introduced species and we have to tick them. Especially Dutch birders frown (todays understatement) upon this.
Anyways, two-day stop in Holland to get the Cat-C and the rarities. Our good friend Arjan Dwarshuis (world champion !!) offered to have us crashing at his place as well as tagging along. Arjan brought his friend Vincent van den Spek who made up the day-plan to go through all Cat-C as well as the good stuff. Busy day, starting out with Alexandrine Parakite in a park inside Amsterdam. Both Arjan and Vincent are brought up with the idea that Cat-C is dirty, whereas we are not. Being a Swedish birder, it feels quite natural to consider both Ring-necked Pheasant as well as Canada Goose parts of nature. I guess this changes if you live in a country where any released cage bird might change the birding scene. When Arjan did his now famous Big Year he ticked zero Cat-C species, we on the other hand are forced to.
Following Vincents plan, we just went through all the Cat-C birds, Arjan and Vincent complaining loudly when a bird was found, silently actually enjoying it, but nevertheless feeling dirty. They both came around at the very end of the day though, when we searched an area with reeds and Arjan finally found the Vinous-throated Parrotbill. It was nice and we all shared the moment.
Most WP listers get this Chinese bird in northern Italy, and we believe that the population in Holland is not well know,
The full list of Cat-C for the day was: Alexandrine Paraket, Mandarin Duck, Black Swan, Vinous-throated Parrotbill and Bar-headed Goose. Earlier we had seen Egyptian Goose in Holland.
Almost Cat-C was a Snow Goose. This is tricky stuff, Snow Goose is bred in Holland and domesticated, and you can find it here and there. This unringed bird though, arrived together with Barnacle Geese this fall, thus possible to tick. Deemed to be the real thing according to Vincent.
Clearly not possible to determine just by looking at the bird.
Apart from the Cat-C birds we had two good birds to locate. The first one was Red-breasted Goose. It was reported a couple of days ago to be seen inside massive flocks of Barnacle Goose. We searched for maybe an hour, and eventually Arjan (yes – I’ll give it to him, world champ and all, he is good at finding the birds) found it, two of them.
Next one was a recently reported Blythe’s pipit. We went to the site, searched for hours, freezing cold and eventually gave up. Decided to go to a forest known to host Middle-spotted Woodpecker instead. Also on Vincents itinerary. Played the call and it came immediately. Easy.
Now, after the easy woodpecker, the group was in a much better mood (after the non-existent pipit) and we had lunch and then made a new attempt at the Blyth’s pipit. When we arrived there it was already relocated by other birders at the site.
Picture isn’t great, but we had great views of the pipit, and at least I love it when you see a bird that is hard to distinguish from other birds and it’s crystal clear that you see what you think you see. We heard the call too.
Having done a complete cleanup in Holland we had a whole day with nothing to do before embarking to Israel. Options were to (a) Get High in Amsterdam, (b) Do some regular birding without anything tickable (c) Go to Northern France (Calais) and find yet another Cat-C species, The Reeves’s Pheasant. We opted for (c). In the car on our way to France, Erik discovers by accident and random www surfing that the group of Reeves’s Pheasant close to Calais are not tickable. We believe quite a few WP listers have actually ticked these birds. France do have a tickable population of Reeves’s Pheasant on an Island outside Marseille, Iles d’Hyeres. Mårten called Pierre-Andre’ Crochet to confirm and sadly so, the birds in Calais are bred for hunters and would not survive on their own. Halfway to France, turning the car around we started to appreciate our Dutch friends view on Cat-C – It is dirty. Once again with nothing to to, we had a long lunch in Breda, and decided to attempt to relocate the Baikal Teal close to Amsterdam that had now been gone for 11 day. This is the same Teal we were searching for with Marten Miske several weeks ago and – Dang!
So – thanks Arjan, Vincent and Holland. I’m sure we’ll return some time later during this year, when that mega arrives. Great birding country. Tomorrow we’ll be in Israel – another great birding country.
We have just surpassed 400 species with our latest forest trip to the north of Sweden. It felt good to go birding at home, although birding in the Swedish winter forest can be slow. It’s cold and snowy, and it is far between the birds.
We started out with a recently reported Stellar’s Eider on the coast of Medelpad just north of Sundsvall. Beautiful, cold sea.
After a cold walk out on the point, I had a short glimpse of a bird with clear wing bands and called out the bird. It disappeared and we searched for hours through the small flocks of Common Eider, quite a few of the females had good wing bands so we concluded that my initial observation was wrong. We came to the conclusion that the reporter had stringed the Common Eider I saw, and that was later confirmed by the original reporter.
Spirits still high, we put this setback down to our normal mode of operandi. This has now happened several times, we start out with a dip and then later strike gold.
Next day was allocated to normal forest birding inland from Sundsvall, and we quickly found a number of good forest birds.
This area of Sweden is the epicenter of fowls, thus just spending time in the right forest habitat should deliver Black Grouse and Capercaillie. The Hazel Grouse is usually tricker. The Capercaillie has now sailed up as the most-discussed-bird since we didn’t find a single one during our Norrland trip. Unbelievable. Almost none of the forest birds can be easily located, you have to just spend time in the forest. The Siberian Jay comes to feeders though.
The Pine Grossbeak is the opposite, you just have to be lucky.
In the afternoon we decided to drive further north towards a well known spot for Great-grey Owl close to Umeå, small village called Degernäs. Björn Melin (who tagged along on this trip to Norrland) eventually found the majestic Owl just before dark, much to the joy of the other birders there – also searching for the owl.
At Degernäs, we met a local birder who seemed to know his stuff. We told him that we were planning to visit a spot nearby for Grey-headed and Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers. Yeah, he said that’s good, and there is also the Woodpecker we cannot name there – just so you know. We immediately picked up on that and went into full Voldemort mode. The whereabouts of White-backed Woodpecker in Sweden is semi-secret. There are a few known spots, where birders visit, however there are most certainly quite a few secret spots. This turned up to be one of those, and sure enough the White-backed Woodpecker was there. Impossible to miss. In a manner it was a shame he told us about it since we’d already decided to go there. Had we just found a WB Woodpecker on chance – We would have screamed.
We ticked the Hazel Grouse the same morning, first we heard it playing it’s low-volume high-pitch sound. Later we got good views of two males feeding on seeds in the trees.
Dipper was also ticked in the area.
The remainder of the day was spent looking for fowls, mostly by driving slow on small forests roads. We saw, Elk, wolf tracks and Reindeers. The Reindeers are not wild, they are kept by the Sami.
Next day, we continued to search for fowl, eventually we found a flock of Black Grouse, no Capercaillie though.
Finally got good views of the (so far only heard) Grey-headed Woodpecker too.
