Friday, July 31, 2015

Good seawatch

After two long weeks of busy work and lousy weather, took half a morning off and went birding today. Left home very early - it was fine and very cold - 6.5° at 05:00 - welcome to British Summer! Started with a pretty good seawatch at Cley. I know there are better spots but I like the conditions there. There was quite good activity for the two and a half hours I was there, at least good for this time of year and (no) wind conditions. Highlight was a Cory's Shearwater, but there was plenty of other stuff: 1 Pom, 2 Arctic and 1 Great Skuas, 3 Manx Shearwaters, 1 Fulmar, about 40 Common Scoters, 1 Med Gull and 3-4 Little Gulls that flew back and forth in front of the hide all morning - the only birds of (some) interest close enough for photography.

2cy Little Gull

I then continued to check some wetlands for shorebirds but sadly water levels were very high because of all the rain in recent weeks. So at Cley and Stiffkey Fen only few long-legged shorebirds were seen. At Cley there were 20 odd Ruff, Greenshank and 1 Common Sand. At Stiffkey 9 Spoonbills and that's it more or less. On the mudflats increasing numbers of Knot and some Grey Plovers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

And meanwhile in Israel...

For those of you who have been following my blog for several years, you know that the rate of megas that turned up in Israel and were new to me was rather slow - about 1-2 per year. I was normally quite lucky and didn't miss too many ticks in recent years. My Israeli list was building up nicely, and at the top of the list we were a cluster of three birders - Rami Mizrachi, Barak Granit and me, quite far away ahead of all the rest. 
Almost a year ago I left Israel to the UK for several years. I don't work hard on my UK list here, mainly for time and money constraints. I am a bit more keen on my WP list but again my time and money limitations don't allow me heavy twitching. Before I left I was aware of the potential damage to my Israeli list caused by 4 years outside of Israel, but I thought that with a constant rate of 1-2 lost ticks per year I could clear that gap within several years after my return. 
But reality slapped me in the face pretty hard. Since I left it seems like mega-heavens have opened up on the Land of Israel, and mega-manna is falling out of the sky on Israel almost weekly. Like all these birds had spent years waiting around the corner, waiting for my departure. 
First it was Israel's first Ashy Drongo, that was actually found by Irad Solnik a day after I left Israel when I visited for a few days in early December 2014. It was heavily twitched by everyone... 



A few weeks later, in early January 2015 Shachar Alterman found Israel's first twitchable Great Shearwater - it stayed around Jaffa Port for several hours, few minutes away from my Israeli office. In March a slightly dodgy Red-billed Teal was found in hazeva by Eli Haviv and Liraz Cabra, but it could have been an escape:


I am still on the IRDC so I will do my best to reject this record ;-)

Since May the flood just doesn't stop. First a cracking Red-necked Grebe, the 5th for Israel, spent several weeks for everyone to see it off Eilat's north beach:


In June a stunning Bateleur and a magnificent Lappet-faced vulture got everyone in Israel excited for just reasons. I sighed in semi-relief as I had already seen both in Israel, but Barak proceeded one species up the list with the Bateleur...

Then in late June Chen Rozen exploded with the first Senegal Thick-knee for Israel at Ma'agan Michael. Despite being a one-day bird it was quite heavily twitched:


And the day before yesterday news broke of a Pink-backed Pelican in the Harod Valley, initially found two weeks ago by Shmuel London but only 2 days ago identified from a video by Barak Granit. It was relocated yesterday by Amir Ben Dov and Oz Horine, and heavily twitched all day. Still present today... I have an unfinished business with this pelican. I missed one in my early days as a twitcher in 1989 - I was still a young kid and depended on others to take me, which they didn't... Then in 1997 a mobile bird spent the summer in Bet Shean Valley. I tried several times but no luck. In spring 2000 a bird spent a month at IBRCE in Eilat. I was in Australia, and the bird departed few days before my return to Israel. So this pelican now is extremely painful for me.


My friends are divided into two groups. The more sensible types comfort me, either by explaining how non-important all of this listing game is, or by giving me hope that the gap opened up in recent months is possible to close. But other friends are of course mocking me and making me almost regret that I left Israel...
Only those who are deep in the game like myself can understand how serious, alas childish, this is. Of course this is just a game, but a game that involves deep emotions, and it's an activity that I have been doing since I was a kid. In the bottom line a competition is a competition, no matter what it's about. I try to detach myself from this competition, but I just cannot. I still receive RBA messages on my phone here, and my heart skips a beat every time the familiar Imo tone goes off. I am in daily contact with friends and colleagues at home, so I am still very involved in the Israeli birding scene. 
What is the solution? I have one idea and one hope. My idea is to approach an airline operating flights between UK and Israel, and offer them to be their presenter and in return receive free tickets for one-day twitches. But until this happens, my hope is that I can find peace here in the UK, by acquiring some Vipassana skills or at least by seeing as many WP rarities as possible.
So if anyone from El Al, British Airways or Easyjet is reading this, and wants to support my race back to the top of the Israeli list, my contact details are on the right hand side here...

