Thursday, August 15, 2019

The end of an era

On Saturday I arrived in the UK with my family for a two-week long visit. By definition, this is not a birding trip. However, I was still hoping to keep up my birding streak. Until today all went well - I managed to get out every morning, birding sites east of Norwich such as Potter Heigham Marshes (see eBird checklist here), Rush Hill Scrape (here) and Breydon Water (here). While I did not see anything exceptionally rare, I actually enjoyed those mornings out pretty much - good numbers and fairly large numbers of species.

Classic Norfolk scenes - Chinese Water Deer plays around with an Eurasian Crane, while a Northern Lapwing flies by:

Speckled Wood

Yesterday I was playing around in a campsite near Hickling with this large Hornet-mimic Hoverfly (Volucella zonaria):

Check those fantastic structures on its forehead:

When my phone started going crazy, with this:

Sadly, today I was completely destroyed in the morning and couldn't get myself out of bed early, and was fully absorbed in family stuff all day. There was no way for me to get out birding, so today my beautiful 234 days of checklist streak ends. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Almost there

The last days of summer (from bird migration perspective) are tough. Things just don't want to get going. First signs of autumn give hope for a flood of migrants soon to arrive, but the River of Birds in the Sky (yo Bill! Miss you bro) is still just an intermittent trickle.
Yesterday I went to Hulda Reservoir where things are building up nicely. Good array of shorebird, some ducks, a few migrant passerines - 72 species in total (eBird checklist here), not too shabby. Savi's Warblers, 12 Collared Pratincloes, Black-tailed Godwit were the highlights. It is not a good site for bird photography - scope job there and I hate digiscoping.
This morning I went to Tal Shahar - Tsor'a with hopes for more early migrants. Started off at Tal Shahar alfalfa and nearby riparian scrub. It was somewhat quiet, but still nice (eBird checklist here). No big highlights - 2 Indian Silverbills were the only birds of interest. I don't know what's their story exactly. They were absent all summer, and they seem regular in autumn. Last year I saw them a few times in my area. Let's see if they show some regularity this autumn too. I managed one horrid flight shot of one, making it look properly rare, like a quality vismig record:

This awful flight shot led to a series of just-as-bad flight shots of other common species:

Asian Black-winged Kite

Pied Kingfisher flying high towards a nest somewhere?


Syrian Pecker

Turtle Dove numbers were certainly on the increase, congregating post breeding/fledging before migration.

Woodchat Shrike (1cy) - I love this plumage

Large Salmon Arabs were abundant

Inquisitive Golden Jackal

Then I gave Pel'i Reservoir a thorough check, but came back with not so much.

Two more checklists today, day 214/365 of Checklist-a-day challenge, 223 days of checklist streak.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Gull and turtle

Yesterday morning I went with Piki to Zikim Beach, hoping to connect with the Audouin's Gull present there for a few days now. At first the beach was gull-free. We joined the finder Gabi Levitzky and shortly after I spotted a gull heading south towards us over the water - long bill, sloping forehead, silver back - it's the bird! It made a nice flyby, displaying its immaculate 2cy plumage and dark legs. What a classy bird:

Looks like s*&t

It landed further south on the beach, just behind the fence of the security zone north of the Gaza border. It joined a small group of gulls that included 2 Yellow-legs and 1 rogue Baltic.

Dwarfed by a Yellow-legged Gull

We inched closer carefully, and eventually reached a reasonable distance. This gave us a good opportunity to study the finer plumage details.

We left the bird in peace on the horribly-polluted beach. Environmentally, it is quite depressing there - all this rubbish washed up on the beach originates in Gaza. 

Audouin's Gull is a rare visitor to Israel, just about annual, almost exclusively along the Mediterranean Coast. It is surprisingly rare in Israel, as it breeds in Cyprus, about 350 km away only. It was a year tick for me (in Israel), and a fine bird it was. Other than that we did not see too much - eBird checklist here.

