Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Salt and pepper

Yesterday I joined Yosef for his ongoing project of colour-ringing terns at Atlit Saltpans. These saltpans hold Israel's largest tern colony, and are an excellent birding site altogether.
We arrived in time to have a quick look at the colony before setting the nets up. We had this interesting tern - it's very dark both above and below, with a narrow white cheek stripe. The bill is long and red. The bird was large and powerful, like a normal Common Tern. It incubated non-stop, so unfortunately we couldn't see the legs at all. I waited for half an hour for the bird to stand up or fly off, but had to give up and let it be; the nets were waiting.
This bird reminds me very much of this amazing bird ringed by Yosef last year. Whether our bird had rings or not I do not know. The plumage colours are superficially similar to White-cheeked Tern, but size, structure and bill are wrong.
There is a very interesting article by Sean Nixon in Birding World 24: 211-215 illustrating the identification of eastern Common Terns. It describes in detail longipensis, and more briefly tibetana. But to my eyes this bird is far too dark for any longipensis (which should show a dark bill) or tibetana. I have no idea what the dodgy form sinunensis looks like, but I assume it should be paler anyway.
However, one thing I learned last night is that the amount of variation in Common Tersn in huge, and it occurs in all aspects: size, plumage tones, bare parts. So whether this bird is an extremely extreme Common Tern, an 'eastern' Common Tern (breeding in Israel?!), or a hybrid Common X White-cheeked Tern we will probably never know. I will certainly try to return and have better views of this fascinating bird. Of course, any comments on this bird are most welcome.

This is the bird incubating:

And here in comparison to a 'normal' Common Tern:

Anyway, as night fell we started catching terns. We were joined by the Hula team, Rony and Michael. Even though the wind was strong all night long, we had a decent catch of 30 Common Terns, 15 Little Terns (including an ancient retrap from the mid-1990's!) and for a late bonus a beautiful adult White-winged Tern.

Common Tern - adult (4cy+)
Rony the magician
Common Tern - 2cy. Note the very worn unmoulted primaries, PC, alula and GC, and dark lesser-coverts bar. Bill is almost completely dark, and crown mixed with brown. Most Common Terns spend their first year and a half somewhere in the southern oceans or offshore Africa, and only few return north in their first summer.

Little Tern - adult

Little Tern - juvenile
White-winged Tern - adult

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gems on the beach

Yesterday morning I had some time before meetings to visit Ma'agan Michael. I decided to sit quietly on the beach for a couple of hours and wait for something to show up instead of driving around. Nothing exciting showed up but there was a good selection of birds on the beach and small lagoons. The light was very special in the early morning - soft but very contrasting, enhancing the coral-red legs and bills of the many Common Terns. I swear, this is natural light, no photoshop tricks!

And taking off:

There is a large breeding colony at Ma'agan Michael, and another at Atlit about 15 km north. Most chicks have already fledged, and many were being fed by their parents on the beach:

Nice reflections:
I had smaller numbers of Little Terns:

I had a few terns ringed by Yosef at Atlit, this is a juvenile Little Tern:

And a juvenile Common Tern:

In the ponds I had about 15 White-winged Terns but none joined the terns on the beach:

Lots of Black-winged Stilts all over the place. They have nice red legs too:

In the ponds I had several hundred Armenian and Slender-billed Gulls, but only this slender-bill joined the terns:

Two rings in one frame - this Little Tern had an old aluminium ring which I was notable to read. Eventually I managed to read the number of the Redshank - it was ringed during the night of 30/9/10. This is actaully my ring - it was a ringing session organized by myself but I caught a flu and missed it.

Juvenile Redshank:

And another unfortunate Redshank:

Some Pied Kingfishers were fishing in the lagoons:
I had about 15 Turnstones but, stupid me, I erased all their images...

Another vagrant on the beach:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hermon images at last

At last, after a week without photoshop, I was able to edit my images from the Mt. Hermon ringing session last weekend. Mt. Hermon is the highest mountain in Israel, peaking at 2272 m ASL. Due to its height, it sustains a unique ecosystem. Many bird species breed in Israel only on Mt. Hermon, while others have their largest populations on the mountain. We've been monitoring bird populations (mainly seed-eating passerines) at drinking sites on the mountain since the late 1970's (see my posts from last year here and here).
This year We had rather low figures, below average, but species composition was normal. 'Big Three' were Syrian Serin, Linnet and Goldfinch. Rock Buntings showed in good numbers, but Black-heads were fewer than normal. They migrate very early, so perhaps they've already moved on?

Rock Bunting - male
Unfortunately all adults are just before their post-breeding moult at this time of year, so they are very worn and bleached. This guy is heavily worn:

Syrian Serin - male
We had no real suprises, but it was nice to have some of the scarcer Hermon birds, such as Hill Sparrow (two juvs). This is the only place in Israel where they breed regularly, while they are nomadic and irrutpive in our desert regions - see here. We also had three Ortolans - there's a tiny population breeding on Mt. Hermon.

Hill Sparrow - juvenile
Rock Sparrows showed in larger numbers. This is a juvenile:

Western Rock Nuthatch is one of the most sought-after Hermon specialties. We had several noisy families on the slopes around our ringing site. Only this juvenile got caught:

Western Rock Nuthatch
Re'a having a go at the nuthatch:

Sombre Tit is another good bird:

Sombre Tit - juvenile
We caught several of the local breeding race of Black Redstart - semirufus. Most were ugly juveniles; only this female was somewhat distinctive.

'semirufus' Black Redstart - female

Common but pretty:
Linnet - male
The pond we were ringing at had huge numbers of tiny Green Toads (Bufo viridis) - about 2 cm long. Many of them ventured away from the pond:

Mt. Hermon
Our ringing site
Part of the ringing team:
Many thanks to Nadav and Dotan of the Hula team for organizing the session so well.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mt. Hermon - preview...

Our ringing weekend on Mt. Hermon was great. Got lots of mouthwatering images, but today I replaced my old computer, which means I need to dowonload all of my software again, which means I have no photoshop, which means I cannot show any of these stunning images. I hope to get back in business tomorrow, so stay tuned!
In the meanwhile - an image from last year - Western Rock Nuthatch:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ashdod rarities and minorities

Shorebird migration hasn't really picked up at Ashdod, as my visit yesterday demonstrated. Also there was very little water in the ponds, but this will surely change soon. I had however a fair number of the common sandpipers (green, wood and common), plus this adult Marsh Sand moulting out of summer plumage:

Many Turtle Doves came in to drink:

After the ponds I drove down to the beach, where I saw Amir's adult Audouin's Gull that he had found on Saturday. It was very distant, sat on a buoy, but still a good bird (2-3 annualy in Israel).
Tomorrow I'm going up to Mt. Hermon for our annual ringing session. Looking forward to some great birding, ringing and weather!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eilat pelagic part 3

Last batch of images from the successful mini-pelagic last week. From now on no recycling!

Fighting over chum, shearwaters often sit on the water and spread their wings, possibly to keep other birds off their meal. They are impressive indeed! I saw no real fighting between birds though.

Cory's Shearwater

And again many thanks to Avi Meir for organizing this amazing trip!