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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Stupid me

Yesterday was a long and bird-filled day, that got completely screwed up because I left my memory card at home and my spare card didn't work. Of course, thanks to Mr. Murphy, I had countless photo opps during the day.
In the morning did a lovely breeding atlas box in Lahav Hills, where I could have had such images:

Spectacled Warbler, March 2013

Then I collected five gulls (4 armenians and one yellow-leg) that were treated and rehabilitated at the Wildlife Hospital operated by Safari & NPA. Ringed and released them at Ashdod - still many gulls there, mainly baltics but a splash of others - Heuglin's, Steppe, Caspian & Armenian. They were feeding on the rubbish dump there, where I could have had such images:

Baltic Gulls, March 2010

In the afternoon met up with birders from UK & Holland. Told them about a Black Bush Robin found earlier by Yael Alon at Hazeva, just 20 minutes away. No contemplation - quick change of plans and in no time we got there and were on the bird. It was a lovely female that performed really well. If I had my card with me I could have improved this image:

Black Bush Robin, 2008

It was a lovely night for nightjar monitoring - warm and strong moonlight. Where we started we had 3-4 singing males and another three foraging birds all in one small area. Then we checked several more sites and enjoyed great views and lovely demonstration of foraging activity in moonlight. Could have had such images:

Nubian Nightjar, 2013

Then a quick look for Hume's Owls - we had two males calling at each other amazing views but no images this time, like this one:

Hume's Owl, 2011 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Subalpine Warbler & Champs of the Flyway summary

After the race was over I worked on the scores until 3 am, so it was tough to make another early start for birding next morning. Took me a few minutes to scratch myself out of bed. If I hadn't set up a meeting with the eBird team to go birding together I'd probably sleep in. But Marshal showed up on time and we went for a nice stroll in Holland Park, birding and discussing different work-related issues. Had an enjoyable morning there - lots of sylvias, Balkan Warblers, Wryneck, Masked Shrikes, some buntings etc. Best bird was a male Subalpine Warbler - it showed really well and I managed to produce the best images I have of this stunner skulker.

Eastern Subalpine Warbler 

As usual in this season, the Retama Caper (Capparis decidua) bushes had many Rueppell's Warblers in them among other sylvias:

Rueppell's Warbler - female

Then we went to the IBRCE for a quick visit. Another subalp was caught there just as we arrived:

Then off to north beach for a group photo before the award ceremony (thanks Yuval): 

The winners in the Champions of the Flyway 2014 birdrace are Palestinian Sunbirders, led by Noam Weiss, a joint group of Palestinians and Israelis. They scored an incredible 169 species! Noam, apart for being a super birder and great friend, demonstrated his incredible sensitivity and integrity, and decided to hand the award and first place to the next International team, as he felt he had an 'Israeli factor' that helped him win. So the co-winners are Cornell eBird Sapsuckers team, with a whopping 168 species. I was especially impressed by their well-planned strategy. Here's an example: they knew that the Brown Booby off north beach is easier in the morning that in the afternoon. So the first thing they did after starting off at 00:01 was drive to north beach, where they found the booby roosting on a buoy that had a shining light on it - they saw the silhouette and identified it. Original.
The ceremony was very exciting and the atmosphere was incredible. It was a great privilage for me to have shared these days with a group that are among the finest people on this planet - all extremely talented and skilled, and devoted to conservtaion in various ways. I assume that athelets participating in the olympic games have a similar feeling - participating in a great event, something big and unforgettable.Tthe amount of money fundraised for conservation is impressive, and I do hope that this event will become an annual tradition.
Huge respect goes to my friends and colleagues Dan Alon and Jonathan Meyrav for dreaming and creating this event. Thanks to all the other SPNI / IOC staff that helped in organizing the event. And most important, thanks to all the teams, international and Israeli, that made the effort and joined in. Even though their names appear in the Champions website, it is important for me to name them explicitely - they are all dear friends and it was so good to meet and spend time together:
Dale Forbes, Jim Lawrence, Martin Fowley, Stu Butchart, Roger Riddington, Adam Hutt, Paul French, Ken Billington, Gert Ottens, Marc Guyt, Martijn Verdoes, Sa'ed A-Shomal, Jessi Schaekermann, Tim Appelton, David Lindo, Stephen Moss, Marshal Iliff, Chris Wood, Jessy Barry, Colin, Stephen & Pat Shields, Stu Elsom, Dominic Mitchell, Mike Alibone, Ian Lycett, Morten Bentzon Hansen, Bill Thompson III, Michael O'Brien, George Armistead, Ben Lizdas, Johannes Jansen, Brecht Verhelst, Pim Wolf, Alexander Rukhaia, Roni Vaesanen, Matt Slaymaker, Teresa Montras Janer, Dick Newel, Rob Jollife, Jan & Tom Nordbland, and Erkki Valsta. I especially missed Martin Garner who couldn't make it - next year!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Champions of the Flyway - my Big Day!

