Sunday, March 31, 2019

Birding IBOC2019

I am part of the organising team of IBOC2019. As such, I am expected to spend my time in the conference hall, listen to all fascinating presentations, participate in exciting workshops, mingle and brainstorm. However, all I really want to do is go birding. I lead early morning tours for IBOC participants, that are nice but too rushed and group is very big. I try to sneak out once or twice a day for a cheeky hour of birding - again not ideal birding conditions but better than nothing.
Yesterday very first thing in the morning I led an IBOC tour to Holland Park. It was quite OK with many warblers (though I expect a post-8am visit would yield more Sylvias), Barbary Falcon and a flyover Egyptian Vulture (eBird checklist here):

In the afternoon I went up with Amir, Mark and Annie up scenic Wadi Shlomo. Weather was quite shit, resulting in slow bird and reptile activity. We did bump into three Nubian Ibex - their population in Eilat Mts. is tiny so that was pretty cool. Also cool not to see them feeding out of rubbish bins. 

On our way out we spent a few enjoyable minutes with a pair of Sand Partridges. They are common desert birds for us here in Israel, but I sincerely appreciate their subtle beauty and uniqueness. The male was clearly in the zone - he almost certainly showed off to us - he was facing us all the time, eyeballing us, pumping up and calling. I interpret this beaviour as showing off to the female: 'Look at me, see how brave I am displaying and singing exposed to crazy predation risk from these dangerous humans!'.

Incredible structure on upper mandible covering nostrils:

This morning has been OK so far. KM20 saltpans were somewhat quiet, but birding was brightened up by a cracking flyby male Pallid Harrier, and flocks of Yellow Wagtails, Short-toed Larks and hirundines on the move north. Later on, with Jonathan, Elifaz sewage was rather birdy with many warblers and wagtails, Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, a couple of nightingales etc.

Friday, March 29, 2019


In the last few days since my last post, COTF ended and IBOC started. Typically, right after the award ceremony at IBRCE wrapped up COTF events, two Oriental Honey Buzzard flew by, causing havoc. This is the same female I saw before, and a young bird:

In between the two events I headed back home for one night. Classically, a potential Brown Shrike was found by Shachar Shalev in Eilat just as I arrived home. Luckily, or not, it was not twitchable and was not relocated next day or since.
I stopped briefly at Hameishar Plains twice, on the way home and on the way back. Habitat is fantastic there, and there are tons of birds on the plains. Thousands of storks, clouds of Short-toed Larks, huge numbers of wheatears and pipits, Lesser Ketrels hovering - brilliant. Most impressive (IMO) are huge numbers of Pale Rock Sparrows - I had a flock of 300 at one point, and many others scattered across the plains, 'Zzzzzzzzzzzzz'itting their hearts out.

With Isabelline Wheatear - for you A

Other sweet migrants were Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Caspian Stonechat, a stonking male Whinchat, and many Sylvias including Rueppell's:

Caspian Stonechat


Rueppell's Warbler - missing two tertials on left wing

Among the numerous feldegg Yellow Wagtail there were a few supercilliaris-integrades:

Back at IBOC and Eilat, an early morning tour to IBRCE produced nice views of Baillon's Crake. I paid that shrike site (Shakhamon Park) a courteous visit. It was not present but a wing-barred leaf warbler that was found yesterday showed well and called. Yesterday it was identified as Yellow-browed Warbler, but I am 100% sure it's Hume's Warbler, based on its call. My sound recording is rubbish; luckily Jonas Bonnendahl kindly shared his excellent sound recording with me.

These are sonograms of the calls from this recording. This is the regular call - check the low pitch and shape:

This is a 'funny' little call it gave occasionally:

Its looks are somewhat misleading - it's a rather contrasty individual, but still OK for spring humei. In these images bring into account the green light reflecting under the canopy the affects the tones of the bird. In real light it is much greyer.

Shakhamon park was pretty good with many migrants, mainly warblers (eBird checklist here).

Balkan Warbler

Tree Pipit

IBOC itself is fantastic - well organised, great program. Looking forward to the next two days at the conference (and the few hours sneaking off birding).

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Eilat day 4 - race day

What an amazing day it was, made even more mentally challenging with the sad news coming from across the pond of the departure of our dear friend and comrade BT3. I received the news while standing at a watchpoint overlooking the Arava Valley and Eilat Mts., watching a River of Birds pouring through the sky. How appropriate.

I did not race myself, as I am part of the organising team. I spent the day assisting teams, scouted key species and sites, and made sure that teams remained focused and on track. After spending much of the night at the start line, at dawn I gave one of the teams a lift to Amram Pillars. On the way out enjoyed a ram Dorcas and a Woodchat Shrike.

I spent a while at Yotvata fields. The circular field was packed with bird that hid well in the tall vegetation. I walked through a tiny section of the large field and had tens of Sedge and Savi's Warblers, mainly heard calling and singing but occasionally climbed up for brief views:



Also a few Bluethroats:

Squacco Heron resting outside the field

Also some White Storks

Several harriers cruised over the field, flushing pipits and wagtails:

Hen Harrier

Quality species included 2 mobile Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (very unusual here, found yesterday), Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and 3 Collared Pratincoles.

 Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Collared Pratincole

eBird checklist here.

Then I headed back to Eilat checking a few more sites along the way. I positioned myself by the IBRCE; my main mission was, again, to connect properly with an Oriental Honey Buzzard. With some help from friends, I eventually had a lovely female - rather brief encounter but at last photos! Jynx removed.

In the afternoon I spent time with teams in the productive sites around Eilat. I was focused on getting teams on key species so had no chance for 'proper' birding. Still some nice stuff, such as a Peregrine skydiving at Slender-billed Gulls and a flock of 9 Eurasian Curlews - quite huge in Israeli standards.

Before dusk there was the traditional assemblage of teams at north beach, frantically using the last rays of light to add species to their lists:

After checking all teams lists, I can only say that the final results are incredible - wait till tomorrow! Kudos to all teams who made an enormous effort, both in the field and in fundraising.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Eilat day 3 - Holland and Canada

Today I continued with my demanding task to assist teams in their scouting efforts, which actually meant birding in cool spots. Isn't it appropriate that on pre-race date I visited two sites that could be identified with our Dutch team - Team VCF, and Canadian team - The Canucks. First thing in the morning I birded Holland Park together with Mark and Anat. At our hotel doorstep we had a flock of 53 Baltic Gulls fly over on their looooooong migration between Lake Victoria and Finland - the stuff Eilat legend is made of:

Birding Holland Park started somewhat quiet; the Black Bush Robin showed very well close to the entrance but wouldn't play ball.

A gorgeous male Northern Wheatear posed against a dramatic backdrop of Eilat Mts.:

Pretty good numbers of Balkan Warblers:

Sand Partridge - male

Real action was in the Sylvia camp, especially around the Magic Bush - a huge flowering Capparis decidua that attracted many tens of warblers. Most prominent were Rueppell's Warblers - around 10 in that one bush. They are real bullies, constantly harassing all other warblers and each other:

But the real star was Eastern Subalpine Warbler. Two males were in that bush, one of them was a real performer - feeding at extremely close range. What a fantastic bird. I have many more images - a dedicated blogpost will follow.

Eastern Subalpine Warbler - 2cy male

While heading out a flock of five Penduline Tits flew in - so cool to see them away from reedbeds, in a desert wadi. They were very mobile so managed only these record shots.

eBird checklist here.

After lunch I had a quick look in Canada Gardens, where a Semicollared Flycatcher continued to show extremely well. Another top-quality bird. Sadly light was harsh - the promises for Armageddon weather down here never materialised. 

eBird checklist here.

In the afternoon we had a final briefing and swap meet for COTF teams at IBRCE. After the meeting we spent another fantastic hour vis-migging from the dyke - very cool stuff including Little Swifts, Dead Sea Sparrows and many more (but still no oriental cigar).

Two hours till COTF - time to get a bit of sleep...