Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hot hot hot - but some good migrants going through

This morning I ringed at my site in Ashdod. Weather was terrible - very hot with relative humidity of 200%. As a result I closed the nets very early - it became too hot for the birds already at 08:00. I was pretty busy during the short period when the nets were open. Lots of Reed Warblers, and a mix of other local species and early migrants. As expected a few Kingfishers were flying up and down the creek (my first this autumn), and we caught one.
Kingfisher - 1cy male

The only surprise this morning involved a Thrush Nightingale. They normally don't arrive here before late August, but this bird is not an early autumn migrant but a stranded spring migrant that got stuck here for some reason and could not complete its migration.

Thrush Nightingale

 It was at the end of its complete moult - primaries almost complete, and four secondaries still growing. It was in heavy body moult too that's why it's scruffy-looking. Note that the moulted GC and tertails have these small buff tips, normally associated with young birds.

Thanks to Arad and Shlomo for their sweat this morning.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tern ringing at Atlit - and more...

Last night I joined Yosef for a night of tern ringing at Atlit saltpans. This is Yosef's third season working on Common and Little Terns breeding in N Israel, and he has some interesting results already. We arrived rather early and had a quick look around before setting the nets up. Quite many shorebirds around - 10 Blackwits, Whimbrel, Spotshank and Greenshank etc. 

Black-tailed Godwit: amazing how they are able to preform such strenuous long-distance migration during heavy wing moult. This must affect their aerodynamics considerabely.

Many of the terns in the colony are ringed. Incredible how we managed to read rings before we had DSLR's. This is a call to all of our friends in eastern and southern Africa - go and look for our rings! They are very easy to spot, and terns are always fun to watch. Yosef has had some recoveries and controls exchanged with N and E Europe, but nothing in Africa yet, where these birds are heading to for the winter.

The catch was not terrific but not too bad, ended up with 38 birds. Conditions were very good - no wind at all, but humidity was awful. 

Common Tern - 3cy+

Little Tern - 3cy+

Among the terns we had few surprises:

White-winged Tern - adult. What a cracker but wouldn't pose for a photo.

Squacco Heron

This is part of the 3000+ roost of terns, mixed with some Slender-billed Gulls:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Birding without birds

Or more percisely - keeping a birding blog without birds to write about. This time of year most of my work consists of writing reports and papers, and preparing my next field projects - raising funds, writing proposals etc. I have almost no fieldwork going on now. My busy field season is between September and May.
In addition it's so bloody hot that birding ends at about 08:00. It's not that there are no birds in Israel now - in fact some good seabirds at Eilat, shorebird numbers are picking up and first migrant warblers already ticking in the reedbeds and bushes. Plus all the special residents and summer visitors still here. But the lack of rarities (last RBA message was in May) combined with terrible heat plus no fieldwork means that I have become a lazy bum.
So how does one keep a birding blog alive through this period? I really don't know. I don't enjoy writing about general birding stuff - plenty of other websites that deal with these issues with more talent than myself. So I just try to produce whatever I can, which is very little I'm afraid. For this reason I'd like to thank all of my supporters and followers for holding onduring this slow period, waiting with me for autumn migration to pick up.
And just becuase I hate image-less posts, here's an image of the most beautiful dog in the world - Bamba.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mt. Hermon birds and bats

Spent the weekend up on Mt. Hermon - it was time for our annual Hermon ringing session. I've been doing this from 1987 more or less, so it becomes difficult to get me excited but it is always great fun up there in summer. Bird community is unique and so different from anywhere else in Israel.
Ringing was good and quite average. Thursday afternoon was mega-busy, and our large team worked very hard. The next sessions were slower, and we ended up with a total of about 1070 birds. The three major species - Syrian Serin, Linnet and Goldfinch were well represented. Also good numbers of Rock Bunting. But apart for that variety was rather limited, with very few bonuses. But how can I complain? Good birds, great company, beautiful scenery.
Photography-wise, birds are not at their best during this time of year. Most adults are in the middle of post-breeding moult, and are very worn and scruffy-looking. But still some of these birds are good looking.

Many thanks to Nadav and Dotan who organized the whole event.

Black Redstart - semirufus

Syrian Serin - 2cy male

Western Rock Nuthatch

Sombre Tit - juvenile

Black-headed Bunting - adult male. Before migrating they undergo a limited moult in which they lose their bright breeding plumage. They moult their wings and tail on the wintering grounds (India?).

We caught two of these:

Whiskered Bat (Myotis mystacinus) - thanks Eran

Thursday, July 5, 2012

He was looking kind of dumb with his crown and his...