So yesterday during the race I spent the whole day out with the teams. Left very early and arrived at Uvda Valley early enough to enjoy dawn chorus of the rarer breeding larks - I had both Bar-tailed and Temminck's singing from the hills above the valley. Later on the theme of quality local birds continued with both Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse flying around and feeding on the plains. But most impressive was the number and variety of migrants - on the plains plenty of wagtails, pipits, wheatears and larks (one Lesser Short-toed among the many greaters). The few bushes were exploding with warblers, Ortolans, Tree Pipits, Redstart, Nightingale etc. During the first couple of hours of daylight I must have had over 50 species there.


Isabelline Wheatear

This Yellow Wagtail looked like a standard thunbergi-type until it flew and called like an eastern birds - scary stuff...



Rueppell's Warbler

It was very good to see lots of harriers - pre-ordered by the Batumi team. Saw at Uvda valley Hen, Pallid and Marsh, and later on at Yotvata also Monty's - great day.

Pallid Harrier - adult male

Pallid Harrier - 2cy

Steppe Buzzard 

Very good to meet some of the teams - they were all progressing very well and I was happy to share my info with them.

 What was that call?

Ah, Spanish Sparrow (BRC team)

The previous night I missed dinner and went to sleep hungry (!) so I was starved by the time I left Uvda and returned towards Eilat. Decided to quickly check the small pumping station near Shizafon junction - Striolated Buntings were seen there in winter coming in to drink. And sure enough, as I drove in, I flushed a male Striolated Bunting! 
Then I continued down into the valley. There was massive raptor take-off that evolved into a huge passage. Decided to spend some time scanning through the thousands of Steppe Buzzards for other species. Stopped at Ketura sewage that was full of migrants as well, and enjoyed both wetland species and overhead raptor migration. Had a good selection including Levant Sparrowhawk, Egyptian Vulture, Lesser Spotted and Steppe Eagles.
After breakfast headed over to the ditch behind KM 19 cowsheds. Best bird of the day for me was a Great Snipe I found on the deck too late - had too brief views on the deck before it took off and flew just infront of my car window into the sewage pond, never to be seen again. Also in the canal Little Crake, several Citrine Wags and some Dead sea Sparrows.
Then I moved on to KM20 saltpans. Again some teams were working there in the heat, and I joined them for a while. Lots of new birds had come in, including about 25 Collared Pratincoles. gotta love them!

At first look this pale yellowag resembles beema - rather pallid with prominent white patch on ear coverts and bright green mantle. It also gave an eastern taxa call. I would expect a broader supercilium though.

Woodchat Shrike besides the saltpans

Checked some desert habitats north of the saltpans that produced little during the hot hours. Just before returning to the main road I encountered this lovely family of Dorcas Gazelles.

And then I found this showy Cream-coloured Courser:

In the early afternoon headed up to Yotvata to try and connect with the Oriental Skylarks there. Still in the southern circular field, also more pratincoles and such.
Then the mandatory afternoon visit to north beach, that had nothing special but pretty birdy. Some gulls to keep the enthusiasts enthusiased. 

Western Reef Egret

Just for fun I counted my daily list - I did 145 species (!) - very satisfying. All of this without checking some key sites, and tweeting out nonstop all the news from the teams. I believe that a proper good day here could smash the WP record of 202. 
Tomorrow -  the winners!