Tuesday, January 28, 2014


After a month of sunshine at last the weather chenged and we got a minor weather system. At home the wind was blowing hard so decided to try my luck at Ashkelon. Arrived there and was disappointed by the southerlies - powerful but wrong direction. As a result I had very few birds at sea - some gulls and terns. A large flock of Oriental Kite-surfers was the only interesting animal around:

I was so bored that I photographed Feral Pigeons - neat birds aren't they?!?

Black-headed Gull - almost as boring:

Monday, January 27, 2014

Good birding, bad weather

Had some time for birding this morning but the morning was very grey and cold, so I decided to go east to escape to better weather and light conditions. Spent the morning in the Arad Valley, in the NE Negev, at the edge of the Negev desert. In the valley there is some cultivation - open fields and orchards, and the sewage works of the town of Arad. The sewage had some common ducks and these Common Shelducks:

And this very lost Common Crane:

The fields had few birds - not too many skylarks and pipits, perhaps becuase of the cold weather. I did find one Oriental Skylark - flushed it several times and managed to get this flight record shot - note the buff trailing edge and outer tail feathers:

Big numbers of Pallid Swifts (about 1000) were foraging low over the fields - shame about the bad light:

Brown-necked Ravens mix there with the many Hooded Crows:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kites, owls and gulls

Yesterday I joined a tour organized by Yossi Leshem with some leading governement officials, to promote conservtaion and birding in southern Israel via the new government-supported network of bird observatories. It was an interesting group and we had a good time together.
Met up with them in the afternoon at the Dudaim national rubbish dump, in the N Negev. The site hosts about 35,000 Black Kites every winter - they feed mainly on the garbage but cover a huge radius around the dump daily, creating some serious flight saftey hazards. Smelly and noisy experience but still an awesome sight: 


In the evening I took them to a remote wadi in the Judean Desert. We tried to see Hume's Owl - we had a responsive male calling back at us instantly, but he never showed himself. It was an inspiring experience neverthelss.
Today I visited the Ramat Gan Safari zoo to collect a rehabilitated gull for release. Checked the regular gull flock that was bigger and more varied than usual today - about 300 gulls, including Armenian, Yellow-legged, Caspian, Siberian, Baltic and Steppe Gulls.

Armenian Gull

Siberian Gull

Caspian Gull

Putative Steppe Gull - dark bluish mantle, small, front-positioned eye, awkward forward-leaning posture, long bill

 One of my ringed Yellow-legged Gulls:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Six minutes

The hectic period of my life continues. I am involved in several enormous projects (our new website, update of red book, state of the birds report and several others) and birding time has become really scarce lately. Today on the way to work I had few minutes to take a small detour. Drove through some fields near my house which was quite productive - Merlin, distant imperial, Hen Harrier and this nice Long-legged Buzzard:

Need to get some proper birding done - maybe tomorrow morning?

Friday, January 17, 2014

National Waterbird Census

As in every year I joined the National Waterbird Census coordinated by NPA. As usual I counted the reservoirs in the S Coastal Plains, not far from my house. As always, nothing dramatic but a nice morning out with NPA guys.
Nothing interesting in the waterfowl section - some Great Crested Grebes, Wigeon, Gadwall, Ferruginous Duck etc. 
Some Egyptian Geese around - invasive but still impressive birds:

Only highlight was at Zohar Reservoir - found there the Black-winged Kite first seen a week ago. First it was perched on the tress on the far side of the huge reservoir:

Then it flew to forage and moved in slightly closer:

Not as rare as it used to be, so not so exciting as in the past, but still a very good raptor. Apart for that some Eastern Imperials and Greater Spots, a handsome callidus Peregrine and one Pallid Harrier.

Shikma Reservoir at sunrise

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Another day at the office

Well, if you call this work - then I probably have the best job on earth. Went with my kids raptor censusing once again, in the N Negev. This time there were no interruptions and it was a nice day. Weather was not good for raptors - cold and grey, but towards noon the sun eventually came out for a while and there was pretty good activity. 6 Eastern Imperial Eagles were nice - two juvs (born 2013), two 3cy (born 2012) and two adults. It is important to be able to recognize them individually - each individual has its personal moult pattern, something like fingerprints. Here are two eagles of similar age class (3cy) but note the different notches and moulting feathers on each:

My brother Gidon joined with his kids. He was more into raptor ringing, and caught some stuff:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Raptors, routine

Another day of wintering raptor census, today in the Judean Lowlands. I was in a bit of time pressure so cruised through the transect rather fast. Had average numbers of raptors - three Greater Spotted Eagles, many buzzards (common and long-legged) and harriers (marsh and hen), tons of Kestrels etc.

