Wednesday, 31 August 2016


THE steppes and wetlands of eastern Austria were the focus of Nikolaus Filek who is a Vienna-based biologist and wildlife guide.

The range of habitats - along a border shared with Hungary - embraces alluvial forests, flooded meadows, marshlands and shallow lakes, most of which are accessible to birders.

Cultivated farmland consists largely of vineyards - Austria produces some excellent wines.

Vienna is the point of arrival for many, but Illmitz is a good hub for first-timer fact-finding.

The Austrians and (to a lesser extent the Hungarians) are gradually developing a network of wildlife-watching hides.

“One day we hope they will be comparable to those at Rutland Water,” enthused Nikolaus. “They’re really cool.”  

Nikolaus’ special area of expertise is the area around Lake Neusiedel.

Among the birds he detailed  in his fascinating talk were: Syrian woodpecker, moustached warbler, pygmy cormorant and a range of wildfowl, wading and crake species.

Nikolaus Filek: Rutland Water's hides are 'cool'

Nikolaus emphasised that  the area was also excellent for wildflower, such as orchids,
amphibians, butterflies and reptiles.

More information at:  



Trying  out different scopes and binoculars, some visitors to the optics marquee were able to watch  one or both of two great white egrets that were present. During the weekend, a long-tailed duck also turned up - but at a different part of Rutland Water.
THE optics marquee at Birdfair is always  favourite destination for  visitors - especially those with money to spend.

The great thing is that the range of  binoculars, digiscopes and photographic equipment - plus accessories - is extensive, allowing the opportunity to compare and contrast what is on offer.

The brand leaders are probably still the likes of Leica, Swarovski and Zeiss, but plenty of other manufacturers and distributors also boast excellent products.

These include: Benro Tripods, Bushnell Performance Optics, Hawke Sport Optics, In Focus,  Kite Optics, Kowa Optimed, Lenscoat, Meopta Optika, Minox GB, Nikon UK, Opticron, Optics Tripod Chair, Panasonic, Park Cameras, RK Photographic and Viking Optical.

Evidently, high-profile wildlife documentary maker Simon King has some sort of sponsorship arrangement with Zeiss because, in conjunction, they even had an individual marquee of their own.

When he was not escorting osprey-spotting cruises on Rutland Water or giving talks elsewhere at Birdfair, it was within this dedicated marquee that the 52-year-old was to be found, giving talks and signing copy of his book, Nature Watch - How to Track and Observe Wildlife.

Could that be a water rail? Over the three days of Birdfair, one was intermittently  seen from the optics marquee, sometimes being chased by moorhens?

Author and cameraman Simon King describes some of his tracking techniques . . .

. . and his audience was captivated by what he had to say

A superb range of optical equipment was on sale at the Viking Optical stand which also had a trade-in desk

A much-appreciated  feature in the marquee - Zeiss had its own service desk

Back to Simon King - here signing copies of his book

Monday, 29 August 2016


THERE is no better place than Birdfair to chat with some wonderful people from all over the world. Our photographer went walkabout of the stands over the three days of the event. Here are some of those he met.

Flying the flag for wildlife holidays in Panama were this trio from Canopy Tower Family holidays

The duo from Wild Echo - specialists in Bulgarian birding holidays

Ghana - well worth visiting for its rich and colourful  birdlife

TV cameraman and author  John Aitchison had his audience in stitches with his highly amusing focus on Emperor penguins
Always a welcome face at the Birdfair - Sussex-based artist  Alison Pearson specialises in vibrant studies of swifts, hirundines and deer

It's a long trip from the UK but well worth it - Australia boasts a superb array of birdlife

China could become the next overseas hotspot for UK birders - that's the aspiration of this duo from China Bird Tour

The poster says it all - the Danube Delta is fantastic for wetland birds

Speaking up for birding holidays in Georgia

Japan Hankyu Travel - another of the firms represented at Birdfair 2016

There were plenty of visitors at the stand mounted by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Black Isle Birding offers superb value-for-money holidays in Scotland
South Australia - a great part of the world  for enterprising  birders

The island of Texel in Holland is superb for waders, raptors and migrating passerines

Where better to see toucans and hornbills than in Honduras?

Kiwis and more - the delights of  New Zealand are plentiful

The World Land Trust does superb work in seeking to protect the welfare of endangered habitats and wildlife all over the globe

Spain's Boletas Birdwatching Centre - great destination for a holiday
A pause in his book-signing session allows author and campaigner Mark Avery to share a joke with visitors

Many of the jewels of the bird world can bee seen at the famous Tandayapa Lodge in Ecuador
All smiles from the enthusiastic team from Guyana

There's more to Brazil than parrots and macaws
Taiwan - great location for exotic pheasants and more

Texas -  Amerca's largest state is brilliant for birding
Fabulous for penguins - the Falkand Islands

Greece - superb for birding across many habitats
The man behind the vision - Birdfair boss Tim Appleton MBE
Lions Paw Camp - one of the best wildlife centres in Tanzania

His new book, The Most Perfect Thing - Inside (and Outside) a Bird's Egg provided the basis for a fascinating presentation by Tim Birkhead

Friday, 26 August 2016


Dusky warbler - the Filey bird (not this one)  was skulking in low vegetation
FILEY on the Yorkshire Coast may not be the best-known of  UK bird observatories, but it has a reputation for punching above its weight.

Mark James Pearson certainly sang its praise with gusto (one specific section of fence in particular)  in his excellent illustrated presentation at Birdfair.

Mark Pearson - lavish plaudits for a special place
"It's as good a place as anywhere in the UK to see migrants,"he enthused.

At this time of year, maritime species such as skuas, petrels and shearwaters are heading south, purple sandpipers are putting in an appearance on the beach and real rarities can sometimes be spotted.

Included in the last category were the likes of  red-spotted bluethroat - described by Mark as "a magnificent beast" - and dusky warbler which he came across in low vegetation while he was "plodding along the edge of a ploughed field".

But the greatest feather in Mark's cap was his discovery on April 22 of a Spanish wagtail - the first record for Britain.

Mark's blog is at:

   The Filey bird observatory blog is at:

* Photo of dusky warbler: Charles Lam/Flickr/WikimediaCommons



Remiz pendulinus 3 (Martin Mecnarowski).jpg
Penduline tit - one of the stars of the bird scene in Estonia
ALTHOUGH Estonia  does not feature strongly on the radar of  most birders, that could change sooner than later.

As Tarvo Valker  outlined in his absorbing illustrated presentation at Birdfair, it boasts some great birds, including Ural owl, great snipe, penduline tit, black grouse, capercaillie, nutcracker, lesser spotted eagle and eight woodpecker species  (such as the white-backed which is increasing).

Tarvo Valker
Tarvo Walker - experienced ornithologist and a tour guide
A further plus is that another breeding species, the wryneck is holding its own, with numbers stable.

A birder for almost 25 years, Tarvo explained that  his country has a low human population and enjoys impressive nature protection  across a  wide range of habitats including bogland and ancient forest.

Crucially, Estonia is at the western edge of  the range of many eastern species, certain unfamiliar warblers for instance.

* More information is available at:

* Photo of penduline tit:
Martin Mecnarowski/(


TO record more than 700 species of bird  in a single year is a remarkable  feat - one only achieved by a handful of enthusiasts (the so-called 700 Club).

Take a bow Neil Hayward who, in 2013, travelled the length and breadth of the USA to  notch no fewer than  different 749 birds, including two - the rufous-necked wood rail and the common redstart - that were first records for the USA.

Other species that will probably always live in his memory include the mourning warbler, the Kirtland's warbler,redbilled tropic bird, Cuban vireo, marsh sandpipiper and Layser albatross.

The Oxford-born 41-year-old biotech consultant has written an enthralling  book, Lost Among The Birds,  describing his experiences, some of which he also recounted  in an immensely  entertaining and dry-humoured presentation at the Birdfair

Florida and Texas are known birding hotspots but he also did surprising well in many of the other 28  states he visited - for instance on the seaboard of Massachusetts.-

Although American birds regularly turn up in the UK, such are the prevailing winds that very few European species reach the States which is why the redstart was special.

During the year, he drove 51,758 miles, sometimes in his own car (the only time he had a prang) but often in a rented car - no fewer than 55 rentals on total. (To save on accommodation costs, he sought to hire vehicles in which he could sleep.)

He made15 pelagic trips and spent 147 hours at sea, and he took 177 flights (flying a total of 193, 758 miles) from 56 different airports. 

His 749th sighting, making him the world record holder, was of a great skua.

Since he was away from home for more than half the year - what did girlfriend Gerri Buck think of it? At least in his Birdfair talk, the author did not say.

Following postgraduate work at Cambridge University, Neil moved to the US 11 years to become head of the life sciences company, Abcam plc, subsequently leaving to become a biotec consultant.

He decided to become a US citizen before embarking on his birding marathon.

"What better way  to acquaint myself with my new homeland!" he ended

* More about the trip is on Neil's blog:

 * More about Neil Hayward's book is on the website of Bloomsbury Publishing:

Wednesday, 24 August 2016


IF you really want to learn about birds and their plumage, try writing an identification manual!

That was the tongue-in-cheek advice from Paul Stancliffe, Norfolk-based author of two relatively recent titles, Collins BTO Guide to British Birds and Collins BTO Guide to Rare British Birds.

In compiling the text, he studied birds not just  in the field but as depicted in thousands of photographs to find if  he could new 'takes' on identification - particularly on plumage.

The work involved many meetings - invariably harmonious and productive, though they  did not always see eye-to-eye - with expert Hampshire-based photographer Paul Skerry.

The collaboration certainly proved fruitful and both volumes would make worthy additions to the bookshelves of any birder.

The  titles are particularly valuable when it comes to differentiating between similar-looking species - for instance, willow/ marsh tit, collared/ oriental pratincole,  European/ blue-cheeked bee-eater.

Paul said he remained a great fan of many guides where the illustrations come in the form of artwork, but he said the advent of digital photography made this method of depicting species both more reliable and more authoritative.


Super close-ups of Icelandic breeding species

ANYONE tempted by a birding roadtrip to Iceland could do worse than to watch the YouTube video, The Ice Road Birders.

Released a couple of years ago, it still has a tingling freshness about it - not least because it was filmed in late-May when temperatures were still sub-zero.

There is a certain lack of polish about the footage, but that's what generates the authenticity.

In a nutshell, it features three super-exuberant young birders - James Lees, Joe Bilous and Edward Waldron - touring the country's birding hotspots  in a large holiday motorhome,

En route, they captured some excellent moving images of such northern-breeding species as red-necked phalarope, long-tailed duck, Slavonian grebe, ptarmigan and red-throated diver.

At the bird fair, the video had a new airing along with a commentary by James who noted that the sequences were shot using nothing elaborate - just a Swarovski 'scope and a Canon compact camera with an attachment device.

Just back from a flight across the Atlantic and still a little jetlagged, he said he hoped to visit Canada next year with the intention of producing a follow-up video.

* The Ice Road Birders can be viewed at:


Swallows are among the species hit by loss of cattleyard habitat

THE extent to which arable land  is now under the chemical cosh was underlined by the disturbing talk given by Lincolnshire  farmer Nicholas Watts.

Back in the 1960s when he was at the start of his career, probably just one  spray was applied to crops, but, since then, the agro-chemical industry has, in his words, "got into gear".

Now there are likely  to be as many as 10 applications - three herbicides, two growth regulators, two insecticides and three fungicides.

The crops grown by Nicholas, who is based at Vine House Farm, Deeping St Nicolas, include  wheat, winter barley rape and potatoes, but his output also embraces the likes of sunflower seed which primarily supplies the expanding market for wild bird seed.

He decided to reduce his own dependence on chemicals when he noted substantial decreases in farmland birds on his own fields between 1982 and 1992.

For instance, 30 singing skylarks reduced to14 and singing corn buntings  fell from between eight and 12 to just one.

Because mixed farming is no longer a viable option for most farmers, cattleyards have become a sight of the past in many parts of eastern England - more  bad news for many species of bird which formerly found them an important habitat either for feeding (wagtails and yellowhammers) or nesting (swallows).

Nicholas Watts - We've got to do a lot better

According to Nicholas' reckoning, the decline of swallows has been as much as 90 per cent over the past 50 or so years.

The loss to chemicals of many wildflowers - sometimes deemed to be "weeds" - has hit bees and insects such as butterflies whose caterpillars are plant-specific in their requirements.

The Lincolnshire lamented the loss of spotted flycatchers whose decline he attributed not just to chemicals but also to the surge in car ownership

"There are 30-million of these fly-swatters on our roads,"he said. "No wonder we are losing our flycatchers."

Nicholas was also saddened about the fate of the cuckoo. "Mother used to get fed up with their constant calling,"he recalled. "But in many places, they are  now longer to be heard."

To his immense credit, this Lincolnshire grower is trying to make his own farm as bird-friendly as possible - and his achievements have already been hugely impressive.

There are some 1,000-plus tree sparrows on his fields, and, in 2014, thoughtfully-installed nest boxes resulted in no fewer than 87 barn owls being hatched and reared.

Asked if he was optimistic for the future, he replied: "No, not really - we're not doing very well, are we?

"We've got to do a lot better - it's down to the next generation of farmers."


EVERY year, more and more places on  the globe seem to be represented at the Birdfair - and 2016 was no exception. Birding holidays are  potentially big moneyspinners. Wildlife  tourism is on the increase.  Here is a photo-selection of some of the stands represented at Rutland Water over the three days.                                          
For   a touch of the exotic, what better option than Kenya?
Your're sure of a friendly welcome in Guatemala

Be assured - birding opportunities abound in Bulgaria

The Caribbean offers a cornucopia of colourful species

From orioles to bee-eaters - Cyprus is a great island to see birds

St Lucia - home to sunbirds, hummingbirds and other jewels of the avian world