Sunday, August 27, 2023

Interesting Whimbrel with some pro-alboaxillaris features, Ma'agan Michael, 26/August/2023

Yesterday (August 26th, 2023) I went to Ma'agan Michael to twitch the Booted Warbler that had been found there by Igal Siman Tov. It's only the 5th record for Israel, and the first twitchable, great find! It took some searching until I eventually saw it; it didn't preform as well as it did on previous days so no photos. Still, I saw it well enough to count for an IL bimbo, with supercilium and all. 

However, this wasn't the most outstanding observation of that morning. While walking around with Amir Balaban in search of the skulking warbler, a quartet of Whimbrels flew by. Whimbrel is quite scarce in Israel, so without hesitation both of us rattled away with our cameras as they passed close, almost overhead. They flew by very fast, and both of us didn't get a chance to check them with our bins. Back home in the evening I downloaded the images to my computer, and noticed that one bird was unusual, the rear bird of the quartet. With the story of the once-though-extinct-now-super-rare Steppe Whimbrel in my mind, I always check Whimbrel underwings here, and this one certainly caught my eye (alas not in the field). It has essentially white underwing coverts, and limited spotting on the axillaries. It's pectoral band is nicely developed, contrasting with the white belly. 

Because the group passed almost directly overhead, we got no photos of the upperparts. This is all I got:

I plonked these images on Twitter in the evening; by then Bangladesh-based Gary Allport had already gone to sleep:
When Gary woke up in the morning he responded in length - thank you Gary! Gary agrees this is an interesting individual, with some pro-alboxillaris features, including the features mentioned above:

The pattern on the outer web of 5th outermost primary with four evenly-spaced white spots is good for alboxillaris:

Few dark spots can be seen on the uppertail coverts but this side views isn't sufficient. Eventually the interim conclusion about this bird is that according to current knowledge of alboxillaris it's probably not good enough. There is too much spotting on the axillaries; the underwing coverts are not strikingly white enough; and the size and structure don't differ from the other nominate phaeopus, including bill length. With missing features like the rump and tail pattern, this bird will remain currently as an 'interesting bird'. However, this bird is a fresh juvenile. This plumage is poorly known in alboxillaris - only one documented individual to my knowledge. Hopefully this bird hasn't moved on yet and it will be relocated in the next few days.

So, it's worth keeping track of this Ma'agan Michael bird. Maybe in the future, with better knowledge of the amount of variation shown in juvenile alboxillaris, new insight could provide more confidence in retrospective identification of this individual.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Catalan holiday

Just got back from a family holiday in Catalunya. We spnt a week up in the Pyrenees, then a few days in Barcelona. We met up with our good friends the Chittendens, who drove in all the way from the UK. From a family perspective, it was a perfect holiday - stunning scenery, great activities, excellent food. Brownie points secured. Especially when these family activities include encounters with Lammergeiers and Dipper.

It was enjoyable just to hang around in the garden, that was full of birds. Western Subalpine, Western Bonelli's and Melodious Warblers seem to have all bred there. Pied Flys, both redstarts, Crested Tits and Short-toed Treecreepers - quite good fun.

Western Bonelli's

Western Subalpine

Short-toed Treecreeper always being a nightmare to photograph

Crested Tit

Baby Common Redstart

The garden was buzzing with butterflies, especially the unmown sections. I was using only my 400mm/f5.6 which isn't great for butterflies...

Lang's Short-tiled Blue

Chalkhill Blue

Wall Brown on a wall

Life is good, drinking a cold cerveza while enjoying such views

My morning birding sessions were a bit challenging. Thanks to Franco and his support of the Nazis in WW2, it was dark until 7am! Therefore I had limited time for birding before the family activities began. I spent a couple of early mornings on Rasos de Peguera, the nearest ski resort. It wasn't high enough up there for proper mountain birds (1900 m), but certainly had this high-altitude feel, distinctly different from the mid-elevation village where we stayed. 

Most dominant birds up there were Crossbills - flocks were moving around noisily, some perched nicely. I enjoyed watching them in their different ages and plumages - they're not a bird I am very familiar with. In Israel they are very rare and irregular. Also in Norfolk they aren't too apparent. It was good to take in their flight calls and silhouettes.

Someone's ringing them up there - two of these random birds I photographed were ringed. 
Another quality bird (for me) up there was Citril Finch. This is another species I haven't seen many times before, and never managed to photograph. Even this photo isn't great - at least it's something.

Butterflies were abundant there too, including many Grizzled Skippers and the magnificent Cardinal.

This photo was taken by my son Uri:

Pyrenean Chamoix

Then it was down to scorching-hot Barcelona. I acted like a stupid tourist for a bit, however typically while admiring the Segrada Familia I was more interested in the Peregrine flying above.

View of the city from Parc Güell at 40 degrees

The little birding I did in Barcelona was half productive. Annoyingly, Delta del Llobregat doesn't open up before 9am (!), when the heat was already unbearable. I did spend a relaxed and muy fun morning with my close friends Rafa and Alejandra (Rafa - it's A-Le-Jand-Ra, OK?). Birding was nice, nothing too especial.

Audouin's Gull 8M95

Even though I don't really do Category C birds, It would have been rude not to look for the small population of Black-rumped Waxbills that have taken up residence in Parc del Turó del Putxet. So I did, to maintain the checklist streak. And Mitred Parakeets were abundant.

Thanks to my family and to the Chittendens for all the fun we had together!

Thursday, August 10, 2023


I spent the past week in Eilat. My younger son, Noam, did an open water diving course,  and I was there to escort him. I joined his group for a dive today (Thursday). On other days, I dropped him and his mates off in the morning, and picked them up in the afternoon. In between I tried to work...
At this time of year, when the temperatures are so high and fall migration is just starting, all eyes are on the sea. Naturally, every morning I showed up on North Beach at first light. I enjoyed good birding action until I had to leave, too early, at 07:00. There was really nice activity around bait-balls or fish-boils that formed once or twice every morning. It was exciting to watch this. On August 7th I had six tern species going crazy over the bait-ball, picking up little fish pushed to the surface by predatory tuna: White-cheeked (the most numerous), Common, Arctic, Bridled, Lesser Crested and Caspian. In this photo, spot the Bridled Tern on the right:

I posted this video on social media, and it generated interest by our comms team. They pushed it and the 'story' featured quite well on national media. including in English here. Sadly the editor google-translated the Hebrew text, which came out quite a mess. I did my best to help her edit. the results is somewhat awkward but OK I think.

White-cheeked Tern numbers were really high - I counted over 100 together on Thursday morning. They were flying very actively back and forth across the gulf. I photographed these flying super-fast past me on their way back from a bait-ball feast, some carrying tiny fish in their bills. Note the recently-fledged juvenile - Noam Weiss says that they had a good breeding season.

I was also glad to get my first sound recording of this seldom-recorded species:

White-eyed Gulls were present in large numbers too. Several landed on the beach to rest. The adult is a really neat bird IMO.

It was interesting to see them catching flying insects, probably Chironomus midges that are abundant in the early morning.

A Brown Booby was present for a short while one morning, perched on a distant border buoy. Note the Cory's Shearwater sailing past at the very beginning of the clip:

Another welcome visitor to 'my' bit of beach - Striated Heron, made in 2023.

On August 9th I joined the monthly pelagic monitoring trip organised by INPA and Eilat Birding Center. On the boat were Chen and Ofer from INPA, and Noam and Netanel from IBRCE. Expectations were high, after last month's trip yielded European and Wilson's Storm-Petrels. Our trip was a bit hard going, to be honest. For a couple of hours we didn't see a single bird. Eventually, two Swinhoe's Storm-Petrels arrived to check the slick. They flew up and down the slick for about 30 minutes and showed very well. I managed to get my best photos of the species to date. Note how extremely worn this individual is - incredible how it can still fly so well like this.

Strange how times change. Only a decade ago, a pelagic trip with two Swinhoe's would be regarded as a huge success. Nowadays, that they have become so regular off Eilat, sometimes in quite large numbers, our result feels mediocre, almost disappointing. 

Away from the gulf, there wasn't too much to see. KM20 saltpans held decent numbers of shorebirds. best of the bunch was a Terek Sandpiper. Noam and I had an Olive-Tree Warbler during a meeting in Neot Smadar.