Wednesday, April 11, 2018

It's all about the timing

Since the American Bittern was found at SWT Carlton Marshes on Saturday, I was dying to go but realluy couldn't. First, I had to finish and hand-in my PhD thesis, which I did on Monday. Then, parenting duties prevented me from going till today when I packed my kids and dragged them to foggy Suffolk. Against all odds, with the bad weather, long difficult walk through the mud with an 8 y.o. and 4 y.o. both tired, in the least exciting section of the reserve, I (we) got lucky. My brave kids survived the walk. We got to the spot where the bird was last seen. Tens of birders stood around for several hours, including my mates James and Will, waiting for the bird to show. I literally put my camera down when the bird jumped up and took off! I got on it in my bins, flying away about 250 m away - what I noticed instantly was the prominent trailing edge and plain primaries. I quickly switched to my camera and fired off a few shots in the gloom until the bird dropped into the reedbed and out of view. I couldn't believe my luck, neither did many of the others who had been standing there for hours.

I am almost embarrassed to present these images here, especially in comparison to results of other luckier photographers in previous days (see brilliant images by Steve Gantlett and Craig Shaw), but hey - these are the best I could get, and the bird is even identifiable! Buff trailing edge, plain primaries, brown back and slender bill are all apparent in these images - can you see them? With some imagination it is perhaps possible to notice the lack of dark cap, and even a pale supercilium? Or is this just wishful thinking?

All these images are huge crops - this is an original file, for perspective:

Most of the crowd dispersed after this poor show, but myself, my kids and few other friends decided to stick around for a bit longer, hoping the bird would repeat its show from previous evenings and return to its favourite ditch. It didn't, and eventually I ran out of bribe sweets and walked back with my wonderful kids. 
I will certainly try to return for seconds, when the weather improves and if the bird sticks around. But for the time being, a tick is a tick - nice addition to my WP list.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Champions of the Flyway - final days

After all COTF teams handed in their lists and we got everything sorted for the awards ceremony, I had time for few hours of sleep. But I could not sleep in on my last morning in Eilat, especially with so many sites I had no time to visit this week. Dawn found me in Holland Park. At first it was quiet with both birds and birders; then things livened up with quite many migrants and some fresh colour thrown in the mix too. The famous Caparis decidua bushes at the top of the wadi were packed with common warblers, and one Rueppel's. Several Balkan Warblers called loudly from the nearby acaciae. A male Striolated Bunting sang beautifully from a nearby rocky slope. Suddenly the distinctive call of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater echoed back from the hills - and here they were, three brilliant beauties. Not too rare but always breathtaking.

Lucky shot with my shambolic camera

For a moment they interacted with their little cousins, now called Arabian Green Bee-eaters - not too shabby either:

Holland Park holds large numbers of Blue-spotted Arab, attracted to Salvadora persica bushes - small and stunning butterfly.

Then it was the traditional group photo at North Beach, constantly interrupted by passing birds:

The award ceremony was a celebration of global comradeship and hope. Well done to the award winners - Birding Ecotours World Youth Birders with their record-breaking score and #Gees, Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers for out-of-this-world fundraising, Leica Welsh Red Kites for being so prominent in getting the message out, but a special shout-out to all the kids and women who took part in the race, especially Team Spectacled who received an award for their special efforts and contribution, and Little Bastards who came second with an amazing high score (183 species!). Noam and the Israeli - Palestinian team Palestine Sunbirders did an incredible job too, showing the world that Palestinians and Israelis can do great things together. Of course, the true winners are the birds of the flyway, this year receiving much-needed protection from our comrades in Serbia and Croatia. Good luck guys with your important work.

So proud to be part of the team making this inspirational project happen, year after year. My contribution to the project is rather minimal, so hats off mainly to Jonathan, Dan and IBRCE for doing the major part. Many thanks to all those who donated to the cause - you are all stars! And to our supporters in BirdLife International, Swarovski Optik, Leica and Zeiss.

After the race I headed up to Jerusalem to spend little time with my family there. In my final morning I had to see some birds and spent an hour at JBO. Good to meet up there with most of team JBO / Manomet Rocking Redstart who certainly rocked the flyway with their efforts.



Black-capped Je

Happy Passover and Easter to all my followers!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Champions of the Flyway - day 4 - race day

Sitting here in Schiphol Airport waiting for my next flight back home, and my head is still buzzing with Israeli birds and people. What an amazing climax to the pre-race days. It was a tough day with high temperatures and strong winds, but there were more migrants around than in previous days. I spent the day race with teams in the field, helping teams to get on birds, to stay focused and to keep motivated. Pre-dawn I was with some teams at IBRCE. Sadly the Lesser White-fronted Goose did not roost there that night. After dawn I went up to Seifim Plains but had to stop to admire the fabulous raptor migration low over the Eilat Mts. I saw a many hundred Steppe Buzzards in few minutes - daily total counted by IBRCE team was over 40,000. I failed to photograph impressive thermals / kettles.

Buck Ibex not understanding what all the fuss is about

Sunrise in Eilat Mts.

Seifim Plains were fairly quiet but we had there one Bimaculated Lark and several wheatar species. Late in the morning I went with Jonathan to Yotvata. The Turkestan Shrike settled down in a pumpkin field that was whopping with birds, mainly wheatears (lots of Black-ears) and about 50 Lesser Kestrels. The shrike looked good in sunlight rather than dust-storm light. 

Short-toed Lark

Spanish Sparrows

In the early afternoon I went to have a quick look at a White-tailed Lapwing that had been found near IBRCE. It looked pretty knackered in the heat, and light was very harsh for photography. Fine bird nevertheless.

Then teams started to assemble in KM20 saltpans, picking up important species. We did our best to assist the teams struggling with time to find the key species quickly. The Lesser Flamingo was showing alright in the afternoon sunlight:

Wind-swept Glossy Ibises

In the evening North Beach held many teams, using the last minutes of light to catch up with North Beach regulars.

Heuglin's Gull

After dark some teams went for more nightbirding, but I had to attend early retiring teams and play the Bad Cop role. My night ended very late after all the teams had returned and handed in their lists. Incredible efforts!
To be continued...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Champions of the Flyway day 3

Final day of preparations before the big day. From a birding point of view, it was a quieter day with fewer migrants and strong winds, but overall very enjoyable. Started off early in Ovda Valley with the Rockjumpers. Pretty hard-going with low bird densities but somehow we managed to get most target species there. Hardly anything posed for photography; only this Mourning Wheatear was OK:

Screwed up the jump shot

After breakfast I checked some city parks. Ofira was sweet as always with a nice selection of migrants. This female Caspian Stonechat was nice to study. In this photo tail looks all-dark:

Here the white tail bases are exposed when tail-flicking:

I failed its jump shots as well:

Ofira Park classics included 2 Wryneck:

2 Cretzschmar's Buntings (I know I may get some grief because of this bunting. The head was not green, it's not an Ortolan, this is a photo artifact in difficult light conditions):

And two Tree Pipits:

Diner & Bar - typical shrike habitat:

After our swap meeting at IBRCE, that was interrupted several times by passing birds I went back to North Beach. There was a constant arrival of hirundines, wagtails, shorebirds and harriers flying in low over the sea which was cool. We also had this flying fish carrying a Caspian Tern:


Just over an hour till the race start - good luck to everyone competing!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Champions of the Flyway day 2 - Turkestan Shrike!

Headed out early with Tom and Dan to Yotvata. Weather was quite pleasant to start with. Birding was pleasant too, with fair number of 'ground' birds (larks, pipits and wagtails), several harriers cruising over the fields, and relative highlights that didn't show well in the form of Richard's Pipit, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Sibe Stonechat. Then the weather started to deteriorate rapidly. Southerlies picked up quick, and a horrible sand storm began. Just as we were about to leave the area because it became unbearable, we bumped into a - 'Hey - Turkestan Shrike!' I exclaimed first... We were as surprised as the shrike with this encounter from 5 meters - by the time Tommy and I picked our cameras up it shot off. After a tense minute of searching we found it sheltering from the storm in a bush. We secured some shots and backed off; a minute later the shrike literally blew with the wind and we thought it was gone - luckily it was relocated not far away and twitched by many. In the afternoon it showed pretty well - see Shimon Shiff's awesome photos with SX50 on Facebook. Great stuff!

Blowing a hooley as they call it in Norfolk

Desert Finch

Spanish Sparrows

We escaped from the sand storm towards Eilat, and found shelter at IBRCE. We had a short and sweet walk there with 8 Red-necked Phals, 2 Citrine Wags and an interesting cormorant, that I can't see why it's not lucidus - more on it to follow.

Red-necked Phalaropes

Citrine Wagtail

It's spring, he shouts, it's spring!

Putative White-breasted Cormorant

In the afternoon I drove around with Jonathan. The wind switched to northerly but was still blowing like hell. To be honest, there were very few migrants around. A quick circuit of the southern KM20 pond didn't produce much. 3 Collared Pratincoles were almost exciting. Too many birders there so we left.

In the evening another inspiring event - this time the official opening event at IBRCE (thanks for hosting!). Great spirit and enthusiasm - proud to be part of this global community.