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.