Category Archives: 11) Cuckoos, Owls, Nightjars

One Day, 111 Species.

NW Norfolk 

Saturday (26th Jan) we had and excellent day in Norfolk. Tormod and I were joined by Chris Hind and Tristan Reid from Cumbria, Nick Moran from Thetford and Yoav Perlman…from Israel. Our plan in icy, remnant snowy weather was to have fun, see as many species as possible and try and get a few new birds form the non-Brits. Moving from Kings Lynn, via Docking to Titchwell we scored some 111 species. Not bad!

Golden Pheasant Wolferton jan 13Male Golden Pheasant. My (plastic) bird of the day. Looks superb don’t it? Even if it has a…hmm.. face a bit like a Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. At Wolferton Triangle.

Yoav perlman Tormod Amundsen Norofolk jan 13Yoav poses as Tormod has just enjoyed his first views of Grey Partridge. See Yoav’s excellent ‘chicken’ photos and more here

Corn Bunting norfolk jan13

Water Rail titchwell jan 13Corn Bunting and Water Rail were amoung those commoner , but not always guaranteed birds

tormod and BH GUllTormod and Black-headed gull at Titchwell with Nick M in background

Barn owl 1Barn Owls put on show on both Sat and Sunday

motlley crewSaturdays motley crew at Titchwell. Left to right: Chris Hind, Tormod Amundsen, MG, Tristan Reid, Yoav Perlman, Nick Moran.

Barn owl 4

Now I am sat in Dick and Vida Newell’s most homely farmhouse kitchen watching a roosting Barn Owl in a box on a cctv link (not the one above, which as at Holkham). Had an excellent , well organised evening at the Cambridge Bird Club last night and now heading to the Bedfordshire Bird Club and old friends. Anyone can come (to any of the upcoming events).

On your belly!

by Yoav

Well how does that work as a pick-up line?  That was more or less the first sentence I said to MG when we first met in Israel in March. He joined a night tour I led to the Dead Sea region. When we saw our first Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar at a distance of five meters, he stood up, shaking like crazy, and started taking lousy images. As a result of too many years in the military, I yelled at him and the other clients: “On your bellies!”. In two seconds MG and all the others were lying on their bellies in the desert sand like babies, taking super images.

This is perhaps the most important lesson when learning how to photograph birds. Get yourself in the same level as the bird. If the bird is on the ground – go down to ground-level yourself. If you do so, the background behind the bird becomes more distant, making it blurred and gives the bird more attention in the frame.

Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar, Neot Hakikar, Israel, October 2011

When I started birding as a kid, I birded mostly on foot. Nowadays when I’m old(er), I bird mostly out of the car. Cars are excellent mobile hides for photography, but are very problematic hides when trying to photograph birds sat on the ground. Then the background behind the bird becomes much closer, has more detail and steals much of the attention the bird should get. Same bird, bad photo:

Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar, Neot Hakikar, Israel, March 2008

Desert sand is fun, but when dealing with shorebirds this becomes a dirty business. Lying in the mud is really not much fun. Especially if you need to spend several hours, motionless, under a camo net. Add to that hungry mosquitoes and rich aroma – this is the real thing. But again, the 50 cm height difference between kneeling and lying gives the image an added value.

Common Sandpiper, Nizzana, Israel, August 2012

And when you do it the wrong way, photographing out of the car window from the top of an elevated bank, it looks much worse:

Broad-billed Sandpiper, Eilat, Israel, March 2011

Sometimes cars work well though. If the bird is perched on something at the correct height, about 1 meter above ground, you score gold shooting off the window. The background looks like in a studio, and the bird gets all the focus of the image:

Finsch’s Wheatear, Negev, Israel, December 2009

Britain’s next?!

