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.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Crab Plover on my mind

I wake up these days with Crab Plover on my mind. I narrowly missed several of these mega rarities in Israel (see e.g. here); July along the Med coast seems like a reasonable bet to chance upon one. No luck this morning either. It was a fine morning, relatively cool, cloud cover softening the harsh sunlight, but the humidity... Birding was OK, though on the slow side. It is a confusing time of year, when autumn migration smells promising, but on the ground (or rather on the mud) there's very little migration bar returning shorebirds. Ma'ayan Zvi had five Grey/Black-bellied Plovers, some gulls, many terns in a nice pond, but nothing out of the ordinary (see eBird checklist here).

I had a very funny-sounding Cetti's Warbler (I think) at Ma'ayan Zvi. Never heard this song type before. Very different from normal song I hear in Israel or elsewhere (they have local dialects). Another sound recording is in the checklist.

Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizard

Nahsholim had one fun pond with godwits, shanks etc. (eBird checklist here). There was good butterfly activity on the coastal sand dunes. Since I moved from Canon to Olympus, I started photographing butterflies much more. This has two reasons: First, the close focus distance of the Olympus 300mm f4 lens is 1.4 m, which makes it almost equal to a macro lens, and works really well for butterflies. Second, admittedly I struggle more to photograph birds with the Olympus OM-D EM10iii, especially in flight, so I often divert my photographic attention to easier objects. With my growing interest in butterflies, I appreciate more and more their beauty and uniqueness. This morning I had only very common species, but really enjoyed them.

Plain Tiger - nothing plain about it. Nectaring on a Procumbent Centaury-thist

African Babul Blue (female)

African Babul Blue on a White Garden Snail (I think)

Lesser Fiery Copper (male)

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Birds and butterflies of Mt. Hermon

On Monday and Tuesday I drove up to Mt. Hermon with my brother and Amir. We joined Yosef's annual ringing project at the drinking pools below the lower cable station, that's been running there since early 1990's. Great to see Yosef operating the project so well.
Ringing was on the slow side - it seems that breeding season is very late this year, and there's still much water up in the higher elevations. Still, it was great to be there and enjoy quality species without pressure of hundreds of birds waiting in bags. My photos aren't as good as Yosef's field studio results, yet I am quite pleased with the macro abilities of my Olympus system, both for in-hand bird photos and for butterflies (see below). Here are some quality birds we had on both days:

Syrian Serin (2cy+ male)

Western Rock Nuthatch (1cy)

Upcher's Warbler (2cy+)

Sombre Tit (1cy)

Rock Sparrow (2cy+)

semirufus Black Redstart (1cy)

Common Chiffchaff (1cy) - produced locally. The expansion of Common Chiffchaff in northern Israel is remarkable, especially as it seems that they may represent an unknown taxon

The highlight was a family of three White-throated Robins - dad, mum and their young. This is a 2cy male (hatched 2019) - note the retained pale-tipped GC. He's now is the middle of an extensive pre-migration moult, hence his scruffy look.

Other birding highlights included flyover Pale Rockfinches, and a single Chaffinch. eBird checklist for Tuesday morning is here.

Mt. Hermon is very special for butterflies a well; several species can be found in Israel only there, and there are a few endemics as well. As a total amateur I spent a little time watching butterflies coming in to drink and sip minerals below the ringing site - the ponds are a huge butterfly hotspot. The relatively slow ringing allowed me to divert my attention for a few minutes, while suffering bullying and disgrace from other ringers. In a very short while I managed to photograph 11 species - I am still not good enough to identify them in the field; I collect photos and identify them at home, with the aid of others (thanks Piki, Avner and Noam!).
To my eyes, the most spectacular butterfly was the Cardinal (Argynnis pandora) - an honorary bird:

Those green rear wings are gorgeous

Large number sof blues of several species we fond on the mud. The most abundant (when I watched) was Long-tailed Blue, which isn't unique to Mt. Hermon:

Other species included Eastern Brown Argus:

Nicholl Blue

Holly Blue

Hercules Hairstreak

Palopea Grayling

Eastern Dawn Clouded Yellow - extremely worn

Olive Skipper

Hermon (Persian) Skipper

Large Wall Brown

Levantine Marbled White

Thanks to Yosef for arranging the session, and to all the good friends who helped there.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Summer solstice

This is the time of year when maintaining eBird's #checklistadaychallenge is becoming challenging.

Still going strong

Spring migration is over, autumn migration hasn't really started yet, and I have more or less visited all distinct eco-regions in Israel this breeding season. Also, there's that much I can travel on my daily birding journey. I am exhausted after this crazy COVID-fieldwork season! Therefore, in recent weeks I find myself mainly visiting the few better birding sites near home again and again, focusing on minute seasonal changes, and broadening my interest in other taxa.
This morning I visited Tal Shahar, where my hope for some returning/lingering/stuck shorebirds never materialised. From a birding point of view, there were not too many attractions, yet it was an enjoyable session (eBird checklist here). Great Spotted Cuckoos, breeding Woodchat Shrikes, mixed hirundines - that's not too bad I guess.

Unseasonal, tiny Sand Martin. Local breeder (shelleyi/'eilata')?

I did pay some attention to critters, including the petite Ivory Featherleg:

Long-tailed Blue is one of the commonest butterflies in Israel, but always a treat to watch

Male on a Prickly Alkanet
 On Rye Grass

Thanks Re'a and Avner for mentoring me through invert-world

Bring on the autumn!

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Moon struck

Around this full moon I spent far too much time in the southern Dead Sea region, monitoring Nubian Nightjars and other activities. It has been hot, sticky and wonderful. Here are some impressions.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin displaying its name

Black Percher - smallest dragonfly in Israel (Thanks Re'a)

Scarlet Dragonfly

Ashalim Reservoir is one lovely place

One big mo#%er*@!?er of a Sun Spider

Nubian Nightjar fail

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

End of spring

It's been a while since my last update here, not for lack of birding - I maintain my daily birding routine, keeping up with my #checklistadaychallenge, now on a streak of 287 days... Somehow, I have been very busy in recent weeks, and weather was quite awful at times, so I took very few photos and have rather few stories to tell. However, here's an accumulation of some random stuff I encountered recently.

Breeding bird atlas work continues, less in the far south, where the desert is drying up, more in the center and north, where Batha birds like this Long-billed Pipit, unusually perched on a bush, are the main stars:

I found Upcher's Warbler breeding at a few sites - still one of Israel's most sensitive breeding birds:

Spring migration has all but ended during the second half of the month. Somehow, only JBO maintains decent numbers of migrants (see this checklist for example) when the rest of the country dries up completely. 

Barred Warbler

This vocal River Warbler was a welcome addition to my year list: 

Jonathan and I chose the hottest day of the year (so far) for a quick visit to Eilat for early morning seawatching.

49 degrees celsius, 120 fahrenheit

It was somewhat quieter than we had hoped for (eBird checklist here), but still nice to be down there. Flying Spoon (AKA Pomarine Skua AKA Pomarine Jaeger) is always a good one:

Despite the heat we managed to connect with Black Scrub-robins in Samar - their stronghold in Israel:

In recent days migration has come to a halt. I have not seen a proper migrant in my recent visits to the patch. Now it's time for summer breeding specialties, and for summer biggies. I am ready.