Tuesday, February 25, 2014

General Franco

Have been very busy lately with little time to bird or blog, so my day out today was much appreciated. Left home early and met up with my boss (who has started reading my blog lately... errrr.... hi Dan...). We drove to the Hula Lake (Agamon) where we had a couple of hours for birding with Nadav before meeting our guests - Dr. Caren Cooper from Cornell Lab, and Yossi & Naama from Hamaarag (a national wildlife monitoring scheme). I had two personal missions - to photograph a singing male Black Francolin nicely perched on top of a mound, and to properly photograph a Black-winged Kite. I succeeded only partially in both missions. I heard lots of singing francolins, but they were all very shy and didn't show at all; got only this half-decent shot of this male hurrying through the vegetation.

Black Francolin - super chicken!

Did get this short sound recording:

I drove around trying to find something interesting but it was very quiet, perhaps because of the cold and wet weather. So at first I settled for photographing common birds like Avocet:


Marsh Harrier

Pygmy Cormorants

Wigeons - they are such lovely ducks though. I bet the males are realy tasty - they look so sweet:

This guy might have some American Wigeon genes thrown into it (or Mallard / Shoveler / Teal):

Lots of Glossy Ibises around:

Then at last I had some action - I found a dead crane in a Humus field with six eagles feeding on the carcass - 5 greater spots and an imperial (that took off before I got any closer).

Greater Spotted Eagles

I saw two pairs of Black-winged Kite (there are now three breeding pairs in the Agamon!) but none performed better than this:

Peregrine feeding on a pigeon - very large and pallid - maybe calidus

Then before lunch our guests finally arrived. We first took the mobile hide tour that was fantastic as always, amongst the 32,630 cranes (according to this morning's count by the Agamon team), and then drove around a bit more with a clubcar.

Eurasian Cranes

These screwed-up jumpshots became good mystery photographs - species and age please:

 Thanks to Dan, Nadav, Caren, Yossi and Naama for a great day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Third time lucky

So after 900 km of driving I finally managed yesterday to get proper views of the Hudsonian Whimbrel at Nakhsholim. This fantastic 1st for Israel, found by Rei Segali and Tuvia Kahn last week, had been playing hide and seek with me during my two previous visits. Yesterday I returned with Meidad, Arad and Jonathan. Started off at the original site where it was found and of course we saw no curlews at all for the first couple of hours. Only later we discovered that in recent days most curlew actions took place a few kilometers up the coast (thanks Lior), so we headed up there and indeed found the Hudsonian among a mixed group of another 5 Eurasian Curlews and 2 Eurasian Whimbrels. Pheew... We got good scope views of the bird both on the deck, feeding on the coastal ridge, and in flight, but the whole group was too jumpy so I got only these record shots. On the deck it is not easy to separate from normal whimbrels - perhaps a tad smaller, rather brown on mantle and coverts, with a prominent supercilium, but not striking and really depends on light conditions. However already in this image the brown base tone to TF (between the dark bars) is apparent- different from the whitish or pale greyish of euro whimbrel.

In flight of course very distinctive - dark rump (and very prominent pintail-snipe-like pale wing panels?):

And gingery-brown, densely barred underwing:

In the fishponds and on the beach some additional stuff - flamingos, shorebirds, gulls, terns etc. - lots of birds there. This sweet juv. Little Gull was feeding off the water surface like a marsh tern:

In the evening I met up with Søren and Kenneth from Denmark for a very successfull night tour. Together we had a memorable night - it was one of those rare days when it rains in the desert. We experienced some powerful floods, heavy rain, and walked up a desert gorge, in full moon, with huge amounts of water running in the wadi. We had superb views of both Nubian Nightjar and Hume's Owl - super stuff.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Full moon, new season

Long day yesterday. Started off with some meetings, then checked quickly a nice area north of Beer Sheva. Avner had some Syrian Serins there the previous day but I didn't see them. Some nice spring colours and birds there:

Chukar - they can run...

Then I drove down to Neot Hakikar to coordinate and prepare the coming monitoring season. Drove around the whole saltmarsh to make sure everything's OK there. Saw one Bittern that was too brief to photo. Several Great White Egrets around:

In the evening met up with Andreas and his mates from Denmark. It was an exceptionally warm night, and with a full moon it was very pleasent outside. We checked the mouth of a wadi in the southern judean Desert and had fab views of this male Hume's Owl - fantastic start to the season.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Partial joy

After a morning meeting in Be'er Sheva I headed north to Nakhsholim to give the Hudsonian Whimbrel a second try. I was driving on the highway a few kilometers north of Beer Sheva when I saw this very pale, tawny-coloured eagle take off from beside the road. At 130 km/h it looked very plain and unstreaked, but I couldn't stop as there were some roadworks. I had to drive up the road a few more minutes until I found a place to U-turn (almost killing myself under a lorry), and headed back to where I first saw it. After a few nervous minutes relocated the bird and was slightly disappointed - 4th plumage Eastern Imperial Eagle. Very tricky plumage and an extremely bleached individual.

