Yellow-legged Gulls have always bred in small numbers in Israel, with up to 12 pairs breeding on the few tiny islands we have off our Med coast. However, in recent years they have started to penetrate inland and breed in several sites in the Tel Aviv metropolin, mainly in open zoos and zoological gardens. This year about 7-8 pairs breed in the Zoological gardens of Tel Aviv University. I had about 25-30 adults there today , and for the first time I managed to obtain permits to fit the chicks with color rings. I ringed seven chicks, all very large and just about to fledge. I was assisted by Ron Elazari director of the gardens - thanks Ron! I am very keen to see them in winter in my gull site in Ashdod - or perhaps we will learn that they do some exciting movements. I will keep you posted of course.
Last night I went to Neot Hakikar for Nubian Nightjar monitoring with Avner and Eli. On the way down I was happy to see the pair Sooty Falcons returned to their breeding site near Ha'Arava junction. They were flying back and forth along the cliff, and probably checked potential breeding sites. As darkness fell we started to survey several nightjar territories. We had eight nightjars in four different territories, though I had no indication of successfull breeding - no juveniles seen. But it's worth another check.
We had some nice animals - a couple of hares, a fine Ethiopian Hedgehog showing its dark mask, and several species of bats.
This was my penultimate visit to a Nizzana atlas box for the season. Weather and light were quite terrible and I was dead tired, so couldn't bother with photography. Had the usual stuff - all four sandgrouse, CCC's, and the ordianry selection of common breeders. Still quite a few Hill Sparrows around, probably going into their second breeding cycle. This is quite amazing for this region, for birds to begin a breeding cycle in late May! This must happen only once or twice a century.
On Friday I took part in an effort to attach geolocators to two Common Swifts breeding in Tel Aviv. This project is coordinated by Amnon Hann, our swift man, and the geolocators were supplied by Lund University (Sweden). I hope we will obtain some good data on the migration of these fascinating birds. Yuval Dax made a great video of the session - have a look: http://vimeo.com/11980693
Early in the morning I revisited an Arava atlas box, on a mission to confirm breeding of Dunn's and Hoopoe Larks I found there on my previous visit.
The morning began well with an impressive wolf running along a wadi.
Soon the air filled with lark song. First were several Bar-tailed Larks, but soon they were joined by a dawn chorus of Dunn's Larks. I was happy to find this newly-fledged juvenile on the deck, though it was pretty distant hence the crap images. I think this is one of the very few ever documented, in Israel for sure.
Dunn's Lark - juvenile
I had four singing and displaying males. They spent much time singing from the ground.
Two males were constantly singing in each other's faces, chasing each other and basically being very annoying:
After having enough of each other they did some aerial song and display:
I saw no females. Could they be on eggs again? 3rd cycle?!?!
While watching the dunns, I heard the beautiful song of Hoopoe Lark not too far away, and soon I connected with a family - male, female and two juveniles. The male was singing and displaying intensively, but still had time to collect food for the babies:
This is one of the juveniles - so sweet:
Interestingly, one of the juveniles (a male?) constantly followed the father, and imitated his display, performing its' own short display flights. Here the juvenile can be seen observing the father:
After my mission was accomplished, I drove down to Eilat for some birding. I began with a very easy twitch of the Red Phalarope that was found at the IBRCE on Friday. It took me exactly two seconds to locate the bird - it was by far the ugliest bird in the pond. But still a good rarity! It refused to get close and I was too lazy to get my feet wet, so these images are large crops:
Here it is with it's pretty sister - Red-necked Phalarope. There were about a dozen present.
A short visit to North Beach was quite unproductive - it was late and hot and virtually birdless. The only birds of note were a Eurasian Curlew going north and this Reef Egret:
KM20 saltpans were quite birdy. The commonest shorebirds were Ruff and Wood Sandpiper with several hundreds each.
There were about 200 White-winged Terns, typically collecting insects from the water surface. By this time light conditions were terrible and I couldn't get any decent shots of this lovely bird.
This one was watching porn:
9 Little Terns were nice:
And it is always nice to see Glossy Ibises away from sewage canals and rubbish dumps:
Sorry for the long absence since my last post, I visited cold Germany with my family. No time for birding resulted in no birds of note. Back in hot Israel, these are the last days of spring - here migration is really slowing down, compared to Europe where things are just warming up. Weather was good this afternoon so I spent some time checking reservoirs near my house. There was a nice mix of late migrants and good breeding species. Among the migrants were this flock of about 100 pelicans. Note the Sand Martins in front of them - there were about 2000 hawking for insects over the water in Hulda reservoir, which was very birdy as always.
One good bird that made a brief appearence was this Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. It flew in from the south, perched on a Tamarix bush for a few seconds, I got some distant record shots, but before I managed to get any closer a bloody crow flushed it away. This is a good record for this region.
Other good migrants in the three reservoirs I checked were 6 Whiskered and a single White-winged Tern, 1 drake Garganey, 4 Purple and 20 Squacco Herons, 5 Curlew Sandpipers and over 200 Ruff.
I had some good breeding birds too. There were six pairs of Ferruginous Ducks. It was nice to see the males' courtship - they puffed their heads and breasts up like goldeneyes, and chased after the females. Another quality breeding species was Collared Pratincole - I had two pairs, the females sitting on eggs.
It is so nice to witness the results of the phenomenal rainfall we had in our desert region this winter. Those enigmatic and nomadic larks that are usually so difficult to see, are breeding with great success.
This morning I revisited an atlas box in the Arava, to confirm breeding of birds I saw there on my previous visit. Weather was good early in the morning, and quickly I found a family of Dunn's Larks - both parents with a fully grown juvenile. They were very mobile and I didn't manage to get close to them at all. They flew west, and later I found in that direction the same or another family, again very mobile birds.
Bar-tailed Lark was the most dominant species in the box, with two families, several more singing males, and this cool female I found incubating on a nest under a small bush:
I was curious to see the Thick-billed Lark nest that I saw a few weeks ago. After making sure that the nest was abandoned, I had a close look, and it's quite an amazing nest, the size of a tennis ball, lined with toilet paper!
Soon the weather deteriorated, and a strong dust storm began. I headed back north early, and on the way back I followed up on a nest of Temminck's Larks at Hameishar found by Jonathan Meyrav 9 days ago. As expected, I found three fully grown juveniles flying together not far away from the used nest; no sign of their parents around. Damn, these larks breed so fast!
I checked the hills near Sde Boker for Hill Sparrows, and indeed I saw quite a few birds, including a female (?) feeding two fledglings. They must be breeding in their thousands all over the Negev.
Yesterday and today I had very productive ringing at Ashdod, with strong passerine migration. Of course warblers were the dominant group, but among the tons of rubbish blackcaps there were some good warblers too. Olive-tree Warblers pass in large numbers through central Israel these days, but are rather scarce along the Med coast. This was the first for my site. It really refused to pose nicely for the camera:
Among the many Reed Warblers, I had this single Marsh Warbler. In autumn they pass through in good numbers along the coast in reedbeds, but in spring they are actually commoner in the scrubs of central Israel. Note how P2 falls nicely between P3/P4, creating a vert pointed wingtip.
I had good numbers of Barred Warblers:
And this Great Reed Warbler was as fat as it could get - 41 grams!
This morning I started my Barn Owl nestbox monitoring season, and checked boxes near Bet Nir and Gal'on in S Judean Plains together with Re'a. The project there is well established, normally with good owl densities and high box occupancy rates. However, something happened this year and the situation was very grim, with very few boxes with owls and kestrels today. Most of the boxes had Jackdaws breeding in them, and with the Jackdaws come their parasites - Great Spotted Cuckoo. I was glad to find in one of the boxes these two sweeties - they were very big already and will surely fledge within a few days.
This is Re'a enjoying every minute of nestbox cleaning:
This morning another very good atlas box south of Ezuz, with Avner, Eli and Shachar. Most action was in the mammal section. At first light we saw two Caracals - distant but very beautiful and elegant animals, as they walked across the wadi for a couple of minutes. This was my best ever observation of these majestic cats. They were complimented by a couple of Wolves, a fox, several Dorcas Gazelles and a Cape Hare. There were some good birds about, with two male MacQueen's Bustards still dancing, a few families of Spectacled Warbler in their second breeding cycle, and four Crowned Sandgrouse. Good numbers of Hill Sparrows were logged - we had at least 15 singing males and a few more mobile birds, including several juveniles. After the atlas box we did a very short ringing session at Be'erotayim park. A big surprise was this Hill Sparrow - a very worn male. Such a cool bird!
There were big numbers of flycatchers present. Many spotted, one collared, one semi-collared and three pied that we ringed - a 2cy male and two females.