Thursday, June 30, 2011

Eilat pelagic part 1

Continuing yesterdays' taster, here is a small selection of images I got from the 'pelagic' trip with Avi Meir. I know that going out into a tiny gulf in a small dingy is not quite a pelagic, but this is the best we can get here in Israel.
Anyway, the conditions were great - soft wind, calm sea, comfortable temperatures, and as soon as the chum went into the water we got response very fast. The most active and attractive birds were Cory's Shearwaters - we had six or seven birds in total. They are such fantastic birds, and it was great fun for me to be in such proximity to them.
When I started seawatching in Eilat in the 1980's, days with 40-50 cory's were not uncommon, but their numbers have gone down dramatically in Eilat since the early 1990's. In fact between 2003 and 2010 hardly any were seen at Eilat. This decline corresponds with global population decreases, and with the ever-increasing pollution of the Gulf and crashing fish populations. This seems to be a relatively good summer for them.
I have hundreds of cory's images to go through, and I hope to get some on the blog during the next few days. This is just one more appetizer:

But apart for cory's, we had lots of other good birds. There were a few White-eyed Gulls flying around, but only this one showed interest in the breakfast provided by Avi.
This must be a 2cy, but I am not completely sure. As they're semi-tropical birds I don't know whether their moult cycles correspond to the Northern Hemisphere moult cycles we 'gullers' use when dealing with our gulls. This bird is going through its first wing moult, with P1 to P3 fully grown, and P4 growing. T1 to T3 also moulted (see 2 images below), and the new T2 and T3 have black tips. Leg colour is in fact pretty bright compared to juveniles that have dull grey legs.
I strongly recommend to have a look at the new page dedicated to White-eyed Gull in, with images mostly by Avi and Amir Ben Dov.

White-eyed Gull (Larus leucophthalmus)

We had only one skua, this 2cy Arctic Skua. It made two brief fly-by's but never showed real interest in the feeding frenzy near our boat. It has not started moulting yet.

Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus)

Towards the end of our morning session quite a few terns arrived. Most were Common Terns (about 25), and among them we had one or two Bridled Terns. This bird never got quite close enough, so I have only these record shots. BTW don't panic, the tern above is just a Common Tern in strong light.

Bridled Tern (Sterna anaethetus)

Common Terns did get close indeed:

This 2cy Common Tern got me excited at first when seen from a distance - it was very pale and at first I thought it's an arctic, but after seeing it well it was safely identified as common. We don't get this plumage often in Israel; most of the 2cy's stay for their first summer somewhere in the southern oceans.

I had some trouble with my gear and screwed up its flight shots, so many thanks to Avi for this super image:
I really need a faster set of camera and lens, so if anyone out there wishes to donate me about 10000$ I will be very grateful.
Anyway, one Little Tern was among the larger species:

We had two Sooty Shearwaters. One of them came in to feed (pretty late when light was very contrasting already). This individual is rather scruffy and not very attractive, but they behave really nice compared to cory's - they just sit there and feed.

Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus)

So stay posted for another batch of cory's images tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gulf of dreams

This morning I drove down to Eilat (Morning? Left home at 02:00...). I met up with Avi Meir and Tzadok (from the IBRCE), and together we went out on a boat to do some seabird photography in the gulf. Avi is a real expert, and thanks to his expertise we had a fantastic morning. I have a card-full of images to download, sort and edit - it will have to wait for tomorrow, I'm totally knackered.
This is just an appetizer, I will have many more images on the blog tomorrow so stay tuned.

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris (diomedea) borealis

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wings of change

Nice weather today with fresh winds and bearable temperatures. Had some time to visit Ashdod. The sea produced 30 Sandwich Terns and quite many gulls: 20 baltics, 2 yellow legs and 1 slender billed. At the ponds already good numbers of shorebirds, moving south I guess: 19 Green, 2 Wood, 1 Marsh, 1 Common Sandpiper, 5 Redshank, 1 Temmick's Stint.
Things are certainly happening...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mountain gems

This morning I climbed up with Re'a to a small spring deep in a canyon above the Dead Sea. It's a key site for two of Israel's most sought-after species: Mountain Bunting (AKA Striolated Bunting) and Sinai Rosefinch. Good numbers of both species breed in the area, and come in to drink mainly during the summer mornings. Water sources are few and far between in this tough desert region, so birds must travel long distances to drink every day.

Largest numbers this morning were of Mountain Bunting, about 90 birds until I stopped counting. Adults are very worn now,being in the middle of their complete post-breeding moult, and look much drabber compared to spring, but the males are still handsome birds.

Mountain Bunting - male

The females are duller to start with, and really aren't very attractive at this time of the year.

Mountain Bunting - female

Most buntings were juveniles, most of them still very fresh.

Mountain Bunting - juvenile

This bird has already started its partial post-juvenile moult, replacing some coverts and tertials:

Not too many Sinai Rosefinches came in to drink, maybe 10. Most went down in a part of the spring I couldn't see. Only this cracking male went down in the correct spot, but it was very shy - one click (not sharp, sorry) and it took off.

Sinai Rosefinch - male
Desert Larks came in to drink in good numbers too:

This spring is not the ideal spot for photography unfortunately. Light conditions are very challenging (shade with very strong yellow reflection from the rocks), and crouching down on the cliff face is very uncomfortable. Climbing up was not easy either. The birds are also too close (about 3.2 m away) and many get startled by the shutter release, so I didn't capture many images but rather did quite a few HD video clips. Hope to get them edited soon. But after all of these excuse, it's a fantastic spot, one of my favourites.
We stayed there for very little not to disturb the birds too much, and after a good, strong coffee we headed back down.

Thanks to Rony for letting me use his precious 300 mm/f2.8, and to Re'a for the help and company.

Dawn over the Dead Sea

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nightjars and bats during eclipse

Last night I went down to Neot Hakikar - it was a full moon and I was hoping to have good nightjar activity. I'd organized a good team (Ron, Re'a, Eli and Shachar) - I wanted to ring some nightjars as part of my monitoring project there. We arrived early enough to experience the beautiful weather, and the nets were up in time before dark. There were lots of Namaqua Doves in the area but none got caught.

Namaqua Dove - male
When I planned this excursion a few weeks ago I didn't know about the lunar eclipse that happened last night. When I learned about this, I got very excited - it was really interesting for me to see the response of my nightjars to the eclipse, as their ecology is so strongly connected to moon cycles.
During the first part of the evening, when the moon was up and the eclipse hadn't started yet, nightjar activity was very good indeed, with lots of birds foraging and calling, including a good numbers of juveniles as far as I could tell. During the evening we managed to ring two birds - a juvenile and an adult (male I suppose - look at these huge wing patches and tail corners). Later on as the eclipse commenced, nightjar activity dropped seriously, and resumed only after the eclipse faded and moonlight was strong again. I wish I had a bat detector with me - they must have had an interesting response too.

Nubian Nightjar

However during the night we caught three bats of three species. First was this Trident Leaf-nosed Bat. This son of a bitch bit me while I was changing my camera settings, and sent me to get rabies shots today...

Trident Leaf-nosed Bat (Asellia trident)
Then came a Desert Long-eared Bat - much larger but much calmer:

Desert Long-eared Bat (Otonycteris hemprichii)
Last was this tiny Bodenheimer's Pipistrelle - Israel smallest bat. This one was 3.5 gr only!

Bodenheimer's Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus Bodenheimeri)
And about the eclipse, it was bizarre and beautiful and special. First the moon rose over the Edom mountains of Jordan:

At first it was shining through a layer of dust giving it a yellow hue:

Here the eclipse is growing:

This is the full eclipse:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Surprising seawatch

Had some time this morning to check the Ashdod ponds. Arrived there only to discover that I had lost my key to the gate. As a fresh westerly was blowing, I went for plan B and drove down to the beach. It was actually quite a productive hour. There was a good passage (in local standards) of Common Terns, felt almost like Spurn... Among them I spotted one adult White-cheeked Tern, which is a pretty good record for the Med coast. Apart for that some gulls (Yellow-legs and Baltics), and one distant shearwater that must have been a scopoli's.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Some more gulls at TAU

Finished my ringing for this season of the Yellow-legged Gulls breeding in Tel Aviv. Today two birds I wanted to ring were already flying too well for me to catch them.
This year I managed to ring more birds than last year, a total of 17 birds: 15 in the Tel Aviv Uni Zoological Gardens, and another two in a residential part of N Tel Aviv. All birds received red read-rings, all beginning with U.

It will be very interesting to follow these birds as they disperse (around the Mediterranean? E Africa?). It will also be very interesting to follow the offspring of the mixed pairs.

Many thanks to Amir Ben Dov for all his hard work on this population, to Odelia for the help, and to the Zoo staff Ron & Rony.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cucumber season

Nothing is happening here in Israel. Israeli birders take June off on most years, only tough Re'a is doing some useless seawatching down at Eilat. That's Ok for me because I have so much writing work to do - reports to produce etc. Will probably get some more gull chicks ringed and Mt. Hermon ringing session is in mid July, but apart for that I don't expect too much for the next month.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Green Warbler at Ashdod!

This morning I went ringing at Ashdod with Eli. the morning began rather busy but standard with good numbers of lingering migrants and a selection of our local birds. I was thinking to myself what will I be able to show in the blog, perhaps a fledgling tit? Or yet another Garden Warbler? Then Eli gets back from the nets with a big smile: "I think you need to have a look at this Phylloscopus...". I got it out of the bag and was shocked by its' huge supercilium and two wingbars. The GC bar was very strong and prominent. The MC bar was fainter and was made by only 3-4 feathers with pale tips. The bill was long, strong and very pale below. I must confess that I quickly called the news out as a Two-barred Warbler Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus. Only later when I had time to sit down with the bird and compare it to the literature I had, I suspected it to be in fact a Green Warbler P. nitidus.
To my defense I can say that it is always interesting to note how different a bird can look in these close-ups compared to how it looked like in real life. The MC wingbar was there, I swear! You can actually see it very similar to the real impression in the second image from the bottom (with Oz). Also it's left side is much more dramatic than it's right side.
Anyway, the initial report as two-barred got a few guys out of their beds and I bagged the bird for a short time for the twitchers to see it. By the time they reached I had already changed my opinion to nitidus. The main reason why this bird isn't plumbei is that it's basically a green bird - pretty bright green above, with yellow or yellowish underparts, cheek, throat, supercilium and wingbars; plumbei should be much whiter below and duller above.

Green Warbler (Phylloscopus nitidus)

Happy twitchers - Rami, Oz and Shachar
After everyone had enough and the bird had enough too, we released it. It stayed in a big tree for some time after release, and we had nice field views of it. It did not call.

This is the 6th record in Israel. The previous one was seen by Re'a in the Eilat Mts. in November 2010. I have seen two of the previous birds. This is an exceptionally late record. Not a first for Israel as I first hoped, but still a very good bird. Thanks to Eli and Lior for all their help this morning, and it was good to see all the guys at my ringing site. Rami - I promise to keep trying...