Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Double Trouble

Met up very early this morning with Graham, James and Nick and drove to West Yorkshire for a double-twitch. What I expected to be an easy day turned out to be rather challenging.
We arrived at Calder Trading Estate 5 minutes after a sparrowhawk had spooked the Blyth's Pipit and it flew far north and was lost in the distance. Sounded very bad. We searched for the bird in neighbouring fields for a while but nothing. 
I have a long history with Blyth's Pipit. I saw tons in E Asia (even found the first for Thailand), but in the WP I had bad luck. I missed two in Israel while I was out of the country, dipped another in 2008, and I am sure I found another two but couldn't clinch - in October 2011 and March 2010. So today my name was already referenced as a potential jynx for Blyth's Pipit.
We decided to go and try for the Thayer's Gull at the landfill site at Ravensthorpe where it was found feeding yesterday. There were quite many gulls about but viewing conditions were bad and it was hard to see anything at all. I did manage to pick up an Iceland Gull - lifer for me in fact. Only rather brief flight views but I was pleased with it. But no sign of the thayer's. While we were there we got the news that the pipit had returned to its field. So we left the gull site and returned to Calder, where we quickly connected with the pipit, to our relief. It showed pretty well though it was pretty mobile today. A large crowd assembled today to see this long-stayer, numbers of visitors boosted by the nearby gull, and by some good photos that were taken yesterday of the pipit. I must admit that like in previous twitches, I felt uneasy about the behaviour of some twitchers. There was a lot of elbowing and shoving and pushing going on to try and get a bit closer to the bird that was not close enough for photography. As a result the bird kept being flushed time after time, and of course nobody got any decent photos (apart for Graham :-) ).
Nevertheless, it was good to study the bird, and especially to hear the calls. 

Blyth's Pipit 

In the early afternoon we positioned ourselves at Pugney's Country Park hoping that the thayer's would return to roost there as it had done yesterday. But it did not show. Just before it was too dark to see anything an Iceland Gull appeared, probably the same bird from the morning. 
This was my first top-class twitch in the UK, and it was good to connect some FB friendships with faces, and nice to meet some old friends.

Then it was the long way back home. Despite dipping on the thayer's, it was a very good day out with a lifer and a WP tick, and as usual loads of fun. Thanks to Graham for the driving etc.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day at Winterton

Drove down to Winterton this morning with my family. Huge numbers of people on the beach - I was hoping for fewer people of Christmas Day when everyone's supposed to be at home with family etc. I wanted to show my children some Grey Seal families, but we were disappointed to discover lots of mess and distress there. This is the sensitive period, when the cubs are still 'not allowed' in the water by their mothers, and are supposed to stay in the dunes. Today we saw several cubs 'trapped' between the waves and the dunes where they were being harassed by idiots and their dogs. I think that at Horsey there are some regulations regarding walking dogs on the beach at this time of year, but at Winterton there was not even a sign to ask people not to behave like assholes. I did my best to talk to people and explain the sensitivity, and I kept a safe distance myself (luckily I have a big lens; most other mortals have phone-cameras), but the beach there needs to be better managed. Today was a bad day for cubs there.

Poor mother - look at this distressed impression on her face:

Not too many birds at sea - some distant Red-throated Divers, one Fulmar and that's it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My best moments of 2014

2014 was an exciting year for me. Birding was great (though I have had better years in terms of additions to my Israeli lists). But the most exciting aspect of the year was our move to the Norwich, UK for my PhD studies at UEA. More on this below. So here we go:

The year started well with raptor surveys and other fieldwork. Bet She'an Valley continued to produce with a nice flock of Little Bustards settling there for the winter: 

We continued with our annual winter monitoring of Hameishar Plains in C Negev - fewer Asian Desert Warblers than last winter, but even one is stunning: 

The first major twitch of the year happened in February. Rei Segali and Tuvia Kahn found a Hudsonian Whimbrel at Nakhsholim beach. Perhaps not a full species but a fantastic record of this taxon. It actually took me a few attempts to get proper views of it - it was very mobile along that beautiful stretch of rocky coastline.

Hudsonian Whimbrel with Eurasian Curlews and hooded Crow

In spring I focused on a large breeding atlas project of Batha (open rocky Mediterranean steppe) birds. I worked mainly in the N Negev and enjoyed every minute. Some top-quality birds breeding there, like this Long-billed Pipit:

This year again we had a breeding invasion of Hill Sparrows to some parts of the Negev. Their buzzing song was part of the soundtrack while doing the atlas work. Interestingly, they failed to breed in the more productive habitats of the N Negev, but apparently succeeded in the remoter C Negev.

Nice migration in March, with lots of nice encounters, including a large flock of migrant Lesser Kestrels catching beatles:

In late March I joined the Eilat Bird Festival, though my participation was more limited this year due to family restrictions. I led a few successful tours, including the Rambo tour, and all participants were very happy with this smart visitor from the east - Israels' 9th Pied Bushchat at Neot Smadar, found by Igal Simantov:

Eastern Subalpine Warblers are stunning - almost better than American warblers...  This superb male performed at Eilats' Holland Park:

I was part of the organizing team of the main birding event of the year (in Israel) - Champions of the Flyway. The scouting days were fantastic and huge fun, mainly thanks to the high spirits of team members - so many good friends from all over the world. During a visit to Yotvata Sewage I found this intriguing White Wagtail - still undecided whether it's from east or west:

Race Day was exciting and exhausting. I was judge and spent the day with teams out in the field making sure the day goes smooth for all. I saw huge numbers of birds myself - I scored 145 species within a very limited area. Not bad. The closing event was moving, and we all are looking forward to Champions of the Flyway 2015. Thanks to Yuval Dax for the use of his image:

After the race I returned to fieldwork routine. Breeding surveys took me to remote wadis in the S Negev:

Temminck's Lark

To the top of Mt. Hermon:

White-throated Robin

Asian Crimson-winged Finch

And to the bottom of the Rift Valley, monitoring 'my' Nubian Nightjars. Before sunset these gems of birds are always welcome:
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Through the whole spring I led a Wildlife Monitoring Training Course together with Noam Weiss, via the Hans Zeidel Foundation. The field trips were great and I learned a lot myself. Not too many chances for photography during the course but this female Namaqua Dove at Hazeva was cooperative enough: 

Not a rarity but I just like this shot - Montagu's Harrier near my house in late April.

