Monday, June 27, 2022

Tick and new breeding species

On Saturday, Nadav Israel, a bird photographer, posted these images of an unknown sparrow on Facebook, asking for help in ID:

Amir Ben Dov noticed it online first, of course it was a stonking male Yellow-throated Sparrow, apparently in song, 9th record for Israel! Amir followed up on the location with Nadav, and indeed next day it was refound in the early morning by several twitchers. I couldn't go yesterday, which was quite tough because I needed that bird for my Israel list. The only twitchable bird arrived in 2017, during my years in the UK.

I have seen this bird before, in India, and even inside the WP, in Turkey. However, a national list is different, so I was keen to see it. Online discussions raised the suspicion that it could be breeding here - why would it be here, in late June, in song? However, no further breeding evidence was noted.
This morning I was up early to get to the Golan Heights first thing. It took me and the few other birders on sitea few minutes  to get our bearings. Soon I first heard the bird, then we spotted the male Yellow-throated Sparrow - what a relief! Fantastic bird, the chestnut lesser coverts, long, black bill and yellow throat were wonderfully visible. And that song... The bird wasn't close, but the views were great. It was hanging around with another drab sparrow; at first look we dismissed it as a young House Sparrow but then the penny dropped in my brain - it was another Yellow-throated Sparrow! 

We watched the birds as they moved together, then I saw the adult male feeding the second bird - a fledgling! Breeding proof! How exciting, a new breeding bird for Israel. They flew up to the overhead wires, and away, then mixed with House Sparrows, then reappeared.

Then they showed back up on the original tree. Only later I figured out that its their nest in here:

The bird at the nest entrance here is an adult female, worn, so there were at least three individuals!

By 07:00 I had to rush off to a meeting in Kfar Ruppin, very satisfied by today's discovery and by my bimbo (for those who aren't familiar, Spanish birders use the term 'bimbo' for tick). Driving on, I had time to reflect on the discovery. It really is great that in Israel, despite its small size and relatively good birders coverage, there are still new phenomena left to be discovered. Could there be more pairs of Yellow-throated Sparrow breeding on the Golan Heights? We will look out for them in the next few weeks and try to come up with an answer. I wouldn't be surprised if they do. When I saw them in Turkey, near Birecik, their breeding habitat, in pistachio orchards, wasn't too dissimilar to the habitat in the Golan Heights where this pair is breeding:

Interestingly, we did survey this section of the Golan Heights thoroughly and methodically in recent years and found none, so maybe it's a new arrival?

During my time with the sparrows I enjoyed the fine habitat and its birds - several Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robins, several shrike families, really nice (eBird checklist here). 

Woodchat Shrike, made in 2022:

Nearby, on the way out, I had a family of Upcher's Warbler. And these funny teddy bears. 

Rock Hyrax

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