Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Birds and butterflies of Mt. Hermon

On Monday and Tuesday I drove up to Mt. Hermon with my brother and Amir. We joined Yosef's annual ringing project at the drinking pools below the lower cable station, that's been running there since early 1990's. Great to see Yosef operating the project so well.
Ringing was on the slow side - it seems that breeding season is very late this year, and there's still much water up in the higher elevations. Still, it was great to be there and enjoy quality species without pressure of hundreds of birds waiting in bags. My photos aren't as good as Yosef's field studio results, yet I am quite pleased with the macro abilities of my Olympus system, both for in-hand bird photos and for butterflies (see below). Here are some quality birds we had on both days:

Syrian Serin (2cy+ male)

Western Rock Nuthatch (1cy)

Upcher's Warbler (2cy+)

Sombre Tit (1cy)

Rock Sparrow (2cy+)

semirufus Black Redstart (1cy)

Common Chiffchaff (1cy) - produced locally. The expansion of Common Chiffchaff in northern Israel is remarkable, especially as it seems that they may represent an unknown taxon

The highlight was a family of three White-throated Robins - dad, mum and their young. This is a 2cy male (hatched 2019) - note the retained pale-tipped GC. He's now is the middle of an extensive pre-migration moult, hence his scruffy look.

Other birding highlights included flyover Pale Rockfinches, and a single Chaffinch. eBird checklist for Tuesday morning is here.

Mt. Hermon is very special for butterflies a well; several species can be found in Israel only there, and there are a few endemics as well. As a total amateur I spent a little time watching butterflies coming in to drink and sip minerals below the ringing site - the ponds are a huge butterfly hotspot. The relatively slow ringing allowed me to divert my attention for a few minutes, while suffering bullying and disgrace from other ringers. In a very short while I managed to photograph 11 species - I am still not good enough to identify them in the field; I collect photos and identify them at home, with the aid of others (thanks Piki, Avner and Noam!).
To my eyes, the most spectacular butterfly was the Cardinal (Argynnis pandora) - an honorary bird:

Those green rear wings are gorgeous

Large number sof blues of several species we fond on the mud. The most abundant (when I watched) was Long-tailed Blue, which isn't unique to Mt. Hermon:

Other species included Eastern Brown Argus:

Nicholl Blue

Holly Blue

Hercules Hairstreak

Palopea Grayling

Eastern Dawn Clouded Yellow - extremely worn

Olive Skipper

Hermon (Persian) Skipper

Large Wall Brown

Levantine Marbled White

Thanks to Yosef for arranging the session, and to all the good friends who helped there.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Summer solstice

This is the time of year when maintaining eBird's #checklistadaychallenge is becoming challenging.

Still going strong

Spring migration is over, autumn migration hasn't really started yet, and I have more or less visited all distinct eco-regions in Israel this breeding season. Also, there's that much I can travel on my daily birding journey. I am exhausted after this crazy COVID-fieldwork season! Therefore, in recent weeks I find myself mainly visiting the few better birding sites near home again and again, focusing on minute seasonal changes, and broadening my interest in other taxa.
This morning I visited Tal Shahar, where my hope for some returning/lingering/stuck shorebirds never materialised. From a birding point of view, there were not too many attractions, yet it was an enjoyable session (eBird checklist here). Great Spotted Cuckoos, breeding Woodchat Shrikes, mixed hirundines - that's not too bad I guess.

Unseasonal, tiny Sand Martin. Local breeder (shelleyi/'eilata')?

I did pay some attention to critters, including the petite Ivory Featherleg:

Long-tailed Blue is one of the commonest butterflies in Israel, but always a treat to watch

Male on a Prickly Alkanet
 On Rye Grass

Thanks Re'a and Avner for mentoring me through invert-world

Bring on the autumn!

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Moon struck

Around this full moon I spent far too much time in the southern Dead Sea region, monitoring Nubian Nightjars and other activities. It has been hot, sticky and wonderful. Here are some impressions.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin displaying its name

Black Percher - smallest dragonfly in Israel (Thanks Re'a)

Scarlet Dragonfly

Ashalim Reservoir is one lovely place

One big mo#%er*@!?er of a Sun Spider

Nubian Nightjar fail