Saturday 30 March 2024

New Toys


Around this time last year I bought the Canon R7 and finally this week I managed to let go of the money to complete the combo with the RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1L IS USM. This seems to be the new Canon mirrorless standard set up for birders/naturalists. Weighs in at just over 2kg, which for a 500mm quality lens is brilliant.  The main appeal for me is the quality zoom which enables an instant shift from photographing butterflies/moths and reptiles in macro to zooming out for birds. Of course the zoom also means it's suitable for photographing large mammals and cetaceans too. This is a birder/naturalist-photographer's ideal set up. Even for real photographers this is a decent bit of back up kit. I waited for the lens to get near the £2K mark before I could force myself to part with money that I could otherwise spend on travel/kebabs and last year the camera itself cost me about £1.5K so the whole combo is around £3.5K so not cheap but I split the payment over a year by buying the camera last year and just using my old lenses (with a cheap adapter). which has been great anyway. and then stepped up all the way now.   

I purchased them from HDEW cameras which are not only based in Hackbridge/Beddington Farmlands but also seem to be very well (the best I could find) priced HERE

I also recently bought a Zoom H5 handy sound recorder (thanks for the recommendation Arjun) as I've got sick of getting wrapped up in wires while carrying round a shotgun mic. It's very cheap (only about £160) and seems to do the trick- I can just attach it to my camera bag and have it recording without it getting in the way at all. The push on wind guard is the only annoying thing as it's easy to knock off. 

Thursday 28 March 2024

Estonia Sounds

Here's a few sounds from Estonia using my recently purchased Zoom H5. More sounds on the trip report HERE.

The first time I've encountered many of these Northern WP species since a visit to Finland in 2014 with was equally epic HERE

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Estonia Days Five and Six - The bogs and forests around Parnu

Spent the last couple of days exploring the forests, bogs and coastal marshes around Parnu. Highlights have included Great, Lesser and Middle Spotted, Grey-headed, White-backed, Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Eagle, Ural, Pygmy, Tawny and Long-eared Owls, Hazel and Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Goshawks, Great Grey Shrikes and Crested, Marsh and Willow Tits. Furthermore we've had singing Green Sandpipers and Snipes, roding Woodcocks and on the coast there are thousands and thousands of wild geese. 

It's been pretty sensational. 

Not so much luck on the mammal front, although Noel saw a Raccoon Dog from the car that I missed and we found Elk and Wild Boar tracks, a dead Badger on the road and just a couple of Arctic Hares and Red Foxes in the flesh.

Trip report HERE. 117 species in total which is good for this time of year, in fact so good that I'm the second highest Estonian year lister for 2024 which is amusing. Not for long. From the looks of the photos below the photography suffered for the list. One world tick (Steller's Eider- 728 WP list, 90 ranking, 947 False WP list, 41 ranking, 3208 World List) and also had white-headed Long-tailed Tit and Northern Treecreeper as subspecies lifers, also nice to see good views of Northern Nuthatches and Northern Bullfinches. The numbers of birds out here is mind blowing- we totted up 21,000 White-fronts and 11,175 Bean Geese , 1620 Long-tailed Ducks, 664 Goosanders, 73 Smews and 20 White-tailed Eagles and we've only looked at a tiny fraction of the coastline and bays. 

What with the vast open and silent spaces filled with abundant wildlife it is certainly an enchanting and magical part of the world. Apparently it is even more amazing in high Spring when all the waders, Little Gulls, Terns and Eagles etc arrive to breed in the bogs, forests and coastal marshes.

I jumped on (literally last minute, a few hours before, after a bargain popped up after a cancellation) the Early Spring trip with Birding Uppsala HERE (a Wise Birding partner) and our guide was the famous Estonian concert pianist Sten Lassman HERE who does a few weeks a year as a bird guide to get out in the field. The only other person on the tour was Noel from London who also owns a wildlife gardening company so did a bit of unplanned networking too. We all had a great trip (including moments of impromptu private piano concerts every time we passed a grand piano). Thanks to Tarvo who owns Birding Uppsala for sorting it all out and for Chris at Wise Birding for the tip-off. 

Trip Report HERE

White-backed Woodpecker- an Aspen and mixed wood specialist
Three-toed Woodpecker - a Spruce specialist but here in Aspen. Black Woodpecker prefer Pine forests. Grey-headed like mixed with deciduous.  
Eagle Owl - a singing male out in the open in a Pine forest was pretty impressive 
An appalling photo of a Pygmy Owl 
Great Grey Shrike
Parrot Crossbill by the looks of it but there were Common Crossbills around too
Bewick's Swans
White-fronts, Bean and Barnacle Geese (above and below). There was a Lesser White-front in this flock a week ago but despite extensive searching, before two White-tailed Eagles flushed them all, we couldn't find it- feel free to check this lot! (Click and zoom in). 

Found a few Taiga Bean Geese candidates (above and below) amongst what predominately looked like Tundra Bean Geese. The bird above appeared to tower above the surrounding birds and had more extensive orange on the bill and the two birds below had more orange on the bill compared to the more Tundra looking centre bird. The outer birds appear a bit larger too. 

