Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Upcher's Warblers

This morning I surveyed with Meidad an atlas box for the Breeding Bird Atlas project in Lachish area. This unique region is home to one of Israel's largets populations of Upcher's Warblers, along with many other quality species. This morning we had five breeding pairs, including two nests found. Some of the males were still singing. Excellent birds.

We found good numbers of Woodchat Shrike families.

Woodchat Shrike - male (L) and female (R)

Woodchat Shrike - 1cy

3 pairs of Rufouns Bush Robins

Two families of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

In addition one family of Spectacled Warbler, and a late Barred Warbler.

Upcher's Warbler habitat - Lachish

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Yellow-billed Stork - check!

Yesterday news came out of a Yellow-billed Strok that was found by Irad Solnik in the Harod Valley. I immediately started itching and twitching as this was my bogy bird - I missed the two birds present since 1985 when I started birding. 
This morning I left home very early to arrive on site (Tel Yosef fishponds) at first light. Very soon a nice group of birders assembled, and rather quickly we got on the bird, in a field among a flock of White Storks. We had good scope views (but crap record shots, sorry) as the bird fed in the field, and later on it flew east and disappeared for the rest of the morning. Other birders refound it later on in another fish farm. There are so many fish farms in the valley, and so many storks.

Regarding the age of this bird, it's young but I'm not sure how young. As many other tropical species their breeding depends on rainy season, so it's hard to say when this bird hatched. Conventional Northern Hemisphere ageing codes (1cy, 2cy etc.) do not apply to this bird.

Congrats to Irad for this great find and info!

Yellow-billed Stork

Friday, May 24, 2013

Nubian full moon party

Last night I completed my annual monitoring project of Nubian Nightjars at Sdom saltmarsh, where their sole population still exists in Israel. I have been working with these fascinating nightbirds since 2003, but last night was simply fantastic - beyond all my expectations. I knew that Nubian Nightjars respond to moon cycle, and that on full moon nights their activity peaks, but I didn't expect such intensive activity.
I arrived rather late, at 21:30, and started working in turbo-speed, in order to cover all potential territories. I was done at 04:45, working non-stop minus one coffee break. When I did my totals I couldn't believe myself - I found breeding activity in 55 territories! This number is much higher than previous totals. For instance, in 2012 I found 28 active territories there. Last night was one of those nights that everything worked like magic. I found breeding activity in almost every potential territory I checked; the birds were hyper-active, with the males being super-vocal all night long. In some spots I could hear seven or eight different singing males simultaneously! In this recording, for example, you can hear three (and a Rufous Bush Robin - many started singing at 03:00). 

This dramatic increase compared to last year represents both better monitoring by myself (I had the ability to reach some sites that were inaccessible to me last year); but more importantly I think it represents a true increase in population size, reflecting the regeneration of some degraded patches, and general rehabilitation of the population after some tough years. These results only emphasize the importance of the Sdom Saltmarsh for this endemic subspecies and as a last representation of this unique habitat in Israel. Bringing into account the worrying situation in Jordan, with evidence of accelerating habitat destruction for cultivation, the importance of Sdom Saltmarsh cannot be described as less than extreme.

Until 02:00 the nightjars didn't move much and stayed close to their territory cores, but later on they resumed foraging and I saw many pairs and recently-fledged juveniles.

Until about 02:00 Yosef and Oded joined me, but then they left ("When the sea gets rough, one can see only the tough" - in Hebrew it sounds much better...) and I continued working solo, so photography options were rather limited. Only this bird that sat on a tarmac road allowed me to photograph it.

Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar (Caprimulgus nubicus tamaricis)

I recorded quite many individuals. One was particularly close, and from this short distance you can hear the peculiar, soft and low-pitched 'ku-ku-ku' notes - listen carefully:

Not too much other night life - 3-4 hares, 1 fox, some Wild Boar, some Stone Curlews, one Barn Owl and that's it.

Many thanks to Yosef, Oded and Moran for their help during this memorable night.
This ongoing project is supported by the SPNI and by the Hoopoe Foundation.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Great Snipes!

This morning I followed up on Eran Banker's observation from a couple of days ago, and visited Hulda Reservoir. Very quickly I got onto a Great Snipe that was feeding half-open, but very it quickly retreated into the vegetation. I stayed there for another hour and managed to see four different Great Snipes - this is a very high count for Israel. We normally have singles of this rarity here. However, by the way they skulked today, there may well be even more there. I checked only a small section of the reservoir, where Eran had his. This reservoir is very big, and nearby there are many more similar habitats, so who knows... All the views I had were distant, really not good for photography. Sorry for the poor record shot but I have the best excuses possible - distance, heat haze, through vegetation, into the sun etc.

Not too many other birds - one each of White-winged and Whiskered Terns, some common shorebirds and that's it.

Thanks to Eran for this great find!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Ringing this morning again at my CES site in Ashdod. Hard work there this year. Water level was slightly lower than previously but still we all got very wet. Arrived in the midddle of the night with Arad - we hoped to catch a Great Snipe but that never happened of course. Morning ringing session was very good, about 155 birds (haven't done the totals yet). Migration doesn't seem to end. Nearby Mulberry trees attract hundreds of Sylvias, and some of them flew into my ringing site to feed and drink, purple-faced. Sylvias this morning included mainly Blackcap of course but good numbers of Garden and Barred Warblers as well. Especially impressive were 29 Eastern Olivaceous Warblers. Ageing them is very easy - almost all of them do a complete moult in Africa so impossible to say anything about them. Quite many long-winged birds today.
Another good birds was Marsh Warbler.

