Tuesday, March 7, 2023


This morning I visited Loess Park NR in the northern Negev, in hope of catching up with the Dotterel flock that winters there, just before they leave us to who knows where.

Eurasian Dotterel distribution map from BirdLife Datazone

This winter has been very dry in Israel. However, that section of the desert received some local downpours and looks nice and green, relatively. Good annual germination will produce arthropod abundance and likely attract more migrants this spring.

It was cold early in the morning, and the plains seemed lifeless at first. After a few minutes I spotted the dotterel flock at a distance, tucked away in one of the corners, all puffed up. As I approached them the sun rose and they looked very pretty in the golden light.

I counted 62 birds in that flock. I knew that they are quite shy and that there's no point chasing them with the car, they will fly off quickly. I noticed that they started foraging quite directionally, so I positioned myself where I predicted they would pass, and waited quietly in the car. Indeed, after a few minutes, the first birds started approaching me.

Most birds kept a safe distance away from the car. A few individuals were a bit bolder and foraged close to me. I held my breath.

The boldest individual was one the few that started to develop some breeding plumage, just few chestnut feathers on the underparts. Very gorgeous nevertheless. I felt very fortunate to get so close to these shy birds.

I think this is a 2nd-cal bird, based on the retained scapulars

After the flock walked past me and away, I backed up and looped around them. I tried the same strategy again. This time I lay on the ground behind the car, to improve the angle for photography. I noticed they were quite tense because of that. I retreated back to the car and left them in peace.

Eurasian Dotterel is a localised and rare winter visitor to Israel. Loess Park NR is the only site in Israel where they winter regularly. 

Apart for the dotterels, there were some other nice birds. Migrants included Greater Short-toed Larks and Northern Wheatears. Breeding species included many Isabelline Wheatears and a few Mediterranean Short-toed Larks. Pallid Harrier and Merlin flew by. Spotted and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew over. eBird checklist here.

Monday, February 27, 2023


I haven't posted here for a while, so this is a good opportunity to dump here some photos I took in recent weeks. I didn't post for lack of birding, just couldn't motivate myself to post after each single event described here. With this accumulation I think there's enough material for a decent blogpost.

On February 12th I headed over to Kfar Ruppin for a meeting. En route I received a message that my meeting starts an hour late. I was at the junction turning off towards Hazore'a fishponds, where a Three-banded Plover had been found by Ran Nathan the previous day. It would have been rude not to pay it a visit.

As can be heard by the soundtrack of the video, Hazorea fishponds and in general Jizreel Valley hold high densities of Black Francolin. Heading out, I was fortunate to bump into two males doing their territorial stuff, paying little attention to me or to a passing Egyptian Mongoose. Exquisite birds. The stand-off between them was very amusing, with funny calls and leaps in the air.

On Friday 24th news broke of Israel's second Black-faced Bunting at Maayan Zvi. I headed over there quickly, failing to relocate it for several hours. Late in the afternoon I heard it only. That wasn't satisfying, so next morning I headed back and finally got views of it soon after first light. Nice bimbo! No photos sadly, so I will try again if it stays a bit longer (it wasn't seen today). Israel's fourth Masked Wagtail, a stunning male, was nearby and showed very well.

Yesterday I went ringing with Yosef et al. near Kalya in the northern Dead Sea region. It's peak migration for Cyprus Warbler, indeed we had five birds. They favour desert wadis with Taily-Weed bushes.

Cyprus Warbler, 2cy female

Cyprus Warbler, 3cy+ male

This morning I did fieldwork with Meidad in Hameishar Plains. It's very dry there now after very little winter rainfall, so in most point counts bird density was low. Some sections were birdier and we had a fun morning altogether.
Egyptian Henbane, I think, huge bush

Dorcas Gazelle - one of many

Nice numbers of Onager too

Desert species were busy breeding already, including the wonderful Temminck's Larks

Great Gray Shrike, but which?

Wednesday, February 8, 2023


In recent days, a significant storm, named Barbara, is hitting the Israeli Mediterranean Coast. High winds, originating from deep in the Med, are pushing some quality seabirds towards shore. I have seen a few good birds since the storm started boiling last week, including a Brown Booby off Atlit on Sunday, scoped during a zoom meeting I did from the car parked on the beach (super rare in Med, this week there are at least three) and Kittiwake. Since last Thursday Leach's Storm-Petrels started arriving, the first one seen by Igal Siman Tov. Yesterday in Jaffa Barak et al. already had over 20. Today it was clearly THE day for them, with favourable winds and less rain. Annoyingly, I was stuck in meetings until 10:30. During the final meeting, my phone kept buzzing like crazy with reports from seawatchers reporting insane numbers of Leach's. I escaped from the meeting as soon as I could, and sped to Palmachim, the nearest watchpoint to where I was. I joined Arad, Shai and Micha who were already there, smiles and all, after counting 45 petrels in the previous 90 minutes. I got into the action quickly, and we picked up more and more petrels, most distant, some nearer, in ones and twos, making their way south in the typical flight pattern, like mini-shearwaters with their long wings. I had another 61 in less than two hours. Such wonderful birds. Photography was challenging - those tiny dots in the distance, powering between high waves, aren't easy to locate through the viewfinder and track. Digiscoping was even more challenging.

Wait for it.... And, I wonder what's this dark seabird that passes in the background for a split second - maybe a skua? Taken through my Swarovski ATX85 using a phone adapter.

There was good action at sea. Clearly, the storm-petrel arrival attracted many gulls, and a few skuas (Arctic and Poms) that came in for a feast. We saw at least five cases where petrels were caught by skuas and gulls. Also impressive was a constant passage of Sandwich Terns. my brain was locked on black dot search image, so I didn't count the terns properly - I made a conservative estimate of 400 but there were probably many more. Other than that, we had a Med Gull, and a Northern Gannet. eBird checklist here.

