Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hume's Owls and other stuff

On Thursday night I went with Jonathan Meyrav to the desert to search for Hume's Owls; this was part of a census the IOC is carrying out this year, to discover the true status in Israel of this magical but threatened bird.
We checked several sites; in one site we had two territorial males and a very curious female, and in the second site one pair. It was an amazing night - full moon, no wind, pleasent temperatures, and the desert was truly stunning. Unfortunately Jonathan is of the wrong sex, though he is quite handsome... We had breathtaking views of the female owl with the strong moon light - it's so nice to see the birds without disturbing them with a torch. The bird flew so close to us againt the moon; we could even see it was moulting its remiges...

Some other recent stuff:

The resident White-throated Kingfisher at the JBO showed well yesterday afternoon:

And this morning in Ashdod ringing was pretty slow due to strong easterlies, but this Water Rail was a good bird:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Leach's Petrels!

I was working at the office in Tel Aviv today. Saw the terrific winds out of the window and wished I were at Jaffa. Barak spent the day at Jaffa, and from 11:00 onwards I started getting RBA's on Leach's Petrels... After lunch I had enough and managed to make a sweet escape. Had about one hour at Jaffa, but very productive it was! I joined Barak, Oz and Arad, and we enjoyed the perfect westerlies and no rain. During the period I was there we had 4 Leach's Petrels, 3 Sooty Shearwaters, 1 Yelkouan Shearwater, 2 Skua sp. (both pretty large and bulky pom-like), and 3 Gannets. The daily total must be something like 11 Leach's - to my memory the best day since 2002.
I will probably give it another try tomorrow morning - stay posted!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rosefinch local twitch

This morning I was doing some work at home, instead of going out and enjoying the fabulous weather... I'd rather have other people work hard and find the birds for me ;-)

As usual, the phone rings, Yosef is on the other end - rosefinch at Tzor'a! I was waiting for this call as he had a rosefinch in each ringing session he did in the last two weeks. So into the car and off to Tsor'a (10 minutes), bird out of the bag, click-click, and back home. Disgusting.

Common Rosefinch is a rare migrant and winter visitor. However this seems to be a good winter for them - three have been ringed in the Hula and three by Yosef at Tsor'a. It's incredible - all three at Tsor'a were caught at exactly the same spot, at exactly the same time (10:30) - in a week's space from each other.
This is a 2cy but sexing is impossible at this plumage. The pinkish tones on the face are a result of feeding on blackberries.
Yosef - get yourself a proper camera!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ashdod gulls

So, I have some birds of my own too...
Continued yesterday's trend of wasting my time, and had a useless day attempting to catch gulls. They were so nervous today - two kites hung around the rubbish dump the whole day and prevented the gulls from feeding and us from catching gulls.
During the day I had some Finnish clolur rings on fuscus, including this 2cy seen for the first time in Israel.
The gulls against the dark sky provided some photographic opportunities.
This is an adult cachinnans:

And a mixed flock spooked by a kite - fuscus, heuglini, cachinnans and armenicus:

More images of the wheatear

More images of the wheatear found yesterday by Uri Makover - these are his images too.
In these images the rump pattern and wing structure are better seen.

It is worth noting that range-wise, White-crowned breeds the closest of all four 'black' whetears - perhaps only 100 KM south. We have previuos records of birds wondering away from their breeding range in winter. All three other forms (Basalt, Black and variable) are extreme vagrants in Israel, and all were recorded in winter.

Shirihai in his 'Fifty New Species' article in Sandgrouse 21 (1999) gives a brief but important summary on the ID of picata in Israeli context. It is an important reference for this matter.

This bird is not a Basalt Wheatear - Uri didn't manage to get images of the bird in flight but he noted that it did not have the pale remiges typical for lugens. Further, adult Basalt Wheatear shows fine pale tips to the primary coverts. I am not sure about the age of this bird - the remiges seen quite brownish so it might be a 2cy, but nevertheless these pale tips are not visible on this bird. Also the white lower belly is clearly demarcated from the black, while in most basalt the black merges into the white.

It is agreed by most people who sent me their views that it is not a leucura, based on structure (head, bill and primary projection).

Even though Svensson mentions that some yound white-crowns may show a complete tail band, this tail band seems too massive to fit leucopyga. Is that true? However, there are a few tiny white feathers above the eye on the right side of the head - a bit worrying....

So what about picata? I have no relevant experience, and the literature on ophistoleuca is pretty limited. However, I and can't find anything in this bird that doesn't fit picata.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nothing I enjoy more than dipping on a mega and getting soaked

What a useless day...
I began the day with a short seawatching session at Jaffa, following last nights' storm. I met Barak and together we wasted our time watching an empty Mediterranean. Before I arrived Barak had one Yelkouan and one Gannet, and after I arrived I contributed hugely to the scientific knowledge on our planet by finding another Gannet.

When I got to the office I got a call from Uri Makover. He had a funny 'black' wheatear in the north. I was busy and asked him the wrong questions, and got to the conclusion it was most probably an out-of-range White-crowned Wheatear.
Later Uri sent me images, and I wanted to shoot myself in the head! I called Uri and he told me the bird had a nice T tail band (eliminating white-crowned) and no white wing panel (eliminating 'Basalt' Wheatear). Half crying I ran to the car and made my way up north in the speed of light, while risking my marriage even more than ever. After a sunny morning, the weather deteriorated as I drove north, and when I got to the site at Kfar Baruch reservoir I felt like I was in bloody Europe - cold, windy and very very wet.
I met up with Uri and Shai and we started to look for the fXXXing bird which did not show. I don't know whether it moved somewhere or whether the weather was just too bad, but I had very little time and had to give it up. So after getting gloriously wet, I got back into the car and drove back home, defeated and tired.
I hope the other guys have better luck tomorrow, and that the bird sticks around long enough for a revenge...

This is a very interesting bird. We are left with Black O. leucura and Variable Wheatear O. picata (both with a single record, both Eilat 1982). Uri described the bird as not being especially big and bulky, and it does not look like that in the images - pro picata. But the brownish tones and the large white belly are better for leucura. I have no experience with leucura, and have seen picata in India in 1999, so if anyone out there has some useful comments on the ID of this bird, I'd be very interested to know.
These images were taken Uri Makover - thanks Uri for the images, and of course for this mega find!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Eagles & poisoning!

This morning I took my time to avoid rush-hour into Tel Aviv, so I went for a quick look near Hulda, not far away from my house. Many eagles were seen there yesterday, so I hoped to get some images of them before the big weather system that should hit us during the next few days (first thunderstorms at the moment!).
As I got to the specific field, I noticed several raptors feeding on the ground in different parts of the field. Immediately I saw 2 Greater Spotted Eagles, 1 Steppe Eagle, 1 Imperial Eagle, several buzzards, many kestrels, and a juv. Peregrine, all feeding intensively on skylarks.
As I drove around the field, I noticed a few skylarks that showed signs of poisining - they didn't fly properly, stumbled and fell when walking, dropped their heads etc.
I met the local farmer who told me that he used Alpha-Chlorlose - a nerve poison against skylarks causing damages to his chickpea field. He used the poison according to his permit. This is another example how the laws for use of poisons in Israel are twisted and out-of-date.
I called the local NPA warden; together we patrolled the field, chased raptors away and collected dead or dying skylarks. I had to leave before noon but the ranger stayed there to complete the job. Hopefully the rain that is pouring at the moment will wash the poison away. At the moment no raptors with secondary poisoning were found, and I hope it stays like that. Anyway we will patrol the area to search for poisoned raptors tomorrow.
The total number of eagles for the morning was 4 greater spots, 2 imps and 1 steppe, which is a good winter bird for this region. Two Hen harriers are worth mentioning too. A brief scan across the adjacent reservoir produced about 60 white-headed Ducks, 10 Ferruginous Ducks and 50 Black-necked Grebes.
This is one of the poisoned skylarks. I took it home and later it came back to life. I released it in the afternoon.
This is one of the Greater Spotted Eagles eating skylark-popcorn:
And this is how skylarks should look like:

