Friday, November 17, 2017

Wheatear Central

This morning Amir, Gidon and I headed down to Uvda Valley in the far south. I know we were a bit late joining the party, but the presence of two headline birds next to each other didn't leave us a choice. We left at 02:30 to get there by first light. We soon located the first star - Red-rumped Wheatear. First views were against the rising sun:

then we re-positioned ourselves, to get the bird in the golden early morning light. What a stunning bird. It was so beautifully tame. Evidently unimpressed by us, coming to hunt for beetles literally between our feet. It is difficult to personify birds, but I felt it was actively playing with us. Looking us straight in the eye, flying directly towards us while keeping eye contact, following us wherever we went. Fantastic experience.

These two are full frame:

Stunning performance by such a rarity - this is only the 5th record for Israel, found by Eilat birder Shachar Shalev and an old Finnish friend Jani Vastamäki. Not an Israeli tick for me - I saw the famous pair that bred in 1988, as a kid, so no photos back then. I was very happy to reconnect with this lovely bird, so beautifully. Amazingly, a few later Shachar found another pair in the Arava valley. We had no time to visit them today - will they stay to breed too?

Amir stayed with the Red-rumped starlet for a bit longer when I left to find the Basalt Wheatear before the light turned too harsh. After first satisfying view of this incredibly rare bird, I understood it was just as tame and 'playful' as the Red-rumped Wheatear. Again, catching caterpillars between my feet, eyeing me constantly, singing at me - what a stunner!

I failed miserably to get a decent jump shot - the normal excuse of my old camera, and probably old photographer too... These are the least rubbish shots I got:

Wow. Just wow. Again, I have positive history with this global rarity - another individual posed nicely for me back in 2012. It was a memorable experience - back then it was a mythic rarity, and I enjoyed watching it with Martin Garner. Now it has become slightly more regular in winter in Israel. But this experience was up a next level. The intimacy, the interaction between us, without 'special' aids - just the bird's will and character - magical experience. It is still unclear what is the taxonomic position of this fascinating taxon. I say - full species!

It was a lovely early morning but soon it heated up and the light became too harsh for proper photography. We birded the valley a bit - it was pretty good with Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse, lots of larks including 80 Temminck's and some Bar-tails, Tawny Pipits etc. Most striking was the huge amount of wheatears - just everywhere. 6 species - not bad! Check out our eBird checklist.

Crowned Sandgrouse - male

and female

Temminck's Larks

We then headed to Neot Smadar for some refreshments. The fields were pretty quiet, so we spent a few minutes admiring Blue Pansies (Junonia Orithya here Lang - funny name). Lovely little butterflies. By then light was very harsh already.

And then we headed back home. What a fabulous morning.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Israel quickie

Arrived in Israel yesterday for few days of family, meetings and some birds. Today I had a chance to go birding with my boss - isn't it good to meet your boss with bins around the neck and camera on shoulder? We had a short but enjoyable hour in Tsor'a. Lots of pipits and larks in the alfalfa fields, and by the reservoir lots of Chiffchaffs etc. Can't complain - check our eBird checklist. Few birds posed but was nice to see this stunning Caspian Stonechat and a flyby Hen Harrier, looking for rodents:

Caspian Stonechat - 1cy male 

My old camera got confused by the harsh light conditions and got the exposure wrong (or is it my fault by shooting in AV and not M?):

Hen Harrier 1cy

Monday, November 13, 2017


Went to Cley this morning for a few hours of seawatching. With winds predicted to be like this, there wasn't really another option:

Got there early to secure a spot inside the shelter. I was first! But the wind was too westerly in the first part of the morning, so rather few birds and pretty distant.  And it was bloody freezing. From about 08:30 the wind became a bit more northerly and birding improved somewhat. Still, less than I had expected though things did improve in the afternoon and are expected to be even better tomorrow morning. When I will be at work.
So what did I see? Highlights were one Little Auk, one Arctic Skua and 11 Bonxie, 5 Red-breasted Mergansers, 11 Red-throated Divers and one possible Great Northern, and almost 40 Snow Buntings flying west in a few groups along the shingle without stopping. Here's my eBird checklist with the full list. Sadly I was so cold that I did not notice my camera settings were completely wrong. I screwed up a few seaduck shots.

 Great Skuas

8 Snow Buntings flying to Blakeney Point

Had to leave early for family commitments. On the way out looked for brents but couldn't find any viewable from the road. Had a very quick scan through pinkfeet for something else but found nothing:

Seawatching at Cley is funny. It's actually two (or more) separate seawatches. Those inside the shelter and those outside the shelter, using the shelter as a shelter from the wind... Funnily, a good friend stood outside all morning, 5 meters away from me, and we both didn't know. Even inside the shelter some people stick their eyes in the scope and never call out birds or at best mumble something undecipherable - I wonder what those people saw today.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Redwing and Bullfinch

Short. Simple. Beautiful.
Joined a wee morning session with UEA ringing group. We had a few Redwings (super birds), a Bullfinch (a personal favourite) and not much else.



Saturday, October 28, 2017

Half term road trip

Got back last night from a week-long trip with my family. In a way, we are packing up here in the UK, as we're planning to head back to Israel next summer. So this was our last October half-term in the UK. The trip was organised around two talks I gave. First, a talk for the excellent Ringing and Migration Week by Filey and Flamborough Bird Observatories. We stayed in Yorkshire for a few days (thanks Mark & Amity!), where I did little birding mainly with Mark, including a short vismig session at Reighton Sands. There were few birds around and nothing exciting, but we did have a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and two Mealy Redpolls on the beach at Flamborough. Perhaps the most exciting bird was a surprise Glossy Ibis that flew over the road while we were approaching Flamborough - the least inspiring rarity I could find.

Not a Glossy Ibis. A (Scandinavian?) Rock Pipit

Then we crossed-country to North Wales. I gave another talk, to the lovely Bangor Bird Group which was enjoyable. We spent a few more days in North Wales (thanks Steve!). The weather was not great, and I hardly got my camera out of the bag. But it was all good fun. Only birds of mote were 130 wet Pale-bellied Brent at Beddmanarch Bay that were sweet, and a few random Chough.

Pale-bellied Brent in the rain

Gloomy Beddmanarch Bay

Snowdonia National Park 

Caernarfon Castle 360


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The autumn that keeps taking

Contrary to autumn 2016 that didn't stop giving, this year east coast birders are getting by the Gods of Birding for our sins and there is nothing here. Despite the lack of birds resulting from the consistent wrong winds, I went out with James to Wells Woods this morning. It was a sentimental morning - today we celebrated (just about) three years of friendship. Contrary to today, on 14 October 2014 we birded in proper fall conditions. Three years later, and I am getting older - didn't do a selfie with James!
Birding was slow and hard going. We worked Wells Woods properly but the few birds that were there on Tuesday had evidently cleared out. The only birds of interest were three Yellow-browed Warblers and two Firecrests. None posed for a photo. They joined mobile tit flocks and wouldn't settle. I was depressed by witnessing a twitch after someone spotted a Pied Flycatcher. And when people started asking directions for Yellow-browed Warbler, it was time to go.
Just as we walked back to the carpark we learned of four Eurasian Cranes heading our way, first spotted over Cley and Stiffkey. We quickly picked them up and they did the right thing, flying over our heads, calling 'hrruu!'. Again, the perspective - in the Hula Valley numbers today have built up to 15,000. But in Norfolk context, even though these birds are probably migrating from the Broads to Welney, it was still cool to see them.

The only other winged thing I photographed today - Red Admiral