Sunday, May 29, 2011

Local birding - great colours!

Back after a long absence, I had a free morning for the first time after such a long time. After dispatching the kids at their respective kindergartens I went to search for a pair of Black-headed Buntings not far away from my house. I found them a few weeks ago while doing my Barn Owl nestbox monitoring. This beautiful bunting breeds in rather good numbers in northern Israel (i.e. Golan, Upper Galilee) but it is rare and declining in central Israel. In fact they were absent in my area (Judean Foothills) for a few decades and returned to breed only in recent years.

This male was holding territory and was very vocal, but I couldn't see the Mrs. - it must be on the nest at the moment. The male kept a distance of at least 30 m at all times, so the images are of rather poor quality. However it's a fantastic bird and I am happy to have them near my house.

This individual has some pigmentation problems - some white secondaries:

And funny ear coverts:

This late Booted Eagle was harassed by the local crows:

On the way out I encountered a pair of Stone Curlews - with chicks I assume by the feather stuck to its bill:
Thanks to Yonatan for his help with this today!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Yellow-legged Gulls colony, Tel Aviv University

Israel has a small breeding population of Yellow-legged Gulls, something around 20-30 pairs. In recent years they began colonizing the Tel Aviv Metropolis, and like in many other places around the Mediterranean are becoming an urban species. Amir Ben Dov has been studying the colony in the Zoological Gardens of the Tel Aviv University for several years. Last year we ringed the chicks for the first time, and the first results about their dispersal are very interesting. Yesterday we returned to ring all the large chicks. We had 10 chicks, but there are still a few chicks too small and some eggs as well. This is me trying to fish one chick out of the bush:

Processing the birds:

The Zoo-Garden team - Ron and Ronny:

Back to mommy:
This year Amir had a fascinating discovery - he found two mixed pairs of Armenian X Yellow-legged. This is the first time Armenians breed in Israel. This is one of the mixed nests - the first chick just started hatching:

Many thanks to the garden team for their ongoing help and cooperation, and to Amir for his fantastic images.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stars over Nizzana

This morning I did my final atlas box for this season. I was joined by Meidad and a TV crew documenting my atlas project, which was quite fun. Meidad is a natural born TV star, isn't he?

Light conditions were quite awful with heavy clouds and no sun at all; this made photography almost impossible. I had some good birds and managed to confirm breeding of several key species - Trumpeter finch, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Spectacled Warbler. None of them were close enough for photography. Mourning Wheatears were ubiquitous with lots of families around. This is an adult male:

And a recently-fledged juvenile:

After we were done we paid a quick visit to the sewage ponds. As it was unusually cold sandgrouse were still coming in to drink so late, and we had some of both Black-bellied and Crowned. I met up with Barak who had found a diluta-type Sand Martin, interesting bird. Other birds included Citrine Wagtail, a couple of Namaqua Doves and Kentish Plover (a local rarity).

Namaqua Dove - female
Kentish Plover

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hoopoe Lark success

Today I returned together with Galshon for the ultimate visit to my Arava atlas box. It was actually a rather quiet morning - I am used to hear many more birds in the early morning. In fact before 07:00 we hardly heard or saw anything. I had great expectations as two weeks ago that region experienced huge rainfall and an impressive flash flood, but this late water supply was probably of no good and no annuals germinated. I was completely out of energy this morning and didn't get my camera out of the bag even once.
But eventually we managed to get pretty good results. First, we confirmed breeding of one of my Hoopoe Lark pairs - we had a male moving around with a fully-grown juvenile. Just like last year, I saw the male 'training' his son: he displayed and sang, and then his son followed him. This image is from last year but it looked very similar this morning. This represents very good news for this critically endangered species in Israel.

During the morning I thought I heard Dunn's Lark singing in the distance several times, and probably saw it once, but only in the late morning I managed to clinch the ID. But the bird was soon lost and I couldn't confirm it's breeding.
On the way back we found a road-killed Wild Ass at Hameishar - possibly one of the animals I had last week. Sad.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Some images from yesterday at Hameishar Plains, S Negev, in golden early morning light:

Temminck's Lark

Asian Wild Ass

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Good shorebirding at Ashdod

Had some time this morning before a meeting at Ashdod for a quick visit to the Ashdod ponds. Only one pond was muddy, so all the birds were concentrated in that pond. There were lots of birds there (250 Little Stints, 100 Ringed Plovers and other bits and pieces); I worked very hard but could not find anything more exciting than a summer-plumaged Curlew Sand, and several Temminck's Stints.

Curlew Sandpiper

Temminck's Stint
Great Spotted Cuckoos are very active and noisy now. I suppose the first youngs should be out in a week or two. This adult was pretty close but in terrible light conditions and on this ugly fence - pity.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spring has finally arrived

Had a terrific morning in the Nizzana region. I did an atlas box south of Ezuz, and birding was just great. First, I managed to confirm breeding of most of my target species in the box - MacQueen's Bustard (female with two chicks), Temminck's Lark (family), Black-bellied Sandgrouse (found a nest) etc. I was happy to find two singing Hill Sparrows - I wonder whether they are the vanguard of a large arrival like last year.
But even more impressive was a huge migrant fall, something I haven't seen this spring yet. Numbers and species composition were similar to what Barak reported yesterday in the Arava doing his box in KM76. I walked a few small and lush wadis that were just packed with migrants. Some figures for example - 60 Tree Pipit, 70 Masked Shrike, 30 Whinchat, 14 Pied Flycatcher, 8 Wood Warbler, hundreds of Blackcaps and other Sylvias. Also tens of Steppe Buzzards on the ground. 3 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters overhead. This was very impressive, especially after the dead spring we had in the south up till now.
After I finished my atlas work I had time for a small ringing session near Ezuz. In addition to a selection of migrants I had four Spectacled Warblers - a bird I haven't ringed for a long long time.

Spectacled Warbler - male

On the way out I paid a quick visit to the smelly Kmehin sewage ponds that produced this bright male Citrine Wagtail among lots of common waders.

Driving back I heard that Amir Balaban and Avner Rinot ringed a Red-breasted-type Flycatcher at the JBO earlier this morning. I asked them on the phone to describe it to me and my antennae were raised immediately. It sounded to me like a perfect Taiga Flycatcher. As soon as I got back home to my computer I received images of the bird and clinched the ID while consulting with Barak. I am very happy for Amir and Avner - it's the 1st accepted record for Israel, almost exactly four years after I ringed the first also at the JBO (29 April 2007) which is still under review by the IRDC; well done guys! The bird was not relocated in the afternoon, but I will give it a try tomorrow morning anyway.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Downs and ups

Birding and fieldwork doesn't always mean cherries and candies. Sometimes days out in the field involve disappointment and frustration. That's what happened to me yesterday. I returned with Edith to one of my best boxes in Nizzana, deep in the remote desert (as I thought). In my previous visit there I had a female MacQueen's Bustard on a nest, coursers, good larks etc. - great birds in pristine habitat. As we reached the box yesterday we immediately saw the rubbish, heard the noise and smelled the stench of huge herds of goats, sheep and camels that belong to some Bedouins. They graze there without any permits, nor with any responsibility towards the environment. Putting aside the political, cultural and social context of the Bedouin community living in Israel, this grazing causes huge damage to some of Israel's most sensitive ecosystems, and brings to the verge of extinction species like the MacQueen's Bustard and all our sandgrouse. The herds leave behind them a completely barren landscape as they graze heavily every square centimeter in the wadis and plains. They eat the few annuals that did germinate this winter. The Bedouins scorch the desert with their 4wd's, damaging the fragile desert crust. The adults and kids poach everything - mammals, birds and reptiles. They cut and burn bushes and trees as a source for energy. They leave loads of garbage behind, as they move on to the next grazing grounds.

This herd was walking towards where I had the bustard nest. Of course no bustards or any other sensitive desert species (sandgrouse, coursers, rare larks) were seen in this box after the Bedouin 'treatment'.

Every herd walks around with semi-wild dogs. These dogs hunt for gazelles and hares.

While goats and sheep cause terrible damage to the undergrowth and break the desert crust, camels cause devastation to the few acacia trees and other bushes. BTW, I think I accidentally caught a Barn Swallow in flight in this shot.

But at least the Bedouins make attractive photographic subjects:

The government and its' relevant agencies must deal with this problem promptly. Dealing with the whole complex problem is very difficult of course, but I think that dealing specifically with the grazing issues must be much less complicated, providing Bedouins with alternative income opportunities.
We had few birds breeding in the box. I was happy though to find this male Desert Wheatear feeding young in a nest:
Here in a classic pose:

We had good passage of Bee-eaters. Some came down to feed and were perching on rocks in the wadi-bed.
Early morning we had this impressive 12 cm-long scorpion - Nebo hierichonticus

Today I had a good ringing session at Ashdod. Loads of Blackcaps mixed with smaller numbers of Lesser Whites, Reed and Eastern Oli Warblers. This male Barred Warbler was a real stonker:

I had a few of the neat Garden Warblers:

Willow Warbler
Thanks to Shachar and Shlomo for the help.