Birder’s diary

Birder’s diary – summary of the year

Birder:  Margus Ots,
Photo: Aivar Veide
Translation: Liis
Fox sparrow
2012 summary
The Big Year is at an end and it is time to make summaries. 276 bird species accumulated in my 2012 species list during the year. The last species to be added was the fox sparrow (Passerella iliaca)that caused great excitement in early December. Some hundred twitchers from all over Europe went to Haapsalu to see it. The previous Estonian year record of 267 species, from 2009, was exceeded by 9 species. The previous record was passed by Mariliis Märtson too, who observed 270 species during the year, and no fewer than 4 more outstanding results were added to the list of year records.
Below is the ranking list of number of species observed in Estonia during a calendar year:
276 (2012) Margus Ots
270 (2012) Mariliis Märtson
267 (2009) Uku Paal
262 (2002) Margus Ots
260 (2012) Uku Paal
259 (2001) Sampsa Cairenius
257 (2011) Mariliis Märtson
256 (2012) Tarvo Valker
255 (2001) Timo Pettay
But how many species in all were observed in Estonia during 2012?  That is, how good a result could I have achieved at best?  I myself saw 276 species, but during the year at least 16 more bird species were observed, whom I unfortunately did not manage to come across. So a total of at least 292 bird species were observed in Estonia during 2012. I will not comment the species that I saw here; the comments can be read in the systematic list on the observed species page . But I would like to discuss the 16 species that remained unseen by me:
1) Short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus)- observed during 2012 in Estonia altogether 4 times; unfortunately no bird with a territory was found. I watched for several days in the one-time breeding areas of the short-toed eagles in western and northern Estonia, but the species remained regrettably unseen by me.
2) Eurasian dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)-  only one observation during 2012, one specimen was seen on September 29th in Põgari in Läänemaa. Unfortunately the bird was not twitchable.
3) Pectoral sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)- seen in Estonia during 2012  2 times: on May 16th at Sõrve säär, 2 individuals, and on September 1st, 1 specimen in Saaremaa at Rahuste. Sadly twitchers were late both times. I was in Rahuste searching for it, but had no luck.
4) Pomarine skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) - seen in Estonia 3 times in 2012. Migrating birds are unfortunately not twitchable. I went to search for the bird that was seen at Laaksaare harbour in Lämmijärve, but I was 45 minutes too late.
5) Mediterranean black-headed gull (Larus melanocephalus)-  seen 2 times in Estonia in 2012: on August 19th in Saaremaa at Undva nina and on November 21st – 25th in Haapsalu. I tried to twitch the Haapsalu bird, but sadly I missed the creature
6) Caspian gull (Larus cachinnans) - identification was a great headache. There were at least 6 observations acceptable to the Rarities Committee (HK) - with proper proof - in Estonia in 2012. Partly due to the fact that rather mixed-up information moved around, the “species” still remains unseen by me in Estonia.
7) Black-legged kittwake (Rissa tridactyla) - seen in Estonia 2 times in 2012: on October 27th on Kihnu island and on November 6th in Hiiumaa at Tahkuna. In the best period for this species I went to watch at Cape Põõsaspea, but didn’t come across it.
8) Great grey owl (Strix nebulosa) - seen at least 3 times in Estonia in 2012 according to information at the Estonian Bird Rarities Committee (all reports from spring-winter). In addition the species may be assumed to breed in Estonia, but the observer, who has flooded the web with photos taken in summer, refuses to submit information even to the Environmental Board, although we have to do with a Ist category protected species. During the past 120 years,  breeding of the great grey owl has been documented only once in Estonia (in 2009 in East Virumaa). Sad that important information will be lost. Why doesn’t the observer want to submit information? No reasonable explanation can be provided to that. Perhaps the photos are not taken in Estonia? Perhaps a protected area was visited for photographing in a prohibited spot and time?
I went around a great deal in the Virumaa forests, but did not come across any great grey owl. It is not that simple either. The creature is a rarity after all. I have been around in the best spots for ten years, eyes open, and up to now have only met it 3 times. Thus, finding it does not succeed every year.
9) European roller (Coracias garrulus) - has disappeared from Estonia as breeder and during 2012 it was seen only once on May 19th at the Kabli bird station. I went to all the territories known from previous years myself several times during this summer, but saw not even a trace of the blue bird.
10) European short-toed lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) - seen during 2012 in Estonia 3 times (2 times on Kihnu island and once on Ruhnu island), which is a record. Earlier this species has been seen only 6 times altogether. Unfortunately the birds could not be twitched.
11) Red-rumped swallow (Cecropis daurica) - seen on May 14th at Kabli bird station on passing migration. It was the 3rd Estonian observation. Unfortunately the bird was not twitchable.
12) Pallas’s leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus proregulus) - only seen once in 2012 in Estonia – on October 10th on Kihnu island. I was in the best place – at Sõrve säär – and at the best time, ringing birds, but unfortunately this bird did not stray into the nets.
13) Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) - seen only once in 2012 in Estonia – on September 25th 1 specimen was ringed in Kabli bird station. Unfortunately I myself was at Lämmijärve in Mehikoorma observing the migration.
14) Isabelline shrike (Lanius isabellinus) - only seen once before in Estonia but came in view of birders twice: on April 29th in Saaremaa at Sõrve säär and on November 3rd in Hiiumaa at Haldi. Because the first specimen belonged to the subspecies phoenicuroides, and the second to the subspecies isabellinus, and the subspecies will in all probability be separated into different species, the Estonian bird species list may get a new species from this. Unfortunately the birds disappeared so quickly that nobody could twitch them.
15) Lesser grey shrike (Lanius minor) - seen in Estonia 2 times in 2012: on May 20th on Vormsi island and on May 23rd in the Valguta polder. I tried to twitch the last-named but in vain.
16) Red-headed bunting (Emberiza bruniceps) - strayed to Saaremaa on July 8th 2012,  Sõrve säär (first observation in Estonia). Unfortunately I did not find it again the next morning.
But quite many species were not seen at all in Estonia in 2012, although it might have been supposed that some of them at least would be found.
1) Snow goose (Anser caerulescens) - 2 reports arrived and I went to twitch them but both turned out to be hybrids – one with a barnacle goose and the other with Canada goose. This species is not found here every year, but based on the several encounters in 2011 I had hoped to see it.
2) Long-tailed skua (Stercorarius longicaudus) - a rare passing migrant but in recent years it has been seen regularly. However, no reports arrived.
3) Whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybrida) - has become a regular visitor to the polders of south-eastern Estonia, but surprisingly it was not seen in 2012.
4) Common pipit (Anthus richardi) -  seen here on autumn migration, and considering the autumn migration census projects I would have expected several encounters, but it was not seen at all.
5) Two-barred crossbill (Loxia leucoptera) – ws not noticed by anyone anywhere in 2012. It was a very bad year overall for crossbills.
6) Rustic bunting (Emberiza rustica) - I would have expected observations  from some migration observation place but none identified as this species occurred in Estonia.
What to think of last year in general? Many rarities and errant visitors were seen. The total of 292 bird species noted in Estonia during the year is certainly the best ever result. Previously the totals of the best years have stayed at 280-285. Several migration observation projects (Kihnu, Kabli, Mehikoorma) that were in progress contributed to the excellent result, and the general observation activity has also clearly increased in recent years. And of course it was evidently a good year, because how else could so many hot rarities be found.
I will remember 2012 myself as the year of enjoyable birding trips, the year of the Karksi pelican, the year of the Mehikoorma chaffinch migration mess, the year of the resultless roller search, the year of the mixed-up twitching trips, the year of the Pikla little bittern, the year of the Sõrve säär Siberian bluestart, the year of winning the Estonian Open bird rally, the invasion year of pine grosbeaks, the year of at last seeing the  yellow-browed warbler, the year of ringing at Sõrve säär, the year of the Haapsalu fox-sparrow, the year of the Kihnu dusky thrush, and of course the year of the new year record - and the year of at least one more exciting event that I can’t recall at once. A great thank you to all trip companions and other comrades who have provided advice and assistance. A special thank you is due to Hannes Margusson, who got the Birder’s web site ready and kept it working. Many thanks!
Since I am often asked about it, then finally the time and kilometres used up for the trips must be revealed. 1697 trip hours, 1198 trip kilometres on foot, and 49711 driving kilometres accumulated during the whole year. The  last figure might frighten many Big Year planners off, but stay calm, it isn’t as bad as that! In fact, I could have managed the new year record with about half less driving kilometre, but during the year I was simply driving around in Estonia, discovered new areas and also participated in several monitoring projects all over Estoina. And from there the kilometres added up.
What next now? I won’t be rushing into making a new Big Year. The first species of the New Year Day, and the only one, was a house sparrow seen from my home window. From last years doings a more mature summary will come. Hopefully someone will again take on the setting of a new year record. It would be sad if my score were to stay for  long. Setting a record should become easier by every year. There are more observers, and more rarities are found, and thanks to Rariliin (Birdline) information moves quickly to watchers. Power and progress to all record challengers!
Estonian orignal published on January 4th, 2013




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