Thursday, March 7, 2024

Up and down and around

Over the last few days I have been out and about a bit. It is such an exciting time of year to be out birding. The thrill of seeing fresh migrants, first for the season, keeps me going year after year. It never bores.

On Saturday morning (March 2nd) I went birding with Piki to sniff some early migrants in Arsuf, north of Tel Aviv. The habitat was lovely, flowers aplenty. There's a patch of Coastal Iris there, which is endemic to Israel and Critically Endangered. Sexy. 

There were quite many wheatears about, including an outstanding total of four Desert Wheatears. They are scarce or even rare migrants along the Med coast. Looking so beautiful in the early morning sun, with an atypical green background.

Flushed from its favourite perch by the powerful Isabelline Wheatear

Tuesday morning (March 5th) I had a meeting at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. The secret in scheduling morning meetings is to start at a time that leaves sufficient birding time beforehand. Before the meeting I checked two sites in Jerusalem that are hosting fine birds. First, Jerusalem's Botanical Gardens, the same site that hosted Israel's first Chinese Pond-Heron in 2021. In the past few weeks a very cooperative Redwing has taken up residence in the gardens and has become a bit of a celebrity, mainly because it is showing so well, unusually for such a scarce and shy bird in Israel (normally). Indeed, it showed on its favourite Pyracantha bush. In my case it was actually a bit shy and didn't show very well but I can't complain. 

Next stop was Australia Gardens, on the slopes of Mt. Herzl. It's actually a section of the Jerusalem Forest, afforested with non-native pines and cypress trees. However, now when everything is lush and flowering, the habitat looked quite attractive and indeed there were tons of birds there. Gabriel Cedar and Shalem Kurman, to excellent young birders, found there a flock of Olive-backed Pipits a couple of weeks ago. OBP is a very rare winter visitor, though this past winter has been quite good for them. In any case such a flock in central Israel is very welcome. Straight away I heard the pipits giving their tiny 'pip' call but it took me a while to locate them. Eventually I had nice views of them flying between the trees, occasionally dropping down to the ground to forage. However they were difficult to photography well.

Listen to the amount of birdsong in this sound recording:

From the highest peaks of Jerusalem to the lowest place on earth. Later that evening I joined a group of researchers from Tel Aviv University working on Pallid Scops-Owls. We trapped and ringed three individuals, and heard another one or two, in one corner of a date plantation near the Dead Sea. Discovered to breed in Israel less than a decade ago, it still is fascinating to see Pallid Scops-Owls in such densities. Very special birds, in special settings.

Only few hours after the night shift had ended, I found myself in Kfar Ruppin, admiring our newest restored reservoir, in partnership with the kibbutz. It's a large, amazing reservoir, always so attractive to birds and other wildlife - a great and welcome addition to our Start-Up Nature project. Yesterday morning the reservoir was packed with birds, as always. A flock of pelicans graced the reservoir, tons of ducks, shorebirds, raptors, passerines. In two and a half hours I saw in the reservoir and around it 104 species, so much quality, check the eBird checklist here.

I went live on Facebook when I was there (until I was interrupted by a local guy who asked for some photography advice):

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