Anyway, back to the main story. Picked Arad up along the way and we arrived at Nakhasholim around noon, where we met up with a few others. We walked up and down the beach and for very long time saw nothing. At about 15:00 I spotted a distant whimbrel-type. After scoping it for several minutes feeding on the rocks, it jumped up (and out of view) and I could see it had a dark rump - It was the Hudsonian Whimbrel! After these very distant, far from satisfactory views (and no images at all), I started walking to get closer but couldn't relocate the bird. It is so mobile these days! About half the birders looking for it have missed it. I will have to return a third time for proper views - somebody needs to figure out what this bird is doing and where it hides when absent from the regular sites.
Apart for the whimbrel another two Eurasian Whimbrels and a Curlew, some Pallas's Gulls (with complete black hoods) etc.

Pallas's Gull

Slender-billed Gulls and Sandwich Terns

As a result of the extraordinary hot weather, some humans began their pre-breeding moult earlier than usual this year, and are already in summer plumage:

Nakhsholim beach

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hudsonian Whimbrel - NOT!

Yesterday the news broke about a Hudsonian Whimbrel found by Rei Segali and Tuvia Kahn at Nahsholim beach. This is an amazing first record for Israel - this bird should have been in Peru right now. Yesterday I was too busy at home and couldn't go for it, and of course it showed well to all those that arrived yesterday to see it.
This morning I was on site at 06:00. I was joined by a few others, and we spent the whole morning checking the rocky coast, but the bird didn't show today. Perhaps too many fishermen and hikers along the beach. I was so depressed that I couldn't bother getting my camera out for the semi-nice birds around - Pallas's Gulls, Greater Sand-plovers, Whimbrel and Curlew etc.
Even though this is just twitching, and part of the game, I was really disappointed, I really wanted to see this bird. I was also mad at myself for not making the effort and going yesterday. Ah well. Will try again on Monday, hope it resurfaces by then.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cold and quiet but...

Like every mid-winter in recent years, we returned with a large team to ring at Hameishar Plains. Expectations were high (mainly for sentimental reasons) after the great success last winter and also in 2011. However this winter has been very dry, not a drop of rain there yet, and the effect on the productivity of the site is evident - it was virtually birdless this morning. To maximize the fun, pre-dawn temperatures were well below zero - ideal conditions for setting mistnets up.
By the end of the morning we had a very small catch, with only one Asian Desert Warbler (out of two present). In the field there wasn't much more, a couple of Desert Wheatears and few other common desert birds.

Asian Desert Warbler 

Mourning Wheatear

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

North center south

Long day. Started with some meeting in the north, beforthe meeting had time for a quick look with Nadav at Kfar Narukh reservoir that was packed full with ducks. Highlights were 150 White-headed and 20 Ferruginous Ducks, 1 Red-crested Pochard, and an impressive flock of 250 Wigeon feeding on the nearby meadow:

Then I drove to the Safari park in Tel Aviv to colour-ring two gulls rehabilitated in the Widlife Hospital there before release - 1 Baltic and 1 Armenian. There were only few gulls on the pond. This female Yellow-legged Gull was ringed by yours truly in April 2013:

Then I released the gulls in Ashdod ponds. Large gull flock there gathering to roost. Had no time to check through them, but couldn't resist taking a shot of this Golden Jackal before I raced back home:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Arabian birds, friendly birds

Yesterday I went down to Hazeva in the northern Arava. I met up with Ayla Rimon who's leading the new birding center launched there. I worked with her on her monitoring goals for this year - we checked some optional monitoring sites etc. First of all good luck to Ayla with the new position! 
At Hazeva in winter, birds are few and far between, so you need to make the best out of each bird there. The study group working there on Arabian Babblers for several decades now, led by Prof. Amotz Zahavi,  has accustomed babblers and other birds. This gives incredible opportunities to study them from very close, almost like ringing. Many of them are colour-ringed for individual identification.

Arabian Babbler 

Ayla the Babbler Princess


Note the fine spiderwebs on the thorns...

Arabian Warblers, the rarest and one of the most important species of the region, managed to evade us all morning. Only just before noon we bumped into a couple - but they were very mobile and moved on quickly before I managed to properly photograph them:

Arabian Warbler