Just a bit of context: Leach's Storm-Petrel is a rare winter visitor to the Mediterranean Coast of Israel. Interestingly, it is extremely rarely recorded anywhere else in the Mediterranean. In Israel it used to be a rare but regular winter visitor, with periodical stronger years - I remember that in my early years of birding in the late 1980's and 90's almost every seawatch during a proper storm resulted in one or two, sometimes more. In recent decades numbers observed in Israel dropped, and it became not even annual. For many modern birders today was the day to tick it. I assume that the drop in numbers seen in Israel can be linked with the deteriorating global trend - it is classified as Vulnerable, with an estimated 30% decline over three generations. Also, climate change may have contributed to this trend observed in Israel. Winter storms are less frequent in Israel nowadays, and often don't originate from deep in the Med. Therefore, today's bonanza is so surprising and almost unprecedented. The only previous triple-figure occurrence was over 120 in January 1998 (Barak Granit). Winter 2001/2 was another good winter for them - on January 9th I counted 57 Leach's; in that same seawatch, with Eran Banker and Nir Sapir, we also scored big with Israel's second record of Balearic Shearwater (eBird checklist here). 2012 was the last winter with any numbers of Leach's; since then it was ones or mainly zeros. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023


My dear dog Bamba passed away on Wednesday. Bamba was my loyal birding companion for 12 years, and much of my birding in recent years, including the eBird checklist streak I am keeping, is thanks to her. She motivated me to wake up before dawn every morning for the past 1491 days, and head out birding. 

Bamba joined our family in February 2011. We adopted her when she was about one year old. Very quickly she learned how to behave at home, and with me in the field. In the field she was very quiet and attentive to my behaviour. She walked at my pace, and stopped when I stopped. I never had to train her, she simply learned through her sensitivity and intelligence. Bamba joined me everywhere - surveying and ringing, birding and twitching. This photo was taken in January 2014 by Jonathan Meyrav while we were birding together in the Arava Valley. She loved Jonathan very much.

Bamba learned very quickly that birds are out of the question for her and never ever showed any interest in them. When I was ringing, Bamba had a special role, to chase cats, mongoose and other predators away from the nets. She was very efficient at that.

During the years before we moved to the UK, Bamba had already become accustomed to my birding habits, and joined me very often. I was doing lots of fieldwork back then - all the more fun for Bamba. This photo was taken by Tuvia Kahn in May 2014 while surveying breeding birds on Mt. Hermon. My point-count root that day went right along the Syrian border, in a very sensitive location where normally civilians aren't allowed, hence the military escort. Check the blogpost I wrote on that day here.

White-throated Robin

When we moved to the UK, my birding style changed, and so did Bamba's lifestyle. In Israel she'd go with me to work almost every day, and she didn't need 'official' walks - she was outdoors all the time. In the UK her life became structured around our daily walks, often to the nearest park where we met with other dog and their humans. I birded less often, sometimes only on weekends. I did take her birding with me sometimes in the UK, however in a few incidents I felt hostility from other birders towards us, so quite often I didn't take her with me birding. This is from a rare twitch where she joined me, albeit an unusual twitch. It was a trip to Holkham beach to see a Snowy Owl, with the entire family and our friends Mark and Amity. What an epic photo.

In August 2018 we returned to Israel and I returned to do fieldwork at BirdLife Israel, much to Bamba's delight. Again, she was a trusted field companion for me. With her ageing a bit, she became less energetic and even quieter and more comfortable when out in the field with me. Check her out in this photo taken by Meidad Goren in December 2019 (blogpost here), patiently waiting behind me while I photograph a Basalt Wheatear, knowing exactly what to do:

One of Bamba's favourite places was the Nili and David Jerusalem Bird Observatory. I work there quite often, and she always loved spending time at the JBO. Taking her role of keeping cats away very seriously, interacting with the staff and volunteers, sleeping under the ringing table - she was at her element there. Very often we'd meet up there with Arik, Amir Balaban's dog - they became very good friends.

Amir, Arik & Bamba

Our last visit to the JBO was on her last day of life. We left home early, opened the nets up, ringed birds, worked with the staff and volunteers, guided visitors - Bamba was so happy there. These two images were taken on Bamba's final morning, Wednesday 18th January 2023. That evening Bamba collapsed and never got up.

Since my return to Israel and especially since I started my daily birding streak in December 2018, I devote much more birding time to my local sites, those that I can visit on foot from home. This birding activity was always combined with morning walks with Bamba. She needed her walk, I needed my birding - perfect win-win situation. With Bamba, I deepened my knowledge and understanding of my local sites. To date, I have submitted 508 checklists from my primary local site, Nahal Ekron, since my first visit there on September 6th, 2018. This means at least 508 walks with her there. I am not sure how it will be to bird there without her. 

May 2022

There's one nice tale to tell about Bamba and birding. As mentioned above, Bamba takes her job to chase away cats and other predators very seriously. In recent years, and especially since we started birding in Nahal Ekron regularly, that is infested by domestic and stray cats, Bamba learned to identify alarm calls of birds, especially of Graceful Prinias, when they locate a cat. Bamba would hear them calling in excitement, follow the calls to locate the skulking cat and chase it away, back home. I was very proud of her for that.

March 2022, Judean Hills

September 2021, Tal Shachar

Posing beautifully among rare Fritillaria persica flowers, Mt. Amasa, March 2020

That's it, time to say goodbye. I miss Bamba very much. Since her death, instinctively I search for her at her favourite corners. Certainly, my birding without her will change. How will it evolve? I don't know yet. For sure, it will be much lonelier. Rest in peace, my beautiful, amazing dog.