Tuesday, April 27, 2021


While down in Eilat it was not all about locust. Raptor migration was excellent - peak days for Levant Sparrowhawk. We did not see any huge flocks, but enjoyed nice numbers (several hundreds), and for me driving up and down the valley seeing levants fly alongside the car, or dart between trees, is a thrilling experience.

These were early days for European Honey-Buzzard migration, we had several tens on each morning; a few 'local' Orientals were seen too.

European Honey-Buzzard

The saltpans south of IBRCE and also KM20 were packed with shorebirds. Among the many stints and ringed plovers were also Red-necked Phalaropes, Black-winged Pratincoles and Broad-billed Sandpipers. We missed a huge arrival of White-winged Terns by few days. At KM20 all three 'marsh tern' species were seen foraging side by side - very beautiful birds. Forgive me White-winged Tern for ignoring you this time.

Black Tern - quite scarce, actually a photo tick for me in Israel

Whiskered Tern

Monday, April 26, 2021


 I spent a few days down in Eilat and the Arava Valley with my brother and Amir. Our visit coincided with a significant invasion of Desert Locusts, entering southern Israel from Arabia and Jordan. This invasion is ongoing, is quite large in its geographic spread (swarms are located all along the Rift Valley) but not as massive in size as the 2013 invasion, the last major event we had here in Israel.

In the current invasion, the locust are in the yellow, adult form that is gregarious, migratory and egg-laying. We found large numbers in Lotan on Friday afternoon. It was impressive to see swarms entering from the desert, flying low:

And hit the kibbutz fence:

Then they started landing and congregating on vegetation and on the ground, to rest a bit before moving on north:

Each one of them is an impressive beast:

They are powerful fliers, extremely difficult to photograph on the wing:

To their misfortune, the locust invasion coincided also with massive bird migration. Especially appreciative were bee-eaters - this is peak migration period for European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. We saw many bee-eater flocks feasting on them.

Bloody camera missed the money shot here (btw blob in the background is a locust, I think)

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Got one!

Hard work these locust...

Ooops dropped it

Of course we saw many other birds feasting on the locust - Steppe Buzzard, Spur-winged Lapwing, House Sparrow, Bulbul. Interestingly, Arabian Green Bee-eaters struggled with their size - I never saw them succeed, always gave up.

At KM20 saltpans the air was full of Slender-billed Gulls hawking locust high up. There was a flock of pratincoles (15 Collared and a Black-winged) that were feeding on locust. They are rather delicate birds, so it was interesting to see them battle with these large grasshoppers.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Chinese Pond-Heron revisited

Israel's first Chinese Pond-Heron stays put (at least until yesterday, April 18th). The first visit was all too brief, adrenalin levels were too high and in less optimal conditions for proper photography. So I decided to return for seconds. The bird is a real poser, totally ignorant of humans. It is feeding very efficiently on fish in its frog-packed pond - must be fattening up nicely. The pond-heron is not in an ideal location for photography, with an annoying fence around the pond preventing getting down to ground level. Yet, it is an entertaining target for photography. I spent two more short sessions with it, and came back with OK results, I think.

Digiscoped through Swarovski Optik ATX85, using Swarovski VPA phone adapter

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Chinese Pond-Heron!

 On April 12th, Daniel Katz, posted a photo on a Facebook birding group, asking for help to identify a heron in a small pond in Jerusalem Botanical Gardens:

It was only the next day (yesterday, April 13th) that the photo received some attention. This was an awkward Squacco Heron-type bird, but I wasn't certain it was just a bad phone photo. In any case, I asked a couple of local birders to check it out. In the late afternoon, Shachar Hizkiya followed my advice, and checked that pond. He found there a certain heron, sent me a screenshot, and the rest is history:

Chinese Pond-Heron. First for Israel, one of very few WP records. What a monster, in a tiny urban pond in the middle of Jerusalem. 

