Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mammals in Nizzana

Yesterdsay I visited another Nizzana atlas box. Bird numbers dropped considerabely compared to March and early April - it is already very hot, and many breeders have already disappeared, God knows where. Has anyone got an idea where are all the Spectacled Warblers and Desert Wheatears that fledged just a couple of weeks ago disappeared to? They have evaporated completely, and are not anywhere to be found in Israel at the moment.
Still had some good birds, including a few MacQueen's Bustards, CCC's, two Lesser Short-toed Larks and several flyover Hill Sparrows.

In recent visits I have seen many mammals and reptiles. I suppose that the rising minimum temperatures results in better mammal activity. I had good observations of canines - Wolf, Golden Jackal and Red Fox - yesterday I found these three curious cubs outside of their den.

Dorcas Gazelles are seen in good numbers, and I had a few Wild Ass a few days ago. Cape Hares are pretty common too. Yesterday on the way back found a road-killed Desert Monitor of moderate size (about 70 cm long) - so sad to find such a rare and beautiful animal dead. I hope to get images of it soon.

In the evening I went to Neot Hakikar for nightjar monitoring. Driving down there was a dramatic weather change, with a cold front entering quickly. This knocked down many thousands of migrating Common Swifts, that on normal weather must migrate too high up for us mortals to notice. Along the road east of Dimona, thousands of birds were feeding low over the road, some stupid birds even getting themselves killed by passing vehicles. But the view was quite amazing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hill Sparrows

This morning I returned to a Nizzana atlas box I had first visited in March. It was actually pretty quiet, with many of the passerines already done with their breeding business and dispersed. I had however a female Macqueen's Bustard with two chicks and a few Crowned Sandgrouse. But best was a nice concentration of Hill Sparrows - I had at least 10 singing males, and saw two females feeding fully grown fledglings. In addition I had a typically mobile flock of 25 birds.
The males were very territorial and were more bothered with each other than with me. I really love their special Cicada-like song. They're not the most colourful birds on the planet, but they are really neat birds.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Great Snipe

Early this morning I had some time for birding at the Hula lake together with my younger son Noam (six months old). We spent some time at the southern watchpoint and drove around a bit. Highlight was a Great Snipe observed feeding on the waters' edge. There should be several birds around - this was the right place and time for them. Since the spring of 2008, when several were ringed, this skulker was found to be rather regular at the lake in April - May.
Other good birds at the watchpoint were three Little and two Spotted Crakes, 20 Garganey, several Purple Herons and huge numbers of swallows and Sand Martins. The drive produced a Peregrine and 15 Collared Pratincoles - the local birds beginning their breeding activity.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

JBO iz da best!

The JBO is really at it's best these days. An early start produced two goodies - first this fine adult Long-eared Owl:

Yotam is still half asleep:

And then a 2cy male Eurasian Nightjar - what a terrific bird:

It agreed to pose for a minute on a stump before it flew to roost:

Later in the morning a good and varied catch, with birds of note being two Savi's and four Barred Warblers:

This Garden Warbler was nice too:

Other good stuff included a Balkan Warbler, many Sprossers, a few Masked Shrikes and lots of other stuff.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Larks galore!

Wow, what an amazing morning I had...
I went with Nadav to check another atlas box in the Arava, deep inside a military zone that today was clear for us to visit. Such beautiful habitat, and so many quality birds!

Our primary target was Dunn's Lark, but very quickly I was distracted by a male Hoopoe Lark singing, displaying, chasing other birds away and justifying its reputation as the best desert bird in Israel. I was very happy to find this new pair that hasn't been seen previously.
My heart was pounding fast, adrenalin was pumping thick in my veins, and of course I screwed the images up - wrong camera settings and shaky hands. But what a bird, so who cares about the images.

After watching the male for a few minutes displaying and feeding on caterpillars, I suddenly noticed the female come out behind a bush - too close. I hastily collected my stuff and got the hell out of there.

We had four singing Dunn's Larks in my box. They were performing their amazing song flights, but were very difficult to watch on the ground. This brings the total for that region to about 20 pairs!

In addition we had a few Bar-tailed Larks - junk birds...
Nearby, we followed a report from yesterday and had an exciting experience - an active nest of Thick-billed Larks! The nest had three chicks 2-3 days old. We watched the nest located on a totally barren slope from a safe distance - the parents fed the chicks with caterpillars they collected in the nearby wadi. This abundance of caterpillars must be the reason for all of these amazing larks breeding there. The male came to collect caterpillars very close to where we were sat - they look unbelievabely like puffins with the caterpillars in their huge beaks!
This was my closest encounter with this beast, so again - wrong camera settings, shaky hands... Forgive me for the long series of identical images but it's such a smashing bird!

And as this was not enough, in another nearby location we found a family of Temmick's Larks with two fledglings. Light conditions were already terrible and it was bloody hot so we stayed with the birds for just a minute or two and took off. This is the female:

This spring in the Israeli desert is truly amazing. So many good larks, and it's great to see that they are successfull in their breeding attempts.

Ashdod ringing

On Friday I had a productive ringing session at Ashdod, with many migrants around. Newcomers to my site were several Sprossers:

These are not Levant Sparrowhawks on migration - this is a small part of a swarm of mosquitoes that escorted us most of the morning:

After ringing we had a quick look at the gull ponds. There were only 100 gulls left - fuscus, heuglini, cachinnans and armenicus. Among them three birds with rings - two from Finland and one from Norway, all long-staying birds that do not want to leave. Other than that several hundred Yellow Wagtail (incl. supecilliaris and beema), and a single Citrine Wagtail was a good local bird.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nizzana - another terrific day in the desert

Yesterday I surveyed another beautiful atlas box south of Ezuz. Again, beautiful habitat, many quality birds and fine weather.
I had two female MacQueen's Bustards with young chicks - good to see they had some breeding success (so far...). This male and myself surprised each other when I climbed over a hill:

Again, quality larks were the bon-ton. I had two breeding pairs each of Temminck's and Bar-tailed Larks, and even larger numbers of Lesser Short-toed Larks than my previous box - 30 singing males!
As always, migrants are very few in the desert wadis. Not even a single lesser white or blackcap in my box. The only species that was present in good numbers was Tree Pipit with over 40 birds:

This Wood Warbler was very sweet - I really love them:

After the box I had ten minutes to check Be'erotayim grove near Ezuz, and it was just packed with migrants, in contrast to the desert surrounding it. Many hundreds of sylvias were feeding on the Eucalyptus trees. Lots of good stuff around like shrikes, wrynecks, a couple more Wood Warblers, two Collared Flycatchers and this Semi-collared Flycatcher captured in this fantastic, prize-winning image:
This morning I added a new species two my garden list - two Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters flew overhead. Another interesting sighting was a lingering Siskin.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More larks in the Arava

This more I checked an atlas box adjacent to the Dunn's Lark site from Saturday. I dropped Hadoram Shirihai at first light at that site for some sound recording of their amazing song, and I went off to my box.
My box was pretty good too, with three singing Dunn's Larks, one singing Hoopoe Lark, and three singing Bar-tailed Larks. All females were absent - I guess they are on eggs at the moment.

Bar-tailed Lark

There were quite a few Spotted Sandgrouse feeding on the stony plains there:

Also one Crowned Sandgrouse flew over, and I had three displaying CCC's. Of the migrants the only bird of note was a group of three Crag Martins.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dunn's Larks!!!

On Tuesday Shachar Alterman found six singing Dunn's Larks while surveying an atlas box in the central Arava. He found them deep inside a firing zone, in a very sensitive and vulnerable site. Today we returned to this site as on Shabat there is no shooting there. We were a fairly large group of birders that assembled early in the morning, with the highlight being Hadoram Shirihai who joined us with a Swedish partner.

Here we are waiting for the first birds to sing, already at the site:

And then we started hearing and seeing them. First we had several males performing display flights in great altitude, and later we found a few birds on the deck. Their song is amazingly varied, and includes a scops-owl-like repeating flooty whistle, and several types of Calandrella-type chattering, but more musical. They were singing both in the air and on the ground. We positioned ourselves in one spot and a pair was flying around us for quite a long time, but always kept a distance of at least 25 m, hence the low quality images:

They are such terrific birds (for a lark...)! They are very unique, somewhere between Calandrella and Ammomanes. We had about 6 to 10 birds right around us, so there must be more birds in this site. Following the winters' rain in this part of the desert, they must be breeding in much larger areas in the Arava and S Negev, and I hope we will find more soon. The only previous event when large-scale breeding took place in Israel was in 1989, and this unique phenomenon never repeated itself since, until this year.
This is such a great site and so important. While watching the Dunn's Larks, we had two singing male Hoopoe Larks (though distant), and 5-6 Bar-tailed Larks singing too. At times the air was just full of quality lark song!
This site, which holds the only known territories of Hoopoe Lark in Israel, is under great threat due to intensification of military activities there, so we will have to work hard to protect this beautiful site.
On the way back home a quick look near Zihor junction produced one singing Lesser Short-toed Lark, and this CCC:
Cream-coloured Courser

There were many hundreds of White Storks feeding on the blooming Hameishar plains; later on most of them took off.

We had there one singing male Temminck's Lark, and nine Crowned Sandgrouse flew overhead: