Like everyone else, 2020 was the craziest, weirdest and most intense year of my life. I feel quite lucky though. While my country is going down the drain, failing miserably to deal with the COVID pandemic, special circumstances actually allowed me to up my birding game, at least in Israel.
How to summarise such an eventful year, with so many wonderful, unexpected wildlife experiences in one post? As in previous years, I will attempt to address the different aspects of my birding year in a thematic manner. So here we go:
Every year, my job involves a reasonable amount of time doing fieldwork in the various projects I coordinate or contribute to. In normal years, most fieldwork is done by freelance birders we hire. This year, when COVID19 pandemic broke, my organisation (BirdLife Israel) went into financial crisis mode. Many field projects were cancelled, but those that were already budgeted went on, without the contribution of freelance birders to the fieldwork effort. Therefore, the entire fieldwork load was divided by the few permanent staff. For me, it meant that between March and July, I basically shut down all other aspects of my work (and life), and devoted my time to fieldwork, day in day out. And I can't complain. It was a fantastic field season. The previous winter brought exceptional rainfall to the desert, the weather was beautiful, and the birds responded well. I focused mainly on two big projects, breeding birds of Nizzana region, and the national Breeding Bird Atlas. This brought me to some of the best parts of the country. During our first lockdown in spring, it was just wonderful to be out, empty roads, seeing nobody, in many places wildlife bounced back thanks to little human disturbance. And I was there, armed with my Essential Work permit, able to document it all; from the top of Mt. Hermon to the deepest Arava Valley, day and night, I consider myself lucky to have my job.
Ted Floyd, the ABA's editor of @BirdingMagazine , recently completed 5,000 consecutive days of submitting an @Team_eBird checklist, a streak that started January 1, 2007.— Amer. Birding Assoc. (@ABA) September 14, 2020
So now what?https://t.co/PgTVeTsvKA
Black-headed Bunting vs. Corn Bunting duel, including original #BehindtheScenes soundtrack of #GlobalBigDay yesterday in Golan Heights @JMeyrav @BirdingInIsrael @Team_eBird @CornellBirds @SPNI pic.twitter.com/0HWYqBxIPb— Yoav Perlman (@yoavperlman) May 10, 2020
Hey @JMeyrav what are you watching?— Yoav Perlman (@yoavperlman) December 15, 2020
American Golden Plover 🤘
Where is it?
Watch through @SwarovskiOptik ATX85, sorry for shit hand held quality...@BirdLifeIsrael @SPNI pic.twitter.com/gTPEEVm0lx
Our yearlist journey had its ups and downs. With all the end-of-year rarities it felt really good, but then this isolation came and hampered our efforts. In any case, as for this moment I have 388 species in Israel this year, up from 370 last year. Jonathan has almost identical numbers. I might get a chance to do a little more birding on the last day of 2020, when my isolation is over; it ain't over till it's over!
Champions of the Flyway
In most years, Champions of the Flyway is one of the highest peaks of my birding year. This year it happened when the COVID pandemic escalated fast, and we quickly had to adjust the structure of the competition. Eventually, it was a global celebration, bringing together birders from around the world, as described beautifully by my mate Mark. I had a bizarre day, travelling cross country to swap cars, chanced upon a Cyprus Wheatear and experienced some crazy migration near home.
Migration madness here in central Israel for #COTF20— Yoav Perlman (@yoavperlman) March 31, 2020
Thousands of pelicans, storks, cranes, eagles, buzzards, kites filling the skies. Unstable weather resulting in very low migration pic.twitter.com/T6cKAprSGc
Butterflies and other taxa
With all the time out in the field, it is difficult to ignore other taxa, even for a hardcore birder like myself. During the year I developed a growing interest in butterflies, largely inspired by Piki. Butterflies are wonderful, I confess, but the true reason why I started photographing more butterflies is because I changed my photo gear. Back in September 2019 I sold my trusty Canon 500mm f/4, and replaced it with Olympus OM-D EMiii + Olympus 300m f/4.
In hindsight, it was a problematic decision. I am happy I don't need to carry the heavy 500 on my shoulder anymore. However, I am disappointed with the choice of this body. I simply cannot get good enough shots with it in dynamic field conditions. Especially I miss too many birds in flight, and the effective focal length is just too short. The main advantage of the new kit is a very short minimal focusing distance, 1.4 m. Not quite a macro lens, still very good for butterfly photography, especially when they're large, shy and mobile. With this new situation, I resorted to do more digi-videos for birds, and zoomed in to focus more in butterflies and flowers. Here are some of my favourites from 2020.
In most year, international travel is a major component of my annual review. Not this year. Without knowing it would be our sole international trip this year, Amir, my brother Gidon, Eli and me travelled to Spain in late January, in search of Iberian Lynx. It was a tough trip, we somehow managed to see Lynx but not in quality. There were some Ok birds too, but it was a short trip.
I had two Rockjumper tours planned for this year, Bolivia in June and Colombia in September. Obviously, both were canceled. What will happen in 2021 I don't know. I miss international travel very much, and hope that in my annual review of 2021, colourful birds from various parts of the world will return to feature heavily.
This year I published only 44 posts (excluding this one), down from an annual mean of 130 in the golden years of 2010 - 2013, and 73 during 2014-2019. When I celebrated 10 years of operating this blog, back in September 2019, I asked for feedback from my readers. I received feedback that people are less interested nowadays in tales of 'today I went birding here and there, saw this and that and got these great photos'. This is understandable, with all the birding information running in real-time on various social media channels. Also I invest more time nowadays on Instagram, Twitter an Facebook; I write articles for several websites; and then I have a family and a job... In the end, there's less time available for updating the blog, and also my attitude towards it has changed a bit. It is still my baby, now 11 years old. But as the blog matures, and grows to be a teenager, I give it more space. I try to write only on major birding events, I add more varied media, and in the end the blog is still alive. I hope that in the coming years my loyal followers (thank you!), and new ones, will continue to enjoy what I post here on the blog, and in other channels.
Acknowledgments and thanks
As always, my adventures this year were rarely solo. Many good friends joined me for wonderful days in the field. As mentioned above, Jonathan was my number one. We did fieldwork together, we went birding together, we twitched together and got exposed to COVID-positive together... Thanks amigo. Not to forget all the other good friends who were part of m birding year - Piki, Meidad, Amir, Arad, Nadav, Rony, Re'a and many others. Thank you boys and girls!
With all this birding going on, it's hard to believe I keep a job. Thanks go to my boss, Dan Alon, and colleagues, for tolerating my birding obsession. I do bird for work, but I bird much more than that. Without the support of Dan and colleagues, this would not have been possible. Thank you.
As always, I am grateful to Swarovski Optik for providing me with the best optics in the world. This year I got to try the new binoculars, Swarovski Optik NL Pure 12x42 - they're amazing!
Proud to take part in testing the new @SwarovskiOptik NL Pure 12X42. Remarkable piece of gear, real game changer. Edge-to-edge sharpness at 70⁰, advanced ergonomics, reduced weight, extra sharp focus.— Yoav Perlman (@yoavperlman) July 1, 2020
More here: https://t.co/fkRcSa38mp#onewithnature#seetheunseen pic.twitter.com/SGP8lq5yol
My family, above all, is the engine to my birding. I hope that in the bottom line I am not such a bad husband/father as it may seem reading the lines above. From the bottom of my heart, Adva, Uri, Noam, Libby and not to forget Bamba (my most loyal field companion, who doesn't refuse to get photogarphed) - love you all to bits, and thank you!
I hope you survived through this long summary. Thank you for your support, have a wonderful 2021! Can't wait to start the yearlist again...