I live about 40 minutes away from Jerusalem (without traffic). It's 18:07. The sun was already very low. Without hesitation, I grabbed my bins and camera and ran to the car, leaving my astonished family deserted behind. As I approached the city, in worsening traffic, I saw the sun lowering and lowering. I got to the pond in the botanical gardens just after sunset, only to understand that the bird had flown off, probably to roost, three minutes before I arrived. No further sign, despite a few of us searching potential roost trees in the vicinity. What a blow. Only Shachar managed to see it, no other twitchers did. I drove home in silence, also because it was Memorial Day here.

After a short and tense night sleep, this morning I was back up in Jerusalem at dawn, Piki in my car. This time, three minutes before arriving a sweet message landed in my phone - the heron just flew in. Few minutes later we were watching the heron. Chinese Pond-Heron on my list. Phew. At first it was feeding out in the open on floating aquatic vegetation:

Shame the sun wasn't up yet, as the photos are crap and don't do justice to its true, rather glorious plumage tones. Fairly soon it flew into a tree where it spent the rest of the hour I could spend there. A growing crowd gathered, time to go. I had to leave early for an important meeting, before rush hour. At 07:45 I was back home, heart still pounding fast.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Eilat plover mystery

 On Thursday I spent the morning in Eilat with Jonathan, Arad and Rony. In fact we left home on Wednesday before midnight, and made our way down south picking up some night birds along the way. None posed for photos, but this Desert Hedgehog, the largest of Israel's three hedgehog species, was quite lovely:

At first light we started birding at Seifim Plains. I had quite high expectations from this site - reports from recent weeks described the place as heaving with birds. It was very quiet in fact - not many larks singing, few migrant wheatears (no sign of the pied seen there the day before) - eBird checklist here.

Hooded Wheatear 2cy male

At IBRCE things were not much busier - a significant exodus of birds happened the night before... Nothing special to report on the bird side, some year birds (Levant Sparrowhawk, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Red-necked Phalaropes) - eBird checklist here. This fine Schokari Sand Racer was very cool to watch:

Then we moved on to KM20 saltpans for the disputed sand plover. It was waiting for us at the entrance to the saltpans, and showed well. This bird was found by Shachar Shalev on March 27th, and it's ID isn't final yet (IMO). Our initial reaction when seeing the bird, especially the long bill, was 'whoa, this can't be a Lesser Sand-Plover'. But then, at closer inspection, we started to have other thoughts. Re size, though slightly larger than Kentish Plover, it was certainly in the 'small and delicate plover' camp, comparable with kentish and ringed, rather than 'beast plover' camp. Then, in all angles, it's seemingly clean legs were black or blackish, not green. With no signs of moult into summer plumage whatsoever, I find this a solid candidate for Lesser Sand-Plover, but happy to be proven otherwise. 

Photos by Rony Livne:

Digiscoped photos and video by Jonathan Meyrav, taken through Swarovski Optik ATX85:

I agree it has a long legs, large head and long bill, but from my experience, there's so much variation in both species in these features that I'm not sure how relevant they are. Same for leg extension and wingbar pattern. See my insights on identification of Lesser and Greater Sand-Plovers in Kenya here and here.

The mental process regarding the identification of this bird reminds me of the process we went through with the 2010 Lesser Sand-Plover. When seeing the photos taken by the finders, we were eluded by the longish bill. It wasn't until we saw the bird in the field that we realised how small it is. 

It is interesting that almost everyone who saw this bird identified it as Lesser Sand-Plover, while those identifying it from photos say it's a greater. In any case, this is a great bird to study - more to come!

After we had enough of the sand plover, we continued to check the saltpans that were packed with shorebirds, gulls, wagtails, pipits and generally very lively (eBird checklist here). It was entertaining to watch a variety of Western Yellow Wagtails chase after swarms of shore flies (Ephydridae) coating the banks:

feldegg-type (with some green stuff on head, and flies on back)

Typical feldegg with more solid black head

thunbergi? Or dombrowski? Very small supercilium on a blue head

Typical flava with more developed supercilium

On the way home we paid a quick visit to the Black Scrub-Robins in Kibbutz Samar, this one ringed as part of a study on their movements and colonisation:

Thanks to Jonathan, Rony and Arad for the company, vibes and use of photos.