Yesterday morning with Meidad to Nizzana area to do some things. Arrived early to look at some habitats under new risks near Nizzana. Saw there this impressive bull Dorcas Gazelle:

At the sewage ponds quite many tringas of four species already: green, wood, marsh and greenshank. This lost White Pelican has a nasty wound on the chest, didn't check whether it can fly or not:

Even when in terrible moult, they are still one of my favorite birds:

Desert Wheatear

Later on we checked a small drinking spot for Crowned Sandgrouse. They are relatively tame at this spot, but this was our first visit there and we were not able to get close without disturbing the birds, so images are rather poor. Hope to improve in the near future. About 40 birds came in to drink, no juveniles seen yet. I find the males to have this dumb face expression with the eye set well back in the middle of the head and a very 'open' face, but they are fine birds. 

Crowned Sandgrouse

I know nothing about moult in sandgrouse, so it is interesting to record moult with take-off images showing the moult stage nicely. This male seems to be in arrested moult: P1 to P4 moulted, P5 to P10 retained, with no signs of active moult.

This female is in much more advanced moult, apparently active: P1 to P7 moulted, P8 growing, P9-P10 retained:

Interesting to compare with this image taken on 18 October 2010, more than three months later, but very little advance in moult, though here it looks like active moult: 

 Francis, can you shed some light on these moult issues?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Turkish delight 5 - Eastern Rock Nuthatch

Our final target species for SE Turkey was Eastern Rock Nuthatch. We checked the dramatic section of the Euphrates gorge, above the picturesque village of Halfeti. I was expecting a difficult trek and some tricky identification issues, but eventually we saw quite many birds on top of the ridge but also right above the village (lifer #5!); some birds even flew down to forage on houses and roofs of the higher section of Halfeti. They are easy birds to identify, especially when seeing both rock nuthatches together. In fact we always saw them together. There seemed to be some kind of association between both species. Ecologically it is interesting to find two species so close to each other maintaining some kind of equilibrium. I suppose that their bills are different enough to reduce competition among species by using different food niches. 
Eastern Rock Nuthacth is just massive, with a huge bill. I have handled Western Rock Nuthatches in Israel, and hell, they can bite. These easterns must be real nasty birds to handle. They also have very thick and powerful legs - wonder what does that allow them to do.
Vocalizations are very different and their bellies are noticeably richer rufous, so they were easy to identify. Check those huge black braces running back on both sides of the neck.

One family of Eastern Rock Nuthatch showed extremely well, and were joined briefly by a pair of Western Rock Nuthatch.

Eastern Rock Nuthatch

Check those braces!

Underwing pattern similar to Long-legged Buzzard...

This is the first published image I have found of both species together. In this image you can really grasp the size and structure differences between both species.

Western Rock Nuthatch (left) and Eastern Rock Nuthatch (right) 

Western Rock Nuthatch (ssp?)

Family of Eastern Rock Nuthatches 

Typical habitat for Eastern Rock Nuthatch above Halfeti, SE Turkey. In the background is a dam on the Euphrates.

This is the last post from this short trip. On this occasion I'd like to thank my companions - Rami, Rony and Amir. It was great fun, lots of laughs, and good food (Urfa / Doner / Adana Kebab anyone?). No booze though. Rami was in charge of maps and intel. Rony did a great job driving, often on the wrong side of the road, but we returned in one piece which is the most important thing. Amir contributed some precious gases to the Ozone layer above Turkey. Thanks guys!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Turkish delight 4 - Chestnut-shouldered Petronia near Birecik

One more target species for Birecik area is Chestnut-shouldered Petronia AKA Yellow-throated Sparrow. Both names give this dull bird too much credit - it's almost as dull as an acro, but hey, it's a WP tick for me.
We found good numbers in the endless pistachio plantations between Birecik and Halfeti. We saw many families and lots of birds flying around. Some were very close to Birecik, right by the turnoff from the river road to Halfeti.

Here a male perched on a pistachio tree - the fruit should ripen in autumn.

We found this juvenile posing nicely on a treetop, and then its father arrived to feed it with a mulberry. Rony and myself got some good action shots, but I wish I was properly equipped for video photography - this scene is better displayed in video. Here the male arrives with the berry:

 And attempts to feed the youngster:

For some reason it didn't work, and the berry fell down. Luckily it got wedged on a lower branch, and papa stretched to pick it up:

Here we try again:

This time mission impossible, to stick a berry in juv's bill, was a great success. Papa wipes the juice off the bill on a branch: 

Yes, it has both yellow throat and chestnut lesser coverts. It calls more like a sparrow than a petronia, but elongated shape is like a petronia. 


Forgot to mention previously the walk we did up the wadi from the Ibis center. Quite many warblers around - menetries's and upcher's. We tried very hard for See-see Partridge, and eventually saw two, albeit rather briefly, on the hills above the wadi (Lifer #4).