Saturday, October 27, 2018

Uncooperative quality Phylloscs

As I wrote in my previous blog, on Thursday a serious weather system hit Israel - the first storm of the winter. After a few quiet migration days, it was evident that this weather change knocked many migrants down. Yesterday and today farthest I could go was my local patch - there was a noticeable wave of Chiffchaff and Bluethroat. I birded hard to find something decent, or at least add new species to the site. The plan worked OK twice: While playing Yellow-browed Warbler music yesterday, suddenly a textbook Siberian Chiffchaff popped up in front of me - lovely grey all over with contrasting yellowish tertial and secondary fringes, and a neat, faint wingbar. By the time I got the camera up it was off and I could not relocate it. Today I walked past a park adjacent to 'my' stream - always when I walk past the big trees I listen out for a 'Tseeu-weet'. This time - bingo! Heard a very active Hum'es Leaf Warbler calling from a large tree - maybe 15 or 20 calls that enabled me to confirm the ID. It was a bit distant, and I had to walk around to a gap in the fence. By the time I got closer it became silent, aaargh! I searched the tree where I thought I heard it from - I saw a small, short-tailed Phyllosc flying away, but nothing more than that. I spent a while there, played music and did whatever I could to relocate it, without success. Frustrating, yet exciting to add another classic patch tick. It was actually a pretty decent morning - check my full eBird checklist here.

Cooperative Phyllosc - Common Chiffchaff

Most bizarre bird of the morning was a Peters's Twinspot - clearly escaped. It was very mobile so no photo but I got this sound recording, it's in the checklist.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

You buff beauty

Sometimes the stars do align properly in the sky. This morning I had a meeting up north. I decided well in advance to avoid traffic, leave home early and bird somewhere along the coast north of Tel Aviv metropolin. Yesterday evening, mega news broke of the first Buff-breasted Sandpiper for Israel, found by Gal Sherbelis, exactly where I had originally planned to go birding. So my alibi was set, now the bird had the obligation to play ball. I arrived there way too early this morning, and with the gathering crowds waited for sufficient light to allow a good scan of the large turf fields of Ga'ash.

There were a few moments of tension until the bird was spotted to everyone's elief - sigh... and then - boom! The Adrenalin kick of a super mega bird. What a super bird. After first looks and some ropy record shots, me and my colleagues tried to help everyone get on the bird. With the farmer working in the field it was a bit mobile to start with, but then it settled down in a specific corner of the fields. This was easily the largest twitch I have ever witnessed in Israel; at one point there must have been close to 100 birders on site. Nobody wore hi-vis vests, and there were no ropes and donation boxes, but in Israeli standards it was a well-organised twitch and generally (when I was there) everyone behaved well. Later on however...
Now to the bird - what a beaut! Compared to the adult I saw in Norfolk a few months ago, this gingery first-winter plumage is so much more attractive. We all kept our distance, so my photos don't really do it justice, but I am in love.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - fist for Israel

Photobombed by a Barn Swallow

Obviously all eyes were on the star bird (check national coverage here, including stunning photos by the finder Gal Sherbelis), but there were a few other good birds in the field. An Oriental Skylark flew over buzzing, Calandra Lark was surprising for the time and location, a Richard's Pipit or two, Namaqua Dove - pretty decent. My full eBird checklist is here

Monk Parakeets

While we were all admiring the sandpiper, Itamar, a young lad, snuck off and birded nearby Arsuf scrub. He found a pipit that was probably a Blyth's Pipit! Suddenly the possibility of a two-tick-day seemed achievable... I sped off there and spent a few frantic minutes trying to relocate the bird without success, until I had to take off not to be late for my meeting. Pity - it was very birdy with good potential for other stuff too. 
After my meeting I considered returning for a second photographic helping, but it started blowing a hoolie and I gave the idea up. If it sticks around for a few more days I might give it another shot.

Thanks to the finder Gal for this brilliant addition to everyone's Israeli list. Good to see so many well-behaved friends. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Birding Tel Aviv

Yesterday was my birthday, and I kept my tradition of not seeing any good birds. Only birding I did was while my son was in a club I checked a nearby park where Monk Parakeets breed - first, stunning photos I take of this recent invasive colonist. If I stayed in the UK I'd have a fantastic day with Brown Shrike and Stejneger's Stonechat, but I'm here in Israel, doing Monk Parakeets.

This morning I left early and birded Hatzuk beach, at the northern edge of Tel Aviv. It's a rather large patch of scrub-covered coastal sand-dunes. At the moment it's still attractive as a migrant hotspot; sadly in the future it will all get built up. In the early morning nice numbers of pipits and wagtails headed south, and few finches, including one Siskin. Huge numbers of Spanish Sparrows were moving through:

And large numbers were on the ground too, here with a Palestine Sunbird:

Some quality came in the form of 3 Richard's Pipits and a Citrine Wagtail moving south. A surprise Namaqua Dove headed south too, though it seems that recently they have started to colonise the greater Tel Aviv region too.

The most prominent migrants on the ground were Stonechats - I estimated 110 during my walk this morning. They were everywhere! Fighting on every thistle, chasing each other - quite lovely.

Among them there were a few Sibe Stonechats - 3 males that were Caspian, and a rather rich-toned female. Tried to turn it into a Stejneger's, without success.

Caspian Stonechat

Female Siberian Stonechat of some sort

I tried hard also to turn one of the Red-backed Shrikes into a brown, no luck there either.

There was a steady trickle of Eurasian Sparrowhawks heading south, I counted 12.

A Peregrine and a young Hobby were knocking about over the area.

Eurasian Hobby, 1cy

All in all it was an enjoyable morning. No rarities, and finch numbers need to increase towards November, but it was good to see so many birds in an urban setting. My full eBird checklist is here. This is my walking route, as recorded by eBird app:

On the way back home I checked Ayalon sewage treatment plant, which was packed with Shoveler and Teal, 42 Fudge Ducks and 2 White-headed Ducks. eBird checklist here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Classic Sibe birding in the Negev

What an excellent morning I had with Rony and Re'a. We left at silly-O'clock to get to Nafha Vineyards at first light, a bit too early. We met up there with Eran who focused on lying on his belly to photograph the many ralids present in the small wetland. It was jam-packed with birds, but we decided to walk around and boy, that was fun! There were tons of pipits and wagtails along the creek, and the bushes had lots of Spotted Flys and Phylloscs. Very soon we had a Richard's Pipit flying over calling, pretty high up - pretty cool.

Richard's Pipit - believe me...

We continued working through the common migrants, some of them beautifully lit in the golden early morning sunlight.


Spotted Flycatcher

Tree Pipit


flava Yellow Wagtail

One of a few acredula-type Willow Warblers

Then things picked up quite rapidly. First we spotted a finch flying around - big bill, long tail, then heard the call - Common Rosefinch! About a minute later I heard a familiar soft 'Tzik' and immediately exclaimed - 'Little Bunting!!'. Soon we saw the bird flying towards us and down the valley. It landed for a few seconds at some distance, but we obtained good enough views to confirm it wasn't a rarer bunting. Then it flew up and down the valley a few more time - it was very mobile and didn't give itself up. My camera didn't cope well with these pass-bys. 

We were very happy with this find, and continued walking. Back at the wetland, activity was excellent. The grass and reeds were whopping with acros, crakes, Bluethroats and hirundines. There was this most obliging and absolutely cracking male Caspian Stonechat by the wetland, with which I spent a few enjoyable minutes:

At least four Spotted Crakes, five Water Rails and one or two Little Crakes were at the wetland:

Spotted Crake

Always good to bathe in smelly sewage

Water Rails (1cy and adult?)

Re'a and me continued working the olive groves that were OK, while Rony and Eran remained at the wetland. We had a brief Red-breasted Flycatcher, and more common migrants and residents. 


Marsh Harrier - stunner

Mourning Wheatear of the nominate lugens group, probably 1cy

There were two large falcons working the site. One adult Barbary was straightforward to ID, but this 1cy is more challenging. In the field it felt tiny and very lightly built, unlike Peregrine. It is rather heavily streaked on the breast and flanks, possibly a bit too much for a Barbary. But the ground colour of the breast is buffish, and the upperparts feel more Barbary to me with browner tones rather than lead-grey. Not 100% sure about this one - happy to learn.

Out of focus, sorry

It was getting hot and Re'a and me felt that we had enough of this fantastic site - quite a good haul I think. Just as we talked about this classic October Negev morning, Rony notified us about a Yellow-browed warbler by the wetland. It was mobile and by the time we got there it was gone. We spent a bit more time there and headed on. Full checklist for Nafha is here.

Next stop was Mitzpe Ramon sewage. There were tons of hirundines, wagtails and pipits around the reservoir, including one Crag Martin, but the adjacent tamarisk grove that used to be fed by spillover is now dry and was rather quiet, perhaps also because of the heat. Only one Red-breasted Fly. Full checklist here.

On the way back home we paid a visit to the White-tailed lapwing found by Arnon Tsairi at Sde Boker sewage (thanks!) - always great to see, especially so well. Grand finale to a brilliant day.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Bet She'an Valley birders weekend

This weekend we organised a wonderful birders meeting in the Bet She'an Valley. We were hosted by Jordan Valley Birding Center, that has recently amped its activities and is fully geared now to become an international birding hotspot. I love birding in the valley in autumn; now, with the new infrastructure, more visitors are able to join the party.
Anyway, tens of birders from all corners of the country flocked to Kfar Ruppin. We spent Thursday afternoon and Friday morning in the field, birding the alfalfa fields, fishponds and scrub. Thursday evening was dedicated to social activities and alcohol consumption. Weather was a bit funny. Though I have seen the valley on busier days, birding was still fantastic and company was great too. Personally I saw 111 species, though the potential is much higher. No big rarities were found, but we enjoyed the predictable scarcities. As expected at this time of year, between the groups we had at least 7 Oriental Skylarks and a fair number of Richard's Pipits. I didn't see any of them well. Caspian Stonechat numbers were fairly low, but it is always a delight to share a few moments of tail-fanning with these stunners:

There were some classic Bet Shean valley scenes to be seen - clouds of Yellow Wagtails and Red-throated Pipits rising from the alfalfa field when a Pallid Harrier flew across; muddy fishponds with hundreds of shorebirds and banks packed with large waterbirds; thousands of Black Kites. Pure bliss.

Pallid Harrier - I manipulated colours here to create a nice silhouette of the harrier and wagtail

More natural colours

Dead Sea Sparrows

Crop on the central bird

Classic Bet Shean Valley scenes



Birding the alfalfa

Many thanks to the organisers - Nadav, Tuvia, David and Shelly; to my co-leaders Noam, Jonathan and Yael, and to all the fellow birders who joined in.