Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Evening fun

This evening, in between different duties, I enjoyed the opportunities for casual, quality offered in Israel. I checked Hulda Reservoir, that will become my local patch when I move to my new house next week. Surprisingly few shorebirds and ducks were present. Very good activity of Black-winged Kites around the reservoir though - a family with two very fresh young was doing its thing in the soft evening light. I am still blown away by how widespread they have become when I was away.

This young Monty had an extreme boa, but is still a monty. Dark trailing edge to plain primaries nailed it.

Ortolan - one of two just before dark

Other species of interest included (only) 8 Ferruginous Ducks, and a long-staying Great Crested Grebe. Full eBird checklist here.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Valley of Dreams and Wires

I am staying up north with friends for a couple of days. Early this morning I escaped for a sweet few hours of birding in the Bet She'an Valley. This is one of my favourite parts of the country, not only because I lived there between 1998 and 2001. I challenged myself to pick up as many species as I could, so I rushed from site to site and did not invest in photography at all. Admittedly, I was pretty lucky, especially with some migrant passerines that were present in ones and twos. I walked some alfalfa and scrub near Kfar Ruppin, then scrub and fields near Tirat Zvi, and ended up down at the bottom of the Jordan Valley below Kfar Ruppin at some beautiful reservoirs. As always, Bet Shean Valley is packed with birds, and diversity was very high too. Many species with big numbers. Some highlights were Little Crake, 2 Citrine wagtail, 5 species of shrike (woodchat most common). Among the most prominent were Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, that congregate in the valley at this time of year. I counted about 70. Not easy to get wireless photos pf them - wires are their favourite perch.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - adult


It was heartwarming to still be able to see fair numbers of Turtle Doves. I had over 100, including flocks of tens; far fewer than the tens of thousands I'd see in the same area 15-20 years ago.

Namaqua Dove has become a regular feature of the valley, which is lovely.

There were only small numbers of Honey Buzzards that took off - main passage should start any day now. One of them swooped down, very focused, and came down to drink in an empty fishponds:

That eye...

There were moderate numbers of shorebirds in the dry fishponds, with some variety but nothing too special. Nice to see over 60 Collared Pratincoles:

Demonstrating it's not black-winged or oriental

Temminck's Stint (adult) with two Little Stints - 1cy (top) and adult (bottom)

A few more random photos:

Huge numbers of Barn Swallows, many of them of the local breeding taxon transitiva

Black Stork 1cy

Desert Finchs

Pygmy Cormorant

Short-toed Eagle pre-sunrise

By 09:00 I was defeated by the heat and retreated to aircon coolness. All in all it was a brilliant early morning - 115 species in just over three hours ain't too shabby I think. Full eBird checklist here. Thanks to Avner for his help.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Saturday morning birding

Managed a couple of hours of birding this early morning before my family woke up. Checked Tsor'a fields, which was my local patch some years ago when I lived nearby. The site hasn't changed much, only many more Mynas, like everywhere in Israel. Early in the morning the weather was still OK. The alfalfa fields were packed with rubbish birds (Cattle Egrets, Jackdaws, Mynas etc.) and fair numbers of Yellow Wagtails. The alfalfa fields held few other migrants, but the surrounding scrub and adjacent reservoir were a bit more productive. Highlight was a Black-headed Bunting that delightedly popped up when I was enjoying a flock of Spanish Sparrows. This is the classic time of year for this scarce autumn passage migrant.

Black-headed Bunting - 1cy (hatched summer 2018) - adults moult in India and are very worn now; partial moult of 1cy (note moulted inner GC) is visible:

Spanish Sparrow - female

Spanish Sparrow - male

Willow Warbler

All in all numbers of migrants were relatively low, but now back in Israel I appreciate the relativity, and celebrate the migrants I did encounter today. Full eBird checklist here.

