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.

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