Decided to give up on the fowl and go south, towards Uppland where I own a small cabin in Esarby which is a good area for both fowl, but in particular for Owls. The evening in northern Uppland produced an abundance of playing Tengmalm’s Owl. Next morning, well deserved we slept late (partly due to the drinking session in the cabin) and went back to Stockholm.
Next birding day, we went south searching for some missing species reported in the Stockholm area.
Much of this day was allotted to the search of Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. During the day as a whole, we visited a large number of well knows spots for the species. The Lesser-spotted Woodpecker should be easy, but it’s still lacking on our list. The afternoon we went north towards Uppland (picking up a Glaucous Gull downtown Stockholm)
and the evening was spent with good friend and awesome birder Johan Södercrantz who showed us the Ural Owl in northern Uppland. The Ural Owl was our #400 tick. Here we are, anxiously waiting for the Ural Owl to start displaying.
On the way back, Johan suggest a long-shot, a place he knew that had kept wintering Short-eared owls in the past. And, sure enough, in the dark with a powerful torchlight we found the owls. It’s the first time anyone of us ever saw this day-active owl in the dark.
Unplanned twitch trip to Portugal and Spain with a quick stop in Amsterdam. In order to get a really high year-tick number, we don’t only have to go bird all the different countries in WP, but we must also do some twitching. So when those rare and lost vagrants appear, we must pick at least some of them. We cannot go for all of them, that is just too much. For example. the other day A White-throated Bee-eater was reported at Maghreb Ornito found at the very same hotel where we stayed in Dakhla, Western Sahara just two weeks ago. We’ll leave that Bee-eater alone.
However, we decided to go for a couple of rare ones reported from the Iberian Peninsula. First things first though, quick stop in Amsterdam for the Baikal Teal. The original plan was to take a cab from the Shiphol airport to the Teal, instead someone got the bright idea to ask our FB group for a friendly Dutch driver, Martin Miske volunteered and drove us to the Teal. We had maybe 4 hours to search for the duck in small ditches. We never found it and our first actual dip was a fact. Boring. Anyways, thanks Martin, and when we meet again, we owe you a beer.
Landed in Lisbon at midnight, and decided to skip sleeping and drove through the night to northern Spain. In the sleepy village San Cibrao in Galicia, a Thayer’s Gull has been wintering for the last couple of years. We arrived at dawn and started to search for the Gull. It’s non trivial to locate among the thousands of Yellow-legged Gulls in the area. After a couple of hours we started to despair, however we did find an Iceland Gull which is also a good bird.
After lunch we decided to “return to the crime scene” which is always good tactics. Most sitings of the Thayer’s Gull have been at a fish farm west of San Cibrao. The farm attracts massive amounts of gulls – and then – dang. It’s there.
It was clearly smaller than the Yellow-legged Gulls, and the legs are bright pink. Thank’s Canada.
Loong drive going all the way to the Algarve coast for an American Herring Gull and a Sora.
Mårten got to know Thijs Valkenburg when working in Portugal a few years ago, Thijs brother Joost Valkenburg grew up in the city where the Sora had been seen for the last couple of weeks and Joost stepped up to help with the Sora, and also show us his childhood local patch. Beautiful little city called Silves on the Arade River. When we’re two hours away from Silves, Joost text us and says that the Sora is still there. The Sora had been seen on the very same short stretch of reeds for several weeks, so it should be easy. We cannot find it though, it’s hiding. Instead we went for lunch and the American Herring Gull in Portimau. That bird – which actually didn’t look to well – was there.
It feels very good to have this species pocketed. When we visit the Azores later this year, we can then safely ignore all (I guess continuously ongoing) discussions there over gull characteristics. Gulling is hard. Fun, but sometimes it can be overwhelming.
Went back to Silves to search for the Sora. The tide was going up, and the reeds where the Sora had been seen were slowly getting under water. Finally, by pure skill and split vision, Erik sees the bird flying away. Landed on the other shore and we could get pics.
Phuwww. With 3 Yanks ready, we decided to go to Castro Verde which is a fantastic spot in southern Portugal. Vast plains with Bustards, Larks and in particular the endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle. I did a real bad choice of just stopping the car on the highway there (bird), and a police car came. Here are the tactics I recommend, just agree and repeat what they say.
Officer: Uhh, you cannot stop here.
Me: No, I know, I cannot stop here.
Officer: What were you thinking stopping here?
Me: Sorry, I wasn’t thinking at all.
Officer: It stupid to stop here, it’s dangerous.
Me: Yes, it’s stupid. We’re idiots.
At this point, officer will shake his head and just go away. It makes s small dent in your pride, but it’s worth it.
Thijs put us in contact with Bruno Herlander Martins who is a biologist at LPN. Bruno works with the protection of the Spanish Imperial Eagle and he told us about the various measures they take to aid the eagles. Ranging from fixing the branches on the eucalyptus trees which are too smooth to hold the nests, to befriending and educating the local farmers. Interesting work indeed.
We met with Bruno at dawn, and went searching for Bustards and Eagles. Before jumping into the car, Bruno asks – Do you guys need Long-eared Owl. Haha, Mårten has been bitching over that bird since we skipped a site in England. It’s one of those birds that are rare – but not sufficiently rare to make a directed effort to find. Bruno had a roosting tree in the village.
Bustards were easy to find, especially Greater. Also plenty of Calandra Larks on the plains. Eventually we also found the Eagle. Thanks Bruno !!
Ticked a few Category C species on the way back to Lisbon, we even grabbed a “future Cat C” – talk about future proofing the list.
We have a whole bunch of Cat-C remaining in Portugal, and we’ll have to spend some more time on those when we revisit in August.
After careful consideration we have concluded that the Martin we saw in Kuwait, indeed must be Pale Martin (Riparia Diluta) and we tick it. Plenty of good pictures of the individual, included here are two of the best ones captured by Omar Alsaheen.
Good arguments provided by Wouter Faveyts
“Looks interesting indeed! I checked the Alula article from 2007 (Schweizer & Ayé) again, and it seems that the bird could really be a Pale (Sand) Martin (Riparia diluta). Greyish cast, lack of clear distinction between dark ear coverts and paler throat, pale head with dark eye and lores are all ticking the right boxes. Also diffuse breast band, although this feature seems more variable in comparison to Sand Martin.”
As well as by Alan Joseph Dalton
“I think this is a Pale Martin. Note the darker new inner primaries on your bird, which fit in well with 2nd gen moult for the species. There are quite a few records in Oman, where it’s probably easily overlooked, so a Kuwait record would not really be unexpected. Head pattern and upper chest look good.”
The Alula article from 2007 (Schweizer & Ayé) seems to correlate with the Kuwait bird we saw.
I’m just using a french word in the title here, it doesn’t mean anything. Neither of us speak french, which is truly detrimental when travelling Morocco. Everyone speaks french here and not being able to, feels almost barbaric. We’ve managed with english and sign language.
