Sunday, August 10, 2014

Terek

Long day today. Left home very early, met up with Barak and we were at Ma'agan Michael at 05:45. We birded mainly along the beach - checked several lagoons and puddles. Quite good numbers of shorebirds and nice variety. Best was this lovely Terek Sandpiper:





Other stuff included Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, 24 Greater Sand-plovers, 5 Sanderling. 2 Gull-billed Terns and 13 Gargeney coming in off the sea.

Sanderling

Still good tern activity on the beach:


Then I had a series of meetings, finalizing projects and saying goodbye to colleagues before leaving.
When I headed back home, Hamas fired two rockets towards my village. They were intercepted by Iron Dome. Today was a 'slow' day with 'only' 50 rockets fired by crazy Hamas towards Israel.


The moon is beautiful tonight:



Saturday, August 9, 2014

Not so sacred...

At last went birding today, after too long. Birded the Ashdod ponds - perhaps for the last time for the next few years. Almost the first bird I saw almost knocked me off the car seat - a stonking African Sacred Ibis:


This African species is held in captivity in Israel in small numbers (and it is a prominent invasive species in some parts of the world). There used to be a tiny feral population in NW Israel until some years ago but they weren't reported in recent years. There are no records of wild individuals in Israel. This individual was unringed, flew well, was rather shy and showed no signs of captivity. Of course, it probably is a feral bird. However, the chance that is a wild bird cannot be dismissed - this species performs considerable migration in sub-Saharan Africa, similar to the movements of Yellow-billed Stork. Stunning bird nevertheless, especially with these impressive breeding plumes.

Otherwise, the ponds were packed full with shorebirds, mainly Tringas. 130 Wood, 50 Green etc. - big numbers. 30 Little Stints and one Temminck's Stint:


Nine Little Ringed Plovers:


Big numbers of Ruff and few Snipes:


The only gull on site was this diminutive Armenian Gull - what a tiny bill!


Not too many migrant passerines - some Yellow Wagtails, Isabelline Wheatears, one Savi's Warbler, and this 1cy Woodchat Shrike:


The morning ended in a sad way. At 08:00 the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas collapsed and Hamas resumes firing rockets into Israel. From 08:01 onwards I was birding amidst sirens and explosions. Rushed back home to be with my family. So depressing to see how Hamas leaders are determined to destroy Gaza - both people and land.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I'm back in one piece

Got back on Thursday evening from the Gaza War. In fact, the next day after I had written my previous post (July 13) I was called in to join my military unit when the preparations to the ground operation in Gaza began, and I was away fro almost three weeks. I am still active in the reserve forces - at the same unit I was during my compulsory service. Why did I go? good question with several answers. First, because I was literally protecting my house and family. I live 9 km away from the Gaza border, and we suffer hard from the rockets fired by Hamas. In fact, only on Thursday my family reunited and we all met up at home after my wife was away with the kids for almost a month. My wife is a real hero - it was really difficult for her to be away from home for so long with the three kids. Also, try to imagine how she felt when I got the call that I had to go to war - not knowing when and if we will see each other again. So my ambition to stop the rockets aimed at my house was strong enough to overcome all the worries and questions regarding myself joining the war. At night, I looked back and saw the distant lights of Netivot, Sderot and even my little village, and that gave me great strength to push on.
The second reason that I went was my strong obligation towards my country, and towards my military unit and my close friends serving with me at the same unit. It is hard to describe such feelings to western poeple who have never had to serve and protect their country, but in the reality we live in Israel, it's part of our life.
Anyway, I was operating in Gaza with my unit for almost three weeks. I cannot write much about what we did there, but basically we operated on the ground to destroy the two main threats towards Israel - rockets, and terror tunnels. These three weeks were perhaps the most intensive weeks of my life. Full speed activity 24 hours a day, extreme focusing abilities needed to get our missions carried out with the greatest success while minimizing casualties of our soldiers and of Palestinian civilians. This extreme focus and sharpness needed was combined with increasing fatigue - during the first week I think I slept for a combined two hours or so. I didn't work alone - I was with a team of extremely motivated and skilled soldiers like myself. My deepest thanks go to my team mates.
Again, it is hard to describe the intensity to those who had never participated in such activities. Looking back, after winding down a bit, the unbearable contrast between the war I was in, and the relative tranquility of my life at home, only 10 minutes drive away (still constant explosions around us), is difficult to grasp even by myself. 
I am very glad to be back home, in one piece. I had a few near misses but eventually I am OK. I am not a politician or a high-ranked military officer, so I cannot talk about politics and my personal opinions have no influence on anyone. I just know that I participated in an important activity to protect my family and my country, contributed as much as I can, stayed safe and protected my team mates, and that's it. What next? I really don't know. This war is not over yet. I believe that in a week or two it will end, and the region will settle into a fragile quiet equilibrium. I was released early because I need to start packing towards my move to UK towards the end of this month. My friends are still in there. Personally, the move to UK comes in very good timing - for sure it will be quieter at Norwich than here. But I know that in four years, when we return to Israel, the situation will probably not change much, which is quite a depressing thought. 
I really hope that after this terrible war, the miserable people of Gaza, and the International Community, will understand the Hamas as it operates now promises nothing but fear, terror, hunger and misery to its own people. This must change, for the sake of both Gaza and Israel.
I know that this is a complicated post - I am sure that many of my international readers look at this conflict from a different point of view. I know that I even risk losing some followers here. I am not an ambassador to anything, I am just sharing my own personal feelings and thoughts. Even though this is primarily a birding blog, I feel obliged to report here about the major events in my life, and this was a major event indeed. I hope that my personal story, linked with what many of you know about me from my birding career, will give you a different point of view about the complicated situation here. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

War update

In this post I will try not to talk about politics but more about how my family and myself are doing.
I guess most of you know that Israel has been under a massive missile attack for the last two weeks, fired by Hamas from Gaza against the towns and cities of Israel. Luckily, the unbelievable success of Iron Dome systems to intercept most of these missiles before they hit populated areas has reduced the number of casualties to zero. However, several Israelis were badly wounded and some serious damage was caused to houses and cars. This might seem minor but this is all thanks to Iron Dome - each and every one of these Hamas missiles was aimed to kill civilians. 

My house is less than 10 km from the Gaza border, and when we were at home we suffered badly from these attacks. We live halfway between Sderot and Netivot, two cities that were hit badly by Hamas, so our house shakes every time a missile is aimed towards these cities. The non-stop explosions, sirens and tension were too much for us, especially for my kids that are just old enough to start to understand what's happening. Running in panic several times a day to the bomb shelter (one of our rooms), waiting to hear the explosion, and never feeling safe when staying outdoors started to have a serious effect on our kids' sanity. We decided to transfer to my parents-in-law that live in central Israel. We have 3-4 sirens a day here too, but because we are about 50 km from Gaza border, it takes the missiles longer to get here, and the run to the shelter doesn't have to be in panic. Also, there are much fewer explosions from around us here.

All of this happened in conjunction with problems in our family - my wife's grandfather is hospitalized in a very difficult state, and two of my kids were ill with a minor virus for several days. So during the last few days I was hardly able to work, of course no time for birding or fieldwork, only managed to squeeze in a few hours of computer work here and there.

I know that we are not in a summer camp, our country is in war, but this is very difficult for us to be here. Not difficult like the people living in the most dangerous cities - Sderot, Netivot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ofakim, Be'er Sheva and a few others. We all want badly to get back home and to normal life. I feel so sorry for the miserable people of Gaza - they must be the most unfortunate people on earth, living under the deadliest leaders in the world. I just wish that this terrible situation will solve somehow, with a sustainable solution that will last longer than two years - about two years ago we experienced a similar situation. 
I hope that my next post will be bird-related...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Crazy world

Just a quick update. Though I normally refrain from addressing any political issues in my blog, the last few days, and especially the last few hours have been so intensive that I feel I should share my feelings here.
Since about a week, first some obscure Jihad organisations and now also Hammas from Gaza have been firing tens of rockets into Israel - towards the area where I live in. I live about 9 km away from the Gaza border, and very close to two towns that have been under massive attack in recent days - Netivot and Sderot. We had to run for shelter several times, including about two hours ago. We hear everything exploding around us - tens of rockets in the last few hours. I am OK, my wife as well. But our two sons - Uri (7) and Noam (5) are suffering from this - stress levels are building up with every siren and every explosion. We are fortunate to have military anti-missile systems protecting us - these systems have saved many innocent lives in recent days.
I really don't understand what motivation anyone in Gaza has to shoot these rockets into Israel. I just wish this crazy situation ends fast. 
And in the same time - extreme events in my wife's family. In one hospital, her grandfather is in a critical state. In another hospital, her sister-in-law is in labour now, and will hopefully give birth by morning.

So all of these events mixed together mess all emotions up. I just wish everything becomes quiet and peaceful soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ohohoh the sweetest thing

Spent the morning in the Nizzana area. It was a fine morning indeed. Weather was relatively cool early on, with some cloud cover keeping the temperatures down for a couple of hours. First checked some desert habitats - there were loads of Cream-coloured Coursers around, including several families with young, soft chicks. At one point a female that was coursing around with its two chicks stopped and kneeled down, and the babies crawled under her wings. I regard myself as a tough guy but this was really one of the cutest and sweetest things I had ever seen. Mother with two extra pairs of legs sticking out under her wings. Unfortunately it happened too far away for photography. 

Cream-coloured Coursers


Some whetears around - families of desert, Isabelline and Mourning.

Desert Wheatear - recently-fledged juvenile 


Then I went to the Kmehin sewage ponds that were packed with birds. Good local birds included one Purple Swamphen, two Namaqua Doves and some Trumpeter Finches. From about 07:30 large numbers of sandgrouse came in to drink. I had over 600 sandgrouse until 09:30 - about 250 spotted, 200 pintailed, 80 black-bellied and four crowned. I kept my distance from them not to disturb them, so only some flight shots: 

Spotted Sandgrouse - female and male 

Black-bellied Sandgrouse - male

Quite many migrants present already. about 30 Green Sandpipers, and few woods and Redshanks, some Ruffs, and two Squacco Herons.
Green Sandpiper

Squacco Heron

Thanks to Meidad and Itai H. for info and company.