Monday, January 31, 2011

Jaffa seawatching

Went out this morning for my first (and last?) seawatch of this windless winter. After dispatching both kids at their respective kindergartens, arrived at Jaffa Port pretty late to find all the guys already present shouting at each other in great excitement. A few minutes before I had arrived a skua that may or may not have been a Bonxie flew past, too distant, too brief, too rare to have enough guts to claim it... Anyway, that bird was gone and with it most of the (few) birds seen earlier that morning. The wind wasn't too good, with a strong southerly element to it, and as a result pelagic birds were far and few. We didn't have a single tubenose. One 2cy White-cheeked Tern was a good bird though; there are very few records from our Med coast. Other than that 1 Gannet, 1 Little Gull, several Pallas's Gulls and that's it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Black-throated Thrush in the Upper Galilee

This morning I was finally able to twitch the Black-throated Thrush that had been found by Rei Segali and Sachi Luria on Wednesday (well done guys!). Made an early start and we got to the orchards of Kerem Ben Zimra in the Upper Galilee when first light was supposed to be, but the weather was so bad - cold, wet and windy. Luckily the weather improved during the morning and was actually not too bad.
The potential habitat for the thrush is huge, and we walked around quite a bit until we got the first glimpse of the bird. He was very mobile and jumpy; during the whole morning we had only four very brief views. Luckily I was in the right place when he showed himself for 20 full seconds! Just enough for me to get four frames. Two identical shots of him perched at about 50 m away. I pushed the ISO up to 1600, and thanks to Canon engineers noise is really bad; hope to edit the images better tomorrow and I will replace them.

Immediately he took off and I got these two lucky flight shots:

This is the first decent bird I see in 2011, and an Israeli tick for me! There has not been a good record of it since 1997, it's about the 8th for Israel if I'm not mistaken.
It's a fantastic region seldom birded. Compared to the rest of the country, this region has tons of winter birds this year. We had several Redwings, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Fieldfare, five Yellowhammers, several Dunnocks, many Bramblings and lots of other stuff.

Waiting for the miracle to come:

As I've said before, Israeli birders are very cool!
Rony Livne

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thick-billed Larks at Hameyshar

This morning I went birding with Meidad and Nimrod on Hameyshar Plains in the southern Negev. It's one of my favourite birding sites in southern Israel, and it has remained extremely productive after last winter's rains and subsequent terrific breeding season. Thick-billed Larks have been flocking there for a few months now.
First thing in the morning it was bloody cold and totally birdless. As the sun went up and the air heated up, things started to happen. First we found many Bar-tailed Larks and Desert Wheatears, and then we started seeing mobile flocks of Thick-bills. Eventually we found a flock of about 50 feeding across the plains, quite close to the main road. Unfortunately they would not let us approach and all images are large crops.

They are such cool birds! This is a male:

Posing near an attractive piece of toilet paper:

Then we found some birds feeding right on the road, playing road roulette with the passing vehicles:

A duller female:

Until the early 2000's this was a mythical rarity in Israel. I saw my first birds only in 2003, after dipping on them several times. But since then they've become quite a regular feature of the Israeli deserts, and have lost they're mythical reputation. But still they are super birds! the concentration at Hameyshar is phenomenal. This morning we encountered about 100 birds, and i'm sure there are many more there.

Desert Wheatear

Other good birds we had were one very mobile Asian Desert Warbler, Spectacled Warblers, and Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse. Jonathan and Liron who were birding another part of the plains had a few Temmick's Larks.
Israeli birders are very cool! (Nimrod and Meidad)

After I got back home hot news of a Black-throated Thrush in the Upper Galilee broke; Great find by Rei and Sachi! Tomorrow I can't make it but hopefully it stays for the weekend.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sinai Mountain

Spent a pleasent morning at Ein Salvadora in the Judean Desert. My main ambition was to photograph two of the most sought-after species in Israel's desert - Sinai Rosefinch and Mountain Bunting. This is a regular drinking spot and probably the best place to see these species in Israel. In summer many tens of both species arrive every day at this tiny spring, but in winter birds are much less thirsty as water loss rates are much lower, and today I had rather small numbers of birds coming in to drink. I had two each of Sinai Rosefinch and Mountain Bunting but they visited all too briefly, and I had no chance to get any shots of them.

Nevertheless it was nice to sit quietly for a few hours and watch the birdlife around the spring. Blackstarts were very active and occasionaly perched on my boots. No small camera unfortunately... They are very charismatic birds and have a real character to them. this is a 2cy - note the moult contrast in the alula:
With my 500 lens I could almost do macro photography at the close focus range of 4.5 m:
Tristram's Grackles are very tame too:

A few young Nubian Ibex were loafing around the spring:

After I got back home I got good news about a Penduline Tit I ringed at Ashdod in November (I think it's this one featured in this post) that was retrapped this morning in the Hula Reserve by Dotan of the Hula Valley ringing team, distance of 164 km:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Raptor census - Judean Plains

This winter I am coordinating for the IOC a national wintering raptors census. I am doing one region myself, close to where I live - the Judean Plains. This region is great for wintering raptors, many of them concentrated around the many reservoirs.
I spent the last two full days counting raptors. Totals were not bad - 14 species, the commonest being Kestrel and Common Buzzard. I paid most attention to eagles and harriers. This year is terrible for Hen Harriers, and a roost I counted this evening had only 8 birds (compared to 70-80 in a normal year). Marsh Harriers are present in larger numbers; yesterday I counted 86 in the main roost. 4 Merlins were a nice addition to the roost.
Eagles were present in rather good numbers; not Hula numbers but not bad at all. I had a total of 19 Greater Spotted Eagles and 12 Eastern Imperials (which is actually pretty good). I did my best to age each individual. Building an accurate database over the years will allow us to perform population dynamics analyses.
In addition, each bird got itself photographed, in order to identify them specifically, which is very important for counting as they move around quite a bit during the day. Each individual has its own moult and wear pattern. For instance, this bird has P8 on left wing notched, and it's moulting P1, outermost secondary and T1. I saw this bird yesterday near Tsor'a, and today saw it again about 30 km south. I know this is a crap image but it demonstrates this field method well.

Other interesting species were two Bonelli's Eagles, one Booted Eagle, 1 Pallid Harrier and several Peregrines. The reservoirs produced the expected White-headed and Ferruginous Ducks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Birding in the Upper Galillee

This morning I met up with Nadav and his team up in the Galillee mountains. Our main mission was to ring Goldcrests. This seems to be a very good winter for this rare bird in Israeli standards. In this particular spruce grove, we had 10-15 birds, which is an Israeli record I guess!
As you understand we caught nothing; the birds just wouldn't come down low enough to get caught. I spent some time trying to photograph them but no results at all - they're so fast! This is how my images looked like:

But this is not totally useless as these pretty spruce branches could make excellent perches for future projects:

Anyway, after that failure we had some time to check the beautiful pistachio and almond orchards of Birya. This is Israel's prime site for Pine Bunting, and indeed we had two - I had a female (all too brief) and Nadav had a cooperative male. They were hanging around with 30 Yellowhammers - another good bird:

Apart for that a flock of 20 Woodlarks were nice:

They actaully perch on trees!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Three rare pipits from Kenya

This is the last batch of images from Kenya. From now on I need to produce new stuff instead of recycling...

One of the trip highlights was fantastic views of Sokoke Pipit - perhaps the hardest to photograph of the six Arabuko-Sokoke Forest specialties. We had two of these skulkers walking on the forest floor typically hidden, and then flew up to a tree and sat there totally exposed:

Another good bird at Sokoke was Scaly-breasted Honeyguide:
Chem-chem Lake was very good for passerines. It is a key site for Malindi Pipit, easily seen in the damp fields around the lake:

Not as rare but much prettier were a few lutea Yellow Wagtails:

Sabaki Rivermouth was very good with lots of shorebirds, terns and larger waterbirds, but quite a pain for birding with annoying kids not leaving us alone for a second. We were there at low tide so had relatively few terns, only 5000 Saunders's Terns... (compared to 500,000 coming in to roost at high tide - must be a high proportion of the world population!). Unfortunately they were all distant, across the river. A few Pink-backed Pelicans were flying around:

Sacred Ibis landing:

And among the thousands of migrant shorebirds we had several White-fronted Plovers:

On our way back to Nairobi we stayed for one night at Ngutuni lodge, which is situated inside the Ngutuni Wildlife Sanctuary, adjacent to Tsavo East NP. Driving in there at night produced a lioness and about 30 nightjars of six species! Morning birding was fantastic and we had to fight ourselves to leave this fantastic reserve. I especially enjoyed the handsome Fischer's Starlings with their striking pale eyes that were present in good numbers:

Down on the plains there were many more Pied Wheatears and Rock Thrushes compared to the mountains of Tsavo West.
Rock Thrush

Before flying out we spent one morning at Nairobi NP with Peter Wairasho. I was especially interested to see Nairobi Pipits, so I could understand what Itai is talking about all the time. This proposed split from Long-billed Pipit, Anthus chuyulensis, looks quite different and has a very unique habitat preference. We had a territorial pair right by Impala lookout:

Little Bee-eaters are little stunners! Can anyone identify the butterfly?

Another common but good looking bird is Augar Buzzard:

Long-crested Eagles have much carisma:

This pretty White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher posed nicely at the cafe by the main park gate:

This Red-billed Teal was in fact the only duck we had all trip ('cause we didn't visit any decent wetland):
Urban wildlife at Nairobi NP:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Better late than never

My photoshop license expired a few days ago and I am still unable to edit my images. Hope to get that sorted soon. Gal Shon edited these images for me - thanks Gal! Find a White-tailed Rubythroat soon!

Anyway, on Tuesday I had a few hours in the morning to check the famous powerline and its surroundings in the NW Negev. The whole area received very little rainfall and is still exceptinally dry. Birding was OK but a bit on the slow side.
I began with a search for Dotterels. Barak and Eyal found a large concentration a few weeks ago when I was in Kenya. It took my some time to find a group of 39, but as I found them a group of bastard Brown-necked Ravens flushed them, and they flew out of sight:

This is one of the rascals:

I continued birding in the general area and had 4 Eastern Imperial Eagles, 3 Peregrines, 2 Merlin and 1 distant Saker. As usual, lots of Saker food around - skylarks, starlings and pigeons.
Among the commoner stuff had a few hundred Calandra Larks, several Tawny Pipits, 2 Finsch's and good numbers of Isabelline Wheatears:
Later on I found another small group of nine Dotties, tht were a bit more coopertive. They are superb plovers, so deliacte and sweet. Of course compared to how they look like in summer they're brown jobs at the moment, but I'm quite happy with such brown jobs: