Saturday, January 27, 2024

Scope or camera

This morning I went seawatching with Piki, Rony, Yotam and Sharon. The wind maps looked promising, there was little rain in the forecast so our hopes were high. We arrived at the seawatching spot south of Jaffa, and very quickly realised that even though the wind was excellent, blowing from the correct direction in good force, the sea was quite empty. Well there were gulls, and some more gulls, but we were after proper pelagic species. After a long time we had our first and only Yelkouan Shearwater, then a Peregrine flew over, and we were getting a bit underwhekmed. But we kept on scanning, periodically escaping from torrential rain showers into the car. After a long while Piki shouts: storm-petrel! It took us all a long time to get on it, during which Piki said he thought it was 'something else'. Eventually we all got on it, quickly realising it was a very small storm-petrel, with a large white rump, flying with a very light, buoyant flight action, very different from the powerful shearwater-like flight of Leach's (we all had clear memories from Storm Barbara last year). I think I was the first to call it European Storm-Petrel. We then had great scope views of it as it passed south in quite a slow flight at medium distance, keeping low between the big waves. We talked to each other, pointing out the ID features we could get. We saw the square-ended tail, but I was struggling to see the 'smoking-gun' feature, the white underwing bar. I then faced the eternal dilemma for seawatching. My camera was at hand, but the bird was already flying away. Should I switch to the camera, fire off a few horrible shots that may or may not even show the bird? Or stick to the scope and use the final possible view of the bird before it disappears to get that underwing pattern? I opted for the scope, knowing that European Storm-Petrel is still a big rarity in Israel and a good photo would be important, but that smoking-gun feature is even more important. Then the bird banked properly, showing us it's beautiful white underwing bar - bingo! A few more wing flaps and it was gone, disappeared south. We jumped in the air, and hugged - it was an Israeli tick for all of us, a much-wanted one, one that was on our radar for a long time. 

News of more storm-petrels from other seawathcing spots kept coming in, those that were identified were Leach's. We had very brief views of a storm-petrel sp. but couldn't get anything on it. A few Arctic Skuas went past and it was time for us to leave, wet and cold but super stoked and happy.

eBird checklist here.

The only photo I did get, a Peregrine:

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Uvda Valley

Nice morning yesterday in Uvda Valley. The habitat looks promising - earlier rains produced a fresh, lush carpet of annuals. Surely this area will attract many migrants soon and support good breeding populations. 

There were lots of mammals on the plains when I arrived in the half-dark. Dozens of Asian Will Ass and a few Dorcas Gazelle were enjoying the tasty grass. This is the start of the rutting season now, and the gazelles were active. These two males were playing around:

Then everything went quiet - a majestic Arabian Wolf trotted across the plains. It was a beautiful female, in thick winter coat. Breathtaking.

I was after the Pied Wheatear that had been found by Avner a few days ago. Pied Wheatear is a good rarity in Israel during migration - it's just about annual. Spring 2012 will always be remembered for the huge extended arrival of Pied and Cyprus Wheatears in southern Israel - they were everywhere! Luckily, the late and still sorely missed Martin Garner was here to enjoy the exceptional birding - check this old blogpost for example. In any case, I am not aware of any previous winter records of Pied Wheatear in Israel - they should be much farther south now, in South East Africa. I was very keen to study this plumage that I am not very familiar with. The bird was showing very well, certainly enjoying the early arthropod productivity developing now. It kept picking up insects all the time I was watching it, foraging very actively. What an interesting, subtle bird. Warmer-toned than I had expected it to be. Still showing a solid dark mantle and faint mottling on breast.

Avner also found nearby another Menetries's Warbler - it seems to be a good winter for them. How many more are lurking out in the desert undetected? Compared to the performing Nahal Ketura bird, this one is a real nightmare. During the time I watched it I had only a couple of brief views. It was also pretty quiet, hardly called at all. My poor photos demonstrate that.

There were lots of birds moving around - big numbers of Spotted Sandgrouse filled the air with their flight calls, some Temminck's and Bar-tailed Larks busy feeding and getting prepared for breeding, Desert Wheatear, Tawny Pipits, stonking male Pallid Harrier cruised over the plains - good fun and an excellent morning overall. eBird checklists with pied and menetries's here and here.