In total, our Morocco trip must be considered a success, the species we had on our list we missed were Dupont’s Lark, Tawny Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Egyptian Nightjar. Some of these we’ll repair later. We’re returning here in April, migration species and the Small Buttonquail. We’ll try to do some repairing then.
These last days from Agadir to Marrakesh we had some great birding as usual. We started the morning in Agadir with just casual birding in Oued Sous, nothing spectacular there though. One of the palace guards came running whistling loud, waving. We just walked away, pretending ignorance. The wild-goose-chase project of Sunday 19 was to search Sous Valley for Tawny Eagle and the probably extirpated Dark Chanting Goshawk. The last sighting of the Goshawk is more than 10 years old. Planting ourselves on a hill, we got our number 350 – Short-toed Eagle.
The Short-toed Eagles are migrating north, and later next day driving across the High Atlas, in a high altitude pass, we saw flocks of Short-toed Eagles going north. Migration has started, driving further we saw newly arrived flocks of Red-rumped Swallows, Common Swift and Sedge Warbler.
Camping the night in a dry river bed which is a known nesting site for Egyptian Nightjar. We had red recent reports of Egyptian Nightjars that have just arrived at Merzuga. We didn’t hear any though.
Sunday 19, the project of the day is to find the sub species Mahgreb Wheater. According to IOC it’s a Mourning Wheatear, but according to Lars Svensson and the Collins guide, it’s a full species. We followed the Gosney guide, driving slowly along a road known to host the Wheatear. It’s a species that has steep rocky slopes as it’s habitat. We searched such areas to no avail. Eventually Erik says – I think it’ll sit in a bush on flat ground – Mårten and I go – Yeahh .. sure. One minute later, Erik finds it on flat ground, in a small bush.
With the Wheatear (which WILL be split) in the bag, we decided to cross the Atlas mountains before dark. The Mourning Wheatear female looks like the male, this subspecies has the female all different.
Last real birding day in Morocco, High Atlas and high altitude species at the ski resort Oukaimeden which at least for birders is more famous for the African Crimson-winged Finch than it is for its slopes. We had read quite a few birding reports with groups failing to get all the way to the end of the road due to weather conditions. Not to worry, we got there and lot’s of high-altitude birds there, in particular the price bird.
This bird recently used to be the same as the similar looking Eurasian Crimson-winged Finch which we’ll tick in Turkey, but is now a split. This appears to happen quite often with species that are the same/similar, but have radically geographically distributions. Same thing with the Desert Warbler. Lot’s of other good birds at Oukaimeden.
As well as the locally resident Horned Lark which is a possible future split
Now that we’re diverging into the mine field of sub species, why don’t we all go full dutch, i.e split everything. I give you the Atlas Chaffinch and the Moroccan Pied Wagtail
Final remarks on this Morocco trip. Morocco is a very easy country to travel, people are friendly and helpful, and even though we don’t speak French, everything went smooth and easy. Massive amount of police check points, especially in the south. However, the policemen are correct and friendly, it just takes time. We’d like give super special thanks to Mohamed Amezian who has provided excellent help on a number of occasions when we were stumped. Thanks!! and hopefully we’ll hang some on our April return trip.
Thursday Feb 16 we allocated the entire day to search for Bonelli’s Eagle in the mountains south of Guelmim. We had been told about a cliff with nests by Miguel Perea. We went there and sure enough, the cliff had hosted raptors – but none were there. Massive amounts of Wheatears though, mostly Red-tailed and also Desert, Black and Northern.
We lunched below the cliff, spent time, waited and eventually gave up after a couple of hours. Went further on the small mountain road on chance and – dang!
A rare bird, according to Collins Bird Guide, approximately 600 pairs exist in the entire region. This one is an adult.
Went north towards the famous NP Oued Massa which is famous for it’s population of the almost extinct Northern Bald Ibis. We sneak-camped at the entrance to the park which had reports of Red-necked Nightjar. Listening in the dark after what has become Mårtens boogie-bird. He has searched for it on numerous occasions to no avail.
The morning of Friday Feb 17 started out with some excellent general birding. The main target was the Black-crowned Tchagra, but we just – birded. Lot’s of common, but nice birds.
Eventually we also found the Tchagra.
Despite it’s appearance, it has a beautiful – easiliy identified song. Two main targets remained in the area, we started with what we thought was the hardest and also most important, the Ibis. They’re not especially easy to find – they roam the area – which is large. We searched for hours on the “wellknown” spots. While doing so, we saw the goodlooking ssp algeriensis of Southern Grey Shrike. Very dark form.
Again, just spending time on the right spot payed off – a flock of 21 Ibises came flying in.
Next target was Brown-throated Martin. According to the Gosney guide, they were nesting close to a bridge, just outside of the NP. We spent some time on the bridge, but no swallow. What often happens when we wait – after a while, everybody just starts to bird. Once you do that, other birds appear. In this case, some common but nevertheless nice birds.
No Martins here, neither in a pool we also visited. We gave up, and went further north towards Agadir and Oued Sous. The Gosney guide suggests to look at a place close the entrance of the Royal Palace. The Martin was there alright. Again, a really good WP species.
Now, just the Red-necked Nightjar remained. Birded the river and the forest around while waiting for the dark. Barbary Partridges and Stone Curlews in the forest and lots of gulls on the river.
Gosney recommends the area close to the entrance of the Palace for the Nightjar. The king actually lives there, and thus the place is heavily guarded. No chance in hell to enter. Once dark fell, we silently went without lights along the fence, listening attentively in the dark. After an hour or so, Mårten and Erik heard the bird, I didn’t due to age and too many Rock’n Roll concerts. We went further in and finally I heard the bird too … phhhu. We were fantasising about what we should say if the guards saw us in the dark, with what appears to be high-tec gear. Stay back! We’re the idiot-margot-wallström-attack-team .. mmm maybe not.
Anyways – full goddamn cleanup in Sous Massa – feels just great.
This night we slept in El-AAiun the capital of Western Sahara. If a non-existing country can have a capital. For the politically inclined readers you can read up on that on the Wikipedia entry on Western Sahara. It sure seems to me as if the Moroccans did a major land-grab in the sixties. Anyways, we’re birders not activists so we went down to the river early in the morning. The river that flows through El-Aaiun seems to us to be one of the best spots in WP to find rarities. It just has to attract lost vagrants. Lots of shore birds, lots of reeds to hide in. Two new WP ticks there for us, Eurasian Reed Warbler and Glossy Ibis. Whoever has this as his/her local patch will one day strike gold.
Drove north and made a smoke stop at the site for the Kelp Gull close to Akhfennir and we found 4 Kelp Gulls, two adult and two what we believe are 2nd winter birds.
Drove north back to the fields south-west of Gulemim where we earlier searched for the Thick-billed Lark. This time loaded with fresh coordinates from our dutch friends, Norbert Van De Grind and team. The fields were packed with hundreds of Short-toed Lark.
