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. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

New year, new list

 No, I'm not doing a Big Year again... Yesterday evening news broke of a Pied Bushchat found by Yishay Ben Adar, near Ma'or, about an hour drive from home, 10th record from Israel, the first major rarity of 2023. I have seen this species in Israel three times before - my first was in 2001, an overwintering female at IBRCE, Eilat, found by James P. Smith. In October 2012 Eyal Shochat found a fantastically cooperative male in Yeruham. Another male found by Igal Siman Tov delighted the Eilat Birding Festival guests in March 2014

Eilat, December 2001 (scan from slide0

Yeruham, October 2012

Neot Smadar, March 2014

Since then, Pied Bushchat hasn't been seen in Israel, so this current one understandably attracted serious attention. Including mine. It's a fine bird, especially in a Western Palearctic context, so why not? When I met up early with Piki and Rony it was pissing it down with rain, pretty grim to be honest. But as we headed north up Route 6, daybreak saw an improving weather. We got there after seven, meeting frustrated birders seeing nothing since dawn. I have birded in strange places before, but this was at another level - on the outskirts of Baqa El-Garbiye, in a small neglected olive grove wedged between a major road and a farm, observing from a bit of rough ground strewn with rubbish and dead livestock, skulls, bones, skins, pretty grotesque. 

Obviously the first birders looked at the wrong spot, as another group (Itamar, Nitay et al.) who checked an adjacent spot soon relocated the bird. We hurried there and started watching the bird at some distance. Light conditions weren't great, and I failed to adjust my camera settings, so my pics are rubbish. Yet it was fun spending time with this gorgeous bird. It was pretty active, catching insects, displaying its white wing patches and huge white belly patch, indicating it belongs to ssp. rossorum, the westernmost population of the species breeding as far west as E Iran.

Eventually the bird moved a bit closer, to everyone's delights, and performed quite well. It was vocal too, I managed to capture some calls using my phone.

2cy male - hatched in 2022

Of course there were some more birds around, that went into the eBird checklist here.