Wednesday 29 May 2024

Stateside birding (part 2)

I then flew over the Rockies towards the San Francisco Bay Area, where I birded my old patches of Lake Merritt and Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland.  Here, I was glad to find this elusive Ridgway's Rail out in the open, since it was still known as a subspecies of Clapper Rail the last time I saw it.

We also went to Russian River, where there were lots of singing Wilson's Warblers and Black-headed Grosbeaks, an Osprey nest visible from our garden, and I even did some kayaking!  My final day in the Bay Area was spent in San Francisco itself, admiring the views and getting to see a small group of the city's famous Red-masked Parakeets in flight; the first new species (albeit an introduced one) of my trip.

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Stateside birding (part 1)

I spent the second half of April in the US catching up with some birds I'd not seen since my last visit there fifteen years ago!  My arrival in New York coincided with the first day of spring and it seemed as if the whole city had decided to go to Central Park.

My first native species, having seen plenty of House Sparrows and Starlings in downtown New York, was, appropriately enough this American Robin.  It looked like there had been a fall of Hermit Thrushes, which were everywhere, but I was a little too early for the main push of migration since there were very few warblers around.  I had just two and a half days in New York, this being more of a stopover on my way to the west coast, but it was especially nice to see and hear displaying Red-winged Blackbirds at Jamaica Bay since I've never really visited in spring before.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Feather forecast

Having seen my first singing Chiffchaff of the year on 4 March, I texted a friend to say it would probably be 10 days until they reached Brussels. 
Sure enough, the first one was singing in my local park on 14 March, after I had checked it and found none the previous day.  There were at least ten singing on my Brussels patch, which also confirmed a mass arrival during the night of 13-14 March.  This handsome Grey Wagtail was coming into breeding plumage, Kingfishers were busy displaying, and I found three species of butterfly, including the first Small White of the year for the Brussels region.  I predict scattered showers of singing Blackcaps any day now!

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Signs of spring

I spent a nice, sunny day at the coast yesterday and the conditions were warm enough for this Peacock, my first butterfly of the year, to appear.  Lots of Skylarks were singing, as was a single, early Chiffchaff, and the first Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets were back on their breeding grounds. 
The main targets of my trip, though, were some lingering wintering visitors I hoped to connect with before they disappear.  I started near Vlissegem, where I managed to see the two overwintering Ross's Geese after another, failed attempt two weeks ago.  Ross's Goose is often kept in wildfowl connections and a frequent escape so birds this side of the pond are usually treated with deserved suspicion and regarded as escapes.  One of this pair, however, is wearing a Canadian scientific ring, proving their wild origin and making them the first truly wild Ross's Geese accepted onto the Belgian list.  It seems they migrated the wrong way to Greenland, where they joined the local Pink-footed Geese, then migrated onwards with their host species to the latter's traditional wintering grounds along the Belgian coast.  Funnily enough, I then headed to the polders, where I almost discovered another Ross's Goose of my own, although this one turned out to be a hybrid Ross x Barnacle Goose.  I then spent several hours waiting and kept telling myself it was better to do it now than in November, but the wait finally paid off when a Short-eared Owl started hunting just before 6pm.  It put on an amazing show and was extremely successful, catching three different items of prey, presumably voles, within the first ten minutes!

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Big weekend

Great Bittern by Phil Gunson

I had a big birding weekend this past weekend, starting on Friday with a quick visit to the female Ferruginous Duck which has returned to the canal in Anderlecht every winter since 2013.  On Saturday, I guided a visiting birder to a lake in West Flanders, finding him three lifers - Bittern, Smew and Long-eared Owl.  The Bittern was showing exceptionally well right in front of the hide, as you can see, and seemed to be blowing bubbles in the water to attract fish.  This is not a behaviour I have heard about before but it seemed to be working since we witnessed it catching a young perch.

