Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Non-stop birding

Yesterday and the day before I had about 30 hours of non-stop birding (thanks Pete for the inspiration). I began on Sunday noon with twitching the Painted Snipe that had been found the day before at HaMa'apil fishponds in the Hefer Valley. I have already seen them a few times in Israel, but it's an excellent bird nevertheless. The bird (a male I guess, I know nothing about their moult so age unknown) favoured the grassy fringes of a muddy fishpond, and I searched for it for a long time before it finally gave itself up and showed very well. Great bird!

Greater Painted Snipe

The snipe was in a fantastic pond packed with shorebirds. There were some more good birds there, including this unhappy-looking 1cy Black-winged Pratincole:

And a couple of Citrine Wagtails - this is an adult female:

While waiting for the Painted Snipe to show up, I scanned through the 50+ Common Snipes in the same corner of the pond. I found one very odd snipe on the deck that made me think it was a pin-tailed, but after closer inspection of the images on my computer screen, and consulting with some more people, I will leave it in peace as an odd Common Snipe.

My next stop was Ma'agan Michael. A large team of ringers (including Yosef, Francis, Gidon, Nadav, Ron and Yotam among others) gathered for a mega shorebird ringing session. We set the nets in the afternnon and worked through the night. We had an excellent session, with about 270 shorebirds ringed plus a few other bits and pieces. During the night we had a great selection of the regular species, but nothing really good. Avocet was a ringing tick for me. Yosef will post the totals in his blog soon. I had to leave at dawn to make it on time to my next stop, and early in the morning the tough guys who stayed till the bitter end had a Red-necked Phalarope.

Temminck's Stint

Curlew Sandpiper


My next stop was the IOC - IAF Northern Valleys Raptor Count. Liron who normally coordinates the count had a day off so I replaced him for the day. Personally I had a good day with about 3000 Lesser Spotted Eagles, 1500 Levant Sparrowhawks and 2000 Honey Buzzards. Among the commoner species I had some goodies too - an adult male Crested Honey Buzzard and an adult Eastern Imperial Eagle. The honey buzzard was en extremely massive and brightly-pattern individual, like a bloody Crested Serpent Eagle, but unfortunatel it glided fast into the sun before I had time to grab my camera.
I was very happy to see the eagles going down to roost in the evening, becuase that meant I could finally pack my binoculars and drive back home.

Levant Sparrowhawks and juv. Honey Buzzard

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quality without quantity

After last weeks' excellent ringing, we returned to the alfalfa field near Bet Kama this morning with high expectations. Weather was good too with fresh autumn temperatures and good cloud cover to knock some birds down. After good practice in erecting long lines of nets in darkness, day broke and we found the field wagtail-less. Compared to last week when we had about 600 wagtails in the small field, today we had maybe 50. The Short-toed Lark flock was larger with about 150 birds, but they are very hard to catch. The reason to the absence of wagtails might be the absence of Spodoptera exigua caterpillars that were abundant last week and must have atrracted lots of birds to the field. This week they were gone, possibly eaten up by the wagtails and migrated to Africe inside their stomachs...
Eventually we had a rather small catch. Compared to last week species composition was very similar (GST Larks, Isabelline Wheaters and a few other bits and pieces) but we lacked the bulk of wagtails that made last week so much fun.
Like last week, a juv. Pallid Harrier chased a bird into the net, but unlike last weeks' sparrowhawk it managed to bounce out of the net before we reached it. We had two Hoopoes that are always nice birds to ring:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Red-eyed Show

Yesterday and today i participated in an international workshop on vulture conservation in Israel and the Middle East, that took place at Kfar Blum hotel in the Hula Valley. This workshop was organized as part of 'Porsim Kanaf' - a joint project of the Society for the Protection of Nature in ISrael, Nature and Parks Authority and Israel Electric Company to protect Israel's raptors. Some of the worlds' leading expert on vulture biology and conservation were invited to take part in the workshop, in order to assist the local experts in finding solutions to the steady decrease in vulture populations in Israel. I learned a lot during these two intensive days, but on top of that it was great to meet al the guys, both international and Israelis. This is Munir Virani from the Kenyan chapter of the Peregrine Fund:

But, as you know me, I couldn't sit on my bottom for too long so close to the Agmon. So I sneaked away with Amir both yesterday afternoon and this morning for some birding and photography. We focused on a Black-winged Kite that had been hanging around in the valley for the last few weeks. It is such a charismatic bird, full of character, and those red eyes, wow! Even though it's common like shit in Africa and southern Asia, in Israel it's still a top quality bird. Not as rare as it was just ten years ago, but still great to see, and of course to photograph:

Caught a large vole:

And flew very close to us to continue feeding on it:

And a good shake before flying off (missed the take-off of course):

