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