Sunday, October 30, 2011

Recent updates

Yesterday my family came for a visit, and together we constructed a new pond in my garden. It is not large (2X2 m), but with the correct vegetation should attract many birds. I live in an arid zone, so any water source is good for birds. Already fantasizing about Israel's first Yellow-browed Bunting coming in to drink...

My brother Gidon and his daughter Shira mixing cement (in the background my future photo-hide):

My dog Bamba enjoying the coolness of the newly-dug soil by the pond:

There are lots of good sibes around (see here), but today I was stuck at home with my kids, thanks to Hammas and Jihad (I live inside the rocket zone). I took the kids for a quick look at the Bet Kama alfalfa field, near our house. Slowly it is proving to be a quality site, holding good birds constantly. Today, among the hundreds of common pipits and skylarks, I had 1 Oriental Skylark and 2 Lesser Short-toed Larks. A juv Merlin killed a pipit metres away from us.

Friday, October 21, 2011

No Birthday Birds

Today was my birthday, but contrary to previous years, I didn't bird today and as result didn't have any good birds for my B-day. But it was a good day nevertheless. I attended the Annual Ringiers Conference that was held at the JBO. Apart for listening to fascinating presentations, and participating in productive discussions about the future of ringing in Israel, it was great to meet all the guys (young and not so young).
I will be away from my computer for the whole of next week. Traditionally, whenever I disappear like this, especially in late October, some megas arrive. Who knows what happens this year.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Taiga Flycatcher !?!?

This morning I was home after a sleepless night due to fever and nasty coughs. I was quite knackered when at about 10:00 I received a phone from Darren Burns, who said he had a probable 1cy Taiga Flycatcher in the hand. Suddenly I felt much better. I quickly went over the ID with him, sent the news out and headed off.
I had the possible first for Israel in 2007 (see images here; also article published in BW, 2008). It is still under circulation by the IRDC, but it should get accepted soon. But since Sde Boker is not too far away from my house, I decided to go for it.
When I got there Barak and Meidad had already arrived from their Sooty Falcon fieldwork nearby, and we started discussing over the birds' ID. A few minutes later Oz joined us.
When I first saw the bird I was quite troubled by it's 'warmness', especially across the breast band and on the flanks and underwing coverts, that were rather bright buff. Also the upperparts were brown rather than grey, and the pale tips to GC and tertials were rich buff and not white. This was very different to what I remembered a 1cy taiga should look like (see Hugh Harrop's excellent images here).
However, this bird had some strong pro-taiga features, including bill pattern and uppertail coverts. From a distance (through bins), the bill looked completely dark and strong. When seen from below, 2-3 mm of pink at the base of the lower mandible were visible. The uppertail coverts were jet black. In some angles and light conditions they looked darker than the central tail feathers, while in others looked just as black. The uppertail coverts had paler grey fringes.
We released the bird, and hoped to be able to watch it in the field and hear its call, but it just vanished and despite intensive searching it could not be relocated.
We drove back home with mixed feelings, but when I got back home later in the evening I went through some useful articles (Jännes, Alula 1996 and Cederroth et al., BW 1999) and now I am leaning towards taiga, based on these features:
  1. Bill pattern and structure (rather heavy-looking).
  2. Black uppertail coverts. Pale fringes are OK for 1cy taiga.
  3. Very clear contrast between whitish throat and darker breast band.
  4. Warmer tones of this bird are within the known variation of taiga: see these birds from UAE and the 1st Swedish bird in Cederroth (1999).
  5. Tertial pattern - in Cederroth (1999), a difference is given in tertial pattern. Like in this bird, taiga has pale tips extending to a pale fringe on the outer web, while red-breasted has pale tips only. I googled images of both species and this feature seems to be quite solid.
  6. Eyering - in taiga, like in this bird, the eyering should be narrower above the eye and in front of the eye, while in Red-breasted it should be more even and broader all the way around the eye. Again I googled this and found quite a lot of variation in Red-breasted on this feature.
At the moment the identification of this bird remains open. We will consult with some experts, and hopefully will be able to reach a final verdict soon.
Many thanks to Darren for alerting us on this intriguing bird and for his hospitality. Darren will upload more images on his blog tonight or tomorrow.

