Sunday, September 29, 2013

Willow tree

Lots of Willow Warblers this morning at my alfalfa field. Also one Richard's Pipit, one Caspian Stonechat, increase in Red-thorated Pipits (about 50), first White Wagtails etc.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Last minute call

Today I took part in the annual ringers meeting in Jerusalem. So took advantage of the fact I got a morning off and squeezed some birding before the meeting. Checked my alfalfa at Bet Kama - still packed with birds. More pipits around including one Richard's. Good harrier activity with three species cruising over the field - marsh, pallid and monty.

Montagu's Harrier 1cy

In the nearby dry fields had a small flock of Red-footed Falcons, feeding on beetles. They were very shy and I got no proper images but they are such great birds!

Red-footed Falcon 2cy male

Then I headed up to Jerusalem - it was a good meeting. My contribution was a short lecture on tips to better in-hand photography (this image of Yellow-browed Warbler is from November 2011)..

Just after I finished my talk got a call from my wife: "Come home quick, here we go, I'm in labor!". The 90 minutes drive home took me about 40, but when I got back home my wife told me it was a false alarm (again) and nothing was actually happening. But it will happen any day now for sure.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What's better - a bird in the hand or thousands in the sky?

This morning I went ringing with Yosef and his team at Ein Rimon. Now is prime season for this site, which attracts phenomenal numbers of Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and other migrants, coming in to feed on the fat-rich pistachio fruit in the grove. Following yesterday's excellent raptor migration, I was expecting a good take-off from the nearby forest, so I had my big lens with me as well.
Ringing was very good - 46 Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and lots of other stuff (about 150 in total) - Spotted Flys, Whinchats, shrikes, many sylvias etc. Pick of the bunch was an Icterine Warbler - very nice.

However, it was very hard to concentrate on how to age the wheatears by their partial moult, because the take-off I was hoping for started happening early and it was amazing. Over an hour or so about 1200 Levant Sparrowhawks and 1000 Lesser Spotted Eagles took-off from the nearby forest, circled and glided south. Among them a good mix of other raptors - Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Honey Buzzards, Marsh Harriers, Red-footed Falcons etc. Some of these birds I must have seen yesterday in the north. So great to see them from so close, hear the wingbeats - migration at its best. Unfortunately the light was shit - heavy clouds. Some of the Asperger-ish ringers working around the ringing table couldn't understand what I was getting all excited about... So, dear readers, I will let you decide for yourself what's better.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear - 1cy female

 Eastern Black-eared Wheatear - 1cy male

Icterine Warbler - 1cy


Levant Sparrowhawks

57 Levant Sparrowhawks

6 Lesser Spotted Eagles and 44 Levants

Very low over the trees

Tasty pistachio fruit 

Thanks to the ringing team - Yosef, Ron, Eli, Ezra, Adiv, Guy, Bruria and Gidon. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Raptor days

Raptor migration through Israel is picking up these days. The boring days of Honey Buzzards only are over, and now migration is much more varied, with two globally sensitive species, Lesser Spotted Eagle and Levant Sparrowhawk, passing in large numbers now.
Today I joined the team of our Soaing Birds Count in the Jizreel Valley, coordinated by IOC (myself and my colleagues) and supported by IAF. But first I had a couple of hours for birding in the Bet She'an Valley, that got slightly extended because I got bogged with my car in the sand plus my car battery died. This slowed me down but eventually I had a nice morning with lots of birds in the fields and fishponds. Also down in the valley raptors featured well. Tons of Black Kites already, plus many harriers, Short-toed Eagles and quite a few Ospreys around.
Marsh Harrier in nice setting

Osprey feeding on a fish caught in the fishponds - with the ever-loyal companion Hooded Crow:

Many hundreds of Black Storks hanging around, some moving south. Found this lovely Czech-ringed adult in Kfar Ruppin fishponds:

Lots of migrant passerines around - Yellow Wags, Willow Warblers, many shrikes, Whinchats, wheatears etc. Worth noting were two Richard's Pipits, one Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (not a passerine I know), my first Bluethroat of the season and that's it more or less.

Southern Grey Shrike (aucheri) - 1cy, quite an ID pitfall for pallidirostris, no?

