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.