Friday, June 17, 2022

Eilat seawatching

I spent two and a half days in Eilat, that included work, scuba diving and birding. Order of importance is debatable... This is the story: My elder son is really into scuba diving, and I am too. We went down to Eilat for him to complete his advanced open water training. I joined him on one dive but got an ear infection and couldn't dive anymore. I spent the rest of my days working, with compulsory dawn and dusk visits to North Beach, where all the action is these days. Everywhere else in the country spring migration is officially over and birding has become very static. In contrast, at North Beach, especially in the very early morning, birding was very dynamic with lots of stuff moving. I enjoyed that a lot. Check this representative eBird checklist.

Super moon setting over Sinai

Shachar's two recent rarities, Sabine's Gull and Great Crested Tern didn't linger, but there was plenty of interest at sea to keep me busy. Sooty Shearwater numbers are higher than normal, with a maximum of 14 yesterday morning. This could be an underestimate - shearwaters kept flying from one side of the gulf to the other constantly. Every scope sweep came up with at least one or two. One early morning, two sooties patrolled over the beach, even flying inland a bit, then returning to sea - could they be prospecting an overland crossing - to where? It was almost dark when I took this photo, as it flew over my head, so it isn't great:

Two Cory's Shearwaters were present too. There was very good skua/jaeger action too - three species seen: Arctic/Parasitic, Pomarine and Long-tailed - two magnificent adults with loooooong tail streamers, too distant for photography I'm afraid but good scope views. There were plenty of terns too, quite large numbers of Common and Little moving through. Quality terns included Lesser Crested, Bridled and White-cheeked. 

Three White-cheeked terns with a casual Sooty Shearwater

Little Terns on the move

There aren't many shorebirds in Eilat now, most should be busy breeding now very far north. This lovely female Greater Sand-plover shared the beach with humans one morning:

I spotted at a great distance a tiny white dot heading north. As it approached it became clear it's a Red-necked Phalarope - you should be in the arctic now, in nicer plumage than this!

Crested Eagle meets Red-necked Phalarope

Greater Flamingo is a silly bird. I counted 820 at KM20 saltpans where they look very settled - don't know why they don't breed there. Therefore it was very cool to spot a flock of 25 flying low over the water, heading north, battling against the wind. Migration magic.

Swerved from side to side, they eventually passed overhead

Unbelievable that such comic birds can actually migrate

White-eyed Gull for dessert

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Back in the UK, Black-browed Albatross

Last week I arrived in the UK for a family visit, our first after covid. Over the first week we did lots of stuff, on which I will elaborate later. Here I want to focus on our visit to Yorkshire. We stayed in Filey with our dear friends Mark and Amity. The reunion was emotional, but my brain wasn't completely there... It was in RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Half an hour after arrival on June 2nd I was already at Bempton Cliffs. Mark and I spent a few good hours there waiting for the albatross to show up, admiring the amazing reserve and its breeding seabirds, but one long-winged bird didn't show up. We had to leave empty-handed to join our family for tea. 

Back in Filey, as I was chopping up vegetables for tea, my phone rang - a mate who stayed on the cliff reported the albatross to be back (thanks mate!)... Classic. Mark and I looked at each other, then at our wives, then at the fading light outside. 15 minutes later we were back in Bempton Cliffs. I ran from the carpark to Staple Nook, only to discover the bird was not showing, apparently still there but concealed from view. Noooooo! I couldn't believe it, After a few long minutes of stressful wait eventually we spotted the albatross flying around with Gannets, showing off its long black wings and wonderful black brows. Yes! Sigh of relief. What a bird. The light was fading quickly so my photos weren't amazing, but I was over the moon with joy and excitement.

Next day we returned with the families - Bempton Cliffs really is a perfect reserve for the family to enjoy wildlife at its best. Of course, as soon as we arrived, the albatross was showing, first at some distance, circling over Staple Nook with gannets:

Then we joined the crowds at Staple Nook viewpoint and were treated to fantastic figures-of-eight flights below us. Light conditions were a bit better. Still room for improvement but I guess I shouldn't complain.

It was challenging to find photos of the albatross without other birds in the frame, demonstrating how huge the bird numbers are there. Check out how many birds are in this video by Mark:

Kittiwake and Gannet

Kittiwake and two Gannets



Of course, Bempton Cliffs offers so much more than the albatross. I have visited the reserve several times before, yet it keeps blowing my mind away, how powerful the wildlife experience it offers, and how well the reserve is set up for visitors, much to the credit of the fantastic staff and volunteers there. 

Fulmar are mega birds

Adult Gannets are so beautiful

To my eyes, younger birds are even more stunning with their checkered plumage

Puffins are the sweetest thing

I enjoyed the challenge of photographing flying auks - they fly so fast!


Tree Sparrows joined us for the celebratory ice cream back in the cafe