Greater Spotted Eagle - just after brunch - feather still stuck to its bill

Hen Harrier

I know that in most European countries such totals would have been phenomenal, but for me it was a rather slow morning.

Stone Curlew

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Little Bustard-chickens

Had a very nice morning at Kfar Ruppin in the Bet Shean Valley. My first assignment was Little Bustards - after a lone individual was first seen there on December 21st, numbers slowly grew and now the flock contains 21 birds! The largest flock of this rare and endangered species recorded in Israel in recent decade. Anyway, I met up with Amir who was already on the birds when I arrived. At first they were far away and deep inside a field, only their heads sticking up above the alfalfa. Then a harrier flushed them, they took off and landed very close to us. They were suprisingly friendly for such tasty birds. First they were hiding in the wet field, but slowly walked out onto a track, dried up, preened, shook their feathers and wings and stretched.

Very charismatic birds. Incredible details on each feather. Peculiar vertical tail structure.

Stunning wing pattern. This bird has a moult limit in PC and primaries - suspended moult? Anyone knows something about their moult?


All these images are large crops - we kept distance from them.
After I had enough of the bustards I moved on for some other stuff. In the fields near the kibbutz there were some Black Storks, including this Slovakian-ringed adult (thanks Kobi for the speedy reply):

Then I went to look for one of the 5-6 'Isabelline' Shrikes wintering in the area. This beautiful, gingery Daurian Shrike was shy and mobile, shame about the branch across the eye:

Lots of birds in the fishponds - ducks, shorebirds, gulls, herons etc. 6 Greater Flamingos were in one of the ponds:

Big gull roost in one of the empty reservoirs. I counted 8 Pallas's Gulls in this image, part of about 50 in that group. Also in this image one Caspian Gull. Can you see it?

Osprey - refused to jump

Monday, January 6, 2014

pallidus Merlin

Started my second session of wintering raptors census today. Did the Urim transect in the NW Negev again. Fine weather, less mud than last time, slightly fewer birds but still a great day out. Had more Merlins today - a total of five birds including a stunning male pallidus - haven't seen one of these C Asian birds in Israel for many years. This was my personal highlight of the day. Unfortunately only got these crap shots in the shade. I missed it when it flew out and away, and managed to get nothing at all from it in good light. Shame - it was so pallid, almost like a Pallid Harrier. Here you can see it is pale and relatively poorly marked, but it was most impressive in flight in full light.

pallidus Merlin - is there a proper name for this? Maybe Asian Merlin?

Had better photography success with 'standard' Merlins:

Saw again the Saker from last month. Better views this time - moulting a few scapulars and coverts - OK for 2cy (hatched 2013). Tips of TF still fresh.

This must be a female - see how huge it is - here attacking an adult Eastern Imperial Eagle that landed on 'her' favourite pylon! Of course there is an optical illusion here but the falcon was really impressive (and bold).

Other than that the usual suspects - 3 Eastern Imperials, 5 Hen and one Pallid Harriers, 1 Peregrine, many Common and Long-legged Buzzards, and one Steppe Buzzard.
Towards the end of the transect had six Stock Doves exactly on the same pylon where I had them last year. Stock Doves are becoming more and more rare in Israel every year. Last year I had fourty.

 Crop of the image above
 On the way back home had a quick look at Re'im Reservoir - one male Red-crested Pochard (not plastic!) - here's my awful phonescoping attempt: 

There was at least one very happy dog today:


 Spanish Sparrow - just because they're so pretty

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Spanish roast

Went ringing with Arad this afternoon at a large Spanish Sparrow roost near my house. Quite an amazing sight, several thousands doing murmurations and making so much noise. We ringed 82 sparrows and a few other bits and pieces.

(This image is from Feb 2012)

Spanish Sparrows are great birds. They migrate in winter - we have many controls of our birds getting lime-sticked in Cyprus... Spanish pickles. 
WHile waiting for the sparrows we had an Imperial Eagle and a Merlin flying around.