Friday, March 30, 2012

Eilat Festival update day 6 - another vagrant something

Last full day of Festival birding for me - tomorrow I'm going home. This was yet another action-packed day. After a short sleep started off to check the I-max park in the city. It was very birdy with lots of friendly birds. Ortolans have almost outnumbered cretzschmar's by now.

Ortolan - male

Plenty of Tree, Water and Red-throated Pipits.

Red-throated Pipit

Cute Balkan Warblers in very large numbers:

Common Yellowthroat

Tristram's Grackles are not that common inside the city:

Then continued to Holland Park where I met up with Barak, Tuvia, Oz, Dick Forsman et al - millions of birders all over the place... The flowering Capparis decidua bushes attracted lots of Rueppel's Warblers among other commoner sylvias. Also one more female Cyprus Wheatear.

Rueppel's Warbler - male

Rueppel's Warbler - female

Sand Partridge - male

At the IBRCE pond a nice flock of 14 Red-necked Phalaropes:

In the afternnon led a nice tour. Started off at north beach; not too much about - 1 White-eyed Gull, 1 Brown Booby and a flock of about 2600 ducks (Wigeon, Shoveler, Pintail, Garganey) out at sea.
Made our way slowly north and ended up at KM20. Things began rather slow but then got a phone from Barak who had just located two modestus Great Egrets - very striking birds with dark bill, green face and red legs - one bird had complete red legs, the second had half-red half-black. Cool find by Barak - about 3rd record of this E Asian form in Israel, if accepted bla bla bla.

'modestus' Great Egret

While twitching it with all the guys we saw this 2cy Med Gull:

Now I must complain a bit. Yes, it's been a fantastic week. Yes we've had an unbelievable influx of rare wheatears. Migrant numbers are like in the good old days. But what about a proper mega? During the last week we've all been messing about with forms, races, morphs and such. Not quite the real thing. Tomorrow is my last morning - the last chance for something decent to show up. Keep your fingers crossed for me, will ya?

Eilat Festival update day 5 - wheatear masterclass

Blogging on the road is not easy but I will do my best. Here are my adventures as of yesterday. I will post some more fresh stuff from today later on tonight.
So we (Dan, Martin G, Neil G and myself) started off early and went to check the Basalt Wheatear out. It has been showing only on and off over the last few days and has become less predictable, and we were not surprised not to find it in its usual spot. Only after extensive searching it was located some distance to the north by French birders (thanks guys!), and it showed very well in nice morning light. Martin started screaming like a little girl - it was one of his most-wanted birds of the trip.

Basalt Wheatear

Some bastard ringed it last week so I appologize for the ring (it was me...)

Big lens small lens - Rami and Martin

Satisfied we left for Neot Smadar. The place was just unbelievable - I have not seen such huge numbers of migrants for a long long time. In fact for the first time after many years I had the feeling that I am not keeping up with the speed of new exciting birds on show. It felt like a toy shop where one can choose a bird of one's choice. We did some walking through the fields outside the kibbutz and had a quick look at the alfalfa field inside the kibbutz. Hundreds and hundreds of common and scarce migrants of all sorts. The trend of quality wheatears continued and Martin and myself had a great time studying both Pied and Cyprus Wheatears.

Pied Wheatear - 2cy male - this bird showed very well just at the gate. Note the long, thick legs, relatively long and massive bill. Lots of white on the rump. Long primary projection. Pied Wheatear migrates longer distances than cyprus, so it has a different wing formula - longer primary projection, very pointed wingtip (P2 and P3 very close together), short P1.

Then this 2cy male Cyprus Wheatear showed exceptionally well inside the kibbutz, even singing occasionally. Another bird was in the same field, a female. Note more compact and delicate build - small sweet-looking bill, rounded head, thin legs, short primary projection with fewer visible primaries. Note prominent moult limit indicating this is a 2cy. Very limited white on rump, hardly climbing up the back.

