Tuesday, February 28, 2012


This morning I guided a birding workshop for NPA staff in the Judean Desert. I was really knackered and the weather forecast for today wasn't good, so I had low expectations, but I ended up with having one of the most powerful wildlife experiences I've ever had in Israel. 
We started off very early, a couple of hours before dawn. We trekked up a small wadi where I knew there is a territory of Hume's Owl (thanks Barak). Normally I could not walk in there at night, as this site is inside a nature reserve, but the NPA guys are those who give permits so this morning I was able to check the site with them. Anyway, we started searching for the birds. At first we had no response, and I was getting worried, and my group was losing patience, but eventually after some presistence we managed to locate a male. At first it was distant but it was very curious and came in to check us out. Then it stood in full view on a small cliff about 15 m from us, watching us and calling - very good views. And then it decided to have a better look at us - it flew down and landed on the ground, about 4.5 m away from us, at the minimal focus distance of my lens! It stood there for about a minute, watched us, looking very interested in what we were doing: going crazy! I have watched this amazing bird many times before, but I have never had such an encounter with such an inquisitive bird.
The bird flew away to a nearby cliff, and stood there for another 15 minutes, hooting continuously. It was a great ending to this part of the morning - first light over the Dead Sea, with the silhouette of a calling Hume's Owl sat on a cliff - magic moments.

I screwed up the photographs - I forgot to pre-adjust the camera settings to night photography, so I had to do it in haste when the bird flew down towards us, and wasted a few precious seconds. These images are full-frame, cropped only to fit 3X4 format. Not perfectly sharp, but not too bad either.

Hume's Owl

After a quick coffee we headed off to wadi Salvadora, which was actually very quiet and we saw none of our target species. There were some good floods in the desert last week and there's lots of water in every wadi, so the attraction of the spring is smaller now.
We then moved on to wadi Mishmar. We had very good birding there, with all the expected local species seen well, incuding two Sinai Rosefinches. The commonest migrant was Cyprus Warbler - we had about 15-20 birds, good number but predictable at this time and place. This is peak migration for this fine little bird, and wadi Mishmar is certainly one of the best places in the country to see them. Nevertheless it was great to see them feeding mainly on Ochradenus baccatus bushes, which looked very happy after the flood of last week. Other sylvias there included one Rueppel's and one Spectacled Warblers.

Cyprus Warbler - 3cy+ male

Monday, February 27, 2012

Spring rolls

Wow, it feels like it's been ages since I last posted a proper blog post, with images and stuff. Anyway, had a great morning north of Be'er Sheva. I began with a very early morning ringing session with Eyal, Yoram and Eilon. We tried to catch the hundreds of Corn Buntings and Spanish Sparrows leaving their roost in a tiny reedbed. Eventually we discovered that the nets were not positioned optimally and we ended with a poor catch, but at least some colour.


Corn Bunting (no colour on this one)

We closed the nets very early and I went birding in Lahav Reserve. This is one of my favorite birding sites, especially at this time of year. The scenery is beautiful, bloom is at its peak, and birding is superb.

Sun's-eye Tulip Tulipa agenensis

At last I experienced true spring atmosphere - lots of migrants and very obvious breeding activity. During the hour or so I had very good birding. There were at least three territorial male Long-billed Pipits, four Finsch's Wheatears, very good activity of Spectacled Warblers (at least 15 singing males), 40 Woodlarks including some displaying pairs, 1 singing Eurasian Cuckoo, 3 Quail, 1 singing Creztschmar's Bunting and lots more.

Spectacled Warbler - male

Spectacled Warbler - female

Finsch's Wheatear

After about an hour of enjoyable birding I was interrupted by a phone from Eyal who continued to ring in a nearby wadi. He had caught a female Cyprus Warbler, so I decided to go for this local micro-twitch. Nice bird indeed (though males are better of course). 

