Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Adder S*x

Woke up in the morning, switched my phone on and got a message from James: 'Wonna join me for some Adder action?'. Of course I couldn't resist, and after schoolrun I quickly headed out for a couple of hours. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. Perfect for some Short-toed Eagle food action. There were no Short-toed Eagles around, but as soon as I arrived on site we immediately had Adder action. Before I had arrived, James and Will had a bunch of five males but they quickly disappeared. And soon after I joined them Will spotted this pair mating - incredible! The female was so much larger than the male. The male has recently sloughed and had this lovely pale greenish skin colour. We watched them from a distance for about ten minutes until they had enough and disappeared into the gorse bush.

European Adders (Vipera berus)

He kept licking the female, apparently to make sure she's his exclusively.

Their sex organs are located close to their tail tips. here they were actually copulating.

What amazing animals!

Apart for that pair we had another 2-3 shy males, and this yearling female, not longer than 20 cm:

We also had this Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) and a couple of Common Lizards.

There were some birds around too - singing Willow Warblers, Yellowhammers, Siskin and a Lesser Redpoll. Today my attention was focused on the ground so I'm sure there was much more.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Last morning in Israel

Before heading back to the cold, grey UK I just had to absorb some more sun and birds. Went for a quick early morning session in wadi Bet Arif, east of Shoham. It's a lovely part of the country, very rich and hosts some quality species.
As I stepped out of the car I was greeted by singing Long-billed Pipits:

I parked my car in a very comforting spot:

And started climbing up the wadi. I quickly met up with a breeding pair of Blue Rock Thrushes. The male had been ringed by Yosef some time ago:

The female is unringed (yet)

Up on the hills there was good activity of Long-billed Pipits. I had at least five pairs. The females are very shy now, probably incubating. And the males were very mobile as always. Still haven't achieved a shot I'm fully satisfied with:


Also in the area many Cisticolas, Little Owls, Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrikes, not too shabby. Relatively few migrants in this open habitat - mainly some tens each of Tree Pipits and Ortolans.

This Little Owl successfully hunted a Tuna Can:

Chukar - stunning birds

Some White Storks foraged on the grassy slopes

Wadi Bet Arif

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Biggest year with Arjan Dwarshuis

Yesterday I joined Arjan Dwarshuis who is doing a global big year. Contra Noah Strycker who skipped Israel in 2015, Arjan made the correct decision and spent 2.5 days in Israel, clearing up local restricted-range speciaties and lots of migrants. Yesterday afternoon we met up first in Yeruham. Arjan was with Oz. We had there some new birds for Arjan's list but fewer migrants than we expected. Spotted Crake was nice. Then we headed down into the Rift Valley. First stop was in the wonderful Navit ponds, south of the Dead Se Works. The place was packed with birds. Important species for Arjan were Dead Sea Sparrow and Baillon's Crake. The sparrows were present in large numbers - more than I have ever seen there, singing, nest building and offering great views. This male was Arjan's first this year:

The crake was well-spotted by Oz. I am sure the site holds many crakes but they are difficult to see. This was the only one visible - and the scarcest of the crakes in Israel, good stuff. I also saw very briefly an African Swamphen - 99% sure. Other highlights were breeding Ferruginous Ducks, several singing Clamorous Reed Warblers and a good selection of migrant ducks.

Birding Navit ponds

Before dusk we checked a nearby wadi where we added some common desert species such as Trumpeter Finch and Sand Partridge. 
The night session was very successful. We had a great time with Nubian Nightjars, and then we had a breathtaking performance by a male Desert Tawny Owl that just wouldn't stop singing for us. Not only Arjan was in heaven.

I had a great time with Arjan, Oz and Andy, and am very happy that I contributed something to Arjan's big year.
Good luck to Arjan in the next legs of his quest. Up till now he's doing very well, and I hope he can keep up with his excellent pace until the year ends. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Champions of the Flyway 2016

Champions of the Flyway 2016 is behind us and now there's some time to look back. It has been an amazing 48 hours of adrenalin and birds and emotions. I will begin with a quick back-log of March 28th. Had some time in the morning for a quick look in Yotvata. The fields were alright with some nice migrants. Best was an Oriental Skylark and a female Siberian Stonechat.

Siberian Stonechat

It was associating with this Whinchat:

Two Montagu's Hrrriers hunted low over the fields:

Booted Eagle

Desert Finches 

Steppe Buzzard in nice early morning light

The sewage ponds were relatively empty, maybe because there are Egyptian Geese there now:

 Black-headed Yellow Wagtails

Marsh Sandpiper - so pretty in summer plumage

Photo-bombed by Black-winged Stilt

With Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpipers

Several Masked Shrikes there as well

When leaving I stopped to witness the incredible raptor passage overhead. I counted some for fun - I had 2000 Steppe Buzzards and about 400 Black Kites in 15 minutes, also 40 Steppe and two Eastern Imperial Eagles. Ming-blowing.

On the race day itself (March 29th) I was out with the teams. In the early morning I went up to the stunning Seifim Plains. 

I spent some time there and had quality birds - Temminck's, Lesser Short-toed, Bimaculated and Bar-tailed Larks, Cream-coloured Courser, Rock Thrush, Spotted Sandgrouse etc.

Desert Wheatears 

Big numbers of Northern Wheatears and Tawny Pipits:

Hen Harrier

 Martijn from Dutch Knights with Rock Thrush:

Meidad and his team Sooty Falcons

Checked a few small sites further north that had many migrants - Collared Flycatchers, Ortolans, Wrynecks, Nightingales etc. Neot Smadar held nothing unusual.

Black-eared Wheatear

Namaqua Dove - always pretty

supecilliaris Yellow Wagtail

Ofira park held a sweet selection of migrants that included:

Cretzschmar's Buntings


In the afternoon focused more on the busy sites of KM20 saltpans and north beach. Like and outdoor BirdFair almost. So many friends coming and going - tried to help them to collect the important species quickly - Greater Sandplover, Brown Boobies etc.

After all the teams finished before midnight Itai, Jonathan and me sat on the lists until very late. The results are all over social media. Anyway congratulations to the winning teams Arctic Redpolls and Jehova's Chickens for their fantastic efforts. Well done all teams for the awesome fundraising to help HOS prevent illegal killing of birds in Greece - a record breaking $67,000! The ceremony event was incredible with huge support and power, and hope in the form of the brilliant children that took part in the race and did very well. My appreciations goes to my friends and colleagues Dan and Jonathan for their professional dedication to this great event. Till next year!