Sunday, February 10, 2019

South coast

Today I worked with NPA marine rangers on seabird identification near Ashkelon. There were no proper seabirds around, so we made do with gull identification. Can't get any better than that. We spent a bit of time inside Ashkelon NP, then checked for some gull rafts inside the coal depot. At one secluded spot a nice mixed group contained, among the striking Pallas's Gulls, a few other taxa, especially fuscus and heuglini. A metal-ringed cachinnans, metal ringed Pallas's and two darvic ringed fuscus were out there, but frustratingly too distant to read.

Armenian Gull is less frequent down the southern coast compared to the northern coast and northern valleys where it is the 'default' large gull. As spring comes, adults like this gradually lose the diagnostic black bill band. I have seen individuals with a more convincing P3 pattern, but the overall solid black wingtip (very limited grey tongues on P7/8) and deeply hooked bill leave no doubt that it's armenicus:

Large numbers of Loggerhead Sea Turtles were washed up dead or dying on the coast over the last few weeks. This one was washed up on the beach this morning.

Some of the few remaining Mountain Gazelles still roam on the vegetated coastal dunes. Sad to see numbers of this globally Endangered mammal dwindling.

Thanks to Guy (NPA) and his team for a great day out.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

My rosefinch

It's still around, my subtle beauty. This morning it finally posed albeit briefly. Perched for a few snaps and disappeared somewhere - still not familiar with all of its hiding spots. I think I am the only birder who has seen it - a few others tried and failed.

It is interesting (for very few of us, admittedly) to note that this bird has asymmetric tertial moult: On its left wing longest tertial is unmoulted, on right wing it is moulted.

Amidst a few days of unsettled weather, this morning was perfectly still and bird activity was great at my local patch. I had higher numbers than my winter average of Chiffchaff, Bluethroat and Blackcap. A Wryneck that I have seen a couple of times during the winter showed nicely. Reed Warblers are back. Full eBird checklist here.

White-throated Kingfisher

Lots of wildflowers now, including the stunning Blue Lupins.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Hula weekend

Spent the weekend up in the Hula Valley with my wife, my brother and his wife. No kids. Good food, wine, spectacular scenery and a little bit of birding in between.
In the Agamon, Barny is still present - patiently waited for my brother:

Nice to see the beautiful, petite Demoiselle Crane among the 47k Common Cranes, luckily outside the main feeding area:

A crane or two... Always a treat to be on a mobile hide tour

White-tailed eagle

5 Marbled Ducks in Hagome junction fishponds

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Empty skies

I had a strange day yesterday. I was very fortunate to visit one of Israel's remotest corners, Ardon Valley in the central Negev, which is the southeastern section of Ramon Crater. This nature reserve is strictly closed off to the public and is visited by NPA rangers only few times a year. Yesterday I joined the local NPA ranger for a thorough scan of the mighty cliffs surrounding the pristine desert valley, in an attempt to find the last few breeding pairs of Golden Eagle in the desert. Sadly, despite our best efforts, we found nothing at all. In fact we saw no raptors whatsoever yesterday. Really depressing. It is possible that yesterday we were unlucky (again), but the state of many breeding raptors in Israel is dire and I fear that our experience yesterday reflects the overall situation.
With the absence of raptors, we had to focus on the beauty of the valley - scenery is truly stunning. We had quite many mammals - again large numbers of Dorcas Gazelle, and also Onager (Asian Wild Ass). We saw only one but by the enormous amounts of their poo it is evident they are doing well there.

Besides absent raptors, bird activity was slowish but OK. Some quality birds seen were Sinai Rosefinch, Striolated Bunting, Asian Desert and Cyprus Warblers. This 'lilith' Little Owl was the closest thing to a raptor I saw yesterday:

Burrowing Owl wannabe

eBird checklist here.

If I were a botanist or geologist, yesterday would have been a fantastic day. There were some lovely desert flower along the wadi:

Astragalus dactylocarpus

Desert Lotus (Lotus lanuginosus)

 Retama raetam

Dike - vertical magmatic intrusion

My trusted Swarovski ATX95 was jobless, but is always photogenic

Coffee time

Ardon Valley panorama

Many thanks to Yedidya and Naama from NPA for a beautiful day, despite the negative results. Hope for better luck next time.

Saturday, January 26, 2019


This weekend I took part in an avi-blitz organised by (in no particular order) Israel Ornithological Center, IBRCE, Eilot Regional Council and Nature and Parks Authority. Over 30 teams took part in this effort. We surveyed remote corners of the southern Negev and Arava, seldom visited by birders. Many of these areas are deep within military firing zones, so access is restricted only to weekends. It was great fun, though my polygons were less productive. On both days I worked deep in the desert west of Neot Smadar. Yesterday was rather quiet (eBird checklist here), though I managed to find an uncooperative pair of Arabian Warblers at a new site in the far west of their predicted range, possibly the westernmost territory in the world?

Otherwise, away from the acacia wadi, birds were very few. The desert is extremely dry here, and the few birds concentrate where some productivity may be found. Good to absorb some desert serenity.

Somehow I managed to hear a distant singing Temminck's Lark; Spotted Sandgrouse flew by somewhere and that's it. I was really impressed by the huge numbers of Dorcas Gazelles on both days - we had over 100 yesterday and 60 today. They were generally tame and confident, implying that there is little poaching in this region if any.

As horny as they get

Check those huge rear toes on this Bosc's fringed-toed Lizard

Almost qualifies as a good bird - Poekilocerus bufonius

**This fascinating insect is venomous - it spits poison at predators, the poison is produced from the poisinous bush Pergularia tomentosa on which it is perched in this photo - thanks Avner for the info** 

After we were done we headed down to Eilat for some recreational birding. Again I failed locating both personal photography targets - Oriental Honey Buzzard and Lesser White-fronted Goose. No show. We checked the traditional sites, KM19 sewage and IBRCE. Nothing special, just the regular wintering birds plus local rarities and scarcities:

The now resident, funny Pygmy Cormorant at IBRCE

Rare in winter, this Gull-billed Tern spends the winter at IBRCE

One of four LEOs roosting at IBRCE

Caspian Stonechat just north of the park

Banana posture

Today I worked a polygon in the same general area. As we entered the area we had an Adrenalin-pumping early morning encounter with a pack of 9 Wolves - such fantastic animals.

Again there were rather few birds around (eBird checklist here). Only bird of interest was a fine male Cyprus Warbler that didn't pose well enough.

Those undertail coverts...

Huge thanks to the organisers Noam, Itai, Libby and Eran, to Eli who helped design the fieldwork. Hai Bar staff hosted us wonderfully - thanks! Kudos to all the hard-working skilled teams who did a stellar job. Till next year!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

47 minutes of joy

Spent the day in the Hula Valley today with some colleagues. We are seeking for solutions for an upcoming ecological crisis, in which man-made water bodies - fishponds and water reservoirs, that are so important to wildlife, are being transformed into industrial production sites, drained or covered with infrastructure. In an otherwise rather depressing day, I managed to produce another five eBird checklists, towards my Checklist-a-day challenge. Best bit of the day was 47 minutes of birding with Nadav in the Agamon, waiting for our boss who was having a meeting. We enjoyed good views of the now long-staying Barnacle Goose, the first for Israel (if accepted bla bla). After playing hide and seek with observers during its first couple of weeks in the Agamon, now it is easy as pie.

Who's your daddy?

Close to the entrance the Hume's leaf warbler that had been found a few days ago was very mobile and active:

I quite enjoyed this quick bout of birding, without really checking any of the habitats. Eagles, cranes, sunshine. Not bad. eBird checklist here.