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Wing-length distribution of Eastern Olivaceous Warblers I ringed today (n=29)

After ringing checked the gull pools; very few birds but one Baltic and two Yellow-legs. One Yellow-leg had my ring on - ringed it in Tel Aviv exactly a year ago.

Yellow-legged Gull 2cy

Many thanks to Arad and Roei for their help.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lesser Kestrels in trouble

Lesser Kestrel was listed as globally Vulnerable by BirdLife International, but has been recently downlisted to Least Concern as a result of positive trends over much of its range. A similar trend happened in Israel, when positive population trends were noted in the early 2000's and it was downlisted in Israel from Vulnerable to Threatened. Last time the population in Israel was properly monitored was in 2005.
This year I'm coordinating a national census of these delicate falcons. This project is funded by the Hoopoe Foundation. The falcons are almost finished breeding, and the results I have so far are quite alarming, with some sharp declines noted in the major populations in N and C Israel. 
Today I revisited two colonies in the N Negev - they seem to be doing here relatively OK, with stable numbers compared to a decade ago. This may be the result of a good rainy winter, resulting in high insect and arthropod productivity well into late spring. Today the birds were feeding like crazy which made nest locating very easy. The chicks should fledge in a week or so. Then they disperse somewhere - first the adults and later on the juveniles. Nobody knows where they spend the months between leaving Israel by mid June and arriving in E Africe in late October. Satellite tags anyone?

Lesser Kestrel - male

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Goodbye spring, hello summer

Yesterday spent the morning birding with Meidad in Eilat and S Arava. It was a fine day, but it really gave the feeling of the end of spring - very few terrestrial migrants on the ground; only shorebirds put on a good show.
We started off VERYearly and arrived at north beach at 06:00. Markus and his hardcore Finnish mates arrived earlier and they had seen three White-cheeked Terns before we arrived. Unfortunately the terns did not reappear. There were quite many commoner terns around, three Sooty Shearwaters, 4 flyover Oyestercatchers and not too much else.

Striated Heron

Sandwich Tern

Little Tern

We then checked the saltpans. Those south of IBRCE had 19 Red-necked Phalaropes among the many shorebirds and gulls. They are such fine birds. Unfortunately all the images were taken from the car window, from the top of the bank, thus the lousy angle. Some of them were in really nice breeding plumage. Typically for phalaropes, they do nothing else than forage in circles, chasing small flies. This is really a video job.

Red-necked Phalaropes 

Curlew Sandpiper - unfortunately the prettier ones kept their distance

This must be a 2cy - very worn scapulars and coverts. 

Dunlin - I wonder which subspecies this is. Bill far too long for schinzii, but face, breast and flanks too streaked for alpina.

Little Stint - so lovely in summer plumage

At KM20 saltpans some more phalaropes, 3 Broad-billed Sandpipers, and some other stuff.

Broad-billed Sands

White-winged Terns

Grey-headed Wagtail

On the way home we checked some more sewage farms that were pretty empty. At Ketura sewage had this recently-fledged juvenile Hooded Wheatear:

Only at Neot Smadar we had few more migrants, including Spotted Flys, Masked Shrikes and a few Whinchats.

Spotted Flycatcher

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Card recovered

Finally managed to recover the images from my dead memory card. Here are some images from May 9th:

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Masked Shrike

Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) - about 2 m long that crossed my path

In the afternoon my neighbour found this exhausted Scops Owl. We rehabilitated it and released it in the evening. Two images - one with flash, second with natural sunset light.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Card crash

Unfortunately my main memory card died, and I haven't been able to recover my images from it yet. Thursday morning I surveyed Mt. Amasa area again, part of the breeding atlas project of that region. Went there to confirm breeding of the important species there, and indeed I found families of Long-billed Pipit, many Eastern Black-eared Wheatears, some nests of Rock Sparrow, and Spectacled Warblers in second breeding cycle. Rather few migrants in this barren habitat, just some Masked Shrikes and Blackcaps in the wadis. Cool weather meant big numbers of low-flying swifts - alpine, pallid and common in hundreds.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Caught a flu today

Very nice day today - don't worry I feel well. Went ringing at my CES site at Ashdod this morning. An early start produced a superb male European Nightjar. At first light Shlomo and myself saw a snipe coming in to land in 'my' swamp. I went to look for it and as I suspected flushed a Great Snipe - saw the tail pattern, wing pattern and general size and structure well. Unfortunately it dodged my net and disappeared. This is a good bird in Israel, with 5-10 annualy, and my first record for Ashdod. However I am sure that they are heavily overlooked in marshy habitats. Another was seen by Meidad today at Nizzana.

Later on things picked up nicely and we had lots of fun - good numbers but not too busy (170 birds in total), lots of quality and colour. Hightlights included four (!) River Warblers - this seems to be an outstanding spring for this scarce species. One of them was immaculate and really green and well-patterned - as beautiful as a locustella can get.

River Warbler

European Nightjar - male

The catch constituted mainly of Blackcaps but there were lots of other warblers: many Reed and Garden Warblers, 7 Barred Warblers, 5 Great Reeds, Olive-tree Warbler, Ortolan, 4 Red-backed Shrikes etc. etc.

Red-backed Shrike - male

Turtle Dove

Many thanks to Arad, Liad, Shlomo and Miriam for their help.

When I got back home with the kids in the afternoon I noticed good raptor passage pretty low over my house. Ran in and got my camera out. In 10 minutes had about 200 Lesser Spotted Eagles, 100 Steppe Buzzards, 30 Honey Buzzards and fewer Steppe Eagles, Black Kites etc. My kids were impressed too.

Lesser Spotted Eagle

 Honey Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard