Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My best moments of 2014

2014 was an exciting year for me. Birding was great (though I have had better years in terms of additions to my Israeli lists). But the most exciting aspect of the year was our move to the Norwich, UK for my PhD studies at UEA. More on this below. So here we go:

The year started well with raptor surveys and other fieldwork. Bet She'an Valley continued to produce with a nice flock of Little Bustards settling there for the winter: 

We continued with our annual winter monitoring of Hameishar Plains in C Negev - fewer Asian Desert Warblers than last winter, but even one is stunning: 

The first major twitch of the year happened in February. Rei Segali and Tuvia Kahn found a Hudsonian Whimbrel at Nakhsholim beach. Perhaps not a full species but a fantastic record of this taxon. It actually took me a few attempts to get proper views of it - it was very mobile along that beautiful stretch of rocky coastline.

Hudsonian Whimbrel with Eurasian Curlews and hooded Crow

In spring I focused on a large breeding atlas project of Batha (open rocky Mediterranean steppe) birds. I worked mainly in the N Negev and enjoyed every minute. Some top-quality birds breeding there, like this Long-billed Pipit:

This year again we had a breeding invasion of Hill Sparrows to some parts of the Negev. Their buzzing song was part of the soundtrack while doing the atlas work. Interestingly, they failed to breed in the more productive habitats of the N Negev, but apparently succeeded in the remoter C Negev.

Nice migration in March, with lots of nice encounters, including a large flock of migrant Lesser Kestrels catching beatles:

In late March I joined the Eilat Bird Festival, though my participation was more limited this year due to family restrictions. I led a few successful tours, including the Rambo tour, and all participants were very happy with this smart visitor from the east - Israels' 9th Pied Bushchat at Neot Smadar, found by Igal Simantov:

Eastern Subalpine Warblers are stunning - almost better than American warblers...  This superb male performed at Eilats' Holland Park:

I was part of the organizing team of the main birding event of the year (in Israel) - Champions of the Flyway. The scouting days were fantastic and huge fun, mainly thanks to the high spirits of team members - so many good friends from all over the world. During a visit to Yotvata Sewage I found this intriguing White Wagtail - still undecided whether it's from east or west:

Race Day was exciting and exhausting. I was judge and spent the day with teams out in the field making sure the day goes smooth for all. I saw huge numbers of birds myself - I scored 145 species within a very limited area. Not bad. The closing event was moving, and we all are looking forward to Champions of the Flyway 2015. Thanks to Yuval Dax for the use of his image:

After the race I returned to fieldwork routine. Breeding surveys took me to remote wadis in the S Negev:

Temminck's Lark

To the top of Mt. Hermon:

White-throated Robin

Asian Crimson-winged Finch

And to the bottom of the Rift Valley, monitoring 'my' Nubian Nightjars. Before sunset these gems of birds are always welcome:
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Through the whole spring I led a Wildlife Monitoring Training Course together with Noam Weiss, via the Hans Zeidel Foundation. The field trips were great and I learned a lot myself. Not too many chances for photography during the course but this female Namaqua Dove at Hazeva was cooperative enough: 

Not a rarity but I just like this shot - Montagu's Harrier near my house in late April.

During one of the days I was on top Mt. Hermon news broke of a mega - Dark Chanting Goshawk in the other end of the country, near Yotvata, found by Steve Arlow. I was too far so couldn't go for it, and this was the first of several megas I had missed this year.

In late May I went to the USA with Jonathan Meyrav and Dan Alon, to participate in the largest bird race - World Series of Birding at Cape May, NJ. We were joined there by local super-birder Tom Reed to form the SPNI / Swarovski Champions of the Flyway team. Together we managed to win the cape may County Award, with a whopping 178 species! Yet another amazing, intensive race day. Lots of cool birds for our day list. Tom you are a star! 
After the race we continued to a series of meetings and lectures, that involved birding with some of USAs' finest:

And with the help of a certain pocket owlet I got some nice photos of colourful (or colorful?) birds:

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Canada Warbler

Mourning Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Summer in Israel was rather slow on the everyday-birding side; some sandgrouse counts in the south and families of sweet Cream-coloured Coursers:

My run of bad luck continued through the summer. Israels' first Rueppell's Vulture was seen by Ezra Hadad but it was not twitchable. Then an interesting shearwater was found by Shachar Alterman at Eilat. In the first images it looked like a yelkouan, but as better images emerged it became evident that it was Israels' first Manx Shearwater! I was extremely busy at that time and by the time I got my ass down to Eilat it had already gone. And then, while I was having a boring morning at Ashdod, I got news about a Crab Plover at Ma'agan Michael! It took me about an hour to get there but the bird had already gone by then. Shit.
The rest of the summer was quiet on the bird side but pretty noisy from other perspectives... And then it was time for myself and my family to pack our stuff up and move to UK in early September. Just before leaving I said goodbye to some of my favourite birding spots:

This African Sacred Ibis at Ashdod was probably just an escape, though it's tempting to consider vagrancy given it's nomadic nature in southern Arabia:

Terek Sandpiper at Ma'agan Michael

Life in the UK is great for all of us. The boys settled well in school and they learn English quickly. I enjoy university life, and Norwich is a Fine City indeed. The only problem with my new lifestyle here is the very limited time I have for birding, as I have no fieldwork here in the UK. I do go out birding from time to time, but due to time constraints I go out much less than I want. However, still I managed to see some nice stuff along the N Norfolk coast since I arrived. Starting with this Caspian Gull that showed well at Cromer in late September:

Radde's Warbler was a star bird of a super day I had in mid October, that included also Red-flanked Bluetail, self-found Little Bunting and about 10 Yellow-browed Warblers.

Radde's Warbler

Good northerlies blew in early November and as a result large numbers of Little Auks were pushed towards the N Norfolk coast:

This male Surf Scoter off Holkham was a welcome addition to my WP list:

As was this Snow Goose in mid December, also at Holkham:

Common and gorgeous - Long-tailed Tit:

In late November I visited sunny Israel briefly for a few days, where I had just enough time to see this ugly Isabelline Shrike:

When I arrived back in UK I discovered that on the day I left, Israels first Ashy Drongo was found by Irad Solnik at Gan Shmuel. Damn!

I also visited Portugal and Spain briefly in December, where I had some more additions to my WP list and short visits to my study sites and my study birds - Great Bustards:

For my blog, this was the slowest year ever, with this post being the 93rd for 2014. But still, an exciting year it was, and I am looking forward to a birdier 2015! 
As always, this year of birding was so much fun thanks to my friends and colleagues. Big hugs to everyone!
Many thanks to all my followers and supporters worldwide. Despite my lower rate of new posts, I still get huge support from all of you and this warms my heart. Many thanks to Swarovski Optik who started supporting me this year. And special thanks to my wife, Adva, my hero, who kept up with my bullshit for yet another year. I love you babe.

Best wishes for a great 2015 to everyone!


  1. Stunning shots of these birds! Your kids are adorable, too ;)
    Thanks for posting the link to the Champions of the Flyways event for next year. I met a fellow today at Wakodahatchee Wetlands here in Palm Beach County, Florida, who knows you....small world!

  2. Well, that's some sort of a jealous maker! Congratulatios anyway!