Friday, December 22, 2023

Five years

Yesterday was a pretty big day for me. I celebrated five years of eBird checklist streak: for the past five years I have been out birding every day. 1825 consecutive days of eBirding, in which I went out birding every day. The last day that I didn't go birding was the 22nd of December 2018. eBird's rules for checklist streak are pretty fluid regarding the effort. I set myself a standard of daily meaningful birding, i.e. at least 30 minutes in proper birding mode, with binoculars around neck. I am pretty proud of this streak - during those five years my checklist streak was threatened by war, pandemic, eye injury, long flights. I endured all and somehow managed to keep going every day.

Kudos to my mate Dubi Shapiro for his stunning image appearing on eBird front page yesterday

To celebrate this special day, I wanted to go somewhere special. Can one celebrate during a war? Well, I can. I decided to go with Piki to Wadi Hemda in the Arava Valley, where a Basalt Wheatear has been present for a couple of weeks now. I spent many of those 1825 days of birding with Piki so it was very fitting to spend my anniversary together. We left very early to arrive on site at dawn. En route we encountered two beautiful Wolves by the roadside. My camera was in the back so thanks to Piki for sharing an image of this breathtaking beast of a hound. This one lost the tip of its tail, like my dog Lola (see below). In the back seat, Lola was very excited by the wolves. 

We arrived as planned just as the sun was rising over the mountains on the Jordanian side of the valley. In this image is my private wolf, Lola who is proving to be an excellent birding companion, just like her much-missed predecessor Bamba. 

We started searching for the wheatear all over the place. We checked every corner, bush and hill for a good couple of hours, no sign. Things were starting to look desolate, despite finding some nice birds during the search - several Greater Hoopoe-Larks, Asian Desert Warbler typically following a Desert Wheatear, and the remains of a dead Short-eared Owl.

Eventually, after a long search, we found the bird (on the other side of the road). We enjoyed wonderful views of it, foraging very actively. I have special feelings for the Basalt Wheatear. Whether it's a full species or a morph or a subspecies, it's a very special bird with a tiny population. After becoming quite regular in winter until 2020, it was totally absent for the two previous winters. So this bird was very welcome. 

Depending on the light and angle it can look quite sooty brown

In flight the whitish wing flashes show, as well as the complete terminal tail band

Yosef was there too, and later on he notified us that he had trapped the bird for his research. It was fascinating to watch the bird from up close - it was identified as a 1st-calendar female. The whitish tips to primary and carpal coverts are typical for a young Basalt Wheatear. 

Note the partial moult, with replaced greater and lesser coverts and inner alula. 

eBird checklist here

After enjoying this special wheatear we continued to Ovda Valley. One section of the valley experienced a massive flood last week, and was looking great. There were good numbers of common birds there, nothing special, just nice to be out in great weather, with fine company. eBird checklist here.

Quick quiz: take five seconds and estimate how many Spanish Sparrows are in this flock:

Here's to another five years!

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