Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Coastal birding

Yesterday morning I left home early, with some expectations for decent 'weather' and migration. I arrived at Arsuf (just north of Tel Aviv) at dawn, to discover clear skies and no wind. Disappointing. Still, there was some movement of pipits and wagtails first thing as I stepped out of the car. I started walking through tall grass and an Oriental Skylark flew up buzzing. Nice. I birded the coastal scrub habitat for a couple of hours. 

Despite active migration being rather slow, there were still some nice birds to see. Best was a young (Daurian) Isabelline Shrike. It was very mobile - must have just arrived, so my photos are from quite a distance. Not a huge rarity but always fun to find one.

Missed an opportunity for Photo of the Year, with the shrike, Palestine Sunbird and Painted Lady; sadly the shrike turned its head away and the distance was too long:

Several Siberian Stonechats were seen among the large numbers of European Stonechats. The males were Caspian; regarding the female - hard to tell in the field.

Missed money shot

Like everywhere in and around Tel Aviv, there were so many invasive species around, dominating the avifauna there. Also large numbers of crows. This Hooded Crow had caught a young Greek Tortoise.

eBird checklist here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Raptor rewild party

I spent this morning in Kfar Ruppin, at our rewilding site, with Nadav. The morning started pretty wild with a violent thunderstorm that went through, quite quickly. It remained overcast most morning, making birding quite pleasant. This is a photo of our wetland from spring - we spent some time overlooking the wetland from the hill at 10 O'clock of the image with the white structure.

There were many waterbirds in the wetland, but the main attraction was raptors. The big raptor migration is over, but there was still lots going on. A fresh northerly was blowing, and many raptors took advantage of the updrift to hover and, seemingly, play around with the wind. Honestly, it felt that some birds were really enjoying it. There were Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged, Common and Steppe Buzzards, Marsh and Pallid Harriers, a young Peregrine, Osprey, Sparrowhawks, lots of Black Storks going through - very good fun. I recently bought myself a new camera Canon R7. This was the first time I could test it properly in the field. I have lots of learning to do, but I am already impressed by the focus tracking and by the image quality.

Steppe Buzzard 1cy

Booted Eagle


Attacking a passing Short-toed Eagle

Marsh Harrier - camera coped well tracking it against a cluttered background

Same with this Osprey

eBird checklist for Amud Reservoir here.

On the way out had a quick look around the remaining fishponds (eBird checklist here), and said hello to the remaining White-tailed Lapwing (here with friends - Little Ringed-Plover and White Wagtail):

Sunday, October 9, 2022

October Big Day 2022

 Yesterday our team Champions of the Flyway, representing BirdLife Israel/Society for the protection of Nature in Israel, participated in Global Big Day, organised by eBird, part of Global Birding weekend and World Migratory Bird Day events. As in previous years, we headed north, where things happen in October. The weather forecasted was cool and even wet, a welcome change after all previous year's October Big Days coincided with horrible heat waves. Our core team members, Re'a, Jonathan and me, were joined by Piki, who celebrated his birthday. 

We left central Israel very early to arrive at the entrance to Hula NR. It's our traditional spot for Tawny Owl, and indeed they didn't disappoint. Then we had about an hour of dark pre dawn for night stuff in Agamon Hula. We added Barn Owl and a few other night birds, but most exotic were Jungle Cats - we saw several, this fat (pregnant?) female posed nicely:

At dawn we positioned ourselves at Mahanayim lookout, at the southern end of the Agamon Lake. The first light experience there was epic - so many birds to look at and to listen to! Tens of Black-winged Kites flew out of a roost; 160 flamingos - the largest number I have ever seen there. Hundreds of Avocets, pelicans, ducks, shorebirds, the reeds bustling with life (Penduline Tits, Moustached Warbler), pipits and wagtails flying around - it was buzzing all over with life.

We checked the fields south of there, where we saw at a distance good falcon activity. Indeed, there was a beautiful concentration of Red-footed Falcons and Lesser Kestrels - so wonderful in the early morning light. For me this was one of the most memorable experiences of the whole day. 

Lesser Kestrels

Note this is a 2cy male (hatched 2021) - check the juvenile-patterned tertials:

The rest of the drive in the Agamon was excellent, many species, tons of migrants, really fun.

Where's Piki?

Short-toed Eagle bombarded by a Black-winged Kite

After the Agamon (eBird checklist here) we continued to Lahavot Habashan fishponds. They're mostly dry, the one still holding water is packed with birds. Marbled Ducks concentrate there every autumn. Yesterday, 440 were in that pond. and many other birds (eBird checklist here). Impressive. 

We left the Hula Valley satisfied with 109 species. Contra to previous years, we decided to give Mt. Hermon a miss this time, because it's a too long drive for too few species. Alternatively, we headed up to Biriya, enjoying the early date of October Big Day this year to connect with good raptor migration. We didn't have massive raptor migration when we were there, yet we found most species we wanted to see, including Lesser Spotted Eagles and Levant Sparrowhawks. This pristine juvenile Steppe Eagle was a cracker:

The vista from the top of the ridge, looking north towards Lebanon and the Hula Valley, is stunning. The forest added some nice species too. eBird checklist here.

By then my car was already properly camouflaged.

Next stop was Susita, overlooking Lake Kinneret. It was hot there, maybe not like in previous years, still hiot enough to reduce bird activity. Also a recent fire there didn't help. Still we added there most signature species, and a couple of wild cards (Eurasian Griffon and Finsch's Wheatear). Sadly no long-billed Pipit.

Then we continued to Bet Shean Valley. Kfar Ruppin fishponds were very good, adding some most-wanted shorebirds and passerines, including Dead Sea Sparrow. eBird checklist here. We walked two alfalfa fields, that were probably the least cost-effective walks of the day. No Oriental Skylark, two Richard's Pipits, Calandra/Bimac that got away unidentified.

Award-winning photo of the two Richard's Pipits

A Black Kite or two

We think this is a hybrid Lesser Spotted Eagle X Greater Spotted Eagle. In the field it felt very large and heavy, and has a single comma on the underwing, pro GSE. However, short 7th finger, pale neck patch, and underwing coverts paler than remiges are pro LSE. Light barring on primaries and secondaries is intermediate. 

Our final stop of the day was the beautiful Harod Reservoir, nestled under Mt. gilboa. The reservoir held a large gull flock and many other birds (eBird checklist here). The gull flock contained mainly Black-headed and Armenian, with single Slender-billed and Yellow-legged (pretty good for the region) adding flavour. 

That was the end of our day. It was excellent - our list stands at 150 species. See our eBird Trip Report here. Of course we missed a few species - the most annoying was Hoopoe. That's the wat it goes on big days. But altogether I am pleased with this total. It was a good effort and excellent result!

Huge thanks to my team mates, Jonathan, Re'a and Piki. As always, it was such a blast to spend it with you guys. So much fun and laughter, to keep me from falling asleep on the wheel. Thanks also to Swarovski Optik for providing me with the best birding optics. 

See you again in May Big day, amigos!

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

A week in the UK

Earlier this month I participated in the World Congress of BirdLife International in Cambridge, UK, celebrating 100 years of the most powerful conservation partnership in the world. I represented BirdLife Israel - Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. It was a great celebration indeed, meeting so many friends, old and new, from all over the world. It is truly inspiring and empowering to feel a part of something so big, a giant, special, sometimes a bit crazy family, working together for nature and people. After several years of zoom meetings, it was awesome to meet people in person, actual people with legs and all. 

The congress included a European Partnership Meeting, where important work was actually done, and included amazing displays of solidarity with our partners in Ukraine and Belarus (check this Youtube video). Then there was a Partnership Fair, like a mini BirdFair where each organisation could present their work. This is my stand, adjacent to MME/BirdLife Hungary and natur&ëmwelt/BirdLife Luxembourg:

Something very weird happened during the Partnership Fair

Of course, I had to keep my checklist streak. In most days I walked around local sites, such as Stourbridge Common and Ditton Meadows. As expected, with the weather and location, there were very few migrants around, still enjoyed it. Tried to force a Reed Warbler into becoming a blyth's, without success. Nice to share that moment with my mate Simon from BTO, where banana posture just ain't good enough.

Had a good time with my mates from Cornell Lab, including an early morning visit to Fen Drayton Lakes RSPB, providing Cullen with quality life birds such as Eurasian Green Woodpecker and Common Kingfisher.

Then I headed over to Norwich for a long weekend of birding and birding friends. Two mornings were spent seawatching off Sheringham. The wind wasn't perfect but the sea was nice and rough, and I enjoyed birding with mates. There were many birds that I enjoyed, even some OK stuff - Cory's Shearwater, Sabine's Gull, Long-tailed Skuas. There were many skuas in general, divers, scoters - birding experiences that an Israeli like myself appreciates. And it was cold! I really enjoyed feeling cold after the scorching hot summer in Israel.

On my final morning went with Robin to Cantley Sugar Factory, which was alright. Many hirundines over the pits, some shorebirds, first Pink-footed Geese. Among the House Martins there were a couple of striking birds that the late Martin Garner would have enjoyed. Extreme Common House-Martins I guess.

Was I one week too early, or was the nighthawk one week too late?

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Hulda fantastic migration

Gosh, just noticed for how long I have neglected my blog! That's not for lack of birding, still out every day. I lacked significant highlights and also in recent weeks haven't had much mood for photography. In any case, this morning I went to Hulda Reservoir, five minutes from my house. It's a Saturday morning tradition, usually with Piki, this time alone as Piki is away surveying Sooty Falcons or something. So I had the reservoir all to my self. I arrived very early, a Eurasian Nightjar was foraging over the track driving in. As I stepped out of the car and got prepared for the walk, so many birds were up in the air, calling, either ending a night of migration or returning from a roost. The dawn sky was full of calls - wagtails, pipits, buntings. As soon as there was enough light I noticed that Willow Warblers were everywhere, shrikes perched in all directions, Whinchats flycatching, hirundine clouds - it was whopping with birds!

At the moment water level at the reservoir is very low. Land exposed by the receding water is covered with lush vegetation, supplying migrants with food. 

Most prominent migrants were Willow Warblers - there were hundreds, maybe more, very hard to estimate how many. They were mobile, some moving with me as I walked around the reservoir. Their density was very high - at some sections, with every step I took 10-15 warblers flew up. I love Willow Warblers.

I really enjoyed the birding zen this morning. I find it great fun to work through common migrants, and search for stuff. Among the warblers I had Wood and Rueppell's. Among the many marsh terns hawking over the water I had a Black Tern. First Red-throated Pipit for me this autumn, calling among many Tree Pipits. Citrine Wagtail among the clouds of yellows. Wheatears in the field. Harriers went through. Levant Sparrowhawks as well. 

Lesser Græy Shrike

European Roller

eBird checklist here - one of the best I ever did at Hulda.