On the way back home I enjoyed another change in Israel's avifauna - a casual roadside Black-winged Kite. Once I twitched them hard and far; now they are almost as common as kestrels.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Back in the game

It's been almost a week since we returned to Israel, and slowly (or too quickly?) I'm getting back into birding action. My journey to rediscover Israel's birds started with a lovely ringing session at JBO, producing typical early autumn migrants - Eastern Orphean and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, the highlight being two Barred Warblers - an adult (2cy+) and a youngster (1cy):

Then a quick evening visit to a water reservoir close to where we're staying now - some ducks and shorebirds at one of the ugliest but best birding sites in central Israel. Climax of the week happened yesterday, when I traveled down to Eilat with Amir. Our target was the Yellow-billed Kite present for the last couple of weeks. Most Israeli birders had already been down to twitch it, so there was no news about it, negative or positive, since Friday. We got to Eilat in the blistering heat of the early afternoon. A first drive around its favourite haunt, KM19 cowshed, produced nothing. A scan of the adjacent reservoir was negative too, and our hearts started beating fast. But then we spotted it as it flew up from the vegetation around the reservoir onto a lamp post - phew! First views were rather distant and into the sun, across the large reservoir:

We drove around to get better views but the bird took off quickly (not because of us!), headed north, then gained height and disappeared far south - will it return? It's still in heavy moult, surely its aerodynamics aren't good enough to fly all the way back to Africa.

With a few hours of light to spend, we decided to do some recreational birding rather than head straight back. KM20 saltpans were rather birdy with quite many shorebirds, a Gull-billed Tern and good numbers of Garganey:

A short visit to North Beach was hot and not too exciting - only 7 White-cheeked Terns and White-eyed Gulls enjoying the many fish - there was a bit of 'sea boiling', not quite Scilly-style but still quite nice:

3 White-cheeked terns and a White-eyed Gull

White-eyed Gull and House Crow

On the way back home a tip-off from Noam sent us to Samar where we enjoyed a couple of Black Scrub-Robins - sadly too dark for any photos but what lovely birds to end a great day.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

So long, and thanks for all the birds

After four years living in the UK, my time here is up. In less than two weeks I am heading back to Israel with my family. Amidst all the packing and farewells, I feel I should take some time to summarize the birding journey I went through in the UK.
We as a family, and me personally, had a great time in the UK. I appreciate the opportunity I got to live in this country, and in the fine city of Norwich. We moved to the UK essentially for my PhD studies. However, I tried to do as much birding as could in between all other duties, and I am glad I did. During these four years I had many lovely experiences, not all bird related. Over the course of my stay here, I was fortunate to travel the length and breadth of the UK, visit fantastic locations, meet wonderful people and see brilliant birds. In this post I will highlight the best birding experiences I had in a chronological order since moving here in September 2014.


In October 2014 I had my first taste of east coast birding, with a good migrant fall along the north coast of Norfolk. This was also my first date with James. With Red-flanked Bluetail, Radde's Warbler and a self-found Little Bunting, this was sure to develop into a deeper relationship...

In November I enjoyed a typical seawatch in northerlies, that produced good numbers of fantastic Little Auks:

On a frozen late December day I headed up to West Yorkshire to see my first WP Blyth's Pipit:


In the early part of 2015 my birding slowed down a bit, but I did enjoy wildlife spectacles in the form of high-tide roost on The Wash, at RSPB Snettisham in late January.

February went by without much birding, while in March I managed to get one WP tick in the form of Iceland Gull.

In late March and early April I first did some fieldwork in Iberia and then visited Israel. Back in the UK, I twitched the Isles of Scilly for the first time, for a Great Blue Heron than lingered on Bryher:

In late May we visited the Yorkshire coast for the first time, spending time with friends in Flamborough, RSPB Bempton Cliffs, and Filey. My friendship with the late and sorely missed Martin Garner, Mark and Amity, and many other local birders, strengthened my connection with this beautiful part of the UK.

Summer 2015 was rather slow, but in July I twitched a long-staying Greater Yellowlegs at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire.

In September birding certainly picked up. First, a quick-response twitch to Dungeness connected me with what was the rarest WP bird I saw in the UK, Acadian Flycatcher, and my first yankee landbird in the WP:

In late September I headed up to Shetland for a fabulous week with Martin, Sharon, Roger and Paul. Birding was a bit hard-going but I did see a wet Pechora Pipit, and self-found a Blyth's Reed Warbler two hours after I started birding:


I know this isn't quite the UK, but in January 2016 I did my first and only Euro twitch, for the popular Siberian Rubythroat in a quiet Dutch village - such a fine bird that it had to make an appearance in this summary:

Winter 2015/16 ended without further drama; in spring I went to Israel again and then to British Columbia. Birding back home was pretty slow. Towards the end of May I enjoyed a brilliant Firecrest in James's garden. Not a big rarity, but what a cracker!