This looked promising, because a week ago there were none. Eventually we found the Lark.
There is paved road going from Dahkla to Aouserd which is a place of minimal significance in the desert. The road is one of those famous birding roads with plenty of wadis along the barren desert road. We were expecting more raptors along the road than what we have seen, a few Kestrels and Long-legged Buzzards.
Parts of this desert is shrub land, whereas others are – well just sand. We had a long list of Aouserd road specialities to tick off there and we got them all except the Thick-billed Lark which we can get later further north in Morocco.
We decided to make camp at the most famous wadi, called Oued Jenna. If you check that point in eBird, you’ll see that we’re not the first visitors. Awesome to camp under the stars when there is no light pollution whatsoever.
Once the dark settled, we heard the first Golden Nightjars playing. At least two, maybe more. This is a fairly new WP species and AFAWK Oued Jenna is the only place you can get them in WP. We made a recording of the sound at GOLDEN-NIGHTJAR-Oued-Jenna-2017-02-13.mp3
On the other hand, driving back, we passed yet another (unnamed) wadi that looked even better than Oued Jenna, under-birded is probably not an exaggeration. A dutch team from bancdarguin camped on the other side of the road, they shared some whiskey and good company – nice guys. We drove on the road for an hour trying to get a visual to no avail.
Woke at dawn – and it was mist.
Target birds in the wadi were Cricket Warbler and Sudan Golden Sparrow. The warblers were easy – albeit hard to photograph, whereas the Sudan Golden Sparrow was harder, and we only saw a few.
The wadi was also filled with Subalpine Warblers. Felt really good with breakfast after such a morning.
Walked east in the wadi after breakfast and found two Greater Spotted Cuckoos. Soon the heat made us weak and birding was slow. It’s winter there now, however in mid day it’s above 30 degrees.
In the afternoon we went searching for Dunn’s Lark. Some 15 km west of Oued Jenna we found two. Spectacular bird. Hard to find and perfectly adapted to the sand, making it almost invisible. Thank’s Norbert and team for the coordinates.
Possible future split on this species too. Spent the remainder of afternoon searching for our lacking Aouserd species. Mårten and Erik found a wolf.
This appears to be something extraordinary, we really don’t have a clue here, but it appears as if Birding Frontiers has.
Worst possible dinner in Auserd and then slow driving back to camp in the dark looking for stuff on the road. Lots of mice, Jerboas, lizzards, hares, hedgehogs etc on the road in the night. But then we saw this awsome viper – horns and all.
What a beauty. Approaching the Oued Jenna, we had a brief glimpse of the Golden Nightjar crossing the road – thus no pics 🙁 What a day, birding doesn’t get much better.
Tuesday Feb 14, woke a dawn, no mist. Two Auserd species remain, and we start with what we believe is the hardest, but also the most important. The African Desert Warbler. The dutch guys we met earlier had seen it, and entered coordinates on observado.org. We went there and searched for maybe an hour until we found a pair – yellow eyes and all.
Desert birding is truly agreeable, it’s active, you have to search for the birds. You have to walk – which is something we all like.
Also, since it’s so barren, there are so few things – the thing you find you ponder upon – like these strange melons that grow. I ate some, and was disgusting. I wonder who eats this – and why.
Before giving up on Auserd, we decided to search a little bit more for the Thick-billed Lark. Saw mostly Cream-coloured Coursers and Thick-knees though 🙂
Now back to the north, sleeping at Hotel La Grand Gare at El-Aaiun – capital of West-Sahara.
Dahkla is a city in the south of the Western Sahara. Sea watching there turned out to be excellent. The city shores hosts a certain population of Royal Tern, so we had go there regardless. Anyways, we parked ourselves at the tip of the point, and started to scan the sea. Hundreds of Great Skuas and Gannets.
But best of all, plenty European Storm Petrels. At home this is an exceptionally rare bird, and having the privilege of studying the jizz of these small birds over and over again was a great learning experience. The European Storm Petrel is easy to id, more tricky were the birds we identified as Band-rumped Storm Petrel. Larger, generally blacker and completely different flight pattern. We saw these bird sufficiently well to ensure they were not Leach’s Storm Petrel. Both species of Petrels were very tricky to photograph – thus no pics.
The village of Mahmid in the south-east of Morocco hosts a Pied Crow. Apparently the bird has been there for the last couple of years. It’s usually seen close to “Hotel Kasbah Sahara Services” which is the place to stay at when visiting Mahmid. We spoke about the bird to the folks at the hotel, even offering 100 money to whoever finds the bird for us. This offer triggered some frenzied interest from the folks working there. Apparently they hadn’t realised that it was possible to capitalise on a “simple crow”. Now they have, and we recommend future searchers of the crow to either stand on a hill nearby, or even better, on the roof of the hotel.
We started out at dawn searching for the crow, usual tactics with split up team and walkie-talkies. Bad tactics for this bird, better to just stand still together and wait for the crow, it’s mobile and flies by. Mårten found the bird, I went to Mårten fast by car and got it too. Erik was upheld by militaries checking him, freaking out. Eventually Erik got it too. Remember our rules, we all have to see/hear the bird.
Once we had the crow, we started out on a long drive towards Tissint where we were planning to search for Sandgrouses. There is a spot on the river, 8 km downstream from Tissint where Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse come to drink in the evening. The other Sandgrouse species drink in the morning. Once we had set our tent at the site, we started to wait for the incoming Lichtenstein’s. A car came with 3 happy Dutch birders, with Norbert Van De Grint. First thing they say once they’ve jumped out of the car – Eyy, are you the Swedes ???. We’re famous now. We all waited well into the dark for the Sandgrouses, finally Erik (as usual) finds them in the dark, poor views and we also heard them.
In the morning, we waited for the other Sandgrouses to come to drink. They came at 9.30 in large flocks. Both Spotted and Crowned. Nice.
Once the Sandgrouses were bagged, we remade our plans due to weather forecasts and Golden Nighjar gossip. Plenty of snow in the Atlas mountains made us decide to go directly south, aiming for Dahkla in Western Sahara. Good birding en route with e.g Moussier’s Redstart.
En route to Dahkla, we had the important stop of the Khnifiss National Parc where we camped, and searched all day for Kelp Gull. Eventually we got it through hard work. A really really good WP bird.
Sleepover at Tarfya which has a really nice pier, we spent some time there before sunset. Plenty of Skuas that we’ll check more thoroughly tomorrow morning.
