Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Boom mega whopping day on Mt. Hermon

What an amazing day it was. I joined the Hermon breeding survey today, coordinated by Nadav (with just a bit of help from yours truly). I was privileged to survey one of the most exciting corners of our country, right on the Syrian border very high up. Because of the sensitivity of the site we had to wait for military escort before we could go down, so we worked the Duvdevan ridge for the first couple of hours of the morning - it was very good. Most impressive was a high concentration of Crimson-winged Finches - we had about 15-17 pairs along a short stretch of the ridge (!), some of them already with fledglings. They are really stunning birds, so rare and so special. As always they were very mobile so this time I got only half-decent images:

 Croimson-winged Finch

Other highlights on the Duvdevan ridge were both Rock Thrushes (Rufous-tailed and blue) breeding, one distant singing White-throated Robin (new site), Spectacled Warblers, several families of Horned Larks and generally lots of birds. 

Horned Lark ssp. bicornis

After we met up with our military escort (late!) we climbed down the steep slope into a beautiful high-altitude valley, at about 2000 m. It was already late and hot and light conditions were very harsh, but we had a fantastic time there. Highlight was two pairs of White-throated Robins - we saw only the males that were feeding - possibly the females are still in the nest. 

Soundscape thing of the breeding area:

They are so rare so we were very gentle with them. During the first session of the survey a month ago Re'i and Lior had about five pairs in this valley. Today we struggled a bit to find them but eventually enjoyed great views and activity.
Other highlights included singing Upcher's warbler, several families of Spetacled Warbler, a couple of singing Cuckoos, Raven, and many more. The area was exploding with buntings - Cretzschmar's and Black-headed in very good densities, and also Rock and Corn.

Black-headed Bunting 

 Spectacled Warbler 

 Woodlark - big numbers

We got our adrenalin rush when we had a close encounter with an impressive group of 14 adult Wild Boars with nine piglets: 

Mountain Horned-poppy (Glaucium oxylobum)

Unidentified mushroon - will update when I get the ID from friends

This is the valley we worked in:

Amir posing with his military escort early in the morning before we split up:

Many thanks to Roei and Eran for a great day - hard work but well worth it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

GPS Lesser Kestrels

Lesser kestrel is an endangered species in Israel, though in the world it seems to be doing better in recent decades and is in fact off the IUCN Red List. We put much effort to better protect them in Israel, including extensive community projects in villages where they breed. I am coordinating the monitoring and research efforts - annual national breeding census, and this year we managed to get funds for 10 GPS tags - thanks to the Hoopoe Foundation. These tags will provide us with vital information on their migration patterns and wintering grounds, that are a mystery at the moment. They leave Israel in mid June, and don't really get to E Africa before early November. So where are they during this period? And how far south in Africa do they spend the winter?
After obtaining the necessary permits, yesterday and today Ron Efrat and myself tagged five birds in the southern Carmel region. Trapping them was more difficult than I expected, so it's working slower than we planned. But Ron will continue working this week and hopefully will get all remaining tags travelling to Africa on the backs of Lesser Kestrels. Fantastic birds they are, aren't they?


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ma'agan Michael

Since I got back from the USA a week ago I've been very busy with almost no time for birding. The main reason for this involves big news for me and my family - in late August we're moving to the UK - I'm starting a PhD program at UEA in October, and we will be based in Norwich. Quite complicated with three young children and a dog... Also shutting our lives down here involves a lot of issues. Personally and professionally I am really looking forward to live in that part of the UK for three years. Hard to say what will happen to the blog - I will try to continue writing and keeping it alive, but I might need to think of creative ideas on which format to use. More on this to come.
Anyway, on Thursday I had some meetings near Ma'agan Michael, so managed a couple of hours of quiet birding early in the morning before the meetings.  In fact it was very quiet, migration is almost over and it felt like the summer has settled in. There were few migrants around - a handful of shorebirds and some marsh terns. Breeding or summer visitors were present in good numbers. The only semi-interesting birds were an unhappy-looking, late Steppe gull, and one White Wagtail.

Steppe Gull and Armenian Gull

As you can see from the next two images, numbers of oversummering Slender-billed Gulls in Israel are increasing dramatically in recent year. no breeding yet:

Whiskered Tern 

White-winged Tern 

Purple Heron

Glossy Ibis

Friday, May 16, 2014

USA final day: Central Park & back home

So yesterday was our last day in USA. We met up early with star birders Doug and Tom at Central Park. Weather was shit and so was the light for photography, but we did get some good birding done and had a good laugh. We encountered some of the more colourful characters of the Central Park birding scene, and got very important advice on how to improve our birding skills.
I was impressed by the habitat at Central Park. Yesterday the park was not pouring with migrants, it was rather pouring with rain, but in some patches there was quite good activity and we got eventually 15 warbler species, including Orange-crowned, Bay-breasted and Cape May. Here are some record shots – light conditions were really bad:
Black-throated Blue Warbler - always elegant

Blackpoll Warbler - the commonest at Central Park yesterday 

Hooded Warbler - still don't have a proper photo 

Wilson's Warbler 

Northern Waterthrush

Swainson's Thrush

Baltimore Oriole

Lincoln's Sparrow - several seen

Warbler neck in process

Nice habitat

In the evening we flew all the long way back home. I was very glad to get back home and meet my family, but I already miss the USA, and need to return to get some more proper birding done. Maybe next year?
It was a fantastic visit, both professionally and for birding. Everywhere we visited, and anyone we met, always we felt very welcome and well respected from all our partners and friends. I am sure that new projects and cooperations will result from this important visit.
On a personal level, we met so many great people and made many new friends. Birding was superb, especially with the help of our friends – thanks to you all!
And finally, many thanks to my travel partners Dan and Jonthan, and for the NJ bit also Tom Reed – it was great fun with you guys.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

USA day 8: crazy migrant fall

After giving the successful talk last night at Rochester, we started off early this morning. We headed over towards Lake Ontario to get some migration. We started off at West Spit, and as soon as we got out of the car we noticed that this was a big and special day. Every tree was dripping with warblers, and the amount of bird calls and song was astonishing - it really filled the air. We met up with Catherine and Luke, and started birding together, working the lakeside vegetation and gardens. It was truly awesome - both the volume and variety, and the colours of course. Not only warblers were exploding, but also lots of flycatchers (Yellow-bellied, Least and Willow) and thruhes (Gray-cheeked, Swainson't and Veery) which was great. The commonest warblers were Magnolia, Yellow-rumped and Wilson's. On the lake there were Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers. About 10 Bay-breasted Warblers were very nice. This was the first time that I felt what a proper fallout should be like and it was great. I didn't want to leave but we had to move forward.

Bay-breasted Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Wilson's Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler 

Yellow Warbler 


 Gray-cheeked Thrush

Brown Thrasher 

Cedar Waxwings - several flocks flying around 

We spent about an hour at Bradock Bay Bird Observatory. They experienced this same fall of migrants in their nets and had a bumper day. Despite being very busy, the observatory team was great and very friendly, and I learned a lot about the way they work and develop. And the birds were just gorgeous - I felt I was in a candy shop, chosing what bird I want to photograph.

Wilson's Warbler 

Magnolia Warbler

Canada Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler 

Northern Waterthrush

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Lake Ontario - thanks Jonathan

 Everybody look up!

In the afternoon we said goodbye to Laura and drove over to NYC. Long drive but stunning scenery, and we were happy to get here in the evening and enjoy a cool evening here at NYC.