Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hot hot hot!

Went down to the Arava Valley on the hottest day of the year. Participated in a public meeting promoting better conservation of the fragile habitats of the C Arava, organized by NPA. Driving down in the early afternoon, the temperature rocketed up to 47°C, and didn't really drop even after sunset: 

After the presentations we went out to the field. Of course wildlife is not easy to spot in these weather conditions. We had a few Spiny-tailed Lizards basking in the sun:

Amazing that there is fresh germination in this heat - result of the massive floods in early May. This is from KM76: 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Oh, not again...

What a day of highs and lows. Started early - after a difficult week without fieldwork I had to get away and went birding this morning. Really felt like going to Ma'agan Michael - some decent birds had been seen there in previous days, but the drive is too long and decided to stay close and check some sites near Ashdod... First checked the gull ponds - some early shorebirds (Marsh, Green, Common Sands, Greenshank) and only one gull - this ugly Armenian Gull with bad eyes:

It is incredible how within few years Common Myna has become one of the commonest birds in C Israel:

Continued checking a few more sites, seeing nothing, when the RBA alert went off - Crab Plover! Ma'agan Michael! I have a long (bad) history with this species after missing four at Eilat by 15 minutes in 1987 (I was 12 years old, actually left North Beach 15 minutes too early), and in 1997 I was in the army and couldn't get away to see them at Ma'agan Michael. So when the news of this stunner found by Eyal Bartov broke, I didn't think twice and flew at low altitude to MM. Lots of adrenalin pumping. Only to get there and learn that the bird had been flushed about 30 minutes earlier by bikers - it's a very busy public beach. It was seen flying south and out of view, and was actually seen only by the finder and by Asaf Mayrose who lives there. A large group of frustrated twitchers assembled, and together we covered about 30 km of coast, but the bird was never relocated again. Damn.
When we first got down to the beach we struggled a bit with the identification of this bird - bill structure and head pattern didn't fit very well with Crab Plover:

Oh well, another dip. With the history of the previous records in Israel, they never linger here, so I'll need to wait for another 15 years.

This is from Mida Creek, Kenya, December 2010:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Never wait too long for a twitch

About three weeks ago, just before I went to UK, an interesting shearwater was found at Eilat by Shachar Alterman. It was first identified as a Yelkouan-type according to distant views and poor images, which is a good record - only two prior Red Sea records. However, a few days later when the bird became more settled and good images were taken, it showed in fact some good signs of Manx Shearwater, which would make a first for Israel! There was quite a lively and educational discussion among Israeli birds, mainly because both Manx and Yelkouan Sheawaters show great variation in almost every ID feature, but in the end the consensus is that it is a manx indeed. 
Since I got back from the UK almost two weeks ago I was over-busy, and just didn't have time to drive down there. Yesterday morning it was still seen briefly, so I decided to hit it yesterday evening. I met up with Re'a and together we drove down. It was very hot in the Arava:

And by the time we got to Eilat the thermometer climbed up to 45. At the beach we were joined by Shachar the finder. We spent the next three hours searching for the bloody shearwater but it didn't show. It's a pity because even without the shearwater it was a good afternoon - 3 White-cheeked and 1 Bridled Terns, 1 Sooty Shearwater, 3 Arctic Skuas etc.,  but still we left back home disappointed. II am really depressed not only by not seeing the bird but by the idea that I might need to drive all the way down to Eilat in the coming days to try for it again - if it gets refound. 
Arctic Skua

Monday, June 16, 2014

Nightjar Night

Last Night I completed my Nubian Nightjar monitoring efforts for this year. The moon was almost full and the night was warm - perfect conditions for this activity.
I met up with Barak who stayed with me all night (thanks B!) and we drove down in the late afternoon. En route we had a quick look to check whether the regular breeding pair of Sooty Falcons had returned from their winter travels - and indeed there they were, possibly checking out nest sites. Great views but terrible photo conditions:

Wildlife Photography at its best - male Sooty Falcon

Then we went down to Sdom Saltmarsh where we worked for the whole night. For shorter periods of the night we were joined by Ayla and a few other birders - thanks to everyone. Bring more food next time will you? 
We really struck gold with the nightjars - the males were very vocal and we were very efficient. By the time we left after 03:30, we encountered more than 40 singing males! And quite a few others in areas I had already checked earlier this season. The totals for this year will be over 60 singing males. Due to access difficulties (mine fields) my ability to record real breeding success is limited, so I use singing males as an index for population size. 