Zaida plains is the place for the Dupont’s Lark. This is the most reliable place for the species in the entire WP. The Dupont’s Lark has a spectacular song, and is supposedly hard to see. Zaida was freezing cold and windy, and we started out on the plains well before sunrise. We used our usual tactics for search. We split up, all three of us and search – then use Walki-Talkies to communicate. Just walking straight out on to a large plains area – which from a distance looks completely barren and search for larks is more than nice – it’s fantastic. We searched pretty much all day for the larks to no avail. We used both the Gosney guide as well as recent sightings on eBird. We gave up in the afternoon and continued south towards Merzouga. We’ll have to revisit the the Zaida plains when we come back to Morocco in April. Hmmmm. A few good species found on the plains though, Red-rumped Wheatear which was a lifer for all of us, as well as Lesser Short-toed Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Shore Lark and Temminck’s Lark.
Close to Merzouga we decided to camp in the desert. The idea of travelling with tent and camping gear rocks, it gives complete freedom and entirely removes the stress factor of finding a shabby hotel. Unless the climate is like Zaida, it’s really nice to sleep outdoors. The stars in the evening are a bonus. Woke up to find the car battery dead, decided to bird the morning hours before attacking the battery problem. Awesome birding around our camp site, which was carefully chosen as the most reliable place for Tristram’s Warbler according to the Gosney guide. And sure enough, they were there.
Also plenty of White-crowned Wheatears, Trumpeter Finch, Fulvus Babbler and Desert Lark. The nearby Village was called Merzane.
Also the Mahgreb Lark was common, a recent split from Crested Lark. It’s paler, has less defined facial pattern and has a slightly longer bill.
Fixed the battery with help from mechanics in Erfoud and drove on towards a reliable place for Pharao Eagle-owl called Rissani Cliffs. The Owl was calmly roosting in the evening sun some 50 meters up on the cliff in a hollow cleft. Slept in Rissani.
Tuesday, Feb 7, the plan was to drive towards Mhamid on the Algerian border where a Pied Crow has been reliable the last few years. The weather here is hot during mid day, thus we are trying to arrange everything so that we can actively bird during the morning hours, drive during the day, and then bird the last two hours before sunset. We drove out of Rissani and just picked the first spot that looked good, spent some time there and then picked another one. The second one turned out to be good. Found The Saharan Scrub-warbler. This bird is not a full species according to IOC and we have said that we shouldn’t spend time on sub species, on the other hand it is split into a full species in the latest edition of Collins, and Lars Svensson is rarely wrong, thus we expect this to become an armchair tick in the not too distant future.
We found it a bit strange with the wadis, some are empty whereas others are teeming with birds although they look the same. On these plains, we split up as usual, and the wadi Erik picked turned out to be birdy, whereas the other two were empty. Difficult. Other good birds here were Bar-tailed Lark which was common, Desert Lark, Hoopoe Lark, Tristram’s Warbler Moussier’s Redstart.
Once the day started to get hot, we drove towards Mhamid, long drive. A common bird in the desert is the Brown-necked Raven, it’s not easy to see the “brown neck” but this shot has it well shown.
Just before we reached Mhamid, two Cream-coloured coursers flew over the road. Again, a dream-bird, one of those birds from the Collins guide we have drooled over but never seen (me and erik)
Spent the last hour before sunset searching for the crow. Tomorrow we’ll get the crow.
We’re birding again although our winter trip to Morocco sure didn’t start out well. Arrived at Rabat Airport and the customs officer confiscated all scopes and also my camera + 300/2.8 Canon lens. Our french suck (ashamed) so we couldn’t talk ourselves out of the problem. The Moroccan authorities are a wee bit worried over journalists entering the country, and apparently our gear looked sufficiently professional (Thanks Swarovski!!) to make them worried. We were told that we needed a permit from the Ministry of Communications to be allowed to photograph in the country. Furthermore Mårtens bag was lost en route, so we were pretty goddamn depressed when we left the airport on Jan 2.
All of next day was spent at the ministry, manoeuvring through the intricacies of north african bureaucracy. Interesting experience. Eventually we managed to convince them that the scopes were ok, and we should be able to collect the scopes, and then later when the permit was finally signed by the absent director, we should be able to also pick up the camera. At the airport though, picking up Mårtens lost luggage and the scopes, we got the camera too. Dang. Good to go.
First target was Marsh Owl, at Merja Zerga. Difficult. First evening spent on the western shore, checking for flying owls. Nada. Next morning spent on eastern shore, several spots, looking for flying owls. Nada. We then resorted to calling Mohamed Amezian, local birder who is our goto guy here in Morocco who is running the excellent site Maghreb Ornitho. Mohamed arranged a date with a local (to the lake) guide who helped us to find the owl. It turned out that we had been really really close. The owls are hard to flush, pretty much as a Short-eared Owl. Finally we got it, not just one but four. A dream bird. The english name – Marsh Owl – is much less enticing than the swedish – “Kapuggla”
Also found a Little Owl at the site, this has been a boogey bird for me over the years. It’s not a rare bird, it’s just that I’ve never seen it before. I’ve been in the right habitat hundreds of times, and everybody says – ohh it’s easy, they usually just perch on poles in the fields, just keep your eyes open and you’ll see it – yeah right – I say not. Well, now I have seen it.
Pretty good birding in general at Merja Zerga National Park, lot’s of human activities around, but the marsh itself is apparently not possible to exploit – thus it remains. Plenty of common marsh species there.
Went quickly to Lac Sidi Bourghaba and was lucky like crazy there. Plenty of White-headed Ducks and also a few Red-knobbed Coot. It’s possible that the White-headed Duck is the prettiest of our WP ducks. Mmmmmm.
Drove into the night and had our first tent night at the so called Hidden parking lot which is inside a small forest with a population of Double-spurred Francolin. Awesome to camp with Tawny Owl (ssp Mauritanica) hooting before falling asleep. Also Stone Curlew calling in the dark. Woke at dusk, Erik screams – FRANCOLIN CALLING. We got fairly good views of the Francolins flying on stiff wings. No pics!!
Next target was Lac Aoua where the king has a residence. There we picked up the last duck. Marbled duck, and now we can almost tear out all the duck pages from the Collins guide.
Drove over the Middle Atlas mountains, plenty of snow and plenty of happy Moroccans playing in the snow. Sleepover at shabby hotel in Zeida. Tomorrow we’ll be at it again.
We’re birding again. We’ve now spent quite some extra time doing nothing at home. Both Mårten and Erik had some personal stuff to do, but now we’re in the air again. We have managed to tick off some tricky birds at home though.
The Siberian Accentor lingering in Lindesberg was important.
The Arctic Redpoll is not a particularly uncommon bird in Sweden during winter, but it’s far from trivial to find. Could have been missed with some bad luck
And yesterday, we had twitch tour to Skåne (Scania) to pick up the wintering American Black Duck that’s been there for several winters now.
Tundra Bean Goose yesterday is also a good bird.
And tomorrow we’re leaving for Morocco. We have been wavering back and forth on the tactics in Morocco. We want to go to Mauretania, initially we though we should do that on a separate trip. Then we found out it’s possible to actually acquire Visas in Rabat, making it possible to drive across the border from Western Sahara to Mauretania. We’ve decided to skip Mauretania on this trip, and do that later on our return trip to Morocco. It’s possible to fly there and acquire a visa at the airport. It would be too much boring driving to do all of Morroco/West Sahara and then also Mauretania in 3 weeks.
