Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mystery tern at Ma'agan Michael

Yesterday (29/6/10) early morning Yosef Kiat, Yotam Lenhardt, Ohad hatsofe and Asaf Mayrose ringed this interesting tern at Ma'agan Michael, among the Common Terns breeding there. Yosef passed the images and biometrics to me (thanks Yosef!) and I will be happy to get some expert opinion on it, as I am quite puzzled by this bird. Plumage-wise, it shows all the important characters for White-cheeked Tern - dark grey belly and breast contrasting to white cheeks, dark grey upperparts and most important - grey rump, uppertail coverts and tail.

However, size and structure are not good for White-cheeked Tern, and are in fact closer to Common Tern. In this table you can see the biometrics of the mystery tern compared to the Common Terns ringed there yesterday:

I would expect White-cheeked Tern to be significantly smaller with darker bill, and darker and shorter lags. This bird is quite close to the average Common Tern in size and structure. I am aware of the huge variation demonstrated by Common Terns both in plumage and structure, but I have never seen nor managed to find info about such dark birds, nor did I find anything about hybrids of these two species.
It is worth noting that White-cheeked Tern is a scarce summer non-breeding visitor to Eilat, but extremely rare on the Mediterranean coast. During the last 4-5 summers one 'White-cheeked Tern' has oversummered at Ma'agan Michael among the breeding Common Terns (I've seen that bird several times). This bird ringed makes me wonder whether we missed something all of these years.
So, if anyone has interesing info or ideas about this bird, please drop me a line - as a comment here or by email. Thanks!

Rare larks in mid-summer !?!?!

This morning I visited one of the most productive atlas boxes in the Arava together with Jonathan. We went there with very careful optimism, as we assumed that all breeding larks will have dispersed by now. But in fact we were surprized by the terrific lark activity. Most species were still feeding young of their third breeding cycles - quite amazing for the normally hyper-arid Arava. We had good conditions - bearable temperatures and no wind.
I must admit that most birds were in quite ugly plumage - either juveniles in post-juvenile moult, or adults in post-breeding moult.

Best larks of the morning were Thick-billed Larks - we had at least one pair; the female was flying around with food, so I guess it had juveniles waiting for it somewhere in the adjacent hills. I did not manage to get any images of them unfortunately. This is REALLY late for these extreme nomads.

We had two or three Hoopoe Larks. We got good views of a female feeding a juvenile, and another flying bird which might have been a third individual. This is the female, looking for insects in small bushes. Not very attractive, is it?

Hoopoe Lark

We had a very mobile group of six juvenile Temminck's Larks. To my best knowledge they did not breed there, rather somewhere higher up in the Negev. All I managed to get out of them were these poor record shots.
Temminck's Lark - juvenile

The commonest bird present was Bar-tailed Lark. We had over 30 individuals, most were juveniles moving around in small groups. This must have been a super breeding season for this scarce species.
Bar-tailed Lark
Some of the juveniles were very inquisitive and walked right up past the close-focus distance of my lens:

We had also one male Desert Wheatear - again an ugly moulting bird.
Desert Wheatear
I had no Dunn's Larks this time but Jonathan had three possible birds moving about. Other good birds were 2 Crowned and 2 Spotted Sandgrouse, and on the way out two families of Hooded Wheatears.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


This morning had some time to check the Ashdod ponds. There was an increase in sandpipers since my last visit: 10 Redshank, 13 Green, 4 Wood, 1 Marsh and 1 Common Sandpipers. This adult Hobby flew in and spooked everything. It was distant (across the pond - about 100 m away) so these are large crops.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Nightjar action!

Yesterday I completed my Nubian Nightjar monitoring for the season. I found activity and indications for breeding success in most territories I'm familiar with, though since last year two territories (out of a national total of 20!) have been destroyed and had no nightjar activity.
I drove down in the afternnon with Edith, Ran and Guy. On the way down we had a quick look at the regular pair of Sooty Falcons, and indeed they showed well. We saw one quick copulation and quite nice activity, but as always it's too distant and dark across the gorge for photography.

This adult nightjar posed nicely:

This newly-fledged juvenile demonstrated some extreme action in nightjar standards: it caught a fairly large Praying Mantis, and started swallowing it while it was not dead enough. The mantis started to fight for its life, and scratched the nightjar like crazy on the face and inside its mouth (from personal experience I can admit it's quite painful!). In the end the nightjar gave up, got rid of the mantis and flew away. As usual I was driving and missed the photo-opp, but many thanks to Edith for allowing me to use her great series of images of this scene:

We had quite a few animals, including several hares, fox, jackal, and one large (ca. 120 cm) Diadem Snake.

Identification of gulls of Israel - new slideshow

Amir Ben Dov (with a bit of help from myself) created a terrific slideshow about identification of large gulls in Israel. It is a must for gull-addicts in the WP! This is part 1, part 2 will be online very soon. Of course, any feedback on ID of birds in the slideshow is most welcome. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Massive attack

This morning I returned to the same water cistern in the Negev Mts. I first visited two weeks ago. This time my team included Yosef, Re'a and Elon. We had yet another fantastic ringing session, and the water hole was so busy with many hundreds of birds coming in to drink. On the one hand, the wind was blowing pretty hard which reduced the effectiveness of our nets, but on the other hand it was bloody hot so many birds were very thirsty which must have brought us unusually large numbers of birds.
Our total for the morning (till 09:00!) was 257 birds!! The main species were a mind-boggling 160 Desert Larks, 42 Hill Sparrows (only two adults, all the rest juveniles), 32 Trumpeter Finches (down from 92 last time), 18 Rock Martins and a few other bits and pieces.

Hill Sparrow
This number of Desert Larks is unprecedented in Israel, and must have resulted of the heavy heat. Also, the total of 42 Hill Sparrows is the highest one-day catch ever in Israel, beating 36 ringed at IBRCE in April 2004.
This is such an amazing site, and shows very interesting population dynamics. I am sure long-term monitoring will produce many more interesting results in the future.
Some good birds were seen in the area - 6 Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew over, a pair of Common (rare in Israel!) Ravens were possibly visiting a nest nearby, and a late 2cy male Montagu's Harrier seen nearby.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ashdod ringing and ponds

Yesterday I had a ringing session in Ashdod. We started bloody early and closed the nets very early too because of the heat. Ringing was OK, not more and not less, as expected in summer. Only bird of note was this colourful White-throated Kingfisher:

This was Rea's last time as a helper. He's moving to Eilat next month and hopefully gets his B permit next week, so he's a big boy now. Hope he produces some good birds at IBRCE. Thanks Rea for all the hard work over the last couple of years!

There were still some late migrants around - Blackcaps and a Lesser Whitethroat.
After ringing we had a quick look at the ponds. There were some gulls around. 6 Yellow-legged Gulls were a good record:

Also three Baltic Gulls were present:

Among the shorebirds there were some early migrants: 10 Green Sands, 1 Marsh Sand, 1 Common Sand and 2 Redshank.
Green Sandpiper

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Great Spotted Cuckoo

This morning I checked some reservoirs in the Judean lowlands, near my house. A few days ago I saw three Whiskered Terns in one of the reservoirs showing some suspicious behaviour - two birds kept feeding each other while the third sat on the ground for the whole hour I was there. So I returned today with a mission to document the first breeding of Whiskered Terns in Israel, but of course they were gone... While searching for them, this recently-fledged juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo flew in and perched on a fence right in front of me. It was too close for such a big and long-tailed beast, and it decided to perch right next to an ugly fence pole, hence the tight crops. But anyway it gave a very amusing performance for a couple of minutes in soft morning light before it took off.

Nearby, Hulda reservoir held 26 Ferruginous Ducks (!) including two large ducklings. I hope to see more families there soon.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No Basras for me today

This morning I joined the Hula ringing team (Nadav & Dotan) to try for the Basra Reed Warblers at Lehavot Habashan in the E Hula Valley. I first discovered a small population breeding at this site in summer 2006 together with the late Amit Geffen - see the link to BirdLife announcment. The birds were found again in 2007 and 2008, but were not found during several ringing attempts at this site in 2009. Today was the first attempt for 2010, so I was very optimistic, but unfortunately no Basras showed up. I will have to settle for those at Ngulia this coming December, poor me.
I really hope that these rare birds are still lurking somewhere in the Hula Valley, and that their appearence in 2006 to 2008 wasn't just a passing episode. After all, these acros are real skulkers, and it's a tiny population to start with, so the chances of missing them even though they are present is quite big.
But anyway it was a productive morning with many birds and some good stuff. Little Bitterns were present in good numbers but only this newly-fledged juvenile got caught. They are always fun birds to handle!

Other birds of note ringed were two Great Reed Warblers and several Common Whitethroats already migrating somewhere after breeding, god knows where to.

Pygmy Cormorants were present in large numbers, and I managed some rather poor shots of them.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Trumpets and petronias

This morning I went ringing in a water cistern near Mitzpe Ramon, deep in the high Negev mountains. I went there with a dream team - Yosef, Eyal, Elon and Darren. Our aim was to begin a long-term monitoring scheme at this important drinking spot discovered by Noam Weiss during our Nizzana atlas project.
We arrived very early, set the nets up and waited for the birds to start coming in. We enjoyed some mammal life at first light - two Wild Ass and a Golden Jackal.
Very quickly we understood this was going to be a busy morning, and our nets began to fill up fast. The most dominant species was Trumpeter Finch - 92 birds caught, most juveniles but quite a few bright males like this one:

Second in totals was Hill Sparrow - 31 birds, again mostly juveniles. This was our main target species for today. Noam had many hundreds coming in to drink last week, but it seems that there has been already a large departure, and many of our birds had good fat scores. Nevertheless this is an excellent catch, probably the largest one-day catch ever in Israel.
Hill Sparrow - juvenile
It was interesting to note that almost all adult had an arrested moult - 1-2 primaries, 0-3 secondaries and all PC. In this bird P1 and P2 are unmoulted, as well as S1 to S3 and all PC.
Hill Sparrow - adult
Another species caught in large numbers was Corn Bunting - 16 birds. This is a juvenile, showing a bobolink-like head pattern.

The site itself and the whole area is just fantastic. It has this special atmosphere of high altitude regions, pleasent weather, fascinating geology and plants, and it has an almost Mt. Hermon-like feel to it.

Apart for the main species, we had a good selection of seldom-ringed desert species. We had several Rock Martins:

We also ringed quite a few Desert Larks:

Anyway, I hope to return to this excellent spot soon. It doesn't hold so much water every year, but it must be a good site every year at least in spring.