Pygmy Owl: heading in the direction of the UK.

by Nils

Less than 10 years ago, Pygmy Owl was a dream-on-babe-bird in the Netherlands. Although the species was known to breed increasingly closer and numerous to the border in Germany, many Dutch birders where still surprised when the first one for their country was reported. That probable window victim was picked up, presumed to be a Little Owl and photographed. It recovered in minutes and flew away; months later it was re-indentified as Pygmy Owl on the pics… intriguingly it was in the north of the country.

Nearly juvenile Pygmy Owl, Friesland, Netherlands, 2nd August 2012. photo by Ruurd Jelle van der Leij.

After that first record things goes fast with Pygmy Owls in the Netherlands and last Thursday the 2nd of August, the 7th Dutch record was a fact. And a bizarre record it was! Ruurd Jelle van der Leij and Mark de Vries were busy on a bird-photography-day along the north coast of Friesland. At the end of the day they returned to the pier of Holwerd to try on Little Terns again. While driving over the road, which is actually situated IN the Waddensee, they passed a tiny piece of ‘something’ at the roadside. It could be anything; a piece of paper, a cola tin, even a bird. So they stopped, looked back with their bins and saw… a Pygmy Owl! This dead end road in the Waddensee is surrounded by salt-marsh land, a land-winning project (land-winning from the sea is so typical Dutch; give them the job, and they drain the North Sea between the UK and the Netherlands…). Trees are far away and very few on the neighbouring mainland too. The bird looked weakened and could be approached very closely until it flew off surprisingly healthy, to the dead end of the road. Thorough searches did not result in the re-finding of the bird.

I think it is fair to say that our Pygmy Owls are most likely come from the expanding German population, and not (directly) from Scandinavia. According to BWP and the EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds, first year birds are prone to dispersing. Nevertheless a youngster in August on a place still far from the known breeding range and away from any trees along the edge of the sea is still a great surprise! It also gives rise to the speculation if the species is actually already breeding much closer, even IN the Netherlands?? If not yet, it would not surprise me if it will do in the near future.

Nearly juvenile Pygmy Owl, Friesland, Netherlands, 2nd August 2012. photo by Ruurd Jelle van der Leij.

This little fellow looks indeed right for a youngster with its pure brown and fluffy nature of most of the plumage, lack of clear barring on the flank and only very few pale spots on the crown. Note that it has started to moult the inner coverts which are clearly more grey.

Six out of seven of our records are now in the (far) north and last Oct one was even found in the northern tip of Texel. Quite hilarious the Texel-bird was accidently photographed by someone at one of the islands hotspots for vagrants, during a busy day with birders. Later that day the photographer met some of the birders and asked him, showing the back of his camera: ‘I guess this is a Little Owl I photographed this morning…?’ The bird was never seen again. Several birders had passed the place where the owl was photographed that morning. One of my best birding-friends told me that he had stopped by a bush were he dreamt: ‘how should a Pygmy Owl look like here…’. We now know, that was THE bush, so perhaps the bird was looking at him at that moment!

That Texel-bird had only to jump over the North Sea to reach Norfolk…, but is it capable of that? Anyway, if the expanding of the population from east to west continued, more individuals will arrive and stop or not(!) on our north(west)-coast. Our lesson: watch out for claims of extremely fearless ‘Little Owls’ on strange places, or quotes on the internet like: ‘funny confiding tiny owl photographed’….

juvenile Common Cuckoo

Grey-brown Morph

by Martin

Cuckoos put on an above-average showing this spring at Spurn. So no surprise to see this fine juvenile at the top of Beacon Lane last Monday. Did you know juveniles occur in 2 colour morphs. Grey-brown and more obvious rufous morph. This one being a bit more grey-brown than rufous I think?!

Amazing Cuckoo Migration- BTO. In case you haven’t seen these guys did a marvellous job on satellite tracking a group of Common Cuckoos. Wonder where this young one will go? Check this out:

Tracking Cuckoos to Africa… and back again

Oriental Cuckoo. Made me realise I wouldn’t have much of a clue on identifying a vagrant juvenile Oriental Cuckoo. One to explore further me thinks…

juvenile Common Cuckoo- grey-brown morph– Beacon Lane, Spurn, 16th July 2012. Photos taken in rain.

Emerald Damselfly

and this one was new for me. Saw male and female on Clubley’s Scrape last week. Here’s the daddy:

Male Emerald Damselfly, Clubley’s Scrape, Spurn 17th July 2012

Bird of Dreams

Hawk Owl

The odd character

by Vincent van der Spek at the Gullfest, in Arctic Norway, April 2012

Pine Grosbeaks within touching distance after a hilarious dog sledge ride, flocks of King Eiders in all plumages and ages, Steller’s Eiders from the hotel window, the view on (and sound of) ten thousands of seabirds, up close and personal with a Tengmalm’s Owl… What possibly can I claim to be my bird of the trip?

Martin already picked out Tengmalm’s Owl, Tristan Reid Steller’s Eider. Thanks guys, that makes life (slightly) easier!

As in Tristan’s story, there’s a bird that regularly appears in my dreams (day or night) since my early childhood.

A mad twitch in Holland on a Monday afternoon in October 2005 included a car with three people that run away from their offices without notifying anybody – let alone their bosses. We had brilliant views. Yes, Hawk Owl was every bit as good as expected. Gone next day. Still the only twitchable in Holland ever. T-shirts (“Ladies and gentlemen – we’ve got him!”) and even tattoos were made after that twitch.

Hawk Owl still appeared in my dreams. During GullFest I was not to be disappointed. That very first found by Nils “wingformula” van Duijvendijk in Pasvik (and that reindeer trick pulled by Martin) was just the beginning.

There was that very distant one brilliantly found by Seamus (the birder that found a new species for science!); and that bird calling from inside a nest box; and what about that brilliant day along Tana river, where everybody saw six different birds and the group total for the day was an astonishing eight? One of these birds was even singing and another was caught red handed catching a vole!


So what’s so special about it? Well, it’s a species full of surprises! Actually it’s a rather odd case amongst the owls. For starters, the zebra plumage is almost as unique as it is striking.

A tail that long is unheard of amongst owls.

And then there’s the partly diurnal habits. Not unique, but not common amongst owls either.

What I find most striking, however, are the feeding habits. Instead of swallowing their prey whole, Hawk Owl plucks it, like a raptor! I managed to capture this on video near Vadsö.

I rest my case.

And after this trip? Well, they still appear in my dreams.

Tengmalm’s Owl

What a moment!

Some things you can’t expect. I knew there had been a Tengmalm’s Owl competing for territory with a Hawk Owl (pretty cool in itself!). It seemed that the Hawk Owl had won out, as we heard (the female?) calling from a nest box and later saw the male bring food to the box. However I assumed the  Tengmalm’s had been out-sung and may well have moved on. It hadn’t. It was still there on one of our Taiga trips during the Gullfest in Varanger, Arctic Norway and proved an absolute highlight at the end of what had already been a remarkable days birding.

It’s also well north of normal range as far as I know. Thanks to Øyvind Zahl Arntzen of Arntzen Arctic Adventures – his cabin in the woods was certainly one of my favourite spots.

Watching a Boreal Owl. Photo by  Øyvind Zahl Arntzen


Nightjar in the hand

Juvenile male

Excellent Tern passage last night with around 7-8,000 Common Terns, 10’s of Arctic Terns, several Black Terns, and juvenile of Yellow-legged Gull and Mediterranean Gull mixed in. Also a couple of Tundra Ringed Plover on Beacon Ponds were the first I have seen this autumn. Waders moving again this a.m. and bright young Willow Warbler in nearby hedge. Then around 10 am Paul Collins (Spurn Obs warden) radioed up to say he had caught a European Nightjar. New bird or the one form last week? Don’t know. But amazing plumage at close range. It did have large white spot on tail feather and appears to be juvenile male:

Warden P.C. holds  securely before quickly releasing. It was soon away and into the dunes. Bird’s welfare first.