Sunday, October 9, 2022

October Big Day 2022

 Yesterday our team Champions of the Flyway, representing BirdLife Israel/Society for the protection of Nature in Israel, participated in Global Big Day, organised by eBird, part of Global Birding weekend and World Migratory Bird Day events. As in previous years, we headed north, where things happen in October. The weather forecasted was cool and even wet, a welcome change after all previous year's October Big Days coincided with horrible heat waves. Our core team members, Re'a, Jonathan and me, were joined by Piki, who celebrated his birthday. 

We left central Israel very early to arrive at the entrance to Hula NR. It's our traditional spot for Tawny Owl, and indeed they didn't disappoint. Then we had about an hour of dark pre dawn for night stuff in Agamon Hula. We added Barn Owl and a few other night birds, but most exotic were Jungle Cats - we saw several, this fat (pregnant?) female posed nicely:

At dawn we positioned ourselves at Mahanayim lookout, at the southern end of the Agamon Lake. The first light experience there was epic - so many birds to look at and to listen to! Tens of Black-winged Kites flew out of a roost; 160 flamingos - the largest number I have ever seen there. Hundreds of Avocets, pelicans, ducks, shorebirds, the reeds bustling with life (Penduline Tits, Moustached Warbler), pipits and wagtails flying around - it was buzzing all over with life.

We checked the fields south of there, where we saw at a distance good falcon activity. Indeed, there was a beautiful concentration of Red-footed Falcons and Lesser Kestrels - so wonderful in the early morning light. For me this was one of the most memorable experiences of the whole day. 

Lesser Kestrels

Note this is a 2cy male (hatched 2021) - check the juvenile-patterned tertials:

The rest of the drive in the Agamon was excellent, many species, tons of migrants, really fun.

Where's Piki?

Short-toed Eagle bombarded by a Black-winged Kite

After the Agamon (eBird checklist here) we continued to Lahavot Habashan fishponds. They're mostly dry, the one still holding water is packed with birds. Marbled Ducks concentrate there every autumn. Yesterday, 440 were in that pond. and many other birds (eBird checklist here). Impressive. 

We left the Hula Valley satisfied with 109 species. Contra to previous years, we decided to give Mt. Hermon a miss this time, because it's a too long drive for too few species. Alternatively, we headed up to Biriya, enjoying the early date of October Big Day this year to connect with good raptor migration. We didn't have massive raptor migration when we were there, yet we found most species we wanted to see, including Lesser Spotted Eagles and Levant Sparrowhawks. This pristine juvenile Steppe Eagle was a cracker:

The vista from the top of the ridge, looking north towards Lebanon and the Hula Valley, is stunning. The forest added some nice species too. eBird checklist here.

By then my car was already properly camouflaged.

Next stop was Susita, overlooking Lake Kinneret. It was hot there, maybe not like in previous years, still hiot enough to reduce bird activity. Also a recent fire there didn't help. Still we added there most signature species, and a couple of wild cards (Eurasian Griffon and Finsch's Wheatear). Sadly no long-billed Pipit.

Then we continued to Bet Shean Valley. Kfar Ruppin fishponds were very good, adding some most-wanted shorebirds and passerines, including Dead Sea Sparrow. eBird checklist here. We walked two alfalfa fields, that were probably the least cost-effective walks of the day. No Oriental Skylark, two Richard's Pipits, Calandra/Bimac that got away unidentified.

Award-winning photo of the two Richard's Pipits

A Black Kite or two

We think this is a hybrid Lesser Spotted Eagle X Greater Spotted Eagle. In the field it felt very large and heavy, and has a single comma on the underwing, pro GSE. However, short 7th finger, pale neck patch, and underwing coverts paler than remiges are pro LSE. Light barring on primaries and secondaries is intermediate. 

Our final stop of the day was the beautiful Harod Reservoir, nestled under Mt. gilboa. The reservoir held a large gull flock and many other birds (eBird checklist here). The gull flock contained mainly Black-headed and Armenian, with single Slender-billed and Yellow-legged (pretty good for the region) adding flavour. 

That was the end of our day. It was excellent - our list stands at 150 species. See our eBird Trip Report here. Of course we missed a few species - the most annoying was Hoopoe. That's the wat it goes on big days. But altogether I am pleased with this total. It was a good effort and excellent result!

Huge thanks to my team mates, Jonathan, Re'a and Piki. As always, it was such a blast to spend it with you guys. So much fun and laughter, to keep me from falling asleep on the wheel. Thanks also to Swarovski Optik for providing me with the best birding optics. 

See you again in May Big day, amigos!

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