We met up with Koby, the local NPA ranger. We joined him to translocate a Loggerhead Turtle nest found that morning. This section of the beach is closed off to vehicles. Tyre marks in the pic below belong to the ranger's pickup who scans the beaches every morning for signs of female turtles beaching for egg-laying, like the tracks of our female:

Nests are translocated to protect them from predation - there is serious predation risk by foxes and jackals. We dug up all 51 eggs, and placed them carefully in a bucket for translocation:

Piki, Koby and Bamba (in the back of the pickup)

The eggs are like soft-shelled ping pong balls

The eggs were placed in a new nest, within a predator-proof enclosure nearby:

Good luck to the little ones in about 60 days! Kudos to INPA and to Koby for this hard work sustaining the Sea Turtle population in Israel.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


I spent one night in Eilat with my family, spontaneously escaping from another hot and sticky weekend in the center. While Eilat was certainly hot, at least it wasn't sticky and it was better fun than staying at home. Yesterday early morning I met up with Shachar and Dudu for a couple of hours of seawatching off North Beach. I have had worse morning there: highlight was a 2cy Arctic Tern, that gave good scope views as it flew rather distantly just behind the border, often alongside a Common Tern allowing good comparative views. I failed even to get a record shot - all I managed was a lovely photo of a Jordanian border police boat:

There's an Arctic Tern somewhere in there, honest

Arctic Tern is just about annual in Israel, typically in July-August. I assume it's overlooked, because of my biased luck in finding them - I have already found several during 'random' one-day visits, including here.

Other highlights were two (distant) Lesser Crested Terns, 2 (slightly less distant) Cory's Shearwaters, and nice numbers of (even less distant) White-cheeked Terns. 

White-cheeked Tern - 2cy

White-cheeked Tern - adult (moulting)

eBird checklist here.

After a lovely day spent snorkeling at Coral Beach, on the way back hope kidnapped my family for a very quick whiz through KM20 saltpans. I saw one Red Phalarope. At what distance you ask? Distant... But hey-ho, a year-tick is a year-tick. Two birds are present for about a week, though they could be the same two seen in late May.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Local stuff

In recent days I had no time for long-distance birding and stayed local. Saturday morning I checked the reservoirs and alfalfa fields of Tzor'a - Tal Shachar. That was OK, without highlights and very few migrants, but some local stuff was certainly on the move.

Black-winged Stilts flew through

European Bee-eaters congregate now post-breeding, before heading off on migration:

A flock of nine Ferruginous Ducks suddenly flew in and circled over the reservoir; some of them looking juvenile, locally produced

Tal Shachar eBird checklist here, and Tsor'a here.

Back to moffing... Something I haven't done for quite a while. All windows in our house are sealed off with mosquito nets, so few moths enter the house. However, today I was working from home, and my son well-spotted two moths inside the house:

Golden Twin-spot Moth

Vestal (thanks James)

In the late afternoon I got a surprising call that an Eagle owl was sat on a roof in my town and looks unwell. When I got there, the poor but stunning bird was indeed sat on a ledge about 7 m off the ground, being mobbed heavily by the local gang - crows and jays. It did look unwell, to my best judgement - it chose an unusual roost, it did not fly off when many people were standing right below it, one eye was shut, and it clutched its feet awkwardly. 

I decided to climb on top of the roof to catch it and take it into care, but a soon as I started climbing it took off and flew away strongly towards the fields. End of story.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Farewell to Yael

Yesterday I reached a personal milestone in my eBird 2019 Checklist-a-day Challenge. It was my 200th day in a row of submitting meaningful eBird checklists. The last day that I did not submit an eBird checklist was December 23rd 2018. 

I spent the day with SPNI's youth bird club, led by the wonderful Yael Lehnardt, up on Mt. Hermon. This was Yael's ultimate trip with the group before moving on. Huge appreciation to Yael for years of endless dedication, efforts and inspiration. She raised a fantastic generation of brilliant young birders, naturalists and conservationists. These young boys and girls already impact the Israeli birding and wildlife scene greatly. Our birding itinerary included a strenuous climb up Mt. Hermon, from 1400m to 2100m. It was very hot, solar radiation was fierce, terrain was rough and our backs were in pain for carrying so much water and gear. However, it was such a symbolic morning, to conquer the mountain, see the birds, and feel the youngster's huge satisfaction of withstanding the challenge.
Birding was tough, but we managed to see all expected Hermon specialties, including Asian Crimson-winged Finch, Pale Rockfinch, Horned Lark, Sombre Tit and Western Rock Nuthatch. Perhaps the most extraordinary observation was a congregation of forty (!) Common Ravens, surely attracted to rubbish outside a military base. This is by far the largest concentration every recorded in Israel of this scarce species. Nice also to connect with two Chaffinch, that only recently were realised to breed in Israel. I managed three checklists with the group- of the climb up, hills abovethe upper cable station, and drinking pools. My bird photos are shit, sorry - harsh light and other excuses.

Stunning vista over the Hula Valley before climbing up

Common Raven

Horned Lark

Tail-less Pale Rockfinch

Juvvy Syrian Serins

Zygaena olivieri

Our climb

Yael and her group