Cyprus Warbler - 2cy female

Note the bold wing pattern - prominent GC bar and tertial edges.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lowepro Scope Photo Traveller 350 AW review

A few weeks ago I received from the official Lowepro dealer in Israel, Quickphoto, a new birding backpack for review – Lowepro Scope Traveler 350 AW. It's a pack I have needed for a long time, as my previous photo pack, Lowepro Pro Runner, was unsuitable for both birding and photography, and could not contain large amounts of equipment.  This pack is one of a new series of packs designed especially for birders – The Optics Series. Lowepro produced a very American video demonstrating this pack – watch here.
Over the last few weeks I've been using this pack on different scenarios, such as morning birding continuing to a day in the office, birding with my DSLR fitted with medium-length telephoto lens etc. In all scenarios I found this pack very useful – comfortable, easy to use and with lots of useful patents that made my life much easier.

The main advantage of this pack is its ability to contain a full-size scope (like my Zeiss 85TFL) together with lots of other gear – laptop computer, bins, DSLR cameras, field guide, and lots of other gear useful for a day in the field. Look how much gear:

The pack is neatly divided into internal compartments, which are all modular and can be removed to leave more available space for larger objects, like my DSLR with 400mm f/5.6 lens. The pack has more useful features like a comfortable back system, specially designed tripod mount, and rain cover.

I found two minor problems with this pack: 1) it offers little flexibility in rearranging the main cell, i.e. the smaller compartments can be removed but not moved around easily, and 2) when fully loaded, the main zipper closes rather tightly.

My bottom line is that this is a highly recommended pack, for birders, digiscopers and amateur bird photgraphers. I will be using it both in Israel and overseas – it's an idea travel pack.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Chicken for breakfast

Had a couple of hours this morning. Was hoping to do some photography (hopefully next week) but woke up to a rainy and cold morning so photography was not possible. Decided to have a look at Yeruham lake. Such a pitty - it was a fantastic site with great habitat and good birds. Everyhting is mucked now and birds were rather few. Still found one nice corner that held many Sedge, Reed and Savi's Warblers, and big numbers of Chiffies. Some Red-rumped Swallows and House Martins above. One Purple Swamp-hen was present - possibly the last survivor of the small population that thrived there for the last decade or so. I am not sure whether it's good or bad to lose them as they were probably feral birds - but impressive birds they are nevertheless. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob

IThis morning I went solo-seawathing at Ashkelon again. Yesterday's strom had slowed down a bit, but the wind was still strong, the sea high, and there was lots of rain. Great fun.
Always when I go to Ashkelon I face the same trade-off - do a solo seawatch at Ashkelon and save two hours of extra driving through heavy traffic, or rather drive all the way to Jaffa, and join the others? This morning I chose Ashkelon.
There were lots of gulls and terns throughout the morning but quality birds were rather few and far between. Only 45 km north, Barak and Shachar had a great morning with 18 Leach's Petrels. I received only two of these, though I had reasonable views of both. A beautiful adult Med Gull with complete black hood was very nice though.

Morning totals:

Leach's Petrel 2
Sooty Shearwater 2
Cory's Shearwater 1
Mediterranean Gull 1

Mediterranean Gull - ad. summer!

I was not the only human on the beach. Apparently some people are even more masochistic than seawatchers. Thank me for not sharing with you images of this looker walking out of the water.

Mediterranean Walrus

Friday, February 17, 2012


To continue the dead animal theme, I left early this morning towards Ashkelon for some seawatching. Near my house I found a road-killed Badger - it's the second badger I found at this exact spot during the 6 months I've been living here.

At Ashkelon I met up with Re'a. The wind was very streong but completely wrong (SE), so we had rather low expectations. In fact the first two  hours were not too bad with good gull action, 1 Cory's Shearwater (dunno which one) and 1 Gannet. The gulls included 8-9 Pallas's Gulls, most of the adults with complete black hoods - must be the best large gull in the world. In addition we had a good selection of large gulls that included siberain, steppe, caspian, yellow-legged, baltic and armenian. Best regards to the IGM participants at Zagreb!
However the most bizzare and exciting bird of the morning was a White-tailed Lapwing! We suddenly found it flying south very close, just above the shoreline; it continued south and then disappeared east above the city... It was too fast so I screwed the record shots up and got nothing. Nevertheless it's a good record - both for the region and for the season (very few winter records in Israel).
A Yellow Wagtail flying north reminded us that spring migration is just around the corner.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Men with big falcons have a small penis

But unfortunately they most probably do not read my blog so please pass this on to them.

