Thursday, December 18, 2014

Short trip to Portugal and Spain

Spent the last few days in Portugal and Spain. My PhD project on Great Bustard conservation is gaining speed, and I went over with my supervisors to meet our collaborators in Alentejo and Extremadura. The meetings were very important, friendly and useful, and hospitality was great wherever we were. However, this was my first visit to Iberia, and I was somewhat frustrated by the minimal amount of time I had for birding. In total we drove on one track in castro Verde for about 20 minutes, and had another hour in Campo Maior. That's it. Still managed to get some very casual lifers (Azure-winged Magpie, Thekla Lark, Spotless Starling and Iberian Chiffchaff) and it was good to see some small groups of Great Bustards at Campo Maior and Castro Verde. Also some Little Bustards at Castro Verde. Really enjoyed the large numbers of birds everywhere (like in Israel) - I am really looking forward to spend good amounts of time in the field there in spring.

Great Bustards - males, at Campo Maior, Portugal. It was a sunny day so they were doing some 'stuff' already - getting prepared for lekking season.

Spotless Starling is a common urban bird but I didn't get a chance for a proper photo

Black-winged Kites were reasonably common

Red Kite, Campo Maior

Coming down to land at Lisbon on Sunday:

Campo Maior

Steppe habitats at Castro Verde

Temple of Diana at Evora, Alentejo

Nice place Evora

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Drongo no go

Last week, a day after I left Israel, Irad Solnik found Israel's first Ashy Drongo in his kibbutz, Gan Shmuel, in C Israel. Brilliant find. He saw it for just about a minute (and photographed it) and then it went missing for more than a week until this morning when he relocated the bird, still in his kibbutz. Later on during the day the drongo finally gave in and was twitched by most Israeli birders.
Cool video by Amir Balaban:

After three months in the UK, this is the first bird in Israel that I need for my list. Until now the Twitching Gods were kind with me, major rarities seen in Israel since I left were already on my list (Crossbill, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Lesser Flamingo). And when it seemed that this drongo is non-twitchable, I must admit I felt some relief that at least no one else sees it...
I am a serious Israeli lister - I am third in the current IL400 club list - Rami added another one today... And probably Barak will not resist the temptation and add it in the next few days. Just for the record, Hadoram Shirihai and Ehud Dovrat are probably up there somewhere as well, but they don't keep (public) lists.
These four years in the UK might be very painful for me, in this respect. I know that I will miss between 5 and 10 species in Israel (in recent years I had an average of 1-2 Israeli ticks per year). Because I am still connected online to birding news in Israel, real-time news coming in today was tormenting. If I had more time and money I'd probably catch a plane and fly back to see it (and the next megas that will show up during the next four years). But for the time being, I will have to watch with envy how my ranking is dropping down. Life is a bitch.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mr. White

So after the fruitless weekend I woke up to a crisp, sunny morning and decided I had to get out. Met up with Phil and Will near Great Bircham where the Snow Goose had been present for the last few days. Only few geese there this morning, but quite many birds knocking about there.
After a quick bite at Titchwell we got the news that the goose is at Holkham, so headed over there. It showed well along Lady Anne's Drive among the large pinky flock there - good scope views but really too distant for proper photography. Other than that some barnacles.

Snow Goose

Large crop

I had to return to Norwich early, but we had time to quickly check around Burnham Overy, where we saw the Rough-legged Buzzard hunting in the distance - again too distant for photography but decent scope views:

Another large crop...

On the way back home we had a quick at Salthouse. Very few brents around, but about 30 Snow Buntings and 10 Twite were nice though mobile in the freezing wind.
Nice, typical N Norfolk winter day. Thanks to Phil and Will for the company.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Common stuff

The sun was out today so had to feel the shutter release. Nothing exciting today. Some common garden birds, and at Whitlingham CP pretty quiet. Large numbers of Common Gulls but couldn't find a ring-billed or even heinei. I like Common Gulls very much. I always get a sense of quality from them. And they're scarce in Israel.

No sense of quality from the following birds I'm afraid:

Black-headed Gull

Mute Swan

 Woodpigeon in my garden

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Goodbye sun, hello rain, bye-bye drongo...

Tuesday morning I met up with Jonathan for a couple of hours of birding near Modi'in before returning to UK. The sun was out of course, lovely temperatures, lots of winter visitors - nothing too exciting though. Some Woodlarks, Siskins, several Gazelles etc.

Southern Grey Shrike aucheri

Long-legged Buzzard

And then another long trip back to UK - flew to Paris, where my car waited for me. Drove to Calais, and had a couple of hours to kill before my ferry departed. There were some birds to be seen inside the port - one distant Slavonian Grebe, and two Red-breasted Mergansers:

The ferry trip was uneventful, as was the drive from Dover to Norwich.
When I got back home news broke of an Ashy Drongo that was found by Irad Solnik at a funny site in the heart of the country. Good chance this is a wild bird. I knew this would come. There were some good birds in Israel since I left, but luck was on my side - I had seen all of them before (Lesser Flamingo etc.). This bird is something else - first for Israel of course. Today it was not relocated but if it stays for the winter good chance it shows up somewhere.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sunny (!) birding

Arrived in Israel yesterday and enjoying the sun and the birds very much. Really lovely weather, and great to meet family and friends (though very briefly). I enjoy just driving around and seeing tons of birds everywhere. Cranes, eagles, kites, buzzards, stuff to look at all the time.
Reunion with Bamba was very exciting, and now she is roaming with me. Today I had some meetings in Tel Aviv, but there was heavy traffic in the morning so decided to check the Daurian Shrike found a couple of days ago by Nir Hasson (thanks for the coordinates!) at Palmakhim south of Tel Aviv. The bird showed pretty well. The primary projection looks alarmingly short because it's missing its longest primaries - moulting now. Unfortunately I am here only with my 400 mm lens; with my 500 the images would have been better

Daurian Shrike - 1cy 

Lovely coastal habitat, lots of common winter visitors. The sea was pretty empty.

Tomorrow evening back to UK, but hope to do some birding in the morning, so stay tuned.