Friday, May 5, 2023

My favourite bird?

I often get asked what is my favourite bird. As a professional birder, I find this question impossible to answer. I appreciate a Willow Warbler as much as I appreciate a Wandering Albatross. I find Garden Warbler to be a very pretty bird, just as pretty as a European Bee-eater. Trying to understand the unique ecological position of each and every species in the complex web of life on earth, every organism has its role and importance. Further, I think I comprehend some of the huge challenges birds are facing, whether they are long-distance migrants or residents. However, there are a few species that I have dedicated more time to study and understand them better, and protect them. Nubian Nightjar is one of those species. Not sure whether I can call it my favourite birds - certainly it's the bird species I know most intimately, and have invested most time on. Admittedly, it's a very fine bird.

Since I studied the Sdom Saltmarsh Nubian Nightjars for my MSc research at Ben Gurion University in 2004-2006, I have been deeply involved in the conservation of their habitat. I am very proud that as a result of a concentrated team effort, most of the remaining habitat of the species' stronghold, in Sdom Saltmarsh, has recently been declared as a nature reserve, and will remain protected forever, I hope. 

My current job as director of BirdLife Israel includes significant managerial components. However, I kept some fieldwork components in my job, especially in projects or areas that are most important to me. Such is the Nubian Nightjar monitoring that I do every year around this period, around a full moon, trying to assess the population status of the threatened species. 

Last night was part 1 of my monitoring effort in Sdom Saltmarsh. I headed down with Rotem, a keen young birder who is starting to work with us. Before dusk we had time for a quick look at Ashalim Reservoir. It was too dark for photography but the birds were active and it was fun. Seven African Swamphens, including two recently-fledged young, first families of Ferruginous Ducks, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, a large roost of Sand Martins - I love this site, even before the Sooty Falcons return.

After dusk we started working, counting nightjars that are super active when the moon is strong, like last night. Conditions were perfect - very powerful moonlight, warm temperatures, very still, good flying insect activity. We covered about half of the relevant habitat, and counted 71 vocal males! I cannot be certain that these 71 vocal males represent 71 active breeding territories - in fact we had visual contact with only a handful of nightjars. One of them did pose briefly - super nice. Check that superb rufous collar.

At some points we found a very high density - up to six birds vocalising around us. I will complete the second half of habitat soon to conclude the numbers for 2023. However, with the current density, I assume the numbers will be similar to the high numbers recorded in 2020.

Nubian Nightjar, Sdom Saltmarsh NR, Israel, 4 May 2023

Other random birds we had during the night were singing Scops Owl, Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin and Little Bittern. We also encountered Porcupine, Wild Boar, Golden Jackal and Cape Hare.

Thanks Rotem for the hard work!

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