The Northern Forests (above and below) 

Monday 25 March 2024

Estonia Days Three and Four- Saaremaa Island

Spent the last couple of days on Saaremaa island exploring the icy Baltic bays, harbours and coastline. The highlight of the trip were the famous Steller's Eiders that winter here but the supporting cast of thousands of seaducks and waterfowl were equally impressive with thousands of Long-tailed Ducks (the largest winter concentration on the planet), hundreds of Goosanders and Goldeneyes, Red-breasted Mergs and tens of Smews, Eiders, Common and Velvet Scoters and we also picked up the odd Slavonian Grebe, Black-throated Diver and Razorbill.

We also had Pygmy Owls and Parrot Crossbills in the pine forests. 

On the way to our next destination we twitched a first-winter Glaucous Gull, the first in Estonia since 2020. 

Live Trip Report HERE 


Steller's Eiders- the main target of this trip, World Lifer

Long-tailed Ducks (above), female in the centre 
Male Smew- great to see plenty of Smew on the trip
Goldeneye and Goosander
Male Goosander- there are hundreds of these in the bays which is fantastic to see 
Great Scaups 
Barnacle and Russian White-fronted Geese- skeins of geese going over is a near constant feature of this trip- absolutely magical 
Whooper Swans
Adult White-tailed Eagle 
Common Crane- pairs are scattered across the whole landscape and their bugling calls constantly fill the air 
The ferry to Saaremaa island

Friday 22 March 2024

Estonia Day Two

We started the day off at 5 am and did a pre-dawn night drive along some local forest tracks. The highlight was a glimpse of a Eurasian Lynx crossing the track. A lifer but barely tickable views unfortunately. We also had Roe Deer, Brown Hare and Arctic Hare. We then spent the first part of the day looking for woodpeckers- we had Middle, Lesser, Great Spotted and Black Woodpecker, Nutcrackers, Common Redpolls, Great Grey Shrike, Marsh and Willow Tits and a small group of the stunning white headed caudatus Long-tailed Tits. 

After breakfast and a short break we spent the afternoon checking out some areas of coastline and clocked up some more wetland birds and sea ducks including some cracking Smews, summer plumage Long-tailed Ducks, Eiders, Common and Velvet Scoter, Red-breasted Mergansers, stacks of Goosander and Goldeneye and the background spectacle of hundreds of wild swans and geese.  

Live trip report HERE with added sounds of Nutcrackers, Bean and White-fronted Goose and Middle Spotted and Black Woodpecker. Click on 'show all details' from HERE.

Common Crane- a particularly pale bird on the left 
Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Some characteristic vocalisations HERE
Male and female Goosander
Male Goldeneye
Long-tailed Ducks 
The forest tracks
Poosaspea Neem, the migration 'capital' of Estonia. Plenty of seaducks off the Cape and a flock of Mistle Thrush were the only passerine migrants we found. Mistle Thrush are just arriving in Estonia now. Still no Fieldfares and Redwings which arrive later. 

Estonia Day One

As we can't do a Bulgaria spring trip this year I thought I'd take the opportunity to visit another area of the Western Palearctic so after a potential trip to Mauretania fell through this week I did a last minute to Estonia . There's a few mammal and bird ticks for me and I was always interested in visiting the Estonia/Gulf of Finland migration flyway.  This time of year the waterfowl flocks that have wintered in western Europe start heading back to Siberia and concentrate in Estonia. Common Cranes are beginning to arrive too. So while Wheatears, LRPs and Sand Martins mark the beginning of Spring in the UK, here it's the arrival of the Geese, Swans and Cranes that herald the start of Spring migration. None of the birds below were here a week or so ago.  

Live Trip Report HERE

Mainly Tundra Bean Geese (above and below). Also Russian White-fronted Goose and also amongst the flock of approx 10,000 birds there were some Barnacle, Greylag, Canadas and one Pink-footed Goose

Tundra Bean and Russian White-fronted Geese (mainly Bean) 
Tundra Bean Geese 
Bewick's and Whooper Swans 
Common Cranes

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Cuttlebrook Corridor- recent birds and moths

 The floods are receding again at Lower Cuttlebrook which has created some good habitat for Egrets with 15 Little Egrets and 2 Great Egrets feeding on one field yesterday evening. Also had Common Snipe on the field near the rental and Peregrine go over.

Over 40 moths of 16 species last night at the garden light trap including a couple of new ones, now on 30 species.

Great Egrets (right) and Little Egrets
Red Chestnut
Brindled Beauty 
Early Thorn
Had two Early Oak Gall moths at the MOL lure during the day yesterday

Monday 18 March 2024

Early Oak Gall Moth Lifer

I put out the new MOL lure yesterday in the warm afternoon conditions and within a few minutes got the target species this time of year, Early Oak Gall Moth. My first moth lifer of the year in the UK. 

The new rental moth list is now on 28 with a few more early Spring additions.  About 40 individual moths today mainly Hebrew Character and Common and Small Quaker. 

Early Oak Gall Moth Pammene giganteana
Tawny Pinion (above) and Pale Pinion (below)- typical early spring additions to the new garden moth list. We are only here until early June so it will be interesting to see what we can get in that time.
Pale Pinion
Herald- this was a bit of a surprise 
Narrow-winged Grey I presume although in this resting posture I would have probably called this a Marsh Grey if it was summer 
Twin-spot Quaker
Early Reveller- a daily feature here unlike down the road at the Old Vicarage where they were pretty rare
March moth 
A bit of Clouded Drab variation (above and below)