As a WP lister though, it feels as if Mauretania is very important, flipping through the Birds of Africa south of Sahara book shows quite a number of African species that ought to be possible on the WP southern most border. One can always drool over the possibility to find a new species for the region. Dream on.
On a different topic, yesterday we got to see a flock of Grey Partridges.
When we ‘re spending time together, in the car or just hanging out, we often speculate over different species. Where/when will see this or that. Grey Partridge is such a species, It’s not especially common anywhere included in our itenerary, it would have been possible to miss. On the other hand, the bird is not sufficiently rare to deserve a directed effort. Spending a few days in Skåne is by no means a sure way of seeing the Grey Partridge. Anyways, yesterday a Common Buzzard scared a small flock that took to it’s wings. Nice. It wouldn’t surprise me that when this year is over, we’re lacking something that is pretty common, like maybe Spotted Nutcracker or Three-toed Woodpecker and there is no time left to repair the damage.
Back home for a couple of days until we head off for Morocco. There are a few rare birds around in Sweden. We went straight for the only (AFAWK) remaining Siberian Accentor. An individual that has been seen regularly in a garden in Lindesberg. The bird disappeared during the bad weather a week ago, but was seen again yesterday by the owner of the house with the garden. (Not a birder) We went there this morning an Mårten found the skulking bird after an hour or so.
In southern Sweden there is also Gyrfalcon and a Black Duck, we might pick those off during our stay home.
It turned out to be the right move to go for a twitching tour in the UK. We were – with a lot of help from UK birders – able to locate all the rare UK visitors that we set out to tick, and then some.
All in all, 14 rare ones in the UK, with Bonapartes’s Gull, Pacific Loon and the Dusky Thrush at the top. Adding some long distance shots of some of the gems.
We were pretty close to the Lady Amherst’s Pheasant site, but we decided to not even attempt the bird. Apparently one male might still exists inside a fenced area, and it’s also supposedly really hard to get to see. Poor bird.
The thrush in Derbyshire has been around for quite some time. When we arrived at the village, there were some depressed birders there that hadn’t seen the bird during the entire day. Not good. Eventually we found it though, among all the Redwing Thrushes. Good thing we had the picture, the local birders didn’t really trust us.
Also – we have had a few questions on weather the Lesser Scaup we ticked wasn’t actually a Greater Scaup. We feel confident it’s a Lesser. I include here an additional picture from the lake which better shows the steeper forehead.
We have also noticed that there is smudge on the right side of our bird, which also shows well on “good” pictures from the lake of the Lesser Scaup there. Hence – the tick stands.
Furthermore, and I don’t think we have officially mentioned this earlier. We’re not following the Netfugl list as we originally stated. At the time, we though that was a good idea, but Björn Andersson from the iGoTerra team convinced us that the IOC is the proper list for us to follow. Quite a few UK birders wondered why we didn’t go for the Hudsonian Whimbrel that we just drove by. That bird is not on the IOC list, it might end up there, but even that seems unlikely, hence we skipped the bird. Same thing with Red Grouse.
Since we’re able to tick sub species in the iGoTerra app (and we do) it’ll be easy to translate our IOC based list to a Netfugl one if we should desire. I’m sure someone will do that. News today was that BOU adapts to the IOC list – so that is indeed good news. The mess with different countries running their own lists is unfortunate.
Yesterday was a bit of a disappointment, the Stonechat was rejected, and we couldn’t find the Lesser Yellowlegs at Lytchett Fields. Luckily we decided to spend the night in Poole and make a second attempt at connecting with Yellowlegs. After a few seconds of confusion with a Spotted Redshank, another wader flew into view and we had the Yellowlegs.
The Green-winged Teal was still there.
Went straight for the Bonaparte’s gull which was reported from “Johns Hide” at a marvellous area called Dawlish Warren close to Exeter. American Widgeon was twitched en route. Spent maybe an hour there until we found the bird among all the Black-headed Gulls. Easily spotted in flight with almost white under wings.
This is a really good WP bird, one of the heavy targets for our UK twitch. Moved on towards a Lesser Scaup further west into Cornwall.
At this time we decided to call it a day and go look for a hotel in Penzance, however en route we decided to give a reported 2cy Ringed-billed Gull a chance at River Gannel and miraculosly we found that one too at sunset. What a spectacular twitch, six rare Yanks in the same day.
We’d like to thank Chris Batty who has sent us these well organised lists with tickable birds with exact geo coordinates making it possible for us to just move from one bird to another.
First day of crazy improvised UK twitching tour. There is a massive amount of rarities residing in the UK currently. We want them all, or more succinctly, need them.
Here is the short list as graciously provided to us by Cris Batty at Rare Birds Alert.
Pacific Diver Penzance in Cornwall 50.1152, -5.5309 (can be elusive)
Hudsonian Whimbrel Perranuthnoe in Cornwall 50.1136, -5.4511
Green-winged Teal Hayle Estuary in Cornwall 50.1762, -5.4371
Lesser Scaup Dozmary Pool in Cornwall 50.5443, -4.5498
Bonaparte’s Gull Dawlish Warren in Devon 50.6146, -3.4248 (elusive)
Ring-necked Duck Chew Valley Lake in Somerset 51.3395, -2.6048
Lesser Yellowlegs park at 50.7364, -2.0417 then walk southwest along Slough Lane and follow signs to Sherford Pool or French’s Pools (also Green-winged Teal on same pools)
Ring-billed Gull Blashford Lakes in Hampshire 50.8786, -1.7867 (late afternoon from Tern Hide)
Ring-necked Duck Abberton Reservoir in Essex 51.8146, 0.8263
Pallas’s Warbler Kessingland in Suffolk 52.4107, 1.7238
Golden Pheasant Wolferton in Norfolk 52.8235, 0.4754 (dawn is best)
Lady Amherst’s Pheasant Lidlington in Bedfordshire 52.0375, -0.5528 (very elusive)
Dusky Thrush Beeley in Derbyshire 53.2063, -1.6037
Black Scoter Goswick in Northumberland 55.7091, -1.8975 (hard when windy)
American Wigeon Caerlaverock in Scotland 54.9771, -3.4821 (also Green-winged Teal on same pond)
Ring-billed Gull Strathclyde Loch in Clyde, Scotland 55.7888, -4.0299 (comes to bread)
Hooded Merganser Barr Loch, Lochwinnoch in Clyde, Scotland 55.7875, -4.6262
Surf Scoter St Andrews in Fife, Scotland 56.3451, -2.8008 (also check off the beach north of here)
Ring-necked Duck Pitlochry in Perthshire, Scotland 56.7081, -3.7385
On islands off the Scottish coast there are wintering Cackling Goose (Islay in Inner Hebrides), American Coot (North Uist in Outer Hebrides), Northern Harrier (North Ronaldsay in Orkney Isles), and Killdeer (Shetland Isles), but each will probably take multiple days travelling.
