Friday, June 30, 2023

Local Basra!

This summer keeps giving. Early morning streak-continuation birding, schoolrun, coffee in the garden with my wife, phone beeps: Rony Livne and his team had just caught a Basra Reed-Warbler at his site, Kfar Menachem!!! Conveniently it's a short drive away. I jumped in to the car and enjoyed this excellent bird just before it was released. Thanks Rony and the team!

I have a bit of history with this bird in Israel. In 2006, the late Amit Geffen and I worked together in Agamon Hula Ringing Station. When our accommodation shifted to kibbutz Lehavot Habashan, we looked for local afternoon ringing options. On our first afternoon session at the kibbutz's fishponds we caught three Basra Reed-Warblers (!), a recently-fledged young and two adults, a male and a female, both with physiological evidence for breeding (brood patch and swollen cloaca). This is a photo from July 4, 2006 - adult Basra Reed-Warbler on left, recently-fledged juvenile on right:

Over the next days we caught a couple more. This was the first breeding record in Israel of a bird that back then was a mega rarity in Israel, globally threatened and declining, and at that time unknown to breed away from the marshes of southern Iraq. Understandably, this breeding record generated some interest. Next year, in 2007, a few Basra Reeds returned to the site, but there were no signs of breeding. In 2008 only one individual was found, again without signs of breeding. This photo is from May 24, 2008:

Since then, Basra Reed-Warbler has returned to its former rarity status in Israel, as a rare late-spring/summer migrant, just about annual. Almost all records involve birds trapped by ringers, in Eilat and northern valleys. Today's record is the first in central Israel.

Basra Reed-Warbler is globally Endangered. Though its global population trend may have stabilized during the 2000's, it seems to be undergoing population declines again as a result of habitat loss and the effects of climate change. Its core breeding area is in southern Iraq, and in recent years it was found breeding also in adjacent parts of Iran, and in Kuwait. Additionally, there were indications that it may be breeding along the Euphrates north into Syria and even Turkey. I would assume that birds migrating through Israel are heading to or from more northerly breeding grounds than S Iraq.

This photo is from the stunning Ngulia, Tsavo West NP, Kenya, December 7, 2010:

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Local PGP

Yesterday Carmel Ravid found a stunning summer-plumaged Pacific Golden-Plover in Hulda Reservoir. This reservoir is few minutes from home, and is sort-of my local patch: Piki and I have this Saturday morning tradition to bird the reservoir. I am also involved in the protection of the reservoir from future development planned there - tough challenge. In the meanwhile, it is a beautiful reservoir, especially during summer and autumn/fall when irrigation increases and water levels drop, exposing delicious mud to shorebirds. 

Pacific Golden-Plover is a good rarity in Israel, perhaps 4-5 records annually. There's this one individual that's been returning to winter in Tel Aviv for six years now, so it lost some of its rarity glory. However, being so close to home, and in such a stunning plumage, it would have been rude not to pay it a visit. I arrived there in the afternoon, beautiful light conditions, and the birds was there, showing wonderfully as it walked in the grass and down to the mud and water's edge. It was lovely to watch it feeding calmly, resting, preening, and interacting with other shorebirds that have already started their migration or post-breeding movement. I avoided disturbing the birds in the reservoir and kept my distance. I took this short video through my Swarovski Optik ATX85 from a long range - heat haze killed the quality a bit.

Five points if you identify correctly all the bird calls in the background. At one point aircraft from a nearby airforce base flew by, most birds took off momentarily, include the golden plover. When it landed, I used the opportunity to photograph it's graey-brown underwings.

Uncropped image showing the environment and nightbours

Hulda Reservoir - worth fighting for

eBird checklist here.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Eilat quicky

Yesterday I had a couple of important meetings in Eilat, leaving me with just enough time for birding after dawn and on the way back home. My main interest was in seawatching off north beach. Very early there was really nice activity at sea. Interestingly by 06:30 the sea became totally empty, and it felt OK to leave for the meetings - it was unlikely I would miss anything (who knows? Maybe my nemesis-bird, Crab Plover, flew by five minutes after my departure?). There were lots of terns at sea, including a 2cy Arctic Tern that has been around for a few days, three Bridled Terns and several White-cheeked Terns. Typical summer mix. Good scope views of the arctic, that spent most of its time behind the pier in Aqaba. I have seen many Arctic Terns in Israel but still don't have a photo of one. 

White-cheeked Tern - adult

White-cheeked Tern - young bird (I am not sure whether they breed according to northern hemisphere calendars)

White-eyed Gull - one of Eilat's signature birds - quite a few flew around and two young birds perched briefly on some rocks, that are exposed at low tide.

Squacco Heron - common but always attractive, especially when coming in-off:

eBird checklist here.

On the way back home I stopped briefly in a nice Arava wadi, still (relatively) lush and green after the late-spring climate-change rain storms. The rain was very welcome by desert breeders. During the short time I was there, I saw several families of Bar-tailed and Temminck's Larks, flying around with their young. Great to witness that Thick-billed Lark bred again in Israel, successfully, perhaps not in high density but what a treat. I speculate that Thick-billed lark is one of the few species that benefit from Climate Change. In our region, climate change is expressed in more extreme weather. In Israel's desert regions, this translates into extreme storms developing in higher frequency and with higher energy. Once-every-50-years weather events happen almost every winter now. Nomadic larks like Thick-billed Lark utilise the high productivity patches created by these often very local downpours. In practice, since the first breeding was discovered by Barak Granit in 1999, this species has become regular, almost sedentary, and much more common, present almost year-round in the southern Negev and Arava in small numbers, and breeding almost every year. Exceptional breeding events occur when the winter storms arrive at the perfect timing and location, like in 2010.

Dad feeding young

Baby Thick-billed Lark

Daddy is off to collect more food for its baby