Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Caspian Stonechats and harriers - boring stuff!

Again had some time for birding this morning instead of standing in traffic. First checked my alfalfa field at Bet Kama - highlights were a funny-calling Oriental Skylark (very soft call; flushed it twice but didn't manage to soundrecord it whatsoever), 2 Hen Harriers, 1 Merlin and a Caspian Stonechat. Nice late wave of Northern Wheatears.
Caspian Stonechat

Northern Wheatear


Then another short stop at the Tzor'a alfalfa field - not much there apart for this 1cy Hen Harrier - very close!

In the afternoon new village tick but again just 100 m away from my garden - Red-breasted Flycatcher.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Linger On

Rest in peace, Lou

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Local pallid

Quick look at my local patch (Bet Kama alfalfa) before work this morning was productive. The field has been cut down recently - the pipits and larks enjoyed that. Also more wheatears on the field. This field is a real harrier magnet - this morning a cracking 2cy male Pallid Harrier was flushing the pipit flock back and forth:

One Oriental Skylark was bzzing within the large Eurasian Skylark flock, few Bluethroats and some Quail. Again had a male Caspian Stonechat, this time a paler individual than the one I had there about a week ago: 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hume's Warbler visual & sound

This morning I returned to the garden near my house for the Hume's Warbler, this time I left the kids at home. I relocated the warbler immediately and tried to obtain a presentable image and a sound recording. Wow, this bird is a nightmare! So shy and so extatic, it took me about an hour before I got some crap record shots like this one. But at least you can see some ID features here - very limited pale base to lower mandible, dark legs, and no dark bases to secondaries. This is a 1cy (check the shape and wear of TF), that's why it's relatively bright. 

Of course the most important feature is the call - very distinctive:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hume's Warbler

This afternoon, while playing soccer with my two sons not far away from our house, I heard the typical 'chew-wit' call of a Hume's Warbler from a large Carrob tree. Before my kids understood what's going on I ran home, grabbed my bins and camera and ran back to the soccer field. I spent the next hour or so trying to get something of it but the bird was very shy and restless - only got some brief views and one awful sound recording. Hope to improve that tomorrow.
My village is a Hume's hotspot - last winter I found (and later ringed) one about 1 km from my house. Today this one was closer - about 200 m from my house. Next one in the garden please.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Female Caspian Stonechat

Returned to ring at Ashdod after a long absence. It was a good morning with large numbers and varied catch, pretty typical for this time of year. As expected, main species was Bluethroat, with 34 birds, including some returning migrants / winter visitors from previous years. Also caught in nice numbers were Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap.


Star bird of the morning was this female Caspian Stonechat. Its mate, a male, dodged my nets the whole morning. In normal 'field' views, the tail looks solid black:

But when you blow on the tail base, white feather bases are visible:

Other interesting birds were Marsh Warbler, Thrush Nightingale and this very striking melanocephala Sardinian Warbler (European bird), so much darker and colder above and below than our local subspecies momus:

Common Redstart 

Some nice birds in the field that were not caught - Penduline Tit, Moustached Warbler, Wryneck and a probable Striated Heron seen briefly by Arad. Nice early morning migration of pipits and skylarks.
On the way home had a quick look at the ponds - few gulls with about 40 baltics and some heuglin's and yellow-legs, and this immaculate 1cy Greater Spotted Eagle:

Thanks to Arad, Liad, Roei, Oren and Shahar who helped me this morning.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hen again

Today is my birthday. Traditionally, I go out birding in the morning and see nothing special at all. Today was not different. After receiving my share of attention from wife and kids, headed out and was greeted by wild easterlies, creating a disgusting sand storm. Far from ideal weather for birding. Headed again to Bet Kama alfalfa field to try and relocate the possible Dusky Warbler from yesterday, but the wind was so strong that no passerines were showing on the deck. Only the harriers flying over the field flushed the birds up. So I decided to spend some time to photograph the (same?) Hen Harrier passing over the field. Such a beautiful bird.

Hen Harrier


Taking a dump

I usually prefer images with neat background, but I like this image too with the very cluttered background

Other raptors hunting over the field included Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and 3-4 Marsh harriers. The pipits were flying non-stop this morning.

Marsh Harrier

Other birds of interest in the field were one Richard's Pipit and this Jack Snipe - a good bird for my region (only...):

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Caterpillars anyone?

With a new baby girl at home, my mornings are pretty limited - I can't leave early too often because I need to take the older kids to school and kindergarten. The weather is still pretty warm, so if I want to do some morning birding I can't drive very far if I want to bird in pleasent temperatures. So my default for short birding breaks is Bet Kama alfalfa - good and close local patch. Pity most of the birds perch there on ugly sprinklers and pipes.
Anyway, this morning on my way to work did my routine stop there. The field is just exploding with African Cotton Leafworm (Spodoptera littoralis) catterpillars, and all the many birds in the field were having a feast. Almost every bird at any moment was carrying a caterpillar. A very noticeable wave of Willow Warblers is going through us again, and a late autumn peak of Yellow Wagtails was evident too. Increasing numbers of Red-throated Pipits, Stonechats, etc. Thought I had a glimpse of a Dusky Warbler but lost it in the tall alfalfa and couldn't relocate it. Will try again tomorrow.

