How I wish it look like this at Pantanos de Villa, Lima!

Waiting for a birdparty!

Waiting for a birdparty!

Most keen birders have got the news, and probably also most people in the US, have heard of the Mega rarity found in  NE  England at Trow Quarry in South Shields, South Tyneside .

The DailyPost article writes:

Hundreds of twitchers descend on quarry after rare Asian bird never before seen in the UK flaps into view. Lined up in neat rows with binoculars poised, they look like they’re waiting for the arrival of royalty. But these photographers have their lenses trained on an altogether rarer sight…… the first ever sighting in Britain of a bird called the eastern crowned warbler. ….read the full article here..

Eastern Crowned Warbler. Photo: Craig Shaw.

Eastern Crowned Warbler. Photo: Craig Shaw.

Eastern Crowned Warbler. Photo; Craig Shaw

Eastern Crowned Warbler. Photo; Craig Shaw

Craig Shaw has more pictures and his story on his Photo Blog.

The Story of the MEGA-Twitch

The above is how the news hit me, but let’s look how the story evolved. If you are a member of BirdForum you can read the whole thread in Local Patch forum from NE England – Tyne and Wear.  The thread starts on Page 137!

Dougie Holden had the day off work, because it was his wedding anniversary on October 22 and bummed off a couple of hours in the middle of the day to do some birding. He met up with his friend Derek Bilton at the quary. Derek spotted  the bird after only 5 minutes, which Dougie ID:ed as a Yellow-browed Warbler, which certainly is not a bad bird itself and would have been a lifer for Derek. Dougie managed to take a photo. This one, that has been circled the world since Thursday:

Eastern Crowned Warbler. Photo: Dougie Holden

Eastern Crowned Warbler. Photo: Dougie Holden

Dougie had uploaded severa photos apart from this one, and a discussion started regarding the ID of a photographed Short-eared/Long-eared Owl

Dougie sent his note at 6:40 pm. By 7:54 pm Mark Newsome – Durham Bird Club’s County recorder writes:

….I think you should be looking at the photo of Dougie’s ‘Yellow-browed Warbler’ instead. The bird is actually an Eastern Crowned Warbler, a first for Britain.
Oh. My. God.

Mark puts the find into context with a note to birdforum. There were only four previous records in Western Palearctic:

Helgoland, Germany – 4 Oct. 1843
Jaeren, Norway – 30 Sep. 2002
Kokkola, Finland – 24 Oct. 2004
Katwijk, Netherlands – 5 Oct. 2007

Next morning Friday Oct 23, the show started. 150 birders were there at 8 AM. There were reportages and interviews made all day. Dougie was selling autographed Photos at the quary.Interview for Radio Newcastle and TV  interview with BBC News.

Here are the first write-ups:
Jarrow & Hebburn Gazette



Dougie says:

“In the bird watching world, this is the equivalent of winning the World Cup.”

On Saturday Morning Dougie writes on BirdForum.

Hi Folks,

Was up at 4.45 this morning as I can’t seem to sleep just lately (wonder why!) I think I’m just totally overawed by the impact this find has had on the birding world, my local patch, and our thread – Brilliant!

Yesterday was absolute madness from start to finish, hundreds of birders from far and wide descending on Trow, the phones (house & mobile) just didn’t stop ringing all day, I even had a visit from the national press – unbelievable!

I’ve thought a lot about Thursdays ‘find’ and obviously Derek and I played a big part in this, but if we’re honest we had no idea what it was we’d discovered…. so with this in mind I’d like to say a massive thanks to Mark Newsome for his superb identification skills because without his expertise this bird would have just flew south as another Yellow Browed Warbler – well done mate, it’s your bird as much as ours!

I had never even heard of an Eastern Crowned Warbler and couldn’t find reference to it in any of my many bird books; however it’s not a bird I’m likely to forget in a hurry!

Thanks to everyone for the pm’s, texts and emails – I’m just so pleased the bird showed well yesterday and the ‘twitch’ was worthwhile.

Best wishes ‘one and all’

Cheers, Dougie.

Here is the  BBC interview with the Dougie and Mark. The bird was still there on Saturday.

Here is yet another BBC reportage.

And here is some video of the actual bird.

The bird was still there on Saturday. UPDATE: It was not found on the Sunday, when it must have moved on.

Birding in the digital age.

Hadn’t it been for both digital cameras and the information highway on the internet (here via Birdforum – the largest bird related forum on the internet) this bird would most likely have gone undetected, and even if ending up on film, most likely gone by the time the photographer had had the roll developed and finally analyzed by a more widely travelled and experienced birder as Mark Newsome.  It also shows the extreme importance of carrying a camera at all times in the field.

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Brown-backed Solitaire – contestant to “1000 birds to see before you die”?

Brown-backed Solitarie. Photo copyright (reproduced w permission): Antonio Hidalgo.

Brown-backed Solitarie. Photo copyright (reproduced w permission): Antonio Hidalgo.

This is  potentially a new bird to the US list. It has been recorded before, but all other records have been rejected, since it is a common cagebird in Mexico, due to its pretty song. However, as Rick Wright puts it:

This individual, in a place and a habitat eminently suitable for a post-breeding wanderer, will be a first for the ABA Area if accepted.

Photos of the bird observed in at Miller Canyon, Arizona on July 16 that can be found here, indicate that the bird does not seem to have been handled (previous records have had some broken feathers) and therefore it may well be spontaneous.

I admit. I had never heard of the species before, but after finding Antonio Hidalgo’s  excellent photo on Flickr (thanks for the permission to use, Antonio. If anyone needs a high resolution of this pic, contact Antonio by clicking the link) and hearing it’s song from Xeno-canto, my impression was down to one word. WOW! This is a bird I need to see – and hear – one day.  Whether it will make the final list of 1000 birds worldwide I don’t know yet, but it sure tickled my nerve.

Yesterday, July 17  around 50 birders were out looking for it at Miller Canyon, but no luck. Today July 18, however, a fresh report from nearby (I presume) Ramsey Canyon Joe Woodley gives this report on the Arizona – New Mexico birding listserv:

Rick Romea just called to tell me that he had seen a (or presumably “the”) Brown-backed Solitaire in Ramsey Canyon at about 1:30PM today. It was between the wetlands and the staff cabin on the left hand (away from the creek) side as you walk up the trail. It was mid-level in the canopy and singing!! Rick had received a call from an individual who had heard the bird singing around 12:30PM today. Joe Woodley Hereford, AZ

Here is the info how to get to Ramsey Canyon and other useful info, kindly provided on the list by Mark Stevenson. Now go and get it, if you are close by.

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Phoebe Snetsinger biography

Finally a book about a birder’s quest you don’t have to be a birder to enjoy.

Sometimes it is good to be a blogger. My blog had caught the attention of author Olivia Gentile and I was asked to review the new biography Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds she had written on Phoebe Snetsinger, the first birder ever, and still the only woman, to pass 8000 species of birds seen in the world. Phoebe hardly needs a presentation among birders, but for the rest of the world the words of Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond sums it up nicely:

“Except for one thing, this book would rate as a great adventure novel and fictional psychological portrait, about a woman’s obsession with bird-watching, its effect on her relationships with her husband and her four children, and the horrifying mishaps that she survived on each continent—until the last mishap. But the book isn’t that great novel, because instead it’s a great true story: the biography of Phoebe Snetsinger, who set the world record for bird species seen, after growing up in an era when American women weren’t supposed to be competitive or have careers. Whether or not you pretend that it’s a novel, you’ll enjoy this powerful, moving story.”

It should take some 3 weeks until I eventually got the book sent to me by Olivia. I was sold on this book even before I started reading it. I just love the flash promotion intro to the book inserted above. This is the coolest thing I have seen for years. The simplistic design, the fast change of birdnames, ticking away 2 names per second on white background, the loose illustration and the music build up to a final crescendo and gran finale are just awesome.
The picky birdwatcher would maybe object that some full birdnames are not shown completely (i.e. Parrot), but the whole concept just blew my mind. I put it on my facebook, recommended the site to my Twitter friends and some of the lists I subscribe to. Some said to me that they ordered the book of Amazon as soon as they’d seen the ad.
I guess I earned my free copy already!

Did the book hold up to the expectations?

While Snetzinger’s own memoir Birding On Borrowed Time was well received among birders and very well written, some reviewers complain there are just too many birds mentioned to be of interest for a non-birder. Olivia Gentile’s book also mentions many glorious species, but it is well balanced and gives the reasoning of the complete switch and obsession that came to Phoebe’s life with birding. It was about self-fulfilment that was impossible for a woman in the 50. Phoebe had straight A:s through college and could have had a tremendous carrier had she been living two decades later. Instead she became a housewife.  After she found birding at the age of 34 she started becoming more at ease with her situation. At the age of 49 she had just started taking some organized birding trips outside the US and was diagnosed with Cancer and given one year to live. This was the turning point. She had seen less than 2000 species of birds. From now on she would grasp the day as it came and do what she like most. Birding!

It turned out that the cancer receded and she was to add over 6500 species more to her life list over the next 18 years to finally die in (ironically not from cancer) in a car crash during a birding tour on Madagascar. The birding during these years became an obsession that put strain on her marriage, the relation with her kids and also exposed her to many dangers on her trips during some brutal hikes and dangerous boat and car-rides.
The book covers well her motives and the reactions in her surrounding.

Her friend Terry Witt who participated on many tours with her writes on BirdChat list:

Those of you who have read her autobiography, “Birding on Borrowed Time”, will be familiar with the fascinating story of her birding career.  “Life List” recounts again much of this material, but in addition, delves into the extended family history in detail, and makes an effort to explore her personal side in incredible depth.  The author had cooperation from Phoebe’s family, and a wealth of information from her many friends in her effort to try and understand this remarkable and most unique individual.

Phoebe was a good friend of mine, and I thought I knew her well, but after reading the book, I was amazed at how much of her private life and thoughts she kept hidden.  The real irony is, that I am sure that much of this materiel would never have come to light save for her untimely death.

The author Olivia Gentile writes in the introduction:

I decided to write some sort of essay on birdwatching, and I called a few bird clubs near my home in Manhattan to see what they had going on. One man misunderstood and thought I was interested in joining his club. He tried to encourage me. “Who knows?” he said. “Maybe you’ll be the next Phoebe Snetsinger.” The man had never met Phoebe, but he knew all about her (as most birdwatchers do, it turned out) and he told me a little. That was back in 2001, two years after her death, and I’ve been piecing together her life ever since.

Phoebe liked to write things down, and I’ve been able to reconstruct her life largely by following her paper trail. In addition to the poetry she wrote in her forties, I read letters she wrote to friends and family; notes she wrote to herself during good times and bad; and the notebooks she kept on her trips, which were meticulous and often quite personal. I read articles she wrote for the newsletter of her bird club and for magazines, and the many articles that were written about her. When she was 65, she started working on a memoir, which was almost complete when she died.

I interviewed Phoebe’s family: her two brothers; Dave, her widower, who still lives outside St. Louis; and her four children, now in their forties and fifties, all of whom have careers in the natural sciences. The Snetsingers are private, dignified people, but they shared with me what they were comfortable with (and, generously, allowed me to read and quote from Phoebe’s papers). I interviewed dozens of her friends, most of them birders, and I found that a lot of them had stories worth telling, too. I did a lot of birdwatching myself, both in New York and in some of the places that were important to Phoebe, including Kenya and Peru, two countries in the tropics that are particularly rich with birds.

This book is about Phoebe, and about birding, a way of life I wanted to better understand. But it’s also about the broad and fundamental questions Phoebe’s life raises. What happens when society pushes you into a role you aren’t meant to play? If you’re told you only have a short time to live, how should you spend it? Where is the line between dedication and obsession, and when does obsession cross the line into pathology?

What does it mean, ultimately, to live, and die, well?

Final verdict – Phoebe Snetsinger and I.

I LOVED THE BOOK!  I am 48 years old, and turning 49 this year. The same age as Phoebe had when she was given her “death sentence”. It scares me! Particularly, since I have a 2 year old daughter and my Peruvian wife Elita is almost 6 months pregnant with another daughter. I have to last for at least another 20 years! I have to keep fit and have taken up my Marathon running again. But, I also want to see some more birds and travel the world. It will be tough balls to juggle .
My life list is a around 3600 species maybe more (I haven´t done the math for a long time) so I would have a head start on Phoebe. But,  I don’t think I will be as “mad” as Phoebe, that would be too irresponsible. In the bird tour business and birding in remote areas, albeit rarely, shit happens, which the book illustrates with rape, kid-napping, gunpoint assaults, shipwreck, car-accidents, fatal altitude sickness, poisonous snake bites, tropical diseases, broken limbs, murder and simply disappearing in the forest. (Don’t tell my wife!).
I am not taking long trips at present. I suffer being away only a couple of days from Luciana, my daughter, but I will be guiding a two week trip next month. And next year I shall be taking even longer trips. I have to juggle it gently, I think.
The book inspired to my recent idea of writing a book:  “1000 birds to see before you die”.  Maybe this is a reasonable compromise? Not to go for all the birds in the world, but for the 1000 best ones. Don’t be surprised if I suddenly start offering birding tours to far-flung places around the world, with myself as leader/coordinator employing local guides. Anyone up for going to see the Helmeted Vanga on Madagascar – Phoebe Snetsinger’s last zest? I’d take you!

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Yellow-browed Bunting – gulbrynad sparv – just 3.5km from where I used to live in Sweden

I find it incredible to read about a new bird to Sweden very close – only 3.5km – to where I lived before emigrating to Peru. It almost makes me want to go twitching – fly the 11 400km to Järvafältet where I used to go birding in the 80s. The Sparrow is still twitchable as it since January 3 to January 13 has been seen daily.
I just did the flight with Google Earth and great to see these land features. I naturally checked the pictures on Artportalen – the Swedish equivalent to ebird, where I find a picture from my class mate and birding friend Tomas Lundquist. I am sure he does not mind me showing his picture here. I just wrote Tomas to ask for permission. (No see in over 10 years)

Yellow-browed Bunting, gulbrynad sparv, Emberiza chrysophrys. Photo: Tomas Lundquist.

Here is the slightly modified press-release from UPI:

More than 400 bird enthusiasts traveled to a Barkarby, North of Stockholm to see a rare yellow-browed bunting, a perching bird similar to a sparrow, on the first day January 4.

The seed-eating bird, which breeds in eastern Siberia and winters in central and southern China, had never been reported in Sweden before. It is a very rare wanderer to western Europe at all, with five sightings in Britain since 1998 along with a few in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, the Swedish Ornithological Association said.

The pink-beaked, relatively large-headed bird — known for its bright-yellow eyebrow stripe — was first spotted in dry brush in the Stockholm suburb of Norra Järvafältet, the excited enthusiasts told the newspaper.’

There was a bit of turmoil in the camp, veteran ornithologist Henrik Waldenström told Expressen newspaper.

It was very crowded and as soon as the bird or someone else moved, then everyone started running, he said. Fortunately there were no outbreaks of actual violence, but the atmosphere was dramatic, to say the least.

The bird — whose upper parts are brown and heavily streaked and whose under parts are white with an orange hue on the flanks and some fine dark streaks — was still recorded today January 13“.

Great to see and hear from Henrik and Tomas this way. Henrik was somewhat like a mentor to me, as he was the leader of most of the birding excursions I took in the early 80s with Stockholm’s Ornithological Society (StOF) as a beginner (hardcore) birder. Tomas and I took the field course of Ecology at Tjärnö on the coast of SW Sweden one summer (1987 I think it was). On the way to get there, we twitched a Siberian Golden Plover, which included a rented car and a separate train/bus journey to get to Tjärnö – a significant cost for poor students! At that time it was my most expensive lifer!

Yellow-browed Bunting  is known with the scientific name Emberiza chrysophrys. The epithet read in Swedish could be pronounced with a Swedish accent “kryss-å-frys” – which literally means “tick-n-freeze” – how suitable!  Temperature in Stockhom right now is around freezing point -and I am enjoying 25 degrees Celsius and am going for a run shortly. On second thought, I think I will content myself with the Google Earth twitch I just did. Brrr!
Don’t think we shall get a mob of 400 Peruvian twitchers going crazy, if there all of a sudden would be a White-throated Sparrow showing up among the Rufous-collared Sparrows at el Olivar park – around 3.5km from my present home.

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