Saturday, April 20, 2019

Holiday birding

My family holiday in Cyprus continues. The daily routine includes early morning birding, אhen family outdoor activities during the lesser productive hours of the day. Two days ago I met up with Colin and we birded Kathikas Hills together. Nice stuff around in lovely habitat - several Cyprus Warblers (great to see them well on their breeding grounds), Tawny Pipit, Cretzschmar's Buntings etc. (eBird checklist here).

Cyprus Warbler - male

Yesterday morning I returned to baths of Aphrodite caravan park. On the ground, migrant numbers were a bit lower compared to two days before but still enjoyable. However, main action was up in the air - massive active migration was happening, especially of hirundines, also good numbers of wagtails and pipits. The hirundine migration was really impressive. Early on, migration was over the beach at eye level, later on a bit higher up above the ridge. I did my best to count whenever I was not looking at stuff on the ground, and reached impressive totals of House Martins etc. (eBird checklist here). Highlights were a flyover Citrine Wagtail among the yellows, Eleonora's Falcon surely attracted to the fast-food opportunities, and two Scopoli's Shearwaters following fishing boats in the bay.

Common Whitethroat

Cyprus Wheatear - the male of one of the local pairs

Shame this photo didn't fulfill its potental

Tree Pipit - a few on the ground, many up in the air

Whinchat in typical caravan park habitat

Wood Warbler

Great to meet up with Magnus Robb, and discuss some bird vocalisations in the field.

In the early afternoon we did a family walk around St. Minas Chapel. It was the wrong time of day for birding and bird photography, so we focused on other flora and fauna, and enjoyed the stunning scenery. 

Orchids were well represented on the limestone hills:

Serapias bergonii

Pyramid Orchid

Bug Orchid Anacamptis coriophora fragrans

Ophrys morio (endemic)

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha

Thanks again to Matt for the help with orchid ID.

Cyprus Meadow Brown is endemic too:

Back at our accommodation Robin found this stunning Eastern Festoon - incredible creature:

This morning I returned to Polis campsite, hoping to produce more than on my first visit. It was actually rather quiet there - Great Reed Warbler and Little Crake were the only birds of interest (eBird checklist here).

Common Sandpiper

Mediterranean Shags

Our local Cyprus Scops Owls are still active as I type these words, though I have not made much progress with photography. Something to work on tonight and tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Day and night

What an excellent day this was. In the morning I checked Baths of Aphrodite, mainly inside the caravan park. It was alive with migrants - not huge numbers on the ground but cool stuff and some cooperative birds. Highlights were Barred Warbler, 6 Collared Flycatchers, 5 Wood Warblers, and good movement of hirundines out towards Akamas Peninsule - I assume from there next stop is SW Turkey. It's a lovely site - backdrop against the sea, Cyprus Junipers on the steep slopes - really enjoyable. eBird checklist here.

Collared Flycatchers - all 2cy males

Wonderful Warbler

Whinchat - female

Whinchat - male

Spotted Flycatcher

Several pairs of Cyprus Wheatear breed at the caravan park. Check out this neat male:

I was wondering whether their niche extends down to the coast - well it does:

In the afternoon we did a family walk in Paphos Forest, mainly around the Mouflon enclosure at Stavros tis Psokas and nearby Selladi Tou Stavrou. Beautiful scenery but I think that the cold weather reduced bird activity (modest eBird checklist here). Two out of three target subspecies were seen: Cyprus Coal Tits were quite active but never descended from treetops; a couple of dorotheae Short-toed Treecreepers showed quite well by the cafe at Stavros tis Psokas; no sign of crossbills. 

Orchis troodi (endemic) - thanks Matt for ID

Red Admiral

In the evening, back at our accommodation, Cyprus Scops Owl became very vocal after dusk. One individual sat on our chimney and sang so beautifully. I sound-recorded him from the living room through the fire place - quite cool...

While writing this he still is out there, doing his double-hoot. Goo-hood night.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

In Cyprus

Arrived yesterday evening in Cyprus. Actually my first visit to this island, so close to Israel. We're staying in a lovely villa up in the mountains above Polis on the west coast. Avifauna and flora are similar to northern Israel, but distinctly different. Magpies and Woodpigeons remind me I'm not in the Galilee. Cetti's Warblers sing differently here. There are some migrants around, but densities are low and birds are super shy here, especially when I raise my camera and point it at them. The ugly effect of intensive shooting and trapping.
This morning I went with Robin down to Polis campsite that was decent, with Collared Flycatchers, Orioles and Crag Martins (eBird checklist here). Cyprus Wheatears are pleasantly common. They are scarce migrants in Israel (check this one in Tel Aviv last week) - fun to see them on their breeding grounds. Most are skittish; only by our accommodation we have a rather tame pair - the female more so. Great birds.

Cyprus Wheatear - female. This was taken out of the balcony

This was taken by the swimming pool

And this by the carpark

Note the short primary projection, small bill and limited, squared-off white rump.
Sadly the male hasn't played ball yet. I have a feeling I will improve my results with him in the next days I'm here.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Fieldwork therapy

My busy spring continues. More fieldwork thankfully steers me away from thoughts about the future of my country and enables me to enjoy the magic of migration. A few days ago, with Mark still around, I collected data again in our Batha mapping project, north of Jerusalem. Pale Rock Sparrows, Calandra Larks, lots of common migrants in beautiful habitat - I certainly am lucky that this is my job.

Somewhat small-billed Calandra Lark

Mourning Wheatear

Tree Pipit on a rock - abundant migrant in all habitats, nevertheless sexy

Judean Iris - almost as good as a bird

Before dropping Mark and Amity off at the airport we made a 'small diversion' via Kfar Ruppin. I had a meeting there and I wanted M&A to experience the fabulous Bet Shean Valley. After the meeting we had 38 minutes of joy in the fishponds - huge streams of migrants overhead - storks, pelicans, eagles; the fishponds were full of good stuff. 83 species in 38 minutes - pure bliss (eBird checklist here). Light conditions were horrible and I was tired, so I left my camera in the bag - surely Mark will blog about it soon.
Yesterday I spent a morning mapping birds in the Poleg region, north of Tel Aviv, with INPA's Ohad and Tzlil. This is an interesting and relatively under-watched part of the country, despite being right in the center. No amazing rarities were seen, just a abundance of breeding species and migrants in surprisingly good habitats. I was busy counting so had little photo opps. eBird checklists here and here.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Ay up!

After IBOC was over mark and Amity came to stay over with us. Mark and I did quite a bit of birding in recent days. Mark joined me for a morning of monitoring with INPA at a proposed nature reserve along the Med coast north of Ashdod on Wednesday. The coastal scrub habitats were good for migrants (eBird checklist here). Good numbers of common species were seen and heard, as well as a Subalpine Warbler.

Masked Shrike

A migrating flock of Bee-eaters was nice to see - first-for-year are always fun:

The sandy coastal strip held several large groups of shorebirds and few gulls (eBird checklist here):

Yellow-legged and Armenian Gulls

A cute Red Fox was chilling out on a pillow washed on the shore. Sadly this section of coast is extremely dirty with garbage mainly from Gaza, Egypt and further west, and unattended by Israeli authorities.

Back at my patch, migration is evident with good numbers of common migrants as well as some enjoyable species such as Wryneck, Little Crake and Great reed Warblers. While walking there with Mark one morning we approached some large trees in a park adjacent to the creek. I told Mark that this is where I want to find today my first-for-patch Collared Flycatcher. A minute later, a black-and-white flash dashes through the trees. Boom! Image by Mark - thanks mate.

Yesterday we went birding in Hatzuk Beach north of Tel Aviv. Mark needed Cyprus Wheatear, and I was hoping for some good general migration. We were not disappointed. Meeting up with Stefan, we were soon alerted by Ori (a local young birder) that he had found/relocated a female Cyprus Wheatear. It was super mobile and restless. My photos are quite poor, but it's a right bird for sure. 

Further quality came in a similar form to my patch collared fly story. I walked with Stefan towards a large Sycamore Fig tree. Each time I walk there I feel that it's a perfect tree for Hume's Warbler. I shared this thought with Stefan, and sure enough few moments later we heard one calling! We failed to get any views of it - luckily it was relocated by others later on. My third in about a week... Other quality species included Citrine Wagtail, Woodlark and Siskin. Nice eBird checklist (here).

Woodchat Shrike

Spring is on! Stay tuned for more migration action.