Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Champions of the Flyway 2016

Champions of the Flyway 2016 is behind us and now there's some time to look back. It has been an amazing 48 hours of adrenalin and birds and emotions. I will begin with a quick back-log of March 28th. Had some time in the morning for a quick look in Yotvata. The fields were alright with some nice migrants. Best was an Oriental Skylark and a female Siberian Stonechat.

Siberian Stonechat

It was associating with this Whinchat:

Two Montagu's Hrrriers hunted low over the fields:

Booted Eagle

Desert Finches 

Steppe Buzzard in nice early morning light

The sewage ponds were relatively empty, maybe because there are Egyptian Geese there now:

 Black-headed Yellow Wagtails

Marsh Sandpiper - so pretty in summer plumage

Photo-bombed by Black-winged Stilt

With Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpipers

Several Masked Shrikes there as well

When leaving I stopped to witness the incredible raptor passage overhead. I counted some for fun - I had 2000 Steppe Buzzards and about 400 Black Kites in 15 minutes, also 40 Steppe and two Eastern Imperial Eagles. Ming-blowing.

On the race day itself (March 29th) I was out with the teams. In the early morning I went up to the stunning Seifim Plains. 

I spent some time there and had quality birds - Temminck's, Lesser Short-toed, Bimaculated and Bar-tailed Larks, Cream-coloured Courser, Rock Thrush, Spotted Sandgrouse etc.

Desert Wheatears 

Big numbers of Northern Wheatears and Tawny Pipits:

Hen Harrier

 Martijn from Dutch Knights with Rock Thrush:

Meidad and his team Sooty Falcons

Checked a few small sites further north that had many migrants - Collared Flycatchers, Ortolans, Wrynecks, Nightingales etc. Neot Smadar held nothing unusual.

Black-eared Wheatear

Namaqua Dove - always pretty

supecilliaris Yellow Wagtail

Ofira park held a sweet selection of migrants that included:

Cretzschmar's Buntings


In the afternoon focused more on the busy sites of KM20 saltpans and north beach. Like and outdoor BirdFair almost. So many friends coming and going - tried to help them to collect the important species quickly - Greater Sandplover, Brown Boobies etc.

After all the teams finished before midnight Itai, Jonathan and me sat on the lists until very late. The results are all over social media. Anyway congratulations to the winning teams Arctic Redpolls and Jehova's Chickens for their fantastic efforts. Well done all teams for the awesome fundraising to help HOS prevent illegal killing of birds in Greece - a record breaking $67,000! The ceremony event was incredible with huge support and power, and hope in the form of the brilliant children that took part in the race and did very well. My appreciations goes to my friends and colleagues Dan and Jonathan for their professional dedication to this great event. Till next year!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What a great day!

Not a very inspirational title but it really was simply a great day. Spent it with a group of journalists who are here to cover the Champions of the Flyway. They all write for birding magazines and websites so they are keen birders themselves. It was great to be out with them. In the morning also the Hellenic Ornithological Society team joined us which was fun.
We started off at Uvda Valley. Pretty quiet to start with but eventually we had quite many birds. Habitat looks good after yesterday's rain - lots of water. We had a nice variety of open-country migrants - pipits, wheatears, larks, wagtails etc. Highlights were two Spectacled Warbler families, three stunning male Pallid Harriers, and a possible singing Bar-tailed Lark. This Desert Agama (Trapelus pallidus) was lovely:

Neot Smadar sewage was packed with migrants, mainly Yellow Wags but also a Citrine, Garganey and a few other bits and bobs. 
After lunch I checked this Semi-collared Flycatcher found by Jonathan in the city center - nice male, great bird sadly on an ugly perch:

Then in the afternoon we checked Holland Park. Lots of warblers and the regular desert species showed well. Also Wryneck, Nightingale, a nice flock of Bee-eaters and overhead big raptor passage. This corking male Sinai Agama (Agama sinaita) was my personal highlight:

Balkan Warbler

The evening at North Beach was magical. Constant arrival of birds, stuff going through all the time, lots of quality and variety. Highlights were the two long-staying Brown Boobies, 9 Oystercatchers, Arctic Skua. Also the expected White-eyed Gulls and Western Reef Egret. Flocks of Spoonbill and Glossy Ibis came in off the sea. Massive raptor passage overhead, including single Lesser Spotted Eagle and Montagu's Harrier. Huge duck flocks (mainly Garganey) circling the gulf. Great stuff.



In the evening at IBRCE we had the opening ceremony of COTF. It was a brilliant evening. looking forward very much to the race on Tuesday. Special thanks to Noam, Tzadok and the IBRCE team for hosting the event.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Israel at last

I am so glad to be back in Israel. Came here with my family for a two-week visit. First day was devoted to friends and family but I was so happy to see all the birds around. Just casual stuff but lots of things - Long-eared and Scops Owls, Great Spotted Cuckoos, Pallid Harrier, Lesser Kestrels, Serins, Savis's Warbler, Quail etc. - all common migrants but such a difference compared to my regular experiences in the UK. Highlight was the Rough-legged Buzzard that thankfully stayed and stayed for me, sitting just along route 6 yesterday afternoon. Israeli tick! I was in a great hurry so no time for images. Returned again this morning but no sign of it. Unstable weather meant few raptors.
In the northern Arava I tried for the Red-billed Teal. I checked three sewage farms, and it was in the third. It was very jumpy and flew off just as I got out of the car to scan over the fence, 200 m away. Israeli tick - well, not quite sure about its origin but we'll see. A fine bird anyway. Here I think it is with a hybrid duck thing:

Also there a flock of 6 Baltic and 2 Heuglin's Gulls, and a White-throated Kingfisher.
In the Arava it was raining quite heavy so little passerine activity. At KM76 Rueppel's Warbler, two Lesser Kestrels and a large flock of 400 Spanish Sparrows, until I had to escape from the torrential rain.

Wet Lesser Kestrels

Spanish Sparrows

Down at Eilat it was pretty windy but nor rain. At IBRCE ponds two Gull-billed Terns and some Whiskered Terns:

Caspian and Gull-billed Terns, Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls

Whiskered Tern

In the afternoon a very large movement of migrants was apparent around the city. Huge numbers of hirundines were grounded, as well as thousands of yellow Wagtails. At the ditch behind the cowshed three Citrine Wagtails and a Spotted Crake. 

Sand Martins and Barn Swallow

In the evening Leica Birding organized a great event - good to get the Champions of the Flyway show rolling, and great to meet so many new and old friends.
Looking forward to tomorrow!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring has not sprung yet

At least here in Norfolk. Enjoyed the relatively nice weather today walking in Winterton Dunes. However I did not enjoy the birding too much, especially while getting all the spring reports coming in from Israel to my phone. I was obviously over-optimistic hoping to find a first wheatear or martin, but had practically nothing. Too many people and too few birds. Even common birds were few. I was so desperate I even photographed this cracking male Mallard:

Eventually found myself photographing the most beautiful dog in the whole world:

On the way back home dipped on the Green-winged Teal at Cantley. Great day.