This morning I met up again with Rune Palmqvist. We birded the NW Negev area. In fact it was a rather slow day with few birds, perhaps in response to the funny weather today. The peak event of the day was a negative one - we found this female adult-type Barbary Falcon dead on a high-voltage pylon - this bird escaped from a falconer, and its jesses got tangled on the pylon. I climbed up the pylon to collect the bird (about 10 m above ground) and managed not to get myself electrocuted. 

Such a shame - it was such a pretty bird. Lovely rufous head pattern and rich cinnamon underparts. 

Falconery is illegal in Israel but unfortunately it is practiced illegally by some Bedouins in the Negev. However, it is impossible to know where this bird escaped from - we've had cases of large falcons escaping from Arabia and ending up here. Of course in Arabia flaconery is a big deal and the falconery industry circulates huge amounts of money. Bunch of assholes. They have big shotguns and big 4WD's too. I am sure it reflects in the length of their penises.

What a terrible and unnecessary death.

Among the few live birds we had were some Merlins and Peregrines, Eastern Imperial Eagles and two Finsch's Wheatears.

Merlin (sorry I couldn't be bothered to photoshop away all the branches behind the bird)

Ha-ha! I'm too small for falconery!

This Whitethroat was the only real sign of migration.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Recent updates

Lately I have been very busy with analysing and writing rather than watching. Luckily it's this in-between period, with winter action almost finished and migration not really here. Some early migrants around - Lesser Kestrels, Quail, Common Whitehthroat and Swift. In my area anemone bloom is peaking, so at least I have soem photo opps with my family.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

ביקורת לתיק צפרות Lowepro Scope Photo Traveller 350 AW

First, an appology to my international readers - below is a review I wrote in Hebrew of this great birding and photo backpack. You may not understand the text but you can get the main idea from the images.

לפני כמה שבועות קיבלתי מהיבואן של תיקי Lowepro בישראל, פוטו מהיר, תיק חדש לניסיון. המדובר בתיק המיועד לצפרים, מדגם Scope Photo Travel 350 AW. זהו תיק שפותח ע"י מהנדסי חברת Lowepro לאחר מחקר מעמיק שביצעו עם צפרים אמריקאיים מובילים לגבי צרכיהם בשדה. התיק הזה הוא אחד מסדרת תיקים חדשה של החברה, שנקראת The Optics Series, המיועדת לצפרים. ניתן לצפות בסרטון הדגמה לתיק מהדגם שקיבלתי, שהוכן ע"י החברה בקישור כאן.
זהו תיק צילום משודרג, המאפשר נשיאה של ציוד רב ומגוון יותר מתיק צילום רגיל, הן בשל נפחו, הן בשל אורכו והן בשל חלוקת התאים הפנימית שלו. בתיק ישנם כמה פטנטים מעניינים המעידים על חשיבה וירידה לפרטים של המפתחים, עליהם אפרט בהמשך.
בשבועות האחרונים השתמשתי בתיק במספר שימושים שונים – בוקר צפרות שנגמר במשרד (ציוד צפרות + מחשב), יום צפרות עם טלסקופ, וצילום עם המצלמה שלי כשהיא מחוברת לעדשה בינונית (התיק לא מתאים לעדשות סופר כמו 500 F4).

זה מראה כללי של התיק מבפנים:

וכשאני אומר שאפשר להכניס הרבה ציוד, אני מתכוון לזה. זה מה שנכנס כשארזתי את התיק לבוקר צפרות שהמשיך למשרד:

זה מה שלקחתי לבוקר צפרות סטנדרטי:

וזה הציוד שנכנס לתיק ביום צפרות וצילום:

