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

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