Category Archives: Europe

Cruise Birding: A Day in Madeira

Back in May 2014, Arthur and I took a transatlantic cruise from Miami to Barcelona on the Norwegian Epic. Along the way we had one stop — one day in Madeira. We hired a private bird guide, Catarina from Madeira Wind Birds for the day; we had a great time.

We didn’t have high expectations for the outing, especially since the ship arrived in Funchal port late in the morning, past prime birding time. Our first checklist started at 11AM! In the end we ended up seeing 26 species over 8 checklists, with 8 lifers. Our bird list is at the end of this post.

Madeira first look
Approaching Madeira

We watched as our ship approached the island. It was covered in clouds and hard to see — our first impression was that we would have a dreary day, but this misty, cloudy start is typical of Madeira. By the time we could disembark the skies had cleared. We walked off the pier and met our guide.

Madeira Zebra
Wide pedestrian path adjacent to Funchal cruise port

Our first stop, Ponta de São Lourenço, was at the far eastern side of the island. Here we successfully searched for Berthelot’s Pipit. In the windswept fields we also found a lark which we had trouble identifying in the field. Using photos and our guidebooks we were able to ID this bird as a Greater Short-toed Lark with the help of our guide Catarina. This bird is considered a rare vagrant on the island.

Madeira scenery
Madeira’s eastern coast

Madeira birding
Looking for pipits

Madeira Berthelot's Pipit
Berthelot’s Pipit

Madeira Greater Short-toed Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark

On the way to our next stop we picked up Spanish Sparrows nesting in urban palm trees. Along the water at Porto de Recreio de Machico we added 8 species.

Madeira Spanish Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow

Porto de Recreio de Machico

Maderia Gray Wagtail
Gray Wagtail

Madeira Eurasian Blackcap
Eurasian Blackcap

Madeira Island Canary
Island Canary

Madeira European Goldfinch
European Goldfinch

At our final stop, Santo António da Serra, we successfully searched for Madeira Firefinch. This is a local subspecies that we didn’t think we would find, considering the time of day. It was a lucky tick, though I was not so fortunate with my camera.

Driving back to Monte, we spotted a Eurasian Kestrel hovering over the airport.

Arthur and I had lunch in Monte and looked around a bit before taking the scenic Teleférico do Funchal aerial tram back down to the port. The other fun way to descend from the town of Monte back down to the port is via toboggan. We watched the drivers for a bit before we got on the tram.

Madeira tile
Tile work in an abandoned building

Madeira sleds

Madeira sled
Toboggan driver

Madeira air tram
Arthur with NCL Epic in the background

Madeira bridge
View from the tram

View from the tram

The Madeira Flower Festival was winding down during our visit, so we saw lots of flower displays throughout Funchal as we walked back to the Epic for the continuation of our journey from Miami to Barcelona.

Madeira flower festival
Flowers in Funchal

Madeira flower festival
Flowers in Funchal frame the Epic

Madeira port murals
Funchal port murals

Madeira Bird List May 5, 2014; lifers bold

Muscovy Duck – Cairina moschata
Cory’s Shearwater – Calonectris diomedea
Manx Shearwater – Puffinus puffinus
Little Egret – Egretta garzetta
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – Accipiter nisus
Common Buzzard – Buteo buteo
Eurasian Moorhen – Gallinula chloropus
Ruddy Turnstone – Arenaria interpres
Yellow-legged Gull – Larus michahellis
Lesser Black-backed Gull – Larus fuscus
Roseate Tern – Sterna dougallii
Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
Eurasian Kestrel – Falco tinnunculus
Greater Short-toed Lark – Calandrella brachydactyla
Firecrest – Regulus ignicapilla
Eurasian Blackcap – Sylvia atricapilla
European Robin – Erithacus rubecula
Eurasian Blackbird – Turdus merula
Gray Wagtail – Motacilla cinerea
Berthelot’s Pipit – Anthus berthelotii
Common Chaffinch – Fringilla coelebs
European Greenfinch – Chloris chloris
European Goldfinch – Carduelis carduelis
Island Canary – Serinus canaria
Spanish Sparrow – Passer hispaniolensis

eBird checklists:
Ponta de São Lourenço
Caniçal Spanish Sparrow location
Porto de recreio de Machico
Santo António da Serra
Madeira Airport drive-by
Marina do Funchal
Funchal at sea

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Posted in Cruise Birding, Europe, Life List, Rare / Vagrant, Travel | Leave a comment

The Tower Ravens

Ravens at the Tower of London

I can’t believe it’s been so long but this past January marked 10 years since my visit to see the Tower of London and the famous ravens that live there. Arthur and I visited London several times during our years in Europe, but we only went to the Tower once. Here are some photos from our trip to the famous monument and its well-known residents.

Ravens at the Tower of London

Ravens at the Tower of London

Ravens at the Tower of London

Raven at the Tower of London

Ravens smooching at the Tower of London

Ravens at the Tower of London

Raven Memorial at the Tower of London

The reason for my nostalgia is that I recently had the pleasure to read Boria Sax’s book about the birds: City of Ravens. Skip on over to to read my 3.5-star review of City of Ravens.

Tower of London

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Falcons, Herons & Owls, oh my!

It’s March, which means it’s again the time of year when I give a little plug for my favorite nestcam website. Earlier this month, the nestcams over at the Dutch site Beleef de Lente started up for the spring nesting season.

Storks sleeping on one leg at the nest site.

For the 2011 season the site will have live streaming cams on the following Dutch nesting bird species:

Little Owl (Steenuil)
Eurasian Eagle-owl (Oehoe)
White Stork (Ooievaar)
Barn Swallow (Boerenzwaluw)
Eurasian Nuthatch (Boomklever)
Common Kingfisher (IJsvogel)
Purple Heron (Purperreiger)
Peregrine Falcon (Slechtvalk)

The kingfisher, heron and falcons are new for this year, although Common Kingfishers and Peregrine Falcons have been featured on the site before.

Remember the time difference (the Netherlands is GMT +1) when you have a look at the cams. The owl cams will probably be more active at night. Just this afternoon I had a look at the cams and saw a Peregrine Falcon snoozing outside the nest box, and both White Storks asleep on the nest. The Eurasian Eagle-owl began incubating just today. The swallow and heron cams have yet to start up, but all of the other cameras have seen birds visiting the nest sites, though no eggs have been laid so far.

Eurasian Eagle-owl incubating at her nest

I love these cams for a few reasons.

1. There are eight different cams available via one website.
2. Several of the nests have multiple cameras on them, so you can follow the birds as they move from view to view.
3. The cams are live streaming, with sound! None of this picture-refreshes-every-10-seconds nonsense. You see it all!
4. Archived clips of nestcam highlights. You don’t have to be fluent in Dutch to click through the clips to see amazing captures from the cams.
5. If you can read Dutch, the written regular updates by species-specific experts are great at explaining what is going on at each nest site.

If you have the chance, visit the Beleef de Lente site and visit some European nesting birds!

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Streaming Dutch back yard birds

Last week the Dutch branch of BirdLife International, Vogelbescherming, introduced a new website featuring four different bird cams. Beleef de winter is the non-breeding season’s answer to the hugely popular series of nest cams run by Vogelbescherming each spring, Beleef de Lente. Viewers from around the world can watch Dutch feeder visitors on four different cameras.

Like the springtime nest cams, the live streaming winter cams are available 24 hours. Highlights from the cams are archived, so if there isn’t any action when you take a peek, you can still see some resident Dutch winter birds.

My favorite is cam 3, which is pointed at an open water source. The bubbling water is pretty popular bathing site for birds like Great Tits, Blackbirds, and European Robins. The clip “02-01 Populaire badplaats” shows a robin having a quickie bath and a cute Blue Tit who seems content to just wash its face in the water. Another great clip features a pair of Long-tailed Tits, which are like chickadees only fluffier, bigger-headed, and sporting little white Mohawks and super-sized tails: “05-01 Staartmezen.”

Nest cams are popular in the spring breeding season, which for most local birds is still months away. These feeder cams from Holland are fun to watch while we wait for those nest cams to fire up again. Do you have any favorite winter bird cams that are running right now?

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Birds of the Year

Earlier this month, the Barn Owl was named Audubon California’s 2010 Bird of the Year by popular vote. Although not one of the six birds nominated by group, the Barn Owl won as a write-in candidate with nearly 70% of the total vote. The species probably got a boost via an extremely popular Barn Owl nest cam that ran over the spring. Molly the Owl got worldwide attention. The Barn Owl is doing relatively well in California; local populations suffer from habitat loss. The species is endangered here in Illinois for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, Dutch bird research partners including the Dutch branch of BirdLife International named 2011 the Year of the Barn Swallow. The population of Barn Swallows in the Netherlands has been cut in half over the past 40 years. Researchers are asking for the public’s help in reporting Barn Swallow sightings as well as previous and potential nest sites. Dutch friends can visit this site to learn more.

While I can’t predict what my bird of the year for 2011 will be, I can say that 2010 was the year of the Barred Owl. I got to meet a very special education Barred Owl named Meepy, and I am looking forward to spending more time with her in 2011.

Meepy the Barred Owl

And one of my most exciting bird sightings of the year took place on November 13th, when Arthur and I attended an Owl Prowl at Ryerson Woods in Lake County and saw our first Illinois Barred Owl! The owl was a lifer for many on the trip and a county tick for everyone except the trip leader (I think), including a friend who has been birding in Lake County for over 40 years. It was so exciting and I regret that I didn’t blog about it at the time (because I didn’t have any photos to share).

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Posted in FCWR, Illinois, Lake-Cook Audubon, LCFPD, Netherlands | Leave a comment

I can’t resist

Using animals for our own amusement is wrong, absolutely. So the sight of dyed pigeons first gives me a feeling of dismay. But hand feeding beautiful, sweet, hungry birds — the lure is too much for me.

