Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Montagu's Harrier

After the pretty dramatic events of yesterday, a relaxed drive through the fields near my house this morning was very welcome. Several Montagu's Harriers were hunting over the wheat fields, including this adult female:

These guys were having a go at each other:

Spur-winged Lapwings

Still big numbers of Turtle Doves going through:

Nice migrant duo - Whinchat and Ortolan:

Zitting Cisticola:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Armageddon birding

Had a very long and pretty crazy day of birding yesterday. Left home at 02:00. Picked Meidad up at Sde Boker and together we headed south towards one of the remotest parts of Israel, in the southern Negev close to the Egyptian border. In this area there are some very good flat vegetated plains and wadis that are important for ground-breeding birds. In spring 2011 we surveyed the area with Shachar Alterman and NPA, and it was quite awesome there. In March this year, this same area experienced some exceptional rainfall, and as a result a productive 'green' patch evolved, that immediately attracted lots of fast-breeding birds. A couple of weeks ago Shachar was there again and had very good early breeding activity. Yesterday we returned there to try and find breeding evidence for some rare species.
Driving down the weather became worse and worse. Gale-force winds plus sandy desert means dust storms - at some points visibility was zero and I had to pull over. We almost u-turned and headed back home becuase in this wind birding is pointless, but we had driven so far already and made such an effort, so we decided to give it a go anyway. After a long hour of tough off-road driving we arrived on site right on time, at first light. Immediately we started hearing lark song up in the sky - first Greater Short-toed and Temminck's Larks, then more species joined in. 

We started working the five km-long wadi and flanking plains - luckily the wind dropped and birding conditions became rather pleasent. But it was tough for photography - very dark clouds. I am not used to shoot in such high iso in Israel...
Most impressive were Temminck's Lark - we had 13 singing males along this wadi - very good density of this scarce lark. In addition I had two feeding females - breeding confirmed...

Temminck's Lark - male

Bar-tailed Larks were present in good numbers - we had about 13-15 singing males, and again several feeding birds. No proper photos this time but I managed to get a reasonable sound-recording. It's the first Middle-Eastern sound recording uploaded to Xeno Canto as far as I know - very different from N African birds. 

Bar-tailed Lark

Other larks we had were several families of Crested Larks, and few singing male Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks, but we couldn't find any further breeding indications of those. We couldn't relocate the Hoopoe Larks Shachar had here a couple of weeks ago, but by the time we got to the area where he had them, the weather deteriorated again, so they might still be there.
Another good find was a breeding female MacQueen's Bustard - she was walking and hiding in the way they do when they have young chicks with them. We left her alone not to disturb her too much but I am confiden she had chicks with her. In  addition we had another small group of seven males. They were either non-breeding or post-breeding males; in this time of year they are often seen in small groups. This group might have walked accross the border from Sinai - sadly they were very shy and jumpy, despite being safe in the only country on this planet where they aren't hunted to extinction.
The stronghold of MacQueen's Bustards in Israel is in the Nizzana region, with about 30-40 breeding pairs there. In the rest of the Negev they are present in very lower densities, so this concentration of eight birds at one site was quite impressive. 

MacQueen's Bustards

Other good local birds we had were several Cream-coloured Coursers, and some flyover Spotted Sandgrouse.
There were quite many migrants around - mainly pipits and wagtails, but in the few bushes there were some common warblers and shrikes of three species - Masked, woodchat and Red-backed.

Masked Shrike 

Probably because of the crazy winds there was virtually no raptor migration. We had quite many Lesser Kestrels feeding along the wadi, and this smart 2cy male Montagus Harrier cruising low:

Not too many other animals - a few Dorcas Gazelles and one impressive Spiny-tailed Lizard that jumped back into his den before I got my camera on him.

Dorcas Gazelle

Thanks to the cloud cover the temperatures remained reasonably pleasent the whole morning, but before we left the storm resumed, wind built up again, and an impressive thuder storm hit us - so we escaped back into the car, and back home.

Thanks Meidad for the great company!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Thursday night live

It's Passover in Israel now, and the kids are on holiday, so as their father I have the duty to entertain them. Trying to fullfil this role in my life, last night we went out camping in the forest behind our village. Nice area - mixed forest surrounded by open fields and some remnants of natural scrubby habitat. As we were setting our tents up, we encountered this unwanted neighbour - he had to relocate to a new residence... Not dangerous to humans but very painful bite.

Large-clawed (AKA Israeli Gold) Scorpion Scorpio maurus fuscus

After dark the forest became alive. Jackals howled, foxes barked, and I had good owl activity: one Long-eared was singing for most of the evening nearby, a distant Eagle Owl was calling too, and a Barn Owl flew over several times. Heard some nocturnal migration - mainly Tree Pipits and Ortolans. It was very nice to have good activity of fireflies - not sure which species but the genus here is Lampyris. Rather early - they usually become active in July - August.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Full moon party

Spent the evening monitoring Nubian Nightjars yesterday, using the (almost) full moon for peak breeding activity of the nightjars. Afternoon birding with Alain from France and his Mrs. was pleasent and pretty relaxed. This very optimistic Osprey was trying in vain to fish in the industrial evaporation ponds:

One young Black Stork was hunting for frogs in some better habitat:

Also there 1-2 Little Crakes, some Little Bitterns, several Clamorous Reed Warblers singing, but best were four Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters that appeared a few minutes too late after the sun had already gone down...

At dusk we were positioned for the evening, and soon enough started hearing singing Nubian Nightjars:

We started counting singing males, which is the best indication I have for breeding of these endangered birds. By the time I was completely done sometime after midnight, I had 31 singing males, plus several more foraging birds. I checked about two thirds of the habitat, so I expect that the total number of singing males will be similar to last year. From the results I had last night, most territories were occupied, which is good.

 Nubian Nightjar - shame about the black pipe

Thanks to Alain for his help.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday morning relaxed birding

I think I deserve a noble prize because I let my wife sleep in this morning. Went on a long walk with my baby girl Libby and dog Bamba in the fields around our village. Lovely spring weather and lots of birds. Quite many migrants around and the local birds are bust breeding. Not easy to photograph single handed with the 500 mm...

Most dominant migrants were many hundreds of Ortolans and also big numbers (60+) of Tree Pipits.

Also some other pipits (red-throated, tawny and water), Masked Shrikes, some Issy Wheatears and other typical open country birds. Large flocks of Turtle Doves are going through now:


Forest Owlet...

Back in the village, I had a Collared Flycatcher in my neighbour's garden, and a Pied fly in my garden - a nice garden tick.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Monitoring course

Continued the Wildlife Monitoring Course today. We worked again in the Modi'in hills. Today we were joined by Ohad Mass from the SPNI Mammal Center - top pro mammal person, and a great guy. We checked the Sherman traps placed yesterday - not too many rodents, only few Arabian Spiny Mice (Acomys dimdiatus):

But the whole learning process was very interesting. Thanks Ohad. Where we worked some birds - migrants included many Tree Pipites, Nightingales, Ortolans and some raptors (Osprey is worth noting).

Palestine Sunbird 

Then checked some reservoirs in the Judean Lowlands - had 8 Ferruginous Ducks, a pair of Gadwall, 8 Purple Herons and that's it.