Saturday, December 30, 2023

Pacific Diver-Loon!

Wow what a whirlwind of a day. Getting towards the end of the year, it's money time... I decided to go for one last push before the year ends and add a few species to my non-Big-Year list (check my special annual review tomorrow). Several quality birds accumulated near Eilat, waiting for me. With the news of a diver/loon found yesterday, the temptation was too powerful. It was a go. I teamed up with Rony and Arad. We left just after midnight. First part of the night was spent looking successfully for Pharaoh Eagle-Owl - we had wonderful views of a vocal male. Our next nocturnal target was Egyptian Nightjar in Yotvata. Despite being observed there in recent days we had no luck - maybe because it was very cold and pretty windy when we searched there. 

Anyway, we got to Hashalom Lagoon off North Beach in Eilat at dawn. Very quickly we spotted the diver swimming quietly in the lagoon. Forgive me Americans, it's diver from now on.

I got my scope on it, having in mind that yesterday it was identified as Black-throated Diver by Moshe Neeman who found it. But hey, the flanks are all dark - no rear flank white patch... And is this a chinstrap? Nah, can't be. Or can it?

Then the penny dropped and it all kicked in. Pacific Diver!!! Potentially the first for Israel, and what an astonishing record. Because of the enormity of the record, and lack of sufficient experience with both species, I was cautious about releasing the news too quickly. We alerted the Eilat birders, and within a few minutes several local birders joined us. We all watched it very well, swimming and diving for food. We all agreed that it always looked good for pacific, rather small and stocky, weak-billed, pale hindneck, and when it dove it showed the dark line separating the white vent from the white belly. The chinstrap looked stronger and weaker, depending on the angle. 

Interestingly it was loosely associating with an Indian Ocean Humpback Dolphin in the lagoon:

Photo by Shachar Shalev of the vent bar

With positive feedback coming to us from experts in N America and Europe, I released the news nationally, still with an astrix. Later on during the day a global consensus has developed, agreeing that this is the first Pacific Diver for Israel!

Highly elated after this great find, we continued to Nahal Ketura. Rotem Avisar found a male Menetries's Warbler there about a week ago. As soon as we started birding the site I heard it call, and very quickly we had lovely views of a 1cy male Menetries's Warbler. It showed really well and was very vocal, even singing a bit. My photos don't do it justice - it showed exceptionally well. 

I especially enjoyed listening to its subtle song:

And then it was back home - by lunchtime! Thanks to Rony and Arad for a great day out. 
See you tomorrow in my annual review - should be fun.

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