Sunday, January 12, 2020

Desert weekend

This weekend I participated (and helped the organisers) in the annual Great Desert Survey, coordinated by IBRCE, INPA and Eilot Regional Council. As last year, the event was a huge success and great fun. About 40 teams covered the remotest parts of the southern desert, collecting valuable data for conservation. Personally, I had a great time. My polygons weren't the busiest, but between them and general birding outside the polygons, I got to see some top birds. It was a difficult weekend for photography - I was too busy and/or with other people, so photo opps were limited.

On Friday morning I worked southeast of Ovda Valley, in a nice sandy wadi. There were lots of wheatears about, but I couldn't find a basalt of my own. I enjoyed this male Hooded Wheatear:


Born in 2019 - check moult limit in coverts:


Typically, wheatears were followed by Asian Desert Warblers. None were obliging, but it's always fun to see theצ running on the sand like rodents:

 
I usually don't pay much attention to Cattle Egrets, but this one that appeared in the middle of nowhere, flew directly towards us and started foraging right beside us was somewhat special:



eBird checklist here.

After we were done, we went to pay respect to a new Basalt Wheatear found nearby by Rony:



In the afternoon I did a few more bits and pieces, hoping that the African Crake would get released, no joy. After dusk I went with Re'a to Yotvata that delivered the goods - Egyptian Nightjar and Pharaoh Eagle Owl, here showing the diagnostic barred underparts:


On Saturday morning, before my polygon, I quickly checked a wadi for Pallid Scops Owl (successfully, thanks Miguel!). My polygon was in another wadi deep in the desert. It was rather quiet - the weather was not enjoyable, neither for birds nor for humans, very cold and windy. We did manage a couple of Temminck's Larks and Desert Wheatears - gotta love 'em:



eBird checklist here.

On the way out stopped for a quick scan at a spot that looked promising for Hoopoe Lark - boom! After a couple minutes of scanning one walked into view, albeit too distant:


Our route out passed by yet another Basalt Wheatears found earlier by Ohad (#7 this season, all within about 10X10 km) - it would have been rude to drive by without stopping to say hello. 


On the way back home we stopped at Hameishar Plains (as many others did) - excellent birding there. Hameishar did not receive rain this winter yet, so there is no annual germination, but last winter's productivity left tons of seeds on the ground, and lark numbers are good as a response. Best were 23 Thick-billed Larks, also many Temminck's, Bar-tails, sandgrouse etc. eBird checklist here.

Thick-billed Larks


Temminck's Lark

Crowned Sandgrouse

Many thanks to Noam, Itai and the rest of the organising team, including Hai Bar staff for hosting the whole event. My team - Golan, Noga and Yossi were great, thank you! 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Little gullfest

Since the start of the year, a series of storms have been hitting our shores, bringing some good seawatching opportunities. Only today I managed to free some time for seawatching, and went over to Palmakhim, south of Rishon Letzion,  where I joined several others. The wind was blowing hard, but the direction was not ideal - too much southerly element to it. There were few true pelagic species - six Yelkouan Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua. Main interest was in gulls, specifically small ones: There was a lovely concentration of Little Gulls, fishing in the sheltered bay with Sandwich Terns. They are rather scarce in Israel, so their numbers were pleasing: At most we had 13 together, in total about 17. Beautifully-patterned, elegant - I love Little Gulls, especially when they're young (there was only one adult).


M or W?


There was also varied large gull action:

Proper cachinnans, near adult- very pale mantle, lots of white, little black


heuglini - adult

armenicus - 1st cycle

armenicus - adult

I think this is barabensis - tricky gull

Dark underwing secondaries indicate this is a fuscus-thingy

eBird checklist here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Special post - summary of 2019

As 2019 drew to a close, it's a good opportunity to look back at what I've done, from a birding and wildlife perspective, in the past year. It was a bird-filled year, maybe the most intensive birding year I have ever had. I experienced so much, in Israel and worldwide, that a monthly summary will be too lengthy. This year I will try a new format - thematic summary. So here we go.

#checklistadaychallenge

In 2019, eBird completed its total takeover of my life. I decided to participate in eBird's  'Checklist-a-Day' challenge, and upped the game by two levels. Once, rather than the checklist-a-day average required by the challenge rules, I decided to submit checklists each and every day. In 2019, I submitted 671 checklists. However, I birded only 364 days this year: On August 14th I was in the UK. The weather was truly awful, and family commitments prevented me from doing any birding. I could have ticked a few Blue Tits in the garden, but I felt that was pointless. So he'res to a perfect 2020!
My second personal condition was that I need to go birding properly every day. Like at least 30 minutes of meaningful birding, with bins and everything. The challenge rules accept even five casual minutes in the garden - that wasn't enough for me. In this I succeeded - every day I went out birding, it was proper. Birding became a daily routine, and this felt very good. I birded locally, nationally and globally. I birded for work, for recreation, for listing purposes. Can't think of a better lifestyle.


