Birding and Bird Photography Blog by Leander Khil

Kategorie: Rarities

Texel trip report

In the end of October, I led a group of BirdLife Austria members to the West Frisian island of Texel, the Netherlands. We had a stormy but successul birdwatching trip, co-guided by local expert Christian Brinkman. The most enjoyed species were Steppe Grey Shrike, Sooty Shearwater (a personal lifer!), Purple Sandpiper, Bewick’s Swan, Shorelark, Snow Bunting and a Great White Pelican of unknown origin at our way back to the airport. Read the trip report (in German) here.

Meerstrandläufer / Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)

Meerstrandläufer / Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)

A Calandra Lark in Seewinkel

While working on Lapwings in Seewinkel national park, I found a Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) on a gravel road, right beside a small Lapwing colony near Neufeldlacke.

The bird was singing gently from the ground, sometimes chasing away the Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) frequently flying by or entering its territory. Every few minutes it took off, ascending to around 20 m height from where it sang shortly as well. Then it landed on a nearby broken up field to feed for a few minutes, just to return to the singing post again. The bird repeated this procedure several times, when it suddenly took off around 8.40 a.m. and disappearedy to the south-west.
I turned my attention to the Lapwings again. After about half an hour, I heard a song from the sky above me – undoubtedly of a lark but unkown to me. Looking out of the car window, I saw the Calandra Lark again, just dropping in the pasture to my right where I watched it for another few minutes.

This is the 16th record of Calandra Lark for Austria if accepted by the AFK and the first one to be seen in March. Of the previous 15 records, 14 are from April to June and only one bird was discovered in the end of September. Following two records in 1966, it is the third record of the species from the Seewinkel region.

Iran in Winter – the North

I just came back from a marvellous trip to Iran. It will take some more time until the full trip report is finished, but here are some photos of the northern part of this huge and fascinating country, the region of Fereydoon Kenar in particular.
We spent two days at the doubtfully famous “damghas”, flooded rice fields were bird trapping (especially for ducks) is carried out to a vast extent. When searching for “Omid”, sadly the last wild Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus) left of the western population, we had the opportunity to see with our own eyes what’s going on in the damghas.
Thanks a lot to all of our friends who helped us during our stay in northern Iran, first and foremost Dr. Mahmoud Ghasempouri, Ellen Vuosalo-Tavakoli and Mohammad Ali Allahgholi!

Yellow-billed Diver in Vienna

Gelbschnabeltaucher / Yellow-billed Diver


I hardly find the time to post here. But waiting for an airplane, this is an occasion.
Just twitched a second-year Yellow-billed Diver (Gavia adamsii) found by L. Timaeus at river Danube in Vienna. This already is the third record of this vagrant since 2009.
The bird is amazingly confident, diving surprising distances!

Seven records have been accepted from Austria by the AFK so far, another one (1 ind. at Attersee/Upper Austria, 28.-29.12.2012) still has to be reviewed.

That’s it, a quick sign of life before I leave for Iran.

Lesser Grey Shrike – another (nearly) Austrian breeding record

I didn’t post too much during this extremely hot and sunny summer, as I’ve been busy with: enjoying the time. Most of all working ornithologically, photographically and frisbee-related (which peaked in the win of the national championship with my team fwd>> against my former home team Catchup Graz in the finals; just to bring in some of the much-neglected frisbee-news).

Who wants to spend his time in front of the screen when there’s the most pleasant of central European seasons out there? I probably didn’t really reduce screen-time but spent it in front of other screens.. you can follow some blog posts here (from the wildlife tours I guide at Nationalpark Neusiedler See – Seewinkel; in German and written for a wider audience ). Currently I’m also finishing a spring review of bird observations in Seewinkel, which will contain photos from the last months and thus should be closing or shrinking the gap of photo posts.

Although there would have been tons of sightings and photo series to show here, I take a most recent and delightful one as the occasion to reappear in the blogosphere.

A quick blast from the past: Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor) used to be a regular breeding species in eastern Austria up to the second half of the 20th century. After a rapid decline and the extinction of the species across its range in Austria, from 1981 only a tiny population remained in the Seewinkel/Burgenland (Dvorak et al. 1993). Besides this, breeding of single pairs was still recorded in Steiermark in the early 1990s (Samwald & Samwald 1993, Sackl & Samwald 1997). The last pair of the remaining population in Seewinkel disappeared in 2002.
In the 20 years of 1991-2011, the Austrian Avifaunistic Committee has accepted 29 records, all from May and June (Steiermark: 10, Burgenland: 7, Niederösterreich: 5, Oberösterreich: 3, Vorarlberg: 3, Kärnten: 1) – excluding the few breeding records and observations from Seewinkel up to 2007 (; Laber & Ranner 1997; Ranner et al. 1995; Ranner 2002; 2003; Ranner & Khil 2009; Ranner & Khil 2011).

In 2012, besides two records from May, the species bred in Austria again, for the first time after its 10-year temporary extincition in 2002. A pair reared six juveniles at Graurinderkoppel in Seewinkel, an 800 hectare enclosure grazed by about 400 Hungarian Grey Cattle (

The awaited return of the breeding pair or its offspring to Graurinderkoppel did not happen in 2013. Despite six single observations of Lesser Grey Shrikes in the Seewinkel area in May and June 2012, also in the 2012 territory, no breeding pair could be located.

When no one would have expected it anymore, the good news came out on August 8. A pair of Lesser Grey Shrikes had bred in the border area to Hungary (with the nest apparently being not in Austria by a few metres). I visited the family with its four fledged chicks and took some images.

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Great Northern Diver

Today I joined the twitch of a Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer) at Neue Donau, Vienna. The bird was reported as an adult yesterday and was still present at noon. It showed very well at 70-100m most of the time, though it sometimes seemed a little restless between the 15+ birders watching from both riversides.
Although sources on ageing of the species (extending beyond the differentiation of juveniles and adults) are limited and captions of photos on the net often seem contradictory, I think that the bird in question could be a subadult, in 3rd or 4th calendar-year. The eye seems too dark for a full adult, which should show a brighter reddish-brown color.
Since 1980, there have been 36 records of Great Northern Diver from Austria ( of which one was at the same location in November 1998 (Ranner, A. 2002: Nachweise seltener und bemerkenswerter Vogelarten in Österreich 1996- 1998. 3. Bericht der Avifaunistischen Kommission von BirdLife Österreich. Egretta 45: 1- 37.)

One more post from Morocco

Just can’t finish with the Morocco images, there’s so much left to edit… No time to write too much about it, unfortunately. Just enjoy! The following were taken in February 2012, mostly along the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse location / Nile Valley

A description of the location of the recently rediscovered Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses in the Central Nile Valley, posted on EgyBirdGroup and WestPalBirds.

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Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in Egypt

Edit: Much better photos by J. Geburzi from today, added to the gallery below.

While working in Egypt with german colleagues, we (M. Boetzel, J. Geburzi, M. Trobitz, C. Weinrich, M. Werner, T. Zegula and me) made an exciting find in Minya Governorate, Egypt.
When searching for Crowned Sandgrouse (Pterocles coronatus) on March 18, which has previously been seen in the area by M. Trobitz, we had a flyby-observation of four small, dark-bellied sandgrouse with elongated tail, which we couldn’t readily identify. When consulting literature back at home, it became clear that all features seen (long tail, sandy-brown wing with black primaries and secondaries, white trailing edge, no obvious contrast between dark underwing and dark belly, short, guttural calls ‘kwritt-kwritt-kwritt’) clearly pointed towards Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus), a species thought to be extinct in Egypt and rarely recorded within the western palearctic. A quick research revealed that these birds should belong to the egyptian subspecies Pterocles exustus floweri (Nicoll 1921), which is listed as “extinct” by some sources 1 2. In the 20th century, the subspecies appeared to be “fairly numerous in Upper Egypt and the Faiyum” 3, the species was last recorded in Egypt in 1979 (I. Moldovan in litt.).
We unsuccessfully tried to relocate the birds the same evening and in the following days. Due to work, we only had time to search in late afternoon/evening. It took some days until we could go back to the spot in early afternoon, the time of day when we first saw the birds in question.

On March 21, we finally found ca. 25 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse near the spot where we first saw the flying four. We got perfect views of some birds flying over our heads, sometimes as close as 30 m. If you haven’t experienced it yet: It’s a terrible feeling to find a major rarity, not being able to take proper photos. My whole photography equipment is still confiscated at Cairo airport, which is why I had to work with my Canon S90 compact camera. Have you ever tried to photograph elusive sandgrouse in flight, with a focal length of 105 mm, a terribly slow autofocus and a shutter lag of 0.5 s? I had to – it’s a nightmare. Under this circumstances, I’m quite happy with the few record shots, showing most of the important features. Additional field marks noted in the individuals seen at closer range (males?) were a fine, black band on the breast, white trailing-edge to black primaries, dark brown underwings, not contrasting to dark brown belly but contrasting to buffy-yellowish undertail, breast and head.

The birds, mostly flying in small groups of up to seven individuals (max. ca. 25 in one flock), frequented cultivated and abandoned sandy fields in a varied, cultivated landscape with stony hills, sandy plains, water holes, areas with sand dunes, fields and gardens.

  1. – downloaded on March 22, 2012
  2. – downloaded on March 22, 2012
  3. Nicoll, M. J. (1919): Handlist of the Birds of Egypt, Cairo, Government Press

Northern Bald Ibis: The rarest bird I’ve ever seen

Watching Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) is a must for any birdwatcher visiting Morocco. Only two small populations of this species, listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN 1, remain in the wild. Little more than 100 breeding pairs live in western Morocco 2 and only a handful of birds have been rediscovered in Syria 3 in 2002.
To protect the breeding birds, the exact locations of the colonies in Morocco are kept secret to the public. However, birds can be watched well at feeding sites in the Souss-Massa National Park or at the mouth of river Tamri, north of Agadir.
I visited the latter on my recent trip to Morocco with A. & M. Tiefenbach. We found the birds straightaway, about 40 adults and immatures, resting at the shore of the small estuary, formed by the river flowing into the sea. For the well-being of the birds, we didn’t approach, but waited for them to approach us, flying up to the sandy slopes in the afternoon, where they regularely feed and from where we were watching. We spent a half day there, watching and photographing the rarest bird we had ever seen – not an easy task! Although the birds seemed familiar with people watching them, it was hard to follow the restless flocks, constantly walking through the bush-covered sand-dunes, rarely giving good, direct views. The ibises fed on insects like large bugs, which they were tearing out of the sand. More on the conservation of Bald Ibis in Morocco:
Absorbed in these precious observations, we started to think about where to sleep only when it was already dark – and decided to set up our tent near the village of Tamri. Not be best decision, as it turned out that two guys tried to get into our car for hours, while we were sleeping just beside it. We finally woke up (and chased them away) by their noises and touches, when they apparently tried to find the key of the car inside our tent. Creepy…

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