Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Pipit-fest

I had an enjoyable morning birding with Tuvia in the alfalfa fields west of Kfar Ruppin. The fields were packed with pipits and larks: very big numbers of Meadow, Red-throated and Caucasian Water Pipits, with Richard's Pipit, Oriental Skylark and Calandra Lark thrown in for good measure. A muddy puddle at the edge of the field attracted many common pipits:

Red-throated Pipit

Caucasian Water Pipit

Meadow Pipits

Western Yellow Wagtail - probably thunbergi



Two Siberian Buff-bellied Pipits joined the party. Great views of this one at the far end of the puddle, a bit too distant for proper photos.


Check the brown legs
 
Hardly streaked mantle

Adios! 

eBird checklist here. Thanks Tuvia.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Nostalgia

Those who have been following my blog for some years might remember that I used to spend a considerable amount of birding time in Ashdod. Ashdod is Israel's fifth largest city. Despite its rapid growth and development, it still hosts several excellent wildlife sites. For a few years I ran a city project to enhance conservation within the city boundaries, focusing mainly on Lakhish Park and Yavne 4 ponds. I had some good birding years there, but times and fortunes shifted in the city, the project ended and I relocated to the UK. Since my return to Israel and never really had the chance to revisit those sites properly. During the brief visits I had, I was depressed by the amount of recent development, causing loss and degradation of so much habitat.
This morning I had a meeting in Lakhish Park, so decided to invest  bit more time in my old stomping grounds. I started off at Yavne 4 ponds, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of birding there. Gulls, shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors, passerines - the place was whopping with birds (eBird checklist here). Highlight was a Siberian Buff-belied Pipit that showed well through the scope. Gulls were present in decent numbers, though I am concerned by the low numbers of Baltic Gull, probably reflecting the dire state of this taxon on its breeding grounds. Siberian Gulls were present in nice numbers, and there was also a lovely Pallas's Gull. I couldn't find any rings at all.

Three Siberian Gulls and a Baltic Gull

Pallas's Gull and three young Armenian Gulls (and teal and stilt)

My meeting in Lakhish Park was outdoors, so I casually birded the park, and quite enjoyed it (eBird checklist here). The native White Acacia trees were in flower, attracting Chiffchaffs, Sylvias and many sunbirds:


A dramatic change that happened during my years of absence is the colonisation of Striated Heron along the Mediterranean coast. They are now breeding at several sites along the coast, including Lakhish Park. I had three individuals:


And a late Squacco:

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Million dollar question

I have not posted here for a while, so today's birding has to qualify for a blogpost. In the morning I participated in a meeting regarding management and monitoring of Common and Little Terns breeding in Atlit Saltpans. Luckily, the meeting was just late enough to allow for some good birding beforehand. It was rather productive, with some fine waterfowl, shorebirds, Avocets, Spoonbills, Flamingoes. I thoroughly enjoyed birding there - light was good, birds were tame, quite alright (eBird checklist here).

Could have been a decent shot had I not clipped the wingtip of the slender-bill

Canthaxantin overload

After the meeting, en route to the next meeting (one million dollar question: is birding the time between meetings, or is work the time between birding?), I swung by Hama'apil Fishponds. Haven't visited that site for some years, and was pleased to discover how good was the habitat there, with muddy and well-vegetated ponds. Indeed, birds were plentiful - Ruddy Shelduck, Sibe Stonechat (presumably armenicus), Citrine Wagtails, lots of raptors and many more (eBird checklist here). I strongly recommend birding this site - easy access, central location that offers quality birding. 

Ruddy Shelduck and friends

Distant Sibe Stonechat

What. A. Bird.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

99

Today was one of those days in which I consider myself lucky. Ahead of a late morning meeting in Kfar Ruppin, I had time to go birding with my boss Dan. We left very early and arrived to the lower reservoirs at dawn. In a similar experience to our Global Big Day, the sensation of huge numbers of big birds going in all directions was fantastic. Pelicans, Black Storks, herons and egrets, Black Kites, eagles, Spoonbills, gulls and terns, shorebirds, ducks - hundreds of birds up in the air at any moment.

Black Storks and Great White Pelicans

Black Storks

Great White Pelican

Greater Spotted Eagle - 1cy

We stayed there for just under two hours, that were super productive. We managed to see 99 species (eBird checklist here) - not bad I reckon. To have so many species just at that one site is outstanding. There were some highlights to be had too. A young Daurian Shrike showed very well, though it didn't pose perfectly. We birded on foot, which means that photo opps were lesser.




Common Wood-Pigeon is rather scarce on migration, so it was nice to have one perched early on:


Many Dead Sea Sparrows foraged in the bushes, but were typically skittish:


I still remember the days when Citrine Wagtail was a proper rarity. This morning we had 12 just in one small pond.


Other goodies included two early Pallas's Gulls, Moustached Warbler, Caspian Stonechat and Jack Snipe.

Back in the kibbutz, a late Levant Sparrowhawk flew over, and three Hawfinch too.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Mystery stonechat

I will make this short, as I am heading out again in few hours.
This morning I went with Rony and Meidad to Nafha, my favourite rarity-hunting site this time of year. Practically the first bird we had when we parked the car at half-light was a sweet little Yellow-browed Warbler - always bliss. Photos are a bit less...



We birded the site for a couple of hours. There were tons of Chiffchaff, quite a few Siskin, Hawfinch, Syrian Serin, but not much of interest other than that (eBird checklist here). Somewhat disappointed we returned to the car. By the car a pair of stonechats were holding a temporary territory. The male was a Siberian, but the female - what was it? From one angle it looked European, from another it looked Siberian. With this in mind, I thought to myself - why can't it be Stejneger's? We started picking up ID features - rich rufous rump with dark shaft streaks to longest uppertail coverts, rather rich mantle, strong bill, short primary projection. These features were pro-Stejneger's, but I was still uneasy with the bird. For a potential first for Israel, we had to get more evidence. I got some positive feedback from European friends based on back-of-camera photos, then a few less encouraging responses. I understand why - the overall appearance is not quite there, possibly - ear coverts not dark enough so no pale throat, strong supercilium, perhaps not rich enough tones - BOC shots were misleading, views in the field became increasingly difficult as temperatures rose and the bird became more shy. These are the only useful photos I manages to take, at long distance, before the battery died:




Without a spare battery, Rony's camera pivoted. Here are some photos, part taken by Rony, part by me using Rony's camera - thank you Rony:



Close inspection of the moult here reveals that this 1cy bird moulted all it's GC and two tertials - unusual for Siberian Stonechat, thanks Yosef!






This is the male Siberian Stonechat it was associating with:


When first studying the bird in the field, and in the first few hours, I was quite hopeful it's a Stejnegers. Then, I started to become more sceptical. Now I am in a neutral position - this is an intriguing bird and it could be either taxa. I want to learn more about it.
Tomorrow I'm returning there to obtain DNA samples - hope it sticks around. Stay posted!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Global Medium Day


Yesterday Global Big Day team reunited to take part in October 2019 GBD, organised by eBird. Jonathan, Re'a and I were joined by Piki. Rather than darting across the country like we did in May, we decided to focus on the Bet She'an Valley. I had high hopes for the day. The idea of spending a full day birding in this bird rich valley, actually enjoying birding rather than driving around, was very attractive. Things were off to a good start with Barn Owl before dawn. Our dawn birding spot was the fantastic wetland below Kfar Ruppin, by the Jordan River. The first 48 minutes were both productive and enjoyable, with 65 species and quality that included Daurian Shrike, Pallid Harrier, Ferruginous Ducks, Spotted Crake and many more (eBird checklist here). Moreover, the sky was just full of thousands of birds flying in all directions, leaving their roosts to feed in fields and ponds. This pic of Daurian Shrike in half-light is so bad it's almost beautiful:


 We then continued to check alfalfa fields and more fishponds around Kfar Ruppin and Tirat Zvi, but then things starting to go a bit off. On the one hand, this continuing sensation of tens of thousands of birds filling the sky – kites, pelicans, storks, herons, egrets, spoonbills, pipits and wagtails flying in all directions was quite awesome. 






We also connected with some quality species, including Oriental Skylark, Richard's Pipit, Red-crested Pochard and such.

Red-crated Pochard


 However, we witnessed a complete and utter lack of migrants – there was no raptor migration whatsoever, and we missed too many regular passage raptors. The whole niche of woodland/scrub passerines was missing. We failed to find common migrants such as Blackcap! Also shorebirds put on a disappointing show with very low diversity. Combine that with bad luck and regular big day randomness, and we ended the day with a shambolic 130 species. At times birding was slow enough that we had time to appreciate the fascinating wasp Ammophila rubripes:


The day was saved by a proper rarity that showed up nearby. Galit Moshe and Eran Banker expertly found a Paddyfield Warbler in Neve Ur, at the edge of the valley. We headed over there in the early afternoon and enjoyed surprisingly good and prolonged views of this skulker at an impossible habitat. This is the 13th record for Israel but the first field record – respect to Galit and Eran. Thanks aso to Barak who 'kept' it for us.
It was not very easy to photograph, though, especially with the harsh light. Maybe not the best of my images, this is the most demonstrative image I managed, showing the strong supercilium with darker upper border, dark smudge at tip of lower mandible, short primary projection and well-patterned tertials.







The abandoned fishfarm, now overgrown with reeds and tamarix, provides fantastic habitats for birds. Even in the heat of the day we managed 64 species there (eBird checklist here).


This concludes another Global Big Day. I assume that some readers of this blog will sense it was actually a brilliant day, but our personal feeling was different. But hey ho, that’s how big days go. And of course, in a broader view, it was a full day of high-intensity birding, with great birders who I am lucky to call my friends. Many thanks to Piki, Re'a and Jonathan for their huge efforts and for the good fun and laughs. Hats off to eBird for organising another wonderful international event. And as always, my gratitude is to Swarovski Optik for allowing me to use the best optics in the world.
Here's to the next GBD!