Saturday, April 28, 2012

Not Alaemon, Irania!

This morning I surveyed with Meidad my favorite wadi of the central Arava. This site was very productive during previous years when I did my atlas survey there - see some examples here and here. We left home rediculously early and arrived on site at first light. First it was pretty cold and we saw nothing. Then it warmed up a bit and we still saw nothing. Then it got pretty hot and we still saw nothing. Eventually I heard a distant Hoopoe Lark singing, and had a pair of Bar-tailed Larks, plus some migrants, but that was it more or less. Very disappointing. I don't know exactly what the reason was for this poor show. Again it was a very dry winter there, with no germination of annuals at all in spring, thus this breeding season must have been very poor. However I was expecting a bit more. Maybe it was just one of these days that birds don't want to play.
We left the remote wadi in mid morning and started heading back home, both of us totally knackered both physically and mentally. We phoned Barak & Oz who were birding nearby at Neot Smadar. In an amazing act of prophecy, I asked Barak to find an Irania within the next few minutes before we reached a junction leading us away from Neot Smadar. Six minutes later - text from Barak: "Irania. too late?". I made a U-turn and we headed south to Neot Smadar. We got onto the bird quite quickly - it was a lifer for Meidad and a good bird neverthless. Perhaps not as exciting as in Hartlepool but still a great bird to see - large and charismatic with that big black tail. This species breeds in very small numbers on Mt. Hermon, but is always more exciting to watch as a rare migrant in the south. Many thanks to Barak & Oz for the quick info and directions.

White-throated Robin - female

The place was packed full with birds: during the ten minutes we were there we saw many B&W flycatchers, nightingales, buntings, shrikes, pipits and of course millions of Blackcaps. Several Crag Martins worth noting. Good passage of Honey Buzzards and levants overhead. But I was dead tired so we gave up on birding and made the long way back home.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Massive attack

This morning I went ringing with Eyal and Yoram near Be'er Sheva. Eyal was expecting a big morning, and indeed at first light we started hearing thousands of ticking Blackcaps in the Eucalyptus grove. This was one of those days with huge numbers of migrants. I heard similar reports from other ringing stations and birding sites in Israel, so this migration wave must include millions of Blackcaps and other migrants.
What was interesting this morning was the absolute domination of Blackcaps - we ringed tons of them but almost nothing else. I hypothesize that during such massive and dense falls of one single species, other species that might compete over the same resources just disappear, perhaps to habitats of lesser quality.
Also interesting (but sad) was the total lack of colours in our catch - the most colourful bird was Nightingale.
In the field we had one Collared Flycatcher, and some Ortolans and Tree Pipits.

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Golden shower

This morning I went with Jonathan to ring in the field where I had the bunting yesterday, hoping to see or catch it with part of the hundreds of pipits and wagtails in the field. Unfortunately I spent the whole morning trying to avoid the sprinklers watering the field, and instead of being productive it was a useless morning. Not only that I did not relocate the bunting, we caught very little, and myself and my gear had a good soak in the treated sewage water used to water the field. Great fun.
However, we did have some nice birds - three flyby Collared Pratincoles, some cisticolas singing (good local bird), Whinchat, and 2 Monty's Harriers.

Collared Pratincoles - two of the three

Red-throated Pipit

Tree pipit

Common Nightingale

Thanks to Jonathan for the hard work this morning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Oh not again

This morning I had a look at my local alfalfa field near Bet Kama. Haven't checked the site since mid-winter; even though the weather was disgusting (hot, strong wind, sand storm) there were lots of birds in the field - mainly Red-throated Pipits, about 200. While walking the field I flushed a female bunting - it was clearly black- or red-headed: large, no white in the tail-sides, pale grey-brown above, and plain below. I managed to relocate it several times after it landed in the tall alfalfa. I failed to see it on the deck and only had shit views on the wing. It kept flying from one side of the field to another. Eventually I lost it somewhere in the field. 

The most important feature I noted was the call - a clear, soft, ortolan-like 'chup', which is very good for red-headed, rather than the harsh and explosive call of black-headed. It gave several calls each time it took off, so I heard the call very well. Unfortunately I don't have a recording system yet (Martin - still waiting for you to send me the details...). What I did see in flight was a yellowish rump (not rufous) - again better for red-headed, and a yellowish belly that means nothing.

My bottom line is that I think this is a red-headed, but this record is just not good enough for a rarities committee. It's mega rare in Israel (only two previous records) and it's a difficult bird to ID in any case, so all I can do is wait for better views tomorrow morning. I will be ringing in the field in a few hours so let's hope for the best.
This field maintains a high level of birding. In October 2011 I had a Blyth's Pipit there but again I was unable to 100% solid final complete clinch the ID because again I had crap flight views only, but very good calls. 

Why can I not have a White's Thrush perched on a sprinkler? Why do I have to work so hard with these bloody LBJ's?

Just as an anecdote, I had a genuine first for my region - two Trumpeter Finches landed by a puddle for five seconds and then continued east. Locally cool stuff.

Wish me luck for tomorrow!

