Saturday, July 12, 2014

War update

In this post I will try not to talk about politics but more about how my family and myself are doing.
I guess most of you know that Israel has been under a massive missile attack for the last two weeks, fired by Hamas from Gaza against the towns and cities of Israel. Luckily, the unbelievable success of Iron Dome systems to intercept most of these missiles before they hit populated areas has reduced the number of casualties to zero. However, several Israelis were badly wounded and some serious damage was caused to houses and cars. This might seem minor but this is all thanks to Iron Dome - each and every one of these Hamas missiles was aimed to kill civilians. 

My house is less than 10 km from the Gaza border, and when we were at home we suffered badly from these attacks. We live halfway between Sderot and Netivot, two cities that were hit badly by Hamas, so our house shakes every time a missile is aimed towards these cities. The non-stop explosions, sirens and tension were too much for us, especially for my kids that are just old enough to start to understand what's happening. Running in panic several times a day to the bomb shelter (one of our rooms), waiting to hear the explosion, and never feeling safe when staying outdoors started to have a serious effect on our kids' sanity. We decided to transfer to my parents-in-law that live in central Israel. We have 3-4 sirens a day here too, but because we are about 50 km from Gaza border, it takes the missiles longer to get here, and the run to the shelter doesn't have to be in panic. Also, there are much fewer explosions from around us here.

All of this happened in conjunction with problems in our family - my wife's grandfather is hospitalized in a very difficult state, and two of my kids were ill with a minor virus for several days. So during the last few days I was hardly able to work, of course no time for birding or fieldwork, only managed to squeeze in a few hours of computer work here and there.

I know that we are not in a summer camp, our country is in war, but this is very difficult for us to be here. Not difficult like the people living in the most dangerous cities - Sderot, Netivot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ofakim, Be'er Sheva and a few others. We all want badly to get back home and to normal life. I feel so sorry for the miserable people of Gaza - they must be the most unfortunate people on earth, living under the deadliest leaders in the world. I just wish that this terrible situation will solve somehow, with a sustainable solution that will last longer than two years - about two years ago we experienced a similar situation. 
I hope that my next post will be bird-related...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Crazy world

Just a quick update. Though I normally refrain from addressing any political issues in my blog, the last few days, and especially the last few hours have been so intensive that I feel I should share my feelings here.
Since about a week, first some obscure Jihad organisations and now also Hammas from Gaza have been firing tens of rockets into Israel - towards the area where I live in. I live about 9 km away from the Gaza border, and very close to two towns that have been under massive attack in recent days - Netivot and Sderot. We had to run for shelter several times, including about two hours ago. We hear everything exploding around us - tens of rockets in the last few hours. I am OK, my wife as well. But our two sons - Uri (7) and Noam (5) are suffering from this - stress levels are building up with every siren and every explosion. We are fortunate to have military anti-missile systems protecting us - these systems have saved many innocent lives in recent days.
I really don't understand what motivation anyone in Gaza has to shoot these rockets into Israel. I just wish this crazy situation ends fast. 
And in the same time - extreme events in my wife's family. In one hospital, her grandfather is in a critical state. In another hospital, her sister-in-law is in labour now, and will hopefully give birth by morning.

So all of these events mixed together mess all emotions up. I just wish everything becomes quiet and peaceful soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ohohoh the sweetest thing

Spent the morning in the Nizzana area. It was a fine morning indeed. Weather was relatively cool early on, with some cloud cover keeping the temperatures down for a couple of hours. First checked some desert habitats - there were loads of Cream-coloured Coursers around, including several families with young, soft chicks. At one point a female that was coursing around with its two chicks stopped and kneeled down, and the babies crawled under her wings. I regard myself as a tough guy but this was really one of the cutest and sweetest things I had ever seen. Mother with two extra pairs of legs sticking out under her wings. Unfortunately it happened too far away for photography. 

Cream-coloured Coursers

Some whetears around - families of desert, Isabelline and Mourning.

