Thursday, 29 March 2012

Lapland Bunting err.. Snow Bunting and Pallas's Leaf Warbler

It was a long time since I really went birdwatching. Last weekend the weather seemed pretty good for migration of birds, with an eastern component in the wind and a good period (end March). Already since 2006 I often count migration at migration site Ketelbrug-Kamperhoek (see for the counting results) together with Toy Janssen, Alwin Borhem, Christian Brinkman and Teun van Kessel. Toy and Alwin were already counting from the beginning of March. The weekend of 24 and 25 March I finally went along.
Saturday started cold, but the birds weren't really bothered. This period is always exciting because of the returning summer birds. We were hoping on some swallows, martins, Yellow Wagtails, Tree Pipits and Red Kites. Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) were present and some of them made the crossing to the other side of the Ketelmeer. A surprise were two Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) which were discovered when calling and flew over with a Reed Warbler. Not that common in spring! Later, I discovered another one flying over accros the bridge. A fourth individual was only calling and I was able to make a recording of the call. We never found the bird, but it didn't feel quite right for Longspur, it was a little bit to low.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours analysing the sound and comparing it to other recordings of Longspurs and other buntings. As Longspurs sound like Snow Bunting (Plectophenax nivalis), I spent most time in analysing the differences between these species, especially the 'djuu' type of calls (so not the 'didididi' calls of both) and the 'chee-wlup' call of Longspur. The 'chee-wlup' call of Longspur is always broken and our sound was not. So, I dived into the differences between the 'djuu' call of both Snow Bunting as Lapland Longspur. Here a sonogram to make it more clear. The first call is of Snow Bunting (Niels Krabbé), the second of Longspur (own recording), the third of a more hoarse Snow Bunting (Dougie Preston) and the last one was our bird (note the echo!):
Snow Buntings have longer calls and end deeper than Longspurs, that's basically it. It is well audible in the field! Snow Buntings produce a bit sad 'pyuuu' as Longspurs produce a short 'pju' wistle. The call which I recorded was somewhat different from the typical call. The normal 'bow' had a nod or an offset halfway the call, making it more hoarse. The length and the depth fits better for Snow Bunting and it really looks (and sounds) like the more hoarse call of Dougie Preston.

So, this recording was the 4th spring Snow Bunting for this migration point!

A highlight of the count was a male Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus torquatus), which was the first in the Netherlands this year and beated my old record with 4 days. With almost 6000 species divided among 60 species, we did a good job. For the full results, see here.

Sunday we also brought a visit to Ketelbrug. The first 3,5 hours we stood in dense fog and couldn't see that much. Another Lapland Longspur flew over and showed well. The fog dissapeared and a 3cy White-tailed Eagle headed south over the Ketelmeer, great birds, great views!
Yesterday afternoon a Pallas's Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) was discovered near Hilversum and was singing! A Pallas's is always cool to see, and a singing individual is even better! We don't have that many spring sightings. We decided to leave at 13:00 and have a look at the Pallas's. We found it pretty quick and it started calling and singing. I made awfully good recordings and I was extremely happy with them. We spend over an hour trying to make pictures and enjoying the bird. At home I was eager to publish the recordings, as they must have been the best in the collection of so far. Unfortunately, in mysterious ways, my recordings dissapeared except for one. I was really lucky that it was a good recording, but it only contained one song phrase.. Here the result:

By now, other recordists also made extreme good recordings, so now I am not the only one! Good job guys! I can really enjoy them!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Summer holiday to Biebzra Marshes and Bialowieza Forest Poland

Since oktober 2002, I am joining an association for youth who want to explore the nature (JNM - Jongeren in de Natuur). My interest in birds brought me to this association, but the passion for nature was due to the association. The summercamps are sort of the highlights in the year, next to the autumn holidays on Schiermonnikoog. Almost every year there is a summercamp to a foreign country. I've been to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in 2009, in 2010 there was no summercamp in a foreign country and I decided to organise a summercamp in Poland in 2011. On the 16th of July we departed by train from Utrecht to Warschau, we collected one 9-persons van and drove to our first campsite at Brzostowo. The others took another train and were brought to the campsite by the van. The campsite had a beautiful view on the Biebzra marshes! Actually, the Biebzra river was part of the campsite as well, since there was no shower and we needed to wash ourselfes in the river. Luckily there was some kind of a shed with a hole in the ground which served as toilet.
The Biebzra Marshes are known among birdwatchers for the extensive marshes, wilderness and some rare species, especially Aquatic Warbler and Greater-spotted Eagle. Ofcourse we were eager to see these species, but we were also looking for butterflies, dragonflies, landscapes, plants and I was also looking for grashoppers.
At first I really had to enjoy the astonishing place, so I made allmost no recordings. (the true reason was mainly because of the many mosquitos and horseflies... couldn't stand still for more than 10 seconds!)

In the evening and nights, we were kept awake by the many Treefrogs (beers and vodka). Of course I couldn't withstand a recording (but I was almost killed by an unleashed watchdog...). The Treefrogs (Hyla arborea):

We were made enthousiastic by other people, who also recently visited the place, about the so called Aquatic Warbler-Reserve. This place, on the other side of the river, should hold the largest population of Aquatic Warblers (Acrocephalus paliducola) in the world. We have to go there in the evening, walk for a couple of kilometres and listen at the watch tower. So on the 20th of July we did, walked the couple kilometres, paving our way through the mosquitos and listened at the watch tower. What an ambience! Everywhere were Aquatic Warblers singing, some Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) were calling, Lesser-spotted Eagles (Aquila pomarina) soaring above our heads and reed and sedges as far as the eye could see.

A recording of the ambience in the area with Aquatic Warblers and Spotted Crakes:

A more direct recording of a singing Aquatic Warbler:

We heard a strange sound which seemingly was produced by a male Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus). It mostly looked like an alarm call, but we couldn't find anything that was causing the alarm. I also couldn't find any recording alike!

Unfortunately we had a terrible storm with thunder and lightning, so even in the watch tower we couldn't keep it dry. On the other hand, it was pretty cool also! On our way back, we had to walk in total (I mean really total!) darkness without flashlights (oops..) and with thunder and lightning in the distance.. We did heard an Moose (Alces alces) splashing in the swamps at 50 meters. On our way home to the campsite with the car we spent a lot of time staring in the distance for game and other animals. In total we saw three young Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes)  playing in the verges. It became even better when Steven saw something in the verge and slowed down. Suddenly an Otter (Lutra lutra) crossed the road, stayed in the verge, walked a bit and showed really well! When you asked birdwatchers what their best sighting or highlight was on a birdtrip, it often is a sighting of a mammal. This Otter really was a highlight!

The whole week on the first campsite I was hearing Fire-bellied Toads (Bombina bombina) and was very eager to get a good recording. I knew there aren't that many recordings and I really loved the sound. I finally booked some succes at the 22th of July:

On the 23th we moved from the Biebzra Marshes to Bialowieza Forest. The forest is told to be the only oldgrowth forest in Europe. As student Forest- and Nature conservation I know that also this forest is not really oldgrowth, but it quite resembles it (at least in the strict reserve). We had planned excursions to Siemanowka lake, Zebra zubra trail, the trail near the border of Belarus, the strict reserve and to Teremiski. Later in the week we decided to visit a known spot for European Roller (Corracias garrulus). Main targets were woodpeckers, Hazel Grouse, White-collared Flycatcher, Red-breasted Flycatcher and game. 

My first excursion was to the lake of Siemanowka. As we were the first group, we kinda had to explore it ourselves and entertained ourselfes at the north side of the lake. Later in the afternoon we visited the south side and ended at the place where the railtrack crosses the lake (if we had stayed there longer, we probably had seen Citrine Wagtails, as did the other 2 groups....). That day I made recordings of one species: Icterine Warbler (Hippolais icterina). One individual was frequently calling and I was drawn to the sound as I didn't knew what it was. There were two types of calls.
The first call:

And the second more agitated call:

The day after I went on an excursion to the strict reserve. We met with our guide in front of the gate and while he was introducing himself and the strict reserve, we noticed a woodpecker above the gate. A closer look through the telescope (as it was foggy and 4:30 in the morning...) learnt us it was a White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos)! For a lot of us it was a new species! I managed to make a poor recording of the sound of foraging, but the raindrups are polluting the recording. I really do not know if the sound of foraging is an ID-feature!?!

Two more recordings where I am pretty proud of, the first one is that of the European Roller (Corracias garrulus). It is one of the few recordings on Xeno-Canto and the first on A bird flew by and called a lot. It was quite some distance to the bird, but the recording was not that bad. You can hear other enthousastic people enjoying the bird, I love it!

The last recording is that of a Grasshopper. I heard this species a lot in Poland, but I didn't knew it from the Netherlands. I had an idea that it could be the Upland Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus apricarius), but the sound could look like that of a Meadow Grashopper (Chorthippus mollis). I did not bring my identification key to Poland as I already had 10 books.. So I had to take a recording, and indeed it was an Upland Field Grasshopper. The easiest difference between these two species is that Upland has two bands between the ticks and Meadow has one band between the ticks, best to see in sonograms. In the field, the ticks of Upland don't fade away as in Meadow, but this can be difficult to hear and there could be some overlap. 
The recording:

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Stone Marten

For gaining experience in my field of interest (and making some money ;) ), I am working as an ecological consultant. Doing fieldwork and writing reports, that kind of stuff. A lot of the fieldwork consists of monitoring bats, so nightwork. For a large project in the north of Limburg I had to monitor a large forested area.
On the 30th of June 2011 I was in a sub-area and had already done some rounds for bats. Suddenly I heard a small animal flushing, a quick scan with the flashlight returned 3 pairs of eyes! I was slowly approaching the animals, keeping the pair of eyes in sight with my dimmed flashlight. When I was closer to the animals, I finally got a good sight of them, it were young Stone Martens (Martes foina)! They were curiously hiding and keeping me in sight: what is that creature, what is he doing!
When I got closer and the animals become more trusted with me, one started to forage and keep contact with the others by softly snarling. I only had my recorder and not my microphone, but I still managed to make some quite awesome sound recordings. There aren't that many of them!

Abberant (?) Goldcrest

The 16th of march a friend invited Jesse and me to his birthday party in Geldrop, we could stay there and we were planning to go bird watching the day after on the Strabrechtse Heide (heather). After a nice party, it reminded me of parties before I went studying, we went off late to the heather, as Marijn had quite a hangover. It was clouded, but not cold at all and almost wind still. We decided to check the place where Marijn had found a Rustic Bunting two years ago. It was stuffed with birds and a good place to relax. My memory let me down for a moment when I heard a Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) calling. Jesse and Marijn weren't that sharp either, so we waited to be sure. Firecrests aren't that common in this part of the Netherlands, later we found out that this was the first sighting in two years for the Strabrechtse Heide (according to Two birds were present and the male was singing frequently. The call of Firecrest looks a bit like Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), but I would describe the call of the Firecrest as a high pitched sharp 'ti-ti-ti-ti' and that of the Goldcrest as a high pitched 'sri-sri-sri-sri', recognisable for the better listener. The song of Firecrest is also a high pitched 'ti-ti-ti-ti-ti', but raises slowly in pitch during the phrase. On the other hand, Goldcrest varies in pitch during the song phrase 'tí-tidelí-tidelí-tidelí-tidelilili' with a little 'r', but I will come back to that later in this post.
I made a decent recording of the singing Firecrest:

Back to the song of Goldcrest: on 18 january 2012, Bert Haamberg recorded a strange song of Goldcrest (recording can be found here). A lot of imitations and low pitched notes, amazing! Some other observers mentioned this kind of subsong as well, but never common. 14 march, Teus Luijendijk also put a recording on Xeno-canto of subsong of Goldcrest. The 17th of march, I recorded a Goldcrest which was also imitating other species (like Long-tailed Tit). It seams to be not that uncommon, but a few have paid attention to it. Proof that there is a lot to discover in the world of sounds!

Subsong Goldcrest by Teus Luijendijk:

Subsong Goldcrest by me:

Monday, 26 March 2012

Hiding in the bushes

15 march, the 'official' start of the breeding season in the Netherlands. It was beautiful weather, so I decided to go to the floodplains of Wageningen. Maybe some Bluethroats or a Gargeney. It was the latter which made me decide to get my recording gear. A drake was calling frequently, but swam to the other side of the side channel. I walked around the side channel and hid behind the bushes. There were also some Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula), also calling frequently. Of course they noticed me, so I sat down for half an hour, recording gear ready and waiting for the ducks to come closer! Of course, in the Netherlands it is never quiet, so the church bells and the local factory messed the recording up a little bit.

In fact, when I sat down, I was thinking about starting a blog. The first reason is that recording sound is awesome. Second, there is (comparable to pictures) little interest and knowledge about sound recording, so sharing is good. The last reason is that I would like to share these stories. Sitting down in the bushes for half an hour, quiet as hell and trying to get that one recording, and really it isn't that easy as it sometimes seems. So I started this blog and I will catch up with the stories that I still have in my memories :).

So, eventually I did not manage to get a recording of the Gargeney. The Tufted Ducks however, were still calling frequently. Gotta love that sound:

When you sit down for over a half a hour, some other birds come along. As did this Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus):

And this Willow Tit (Poecile montanus):