Friday, January 15, 2010

White-tailed Eagle

This morning I participated in the national waterbird census organized by the NPA. My team checked several reservoirs in the S Judean Plains and coastal plains. We began late after we got a report on poachers shooting gazelles not too far away. Unfortunately the bastards managed to disappear before we arrived.
Birdwise, things were pretty slow with waterfowl numbers much lower than usual. This is somewhat surprising bringing into account the terrible weather conditions north of us this winter.
Zohar reservoir was the only productive water body. This beautiful reservoir is big and complex, with developed vegetation and always supports a great diversity. One of the first birds we saw was this huge White-tailed Eagle, spooking all the ducks and being harrassed constantly by crows. It was nice to see a 'real' bird, without rings, wingtags or antennas . I apologize for the miserable record shots - the bird was very distant.

Other quality birds there were two juv White-fronted Geese (my first geese this winter), 6 Ferruginous Ducks among the many other Aythyas, 3 Great Crested Grebes, and over 50 Wigeon.

There were about 500 cormorants and a single Pelican thrashing the fish in the reservoir in a real feeding frenzy:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Audouin's Gull

This morning I had a brief visit at Ashdod rubbish dump, to collect an exhausted Caspian Gull that was found by the workers there. A quick scan through the gulls - bang! 1st-winter Audouin's! Unfortunately it took off very fast and flew towards the beach. No images - camera was in the car. I chucked the poor exhausted caspian in the car, and sped off to the beach, but I saw no gull roost and no sign of my gull. Hope it sticks around for some time, though they usually don't these guys...

Chukars were very vocal, among some nice almost-spring vegetation.

Hybrid Laughing X Siberian Gull:

This Grey Heron was very happy among the roosting gulls.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Buff-bellied Pipits

This morning I followed up Ron Haran's discovery of a Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit near Kalya, N Dead Sea. I was joined by Jonathan Meyrav. Quickly we found three birds among the many Water Pipits. They were very shy and always kept a safe distance from us, contrary to the wagtails and Water Pipits that practically ran under our vehicle. All images are of the same individual, the only one that approached us a bit. however all images are nasty crops, and together with the ugly background and bad light resulted in these bad images. I promise to return to this site and get better images.

Note that this individual has most greater coverts missing in its left wing, while its right wing is complete and shows two nice wingbars.

Note the diagnostic head pattern, slaty-grey mantle (depends on light of course), bold breast streaking and pale legs.

While waiting for the bastard BBP's to approach, we had much time to observe Water Pipits very intimately. At close distance we heard them giving extraordinary contact calls, very soft and low, very different from their normal flight calls. I wish the buff-bellies gave us such photo opportunitis:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ashdod rarities

This morning we had a gull-workshop at Ashdod with the top Israeli gullers - Ehud, Amir and Sassi. Not too many gulls about but as always the variety is terrific - many fuscus, heuglini, cachinnans and armenicus, with smaller numbers of intermedius, barabensis and a possible michahelis that didn't allow good views. Still so much to learn on the variation of this group.

We had an adult Common Gull - a pretty tame bird. As the name implies, it is a good rarity in Israel...

Numbers of Pallas's Gulls typically rise during January. Today about 20 birds:

On the way out Ehud found two Desert Wheatears - a good winter bird for this area. This is a record shot of the male:

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ashdod beach

This morning had quite a good time at Ashdod. Started with some gulling by the rubbish dump. Many gulls but few colour rings, and no outstanding gulls. Still waiting for a glaucous...
This pretty fuscus is on the pale end of the spectrum:

This 2cy cachinnans shows the classic head shape:

Then I headed to the beach for some seawatching. Quickly I found the Scopoli's Shearwater - the same individual found by Amir Ben Dov on Saturday. The bird was patrolling up and down the beach, very close to the shore. However, the wind was strong and the sea was pretty rough, so the bird never settled on the water, and the spray made my life difficult. I didn't have such an amazing experience like Amir had on Saturday, but still had amazing views. Since this species virtually disappeared from Eilat, it became very difficult to get good views like this in Israel.

It's such a cool bird!

And just to share the atmosphere:

While waiting for the shearwater to fly by, quite a few gulls flew past me. This is a 2cy armenicus:

And a 2cy fuscus:

Several Pallas's Gulls were about. This is a 3cy:

And this is an adult: