Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hermon day 1 - boom - Mountain Chiffchaffs!?!?

Day 1 of Hermon breeding survey began with quite a mess. Early in the morning I dropped off Noam and his fantastic kids at their box, and continued to my adjacent box. I descended a steep mountain with my 4X4 down a horrible track, that just became worse and worse, until it eventually disappeared. I had to reverse back up over some very challenging obstacles, until I could U-turn, which took me about 15 minutes. Then another 15 minutes to climp a steep step, and in the process ripped a tire, that we had to change in tough conditions. So the first hour was from hell. Eventually managed to drive towards my box, when it was already very late - hot and windy. We met up with Noam, and he told me "I've just heard a funny chiffchaff...". I stopped and quickly heard the bird too, and immediately my alarm bells went off - sounds like a Mountain Chiffchaff, a song I remembered from xeno-canto! We all started obtaining some views, then photos and recordings. The bird was very mobile and elusive. It was very hard to see but eventually we got very brief but OK views. The bird was striking brown, with no apparent green fringes to secondaries; nice whitish supercilium; whitish throat with some buff wash on breast sides. In the image below the sun was direct but in the field the bill and legs looked solid black. The mantle and rump were rather rich brown. Also the cap.
the song was to my ears different from typical collybita, with a more energetic tempo and winding quality:

The bird responded well to Mountain Chiffchaff playback, and didn't respond to 'normal' Chiffchaff playback.

Thanks to Zohar, Noam's son for this great image - much better than I managed to get: 

After spending about an hour trying to photograph the bird without success, I left Noam and continued to my box. Amazingly, Noam had another three singing bird nearby, and later on I had another about a kilometer away. All birds singing males; at least the male we were able to see performed territorial behavious, including chasing away other (much larger) birds. Incredible.

I am sure that these birds will stir a good ID discussion. Mountain (AKA caucasian) Chiffchaff is extremely rare in Israel, with only two previous records. Which is quite surprising given how close to Israel they breed. Anyway, if these birds are confirmed as Mountain Chiffchaff, this is quite sensational. So guys, bring your comments on! Learning time.

When I eventually began working my box with Dudu, we saw quite many birds. The scenery was quite spectacular, everything still flowering and fresh, so different from around my house where it really feels like summer already. Most dominant were Lesser Whitehtorats and Sombre Tits. Other quality birds were Upcher's Warbler,  a breeding pair of Steppe Buzzards, and a pair of Crag Martins.  Some raptors went overhead, including some levants.

Levante Fan-fingered Gecko Ptyodactylus puiseuxi

 Red-backed Shrike - they breed here

 Levant Sparrowhawk

Looking forward to tomorrow!


  1. Greetings Yoav,

    Territorial Mountain Chiffchaffs sound like an exciting proposition for Northern Israel but I must confess I'm trying hard to see what you're hearing and seeing in this bird? Perhaps I'm over-simplyfying things but I don't think I could distinguish it from a migrant Common Chiffchaff in the Southern Arava. I'm sure many of your followers will be interested in this story and I wonder if you might elaborate a little more as to why you're so convinced it's a Mountain Chiffchaff?

    Best Wishes,


  2. Hi Yoav, congrats on finding the Chiffies! They are perhaps the same taxon as the birds i had breeding in Al Fronloq forest, N W Syria (only about 250 km to the north) whilst conducting some bird surveys there. They looked and sounded like Mountain Chiffchaffs to me, and i found it hard to shoehorn them into "Common" Chiffchaff, brevirostris/abietinus. The main problem is that there is variation in descriptions/illustrations of the taxa concerned. There are some very useful photos of brevirostris from east central Turkey in 2012 by Jose Luis Copete (eg in MG's blog) which match the traditional descrition of brevirostris as being abietinus-like. However, if you look at the illustration of brevirostris in the Helm Field Guide to Birds of the Middle East, they look similar to, if not browner than, tristris.
    The bottom line is that i wonder if the Mt Hermon breeders, and the Al Fronloq breeders could be related to sindianus in some way, as they look more similar to that taxon than the generally accepted appearance of brevirostris..

    All the best,
    Mike Duckham.