Lots of commoner wheatears present too, including this very dull and rather dark female Eastern Black-eared Wheatear. Female pied would be much sootier and darker, with darker breast and some faint streaking on breast and upper flanks.

Another beautiful thrush - male Rock Thrush:

After a good breakfast Neil and myself headed to north beach for a quick look. Just outside the hotel we spotted this Osprey perched on a street lamp overlooking the sea, totally oblivious of the heavy traffic below it:

North beach was rather quiet but still had the two long-staying Brown Boobies, Western Reef Egret, Sibe and Baltic Gulls and this ugly Striated Heron:

In the evening I led the Rambo Night tour. Both nightjars - egyptian and nubian showed extremely well. Then off to the Judean Desert. This time luck was on our side and we had superb views of a male Hume's Owl, perched, hooting and then flying around, and heard another female nearby. Very special desert experience of walking on a moonlit night in a remote wadi. This time it was Neil's turn to scream like a little girl. When we arrived back at our minibus we saw a Wild Cat feeding on some rubbish left by campers - cool stuff. Arrived back at Eilat at 03:00, two hours of sleep and back in the field. To be continued...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Eilat Festival update days 3 & 4 - too much information

The last two days have been too busy with too many birds. I was busy guiding so didn't have enough time to really let this abundance sink in but the feeling is just fantastic - huge numbers of migrants all over the place, quality stuff, and lots of learning and teaching simultaneously. 
Yesterday spent a morning at Yotvata with Martin Garner and Nadav. We saw tons of birds - lots of good stuff. Marting is really into describing new stuff and I got into some interesting discussions with him. Still so much to learn and know. Anyway, tons of passerines in the fields and bushes - larks, pipts, wagtails, redstarts, wheatears, warblers, bluethroats etc.  At the sewage ponds this confiding Spotted Crake:

Big numbers of Eastern Black-eared Wheaters - some very warm-toned individuals:

Very strong raptor migration overhead, including this very pale and striking Lesser Spotted Eagle - note short P7, small head and some barring on remiges:

Murmuration of Spanish Sparrows:

In the evening led the 'Rambo Night'. At Neot Hakikar great show of Nubian Nightjars and the Egyptian Nightjar still present. No show of Hume's owl unfortunately. Got back to Eilat at 02:00 and up at 05:00 for birding. Spent the morning at the IBRCE. It was a massive morning with more than 600 birds processed. Lots of Rueppel's and Balkan Warblers, some Scops Owls and one ugly-looking Subalpine Warbler. Such a great morning. MG almost started crying.
In the afternoon led a nice tour. Started off to clinch the ID of a wing-barred phylosc found by Neil Gelnn at SPNI fieldschool. We relocated it quickly and id'd it as Yellow-browed Warbler. Nice one Neil! Then off to Ofira Park. It was just packed with birds. So much stuff, such quality. My poor guests didn't know where to look. Buntings, pipits, wagtails, redstarts, wheatears, wrynecks, quails, warblers etc. I was with my 40D and small lens hence the poor images:

Cretzschmar's Bunting

Several forms of Yellow Wagtail, including this dombrowski-type:

Pied Wheater with Black-headed Wagtail:

Ended the day at KM19. At dusk two Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse came in to drink - super birds. Good night.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Eilat Festival update day 2 - masters of the sky

Today I led one of the long-distance tours of the festival, to the Dead Sea region. We made an early start and arrived at Shezaf reserve pretty early. We failed to find Arabian Warbler but saw a good selection of desert species including the playful babblers. Among the migrants Cyprus Warbler and 3 Euro Crag Martins are worth mentioning.
Then we drove on to Metsoke Dragot,  a small village on top of the cliff overlooking the Dead Sea. We had good raptor migration with a nice selection of species (4 eagles, 2 vulture, kites, Osprey etc. among the many buzzards). Then we went to the watchpoint overlooking the Darga gorge. We watched the Bonelli's Eagle nest - there one medium-sized chick in it, but the parents were absent. And then both of the arrived, deep in the gorge about 200 m below us. They were harassed by some Fan-tailed Ravems and demonstrated some very impressive aerobatics. Then they started climbing up until they were at eye level with us, damn close, what an amazing experience.

