Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Special post - summary of 2019

As 2019 drew to a close, it's a good opportunity to look back at what I've done, from a birding and wildlife perspective, in the past year. It was a bird-filled year, maybe the most intensive birding year I have ever had. I experienced so much, in Israel and worldwide, that a monthly summary will be too lengthy. This year I will try a new format - thematic summary. So here we go.


In 2019, eBird completed its total takeover of my life. I decided to participate in eBird's  'Checklist-a-Day' challenge, and upped the game by two levels. Once, rather than the checklist-a-day average required by the challenge rules, I decided to submit checklists each and every day. In 2019, I submitted 671 checklists. However, I birded only 364 days this year: On August 14th I was in the UK. The weather was truly awful, and family commitments prevented me from doing any birding. I could have ticked a few Blue Tits in the garden, but I felt that was pointless. So he'res to a perfect 2020!
My second personal condition was that I need to go birding properly every day. Like at least 30 minutes of meaningful birding, with bins and everything. The challenge rules accept even five casual minutes in the garden - that wasn't enough for me. In this I succeeded - every day I went out birding, it was proper. Birding became a daily routine, and this felt very good. I birded locally, nationally and globally. I birded for work, for recreation, for listing purposes. Can't think of a better lifestyle.


Lucky me, my job includes a fair amount of fieldwork. This takes me to some of the best habitats in Israel, where I get to see the rarest breeding birds of Israel. In 2019 much of my fieldwork included work in Batha habitat north of Jerusalem, breeding raptors, winter census and stuff like that. I participatd in birdy events such as Champions of the Flyway and IBOC. Many kilometers walked, hundreds of point counts, some mammals, endless fun.

Long-billed Pipit

Calandra Lark

MacQueen's Bustard

Golden Eagle

Rüppell's Warbler

Common Dolphins

Arabian Wolf

International birding

In 2019 I traveled to Cyprus (April), Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (May-June), UK (August) and USA (September). Additionally, I submitted checklists from Moscow Airport and from Istanbul Airport.
My first visit to the island of Cyprus was defined as a family holiday, but I connected with local birds and wildlife too, with the great companionship of Robin Chittenden.

Cyprus Scops Owl (finally recognised as a full species by BirdLife)

Cyprus Wheatear

Eastern Festoon

In May-June I led my first Rockjumper tour, to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. It was a fantastic tour, full of birds, stunning landscapes and fascinating histories. Trip report here. Looking forward to more Rockjumper adventures in 2020!

And a couple more that didn't make the cut - Black Lark

Pallid Harrier

UK visit in August was again defined as a family visit, therefore birding opportunities were limited. So limited in fact that I missed my only day of birding there (see above). Just a few bits and pieces.

Dartford Warbler

Orange Swift, for the sake of good old days in James Lowen's garden

USA visit in September was a speedy work trip, but we timed our visit to Cape May right, to experience my first morning flight on the dyke there. It was awesome

Local birding

To be able to bird every day, much of my birding had to be local. Much of my birding effort was put into my patch - Nahal Ekron, near my house in Mazkeret Batya. It was my first full year there, and it was great to experience the complete annual cycle on patch: Arrival of first migrants, summer visitors, autumn migration, winter visitors. In 2019 I submitted 178 checklists there, recording 164 species, bringing the patch list to 173 species. Unlike autumn 2018, I had no exciting highlights in 2019, at least less than I had expected with all this effort. The Common Rosefinch I found in autumn 2018 remained on site all winter, I had a couple more brief birds in autumn, a Richard's Pipit hung around for a few days, and that's all. I added several new species to the site, including Caspian Stonechat, Bittern and Semicollared Flycatcher.

Common Rosefinch, February

I thoroughly enjoyed frequent birding in quality sites within 15 minutes drive of home, including Hulda Reservoir and Tal Shahar. The advantages of living and birding in Israel.


2019 was not the best year ever in the number of megas that made me jump into the car. However, there was enough quality to keep the adrenaline running. The big stars were two unexpected firsts for Israel, arriving in short procession, of similar geographic origin:

The only other Israel tick I had in 2019 was Swinhoe's Storm Petrel, seen during a pelagic off Eilat in early September. Additional megas that stuck around and performed well were the first Barnacle Goose in Agamon Hula:

And the Persian Wheatear at Har Amasa:

Not a mega anymore, I just like this photo of Basalt Wheatear

Year listing

Until about September I wasn't really planning to do a year list. I was very busy birding for the above reasons. and didn't really think about my year list as such. However, come September, I noticed that my year list is accumulating quite well. I decided to give it a good shot, and add species to my year list. I didn't go crazy after each and every species, but did what I can, within reason, to add some species here and there. I ended the year with a respectable list of 370 species in Israel, according to eBird taxonomy and geography. My final species added to the list was Sociable Lapwing, yesterday:

This blog

In 2019 I celebrated 10 years of writing this blog. In a way, I rediscovered blogging, after the four semi-dormant years in UK. In 2019 I posted 84 times on this blog, less than the glory years of 2010-2013. Yet I was happy to interact again with my followers here and on social media, and I hope to keep the blog running for at least a few more years.


As always, I am thankful to my family - my loving wife Adva, and wonderful kids Uri, Noam and Libby. Your support (and tolerance) keeps me going. You guys are amazing. Bamba, my loyal dog, continued to escort me whenever she could - woof!

Basalt Wheatear, Bamba and me

My friends and colleagues are always an integral part of my birding experiences. Thank you boys and girls for all the laughs, drinks, highs and lows - you rock!

Finally, I thank Swarovski Optik for their continuing support. I am proud to represent Swarovski Optik, and look forward to try out some new products soon 😉

If you're reading this, all the way down, so you deserve my deepest thanks for your support too...

I wish all of us a wonderful, bird-filled 2020. May we do better in protecting our wildlife and environment. Peace.

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