Wednesday, May 27, 2020

End of spring

It's been a while since my last update here, not for lack of birding - I maintain my daily birding routine, keeping up with my #checklistadaychallenge, now on a streak of 287 days... Somehow, I have been very busy in recent weeks, and weather was quite awful at times, so I took very few photos and have rather few stories to tell. However, here's an accumulation of some random stuff I encountered recently.

Breeding bird atlas work continues, less in the far south, where the desert is drying up, more in the center and north, where Batha birds like this Long-billed Pipit, unusually perched on a bush, are the main stars:

I found Upcher's Warbler breeding at a few sites - still one of Israel's most sensitive breeding birds:

Spring migration has all but ended during the second half of the month. Somehow, only JBO maintains decent numbers of migrants (see this checklist for example) when the rest of the country dries up completely. 

Barred Warbler

This vocal River Warbler was a welcome addition to my year list: 

Jonathan and I chose the hottest day of the year (so far) for a quick visit to Eilat for early morning seawatching.

49 degrees celsius, 120 fahrenheit

It was somewhat quieter than we had hoped for (eBird checklist here), but still nice to be down there. Flying Spoon (AKA Pomarine Skua AKA Pomarine Jaeger) is always a good one:

Despite the heat we managed to connect with Black Scrub-robins in Samar - their stronghold in Israel:

In recent days migration has come to a halt. I have not seen a proper migrant in my recent visits to the patch. Now it's time for summer breeding specialties, and for summer biggies. I am ready.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Global Big Day May 2020

Yesterday was eBird's Global Big Day, this year coinciding with World Migratory Bird Day. While most of the biding world is still under some kind of lockdown regulations, here in Israel there has been a serious relief of travel restrictions in recent days. Therefore, Team IGBD reunited for another run - Jonathan, Re'a, Nadav (far northern section) and me.
We had developed a plan, quite similar route to what we did in 2019, bar one change - we decided to skip the desert bit, shorten driving distances by staying only in the north. It was a great plan, but what we had not planned was the weather. Weather forecast for yesterday looked a bit windy after 10:00 but nothing too dramatic. Eventually, weather was our main challenge yesterday.
We left home very early to arrive in Hula Valley well before dawn. It took us some searching but before dawn we already had a few owls, including Tawny Owl. When we got to Agamon Hula the wind was already blowing very hard. With the dry air and soil, the wind blew up red dust into the air, creating very difficult birding conditions.

Our most productive hours of dawn went by frustratingly quietly as birds kept a very low profile. We managed somehow Marbled Duck, Golden Oriole and a few other species but the total tally was much lower than expected. Also, because of the fierce wind, the birds and I were not in photography mode at all. Only these European Bee-eaters posed briefly in soft, overcast light.

We left the Hula Valley and headed up towards Mt. Hermon that looked quite clear at the time. What a mistake. By the time we got there, dust storm turned into torrential rain, gale-force winds, 6⁰ C. Horrible birding conditions. We did our very best but saw little. Only in late morning, when we descended to lower elevations, we started seeing and hearing some birds. Eventually we left Mt. Hermon with almost all specialties (Syrian Serin, Sombre Tit, Western Rock Nuthatch etc.) in the bag, but very few species altogether, hardly any migrants. It was almost noon, and we hadn't even reached 100 species yet - quite a blow.

Our next stop was in the northern Golan Heights, where things improved a bit, though the weather was still far from ideal. Black-headed Buntings showed nicely, and Calandra Larks were in flight song over some fields.

Singing in the rain

Black-headed vs. Corn, with raw 'behind the stage' soundtrack. Translated from Hebrew:

Jonathan: No way I can film this handheld (we were sat inside the car, YP)
Yoav: Shhhhhhhh....
Jonathan: Oh, both of them together, arrgghhh,

We continued down towards Lake Kinneret, where improved weather conditions aided us in a productive midday visit to Susita - Long-billed Pipit, Little Swifts, Blackstart and others showed quite efficiently.

In the early afternoon, Kfar Ruppin in Bet She'an Valley was OK (Little Bittern, Pratincoles and few raptors on migration) but other sections of the valley were quiet.
We ended the day on the Mediterranean Coast, at Ma'ayan Tzvi and Ma'agan Michael. The pond that hosted the Three-banded Plover was still shorebird-productive (17 Broad-billed Sands etc.) but several common species were missing. Frustratingly, Ma'agan Michael beach was totally devoid of shorebirds. We had to settle for a romantic sunset, decorated with hundreds of terns flying over the sea.

Our last new bird of the day was Long-eared Owl, a squeaky juvenile back in central Israel.

Our day total was 137 species. Quite poor compared to 164 last year. However, I think that despite the challenging weather conditions we did rather well. We certainly did our best, and on paper our route was good. Next time we might try another combo though.

Huge thanks and kudos to my team mates, Jonathan, Re'a and Nadav. The tough conditions didn't turn our spirits down, and it was a blast, as always. Thanks also to Swarovski Optik Nature for their ongoing support. Here's to GBD2021!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

My Eilat fix

In most springs I spend a considerable amount of time in Eilat, around COTF - Eilat Bird festival, and other opportunities to bird in this incredible migration hotspot. This year, as soon as COVID-19 pandemic broke, COTF and festival were cancelled, and Eilat was sealed off completely to outsiders. Only on Thursday lockdown was lifted, and I took the opportunity to spend some time there with Jonathan. In the morning we actually did a ringing session at Ashalim Reservoir, in the southern dead Sea.

This site experienced a severe contamination event a couple of years ago. We're participating in a research that checks the presence of pollutants in feather of local birds. Ringing was somewhat slow, but this stunning male Collared Flycatcher certainly brightened our morning!

After we were done we headed south towards Eilat. We were left heartbroken after finding this beautiful young female Striped Hyena roadkilled. So sad.

A quick stop at Yotvata produced many Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters:

Down at Eilat, we birded the traditional sites - it was so good to be back. Passerine migration was a bit slow, bar Blackcaps that were everywhere. However, KM20 saltpans were exploding with shorebirds (eBird checklist here). There were lots of good species there too, including incredible numbers of Broad-billed Sands, Red-necked Phalaropes, and the star was a Terek Sandpiper found by Shachar:

Jonathan and I did a live birding session for Swarvoski Optik. We had found the perfect spot, tons of close shorebirds, and just as we started the live session a Peregrine decided to land exactly there and flushed everything - frustrating! Still it was good fun.

Namaqua Doves - just for fun

In the late afternoon there was a terrific descent of raptors to roost down in the valley, mainly on Aqaba side. Thousands and thousands of Euro Honey-Buzzards and Levants drifted low, in golden evening light - fantastic. One of the local Oriental Honeys was seen too. At dusk, seven Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse flew over IBRCE to drink in Aqaba, excellent end to the looooong day.

Next morning (Friday) we started off at IBRCE, where Levants were darting between the trees, leaving the small passerines startled.

Quite many Honey Buzzards had roosted in the park too.

A surprising dark morph Clamorous Reed Warbler showed very well at Lake Anita:

Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin is such a cool bird

Back at KM20, the terek was still around, but despite trying really hard, we failed to pull some real quality out of the hundreds of Little Stints. Here are seven (out of 26) Broad-billed Sands, with some friends:

Again, excellent raptor migration developed overhead.

The raptors drifted north, and we followed them, leaving back home too early due to domestic commitments. Till next time...