Another example of stunning wildlife photography - Nubian Nightjar take-off:

Other night birds we had were some Night Herons, Stone Curlews and one Barn Owl. There was some other wildlife as well. We had a few foxes, hares, Wild Boar and this very tame Fat Sand Rat (Psammomys obesus):

Towards the end of the night we had a pretty scary encounter. The night was very warm so we decided to go in for a quick dip at a small 'secret' oasis. After cooling down a bit, we walked out through the bushes towards the car. I suddenly heard a characteristic 'hsssssssssssssssssss' just by my bare feet - a large and nervous Painted Saw-scaled Viper (Echis coloratus) luckily jumped back from where it was sat about 40 cm from my feet, rather than striking. It retreated into the bushes while continuously hissing - scary shit. Certainly got the adrenalin pumping hard for a couple of hours.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Final day of monitoring Course, Mt. Hermon

Yesterday was the final field day of the Wildlife monitoring Training Course. This hugely successfull course was funded by EU, and coordinated by Hans Seidel Foundation. Yours truly and Noam Weiss were the chief trainers. We had 27 trainees from all over the country, and we trained them in various survey methods for several taxa (birds, mammals, reptiles, flora and insects), and other useful skills like data analysis and GIS systems. 
The last session was on Mt. Hermon, to wrap up some of our field work last week for the breeding atlas. I missed Thursday but yesterday I left home too early (02:00) to arrive early on Mt. Hermon. We spent the full morning surveying some of the mid-altitude habitats. Lots of birds around - mostly families. Very high densities of Eastern Orphean Warblers and Woodchat Shrikes. No rarities around but some good specialties present in good numbers - mainly Western Rock Nuthatches and Sombre Tits.

Eastern Orphean Warbler - female

The scenery is always stunning on Mt. Hermon:

We did our course summary by the drinking pools. The summary was constantly interrupted by the birders shouting out birds that came in to drink - some rock, Black-headed and Cretzschmar's Buntings, one Upcher's Warbler, many Syrian Serins etc.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Birding at last

So, after almost a week in UK, today I finally had time for birding. This was a very busy week of house-hunting, school visiting, university stuff etc. On Thursday I attended the meeting of the EuroBirdPortal project at BTO - looks like it's going to be very interesting. But I saw virtually no birds the whole week long. 
This morning I met up early with Nick and Peter (from Finland - he participated in the EBP meetings too). We started off at Hickling Broad that was OK - not too many migrants around but some nice stuff: 5 young Little Gulls were pretty good, a Bittern flew past a couple of times, a pair of Cranes was being loud from the forest behind the reserve, a pair of Garganey seemed to be in the business, and a few more bits and bobs. Weather was not great but not too bad.

Little Gulls 

Sharp-eyed Nick 

Then we went to Winterton Dunes. Nick and I covered large distances, mainly talking about past and future rarities that the habitat looks perfect for, but in fact there was very little in the way of migrants. The weather felt promising with good southeasterlies and some bursts of rain to knock all those megas down, but nothing happened.
The sea was quite alright though. Highlights (at least for the season) were Fulmar, Kittiwake, and six Common Scoters. There were also one Harbour Porpoise and one Grey Seal. There was a steady movement of Gannets, tons of Little and Sandwich Terns, and some single shorebirds. 

And that was that. Back to the airport and now I'm in Amsterdam, headed back home. Back to UK in mid August. Many thanks to all my good friends who hosted, helped, gave advice etc. See you all pretty soon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

UK recce visit

Arrived in Norwich yesterday. I will be here for a few days trying to prepare the ground for my move with the family in August - house, schools etc. Must admit that UK bureaucracy is not easy to deal with, but hope to manage to get some stuff done by the end of the week. Staying with Andy & Trudy in their lovely village house south of Norwich. Andy has an active moth trap - yesterday's yield was of about 20 species, including this impressive duo - Privet and Poplar Hawk-moths. I guess that if I'm moving to the UK I should start getting interested in these nightjar-food-items.