The only vagrant Snow Goose (in Lancashire) has gone missing right now, but you might count one at Tittesworth Reservoir in Staffordshire 53.1320, -2.0127 as Category C (it’s not probably not good enough though!)
So, quite a lot. One bird that’s not on the list, was the reported Stejnegers’s Stonechat, a recent IOC split. That’s the bird we went for first, found it. Dang!.
We were told on site that there has been DNA taken from the bird bla bla and it’s rock solid. Apparently the DNA guys had mixed up the samples and it’s just a regular Stonechat – we were told after the twitch. Win some loose some. We also spent a few hours at the Stonechat site (Dungeness) looking for a Ring-necked Duck to no avail.
Went west, towards Poole and tried to find a recently reported Lesser Yellowlegs – again to no avail. Will retry tomorrow morning, the Yellowlegs is too good a bird to leave behind. Same pool as the hiding Yellowlegs we did however connect with our first American tick for the year – a nice male Green-winged teal.
Two really nice birding sanctuaries visited today, lot’s of winter birds, Godwits, Chuffinches, Dunnocks etc.
Tomorrow, we’ll find those Yellowlegs, and then move on towards the Bonaparte’s gull at Exeter.
We’re starting to run out of birds here in Kuwait, there is of course the possibility of finding new birds, but currently there is nothing here for us that we can go for. Thus we decided to make our Kuwait stay a bit shorter and go for a twitch tour in the UK, plenty of rarities there at the moment, in articular Dusky Thrush and Pacific Diver
Yesterday we spent all day in Wafra searching. We did find what we believe is the best farm there, Rosemary’s farm residing exactly on the border to KSA. We found an odd looking Yellow Wagtail that got us excited for a short while.
The stay here in Kuwait has been fantastic, and we’d like to thank all in the local birding community here for enthusiastic help.
In particular Abdulrahman Al-Sirhan Alenezi who has been invaluable. Check out Birds of Kuwait if you want to plan a trip here. Markus Craig has been fantastic, loads of help and energy, and Omar Alsaheen helped in his calm relaxed way. We’re already looking forward to the return trip here in April.
Today we decided to make an attempt at the crakes, in particular Little Crake should be possible, but also Baillon’s crake should in theory be possible. After less than an hour in the morning, we received an alarm in the WhatsApp group, Markus Craig had Buff-bellied Pipit at the Pivot fields where we yesterday found the Sociable Lapwings. Our first actual twitch was a go. Fast in the car, drive recklessly and arrive at the site – the bird had just been flushed by a Hen Harrier. The Pipits returned and we could tick the Japonicus. One more really good bird pocketed.
Drove back to continue the Crake search and we got fender bended by a Mercedes. Three hours, two police stations and paper trail completed, we returned at Jahra Pool Reserve to continue the Crake search. We decided to split up, and simultaneously search different spots. Erik had good views of a Little Crake at dusk, Mårten and I missed it. We cannot tick it, our rules say that all three must see or hear the bird. We’re going to have to work more on the elusive Crakes.
Also, we’ve decided to attempt photographs of all Snipes. There is always the remote possibility of a Pin-tailed Snipe and to id that safely, we surely need photographs. Lots of Common Snipe in Jahra Pool Reserve.
Searched and flushed a Jack snipe, good and semi-hard-to-find bird which we needed.
Finally, tenaciousness pays off. Birded hard some areas today we knew other birders don’t visit that often. In the afternoon, we went to the famous Sulaibiya Pivot Fields. The area is closed for public access, apparently there were some arguments between the owner of the fields and birders some 5 years ago, and since, no one has access to one of the best birding sites in Kuwait. We decided to walk into the backside of the area and scope. It started out great with 2 Booted Eagles where we stopped the car.
Walked a gravel area for a few kilometers and Erik shouts PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER. It’s far away, we all scope and then some murmuring … uhh . it has an eyebrow. That’s bad – right. Until Erik again shouts – it’s not Golden Plover, it’s SOCIABLE LAPWING !!
It turns out Erik was right the first time as well, it was two Pacific Golden Plovers and two Sociable Lapwings walking together with a flock of Northern Lapwings. Possibly our best find so far on BYWP. Local birder Mike Pope says Sociable Lapwing is 9th record for Kuwait whereas Pacific Golden Plover is more common. The pics we got aren’t that great – but with some luck, other birders will try to locate the birds in the next days and hopefully they will get better shots.
Our birds were clearly smudgy and not white on the underside of the wings during flight, the Oriental Birdclub shows it well. After raising the alarm on local WhatsApp, Omar Alsaheen and Marcus Craig immediately showed up 🙂 We than tried the south west side of the field, which is where birders usually go. There we found an additional 9 Sociable Lapwings. They are all probably wintering in the fields. Finished off with 4 Richard’s Pipits, a Pallid Harrier and an adult Eastern Imperial Eagle.
The Shikra is silently sailing up as our most wanted bird. We have now spent two days searching for it. Yesterday, we spent the morning and more in Jahra Farms. A possible Shikra was reported there. We found a Sparrowhawk that made us excited for a short while. The possible one was also downgraded today to Sparrowhawk.
Today, we spent the afternoon together with Omar Alsaheen searching for two Shikras reported in Abdali Farms to no avail.
We’re confused regarding the id characteristics of Shikra, the coloration of the cheek, the book says blue cheek whereas pictures and Omar says it doesn’t have to be blue … hmmmm. No mature males here, they are easy. Nahh, it seems as the characteristics – “slightly rounded tail” and “thick legs” – are the only reliable ones. So, apart from the bird being rare, it is also disgustingly alike a Sparrowhawk. This will be difficult.
There were older reports of a Shikra in Mutlas Ranch and we think Marcus Craig was searching his local patch (Mutlas Ranch) looking for it today. We’re just going to have to find one ourselves. The only certain Shikras currently reported are the ones in Abdali that we searched for today, they were seen last week by Ouda Al-Bathali.
Westernmost point of Kuwait, small oasis by name of Al-Abraq. Again, a classical migrant trap that we will surely visit during our April trip. For quite some time, two Hume’s Warblers have been wintering there. A good bird for us, which with some bad luck we could have missed during the year.
Together with Marcus Craig, and the Belgian/Danish team we drove straight out into the dessert. Completely barren and flat. Found 4 Temminck’s Lark and 9 Greater Hoopoe Larks. Both dessert species to drool over.
The trick was to look for camel turds or general garbage, that attracts the few birds residing in the barren desert. Beautiful.
