Saturday, August 30, 2014

Almost there but still here

Last days in Israel (I hope) - our passports are allegedly on their way to us, and if everything works well we are flying out on Tuesday. In the meanwhile we are meeting lots of friends and family, and having very intensive days. Yesterday morning I went to say goodbye to Yosef. He was ringing at Tsor'a so I joined him with my two sons. We had a great time, enjoyed big numbers of migrants, and warm hospitality. When I lived near Tsor'a and my sons were younger I used to take them almost every week during migration to ring with Yosef - and it was nice to revisit the site and Yosef who hadn't seen my sons for several years was amazed how much they have grown.
And now the birds - no amazing highlights but a nice variety:

Great Reed Warbler - 2cy+

 Savi's Warbler - 1cy

 Sedge Warbler - 1cy

Kingfisher - 1cy female

Lots of Rollers going through

Monday, August 25, 2014

Stuck in the Middle

Last few weeks have been very busy but also quite frustrating as well for me and my family. I spent almost a week in Norwich, furnished my house and got it prepared for my family to arrive. Enjoyed Norwich very much and had a good time with many friends there. The house is really nice and in few days I got it into quite a good shape. Garden list started - nice view from my office window.

I visited BirdFair briefly on Friday - very short and very intensive. Good to meet so many friends. Got myself two new books - check the image above. Especially pleased to get a copy from Martin Garner - congratulations mate on such an achievement.

I was thrilled to watch this great movie by Yuval Dax for the first time - captures precisely the spirit of Champions of the Flyway:

I was supposed to fly back to UK with my family yesterday. A few days ago we had tenants moving into our house in Nir Moshe, so the days before that had been hectic, trying to clear the house and clean it on time, with constant explosions and sirens as background noises...
Unfortunately, we have serious delays with our visas. The company working for Home Office are just impossible, and at the moment I have no idea when we will actually move to UK. I really hope that my kids will be there on time to start school. I hope this intermediate period will not last for very long. At the moment we are staying with family and friends, which is nice for few days but not for more than that. Add to that missiles and sirens - we really want to get out of here!
In the meanwhile, autumn migration is very powerful already. I had no time for proper birding in recent weeks, but lots of migrants apparent everywhere - Lesser Grey Shrikes, storks, Willow Warblers etc. Managed to escape for half an hour this morning to check a nearby reservoir which was nice - good numbers of Ferruginous Duck, some Marsh Sands, first Black-necked Grebe, many Garganey etc.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Long day today. Left home very early, met up with Barak and we were at Ma'agan Michael at 05:45. We birded mainly along the beach - checked several lagoons and puddles. Quite good numbers of shorebirds and nice variety. Best was this lovely Terek Sandpiper:

Other stuff included Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, 24 Greater Sand-plovers, 5 Sanderling. 2 Gull-billed Terns and 13 Gargeney coming in off the sea.


Still good tern activity on the beach:

Then I had a series of meetings, finalizing projects and saying goodbye to colleagues before leaving.
When I headed back home, Hamas fired two rockets towards my village. They were intercepted by Iron Dome. Today was a 'slow' day with 'only' 50 rockets fired by crazy Hamas towards Israel.

The moon is beautiful tonight:

Friday, August 8, 2014

Not so sacred...

At last went birding today, after too long. Birded the Ashdod ponds - perhaps for the last time for the next few years. Almost the first bird I saw almost knocked me off the car seat - a stonking African Sacred Ibis:

This African species is held in captivity in Israel in small numbers (and it is a prominent invasive species in some parts of the world). There used to be a tiny feral population in NW Israel until some years ago but they weren't reported in recent years. There are no records of wild individuals in Israel. This individual was unringed, flew well, was rather shy and showed no signs of captivity. Of course, it probably is a feral bird. However, the chance that is a wild bird cannot be dismissed - this species performs considerable migration in sub-Saharan Africa, similar to the movements of Yellow-billed Stork. Stunning bird nevertheless, especially with these impressive breeding plumes.

Otherwise, the ponds were packed full with shorebirds, mainly Tringas. 130 Wood, 50 Green etc. - big numbers. 30 Little Stints and one Temminck's Stint:

Nine Little Ringed Plovers:

Big numbers of Ruff and few Snipes:

The only gull on site was this diminutive Armenian Gull - what a tiny bill!

Not too many migrant passerines - some Yellow Wagtails, Isabelline Wheatears, one Savi's Warbler, and this 1cy Woodchat Shrike:

The morning ended in a sad way. At 08:00 the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas collapsed and Hamas resumes firing rockets into Israel. From 08:01 onwards I was birding amidst sirens and explosions. Rushed back home to be with my family. So depressing to see how Hamas leaders are determined to destroy Gaza - both people and land.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I'm back in one piece

Got back on Thursday evening from the Gaza War. In fact, the next day after I had written my previous post (July 13) I was called in to join my military unit when the preparations to the ground operation in Gaza began, and I was away for almost three weeks. I am still active in the reserve forces - at the same unit I was during my compulsory service. Why did I go? good question with several answers. First, because I was literally protecting my house and family. I live 9 km away from the Gaza border, and we suffer hard from the rockets fired by Hamas. In fact, only on Thursday my family reunited and we all met up at home after my wife was away with the kids for almost a month. My wife is a real hero - it was really difficult for her to be away from home for so long with the three kids. Also, try to imagine how she felt when I got the call that I had to go to war - not knowing when and if we will see each other again. So my ambition to stop the rockets aimed at my house was strong enough to overcome all the worries and questions regarding myself joining the war. At night, I looked back and saw the distant lights of Netivot, Sderot and even my little village, and that gave me great strength to push on.
The second reason that I went was my strong obligation towards my country, and towards my military unit and my close friends serving with me at the same unit. It is hard to describe such feelings to western poeple who have never had to serve and protect their country, but in the reality we live in Israel, it's part of our life.
Anyway, I was operating in Gaza with my unit for almost three weeks. I cannot write much about what we did there, but basically we operated on the ground to destroy the two main threats towards Israel - rockets, and terror tunnels. These three weeks were perhaps the most intensive weeks of my life. Full speed activity 24 hours a day, extreme focusing abilities needed to get our missions carried out with the greatest success while minimizing casualties of our soldiers and of Palestinian civilians. This extreme focus and sharpness needed was combined with increasing fatigue - during the first week I think I slept for a combined two hours or so. I didn't work alone - I was with a team of extremely motivated and skilled soldiers like myself. My deepest thanks go to my team mates.
Again, it is hard to describe the intensity to those who had never participated in such activities. Looking back, after winding down a bit, the unbearable contrast between the war I was in, and the relative tranquility of my life at home, only 10 minutes drive away (still constant explosions around us), is difficult to grasp even by myself. 
I am very glad to be back home, in one piece. I had a few near misses but eventually I am OK. I am not a politician or a high-ranked military officer, so I cannot talk about politics and my personal opinions have no influence on anyone. I just know that I participated in an important activity to protect my family and my country, contributed as much as I can, stayed safe and protected my team mates, and that's it. What next? I really don't know. This war is not over yet. I believe that in a week or two it will end, and the region will settle into a fragile quiet equilibrium. I was released early because I need to start packing towards my move to UK towards the end of this month. My friends are still in there. Personally, the move to UK comes in very good timing - for sure it will be quieter at Norwich than here. But I know that in four years, when we return to Israel, the situation will probably not change much, which is quite a depressing thought. 
I really hope that after this terrible war, the miserable people of Gaza, and the International Community, will understand that Hamas as it operates now promises nothing but fear, terror, hunger and misery to its own people. This must change, for the sake of both Gaza and Israel.
I know that this is a complicated post - I am sure that many of my international readers look at this conflict from a different point of view. I know that I even risk losing some followers here. I am not an ambassador to anything, I am just sharing my own personal feelings and thoughts. Even though this is primarily a birding blog, I feel obliged to report here about the major events in my life, and this was a major event indeed. I hope that my personal story, linked with what many of you know about me from my birding career, will give you a different point of view about the complicated situation here.