Friday, August 30, 2013

Sandgrouse monitoring

Israel's five sandgrouse species are doing pretty bad. The four species breeding in the Negev (Black-bellied, Spotted, Pin-tailed and Crowned) have decreased by some 80-90% over the last few decades, with pin-tailed probably faring the worst. This trend is possibly a result of continuing changes in land-use in the Negev, resulting in degredation of their breeding habitats. Combined with the continuous decrease in rainfall in the desert in recent decades, and increasing poaching in adjacent Sinai, they are in deep sh*t. Lichtenstein's, breeding in the Eilat region is a different story, but they're probably doing just as bad.
In recent years, NPA with SPNI are trying to better define the conservation issues affecting the Negev sandgrouse community. The Hoopoe Foundation is contributing to this study. Initial efforts include better monitoring at drinking sites, that concentrate most of the breeding community, and spatial studies using GPS transmitters. Hopefully this study will give us some basic knowledge on these elusive and little-known birds.

This morning I joined a large-scale count of all drinking sites in the W Negev. I met up with Gal the local NPA ranger, and together we counted sandgrouse coming in to drink at some smelly sewage pond near Nizzana. During the morning we had 62 Spotted, 33 Black-bellied and 2 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse come in to drink, and another 68 Black-bellied and 56 Spotted that landed to forage on the nearby plains but didn't drink in our pond. I don't have the totals from the other drinking sites yet but from what I've heard numbers were moderate all over.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse - male

Spotted Sandgrouse

While counting the sandgrouse we had few local and migrant passerines. A male Desert Wheatear and a Mourning Wheatear were really interested in what we were doing and fed on ants practically at our feet. Unfortunately harsh light conditions by then made photography difficult. There were single Willow warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Tawny Pipit, Red-backed, Lesser Grey, Masked and Southern Grey Shrikes in the very few bushes around us.

Desert Wheatear

 Desert Wheatear with Mourning Wheatear in the background

I will post more on the sandgrouse project when we move forward with the research. Good night.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

61 birds, 21 species!

Had great fun ringing at my CES site in Ashdod this morning. Relatively low numbers but fantastic number of species - 21! Commonest was Common Kingfisher with 12 birds. Along the main stream there were many tens flying around. Acros were well represented with Sedge, Reed, 2 Marsh and four Great Reeds. Other nice species included Little Crake, 3 feldegg Yellow Wagtails, Thrush Nightingale, some Savi's and Willow Warblers and lots more.

Little Crake - 1cy 

feldegg Yellow Wagtail, 2cy+ male

Marsh Warbler - 1cy

White-breasted Kingfisher 

Thrush Nightingale

Equalet Skimmer (Orthetrum chrysostigma)

My swamp - the water is green because it's covered with a thick carpet of Common Duckweed (Lemna minor)

Many thanks to Arad for his admirable help in sauna conditions after a sleepless night.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Back to my autumn local patch

The alfalfa field near Bet Kama is very good between late August and late April, when there are wagtails and pipits around. Today was my first visit to the field after several months - short morning visit with my dog Bamba. The alfalfa is flowering now and full of insects, and had lots of birds in it. Especially impressive was a flock of about 800 Yellow Wagtails. Other birds included 1 Tree Pipit, 1 Whinchat, 10 Isabelline Wheatears, 20 Zitting Cisticolas, 1 Marsh, 2 Sedge, 2 Savi's and 5 Willow Warblers. Highlight was an adult Black-headed Bunting. Looking forward to ring there, maybe next week.

Black-headed Bunting

Zitting Cisticola

'feldegg' Yellow Wagtail

Isabelline Wheatear 

Short-toed Eagle

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Short-distance control of a long-distance migrant

So nice to be able to produce a post without going birding... Received nice news today - Rony Livne controlled today at Yeruham a Great Reed Warbler that I had ringed almost three years ago (31/8/10) near Nizzana. I went ringing there that day in a small green patch that attracted lots of migrants. It was a fantastic morning. Unfortunately that green patch didn't last for very long. Since then I assume this bird switched stopover sites, and chose Yeruham, which is 46 km east, as a good alternative stopover site for fattening up before crossing the huge desert barrier to the south.
46 km is not much of course, but just imagine how many kilometers this bird flew in between - it probably overwintered in the Sud marshes three winters, and bred somewhere in E Europe three summers - incredible.

Great Reed Warbler

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Lots of guts, no glory

Yesterday, an assorted group of Israeli birders (and myself) went out on a deep-sea pelagic in the Mediterranean. Our main target was to try and find European Storm Petrels, that breed so close in Turkey, and whatever the Gods of Sea would bring us. We left Herzliya, and travelled west for 31 miles, towards a pretty deep underwater canyon. We then chummed massively for three hours - we used about 40 kg of chum and 20 liters of fish oil. But nothing at all came to our top-class chum slick. On the way out we had some gulls and terns close inshore, and one Arctic Skua, but that was it.
The only moments of amusement were when halfway back, about 15 miles from the coast, a poor Marsh Warbler landed on our boat. It was really exhausted and rested for some minutes. Then we were overtaken by a larger, faster navy boat and the warbler identified the opportunity for a faster, safer hitch and deserted us for the other boat.