Bonelli's Eagle

While waiting for the eagles to show up we had great views of this singing male Mountain Bunting - fantastic bird. Later on we had them in two more sites.

Mountain Bunting (Embriza striolata)


On the way back checked some more sites and got most of the Dead Sea specialties, including Dead Sea Sparrow, Clamorous Reed Warbler. At Sapir Park one female Sibe Stonechat was nice. Among the mammals Nubian Ibex and Rock hyrax. Back to Eilat 14 hours after leaving - long day indeed, and without even one Pied Wheatear the whole day!

Arabian Babbler


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Eilat Festival update day 1 - crazy wheatears

At last I made it down to Eilat for the Festival. On the way down saw lots and lots of birds. First brief stop at Yotvata around midday, packed with birds. 40 Bimacs, 1 Cyprus Wheatear. Then drove down to KM20 to see the vittata found yesterday by Arjan van-Egmond and Marc Guyt - great bird! The first record of this morph in Israel. I was amazed to see how many Pied and Cyprus Wheatears are present. In the same small plantation I had about 5 more pied and 3 cyprus, and driving around I saw several more that I didn't even bother to slow down for. Also two Semi-collared Flys.

 Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka 'vittata')

Cyprus Wheatear

Had a quick look at the ditch south of KM19. I found there a superb male Menetries's Warbler - a very pallid individual with just a bit of pinkish flush on the breast. I missed it perched exposed on a fence 3 metres away, and then it flew into a huge saltbush and gave awful views. Ah well.

In the afternoon I led the first Festival tour. We had a first look at KM20 saltpans, and then a quick look for the vittata. There were sooooooooooooo many birds and it was very difficult for some of the guests to keep up with the pace: in about two hours we had 2 Black-winged Pratincoles, 1 Greater Sandplover, 1 Short-eared Owl, vittata and some Pied Wheatears, Wryneck, lots of Ehrenberg's Redstarts, and many common species - gulls, shorebirds, flamingos, raptors, wagtails, pipits, shrikes etc. A great start. It was great to meet Martin and Neill - they were of much help during the tour and I think they had a great time too.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Eilat Festival promo

Tomorrow I'm off to the Eilat Festival. This fantastic event, taking place this year for the 6th time, is one of my personal highlights of the birding year. I always work very hard, guiding the whole week, but I always have a great time. For me, nothing gets better than eilat in spring, and this year seems to be even better than normal; migration is massive, with numbers of common migrants reaching the levels of the good old days (at least according to Hadoram). I can't wait to get down there tomorrow.
Every year we get to find or see very good birds. Some are regular rarities, and sometimes we have real megas. But also the good, regular migrants offer lots of taste and colour to birding there.
This year we will be honoured to host some leading birders and writers, including Martin Garner and Laura Kammermeier. It will be great to meet them and bird with them, and I am sure they will have exciting material posted on their blogs during the week.
I hope I will have enough time and energy to write daily updates during the festival. Jonathan will be updating the IOC Facebook page daily, so even if you're not with us in Eilat, you can feel the spirit during the week.

Black Bush Robin, 2008 festival

Caspian Plover, 2009 festival

Lesser Sand-plover, 2010 festival (this bird has not been accepted YET by the IRDC...)
 Pied Wheatear, 2010 festival

Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit, 2011 festival

Common, sexy migrants:

Little Crake, 2011 festival

 Pallid Harrier, 2011 festival

Exciting local stuff:

Sinai Rosefinch, 2009 festival

Striated Heron, 2011 festival

And of course my babies:

Hume's Owl

 Nubian Nightjar