Friday, August 30, 2019

Pistachio magnet

I spent this morning at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. At this time of year, the best of autumn there, the large pistachio trees (Turpentine Tree, Pistachia palestina) are packed with sweet, fatty fruit that attract large numbers of migrants, mainly warblers. It was heartwarming to watch the trees dripping with Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps, despite all the damage we cause to our planet. Alongside the commoner species, the rich habitat hosted lots of fine migrants. There were several Common Redstarts around, at least two were Ehrenberg's while another was probably European. Not too easy to do when they're young and silent.

Ehrenberg's Common Redstart, 1cy male

Probable European Common Redstart, 1cy male

Spotted Flycatchers were very prominent - such neat birds:

A few Willow Warblers were hopping around, mainly feeding on mites off Common Fennel bushes

Among the Sylvias,  there were also a few Eastern Orpheans (towards the end of their migration), Garden and Common Whitethroats.

Common Whitethroat

There were a few acros jumping around the pond. At least two were Marsh, one of them eventually ended up in the nets;

Marsh Warbler, 1cy 

Turtle Dove - has become really scarce in Jerusalem

Full eBird checklist here.

Many thanks to Yishay who ran the ringing this morning, Klil, Gidon and Amir.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Hooded Wheatear

Yesterday I worked in the Judean Desert, helping INPA with breeding raptor monitoring. I joined the local ranger Jamil, and Amir. Sloping east down from the mountains towards the desert plateau, we were greeted with breathtaking desert vistas:

There we found quite many wheatears, including several Hooded Wheatear families. Lovely birds to see. I have not seen many fresh juveniles before - quite a unique plumage:

This is mom, freshly moulted hence the pale tips to lesser coverts:

When we reached the mightly cliffs of the big canyons, the sun was high up already. But down in the deep canyons it was still nice and cool (I guess). Scoping this tiny spring, there were very large numbers of passerines coming in to drink - Sinai Rosefinches, Striolated Buntings and Trumpeter Finches. Too distant to photograph.

Alongside the local breeding raptors, small numbers (a few tens) of European Honey Buzzards took off. Tiny numbers compared to the heavy passage further west. This adult female has some funny features - quite heavy build, small dark gorget, barring on free section of fingers, reaching all the way to axillaries.

Mammal-wise we did not see much, but found signs of wolves and hyena.

Thanks to Jamil and Amir for a lovely day.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Thank you, BE

On August 13th, while I was in the UK, the first White-throated Bee-eater for Israel (and 3rd for WP) was found north of Eilat by Sara Deutch and the Shiff couple. During my stay in the UK I was biting my nails constantly. Will it stay? Every morning I switched my phone on, and every morning the news came through that it was still present. I kept all my 20 fingers crossed tightly, and indeed on the day of our flight back, yesterday, it was still there. I arrived back home at 23:00 last night, after a long journey. Kids needed food, showers, bed-time stories etc., I unpacked my birding gear and after a short snooze headed out at 02:30. Met up with Rony, Re'a and Tamar, and together we cruised through the night to arrive at dawn on site, west of KM20 saltpans. A few more birders assembled, and we started searching the vast area for the star bird. For the first couple of hours there was no sign of it, and I was getting worried - several of my friends had tried for it multiple times and failed. Was it going to be a dip? Then, luckily, Re'a and Tamar had it briefly in flight. A short while later I saw the smallish bee-eater briefly in flight too - so mobile! But phew: lifer, WP and Israel tick under the belt. I was keen to get better views and maybe even a photo, but it kept disappearing and was lost again for another hour or so. Eventually Eran, Tuvia et al. found it foraging deep inside a date plantation, where we all had fantastic views. What a cracker! We watched it for a while, happily catching wasps and bees very efficiently, then let it be.
Seeing such a rare bird so well was a real treat. I feel very grateful that this African gem waited especially for me - thank you, much appreciated.

White-throated Bee-eater - first for Israel

Even after almost two weeks on site, the bee-eater attracts quite a lot of international interest. My Twitter and Facebook BOC posts performed rather well:

Of course the bee-eater was not the only bird we saw. While searching for the bee-eater I bumped into the equally long-staying Hypocolius. I saw it at some distance, into the sun, so no photos but always a quality bird to see. A quick drive around the saltpans produced Hoopoe Lark, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Citrine Wagtail and actually lots of migrant passerines in the plantations and scrub, including Lesser Grey Shrike. All in all a respectable 69 species - check our eBird checklist here.

Hoopoe Lark

Lesser Grey Shrike - don't worry, it's not a scapular patch, just a photo artifact produced by strong sun glare:

I had to return home early, so we headed back before noon. Driving through the Negev, I spotted a large raptor circling over the road - Golden Eagle! We had rather pornographic views of the beast, presumably a male, eyeballing us - fantastic experience.

Too close!

Many thanks also to Rony, Re'a, Tamar, Tuvia, Shachar and all the other birders who shared this special morning with me.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The end of an era

On Saturday I arrived in the UK with my family for a two-week long visit. By definition, this is not a birding trip. However, I was still hoping to keep up my birding streak. Until today all went well - I managed to get out every morning, birding sites east of Norwich such as Potter Heigham Marshes (see eBird checklist here), Rush Hill Scrape (here) and Breydon Water (here). While I did not see anything exceptionally rare, I actually enjoyed those mornings out pretty much - good numbers and fairly large numbers of species.

Classic Norfolk scenes - Chinese Water Deer plays around with an Eurasian Crane, while a Northern Lapwing flies by:

Speckled Wood

Yesterday I was playing around in a campsite near Hickling with this large Hornet-mimic Hoverfly (Volucella zonaria):

Check those fantastic structures on its forehead:

When my phone started going crazy, with this:

Sadly, today I was completely destroyed in the morning and couldn't get myself out of bed early, and was fully absorbed in family stuff all day. There was no way for me to get out birding, so today my beautiful 234 days of checklist streak ends. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Almost there

The last days of summer (from bird migration perspective) are tough. Things just don't want to get going. First signs of autumn give hope for a flood of migrants soon to arrive, but the River of Birds in the Sky (yo Bill! Miss you bro) is still just an intermittent trickle.
Yesterday I went to Hulda Reservoir where things are building up nicely. Good array of shorebird, some ducks, a few migrant passerines - 72 species in total (eBird checklist here), not too shabby. Savi's Warblers, 12 Collared Pratincloes, Black-tailed Godwit were the highlights. It is not a good site for bird photography - scope job there and I hate digiscoping.
This morning I went to Tal Shahar - Tsor'a with hopes for more early migrants. Started off at Tal Shahar alfalfa and nearby riparian scrub. It was somewhat quiet, but still nice (eBird checklist here). No big highlights - 2 Indian Silverbills were the only birds of interest. I don't know what's their story exactly. They were absent all summer, and they seem regular in autumn. Last year I saw them a few times in my area. Let's see if they show some regularity this autumn too. I managed one horrid flight shot of one, making it look properly rare, like a quality vismig record:

This awful flight shot led to a series of just-as-bad flight shots of other common species:

Asian Black-winged Kite

Pied Kingfisher flying high towards a nest somewhere?


Syrian Pecker

Turtle Dove numbers were certainly on the increase, congregating post breeding/fledging before migration.

Woodchat Shrike (1cy) - I love this plumage

Large Salmon Arabs were abundant

Inquisitive Golden Jackal

Then I gave Pel'i Reservoir a thorough check, but came back with not so much.

Two more checklists today, day 214/365 of Checklist-a-day challenge, 223 days of checklist streak.