Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The rise and the (no) fall

Over the weekend weather forecast for Sunday and Monday was promising - strong easterlies and enough rain to knock stuff down. Expectations were high. Eventually the wind wasn't quite easterly, and the rain arrived too late. Despite the negative reports of no migrants along the N Norfolk Coast today, I headed out this afternoon in horrible weather with Graham, Nick and my son Uri, We checked Stiffkey campsite and the hedges towards Warham Green. At first it looked OK with large numbers of hirundines and quite many Pied Wagtail in the campsite:

Barn Swallows and 2 House Martins

It was very windy, we got very wet and saw very little. 
Next time.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Birdfair affairs

This weekend I participated in the 27th British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water, better known as THE Birdfair. I was part of the Israeli Ornithological Center team, together with my good friends and colleagues Jonathan Meyrav, Dan Alon, Meidad Goren, Richard Melzack and Anette Ashton. We promote birding in Israel, and this year the event was amazing. For me personally is was a very special birdfair. First of all, for the first time my family came along with me. My wife and the kids participated in part of the many family activities at the fair most of the time, but it was great to have them around. Second, it is my first fair as a UK resident. Since I moved here almost a year ago I extended my network of friends and colleagues even further, and it was so good to meet up with so many friends. It was especially good to meet Facebook friends in person and create real friendships. Another important factor that made this year's faie special is the main conservation cause - to tackle illegal bird killing around the Mediterranean basin. I was personally involved in the preparation of the recently published BirdLife International report, describing the horrendous slaughter of birds in the region - at least 25 million birds annually! This year we focused our efforts to promote the Champions of the Flyway birdrace, that is part of BirdLife's campaign to stop the killing. 
On friday I participated in the traditional BirdLife reception to all BirdLife partners, held at the RSPB stand. It was a warm and friendly event, and I feel proud to be part of this family. Here are the relatively new BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita and RSPB director Dr. Mike Clark talking about conservation and friendship:

We had our own event as well. On Saturday we launched Champions of the Flyway 2016, and announced that Birdlife Greece will be the recipients of the funds raised by the teams. So many friends and supported showed up to the event - it was awesome. Last year's Knights of the Flyway, Next Generation Birders, handed their prize, Swarovski SLC 10X42 bins to Birdlife Cyprus, that hopefully will help them with their fieldwork to stop the crazy hunting going on over there.

Personally I took part in many meetings alongside the fair, mainly to try and gain more support for the Champions competition. Hopefully next year's competition will be even greater than previous years, including this bloke who might come over, either in the BTO team or independently. My boys are great fans of Chris Packham, so I took the opportunity to take a family selfie. My boys are in heaven.

This is one of the most impressive events of the fair - the famous mural depicting the beauty of the Mediterranean region and its birds, that are threatened by hunting. Many artists work on this mural, here are Steve Cale and Jackie Garner:

I can't walk more than ten steps at Birdfair without stopping to chat with a friend. It is amazing. The networking is incredible, and the constant talk and interaction with friends and colleagues was quite overwhelming. But in the end lots of laughs and smiles made the effort well worth it:

I will meet many of the friends again in two weeks time at Migfest in Spurn, looking forward to that very much. Birdfair was great but there were not enough birds involved in it, mainly bird talk. On the lake there were Black tern and Great White Egret, and flying around some Yellow Wags, and Red Kites, but that's it more or less. News of an elusive Booted Warbler not far from home got me slightly itchy and twitchy towards the end - hope to connect with it tomorrow.
So till next year, chapeau and many thanks to the organizers, mainly to the legend Tim Appleton. It was a superb event, and i am already looking forward to next year!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Wasted brownie points

After a few very busy weeks managed to get out this morning. As always, I had only one bird on my mind (Greenish Warbler). Met up with Quentin and we headed out to Blakeney Point. It was one of those day that either you see nothing at all or find a mega. Today (again) we say nothing at all. The Point was as empty as it gets. The plantation was completely empty. The only proper migrant passerine we saw was a Wheatear. At least there were some shorebirds around - Whimbrels and Curlews, Turnstones, Knots etc. Out in the bay there was one Black Tern, some Common Scoters and along the beach a couple of Little Gulls were flying back and forth.

Northern Wheatear

Little Gull 2cy

We had just enough time for a quick look at Cley. There was an increase in shorebird numbers. As e walked in I got onto a group of Dunlins, among them I think I had a smaller peep, first look recalled a white-rump but then everything flew off and we couldn't relocate it. Shit. There was one Curlew Sand and two Wood Sands. I can't believe that I get even slightly excited by these birds, in a way that i digiscoped them. pathetic. I am becoming an average UK birder. And for a UK birder a day with Black Tern, Little Gull, Curlew Sand and Wood Sand isn't a bad day. So I guess it wasn't a total waste of brownie points.

Wood Sandpipers - digiscoped from a long distance 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Spurn Migfest coming up

With great pleasure I received a few months ago an invitation to participate in this fantastic event organized by Migration Festival team (Spurn Bird Observatory Trust, Westmere Farm, Birding Frontiers and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust). I have visited Spurn only one before, in late August 2008, and enjoyed birding there very much. I clearly remember the tens of thousands of shorebirds on the Humber:

Had a bumper seawatch  one afternoon with some super-sharp local birders - Sabine's Gull, Long-tailed Skua, Roseate Terns etc. 

I am looking forward to the weekend very much - surely both the birds and the people will make it a superb experience. I am giving a talk on Saturday night but the main action is during the day. 
Looking forward to meet up with old friends and of course meet lots of new friends.
See you there!

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.