זהו תיק גדול ומרווח, הרבה יותר מסדרת תיקי הצילום הקודמת בה השתמשתי – סדרת ה-  Pro Runner. בצורתו המקורית החלל המרכזי של התיק מחולק לחמישה תאים מרכזיים:
  1.          תא מרכזי מאורך לטלסקופ או למצלמת DSLR עליה מורכבת עדשה עם אורך מוקד של עד 400 מ"מ. לי למשל יש טלסקופ Carl Zeiss 85TFL – טלסקופ גדול ומגושם למדי, והוא נכנס לתיק בקלות. עינית הטלסקופ מציצה מן התא והוא נשלף בקלות.
  2.          תא למשקפת לא ענקית (משקפת גלילית Roof Prism, לי יש למשל Leica Ultravid 8X42 שנכנסת בקלות).
  3.          תא לגוף מצלמת DSLR נוסף (ללא עדשה) או למצלמה קומפקטית – נכנס בקלות.
  4.          תא לשתי עדשות קצרות מוקד – אני הכנסתי בקלות עדשת 50 mm f2.5 ועדשת 28-135 mm. העדשות מופרדות ביניהן ע"י מחיצה מודולרית.
  5.          תא נוסף לציוד נלווה (נגן שמע, עכבר ומטען למחשב וכד').

עם קצת לחץ ופירוק של חלק מהתאים הפנימיים אפשר להסתדר עם טלסקופ ומצלמה מחוברת לעדשת 400 מ"מ:

זה התא למצלמה הנוספת:

וזה התא לעדשות:

כל התאים האלה הם מודולריים (ניתנים לפירוק ע"י סקוטשים), מרווחים וממלאים את ייעודיהם בצורה טובה. הם מאפשרים הגנה מקסימלית על פריטי הציוד בתיק, וגם שליפה מהירה סבירה. הם בהחלט איפשרו לי לצאת לשדה עם ציוד רב, ולא הייתי צריך לחסוך בכלום. היה מקום לכל מה שהייתי צריך.

בחלק הפנימי של הכיסוי העליון של התא המרכזי ישנם שני תאים כלליים גדולים המתאימים לנשיאת פילטרים, כיסויי עדשה, בטריות וכרטיסים.

לתיק יש תא מחשב מרווח המתאים לנייד לא קטן, לי למשל יש נייד עם מסך ברוחב 15.6'' שנכנס בקלות לתא:

בחזית התיק ישנו תא רחב המחולק לתאים קטנים יותר המתאימים לנשיאת ארנק, טלפון נייד, עטים, ספר או יומן, מפתחות ועוד: 

לחזית התיק ניתן לחבר חצובה ע"י שליפת מנשא קטן לרגלי החצובה וחיבור ראש החצובה לרצועה ייעודית בראש התיק. מערכת זו לנשיאת חצובה נוחה מאד – קלה לחיבור ולפירוק, ובהליכה החצובה יציבה מאד ואינה מתנדנדת מצד לצד:

לתיק תא צדדי אחד המתאים לנשיאת בקבוק מים קטן או בינוני (לא 1.5 ליטר): 

לתיק מערכת גב טובה ונוחה, עם רצועות רחבות ומרופדות, רצועות מותן רחבות וחזקות, ורצועת חזה. על רצועת החזה אף מותקנת משרוקית מובנית – חמוד מאד. על רצועות המותן ניתן להתקין פאוצ'ים קטנים נוספים: 

בהליכה ארוכה, התיק ישב לי על הגב בצורה נוחה מאד, גם כאשר הוא היה מלא מאד. יש למערכת הגב אפשרויות התאמה טובות. טרם יצא לי להשתמש בו בקיץ, אז אינני יכול לומר משהו חכם לגבי רמת האוורור שלו בימים חמים, אבל אני מאמין כי יש לחומר המחורר המצפה את מערכת הגב יש יכולות אוורור טובות. 

לתיק מצורף כיסוי גשם ייעודי AW, המאוחסן בתא בתחתית התיק, וניתן לשליפה מהירה. הוא מכסה את התיק בצורה טובה. הלכתי איתו ביום גשם והתיק נשאר יבש לגמרי:

לתיק כמה יתרונות בולטים, שבגללם אני ממליץ להשתמש בתיק זה:
  •          יכולת נשיאת כמות ציוד גדולה בצורה נוחה.
  •          יכולת נשיאת טלסקופ (לא נכנס בתיקי צילום קטנים יותר).
  •          יכולת נשיאת חצובה בצורה נוחה ויציבה.
  •          איבזור מתוחכם וידידותי למשתמש – רוכסנים, סקוטשים, רצועות.
  •          לתיק יכולת עמידות בתנאי מזג אוויר קשים.