Here it was mobbing a 1cy Bonelli's Eagle flying by:

Bonelli's Eagle - 1cy
There were thousands of Plain Tigers (Danaus chrysippus) on every tree and bush:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quality ringing

This morning I had a very productive and enjoyable ringing session in the alfalfa field not far away from my house. A large team assembled early in the morning and we had the field well-covered with nets. Of course most birds caught were Yellow Wagtails (big numbers, most flava and feldegg but a couple of thunbergi and beema too), but the variety of birds caught was extraordinary. Often, yellowag sessions produce only yellowags with maybe one or two other birds. This time we had such a varied catch, of species that don't get ringed so often in Israel. Below is a selection of those:

Tawny Pipit - 1cy (one of two caught)

Tree Pipit
Greater Short-toed Lark (we had 11 of those)

Northern Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear (left) and Northern Wheatear (right)
This juv Eurasian Sparrowhawk flew after a wagtail into the net. It was very fresh, possibly from a local population:

Many thanks to Eyal, Jonathan, Yoram, Eilon and Stav for the hard work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Grateful dead

I began today with a productive ringing session at Ashdod. Lots of migrants and very good variety, most warblers of course: willow, reed, marsh (2), great reed, savi's, Blackcap, Lesser White, E Olivaceous. In addition still large numbers of Kingfishers. This Sprosser was my first for the season:

Thrush Nightingale
Good early morning migration included many Yellow Wags, Tree and Tawny Pipits, and Ortolans. Thanks to Shlomo and Liad for their help.

A visit to the ponds was rather quiet. Hardly any shorebirds around, but it was nice to see a significant increase in Baltic Gulls (about 50), with a couple of Siberians and one Yellow-legged in between. No rings though.

Baltic Gull - 1cy and adult
Later on when I got back home I was surprised to find this female Golden Oriole dead under one of my windows. I find it hard to believe that it just decided to visit the inside of my house; more probabale that it had been chased by a sparrowhark or kestrel and then hit the window. Fine bird nevertheless. During the last week I have 6-7 birds feeding high in some large fig trees near my house, but this is the first one I saw on the ground...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More local stuff

I continue to explore my new surroundings. My new surroundings are the northern fringes of the Negev, a region with pretty heavy agriculture but some good habitats here and there. My house is in a small community called Nir Moshe. Yesterday I had two good birds near my house - Collared Flyctahcer (in the garden) and Rueppel's Warbler. Both are rather common in spring but pretty rare in autumn.
This morning I drove around a bit, enjoying the fresh autumn breeze. There are a couple of small alfalfa fields not too far away. Alfalfa is by far the most productive crop in Isreal. The fields were indeed packed with Yellow Wagtails, and had lots of Willow Warblers too. Earlier in autumn most wagtails were feldegg's. Now they are already outnumbered by flava-types. This is an adult male flava-type, note the adult pattern on all GC: off-white tips, merging into the dark centers.

I found a dry onion field near my house that attracted a large flock of Alpine Swifts mixed with some hirundines. They were hawking very low over the field at great speed. I tried for some time to photograph them but I was with the wrong lens (500 mm, too heavy and bulky for such high-speed photography). It was a great challenge, especially with the very cluttered background, and I ended up with aching muscles and very little reward. These two are the only almost-publishable images I got out of the hundreds I had fired:

Alpine Swift

I had some numbers of Eurasian Rollers today, probably migrants, including some small flocks, reminding me of the merry days in Tsavo West.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Good migration

I am getting to know the migration dynamics in my new turf.
There are more migrants than I'd expected. Some short walks near my house today produced nice stuff. Most impressive was Red-rumped Swallow migration, with many hundreds hanging around hawking over the lawns, and on active migration, mixed with Alpine Swifts. Lots of Yellow Wagtails and Issy Wheatears in the fields, with Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes on every wire. A flyover Golden Oriole was a nice addition to my garden list this evening.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Strange night out

Last night I met up with Eyal, Ron, MeiDarren and some others for a shorebird ringing session at the Nizzana sewage ponds. These small and smelly sewage ponds in the middle of the desert are very attractive and hold large numbers of birds during migration. We arrived there and found the ponds packed with birds. While setting the nets up in broad daylight we started catching very well - mainly Littler Stints but also a couple of Curlew Sands and a LRP. We were very optimistic before doing the first net round after dusk and took lots of bird bags. However, the birds simply vanished from the ponds after dusk and we caught nothing at all for the rest of the evening. Where the birds went is a mystery (no other muddy options within a radius of 30 km). But that was it for the night.
While setting the nets up we had some good birds - Citrine Wagtail, Gull-billed Tern, Broad-billed Sandpiper among the commoner species.

Curlew Sandpiper - adult