Friday, March 25, 2022

Migration fall

 The bad weather in Israel continued, and yesterday a serious system hit our coast. I guessed that birds would avoid the storm epicenter and make landfall farther south. So this morning I went birding in Ashkelon NP with Piki and Yossi, and I guessed well. Soon after starting to walk we realised that the coastal scrub is absolutely dripping with migrants. It was also dripping with water - rain downpours passed us every few minutes, so the birds were very wet, as we were. 

It really was exploding with birds. By far the most abundant was Lesser whitethroat - we made a conservative estimate of over 600 during our walk. They were really everywhere, jumping up from the wet grass every step we took. Also Blackcap and Chiffchaff were present at very high numbers. It was difficult to capture this magical experience in photos, but the sights of tens of warblers in every bush were very impressive.

Lesser Whitethroats

There were exceptional numbers of Rueppell's Warbler too - we estimated 45. They were very vocal and typically showed very well, jumping out in the open. Also Eastern Orphean Warbler was well represented. 

Rueppell's Warbler

There were so many other birds - tons of Cretzschmar's Buntings, pipits, nightingales, and some quality in the form of Richard's Pipit, Sibe Stonechat, Blue Rock-thrush. In fact, at some points it felt like there were too many birds, and it became impossible to check every bird. Certainly there were too many birds for photography - birds were jumping and moving in every direction. For me this was a peak day, one of the most impressive spring falls I have ever seen on the Mediterranean coast in spring. A day to remember.

Cretzschmar's Buntings

It was certainly hard to focus when at every time I quickly looked at the sea it was evident there were birds out there - skuas, shearwaters, gulls and terns - but we did our best to stay focused on the migrant landbirds.

'Baltic' Lesser Black-backed Gull

It was difficult to ignore the local Hoopoes, busy feeding their young.

Eventually the rain stopped and we just had a lovely time. Thank you spring.
eBird checklist here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

JBO ringing

This morning I operated the ringing at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. I ring there once a month, to keep my fingers practiced... It was a great morning with lovely weather (a little cold at start, then warmed up) before more winter weather coming up - it's the coldest March on record in Israel! JBO looked fine this morning, with birds, flowers and people (three school groups).

Quality birds came in nicely - there were so many species this morning. Most unexpected was a Moustached Warbler - one of the very few ever in Jerusalem:

This male Rueppell's Warbler was a first for the season at JBO:

Among the hordes of Lesser Whitethroats there was a nice wave of Eastern Orphean Warbler - nine ringed:

Two Common Redstarts - both sammamisicus, soon the nominate subspecies will arrive:

Two Wrynecks - always amazing to handle. Check the stunning fine tail pattern:

Grey Wagtail is another species not often caught at JBO - this male is developing the black summer bib:

eBird checklist here.

Thanks to all the team who helped me this morning - Hanna, Dror, Adam, Avihu, Reva and Gerda.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Yay! March is here!

Every year, March brings with it a sense of anticipation, of hope, that Earth completed another rotation, and bird migration continues, despite all the horrible things we do to our planet. For me, waiting for the first Swift, first Red-rumped Swallow, first Great Spotted Cuckoo of the season, is the pure essence of birding. Every March birding session is accompanied by that warm feeling of expectation to reunite with an old friend after months apart. And then, that friend reappears, and the reunion is joyful, at least on my end.

Yesterday I went out birding with Piki in Nahal Yitla, at the Judean foothills, not far from home. It was a beautiful morning, perfect March weather, stunning flowers, birdsong in all directions. Climbing up the hill, Bamba found a Woodcock. Very cool. A Long-billed Pipit was singing, out of view. Woodchat and Great Grey Shrikes, already in pairs, 'Courtship, Display or Copulation (Probable)' (eBird breeding codes for those who are not familiar with the terminology). We stopped for a drink at the crest of the hill. Bamba needed a rest too.

Rueppell's Warbler is a special friend. That annual reunion is especially pleasing. Two years ago, minus three days, in a pre-COVID world, Piki and I had at this spot the first Rueppell's Warbler of spring 2020:
Yesterday we remembered that fine morning, and hoped for another first encounter. Indeed, like magic, out of a bush peaks a head, black bib, white moustache - hello there old friend! You are of course a different individual because you hatched in 2021 (show everyone your browner secondaries and the moult contrast in your tertials and greater coverts). Just as well, a magnificent Rueppell's Warbler, surely the first of many to come this spring. You make me smile and my heart grow. You did exactly what was expected from you, and performed beautifully. Thank you.

On top of the hill there was good butterfly action, including several False Apollos. Stunning butterfly.

Heading down the hill, one of the Woodchat Shrikes perched nicely on top of a hawthorn, with anemones in the background - shame about the branches obscuring the bird, but that's nature's Wabi Sabi to me.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Break the silence

Suddenly I noticed that it's been a month since I last posted here. Not that I haven't been birding, I certainly have. I felt like there weren't any blog-worthy highlights to report. I don't have very exciting stuff to share here, only some OK-minus photos from yesterday. I had work at Ma'ayan Zvi, just north of Ma'agan Michael. We are joining a large restoration project there, so I wanted to get to know better some spots . It was a great morning with enjoyable activity of migrants, winter visitors and resident birds. Breeding season is upon us! Clamorous Reed Warblers were very vocal, some males singing from tops of reeds:

Moustached Warbler is a winter visitor and migrant, not scarce but not common either. It is a very rare and sporadic breeder too. I had a singing male, that behaved very territorial. I will follow up to check if breeding takes place there.

In this sound recording a Clamorous Reed Warbler is audible in the background:

Reed Bunting is another scarce winter visitor, soon leaving Israel. At one spot I had a small group of six, very shy and mobile. The flock included a stonking male, even prettier than the one I managed to photograph:

All in all I had 92 species in a short session, including several new-for-year (no, I'm not doing another Big Year). eBird checklist here.

After birding I went to marvel at some wild flowers nearby, ahead of a meeting conveniently timed to start at 11:30... March is the wonderfulest month of the year, I must make the most out of it.