Friday, September 14, 2018

'Dark morph Little Egret'

Yestreday I had a meeting at Ma'agan Michael - perfect excuse for some birding at this fantastic site. I could not leave home properly early so managed only a lazy drive-around in the late morning heat with Nadav. Yet it was a productive 1hr 43mins (see my eBird checklist here). Highlights were a Black Tern, and two Penduline Tits. Most 'interesting' was this apparent dark morph Little Egret, that has been present there for a couple of weeks at least. It was a bit distant, and stood up in an awkward posture, extending its neck. Yet, still with this neck extension, it lacks the obvious angular shape of Western Reef Egret. While bill seems to be on the long side, it is pretty thin and very straight, unlike the dagger-shape of Western Reef Egret. The slightly blotchy head pattern looks quite typical to those 'dark morph Little Egrets' I found on the web.

Its legs were properly dark, lacking the yellow stuff Western Reef Egret often has on the rear tarsus. In flight, it showed white outer webs to primaries, and some white scapulars.

All in all this bird structurally looks like a rather standard Little Egret, and bare parts look OK too. But what is it?

The provenance of dark morph Little Egret is still a bit of a mystery and I have not found any genetic studies confirming the existence of this dark morph,  excluding a hybrid Western Reef Egret. There's a slightly old 1995 paper in British Birds by Dubois and Yesou (see here) suggesting that such a morph does exist, but a recent 2017 Ducth Birding article by Koparde and Yesou suggests that at least those similar-looking individuals in the Indian Subcontinent and hybrids. There are proven records of hybrids around the Mediterranean. Is this bird a hybrid too? Or does the dark morph Little Egret actually exist?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Migration days

These are very busy days of migration over Israel. Every time I lift my head up there is something up in the air - Honey Buzzards, Pelicans, White and Black Storks, Bee-eaters, Alpine Swifts, Red-rumped Swallows - such a treat. I missed the massive stream of Honey Buzzards that passed further east of me, but still casually had nice numbers, mixed with Black Kites, Marsh Harriers and first Lesser Spotted Eagle and Levant Sparrowhawks.

This morning I went ringing at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Typically for September, numbers weren't huge, but species richness was great. Walking around I had both Thrush and Common Nightingales, nice concentration of Masked and Red-backed Shrikes, Barred Warbler etc. A Nightjar was flushed out of its roost (accidentally) but wasn't relocated. many of the above ended up at the ringing table. My eBird checklist is here, while the ringing totals are below.

Eastern Orphean Warbler (adult male)

Masked Shrike

Spotted Flycatcher

Towards the end of the morning a member of the public brought to us a crash-landed Corncrake she picked up from her street, just before the cats did... It was very exhausted but luckily unscathed. After a quick examination it was sent of to a wildlife hospital - hopefully it will make it and get released soon so it can migrate on.

Monday, September 10, 2018


I missed the actual event at Spurn this weekend, but an early morning visit to Tsor'a Valley near my house more than made up for it. A true migration feast, compressed into three hours. Started walking through the large recently-cut alfalfa field south of Tal Shahar. It was packed with birds - clouds of Yellow Wagtails flying low over the field, swarms of Willow Warblers collecting caterpillars on every bit of vegetation, skyfull of thousands of hirundines hawking over the field, Whinchats, wheatears, shrikes - simply fantastic in the golden sun. Numbers of feldegg and flava Yellow Wagtails are about even now:

flava Yellow Wagtail - adult male (lovely broad greenish GC fringes)

1cy (female?) flava Yellow Wagtail (narrow whitish worn GC tips)

feldegg Yellow Wagtail (adult male)

I tried, without real success, to capture the spectacle of a flock of 800 Yellow Wagtail flooding the field, moving from side to side with every passing raptor. Not easy to get them in flight.

Willow Warblers were present in strong numbers too. For example, in a 5X5 patch of unmown vegetation remaining around an irrigation pipe in the middle of the alfalfa field were 30 WIWAs.

That same patch also held several Savi's and Reed Warblers, including this one that repeatedly adopted a 'banana posture':

Out of this same patch I flushed another Locustella sp. I got on it in flight as it flew low over the field and disappeared in the cut alfalfa. I was 99% sure I saw streaked upperparts! I walked up to where it landed, flushed it again - still couldn't 100% positively confirm it had streaked upperpats. I then lost it and spent another frustrating 20 minutes searching for it in the field. Personally I know it was a Grasshopper Warbler but cannot do anything with this record. 

This is the time of year when we see in Israel intriguing House Martins, with darkish underwing coverts, streaked undertail coverts and shallowish fork, but still Northern and not Asian.

Now there's a turnover between adult (above) and 1cy (below) Red-backed Shrikes:

I was pleased with double figures of Roller (12), all 1cy bar this fine adult:

Still more Cretzschmar's present than Ortolans:

I quickly visited Yitzhak and Yosef who were ringing in the reservoir - they were very busy!

Wryneck - always entertaining

Quick video before release

Clamorous Reed Warbler

Crimson Speckled - very common

I had to leave just as the first raptors were taking off.

Short-toed Eagle

That was fun! Check my full eBird checklist here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Evening fun

This evening, in between different duties, I enjoyed the opportunities for casual, quality offered in Israel. I checked Hulda Reservoir, that will become my local patch when I move to my new house next week. Surprisingly few shorebirds and ducks were present. Very good activity of Black-winged Kites around the reservoir though - a family with two very fresh young was doing its thing in the soft evening light. I am still blown away by how widespread they have become when I was away.

This young Monty had an extreme boa, but is still a monty. Dark trailing edge to plain primaries nailed it.

Ortolan - one of two just before dark

Other species of interest included (only) 8 Ferruginous Ducks, and a long-staying Great Crested Grebe. Full eBird checklist here.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Valley of Dreams and Wires

I am staying up north with friends for a couple of days. Early this morning I escaped for a sweet few hours of birding in the Bet She'an Valley. This is one of my favourite parts of the country, not only because I lived there between 1998 and 2001. I challenged myself to pick up as many species as I could, so I rushed from site to site and did not invest in photography at all. Admittedly, I was pretty lucky, especially with some migrant passerines that were present in ones and twos. I walked some alfalfa and scrub near Kfar Ruppin, then scrub and fields near Tirat Zvi, and ended up down at the bottom of the Jordan Valley below Kfar Ruppin at some beautiful reservoirs. As always, Bet Shean Valley is packed with birds, and diversity was very high too. Many species with big numbers. Some highlights were Little Crake, 2 Citrine wagtail, 5 species of shrike (woodchat most common). Among the most prominent were Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, that congregate in the valley at this time of year. I counted about 70. Not easy to get wireless photos pf them - wires are their favourite perch.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - adult


It was heartwarming to still be able to see fair numbers of Turtle Doves. I had over 100, including flocks of tens; far fewer than the tens of thousands I'd see in the same area 15-20 years ago.

Namaqua Dove has become a regular feature of the valley, which is lovely.

There were only small numbers of Honey Buzzards that took off - main passage should start any day now. One of them swooped down, very focused, and came down to drink in an empty fishponds:

That eye...

There were moderate numbers of shorebirds in the dry fishponds, with some variety but nothing too special. Nice to see over 60 Collared Pratincoles:

Demonstrating it's not black-winged or oriental

Temminck's Stint (adult) with two Little Stints - 1cy (top) and adult (bottom)

A few more random photos:

Huge numbers of Barn Swallows, many of them of the local breeding taxon transitiva

Black Stork 1cy

Desert Finchs

Pygmy Cormorant

Short-toed Eagle pre-sunrise

By 09:00 I was defeated by the heat and retreated to aircon coolness. All in all it was a brilliant early morning - 115 species in just over three hours ain't too shabby I think. Full eBird checklist here. Thanks to Avner for his help.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Saturday morning birding

Managed a couple of hours of birding this early morning before my family woke up. Checked Tsor'a fields, which was my local patch some years ago when I lived nearby. The site hasn't changed much, only many more Mynas, like everywhere in Israel. Early in the morning the weather was still OK. The alfalfa fields were packed with rubbish birds (Cattle Egrets, Jackdaws, Mynas etc.) and fair numbers of Yellow Wagtails. The alfalfa fields held few other migrants, but the surrounding scrub and adjacent reservoir were a bit more productive. Highlight was a Black-headed Bunting that delightedly popped up when I was enjoying a flock of Spanish Sparrows. This is the classic time of year for this scarce autumn passage migrant.

Black-headed Bunting - 1cy (hatched summer 2018) - adults moult in India and are very worn now; partial moult of 1cy (note moulted inner GC) is visible:

Spanish Sparrow - female

Spanish Sparrow - male

Willow Warbler

All in all numbers of migrants were relatively low, but now back in Israel I appreciate the relativity, and celebrate the migrants I did encounter today. Full eBird checklist here.

On the way back home I enjoyed another change in Israel's avifauna - a casual roadside Black-winged Kite. Once I twitched them hard and far; now they are almost as common as kestrels.