Monday, July 29, 2013

And meanwhile in the mud...

Nice ringing at Ashdod this morning - late summer / early autumn means most summer visitors departed and few migrants. But despite the high water level, stinking mud, mosquitoes, sauna-like weather etc. it was an OK morning. Nice selection of resident species, plus few typically early migrants - two Kingfishers, Savi's Warbler and Great Reed Warbler.

Savi's Warbler

Great Reed (left) and Clamorous Reed (right) Warblers

Thanks to my helpers Arad, Lior, Liad, Miriam and Oren.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

I'm losing sleep

Chapter 1
On Thursday 25/7/13 Irad Solnik found a summer-plumaged sand-plover on the Mediterranean coast, north of Bet Yanay, and posted a basic image-less description of the bird. This set the alarm bells off as Greater Sandplover moults much earlier and now is typically in full winter plumage (check the bird pictured in my previous post). Barak and myself asked Irad to return there and try to get some images of the bird.

Chapter 2
On Friday 26/7/13 at around midday Irad refound the bird and got some good images of it. When he uploaded the images my first reaction was atrifrons; I had a huge fight with my wife because I decided to go and twitch the bird next morning, despite an important family gathering following my brother-in-laws' wedding. Basically my wife told me I can stay there if I go for it.

Chapter 3
Late that night I had endless discussions with Hadoram, Barak, Amir and other top Israeli birders. We decided it was columbinus. With this feeling I wrote a beautiful piece for Birdingfrontiers showing nicely how this must be columbinus (and all this without seeing the bird!). And with this new insight I decided to give the bird a miss and save my marriage.

Chapter 4
After posting in Birdingfrontiers, I started to recieve a flood of emails, comments and messages from all over the world explaining plainly how this is a straightforward atrifrons. Then my Israeli pride and ego came in to act - hey, what does the world know? We know better! We know columbinus better than anyone else in the world! Then another, more sobre thought - hey, maybe they're all right and I'm wrong? Na.

Chapter 5
Today I decided to go and see the bird after it was not refound yesterday. I really wanted to see it myself and assess issues like size and structure that are so difficult from images. I checked the original site, and then some adjacent strips of snady and rocky beaches and found almost nothing. I had a small group of winter-plumaged Greater Sands, but the only summer-plumaged birds I had were these:

Chapter 6
Then in the evening, after the kids and wife went to sleep, another session of discussions, and now the concensus leans towards atrifrons after all. OMG. I can't cope with this rollercoaster anymore. Someone please refind this bird.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Megan, Michael and the purple chicken

This morning went birding at Ma'agan Michael (often called Megan Michael by UK birders). Some pretty good birds were reported there in recent days so I was looking forward to a nice morning of birding. It was quite nice indeed but migration was still on the slow side, especially few shorebirds.
I first went to check the Purple Swamphen Lior had found a few days ago. I relocated it pretty fast on the reedy edge of a very birdy fishpond. It showed on and off for some time. In Israel we mostly get the green-backed African form madagascariensis; there are only two Israeli records of the grey-headed Asian form caspius. Lior was there again with a group of kids so I didn't try to get any closer to it and settled with distant views from across the pond.

Lots of terns were feeding on the ponds. Especially big numbers of White-winged Terns, and of course lots of the local breeding Common and Little Terns. Fewer Whiskered Terns and one adult Gull-billed.
Almost all White-winged Terns were adults, in varying stages of moult out of breeding plumage. They have a periodic feeding technique - they forage slowly into the wind. When they reach the end of the pond they fly quickly downwind to the other end and then again slowly make their way upwind, dipping into the water and collecting stuff from the water surface. This makes them rather easy to photograph on the wing. Lovely birds they are.

White-winged Terns

Whiskered Terns

Rather few shorebirds on the beach - 21 Greater Sand-plovers, some Turnstones and Sanderlings. Gulls included Armenian, local breeding Yellow-legged, one 2cy Med Gull, some Black-headed and lots of Slender-billed.

columbinus Greater Sand-plover - they typically moult very early, so now have almost no signs of summer plumage:

Yellow-legged Gull and Common Sandpiper

On the way out noticed this poor Little Grebe hanging from a net protecting the fishponds. First time I see a Little Grebe hanging like this (many years ago had a black-necked at Kfar Ruppin). With the assistance of Asaf I cut it out and released it - damaged wing but hopefully it makes it. This issue of massive nets covering fishponds is being dealt with for about two decades now, but as far as I can see very little has changed on the ground. These nets still kill too many birds every day.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Clown Sandgrouse

Spent the morning around Ezuz with Meidad and Yossi Eshbol (Israel's senior wildlife photographer). First we drove around in the desert which was pretty quiet apart for a family of Cream-coloured Coursers, and some Desert Wheatears and Spectacled Warblers.
We then located ourselves at a safe distance from a drinking spot of Crowned Sandgrouse near Ezuz. We are trying to promote an interesting conservation project with the local land owner - more on that to follow. Anyway we had rather few sandgrouse coming in to drink, only 12, but they're always great birds to see and hear.

Interesting that one of the females had a white, unstreaked belly, different from the normal streak-bellied females:

Nice male on the deck

After we were done at Ezuz we checked the Nizzana ponds around noon. It was already hot and heat haze affected this image of a female Dorcas Gazelle with two large cubs:

Before entering the ponds we were talking about Caracals and what a good place the Nizzana ponds are for them. Then suddenly a brown, medium-sized mammal walked out of the vegetation - both Yossi and myself almost shat in our pants but it was only a skinny Golden Jackal (out of focus, sorry):

At the ponds few migrants (tringas and ruffs mainly), one Namaqua Dove, and big numbers of Little Grebe families- good breeding success there.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Fire front!

This is our traditional July Hermon ringing weekend. For family reasons I could participate only in the first half, which was very good. Not huge numbers but some very good stuff. Highlight was this female Red-fronted Serin. Only the second ever to be ringed in Israel (I ringed the first at the same place in 2003) and a good winter rarity in Israel, it's extremely rare in summer but we've had some records on Mt. Hermon in recent decade. I believe it breeds quite close, perhaps on the E slopes of the Syrian part of Mt. Hermon. Of course we didn't find any breeding during our breeding atlas project. Unfortunately, like all adults this time of year, it was terribly worn and ragged; but still a good-looking bird! Stuck to its bill are remains of Creeping Cherry (Cerasus prostrata) - important food source for many high-altitude species this time of year.

Red-fronted Serin - 2cy female

I don't have the totals yet but it seems that Syrian Serin and Linnet were well represented. Goldfinch numbers were alarming low. Rock & Black-headed Buntings OK too I think. This adult Balkan Warbler might be from the local breeding population or an early migrant - they're on the move already:

Balkan Warbler

Rock Bunting

We had quite many Hill Sparrows coming down to drink but unfortunately none got caught.

Hill Sparrow

Alpine Swifts 

We normally open our nets early enough in the morning to catch a bat or two. This time we had a stunning  Long-eared Bat sp. (waiting for taxonomic updates from my bat friends).

Long-eared Bat sp. (Plecotus spp.)

Many thanks to the team members - Nadav, Gidon, Yosef, Ron, Re'a and all the others.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Double rosefinches

This morning / last night I went on a special operation with some friends in the remote Negev. I left home just after midnight (no sleep). We travelled for a couple of hours before leaving the paved road and driving into the Negev desert. It was quite a tough and long 4X4 drive, after which we walked into the dark for another hour, carrying too much gear. Eventually we reached our destination - a beautiful and remote waterhole, that attracts lots of birds.
We quickly set a few nets up and waited for the birds to come in and drink. We covered only a very small section of the fairly large waterhole, so we didn't really disturb the birds coming in to drink. Before dawn we caught one Botta's Serotine. During the first hour it was mainly Trumpeter Finches that came in to drink, and later on Sinai Rosefinches took the lead. We also ringed 10 Rock Martins and two baby Sand Partridges. They perform an outstanding moult. They start flying at an age of one week or so; So they grow their first set of remiges very quickly, and start moulting them in several, very rapid cycles. This bird here hadn't finished moulting P1 & P2 yet, and had already started moulting all over again - check the inner primaries:

Botta's Serotine (Eptesicus bottae)

We ringed four Sinai Rosefinches - only juveniles. Such plain but neat birds.

One of 16 Trumpeter Finches we ringed. Again, most were juveniles but we did catch some brighter males.

Rock Martin

Ringing was not too massive so I had some time to try and photograph. Light conditions at the waterhole were awful, but still I like the results - really nice reflections:

Sinai Rosefinches - mainly juveniles but some males too:

Some trumpeters in here too:

Making lots of noise:

 Drinking was really massive and didn't really slow down until we had to leave at 10:00. I didn't count properly but I estimate something like 200-250 Sinai Roosefinches, and 300 Trumpeter Finches. Superb.

Finally one male rosefinch sat close enough:

 Active post-breeding moult

Scenic gorge

And the gorge from above

After we were done it was the same long way back home; at least it wasn't in the dark.
Many thanks to Yosef, Meidad, Ron, Darren, and Amir for the help and company.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Yellow-billed Stork revisited

On May 28th I went to twitch the Yellow-bileld Stork that had been found by Irad Solnik the previous day at Tel Yosef fishponds, in the Harod Valley. That day I was semi-disappointed because after the intial scope views the bird disappered and I couldn't get a proper image of it.
As expected, this is a real long-stayer, and today I decided to try and get better images of it. I went with my brother Gidon who hasn't had the chance to go for it yet. Early start and 06:00 we were already on site. Took us about half an hour to locate it but eventually it showed well in an empty fishpond among many White Storks. It didn't do much, only preened a bit. Once it took a short flight - caught me out of focus and I missed the jumpshot. Light was not great, ugly dry fishpond background, but still a fantastic bird.

Yellow-billed Stork


Other than that only some early tringas and Ruffs.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Eye in the Sky Award!

This morning I received a very special email from / Perky Pet that I won their award "Eye in the Sky" for outstanding birding and photography websites. I must admit this came by surprise - bird feeding is not such a big industry in tiny, warm Israel, so I was not familiar with and their contribution to conservation. However, after learning more about this, I am deeply honoured and thrilled that my blog manages to cross the Atlantic and appeal also to followers in the US
So again, many thanks to Perky Pet for awarding me!
And Happy 4th of July to all my followers in the US!