Pigeons at the Efteling

A mixed flock of dyed Fantail Pigeons (a domestic breed) and Rock Doves hangs out in one of the Efteling‘s beautiful open areas. A vendor sells seed in small packages and I cannot resist.

Pigeons at the Efteling

From what I have been able to find out online, the birds are colored using pigeon-safe dye. They are all fully flighted, and mix freely with non-dyed pigeons as well as Jackdaws, House Sparrows, and even a Wood Pigeon or two.

Pigeons at the Efteling

Pigeons at the Efteling

The first time I saw the dyed birds was on my first visit to the Efteling back in 2000. On a much later visit, perhaps in 2008, the flock of pigeons was in the same place, but there were no dyed birds. I thought, Joy! They stopped dying them, but we can still feed them, now that’s some progress. I was surprised to see the dyed birds again on this latest visit, August 2010.

Pigeons at the Efteling

Pigeons at the Efteling

If you’ve ever seen dyed pigeons, or know more about the process, or even if you have an opinion about the practice you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Pigeons at the Efteling

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Posted in Netherlands, Pigeons! | 3 Comments

African birds in Holland

One day during our visit to Holland we went to an art and craft fair at a garden center. Arthur’s cousin had a table there and we went to see her pottery work (check it out, Dutch friends!) and the other artists.

One of the tables represented the metal sculpture gallery Birdwoods. A company now based in New Zealand distributes and sells metal sculptures of (mostly) birds made from recycled oil drums by families in Zimbabwe. That’s a mouthful; read more here, and enjoy these photos of the interesting and beautiful sculptures.






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Natuur Museum Brabant

Back in August, we visited the Natuur Museum Brabant in Tilburg, the Netherlands. I was really impressed by the bird collection and other displays in this small provincial natural history museum.

Natuur Museum Brabant

A large part of the permanent exhibit features common Dutch wildlife, especially that found in Brabant. This includes an impressive number of birds – and rather small numbers of everything else, really. Notice the pet dog (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?) and domestic sheep bolstering the mammal numbers.

Natuur Museum Brabant

Natuur Museum Brabant

In another room, there was an interesting display depicting several species that were extirpated from the Netherlands, and recent reintroduction efforts. For example, the last breeding pair of Ravens was found in south Limburg in 1944; 200 Ravens were re-introduced in the natural area Veluwe over a period of 20+ years.

A temporary exhibit on reproduction and sexuality was pretty interesting, with a couple of bird-related tidbits that stood out.

First, it was neat to see a side-by-side comparison of male vs. female size in a couple of raptor species. In birds of prey, the female bird is almost always larger than the male.

Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk

Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Eurasian Sparrowhawk

Next, it was kind of fun to show this duck display to my cousin- and mother-in-law. And I thought crazy duck genitalia was common knowledge! 🙂

Natuur Museum Brabant

The caption below reads in part: Record penis: Most birds have no penis. But if they do have one, boy do they steal the show. This Argentinian Stiff-tailed Duck has a penis nearly a half meter long.

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Through the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, darkly

Following our stroll through the Jardin des Plantes, we entered the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution. The Galerie is a major natural history museum, and features hundreds of animal specimens and dozens of interesting displays. Four floors of exhibits are arranged around the main gallery located on the ground floor.

Grande Galerie de l’Evolution

The lighting is extremely dim, making some of the displays hard to read and all of them difficult to photograph.

Grande Galerie de l’Evolution

Many of the animal specimens aren’t covered, which makes an exciting initial impression. Visitors can get up close to the animals, but so can dust.

Grande Galerie de l’Evolution

One neat display called “Birds of the Tertiary” showed the fossilized remains of several early bird species. The Tertiary Period was 65 million to 2.6 million years ago.

Birds of the Tertiary

Scaniacypselus, related to modern swifts (none of my other shots of captions came out)

Birds of the Tertiary

Birds of the Tertiary

Birds of the Tertiary

If you look for information about this museum online, you’ll find a lot of sites recommending it as a place to bring children. While the exhibits were pretty neat, the museum was a bit stuffy and lacked the type of hands-on exhibits usually aimed at kids. After a while the dark conditions wore us down so we kept our visit relatively short.

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A walk through the Jardin des Plantes

While in Paris, we visited the natural history museum in the Jardin des Plantes. The Jardin is a large botanical garden containing several museum galleries and a small zoo as well as horticultural displays. We walked through parts of the public garden before heading to the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution.

Stork Statue

We stopped for a rest by a large Lebanon Cedar tree. The tree had a plaque on it indicating it was brought to Paris in 1734. Holy cow, that’s old! I gave the tree a hug.

Lebanon Cedar

Lebanon Cedar

Outside of the Galerie there was a huge map of France and her territories.

Big map of France

The natural parks and wildlife reserves of each area was highlighted in different colors. Local flora and fauna, ranging from abundant and common to endangered or extinct were shown for many of the areas. Of course, quite a few of them were birds.

Map of France

New Caledonia

Bearded Vulture

After checking out France’s natural riches on the map, we headed to the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution.

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