Then I joined the team and toured between the stations to say hi to all the team members. At noon I arrived west where I helped Gaidis from Latvia to count the first major passage of Lesser Spotted Eagle this season - we had about 1000 in the hour I was there. Quite nice for some moments. With the main stream of eagles a few small groups of levants, Red-footed Falcons, one Steppe Eagle etc. Lots of Short-toed Eagles flying high but some stooped down to hunt during migration like this beast:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Triple double

So it was a false alarm the other day and my wife hasn't given birth yet. Any day now. Thanks to all those who sent me greetings in advance!
So, still living on my borrowed time, I ringed lots of birds over the last two days, with the help of my good friends and helpers.
Tuesday morning it was Bet Kama alfalfa. It was a mega morning, with huge numbers of Willow Warbler (108 ringed) and big numbers of Short-toed Lark (64) and Yellow Wagtail (only 43). Good to have three dominant species. Other goodies were three Tree Pipits, five Isabelline Wheatears, and a Cretzschmar's bunting. We worked very hard especially since at 08:00 it became very hot and we were catching in too great speed. But eventually everything went smooth.
During the morning we saw lots of raptors over the field including Peregrine, Booted Eagles, Montagu's Harriers etc. The Oriental Skylark I found the previous day was still present.
Thanks to Ron, Meidad, Netanel and Hila for their hard work.

Greater Short-toed Lark

See my nets down in the bottom?

Wednesday morning I ringed at my site in Ashdod. After the flood of Willow Warblers I had there on Monday, I stocked my ringing box up with tons of 2.0 mm rings, but unfortunately this huge wave moved on and we had only about 50 willows this morning. But all in all it was a fine morning - I arranged a good team so we worked in good speed and enjoyed the 100 birds we ringed this morning. Highlights were a 1cy Eurasian Nightjars, some shrikes, Savi's Warblers etc.

Re'a with the nightjar - girls he's single!

Masked Shrike - 1cy

 Common Redstart - 2cy+ male, European form. Ehrenberg's gone now.

Some good birds we had in the field were two Little Crakes, some Grey Wagtails, and one Rueppel's Warbler (dodged my net).
Thanks to my team this morning - Arad, Re'a, Ady, Miriam and Oren.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Borrowed time

Had a nice time at Ashdod ponds this morning. Again lots of shorebirds in one muddy pond - about 200 Little Stints and 150 Ringed Plovers. Nothing too interesting in the mud - some Curlew and Marsh Sands, Temminck's Stints and that's it. Played calls of red-necked, long-toed, baird's, semi-p, white-rumped and even pec but nothing fell out of the sky.
There was a bit more activity in the passerine front. Already on the way out of my village noticed lots of migrants in the fields and hedges - Isabelline Wheatears, Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers and Red-backed Shrikes. In Ashdod all of these species showed in high densities for such a small site. I estimated 1000 Willow Warblers feeding on the banks between the ponds - like mosquito swarms. Lots of Yellow Wagtails, with 3-4 Citrines among them. This very cold-toned 1cy citrine was extremely showy:

Citrine Wagtail - 1cy

One of many Willow Warblers - collecting insects from False Yellowhead bushes

FF - very close

 Curlew Sandpipers - 1cy on left, adult on right

 Five species here - can you identify them all?

Pretty difficult to preen with such a long bill... Snipe

I had a close encounted with a small group of three Mountain Gazelles. They were feeding quietly - I was downwind from them, and they passed in front of my car maybe 15 m away - only the camera clicks startled them a bit.

On the way home checked the Bet Kama alfalfa field - recce before ringing there tomorrow morning (hopefully). Looks very good, packed with birds. An early Oriental Skylark was nice.