The very first thing we did this morning was to gather at the Jahla Pool Reserve to have a fresh look at the suspicious Martin found yesterday by Neil Tovey. A bunch of guys. Us three, the group with Belgian birder Joachim Bertrands, Omar Ashaheen, and Marcus Craig. Omar managed to get good shots with his monster camera, and it unfortunately turned out to be a regular Sand Martin – close but no cigar.
Went to Kabd Reserve, a research station with restricted access. AbdulRahman had arranged the permits. Serious business. Desert shrub area, with a stable population of Black-crowned Finchlark that were easy to find. Joachim Bertrands group found a Finch Wheatear for us, apart from that it was pretty empty there.
North of Kuwait City there is a ranch called Mutla Ranch, it’s situated in the middle of the desert and looks like a crazy good migration trap. It also attracts some wintering birds. Together with Joachim Bertrands and team, we searched the ranch for a couple of hours. Not much activity, but when we return here in April it’ll probably be teeming with migrating warblers. The type of birding where you slowly walk through thickets and search for that rarity is loved by everyone. Mårten Wikström found the gem. Dream species, a roosting Pallid Scops Owl.
Yesterday AbdulRahman accompanied us to Abdali Farms close to the Iraq border. We had two important target species there, Red-wattled Lapwing and Afghan babbler. Both were relatively easy to find, the Lapwing were hiding during the day, but reoccured in the afternoon in the field where they usually reside. Major bonus species was found too, a few days ago, local birder by name of Ouda Al-Bathali found an Indian Roller which we were also able to relocate.
After two days of pretty slow birding, and also just going for birds already found by other birders, we were today eager to bird more actively. We birded parks, and shores close to the city, collecting several easy species. It feels cocky to be able to write that e.g Masked Shrike is easy.
The shores were fantastic, the amount of wintering waders is massive, I know that Oman is supposed to be even better, but I have never before seen this amount of waders before. Thousands of Dunlins, several hundred Broad-billed Sandpipers and best of all, 85 Crab plovers. Finished off the afternoon scanning the flocks of Greater Flamingo, looking for that single Lesser. Apparently the last winters at least one, possibly the same individual, Lesser Flamingo has wintered among the large flocks of Greater Flamingo, and dang, we found it. Apparently it’s the 5th record for Kuwait.
This a proper WP rarity.
There is a friendly WhatsApp group that is being used by local birders, the last thing that happened this evening was that a local birder reported a flock of Rock Martins in Jahra Pool Reserve, but among those martins there was one individual that was different, a pale looking martin with gray/brown throat and no breast band – thus tomorrow morning we’ll go hunting for Grey-throated Martin!!!
Today, our second day birding the full year, we decided to do some primary birding close to the border of Saudi Arabia. The morning was spent in a farming village called Al-Wafra. Birding there was boring and slow, nothing out of the ordinary was found. All farms in the village are closed to the public, so you have to enter, find the proprietor and ask for access. Apart from the poor birding, that worked out nice, people in Kuwait are truly nice and forthcoming.
The afternoon, full focus was on Red-tailed Wheatear, a.k.a the much more exotic sounding name of Persian Wheatear. Finally we found the bird close to a village called Al-Nuwaiseeb, close to the Saudi border.
Finished off the afternoon, by asking the Arab owner of a posh beach house if we could stand on his rocks and watch the sea. He more than smiled, and also sent his Bangladesh man servant to serve us tee as the sun settled over the gulf as the Pallas’s Gulls were sweeping by.
First day, early start this morning with a tree full of White Wagtails roosting in the dark next to the highway, several hundred Wagtails sitting still in the dark. Not how we usually see this lovely species.
We have altogether 16 days of birding here, we will run short of hotspots. Today we decided to to bird an area north of the city, called Jahra.
Several nice birding spots there with best called Jahra Pool Reserve. It looks to me as if they let the cleaned water from the city of Al-Jahra just flow into a swamp before it reaches the Kuwait Bay, resulting in a fantastic wetland. This area is closed, but the amazing AbdulRahman Al-Sirhan Alenezi who works as a local bird guide, and runs the BirdsOfKuwait site gratiously stepped up and offered to guide us for free, and also arrange permits to all closed areas.
So, at dawn we entered together with AbdulRahman and a Belgian team with Joachim Bertrands. Top species in the Pool Reserve were White-Tailed Lapwing, Greater spotted eagle, the fulvescens morph.
Another species that made us jump, although expected there, was the Asian Desert Warbler.
As well as:
The afternoon was spent in an agricultural area close to the city of Jahra called Jahra farms. People grow vegetables there in a small scale. Here we found the top species of the day, Crested Honey Buzzard. A rarity, hopefully not the last! Hypocolius is nice too.
Altogether 79 species the first day, it might be that we never reach this number of new ticks ever during the remainder of the year. Tomorrow we go south to Al-Wafra, also an agricultural area, this one isolated in the desert. All ticks of today can be seen at our iGoTerra Page. Several good ones not mentioned here.
Finally the iGoTerra integration is finished. I think it’ll work excellent for us. We’re already publishing this now, both for fun, but also to test the integration.
The checklist that can be seen now is our recent sitings in Stockholm, on Dec 31 the iGoTerra team will zero the list and the game is on.
Here is how it works.
We have an iGoTerra account assigned to the project, graciously provided free of charge by the iGoTerra team.
We’ll enter everything we see in their pocket app iGoTerra pocket while in the field. This is done offline with the country checklist previously downloaded in the app. This must be done with Internet access.
Once we have Internet access, we hit upload on our checklist.
Our totals will then automatically appear here live.
Good news, we shall have a very promising collaboration with the iGoTerra team. They have awesome software which specialises in displaying observations, species, sub species maps, etc. They will help us with the integration between this WordPress site and the feed of observations that we’ll add to iGoTerra. Nice.
A couple of years ago, the three of us did a birding trip to Texas, all of us had read the book Big Year and we had also thoroughly enjoyed the movie with Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin.
When we arrived at High Island with the iconic water tank, the idea of doing a Big Year in the Western Palearctic was first briefed.
The US birders have their area, called ABA and they do Big Years in that region. We europeans have a birding area, called WP – Western Palearctic and quite a few european birders maintain a WP list. I do. To our knowledge, no one has ever attempted a full Big Year in the WP region – that is what we’ll be doing in 2017. New Year will be celebrated in Kuwait city, and on January 1, the hunt is on.
The goal is to see as many bird species as possible in WP during 2017.
What is WP? In short it is Europe extend, in the east it’s bordered by the Urals, ranging into western Kazakstan down to the Caspian sea,
Northern Arabia, North Africa, all the Atlantic Islands as well as Europe proper.
We will follow the borders as defined by “BWP” (Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa: The Birds of the Western Palearctic)
The borders are indeed confusing, Mathieu Wald has a nice writeup where he tries to explain the borders at https://thelittlestint.blogspot.se/2018/02/the-boundaries-of-western-palearctic.html