Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 - my Biggest Year

Wow, what a year this was. It was a year of extreme birding non-stop, accompanied by professional changes - never a dull moment. As in 2020, COVID-19 prevented me from boarding a plane, so my birding was focused internally. My birding in 2021 was dominated by my Big Year effort; more on this below. I did a lot of fieldwork, and continued to bird very hard, every day. As in previous years, I will summarise the year thematically, here we go:

Big Year

After doing well in 2020 but not well enough, I was determined to give it all I can in 2021. I knew that I have to see as many birds as possible from January 1st, and not let go for a minute until the year ends. I managed to keep the pace throughout the year. Check my monthly totals in eBird below - my effort in the first months of the year is visible. Only in June I dropped below 170 species per month; in seven months I saw over 200 species. The drop in December is a result of me having a new job, restraining me to more local birding, and also the fact that I had very few new birds left to see.

In January and February I made an effort to catch up with as many rarities and scarcities as possible, including the overwintering Wilson's Phalarope, Lesser Yellowlegs, Kurdish Wheatear are a few:

Wilson's Phalarope - lingered from 2020

Three-banded Plover, also lingered from 2020

Lesser Yellowlegs - found during the last days of 2020, lost, and refound in February 2021

I also made an effort to see as many rare but regular wintering species, to save me time in December:

Early spring migration brought wonderful colours and sounds:

Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush - half an hour later

In spring, two first for Israel arrived - very exciting birds:

In late spring Israel was flooded by an exceptional wave of migrants. Its epicenter was in southern Israel, but was felt well everywhere. It was really exciting to go out birding, and difficult spring came in big numbers, such as River Warbler and Whote-throated Robin. Our Global Big Day run on May 8th exposed us to some extreme migration experiences that will be remembered for years to come.

In June an extraordinary discovery of over-summering Eleonora's Falcons was discovered on Mt. Meron. I visited there in early July - it was a very enjoyable day.

Tawny Eagle was a fine bird in June, the only species I saw in 2022 that is not on my IL list in eBird:

A week in Eilat in July for birding and scuba diving added some important species, including Great Crested Tern and Long-tailed Skua.

Later in September I added Swinhoe's Storn-Petrel during a pelagic trip in the gulf, and got my first (awful) photos of the species in Israel:

In August two young Northern Bald-Ibises arrived in the northern Negev. They originate from the semi-wild population breeding in Birecik in eastern Turkey. Despite its dodgy ancestry, it was thrilling to see this globally threatened species in Israel for the first time.

In early autumn migration was fantastic again, and the necessary additions to the year list were added.

In early October there was a good run of rarities, my personal favourite was the Pin-tailed Snipe near Tel Aviv:

November was excellent too. There was an unprecedented arrival of rare eastern buntings. Both firsts for Israel, Black-faced and Chestnut, weren't really twitchable, but I managed to twitch a Rustic Bunting at Ma'agan Michael. Oriental Turtle Dove was a sweet self-addition:

Turkestan Shrike was an excellent bird too, part of a much-needed fantastic day of birding down south, shortly after my trip to Uganda had been called off due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Thick-billed and Temminck's Larks; there was a Turkestan Short-toed lark there too

Red-breasted Merganser in early December was my 400th bird of the year - a good reason to celebrate:

My final new bird of the year was Alpine Accentor on Mt. Arbel on December 28th - my first observation in Israel for 30 years, what a fantastic way to end my Big Year with 402 species! This is a new Israeli record. In fact I think this is the second highest score in the Western Paleacrtic this year, only my friend Emin in Turkey did better than me. I wasn't sure I'd be able to reach the mythical 400 when I started running this year, so I'm over the moon with this score. It certainly takes a huge effort to see 402 out of 417 species reported in Israel this year (this national total currently includes a few exotics like Mandarin and Nanday Parakeet that I avoided). I had a few painful dips and misses - my worst gap is Fieldfare, that showed only few times this year; also the failed twitches for Red-necked Grebe and Lappet-faced Vulture were painful. However, I am proud of my achievement - hopefully it will inspire others to go for Big Years here in Israel.

Huge respect to Avner Rinot and Jonathan Meyrav - they both had a crazy year too - 403 next year lads!

Igal Siman Tov's total is impressive - reaching 377 species with a disability is extraordinary.


Fieldwork towards the national breeding bird atlas took me mainly south, where I was fortunate to visit some beautiful desert localities, and enjoy their birds:

Desert-breeding Short-toed Eagle

Arabian Warbler

Migrant rather than a breeder in the desert, but a photo I like - Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Late spring fieldwork on Mt. Hermon is always a treat. The scenery is breathtaking, and the special birds breeding there are wonderful.

semirufus Black Redstart

* This Syrian Serin was no photographed on Mt. Hermon in summer, but on Mt. Amasa in the northern Negev in December.

Local birding

During a Big Year, obviously less time is left for local birding. However, I did my best to explore my surroundings when I was not away. My local patches, walking out of home, didn't produce any proper rarities, which is expected by the fewer visits. yet it was nice to add quality yearbirds such as Marsh and River Warblers there, enjoy good migration in nearby Hulda Reservoir and Tal Shachar - so much to see near home.

