Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Super duper

On Monday I left home too early, to make it on time to a boat trip out of Eilat. At first light, while cruising through Hameishar Plains, I noticed a lovely herd of Onager by the road - had to stop and film them quickly. It was really dark; only on the computer screen I noticed there were some birds in the frame too - a Woodchat Shrike, and perhaps another shrike in the foreground:

A quick birding stop at Neot Smadar revealed a nice variety of migrants, albeit in small numbers - wagtails, hirundines, shrikes, wheatears, buntings, warblers - not bad. eBird checklist here.


I met up with Noam at IBRCE, where I parked my car as we had arranged to drive together to the dock where our boat was moored. When I stepped out of the car, Noam walked towards me out of the ringing hut smiling from cheek to cheek, holding a bird. Menetries's Warbler! Fantastic bird, extremely early (they're even rarer in autumn than in spring, usually in November), perfect timing for me... Time for a quick snap, under pressure, we had to shoot off; wrong camera settings and harsh light make the tail look less pitch-black and overall more warm-toned than it was in real life. 

Menetries's Warbler, 1cy, IBRCE, 7 September 2020. Pinkish flush on breast may suggest it belongs to ssp. mystacea

Then it was time for the main show. I joined the monthly pelagic monitoring trip, organised by INPA and IBRCE. On the boat were INPA's Chen and Eran, and IBRCE's Noam and Iris.We set off from Eilat at 08:30, and headed out towards our regular spot, as close as possible to the border triangle Israel - Egypt - Jordan. Strong northerlies made the sea relatively rough (not like southern ocean rough, but there were white crests), which made scanning rather challenging. We spent over three hours chumming, nada. Nothing came in to check the chum, and there were no seabirds around us at all. As we started talking about a pack-up and retreat, suddenly a storm-petrel was spotted fluttering over the slick, out of nowhere. It spent few seconds over the slick, about 50 m away, good light conditions. It showed a small size and big white rump extending down to undertail coverts - Wilson's Petrel! It happened all too fast for any photos to be taken, sadly. The storm-petrel then continued south and landed on the water, too far to get any details on it. We tried to edge towards it, but were immediately called out by the navy, warning us not to drift across the border. We waited for a while, hoping the bird would return to check the slick, but it didn't and we lost contact with it.

Wilson's and I have a bit of history together. The first record for Israel, in 1983, was before I started birding. Then 33 years of nothing, until in September 2016 Noam blasted with a fantastic record. In 2017, another tasty record, this time two were seen. During these years I lived in the UK, and watched with envy my friend's lists growing. These records suggested that Wilson's Storm-Petrel (and Swinhoe's) is a regular summer/autumn visitor to the Gulf of Aqaba. In 2018, shortly after my return to Israel, I tried a couple of times. Blank. In 2019, again, nothing, 'just' a Swinhoe's. July 2020 - again, a single bird recorded by Noam and INPA, photo by Gal Marinov: 

In August one more try - swinhoe's again but no wilson's. I didn't give up, and I'm glad I didn't - finally Wilson's Storm-Petrel is on my list.

We returned to shore, Noam smiling from cheek to cheek for the second time that day. It became very hot (43 C), I was very tired and wanted to get back home. Despite these, KM20 saltpans lured me for a quick check. I did not regret. The pans were exploding with shorebirds - best form I have seen them in many years. Many thousands of shorebirds, huge numbers of Little Stint and Ringed Plover, several more species in impressive numbers, quality in the form of two Terek Sands, four Black-winged Pratincloes, six Broad-billed Sands, a Red-necked Phalarope - very good fun. I wish I had more time in better conditions - not easy to quickly pick up a semiP in strong wind and scorching heat. Next time. ebird checklist here.

Class of September 2020, from left: Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Western Yellow wagtail, Common Ringed Plover, Marsh Sandpiper

Thanks agaim to Noam, Iris and IBRCE team, and to Eran and Chen of INPA - I wish us all many more successful days like this one.

Thursday, September 3, 2020


This morning I paid a mandatory visit to the returning Pacific Golden-Plover in Tel Aviv (needed it for my yearlist...). This individual returned a couple of weeks ago for its fourth winter - in previous years it stayed until March. Over the years it has become so tame and tolerant to humans - it just stood there. Beautiful bird.

Before the sun was up

Golden light

I checked the nearby coastal scrub strip for migrants. There were some shrikes, wheatears, whinchats etc. - nice selection but small numbers.

eBird checklists for beach and scrub.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Greater Sand-plover

Taken in Haifa a few days ago, early morning during a family holiday. I spent a few enjoyable minutes during the golden hour, as it fed on inverts in rockpools. 

Greater Sand-plover is a rather common non-breeding visitor to coastal Israel, seen mainly on rocky strips. They arrive back from their rather near breeding grounds (as close as Syria, apparently) already in late June, and stay with us until late May. In August they're already in full non-breeding plumage, which is a good ID feature vs. Lesser Sand-plover. As are its green legs.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Milestone celebrations

Yesterday I reached a significant milestone in eBird's checklist-a-day challenge. I completed 365 days of daily birding, i.e. 'proper birding' - not just submitting a checklist but actual daily significant birding activity.

I started this checklist streak when I was in the UK a year ago. Then, on August 14th, 2019, a one-day stutter shattered my previous streak of 234. Basically, since December 23rd 2018 I have been out birding every day except once. Some may say this destroys my life. True, I am in a constant semi-zombie state, fighting tiredness and fatigue. Others might argue that this daily birding activity keeps me sane. In the bottom line, this is my new life style, and I have no intentions to stop. 

To celebrate the 365-streak, on Wednesday I headed down to Eilat. I spent the evening at North Beach with Shachar and Shmuel. Terns included Bridled, Lesser Crested and many White-cheeked, but no too much else; eBird checklist here.
Yesterday morning I started early at KM20 flamingo pools with Itai. Shorebird numbers are building up there, and there was some interest too, in the form of a Sooty Falcon perched on the border fence, and a flock of six White-cheeked Terns circling over the saltpans - first time I see these strictly-marine terns inland. eBird checklist here.

My true reason for heading down to Eilat was to join the monthly monitoring pelagic trip in collaboration with INPA. I met up at IBRCE with the team. A very quick wander around the park produced a Lesser Gray Shrike and a checkered Western Reef-Heron.

We set out to sea, and reached our position near the border triangle, as deep as possible without a passport. We started chumming, and fairly quickly I picked up a Swinhoe's Storm-petrel that made a typically fast and directional fly-past. Better views than last year - shorter distance and slightly longer duration, but still no photos of this rarity. The rest of the trip was fairly quiet (eBird checklist here). Two lovely Cory's Shearwaters kept us focused (when will they be split from Scopoli's?). They certainly performed well. No wilson's, again...
Thanks to skipper Chen, Eran from INPA, and Noam and Gal from IBRCE for this great opportunity.

On the way back home I made a quick diversion for the Blue Pansies at Neot Smadar. They were extremely active at their spot, quite many of them. They kept chasing after each other, and refused to open their wings for me. What a contrast between the wonderful upperwings (see e.g. here) and the rather dull underwings. Incredible how they are found in Israel at one small roundabout in Neot Smadar ONLY.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Third time unlucky

 On July 18 mega news broke:

I needed that bird! The first for Israel came when I was in the UK. I was unable to go straight away, and in any case the bird was not twitchable that day. I went there the next day, dip #1, my air conditioner broke down at 45⁰ C. Joy.

Fast forward to August 1st:

Then they became two! Again, I couldn't go the same day; next day I was there again, dip #2. Aarghh! So frustrating. We just cannot figure out their local movement patterns.

On Wednesday Avner Rinot again found one, in a slightly different spot. This morning I went AGAIN, hoping for a third-time-lucky. In Hebrew we say third-time-ice-cream. No luck nor ice cream, dip #3. What's going on?

This tale of serial dipping raises existential thoughts about the whole concept of listing and twitching. From my personal point of view, my listing career in Israel changed dramatically when I moved to the UK. Since my return two years ago I got back in the game, but somehow my energy is slightly lesser. My stamina is OK, but will I go fourth time? Most probably...

The only positive aspect of these visits to Kfar Ruppin is that birding there is excellent, luckily. Tons of birds, quality, nice build-up of autumn migrants. I have never paid so much attention to variation in Eurasian Thick-knees...

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are present in large numbers, many juveniles around:

Western Yellow Wagtail - adult female feldegg

It was a good breeding season for Collared Pratincoles:
And for Purple Herons:
Frustration sometimes led to attention diverted to butterflies, like this Little Tiger Blue:

Thanks to my partners in dip, Jonathan, Piki, Amir.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Dark morph fishponds

Yesterday I birded Gan Shmuel fishponds. These fishponds are going through the same process as most other fish farms in Israel. Fish farming has become uneconomic in recent decades, and most kibbutzim are abandoning them. Some fishfarms are drying up or are already dried up, creating excellent habitat for marsh birds, for the time being. However, in the longer run we are likely to lose almost all our fishponds, that support wonderful biodiversity, because kibbutzim are looking for alternative uses to their land and water resources, including terrestrial cultivation, solar fields etc. Together with my colleagues, much of our work is dedicated these days to find solutions to this challenge.

Dried-up fishponds - Aquatic Warbler habitat?

Drying-up fishponds - waterbirds galore, Hadera in the background

In the meanwhile, there's habitat there to check, and we have to enjoy whatever birding comes our way. The first productive pond I checked (pictured above) hosted tons of egrets and many shorebirds too, including this dark-morph Little Egret - surely it isn't a Western Reef:

Video taken through Swarovski ATX85, handheld, stabilised

Between the several productive ponds there were quite many shorebirds - Ruff, Tringas and Little Stints, Also Broad-billed Sand, Temminck's Stint and a Collared Pratincole.
Adjacent to the fishponds is Zeita NR, that holds a large heronry - Little and Cattle Egrets, Squacco and Nights Herons, Pygmy Cormorant and Glossy Ibis. Quite impressive audio and olfactory experience.

eBird checklist here.