My wife is expected to give birth any day now, so I am living on borrowed time. Who knows when the bell goes off - might happen any minute. In fact my wife started feeling some volcanic activity today... So every post here might be the last for the next few weeks.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bet She'an Valley

Long day today. Left home very very early, collected from the airport our first international team member arrived to join the Soaring Birds Count in the north, and drove up with Joe to do first some birding in the Bet She'an Valley. Arrived there at first light and as always was impressed by the number and variety of birds. And if I was impressed, imagine what a UK birder visiting Israel for the first time felt like. Thousands of storks, herons, shorebirds, gulls, raptors, cormorants etc. etc. all from one spot. After checking the Neve Eitan fishponds we checked some alfalfa fields near Kfar Ruppin and then a quick drive through Tirat Zvi fishponds. My personal highlight was big numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters - mostly perched on the border fence, all juveniles. After leaving Joe with Re'i our team leader I joined my colleagues (SPNI & NPA) checking the fishponds to move forward our plans to remove all deadly nets covering the fishponds. Hopefully this will happen very soon. Anyway this autumn I am sure the situation will be much better as a result of some actions we are taking with our partners and the farmers.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters 

Extracting a pellet 

Hundreds of Black Storks around already - this is a 1cy:

Quite many Purple Herons in Kfar Ruppin fishponds: 

Some White-winged Terns around - all juvs now:

Other highlights during the day were 50 Desert Finches, some Citrine Wagtails, five species of shrike, about 10 Ospreys, and 1 Peregrine.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dinosaur Jr.

So after the day before yesterday I visited the Ashdod ponds and saw there tons of birds, I decided to organize a team and do a shorebird ringing session there last night. We met up in the afternoon, to discover that water level in the good pond dropped and it was virtually empty. Luckily in another pond water level was just right and all the birds were there. While erecting the long line of nets (mud, heat, humidity, mosquitoes etc.) we enjoyed the large numbers of shorebirds. Among them we had three Broad-billed Sandpiper, and three Turnstones. Among the many Yellow Wags there were at least three Citrines. One dark Eleonora's Falcon flew over us in the afternoon! Nice.
We started catching at dusk - the three Turnstones were among the first birds to be caught.We had a reasonable catch - not huge numbers but very nice variety. Unfortunately there's too much light at night in the ponds from surrounding factories which illuminates my nets and reduces the catch. We closed the nets around midnight, coated with mud and very tired, but pretty pleased.

Most of the catch consisted of Little Stints, Wood Sadpipers and Ringed Plovers. The most odd bird was this adult Little Grebe. Very common in Israel but seldom ringed. What a bizzare bird, like a flying fossil. No tail, huge feet - quite cool!

Little Grebe

Here are some highlights:

Broad-billed Sandpiper - 1cy

Marsh Sandpiper - 1cy

Temminck's Stint - 1cy, one of two caught

Turnstone - 1cy

And some other bits and bobs. Interesting to catch a Reed Warbler at midnight - active migrant or disturbed sleeper?

That's why Spur-winged Lapwing is called that way:

We also caught three Kuhl's Pipistrelles (Pipistrellus kuhlii) - tiny but violent bats:

Many many thanks to the hard-working team: Re'a, Arad, Rony, Roei, Oren and Tzipo.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Nice morning out

Had a fine morning birding with Re'a. No dramatic highlights, just lots of migrants and good fun, including a drunk Russian redhead asking for help etc. Nevermind that. We started off early at Ashdod - the ponds were fantastic - just packed with shorebirds. About 600 shorebirds in these tiny ponds - about 200 Little Stints, 170 ringed Plovers, 100 Wood Sandpipers and lots of other bits and pieces.

Ringed Plovers and Little Stints

Though we tried hard found nothing too exciting; highlights were four Black-tailed Godwits, this 1cy Broad-billed Sandpiper:

And two 1cy Turnstones:

Turnstones are common on the coast but surprisingly scarce even 2 km inland. A flock of 15 Baltic Gulls arrived early in the morning:

 Lots of passrines around the ponds - big numbers of shrikes (Red-backed, Lesser Grey and Masked), Yellow Wagtails, Willow Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchats and Cretzschmar's Buntings.

We then drove on to the reservoirs of the Judean Plains. No big numbers of shorebirds (some Collared Pratincoles were the only birds of note) but more ducks - quite many Garganey and some Ferruginous Ducks. Again, lots of shrikes, flycatchers and whinchats, some Short-toed Larks, one Rufous Bush Robin, and some raptors going overhead. Good birding overall.

Lesser Grey Shrike - 1cy 

Isabelline Wheatear - cotton field in the background