Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pine Bunting in Riazzino

Pine buntings are Siberian birds and are extremely rare in Switzerland, however during the past few weeks 1 to 4 individuals have been reported every day from the small town of Riazzino. The town is near Locarno in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

I took the train from Rotkreuz near my home to Bellinzona through the new Gotthard tunnel, the longest train tunnel in the world, and then took a small regional train to Riazzino. It was a 10-minute walk to the location the Pine Buntings had been reported and as soon as I got there I saw a large flock consisting of Tree sparrows, Yellowhammers and a few Reed buntings. The flock was scattered across an area of trees and shrubs on either side of a stream. Every now and then, the whole flock would fly across a field before scattering into the trees, meaning I had to start from scratch every time. I knew it would not be easy to find a Pine Bunting in these conditions.

After searching for around a half hour I started to give up on finding the Pine buntings. I had seen so many sparrows and yellowhammers that I thought I had seen every bird in the flock. It was getting cold and my camera was getting heavy, so I decided to go back to the station. Just as I was about to turn, though, I lifted my binoculars one last time at a bunting in a tree. I knew immediately it was an adult male Pine bunting, a striking and beautiful bird. I only saw it for a few seconds, but I was satisfied.

After a while, I saw the Pine bunting again and I was able to take some pictures. The best of the pictures was still not very good, but it was enough to be certain of my identification. Later I saw a Pine bunting through another birder's scope, which really revealed the beauty of this species with its chestnut head and white cheeks. The females are far more dull, and look like yellowhammers without the yellow.

Other than the bunting, I noticed that European robins and Hooded crows were far more abundant in this canton, the latter of which is nearly unheard of where I live.

Pine Bunting - 28-01-2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

North Norfolk

I have to warn you. This post contains no pictures. The reason for this is that, being stupid,  I forgot to bring my camera charger on the trip so I couldn't take any pictures. It does, however, contain a few shots taken with my phone, not of birds but of landscapes.

I flew to London Stansted on Friday, and drove up to King's Lynn in Norfolk. The next morning, I set out to see two Glaucous gulls that had been reported from Sheringham, which I failed to locate. However, I did see a flock of incredibly tame Ruddy turnstones on the boardwalk in the town, eating bread thrown by humans along with starlings, pigeons and gulls.

I was more successful at my next stop, Titchwell Marsh, an RSPB reserve. I observed Bar-tailed and Black-tailed godwits, Dunlins, Sanderlings, oystercatchers, two Pied avocets, Black-bellied plovers and a Common ringed plover.

On Sunday I headed to Snettisham to try and witness the famous spectacle of thousands of Pink-footed Geese at dawn leaving an enormous mudflat called the Wash to reach sugar beet fields inland. I arrived a little late, but I still saw many Pink-footed Geese flying in formation and calling loudly. I also saw large numbers of various shorebirds, pheasants, a hare and even a weasel of some sort. Although shorebirds are much more impressive at low tide, the Wash itself is impressive at high tide, as it is a truly colossal area with river-like stretches of water running through its entirety.

Snettisham RSPB - 22/01/2017
 The Wash at Snettisham RSPB - 21/01/2017

Snettisham RSPB - 22/01/2017 - If you look closely there is a pheasant in this picture.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Goose trio

Three geese, two Tundra Bean geese and a Greater white-fronted goose, have been reported from the Baldeggersee in Canton Luzern in the past few days. The lake is only half an hour from my house, so naturally I decided to try my luck. I visited the location twice in a row because the first time I forgot to charge my camera, leaving me with blurry shots taken with my phone through my binoculars. These species are rare but more than annual in Switzerland, but I had never seen a Bean goose before.

The first time I went, the two Bean geese were alone in a field and I didn't see the white-fronted but the second time both species were mixed in with a large flock of Greylag geese.

Greater White-fronted Goose - 08/01/2017
Greater White-fronted Goose - 08/01/2017
Bean Goose - 08/01/2017
Bean Geese - 08/01/2017

Monday, January 2, 2017

Red-headed Woodpecker

Today I visited Hendrickson Park in Valley Stream, Nassau County to twitch the long-staying Pink-footed Goose. Although I dipped the goose, I did see the continuing Red-headed Woodpecker, which, according to eBird reports, had not strayed from the area around a yellow house in the park.

The woodpecker, my first lifer of 2017, was in subadult plumage so its head was not fully red, but still an impressive bird. This individual was slightly aggressive, chasing off many other birds in the area, including a Downy Woodpecker, House Sparrows and even Blue Jays. It was very active, generally flying between three trees in a triangle, often drumming and calling.

Red-headed Woodpecker - 02/01/2016

Red-headed Woodpecker - 02/01/2016

Red-headed Woodpecker - 02/01/2016

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Of Ross's Geese, King Eiders and Birding in Circles

Happy New Year!

This past week I saw three lifers at two locations. On Wednesday I visited Robert Moses State Park to twitch the long-staying pair of Ross's Geese in a traffic circle. They were two small, pure-white geese in a flock of Canada Geese, so I picked them out immediately. The short bill with a blue base, rounded head, no 'grin patch', and small size made it clear that these were not Snow Geese. They showed little fear of me or cars and were not nervous around me, feeding on grass without looking up at me once. They did look up however when two deer, common at Robert Moses, ran into the circle. Click the photos to see them full size.

Ross's Geese - 28/12/2016
Ross's Geese - 28/12/2016
I then continued on to Field 5, where a Lapland Longspur has been reported in another traffic circle. In this grassy circle, there was a flock of Horned Larks and House Sparrows, and I quickly discovered the odd one out, another lifer. This one however was shy, and I scared it away a number of times while trying to get close for a photo.

Lapland Longspur - 28/12/2016

My next birding trip was not strictly speaking a twitch, although the species I saw have been reported in the past. I visited Orient Point County Park and as soon as I started looking around with my binoculars, I spotted three Harlequin Ducks, two females and an immature male. They swam out to open water from the rocks and then suddenly took off, with one trailing far behind the other two.

Harlequin Ducks - 31/12/2016

I walked toward the rocks and saw four Purple Sandpipers feeding together. They let me approach closely, and I got some great pictures.

Purple Sandpipers - 31/12/2016

After that, I decided to walk to the point, passing a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers and a Long-tailed Duck on the way. As I was approaching the point, I could make out a flock of Common Eiders. Oddly, there was also a large flock of American Wigeons that flew in from the west and joined some that were already there. After scrutinizing the eider flock carefully, I noticed one individual with a black bill and a different head shape than the other eiders. I had found a female King Eider! This was another lifer for me, and although my fingers were nearly frozen and the wind was whipping at my face, I was extremely happy.

King Eider - 31/12/2016