Fieldwork

Lucky me, my job includes a fair amount of fieldwork. This takes me to some of the best habitats in Israel, where I get to see the rarest breeding birds of Israel. In 2019 much of my fieldwork included work in Batha habitat north of Jerusalem, breeding raptors, winter census and stuff like that. I participatd in birdy events such as Champions of the Flyway and IBOC. Many kilometers walked, hundreds of point counts, some mammals, endless fun.

Long-billed Pipit

Calandra Lark

MacQueen's Bustard

Golden Eagle

Rüppell's Warbler

Common Dolphins

Arabian Wolf


International birding

In 2019 I traveled to Cyprus (April), Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (May-June), UK (August) and USA (September). Additionally, I submitted checklists from Moscow Airport and from Istanbul Airport.
My first visit to the island of Cyprus was defined as a family holiday, but I connected with local birds and wildlife too, with the great companionship of Robin Chittenden.

Cyprus Scops Owl (finally recognised as a full species by BirdLife)

Cyprus Wheatear

Eastern Festoon

In May-June I led my first Rockjumper tour, to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. It was a fantastic tour, full of birds, stunning landscapes and fascinating histories. Trip report here. Looking forward to more Rockjumper adventures in 2020!


And a couple more that didn't make the cut - Black Lark

Pallid Harrier

UK visit in August was again defined as a family visit, therefore birding opportunities were limited. So limited in fact that I missed my only day of birding there (see above). Just a few bits and pieces.

Dartford Warbler

Orange Swift, for the sake of good old days in James Lowen's garden

USA visit in September was a speedy work trip, but we timed our visit to Cape May right, to experience my first morning flight on the dyke there. It was awesome


Local birding

To be able to bird every day, much of my birding had to be local. Much of my birding effort was put into my patch - Nahal Ekron, near my house in Mazkeret Batya. It was my first full year there, and it was great to experience the complete annual cycle on patch: Arrival of first migrants, summer visitors, autumn migration, winter visitors. In 2019 I submitted 178 checklists there, recording 164 species, bringing the patch list to 173 species. Unlike autumn 2018, I had no exciting highlights in 2019, at least less than I had expected with all this effort. The Common Rosefinch I found in autumn 2018 remained on site all winter, I had a couple more brief birds in autumn, a Richard's Pipit hung around for a few days, and that's all. I added several new species to the site, including Caspian Stonechat, Bittern and Semicollared Flycatcher.

Common Rosefinch, February


I thoroughly enjoyed frequent birding in quality sites within 15 minutes drive of home, including Hulda Reservoir and Tal Shahar. The advantages of living and birding in Israel.



Rarities

2019 was not the best year ever in the number of megas that made me jump into the car. However, there was enough quality to keep the adrenaline running. The big stars were two unexpected firsts for Israel, arriving in short procession, of similar geographic origin:



The only other Israel tick I had in 2019 was Swinhoe's Storm Petrel, seen during a pelagic off Eilat in early September. Additional megas that stuck around and performed well were the first Barnacle Goose in Agamon Hula:


And the Persian Wheatear at Har Amasa:


Not a mega anymore, I just like this photo of Basalt Wheatear


Year listing

Until about September I wasn't really planning to do a year list. I was very busy birding for the above reasons. and didn't really think about my year list as such. However, come September, I noticed that my year list is accumulating quite well. I decided to give it a good shot, and add species to my year list. I didn't go crazy after each and every species, but did what I can, within reason, to add some species here and there. I ended the year with a respectable list of 370 species in Israel, according to eBird taxonomy and geography. My final species added to the list was Sociable Lapwing, yesterday:


This blog

In 2019 I celebrated 10 years of writing this blog. In a way, I rediscovered blogging, after the four semi-dormant years in UK. In 2019 I posted 84 times on this blog, less than the glory years of 2010-2013. Yet I was happy to interact again with my followers here and on social media, and I hope to keep the blog running for at least a few more years.


Thanks

As always, I am thankful to my family - my loving wife Adva, and wonderful kids Uri, Noam and Libby. Your support (and tolerance) keeps me going. You guys are amazing. Bamba, my loyal dog, continued to escort me whenever she could - woof!

Basalt Wheatear, Bamba and me


My friends and colleagues are always an integral part of my birding experiences. Thank you boys and girls for all the laughs, drinks, highs and lows - you rock!


Finally, I thank Swarovski Optik for their continuing support. I am proud to represent Swarovski Optik, and look forward to try out some new products soon 😉

If you're reading this, all the way down, so you deserve my deepest thanks for your support too...

I wish all of us a wonderful, bird-filled 2020. May we do better in protecting our wildlife and environment. Peace.