Sunday, March 8, 2020


Yesterday I surveyed different sections of Hameishar plains for the Atlas project, together with Rony and Leor. This sensitive military zone is off bounds on weekdays, so the safest day to visit without the risk of being kicked out is Saturday. Leaving home super early, we arrived at the first section, Wadi Trashim, shortly after dawn. Stepping out of the car, I was pleased to experience exactly what I was hoping for - air full of bird song, and bushes topped with perched birds. Brilliant. We started walking and picking up good birds in the exceptionally lush wadi - so subtly beautiful.

The soundscape was made up mainly by lark song - Lesser Short-toed, Crested, Temminck's and Bar-tailed, all busy in breeding activity, and also many Spectacled Warblers, giving their little display flights. Lesser Short-toed Lark is an opportunistic breeder here, only in years when rainfall is high and local productivity creates good breeding conditions, like this year:

Also breeding density of Spectacled Warbler seemed higher than average here:

There were lots of migrants too: a large flock of Greater Short-toed Larks, many common pipits, and goodies including Oriental Skylark, Richard's Pipit, Citrine Wagtail and Siberian Stonechat.

It was really great there (check eBird checklist here) but it was time to move on. We checked other sections in the south of the Plains, and experienced very different conditions compared to the northern section - extremely dry, with hardly any fresh germination, almost nothing, and perennials looking dry and dormant too. However this might change in the next week or two - large amounts of rain fell there in recent days, and may produce rapid germination of annuals and revival of perennials, hopefully followed by large-scale breeding events like last year (check here and here). Back to now and here, this recent rain event created some large puddles. When we drove up to one of the sites, we noticed that one of the puddles attracted massive numbers of Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse - simply fantastic. They were actually very tame and confident, and some walked very close to our car. The whole vocal and visual commotion, of birds coming and going, was wonderful to experience. 

Birding southwest and southeast sections of Hameishar was rather quiet and dry, and it was getting hot; we still managed to document breeding of Temminck's and Bar-tailed Larks, Desert and Isabelline Wheatears and enjoy some migrants like this cooperative Woodchat Shrike perched on a Spiny Zilla bush:

Many thanks to Rony and Leor for company.

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