Ortolan - female

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Above and below

A short, image-less post: had some free minutes before a meeting by the Dead Sea this morning. Walked a small garden which was just packed with migrants - hundreds of Blackcaps and Lesser Whites were literally pouring off the branches; among them many Eastern Orphean and Balkan Warbelrs. On the ground 20 Ortolans. 1 Collared fly. 5 Masked Shrike. 1 local Namaqua Dove. Overhead MASSIVE raptor migration - about 2000 Steppe Buzzards in a few minutes, with many other eagels (steppe, lesser spotted, short-toed and booted). That's why birding in Israel is so much fun.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Busy busy

This morning I went ringing at Ashdod. I arrived very early, about two hours before first light, hoping to catch a crake or shorebird, but the only night creature I had was this ugly Egyptian Fruit Bat. They are real bastards to extract out of the net.

Egypyian Fruit Bat

But daytime ringing was very busy. Hundreds of warblers made the mass - mainly Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat but also quite many Reed Warblers and an assortment of other sylvias, locustellas, idunas and phyllos, plus some other bits and pieces. Nothing that knocked me off my chair.

Palestine Sunbird - what a jewel
I was very happy to find indication of Clamorous Reed Warbler breeding in my site for the first time. Lots of crakes running around (little and spotted) but nothing got caught. One Osprey flying over. Thanks to the team - Shlomo, Liad, Oren, Shahar, Arbel and Libi. Good night.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


April 7th was a day to remember - one of the busiest and best days of birding I've ever had in Israel. I started off just after midnight. I had a guard duty in my village scheduled for last night. I was dead tired after a heavy Passover meal, and all I wanted to do was to go to sleeep. But instead I converted my guard duty into a night safari. I drove inside and around my village with a spotlight and found Scops and Long-eared Owls, Eurasian Nightjar, Cape Hare, Golden Jackal, Red Fox, and Southern White-breasted Hedgehog. I put a net up and ringed two Scops Owls. During the three hours I was out (00:30 to 03:30), there was non-stop migration of vocal passerines, mainly Ortolans (very big numbers) but also Tree Pipits and Yellow Wagtails. At about 01:30 suddenly I started hearing Nightingales singing from every corner in my village - they must have just landed.

Scops Owl

In the early afternnon I went to have a quick look at the Demoiselle Crane present near Kfar Menachem for almost two weeks now. It was still showing really well but it was very hot so I kept my distance from the bird. What a super bird. Look at that red eye!

Demoiselle Crane - adult

In the late afternoon I met up with three Catalan birders (Ponc , Ferran and Alberto), the IBRCE team (minus Kangoo that had broken down earlier) and Oz with Mrs at Neot Hakikar. We spent the last couple of hours doing some very productive birding. Highlight was Purple Swamp-hen - first record for this site and a good national rarity. In addition we had 10 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters just before dusk. Nightmare to photograph but such beautiful birds. We saw all diurnal local specialties - Clamorous Reed Warbler, Dead Sea Sparrow and Namaqua Dove.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

After dusk we had very good Nubian Nightjar activity, as expected on such a warm, full moon night. We really had a full moon party going on. We had great views of at least seven birds. All photographers were satisfied, even Ferran (-:  . Later on we even managed to ring one nightjar, and Fabian got his ringing tick.

Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar Caprimulgus nubicus tamaricis

Later at night we checked a beautiful wadi in the Dead Sea region. We had breathtaking views of a male Hume's Owl, calling, flying and giving us quite a show. With the full moon and desert scenery this was an experience to remember. I gave Ferran my lens to use for the night because he managed to divide his own lens into two piecesearlier on. So I will have to settle for memories and images of others.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Eilat Festival update day 7 and summary

On my last morning of the festival I went with MG to get some coutelli Water Pipit sound recordings. We ended up chasing some ghosts of birds that never materialized into anything - a tzicking bunting, a Demoiselle Crane and a Oriental Pratincole. The bunting got away from Dan without identification, the crane flew over the Arava without being tracked down by us, and the pratincole was seen or not during the day in some sites. But it was a nice morning after all. After saying goodbye to everyone I headed back home. 
In general it was a fantastic festival. I don't have the species total yet but guess it will be around 240 species. Lots of good stuff, huge numbers of common and scarce migrants, and great company. The groups I led were always great fun, the evening programs were a success, and all the clients I talked to were extremely satisfied by this week. 
The main stars of the week were wheatears. They were just all over the place. I will never look at a dark-mantled wheatear like I looked at it in the past anymore - there were so many Pied and Cyprus wheatears to be seen during the week. It reached a situation that I didn't even stop the car on some occasions to find out which species it was that had crossed the road.
The brightest start was the Basalt Wheatear at Uvda Valley. It was there today, already 10 days on site.

Another long-staying star is this fine vittata Pied Whetear  - still there today. Amazingly, we had three records of this form this week. 

Pied Wheatear

Cyprus Wheatear

Many thanks to the Festival team and organizers - Dan, Jonathan, Itai, Noam, Assaf, Meidad, Yuval and others. Thanks to the mutual effort of all I had a great week. Also many thanks to our special guests - Martin Garner, Laura Kammermeier and Neil Glenn (Birdwatching magazine). Looking forward to read about their impressions of their first visits to Israel.