Saturday, April 27, 2019

Back to the hills

After the short Cypriot break, I resumed fieldwork in the Batha hills north of Jerusalem. On Thursday I surveyed some higher-elevation hills. While bird densities were somewhat low, perhaps due to higher levels of anthropogenic disturbance, I did find most expected breeding species including Long-billed Pipit, Cuckoo, many Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and Cretzschmar's bunting. As expected at these higher elevations, there was quite good activity of Woodlark - top quality bird IMO.

That wing pattern

Zoothera Lark!

Also Spectacled Warblers were pretty active and showed nicely, though light was a bit harsh:

On Prickly Thornet (Sarcopoterium spinosum)

With Red Everlasting (Helichrysum sanguineum) bottom right

Despite the near-shrubless habitat, there were hordes of Blackcaps in the low bushes, and Ortolans, mainly on the move but some came down to drink in puddles:

Black-veined White are very common in this habitat:

Pyramidal Orchid is one of the latest-flowering orchids in Israel:

Yesterday in the afternoon I visited Gazelle Valley in Jerusalem with Piki and my brother. We searched without success for a Great Snipe that is still there. Big numbers of swifts were impressive - those ultra-aerobats drinking in the main pond against the sun provided some photographic opportunities that I barely grasped:

Gazelle Valley eBird checklist here.

Today was super-productive at my local patch and at home. I had a Little Bittern surprise me in the garden while hanging up laundry, and a Red-footed Falcon flew over.  An early morning visit to my patch, Nahal Ekron (see checklist here) produced the goods - Little and Spotted Crake, Little Bittern and Barred Warbler on a fantastic Mulberry tree that also hosted 2 Golden Orioles.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Black and white

My last proper birding session in Cyprus was back at Baths of Aphrodite. There's something special about the topography of this site, how it's wedged between the sea and the mountains, that concentrates active migration there. At first there were few hirundines on the move, but after a dramatic hail storm passed, suddenly the skies were flooded with swallows and martins, all heading northwest towards the tip of Akamas Peninsula and onward to Turkey.

On the ground there were quite a few migrants present, in somewhat smaller numbers compared to previous visits but still enjoyable. Sadly the huge migration wave of B&W flycatchers that Israel is experiencing was not pronounced is this part of Cyprus. However, even the handful of Collared Flycatchers present are sufficient to make any birder happy.

I spent a bit of time with one of the Cyprus Wheatear pairs. The male has become really tame and performed admirably - stunning bird. 

How morally bad is it that I removed the nasty twig behind his bill?

The female was not so well-behaved but I guess I can't complain.

Other birding highlights were a Great Reed Warbler, 2 Masked Shrikes (continuing the B&W theme) and both cuckoos. eBird checklist here.

I'm back home in Israel now. Cyprus was great and birding was good, though at least during my visit and where I checked migration was OK, not more. I missed some crazy days of birding in Israel while I was away, hope to catch up with some action in the next few days. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Holiday birding

My family holiday in Cyprus continues. The daily routine includes early morning birding, then 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.