Willow Warbler

Yellow Wagtail

Northern Wheatear and Willow Warbler

Red-throated Pipit

This stunning male Hen Harrier made some very determined passes over the field but caught nothing as far as I could see. Wish it was a bit closer (big crop here).

This juvenile female Eurasian Sparrowhawk was more successfull - after a brief rest on a sprinkler it continued hunting and got one pipit.

On the outskirts of Tel Aviv spotted this Greater Spotted Eagle above the highway. Stopped on the shoulders and quickly managed some pix before a lorry takes me with it...

Greater Spotted Eagle - 4cy, with Jackdaw

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

NCT at BKA and YBW at JCT

Had some time for birding today before and between meetings. On the way out checked my alfalfa field at Bet Kama - impressive numbers of Red-throated Pipits (500), fewer Yellow Wags, some Bluethroats, Northern Wheatears now outnumbering Isabelline. Nice to see a pair of Caspian Stonechats (hemprichii or NCT is Svensson's new taxonomic study). The male was very active and showed well.



The female (I presume it's the same taxon like the male) was much more mobile and shy, and I failed to get a shot of the open tail. However through the bins the tail looked all black.

Then I had a few meetings in Jerusalem. Yesterday my brother Gidon found a Yellow-browed Warbler in front of his balcony in the heart of the city, so today I paid my brother and the warbler a visit. It spent most of its time today on different trees, and visited the flowering Carrob tree in front of my brother's balcony only briefly, and most of the time too close for me to focus. Did get these record shots:

Yellow-browed Warbler 

It was very cool to sit down, drink coffee, eat a delicious cake, and watch this bird at eye-level. In this urban environemet, residential houses perform like canopy towers, hence the new name to my brother's house - Jerusalem Canopy Tower (JCT). On that same tree four Phylloscopus species, including this Wood Warbler my brother ringed yesterday.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Swintail or Pinhoe's?

On Thursday October 10th Eyal Shochat and Yaron Charka found a 'Pin-tailed' Snipe and a Black-throated Loon at Ma'agan Michael - what a fantastic day they had! Of course the snipe is more interesting in a WP context; however both birds are mega-rare in Israel. The diver is the earliest ever in Israel - they are typically recorded in December.
I was not able to go on Friday or Saturday, but today I had the chance to catch up with these birds. Arrived at MM at first light. Took me some time until I got on the snipe - quite a skulker. It behaves more like a crake than a snipe - feeds in the reeds, occasionally forages out in the open and runs back into the reeds when it feels danger.
Separating it from a Common Snipe is quite easy - note the chunky, full-bodied structure (almost like a small Woodcock or Great Snipe), rounded head, 'open' head pattern (very thin loral stripe), heavily barred underparts, and most important - the pattern of mantle, scapulars and tertials: faint central mantle stripes, with no lateral mantle stripes. Scaps have a symetric anchor pattern, compared to common that has much more white or buff on the outer webs. This individual has a longish tail, on the long end of the spectrum for pin-tailed. Normally they have a very stubby tail, hardly protruding beyond the tertial tips.

Separating Pin-tailed Snipe from Swinhoe's Snipe is practically impossible in the field (i.e. the excellent article by Leader and Carey (2003) British Birds 96: 178-198). This bird is rather large and heavy, but this means nothing apparently. The bird was silent. Several guys tried to get a shot of the open tail when it was preening but impossible to see the shape of theunique outer tail feathers. There are three positive records of Pin-tailed Snipe in Israel - all three ringed - the first in 1984 by Hadoram et al. at Eilat, the second was found by Barak Granit and Rami Lindroos in 1998 at Kfar Ruppin and I ringed it a couple of days later, and the last one was ringed by Yosef Kiat in 2011 in Tsor'a. Apart for these records, another 6-7 birds were seen in the field (mainly in the Bet Shean Valley) but swinhoe's could not be safely excluded, though by default I'd guess they were all pintails. Yosef will try to catch this bird tomorrow night - hopefully it sticks around till then.
The tiny, reedy pond the snipe was in was just superb. I had there 3 Spotted Crakes, 5 Water Rails, 8 Citrine Wagtails, Moustached and Savi's Warblers and tons of other birds (Sedge Warblers, Bluethroats etc.). A juvenile Eurasian Sparrowhawk missed a taste of exotic Asia and took a Common Snipe that was feeding just few meters away from the pintailed...

Spotted Crake

Citrine Wagtail


I stayed with the snipe for some time but it was feeding in the reeds most of the time so left in alone and went to have a look at the loon. Loons are rare in Israel - Black-throated being the most recorded species with about 15 records. This young bird was very very tame - pretty exhausted I suppose. It was feeding well in a small fishpond - what an amazing and bizzare bird!

Black-throated Loon - 1cy


Before leaving had a quick look at one drained fishponds that is packed full with shorebirds. Had four Knots and two Bar-tailed Godwits (both species are good birds in Israel; these individuals have been around for a couple of weeks now).

Red Knot 1cy