Many thanks to my friends who allowed me to use their painful images and videos - Oz Horine, Rami Mizrachi and Amir Balaban.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

T is for twitch, K is for kill

Today I went at last to pay respect to the Greater Yellowlegs at Titchfield Haven NNR. This bird has been there for several months now, and it waited for me with such patience - much appreciated. In the morning I dropped my in-laws at Luton Airport, but the drive from Luton to Titchfield was awful - horrendous traffic. Got there at about 14:00, and I was worried that if the bird gives me a run-around I might be pressed with time, but as soon as I entered the first hide (Meon Shire Hide) it showed very well, albeit at some distance. I walked up to Pumfrett Hide for better views, but soon after it flew towards Meon Shore Hide... It was very sleepy and spent most of its time dozing off in the warm sun. It preened a bit, and foraged a bit, but generally it didn't do much. It was very close and I enjoyed great views - much better than I had expected. Very cool bird, nice plumage and a welcome WP tick for me.

 Greater Yellowlegs



  

This image was taken with my phone through Swarovski ATX95, handheld:


There were about 80 Black-tailed Godwits:



Terrible flight shot into the sun

View from Meon Shore hide - the yellowlegs is sat on the nearest island:

And a Bearded Tit was was in the nearest reed clump on the right...
There were about 15 adult Mediterranean Gulls on an island in the far end of the scrape, and a similar number of juveniles:


Only this juv got closer:

While waiting for the yellowlegs to wake up, a drama took place on the other side of the hide. A Lesser Black-backed Gull snatched a Mallard duckling out of the reeds, and flew with it into the water. There was a short battle as the duckling tried to get away:



But the gull was obviously much more powerful and the battle was over very quickly:

  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Baby boom

Today my elder son's class visited UEA and they joined our ringing session in the morning. It was the warmest day of the year (still hot now at 22:30) but the birds were alright. Lots of babies about - mainly Great Tits but some other stuff as well - Dunnocks, Robins, one Treecreeper and this mega monster - Green Woodpecker. What a bird - the kids were obviously excited to see it up close. Seems to be a poor year for Blue Tits though.


Thanks to Iain, Maxim and Helena for the help and company.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Neotropical Breckland Nightjars

Last night I was lucky to get invited to the 'annual meeting' of Neotropical Birds veterans and superstars. My links to Neotropical birds are pretty weak but my local and nightjar connections got me the invite. We spent an enjoyable evening in Thetford Forest with our families (I came with Uri) in search of Nightjars and other wildlife. Walking in we had a singing Woodlark that was sweet. The nightjars performed alright with 1-2 churring males and nice views of a pair foraging together low over some open habitat. A Cuckoo was singing nicely until dusk, and after dusk we probably had a Long-eared Owl calling in the distance. There was very good bat activity, mainly Noctules and pipistrelles as far as we could tell from their looks and bat detector. We saw some Roe Deers, Muntjac, and a selection of moths, bugs and other types of bird food that interested mainly James. Nice evening to be out and great company.
Thanks to James, Mike, Chris, Guy and families for the good time!


Friday, June 12, 2015

Lost and found

After yesterday's news of Paddyfield and then Greenish Warblers on Blakeney Point, that was too much for me and today I went there with Drew. Blakeney Point is another of these mythical sites I heard about so much, and today was my first visit to this special place. We left Norwich ridiculously early, and arrived at Long Hills before 06:00, with almost no-one else on the point apart for another birder (Peter) who arrived with us. The walk was nice with lots of breeding birds on the shingles - Avocets, Little Terns, Ringed Plovers etc. Quite a few Gannets flew past.
It took us about an hour of searching and waiting around the fenced area until we got some views of the Paddyfield Warbler. Mainly flight views, but at a very close range and we did see it perched for a second once, complete with supercilium. Luckily it's not a WP tick for me, but those who did tick it today had, well, not the best views in the world. I would not tick it with flight views only, and I think that later on during the day the bird showed even worse.
After leaving the paddy in peace (until the twitchers who stayed at home waiting for news arrived), we continued to search for the greenish. Personally I was much more interested in the greenish as it would have been a WP tick for me, but unfortunately we couldn't relocate the bird. I spent several hours walking through the Suedea bushes but no sign of it.
However, at about 07:15, just as we arrived on Rusty Hills, I noticed a tern flying east past us. I lifted the bins up, and saw a Sandwich-sized bird, but hey the bill is orange! I noticed the bill colour only when it was going away from us. I quickly got the others on the bird, but it was flying east strongly, and into the sun, so the views were not good. However I did notice darker silvery grey to the upperparts. Also something in the jizz and flight action looked different from sandwich, hard to tell what. The two other observers (Drew and Peter) had the same impression like me. About the bill colour - I am pretty sure it was orange. Later on, for comparison, I watched Sandwich Terns flying past in similar conditions and I could clearly see that their bill is black. I saw the bill colour in bad conditions but my opinion is that it was possibly a Lesser Crested Tern, that I am familiar with very well in Israel. I have little experience with Elegant Tern. I really hope this bird gets refound on Blakeney Point or in another tern colony elsewhere in the UK.
While searching for the greenish warbler I found an wrecked Gannet. I picked it up to assess its condition, only to discover that it was infested with lice. Poor bird. Took me all day to remove the last lice from my clothes and body. We passed the bird on to the BP wardens.

Northern Gannet

Again I was amazed by how few migrants were about. Incredibly the only migrant on the whole point was this paddyfield. Yesterday there were two migrants...

Resident Redshank

The walk back was uneventful. Nice weather with increasing easterlies. Torrential rain now outside so tomorrow morning might produce something. Maybe another greenish?

Halfway House 

The Plantation

Rusty Hills