During one of the days I was on top Mt. Hermon news broke of a mega - Dark Chanting Goshawk in the other end of the country, near Yotvata, found by Steve Arlow. I was too far so couldn't go for it, and this was the first of several megas I had missed this year.

In late May I went to the USA with Jonathan Meyrav and Dan Alon, to participate in the largest bird race - World Series of Birding at Cape May, NJ. We were joined there by local super-birder Tom Reed to form the SPNI / Swarovski Champions of the Flyway team. Together we managed to win the cape may County Award, with a whopping 178 species! Yet another amazing, intensive race day. Lots of cool birds for our day list. Tom you are a star! 
After the race we continued to a series of meetings and lectures, that involved birding with some of USAs' finest:

And with the help of a certain pocket owlet I got some nice photos of colourful (or colorful?) birds:

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Canada Warbler

Mourning Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Summer in Israel was rather slow on the everyday-birding side; some sandgrouse counts in the south and families of sweet Cream-coloured Coursers:

My run of bad luck continued through the summer. Israels' first Rueppell's Vulture was seen by Ezra Hadad but it was not twitchable. Then an interesting shearwater was found by Shachar Alterman at Eilat. In the first images it looked like a yelkouan, but as better images emerged it became evident that it was Israels' first Manx Shearwater! I was extremely busy at that time and by the time I got my ass down to Eilat it had already gone. And then, while I was having a boring morning at Ashdod, I got news about a Crab Plover at Ma'agan Michael! It took me about an hour to get there but the bird had already gone by then. Shit.
The rest of the summer was quiet on the bird side but pretty noisy from other perspectives... And then it was time for myself and my family to pack our stuff up and move to UK in early September. Just before leaving I said goodbye to some of my favourite birding spots:

This African Sacred Ibis at Ashdod was probably just an escape, though it's tempting to consider vagrancy given it's nomadic nature in southern Arabia:

Terek Sandpiper at Ma'agan Michael

Life in the UK is great for all of us. The boys settled well in school and they learn English quickly. I enjoy university life, and Norwich is a Fine City indeed. The only problem with my new lifestyle here is the very limited time I have for birding, as I have no fieldwork here in the UK. I do go out birding from time to time, but due to time constraints I go out much less than I want. However, still I managed to see some nice stuff along the N Norfolk coast since I arrived. Starting with this Caspian Gull that showed well at Cromer in late September:

Radde's Warbler was a star bird of a super day I had in mid October, that included also Red-flanked Bluetail, self-found Little Bunting and about 10 Yellow-browed Warblers.

Radde's Warbler

Good northerlies blew in early November and as a result large numbers of Little Auks were pushed towards the N Norfolk coast:

This male Surf Scoter off Holkham was a welcome addition to my WP list:

As was this Snow Goose in mid December, also at Holkham:

Common and gorgeous - Long-tailed Tit:

In late November I visited sunny Israel briefly for a few days, where I had just enough time to see this ugly Isabelline Shrike:

When I arrived back in UK I discovered that on the day I left, Israels first Ashy Drongo was found by Irad Solnik at Gan Shmuel. Damn!

I also visited Portugal and Spain briefly in December, where I had some more additions to my WP list and short visits to my study sites and my study birds - Great Bustards:

For my blog, this was the slowest year ever, with this post being the 93rd for 2014. But still, an exciting year it was, and I am looking forward to a birdier 2015! 
As always, this year of birding was so much fun thanks to my friends and colleagues. Big hugs to everyone!
Many thanks to all my followers and supporters worldwide. Despite my lower rate of new posts, I still get huge support from all of you and this warms my heart. Many thanks to Swarovski Optik who started supporting me this year. And special thanks to my wife, Adva, my hero, who kept up with my bullshit for yet another year. I love you babe.

Best wishes for a great 2015 to everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Short trip to Portugal and Spain

Spent the last few days in Portugal and Spain. My PhD project on Great Bustard conservation is gaining speed, and I went over with my supervisors to meet our collaborators in Alentejo and Extremadura. The meetings were very important, friendly and useful, and hospitality was great wherever we were. However, this was my first visit to Iberia, and I was somewhat frustrated by the minimal amount of time I had for birding. In total we drove on one track in castro Verde for about 20 minutes, and had another hour in Campo Maior. That's it. Still managed to get some very casual lifers (Azure-winged Magpie, Thekla Lark, Spotless Starling and Iberian Chiffchaff) and it was good to see some small groups of Great Bustards at Campo Maior and Castro Verde. Also some Little Bustards at Castro Verde. Really enjoyed the large numbers of birds everywhere (like in Israel) - I am really looking forward to spend good amounts of time in the field there in spring.

Great Bustards - males, at Campo Maior, Portugal. It was a sunny day so they were doing some 'stuff' already - getting prepared for lekking season.

Spotless Starling is a common urban bird but I didn't get a chance for a proper photo

Black-winged Kites were reasonably common

Red Kite, Campo Maior

Coming down to land at Lisbon on Sunday:

Campo Maior

Steppe habitats at Castro Verde

Temple of Diana at Evora, Alentejo

Nice place Evora