Saturday, September 25, 2021

I am a migration junkie

It's this time of year here in Israel, that makes me face the truth: I am a migration junkie. No, it's not peak season for rarities. I don't travel to far flung corners of the country. But I feel very lucky on a daily basis. I can experience high-intensity migration near home, every morning. I am addicted to migration watching, and I must get my daily dose. Thankfully, it's holiday season here now, which makes my mornings a bit more flexible. However, this time of the morning that I need to stop neglecting my normal human obligations, tear myself apart from migration (temporarily), pack up my gear up and head back home is so difficult. Too often I am late being back for breakfast or for errands or for something else, apologising, but actually all I want is to head back out to the field and absorb more migration. More migration. More migration. Up in the sky, down in the bushes, along the muddy banks - migrants are everywhere and I just can't have enough. 

Every morning I am out before dawn, aiming to be 'on site' at the crack of dawn. That's the magic period, when migrants drop out of the sky after a long night of migration; vocal species making themselves apparent - pipits, wagtails, larks, buntings. Beautiful, small dark silhouettes emerging in the half-light, calling 'Tzip' or 'Chup' or 'Trrrr'. I sharpen my ears, try to identify every soft call. This is so cool.

Then I spend the next hour or two of 'standard' birding, checking for migrants in the vegetation, enjoying the awesome variety and numbers. Those migrants that don't call readily on active migration are now in full show. Red-backed Shrikes, Whinchats, Willow Warblers. Swarms of hirundines and bee-eaters swerve as they hawk for flying insects. Early rising harriers, sparrowhawks and falcons are after them.

Then, when the temperatures rise, raptor migration intensifies. These are peak days for Lesser Spotted Eagle and Levant Sparrowhawk; European Honey Buzzard and Black Kite pass through in good numbers too. Migration continues over my house all day long, but I can't spend full days watching the skies anymore. I did that for many years, when I worked for the annual autumn raptor migration count between mid August and mid October in the 2000's. Now I am a responsible adult (am I?), with adult responsibilities, but all I want is to bird and bird and bird, witness this exciting, fascinating, exhilarating miracle of migration. Year after year, season after season. Remind myself that despite all the horrible damage that we cause to our beautiful planet, nature can persist, if just given the chance.

Here are a few photos that aim to demonstrate some of the feelings I expressed above:

Western Yellow Wagtails on the move

European Turtle-Dove on its first migration. Migrate safe young hero

Red-backed Shrike looking very sexy

Gotta love a Whinchat

Early Morning European Honey-Buzzard

Late morning Oriental Honey-Buzzard

Early morning Montagu's Harrier

Part of a flock of 320 Levant Sparrowhawks

Young Lesser Spotted Eagle

The moon photobombed by Lesser Spotted Eagles

Booted Eagle is unique among other migrating raptors, by its habit to hunt during migration. Most other species fly over Israel without looking down. It is not unusual to watch a Booted Eagle migrating with other raptors (here with a Levant Sparrowhawk)

Suddenly it leaves the stream, and stoops down from high altitude at huge speed towards a flock of pigeons in a field below

Flying past the moon

A few days ago I had another adrenalin-packed experience. I was watching a Hobby flying idly over Hulda Reservoir

Suddenly it changed direction and increased speed - obviously it had spotted something in mid air

I stayed focused on the Hobby; only at home on the computer screen I noticed it was after a small passerine presumably on active migration. Unbelievable how the falcon located and locked on that tiny warbler.

This is a tight crop - I assume this incident happened at 70-80 m above ground. Here the Hobby closed in on the poor warbler:

The Hobby made a super-fast maneuver and tried to snatch the warbler - I think this is a Sedge Warbler. This happened so fast; I didn't see the warbler at all; I don't know whether the warbler managed to get away. I couldn't see the falcon flying away with anything, so I think the warbler survived. Wow.

Here are a few representative eBird checklists from recent days 10 minutes from home:

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