Siberian Stonechat near home

Leucistic Eurasian Jackdaw in Tsor'a - not a rarity but a fascinating bird

Awesome to spot this Oriental Honey-Buzzard migrating over within a stream of several thousand Euro Honeys:

I am proud of our achievement to ban hunting of Turtle Doves in Israel, part of our year long campaign at Champions of the Flyway - Year of the Dove:


In previous years butterflies featured more prominently on my annual summary. This year I had less time for butterflies. Also I sold my Olympus kit - its only advantage was the ability to take half-decent butterfly photos. Still, I managed a few butterflies. Not listing them yet, maybe that will happen in the future...

Levantine Vernal Copper

Green-striped White

Desert Bath White

False Baton Blue - one of the rarest butterflies in Israel, a bit of a blocker actually

Salmon Arab

Arabian Sapphire

Pomegranate Playboy - in the garden

That day on Mt. Meron with the Eleonora's produced good butterflies too, from top left - Brown Argus, Southern White Admiral, Tawny Silverline, Levantine Silverline, Small Copper, Wall Brown, Freyer's Grayling, Holly Blue:

Summary and next year

This year was really intensive, because on top of the Big Year effort I was promoted recently. It has been a massive year, not sure if I can ever repeat that. The huge effort requires stamina, to keep going and going. In the next few years I don't think I will repeat a Big Year effort. I need a slower year now. Not that I will stop birding, never. I still take part in the checklist-a-day-challenge, that I upgraded to proper-birding-every-day (currently on a checklist streak of 870 days), and I will still do fieldwork, and hopefully there will be some world travel in 2022.


First. my deep love and appreciation to my family, primarily my wife Adva. The fact that she did not dump me after such a year deserves admiration. My birding companions and close friends - Jonathan, Piki, Rony, Meidad, Amir, Yotam, Yosef, Re'a and many others - you are awesome, without your support this would not have been possible. Sorry to all those wonderful people I didn't mention here. My boss Dan Alon was also very tolerant - thank you Dan. Swarovski Optik provide me with the best optics - I am very grateful. Thank you to all my followers and readers here on the blog and on my social media channels - your ongoing support is truly motivational.

I wish you all a fantastic 2022 - may we learn how to better protect our world and its nature, and respect each other. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021


Yesterday was a long day. I have just two more days to improve my Big Year total, so the plan was grand. I met up with Rony and Yotam early. Climbing up to the Golan Heights, suddenly all the alarm signals in my car went off. One by one the vital systems switched off (steering, brakes) and I had to pull over. Eventually we waited on the road verge in the middle of nowhere (eBird checklist here) for four fu*&ing hours until I got a replacement car. 

Eventually we got to Bashanit Ridge late. Our hopes to find the bunting flock there are chase after Avner's Pine Bunting from a few days ago were shattered. We saw nothing at all (eBird checklist here). While birding there news broke of an Alpine Accentor photographed the previous day on Mt. Arbel - brilliant photo by Lavi Lilo. After we finished wasting our time on Bashanit we headed over to Mt. Arbel. It took some time but eventually the Alpine Accentor showed. I was checking another section of the cliff when it was relocated, so by the time I arrived the bird moved a bit further away. I saw it well, feeding along the cliff face a-la-Wallcreeper. No photographic joy I'm afraid - all I got was this poor record shot:

This was not only a sweet year bird for me, bringing my 2021 total to 402. It was also my first encounter with Alpine Accentor in Israel after 30 years. Back in the 1980's and early 1990's it was a regular winter visitor on Mt. Arbel. Since then it has become very rare, showing up irregularly every few years.

Mt. Arbel is a wonderful place to visit - scenery is spectacular and birding is great. I strongly recommend.

I end the year with a dilemma. I am running out of options for my Big Year (unless something big shows up today or tomorrow). In recent days, other birders added Nanday Parakeet to their list - there's a free-flying bird in southern Tel Aviv that's showing. This is not the way I wanted to end my Big Year. Currently, eBird tolerates exotics and escapes (next year a revision of eBird's exotics and escapes policy is expected). What to do? Go for it (or other exotics) and contaminate my yearlist, or end the year with class, Nanday-free? Advice welcome.

Sunday, December 26, 2021


Yesterday I combined a family visit in Jerusalem with another step up in my Big Year, involving the Black-throated Thrush that had been found the previous day by Yakov Salaviz (when I couldn't go) on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Mt. Herzl was one of my childhood stomping grounds, where I learned birding. The place has changed much since the 1980's, there are fewer birds overall and the habitat is not that good as it used to. Yet, on a cold and bright winter morning like yesterday the atmosphere there was almost European, complete with multiple Dunnocks, singing Wren etc. (check the eBird checklist here), and birding was enjoyable.

A number of us assembled in the early morning, at first not finding the thrush, then it was spotted. I headed over to where the others were watching it when it shot off, towards me. I fired off a few random shots and amazingly, my camera got several in focus, rather OK I think. Boom, lovely. 401.

It disappeared, then spotted again and moved around. It took us a while to figure out its routine - every 20-30 minutes it returned to a small olive grove, dropped down to the ground, fed on an olive or two and flew off somewhere. 

The views of it feeding on the ground were great, the photos - well, not so great. The excuses: A bit too distant, bad light conditions under the trees, and un-aesthetic background. Guess I can't complain though - my best views in Israel of this rarity (this is my 3rd in Israel - previously in Feb 2020 and Jan 2011, both gave only brief views). I watched it do its thing several times until I had to leave. 

Drop to the ground

Look right

Look left

Grab that olive

This is almost the end of my Big Year marathon. Will I add another species or two? I have an option for a bit of travelling this week, so fingers crossed. Stay tuned!