לתיק מספר חסרונות קלים:
  •          לטעמי אין גמישות מספקת בחלוקת החלל המרכזי של התיק. פירוק של התאים המחלל המרכזי לא מאפשר הרכבה שלהם בצורה שונה או שימוש בחלל המרכזי ללא התאים הקטנים – נותרים חללים גדולים מדי שהציוד יהיה זרוק בתוכם.
  •          בניצול מלא של החלל המרכזי – טלסקופ, גוף DSLR, שתי עדשות קצרות, פלאש / נגן ומשקפת, הרוכסן של התא המרכזי נסגר עם קושי מסוים בשל צפיפות.

לסיכום, זהו תיק מצוין וחדשני, שנותן לצפרים מענה לבעיות סחיבת ציוד שלא היו להן פתרונות נוחים לפני כן. תיק זה יהיה שימושי ביותר לצפרים שיוצאים לשדה עם טלסקופ וחצובה (לשלב הנסיעה אל היעד – בשדה יש לפרק את החצובה ולהוציא את הטלסקופ), לצלמי ציפורים שיוצאים לשדה עם משקפת ועם מצלמת DSLR המחוברת לעדשה בינונית (עד 400 מ"מ), ולצפרים וצלמים הנוסעים לטיול צילום או צפרות בחו"ל – אני בטוח שאני אהנה מהתיק הזה במיוחד בנסיעותי הבאות לחו"ל, להן אני צריך לסחוב ציוד רב ומגוון בנסיעות ארוכות.
תודה למיטל גור על הסיוע בצילומים.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Backyard action

Today I was working from home (or at least tried to work). I kept an eye and an ear open through the window overlooking my garden. My garden has become quite good - I added some good trees and bushes, my pond has lots of birds coming in to drink, and there's very good annuals growth (or in other words I haven't had the time to clear them).
I got a new garden bird - for a couple of hours I had a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos flying around my garden. They were very vocal, copulated and were chased by crows. Great action!

I opened a net for a couple of hours and caught some of the usual stuff. This male Spanish Sparrow was pretty:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Leach's Petrel

This morning I joined a pelagic trip organized by Shachar Alterman. We had a large team of Israeli birders, including most of Israel's highest listers. Thank god the boat didn't sink - Amir Ben Dov would've been first!
We left Ashdod just after 08:00 and headed NW. The sea was rough, and most of us added a considerable amount of organic material to the marine ecosystem. After getting deep enough we started chumming. We had some fish liver oil with us, a few drops on the water, and 30 seconds later - magic! A Leach's Petrel appeared out of nowhere and hovered around the boat for about two minutes, at times pretty close, and then vanished. It was very sweet and very short. I managed only these five sharpish shots in bad light:

Leach's Petrel

But anyway it was a very good start, that gave us motivation to continue even though most of us were already pretty green-faced. In fact the next couple of hours were pretty slow. We managed to bring quite many gulls in to feed on our chum but nothing else.
After some hours we reached the portal where the Shifdan (Tel Aviv metropolin sewage treatement facility) brine gets dumped into the sea. There was very good activity there with many hundreds of gulls, and good action of skuas and gannets. The weather also got brighter, compared to the very dark conditions earlier on. We wished we had arrived there earlier - that's a place worth spending a day at. Next time. On the way back we saw very little.

Gannet - 3cy?
Pomarine Skua

Arctic Skua chasing Mediterranean Gull (ad. winter)

2 Arctic Skuas with 3cy Armenian Gull
Arctic Skua
Totals for today:

Leach's Petrel 1
Gannet 5-6
Pomarine Skua 1
Arctic Skua 4-5
Pallas's Gull 5
Mediterranean Gull 1 ad.
Little Gull 1 2cy
Caspian Gull - several hundreds
Armenian Gull - several hundreds
Baltic Gull
Siberian Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Sandwich Tern 50

The team included Barak Granit, Rami Mizrahi, Shachar Alterman, Oz Horine, Jonathan Meyrav, Roni Livne, Avner Cohen, Gal Shon, Asaf Weiler, and Aviad Scheinin. Many thanks to everyone for a great day (afterall).