Tuesday 24 February 2009

A new way Gulls mess up my mind

The grandeur of Northern Gulls is mostly secluded from even the alert and willing observer by geographical constrains, in particular a lack of distributional overlap. Quite apart from their grace by plumage and motion which in themselves render these creatures an aura of magnificense, the intense scarcity of observation possibilities in a birder's life alone places Ross's and Ivory Gull firmly within the top ten of any birder's most desired species.

Those birds are indeed more than hard to come by.
The intrepit North American birder can either visit Alaska in late summer for Ross's and Newfoundland in winter for Ivory, or hope for an odd chance of seeing both birds as vagrants in the lower 48 at some stage in their life, however unlikely that may be.
European birders striving to catch a glimpse of either of these species face even tougher challenges: Ivory Gulls can be found breeding on the remote islands of Svalbard far to the North of northern Norway and may thus be seen during a visit to this (almost) remotest of Europe's corners, but there is no area where one may chance upon a Ross's with any rate of reliability. A few winters spent sea-watching on the Norwegian coast, on Iceland or the Shetland Island or along the harsh winter west coasts of the British Isles may lead to a certain probability for a vagrant record, but this is just about as good as it gets.

Then came this winter, and things changed.

First of all, this winter has seen a small influx of Ivory Gulls to northern Europe. Well, a handful (or slightly less) birds have been found scattered widely across the coasts of the continent, so an influx is a rather strong word, but due to the scarcity of records in other winters we'll just call this year's birds an influx and leave it at that.

Before you start wondering why I started this story in the first place, rest asured that I - of course - did not see any of those Ivory Gulls. In fact, I have not seen any Ivory Gulls at all, which is a shame. But this winter was so peculiar that I just have to point it out to North American readers who may not be aware of the implications it has on searching for the species.

So here we go ...

Despite the occurence of a few birds in the North of the continent, European birders were quite surprised when news came out from France of a bird found on the country's south-west coast, close to the border with Spain. Now, an Ivory Gull is an extremely unusual and rare bird even along the northern coast of France, but this far to the South, it is absolutely astounding. Here are some pictures of the bird.

But ... it even got better. A few days ago, a handful of Dutch birders sought shelter from the winter's miseries in their country and went to the arid landscapes of central Spain. And while scanning through the Mediterranean avian goodies of a lagoon complex south of Madrid, they chanced upon an adult ... now sit down, please ... Ross's Gull!

While the fact that this is only the third ever for Spain alone goes to show how unusual this record is, the additional facts that it is an adult bird and that it was found as far inland as a gull can go in Spain makes it just completely incredible.

Here is a video of the bird, which already is quite smething to see. But if you scroll down this gallery on surfbirds, you'll find a picture from February 21st 2009 of it swimming amongst a small group of Flamingoes, right below a picture of the Fench Ivory.

Have you ever seen a Ross's Gull together with Flamingos? I sure haven't. In fact, this is likely the most bizzare assembly of species I have ever seen on a single photograph.

Maybe I should sort of translate the whole incident to birding in North America, as most of my readers do the majority of their birding there and even though they are surely aware of Europe's geography, they might be less familiar with bird distributions on the East side of the Atlantic:

The magnitude of this incident is comparable to an Ivory Gull being found on the coasts of Georgia while an Alabama inland lake hosts a Ross's at the same time.

So there you have it. Kind of makes defining your target species for future birding trips a pretty difficult thing to do. But hey, we always knew gulls were full of surprises.

Monday 23 February 2009

A little bit on Birds and Glass Windows

Just a little chunk of information as the wider frame of things has already been discussed quite extensively, for example here .
For background reading, just follow the links provided on the Greatest Auk's site, especially this one, which provides even more links to follow and so it goes on and on until the power company disconnects your electricity as you have forgotten to pay your bills over following all the links and then you die of hypothermia.
I know this was awefully off-topic, but on the other hand I found it so outrageous I just had to mention it sometime somewhere.

Aaanyway, back to birds and windows.
The Swiss Ornithological Research Institute Sempach (sort of the Cape May of Switzerland, only that in technical terms Switzerland doesn't have a sea next to it) in conjunction with Birdlife Switzerland has published a guideline for builders, architects and the interested public (whoever might be interested) on how to avoid window strikes by birds.

You can find the site here and the pdf version here. If you feel adventurous, you can also read the German, Italian or French version (click on the flags in the upper right corner).

They do not mention the Sibley approach though, and Sibley also apparently hasn't done any further research into the matter.
Does anyone out there have additional information they'd like to share with me?

The whole topic really is a pressing issue and sadly for this Coop, New Jersey isn't (future) Switzerland. Let us just hope initiatives like the one in Switzerland will be received favourably by the general (building, planning etc.) public there and elsewhere so that window strikes stop to seriously mess up our joy of spotting good birds at unexpected places.

Sunday 22 February 2009

For Your Valued Information

Before I indulge in excessive blogging on my recent birding adventures, it would seem helpful to bring you up to date on my current situation and location. And as I always enjoy to hand a helping post, that is something I'll gladly and quickly do.

Last June, the big change I hinted towards before had actually come:

My family - which happily includes myself - has moved away from the Baltic to Southwestern Germany.

Away from the Baltic? Oh no!!!

Yes, terrifying, I know.
From the significant perspective (which is and always will be birding) this is sheer horror. I have moved from a place where I was able to see 270 or 280 species a year within an hour's driving distance from home to where that number will likely be closer to 120, possibly 150 if I am lucky and fuel prices will drop to a level we last had in the 1980s.

So, why did I do it?
Well, the reason is a new job down here and the reason for choosing that job, apart from personal things outside the scope of this blog, actually was ...


... better birding!

Not around home, wich is the small town (well, more of a village really in a heavily populated area) of Leimen just to the South of Heidelberg.
But my new job includes heaps and piles of traveling, basically and on average 2-3 days a week during the summer, throughout Germany, central Europe and possibly even all the way to central Asia, including for example Georgia and even Kazakhstan. Within the next years, maybe even this year, Africa might be included while Southeast Asia and Australia might also be future possibilities.

Very neat job.

So here I am now, in the south-west of Germany again, and the following days will provide you with small insights into the sometimes lousy but mostly boring birding that can be done around here.
It won't be too bad though, I hope, so take courage and visit again.

Saturday 21 February 2009

We interrupt the Silence

... for a bit of blogging!

Yes, yours truly is back, for a little while at least.

Due to a twisted chain of incidences mostly revolving around my wife and son visiting the in-laws for two weeks while I have to remain where I am and work, I have a lot of time - two weeks to be more precise - to sit on the sofa quietly and miss them.

And while I am there, on the sofa, I might as well log onto my blogger account and do what I haven't done in quite a while: release some of the pressure I put on the comments section of other blogs and actually produce a few posts myself again, which - incredibly - I will post on my own blog, and not said comments sections.

I do have to get used to writing again - more on that possibly later - yet I am rather fond of the idea and am curious what will come out of it.

So for now, I'll be doing some thinking about what to put on my blog while watching tonight's James Bond movie on TV.

So, I hope to be seeing you here again tomorrow, last of the faithful readers.