Long-eared Owl by Phil Gunson

Sunday was my annual wild goose chase around Zeeland with my Dutch birding friends.  The Brouwersdam was unusually quiet, apart from lots of Red-breasted Mergansers and a single Razorbill, although we did spot a 1000-strong flock of Brent Geese on the way.  We then moved to the location of last year's 3000+ Barnacle Geese, which were back in exactly the same spot.  This time, however, they were concealing several other species - one Tundra Bean Goose, at least two Cackling Geese, a presumed escape Ross's Goose, plus a Red-breasted Goose I only saw very briefly before the whole flock took flight and we lost it again.  By the end of the weekend, I had seen or heard a total of 95 species!

Barnacle Geese by Theo Hortensius

Friday 26 January 2024

Where to watch birds in Munich

I was in Munich last weekend and, at the suggestion of a local birder, went birding at the Starnberger See, about an hour to the south.  I did a lovely, 7.5km walk along the lakeshore from Seeshaupt to Bernried and the weather was perfect with no wind whatsoever.  The best birds were a group of five Black-throated Divers but I also saw several other species which can be tricky for me to find in Belgium, such as Goosander, Common Scoter, Red-crested Pochard, Yellow-legged Gull and Tree Sparrow.  The following day, I visited the Nymphenburger Schloßpark, which is famous for its Tawny Owls.  A local photographer, who had just taken pictures of one, gave me directions and I was soon looking at a nice, rufous morph on its daytime roost.  Finally, having researched sightings on eBird, I visited the Maximilianbrücke over the river Isar in the hope of seeing a Dipper and succeeded, with a pair of the city's thriving population of Mandarin Duck also there.

Sunday 31 December 2023

2023 review

Another year has passed by, so it's time for another review of my best birds of the past twelve months (lifers in CAPS).

January - Brambling (Brussels); in a good winter for them, I first saw one amongst Chaffinches on my Brussels patch, then well over 100 of them in the Sonian Forest.
February - Alpine Accentor (Luxembourg Province); a bizarre, medieval twitch to the individual overwintering within the walls of Bouillon castle.
March - Western Bonelli's Warbler (Forêt de Fontainebleau, France); a single, early individual located by its occasional bursts of song.
April - Booted Eagle (Mechels Broek, Antwerpen); my first in Belgium spotted circling with Buzzards during a guided tour.
May - Black-winged Stilt (West Flanders); a huge invasion this spring resulted in several breeding pairs, with 31 seen in a small, flooded field near Bruges.
June - ROCK PARTRIDGE (Savoie, France); the first of two butterflying to the trips to Modane in the French Alps finally got me this elusive species thanks to local guide Olivier Trompette.
July - Honey Buzzard (Brussels, Antwerp and Luxembourg); in what must have been a good year for them, I saw three different birds this month, starting with one over the Sonian Forest.
August - Short-toed Eagle (Liège Province); another guiding trip, another eagle, this time an immature migrating along the valley near Trois-Points and only my second in Belgium.
September - Common Crane (Otmoor, UK); a trip to England included a visit to RSPB Otmoor, where I saw an immature Crane, part of the recently re-established breeding population.
October - YELLOW-BROWED BUNTING (Vlieland, NL); a mammoth journey was required to see this 1st-year bird on the last day of its stay!
November - ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK (Ecuador); just one of the many highlights of a ten-day birding tour of the Andes.
December - Redwing (Brussels) - present almost daily in the park neighbouring my apartment and even heard singing, which is rare away from their breeding grounds.

During the year, I saw or heard 179 species in Belgium (just 1 more than last year!), with trips to the UK, The Netherlands, France and Berlin taking my European year-list to 229.  Three of these were lifers, namely Rock Partridge, Radde's Warbler and Yellow-browed Bunting, and I added three new species to my Belgian list; Alpine Accentor, Booted Eagle and Radde's Warbler.
I flew to Ecuador the long way round, adding a stopover in Atlanta, where Brown-headed Nuthatch was the only new addition to my life-list, before the flood of new species in Ecuador.  Of the 349 encountered there, 223 (almost two-thirds) were new for me, pushing my life-list to 2789 species, which means I have now seen more than 1/4 of all the birds in the world!
2023 thus ended on 618 species seen/heard in the world, the best of which was of course my most-wanted one, the Cock-of-the-Rock. 
May I wish you all a happy and birdy 2024.