Sunday, February 28, 2010

Successful night tour

This evening I met up with Chris et al. (UK). Driving down south I had some very bad weather, which made me a bit worried about our chances for night watching. However, when we got to the site, the weather settled and was quite OK with no wind and pleasent temperatures. We had cracking views of two Nubian Nightjars, and quite a show by the Desert Eagle Owl. Unfortunately, I was (again!) holding the torch and not the camera...
On the way back home I stopped by the road in the N Dead Sea to take a leak. Soon I heard a male Hume's Owl calling from the cliff above me. What a way to end a great evening!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Calandra Larks

This morning Amir Ben-Dov and myself visited the best Calandra Lark site in Greater Jerusalem, near Adam. This is a beautiful area, right on the edge of the Judean desert. It holds a fascinating mix of high-altitude and desert species.
We got there early, and at first had no sign of the larks. But at 06:31, all at once, 15 males took off simultaneously and started singing their heads off. They are such awesome larks and it was very interesting to observe their communal courtship behaviour. Their mimicry is really amazing. One specific male was singing for more than an hour non-stop above our heads. During this period I identified 21 species in his reputation: Kestrel, Alpine Swift, Crested, Desert, Short-toed and Sky-larks, White Wagtail, Meadow, Long-billed and Tawny Pipits, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Black-eared Wheatear, Prinia, Scrub Warbler, Tristram's Starling, House Sparrow, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, and Corn Bunting!

Photography-wise we had very poor results. Sitting inside the hide was a total waste of time as the males cover huge distances chasing each other and didn't keep strict territories. I only got some record shots. At least this one is with nice spring colours:

And the same image heavily cropped:

On the ground:

The hills were covered in anemones and other flowers.

Other good birds in the area included a singing Eurasian Cuckoo, Black-eared and Finsch's Wheatears, and most other species mentioned by the calandras above.
Nearby we had this pair of Long-legged Buzzard. I was bloody slow and missed the short copulation by split second:

Here the Mrs. is smoking the post-cigarette:

And then she took off:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nightjars and serins

Yesterday had a great tour at Neot Hakikar with Javier et al. (Spain) and Werner (Switzerland). We began with nice views of displaying male Dead-Sea Sparrows and already hundreds of Pallid Swifts. After dusk we saw four Nubian Nightjars - it was an exceptionally warm evening, with strong insect activity which resulted in very good nightjar activity.

Today tried to catch Syrian Serins gathering to roost in Midreshet Ben Gurion (Sde Boker). About 40 birds came in to the pre-roost on some big trees. The wind was very strong this afternoon so the catch was pretty bad - only two birds got caught, but two birds are much more than nothing. It was very interesting for me to handle these birds in winter. We catch hundreds every summer on Mt. Hermon, so it's cool to see them in their fresh post-moult winter plumage. Thanks to all the guys who helped - Elon, Darren, Eyal, Itzik and Shemesh.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nizzana stuff

This morning I spent some time with Amir in the Nizzana - Ezuz area. Our main mission was to photograph dancing MacQueen's Bustard. Of course we failed - we found three dancing males but they were all very distant and were impossible to reach - many of the tracks were washed away by the huge floods a couple of weeks ago. We had another bird not too far away, but still too distant for any reasonable photography. I apologize for the amateur level of photography I will demonstarte in this post - it was one of those days that nothing works.

The whole area was in beautiful desert bloom, and the smaller passerines were having a ball. Many of the breeding species seem to be in full activity already. Spectacled Warblers were present in good densities. This female-type was rather close:

Sardinian Warblers were present also in good numbers. This is a momus-type:

We were pleased to find a group of 150 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse feeding north of Ezuz. This is a good record for Nizzana during this time of the year - they're seriously declining in the Nizzana region and this record is a good indication that perhaps something positive is happening to their population. They are such cracking birds, for sure one of the best birds in Israel. This is the male:

And a female:

We had several pairs of Little Owls, of the desert race lilith:

Other good birds in the area were Desert, Finsch's and Isabelline Wheatears, and one Bar-tailed Lark heard singing.
A quick visit to Lahav reserve on the way back produced one Long-billed Pipit, some Finsch's Wheatears and again many Spectacled Warblers. This pretty male would not approach:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Little Bunting

This morning I went for the Little Bunting at Givat Oz, near Afula in the north. A huge crowd of twitchers gathered there early in the morning (we were four!), and later we were joined by another three. Raz, the local who found the bird, showed us the site and we started to search for the bird. Despite the huge dversity and abundance of other 'tzicking' species (Song Thrush, Hawfinch, Robin, Prinia), pretty soon we heard the bird and had crap and brief views of the bunting sat in an olive tree before it ducked down and we lost it. About 30 seconds of excitement (lifer for Avner) and then two hours of hanging around and waiting for the bird to reappear. After two hours we heard the bird again, and saw it for about 5 seconds before it disappeared again. It behaved like a bloody locustella! I had to give it up later in the morning as I had some work to do... Other fine birds we had during the morning were a Redwing, several Hawfinches, two Dunnocks and nice views of a smyrna killing a Banded Newt caught in a nearby stream.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rosefinches at Tsor'a

This morning I tried for the rosefinches wintering at Tsor'a. Up to 11 birds were seen there recently! This is very good in Israeli standards.
I was joined by Jonathan, and together we spent some time trying to locate them in the dense blackberry jungle. Bird activity was pretty slow, and the wind picked up, but eventually we had OK views of one rosefinch, before it took off and joined two other birds; then we lost them among the hundreds of chaffinches. This is one of the best Common Rosefinch images available on the web:
Back home, a nice group of chaffinches was feeding in my garden. It seems that later in winter we get more males proportionately - I guess they move southwards later in winter when the north freezes.

In the evening I got news about a Little Bunting found in the north - will try it tomorrow, stay posted.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Life is short, bird it!"

Watch this great video by Daniel Roca (Walkabout Birders) about birding in Israel. Well, after all, birding is quite cool, isn't it?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Jaffa seawatching - more Leach's Petrels

Following yesterday's Great Shearwater, I spent most of today seawatching at Jaffa. Conditions were very good with strong winds coming from the correct direction. Birds were OK, not more - the shearwater didn't show. There was a good number of birders coming and going throughout the day and it was good to catch up with the guys.
Highlights of today included a daily total of 15 Leach's Petrels (I saw 11) and another Storm-petrel sp. (probably Leach's) taken by a Peregrine - poor bird... Other goodies were 5-6 Sooty Shearwaters, 3-4 Arctic Skuas, 5-6 Gannets.
All in all it was pretty slow so had time to look at gulls flying past - apart for the common species had an intermedius, one barabensis and this interesting gull - looks to me like a michahelis - big mirrors on P10 to P8, big gonys, red orbital ring, but a bit worried about the black on P4 and distinct nape streaks, pro heuglini, but this bird must be too pale for any heuglini?! Comments are welcome.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nubian Nightjar & Desert Eagle Owl

I spent the day in the Arava Valley with our USFS partners, introducing them to the Atlas project I'm coordinating. It was a very productive day professionaly, but not too many birds around - pretty bad weather with high winds and sandstorms. The effect of last week's floods in the Arava are already evident, and green stuff is everywhere. March looks very promising.
In the evening I met up with Thijs & Paul (Netherlands), and Mike and Chris joined us too. and we had a successful evening at Neot Hakikar. We had OK views of a female nightjar, which is pretty good for this time of the year. But even better were cracking views of a Desert Eagle Owl sat on a heap 10 meters away! Unfortunately I was too slow and didn't get my camera out fast enough...