Everyone taking photographs - unfortunately with the wrong camera:


Despite seeing no birds, we are aware of the difficult conditions in the Med. Next time we probably have to go out deeper, stay for longer, and wait for days with stronger winds; yesterday the winds were very soft. But it's always great to be out at sea, and it was good fun with all the guys.

Thanks to all the organizers and participants - Shachar, Rami, Oz, Amir, Barak and Hadoram.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ma'agan Michael nostalgy

Left early this morning and met up with Barak to go birding together at Ma'agan Michael. A few minutes after I left home my cars' turbocharger stop working and I almost U-turned and headed back home, but decided to give it a try. Took me about 50% more time to get to Tel Aviv, and eventually we made it to MM in good time. Miraculously the turbocharger came back to life soon after we arrived at MM.
Last time I birded with Barak here was 20 years ago, in November 1993. Then we had two Kittlitz's Plovers. 20 years older and wiser, we tried to find something good today but had nothing out of the ordinary. Best bird of the morning was a nice summer-plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit found by Yochai Koren. We saw the bird briefly, then it walked out of view and was not seen again. 

Lots of shorebirds on the coastal lagoons, many Little Stints and Ringed Plovers, about 20 each of Sanderling and Greater Sand-plover, and two Gull-billed Terns. Over 100 Garganeys was pretty impressive. We also saw the long-staying Mediterranean Gull almost finished moulting into second-winter plumage:

Some Baltic Gulls among the many Armenians:

About 30 Turnstones:

5-6 Curlew Sandpipers:

Invisible Snipe

Very nice flowering Sea Daffodils (Pancratium maritimum) on the coastal sand-dunes:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Eilat birding (and family?) holiday - pelagic - White-cheeked Terns etc.

On Sunday 18/8/13 I went out on a mini-pelagic into the gulf on Itzik Cohens' boat (Itzik is a great guy and an excellent photographer as well), with Avi Meir (chum-master) and Itai Shanni. We left early but the first couple of hours were actually very quiet. We saw some terns and gulls (including possible views of last week's Arctic Tern), and one Cory's Shearwater, but nothing came in to feed on our tasty chum.
Only after we decided to call it a morning and return to shore, when the sun was already high up in the sky, we noticed many terns and gulls fishing around a small fishing boat - the fishermen were throwing out bait for the fish, and the terns were feeding on that. We had a very good time around their boat until it was too late and we had to head back.

We had about 15 White-cheeked Terns - this is an amazing year for this scarce subtropic tern. Perhaps this is a result of some serious winter floods that washed huge amounts of organic matter into the gulf, which resulted in huge production of little fish - indeed we saw enormous schools of small fish in the gulf. 

White-cheeked Terns - adults (4cy+)

This should be a 3cy with heavily worn primaries and paler underparts:

And these are 2cy:

Especially important ID features are long, slender and slightly downcurved bill, very dark upperwing with prominent dark brown bar on leading edge, and prominent darker grey secondaries.

Also fishing around the boat was this Sandwich Tern:

And several White-eyed Gulls. I know little about their moult - they breed late (fledging in September), and don't migrate long distances, so I am not sure whether their moult cycles fit typical northern hemispehere moult cycles.

This should be a 2nd cycle (rather than 2cy) - nice and brown:

And this bird should be 3rd cycle (note dark tail):

This is more like a full adult:

We also had a few of these awkward marine mammals:

Many thanks to Itzik, Avi and Itai for this great morning. And to my wife for allowing me to escape every morning during our 'family' holiday...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Eilat family (and birding?) holiday part 2 - Lesser Crested Terns

On Saturday 17/8/13 the only birding I did was an early morning session at north beach. I met up early with Shachar Alterman, and together we had quite a good time. Again I had to leave at 07:00 which meant that most of the time I was birding was before sunrise. 
We had two Lesser Crested Terns (probably the same two birds hanging around the gulf in the last couple of weeks). One is a bit more advanced in its moult. At one point they were fishing very very close to us - if the sun was up I'd be a very happy man but even though the lack of light and high ISO I am quite happy with these results. Really like the backdrop of Eilat Mts. in the background.

Lesser Crested Terns

I know this image has too many problems but I like the more artistic look of it:

After the sun was up we had some close visits of White-cheeked Terns - this is one result, but much more on White-cheeked Terns in my next post tomorrow - stay tuned!

White-cheeked Tern - adult