In June things picked up a bit with two WP ticks in Suffolk (Greenish Warbler and Blue-winged Teal) and a superb Great Knot at Titchwell on the North Norfolk coast:


In July Suffolk provided me with another WP tick, a Baird's Sandpiper at RSPB Minsmere:

In August I headed down to Kent for the returning Bonaparte's Gull at Oare Marshes:

Autumn 2016 was one to remember, and I was lucky to enjoy some of the headline birds along the East Coast. In October I headed up to East Yorkshire twice, first for the beautiful Eastern Crowned Warbler that showed superbly at Bempton Cliffs, and then for the first mainland Siberian Accentor at Spurn, amidst a brilliant migrant fall on the peninsula:

Towards the end of the month I was part of a group that found an Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy Dunes (well, Dave found it and we just joined in):

In November action did not end. First, back to Minsmere it was for a lovely Cliff Swallow:

I really enjoyed my first proper Waxwing fix, with nice numbers in Norwich:

In early December I saw my final major rarity of 2016. I visited Derbyshire for the exciting Dusky Thrush in the small village of Beeley:


2017 started with a bang - within a few January weeks I had three WP ticks - Pacific Diver and Black Scoter in Northumberland, and White-billed Diver in Lincolnshire - what a fine bird:

The tail end of the winter went by without further drama in the UK, and I went to India for a couple of weeks in February. Then I spent most of the spring doing fieldwork in Iberia. Back in the UK in June, I headed down to RSPB Pagham Harbour for the Elegant Tern:

In August I went up to Shetland with my family, where we had a lovely time with friends. Wildlife highlight was not a rare bird, but a heart-pounding encounter with Orcas:

In September I returned to Spurn Migfest. Among the many wildlife spectacles and experiences at this special event, headline bird was a Long-billed Dowitcher:

In mid-month I headed down to Dorset to twitch two storm-driven shorebirds at RSPB Lodmoor - Stilt and Least Sandpipers:

Towards the end of the month I worked hard to eventually see one of my most-wanted birds, found by my pub-mate Stu - Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler at Burnham Overy. No photos of it (I was lucky to see it at all); an Arctic Warbler nearby was a bit more obliging:

The rest of autumn 2017 was a complete opposite to autumn 2016 - weather was awful (for birding) and there were basically no birds along the east Coast. In November I visited Israel briefly, and soon after my return I saw several Parrot Crossbills along the border between Suffolk and Norfolk, in Thetford Forest.


Half of the additions to my WP list in 2018 included American shorebirds. In late January I connected with the sweet-looking Spotted Sandpiper in Nottinghamshire:

In February I traveled in South Africa for a couple of weeks which was brilliant. A huge storm in late February brought in a welcome visitor from the Arctic - a fantastic Snowy Owl on the beach at Titchwell:

In March I headed to Israel again, for Champions of the Flyway. After submitting my PhD thesis I had more time but there were not too many birds to see, sadly. Very slow spring migration, and few rarities. In April and May I had luck with two American herons - American Bittern at SWT Carlton Marshes, and Green Heron in SW Wales:

In June I (most probably) self-found a Paddyfield Warbler on Blakeney Point, and later on added another most-wanted species to my list, that showed up exactly as I had anticipated it (albeit in horrible conditions for photography) -a lovely Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Potter Heigham:

In July I traveled in Sweden for a week with my family, and just before the month ended and my birding time in the UK was up I added a last-minute WP tick - Semipalmated Sandpiper at RSPB Snettisham.

Now it's time for some credits and thanks. When I moved to the UK, Martin Garner helped me a lot. One of the most amazing gifts he left behind is links and relationships he helped in formation. Martin recommended that I get in touch with James Lowen. I did, and we became close friends. James was my partner in crime in many of the above twitches. Martin casually invited Mark and Amity to meet me in his garden in Flamborough - what a deep friendship grew out of that first meeting. Thank you again, Martin. 

In this post I wrote 'I headed here' and 'I traveled there' but of course that's not accurate - I almost always birded with good friends. Nick, Mike, Quentin, Phil, Dave, Jake and Drew are just a few of the many generous, lovely people I was lucky to meet here. Thank you all!

So this is it. It has been one hell of a ride. Saw lots of good birds, never stopped learning and had many a laugh. But now it's time to move on. So long, and thanks for all the birds.