Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ashdod gulls and stifftails

This morning I had some time to look at gulls at Ashdod. Numbers are building up for the 'winter' (30º C!), but with very few Baltic Gulls (30-40) I had only one very familiar colour ring.
Siberian Gulls were very dominant, with about 150 - second commonest gull after armenian. This adult (male?) is in typical moult stage, with P7 to P10 unmoulted, and S1 growing. Look at this amazing eye!

Siberian Gull
The same brute taking off:

Another, smaller and more delicate bird, a female?

It was bitching at every gull nearby:

This Baltic Gull was very aggressive too:
I spent some time enjoying the tracking abilities of the 7D AF system, and I am pleased with these images of low, fast-flying gulls against a cluttered background:
Siberian Gull 1cy
Armenian Gull 2cy

Armenian Gull 1cy

I had my first Caspian Gulls of the season - 2-3 adults and another 10 or so 1cy's. I also had a Steppe-type Gull, but no images of it.
On the way back had a quick look at Ayalon and Hulda resrvoirs, that produced 193 and 340 White-headed Ducks respectively, and a few Ferruginous Ducks and Black-necked Grebes in each.
White-headed Duck

Monday, November 29, 2010


This morning I found myself in front of the computer again, analyzing data... Well you know how this is going to end... My phone rings, Ron is on the other side - Buff-bellied Pipit at Kalya! Should I stay or should I go? After a minute of contemplation I decided to go for it, thank god I don't pay for the petrol... 40 minutes later I'm there, another 60 minutes and I'm back in front of the computer...
Anyway, it was very hot and the bird was very jumpy, so to minimize the stress I really didn't struggle with it too much, hence the bad images.
Last winter there were two overwintering at that same spot among the many Water Pipits, and it's good to see that this has become a regular wintering site for this rare species, only 20 minutes from Jerusalem.
It is interesting how different they look in the hand compared to the field. In the field they give a strong slate-coloured impression, while in the hand they look more olive-brown on the mantle.

Note the large white eyering, bold supercilium and bold breast streaking:

Strong wingbars and plain mantle:

Here together with a coutelii Water Pipit (left):

Thanks Ron!!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some more 7D images from today

Yesterday I encontered a serious problem with my AF system, that resulted of wrong C.Fn settings. I had to test this morning whether evrything is OK so made a quick dash to Tsor'a fields.
I wanted to photograph displaying Zitting Cisticolas (or 'Fan-tailed Warbler' as claimed in this terrific video!), no success in that but this one was close enough for such a tiny bird.

Its' cousins the prinias were very active:

They're tiny too!
And I could not resist getting more images of this Stonechat:

I am beginning tolearn more about the 7D and liking it more and more. Looking forward to a real photo session!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New camera and new lens

Much to my wife's disapproval, I bought myself a new camera (Canon 7D) and a new lens (Canon 50 mm f/2.5 compact macro), and added them to the ever growing Kenya trip bill...
Anyway this morning I had little time to try both. I began with ringing at Ashdod which was pretty slow and without any decent photography objects, results further down the post.
After ringing, I spent some time in the area trying the 7D with both my 400 and 500 lenses. I aimed mainly at tracking flying birds, to test the AF system. I was very impressed by its ability to stay locked on flying birds against responsive backgrounds. It was especially notable when I had birds flying against the sky and then dropping down against a different background. With my 40D I'd almost always lose the bird, but the 7D copes well with this and I got some promising results. This was a very preliminary test, and I really had no real photo-ops.

Grey Heron
The huge file size is a great advantage. I can easily crop the images quite violently and still have enough meat left. This is about 50% crop:

Little Egret
I know this is not ultra-sharp and overexposed, but I was really pleased with the AF system staying locked on the bird with all this mess in the background.

Northern Lapwing

Of course it works well with static birds too. Shifting between different AF settings is very easy and allows to shift between static and mobile objects very quickly.

Armenian Gull 1cy

The 50 mm f/2.5 macro is extremely sharp and produces very rich colours. I still need to master the art of macro photography. Especially difficult for me is to shift from the two-dimensional world of telephotography to three-dimensional birds. But with some practice and careful posing of the birds (if they cooperate) this lens should produce super in-hand images.



Monday, November 22, 2010

Arava Bird Atlas 2009

I am very happy to announce that yesterday we published the new Arava Breeding Bird Atlas, which summarizes our 2009 field season. This 3-year project funded by the USFS is conservation oriented, and aims to identify the most important habitats and regions in the over-developed Arava, to identify the status of our rarest breeding species, and to update the Arava IBA's. This is actually the first proper bird atlas project ever carried out in Israel. It has already stirred some important conservation actions, and I am sure that by the end of the project we will have a very solid database on the birds of the Arava.
I am coordinating this project on behalf of the Israeli Ornithological Center, but much credit goes to my colleagues Eyal Shochat, Zev Labinger and Jonathan Meyrav. Thomas Krumenacker contributed many stunning images for the production of this report, as you can see:

At the moment we produced only this Hebrew version. At the end of the three-year project we will produce an English version too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Macro portrait experiments

I am preparing for my trip to Kenya in a couple of weeks, and I am searching for the optimal lens for in-hand photography. I borrowed Rony's Canon 100 mm f/2.8 macro and tested it this morning while visiting Yosef at Tsor'a. Unfortunately I found it unsuitable for photography of full birds when I'm both holding the bird in one hand and holding the camera in the other - focal length is too long (and/or my arms too short). However it was fun to play with portrait possibilities. I have very little macro experience and it was interesting for me to work with such a tiny depth of field in open apretures. Here are some very amateurish results.


Clamorous Reed Warbler

Sardinian Warbler

Penduline Tit


On the way out this Stonechat was nicely backlit (this is with my 500 of course)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Eye-browed Thrush!!!

Wow, this Novembers' massive attack doesn't end! This morning got a call from Avner Rinot, asking me to send out and RBA message. "What do you have?" -"Eye-browed thrush at the JBO!". In 20 seconds I was in the car heading through heavy traffic into Jerusalem. I met Avner and we started searching for the bird in the Rose Garden near the JBO. Initially Avner had good views of the bird together with two other birders, but it was flushed by a jogger and was not seen since. The area of suitable habitat is large and cover very dense, so searching for this mobile and shy bird was very difficult. After about an hour Avner and myself had very brief views of the bird in flight, being chased by a Blackbird, but that was it. The bird disappeared into a hedge and never came out. It was searched for by a few other guys who arrived after us, but they saw nothing. Hopefully it sticks around for a few days and performs a bit better.
Amazingly, it was at exactly the same area as the previous bird in Nov 2007 which was the 2nd for Israel, making this the 3rd national record! Perhaps this bird also comes in for a drink at the JBO pond and gets ringed?
Other birds seen during the morning were many Hawfinches, two Siskins, one Siberian Stonechat and lots of common stuff.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Good autumn ringing

This morning I did my monthly ringing demonstartion at Ashdod. As in my previous visit, ringing was very busy with a great fall of Chiffchaffs and many other species too. We worked hard!
Early in the morning I first heard and then caught this Common Waxbill (another bird was flying around but didn't get caught). Both were certain escapees - they had funny rings on them. This species colonized parts of southern Europe recently, interesting to see whether it does the same here.

Common Waxbill

A nice surprise was this extremely late Barred Warbler (1cy male; most pass through Aug - Sep):

Early in the morning a small flock of seven Penduline Tits was caught - such great birds!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Southern adventures

Yesterday I had a long and slightly weird day. Left home just after midnight, met up with Ron, Yotam, Avner and Hillel and headed down to Yotvata. Our main reason for driving so far in such a crazy time of the night was to ring Oriental Skylarks. I have a long, unsolved business with this bird, after having them dodging my nets for so many years. This time we were pretty motivated and were sure we had good chances as 15 birds had been reported in the famous northern circular field in previous days.
We arrived at Yotvata just after 03:00 and as we drove in were greeted by a HUGE Striped Hyena walking across the field. What a beast! We started setting the nets up and everything was ready on time. Except for the birds. We had plenty of gulgula's in the field, but they just would not behave and in the end we did not catch not a single on. It's a pity, as this is possibly the largest documented concentration in Israel - we had 15-20 birds in total, with the largest group of 10 together. At least I got this record shot.

Oriental Skylark
Otherwise ringing was pretty standard, only birds of note were two Desert Wheatears (ringing tick for me!).
This is myself trying to persuade the farmer not to plough my nets:
This field is so good and I'm sure it will produce more rarities in the next few days. We had the male Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark in flight, Lesser Short-toed Lark, 2 Richard's Pipits, 5 Siberian Stonechats and many other birds. It was good to meet Heikki and Tapio from Finland, and we birded together for a couple of hours, during which my car got bogged in the sand...
After the wind picked up and the farmers started working in the field, we left Yotvata and drove to Eilat to see the Grey Phalarope (it's grey! Not red! When they're in Iceland they can be named red, but here they're grey) at KM20 saltpans. It was as tame as always and showed very well. Cool bird!
On the way back we had mixed feelings. On the one had, we failed to ring the skylarks and found nothing new, which was disappointing considering all the good birds around. On the other hand, how disapponting can a day be with Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Grey Phalarope, 15 Oriental Skylarks and a ringing tick be? Funny people we are, birders.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Siberian bombshell!

Oh, November, the month we all live for! If in Europe and the UK October is THE month, apparently it takes the good birds a few weeks to make their way down to this dusty part of the Middle East. The last couple of weeks have been really crazy with great birds found almost every day (and this is with about 15 active birders in the whole country! Imagine we had 1500 birders here...). At last I am getting return value for my RBA subscription...
Anyway, this morning I was ringing at the JBO. Pretty useless, only birds of note being several Hawfinches flying around but none got caught. About halfway through the morning my phone rings (again...), this time it's Ron Haran: "I've got a Black-throated Accentor in the hand at Netiv Halamed He, can you come over?". F@&@!!! I was busy with two school groups and couldn't see how I can get myself down there in reasonable time to see the bird before it's released. I gave the poor schoolkids the shortest ringing demonstration ever and sped off. Luckily no car crashes or police interactions due to my speed...
When I got there I released a sigh of relief, the bird was still in the bag, safe and cool. Took a few images, and let the bird go. It disappeared into an almond orchard. I actually managed to glimpse it in a tree an hour later together with Shachar but nothing more than a glimpse. But what a terrific bird it is! So beautiful and so special. It was aged as a 1cy by the shape and amount of wear on its alula and rectrices.

First of all, congratulations to Ron and Yotam for yet another great find! This site has real magic to it!

This is the 2nd record for Israel. the first was in 1982 in Jerusalem, just a year before I started birding. So this is serious blocker out of the way! Of course it was an Israeli and WP tick for me.

After the adrenalin left my veins, I had time to contemplate my destiny as a twitcher. What's the point in seeing a rare bird in a bag? What does it matter to myself or to anyone whether I saw the bird or not? Was it worth almost getting myself and others killed on the road while speeding to see the bird? OF COURSE!!! YES!!! I am a bloody twitcher and proud of it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

That's the way aha aha I like it aha aha

This morning began with another boring meeting. Just as we were supposed to end the meeting my phone rings, Yosef's number on the screen, which could mean only one thing... "I have a Yellow-browed Warbler in the hand, are you in the area?". It took me about 10 seconds to get to the car and head to Tsora. It's not a mega and I've seen and ringed quite a few in Israel, but it's always a great little bird to see, and it's always fun to feel the adrenalin of a twitch, even if it's not that rare...

I got to Tsora, bird out of the bag, click-click - and the bird was released, calling once to make sure we remembered the call.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Thanks to Yosef for alerting me of this bird!

On the way out stopped by a small puddle that had many Red-throated Pipits coming in to drink. It's still bloody hot!

Why don't they ever have primary projections? Why only on Fair Isle?

But nevertheless they are fun birds to watch.

This 1cy female Bluethroat came in to check the area out:

And then decided to join in for a dip:

Many Stonechats are present already, most are paired up for the winter.