Possible Taiga Flycatcher (Ficedula albicilla)

Note the black uppertail coverts:

Strong, all dark bill; pale-tipped uppertail coverts:

Whitish throat contrasting to darker breast band:

Note the tertial pattern on the distant wing - pale tip extending onto the outer web:

This image was taken with my 400 mm lens - closer to how it would look like in the field:

Close-up on uppertail coverts and tertials:

Bill pattern from below; again note the contrast between whitish throat to darker, almost sooty, breast band:
Darren the man:
References mentioned in this post:

Cederroth, C., Johansson, C., and Svensson, L. (1999). Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla in Sweden: the first record in Western Europe. Birding World 12: 460-469.

Jännes, H. (1996). Finland next? Eastern Red-breasted Flycatcher. Alula 3: 120-125.

Perlman, Y. (2008). A Taiga Flycatcher in Israel. Birding World 21 : 158-159.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Autumn migration is fun

This morning I went ringing at Ashdod, and have a very enjoyable time. No Purple Martins or Blue Grosebeaks, but still a very good catch with great variety and lots of colour. It was nice to have several species in large number - this is much better than a ringing session dominated by one species: Willow and Reed Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat, Bluethroat and Kingfisher. Among the willows I had two yakutensis.
Thanks to my skilled team (Ron, Miriam, Shlomo and Liad) we dealt with the large catch and handled a ringing demo with no problems.

Cretzschmar's Bunting - adult male

Willow Warbler - yakutensis

Bluethroat - adult male

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kvalitet fugleferie

Yesterday I met up with Søren Kristofferson from Denmark. We had a great afternnon and evening with some of our region's best birds. We started off watching a family of Sooty Falcons, on a cliff high above the Dead Sea. We had a great show watching the two recently-fledged juveniles practicing flight, and chasing their parents and each other. I a couple of weeks they will have left us, on their way to Madagascar. fantastic birds but poor images.

Sooty Falcon

After dusk we went to look for Nubian Nightjars. The evening was very pleasent with comfortable temperatures, bright moonlight and no wind. However it took us some effort to have good views of a nightjar. But finally this moulting 1cy showed extremely well. S
øren was very pleased of course.

Nubian Nightjar
Some additional adventures from last week: on Monday I went up north for a family holiday. We stopped briefly at Ma'agan Michael where I saw the lingering Pacific Golden Plover. Migration is very visible with lots of birds up in the skies and in the bushes and trees.
I need to sign off as I'm waking up in a few hours for ringing. Good night.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

No fame today

This morning I returned to the field where I had the Blyth's Pipit yesterday. I set up lots of nets in the general area where it spent most of its time yesterday, but the bird was not present this morning. It did not end up in the net nor was it seen in the field. Ringing was quite OK with lots of Red-throated Pipits and Willow Warblers. This juv. Corncrake was caught before first light - unusual to see a healthy bird. Most I have seen in recent years were injured / dead /dying.

Red-throated Pipit
The Oriental Skylark was seen briefly early in the morning, and a Bimaculated Lark flew over.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October fest

This morning I checked the alfalfa field of Bet Kama, near my house. At first I spent some time with a small group of Red-footed Falcons hunting over a nearby dry field. They were not very cooperative, so I started walking through the field.

Red-footed Falcon - 1cy
The alfalfa field was quite good with lots of Yellow Wags, Red-throated Pipits and Short-toed Larks. After a while I flushed a largish pipit. It flew up and gave this diagnostic 'pseu' call that I know so well from Central Asia, and instantly I knew I had found a Blyth's Pipit. I tried for about an hour to get better views of it but I kept losing it in the overgrown field. In total I managed to locate it three or four times; each time I saw it quite well in flight but only once it landed in a dry field where I had brief frontal views. It kept calling very nicely each time I flushed it. I managed to see a few good ID features, including short and pointed bill, strong malar stripe and fine breast streaks (hence not tawny), short tail and medium size and structure, not so massive like richard's.
If accepted this is the fourth Israeli record, and an Israeli tick for me. Unfortunately it was not relocated later on by a few birders who tried for it, but I will give it another try tomorrow morning.
While searching for the pipit I found also an Oriental Skylark, and up to 10 Zitting Cisticolas, that are good local birds.