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. 

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