Desert Wheatear - recently-fledged juvenile 

Then I went to the Kmehin sewage ponds that were packed with birds. Good local birds included one Purple Swamphen, two Namaqua Doves and some Trumpeter Finches. From about 07:30 large numbers of sandgrouse came in to drink. I had over 600 sandgrouse until 09:30 - about 250 spotted, 200 pintailed, 80 black-bellied and four crowned. I kept my distance from them not to disturb them, so only some flight shots: 

Spotted Sandgrouse - female and male 

Black-bellied Sandgrouse - male

Quite many migrants present already. about 30 Green Sandpipers, and few woods and Redshanks, some Ruffs, and two Squacco Herons.
Green Sandpiper

Squacco Heron

Thanks to Meidad and Itai H. for info and company.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hot hot hot!

Went down to the Arava Valley on the hottest day of the year. Participated in a public meeting promoting better conservation of the fragile habitats of the C Arava, organized by NPA. Driving down in the early afternoon, the temperature rocketed up to 47°C, and didn't really drop even after sunset: 

After the presentations we went out to the field. Of course wildlife is not easy to spot in these weather conditions. We had a few Spiny-tailed Lizards basking in the sun:

Amazing that there is fresh germination in this heat - result of the massive floods in early May. This is from KM76: 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Oh, not again...

What a day of highs and lows. Started early - after a difficult week without fieldwork I had to get away and went birding this morning. Really felt like going to Ma'agan Michael - some decent birds had been seen there in previous days, but the drive is too long and decided to stay close and check some sites near Ashdod... First checked the gull ponds - some early shorebirds (Marsh, Green, Common Sands, Greenshank) and only one gull - this ugly Armenian Gull with bad eyes:

It is incredible how within few years Common Myna has become one of the commonest birds in C Israel:

Continued checking a few more sites, seeing nothing, when the RBA alert went off - Crab Plover! Ma'agan Michael! I have a long (bad) history with this species after missing four at Eilat by 15 minutes in 1987 (I was 12 years old, actually left North Beach 15 minutes too early), and in 1997 I was in the army and couldn't get away to see them at Ma'agan Michael. So when the news of this stunner found by Eyal Bartov broke, I didn't think twice and flew at low altitude to MM. Lots of adrenalin pumping. Only to get there and learn that the bird had been flushed about 30 minutes earlier by bikers - it's a very busy public beach. It was seen flying south and out of view, and was actually seen only by the finder and by Asaf Mayrose who lives there. A large group of frustrated twitchers assembled, and together we covered about 30 km of coast, but the bird was never relocated again. Damn.
When we first got down to the beach we struggled a bit with the identification of this bird - bill structure and head pattern didn't fit very well with Crab Plover:

Oh well, another dip. With the history of the previous records in Israel, they never linger here, so I'll need to wait for another 15 years.

This is from Mida Creek, Kenya, December 2010:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Never wait too long for a twitch

About three weeks ago, just before I went to UK, an interesting shearwater was found at Eilat by Shachar Alterman. It was first identified as a Yelkouan-type according to distant views and poor images, which is a good record - only two prior Red Sea records. However, a few days later when the bird became more settled and good images were taken, it showed in fact some good signs of Manx Shearwater, which would make a first for Israel! There was quite a lively and educational discussion among Israeli birds, mainly because both Manx and Yelkouan Sheawaters show great variation in almost every ID feature, but in the end the consensus is that it is a manx indeed. 
Since I got back from the UK almost two weeks ago I was over-busy, and just didn't have time to drive down there. Yesterday morning it was still seen briefly, so I decided to hit it yesterday evening. I met up with Re'a and together we drove down. It was very hot in the Arava:

And by the time we got to Eilat the thermometer climbed up to 45. At the beach we were joined by Shachar the finder. We spent the next three hours searching for the bloody shearwater but it didn't show. It's a pity because even without the shearwater it was a good afternoon - 3 White-cheeked and 1 Bridled Terns, 1 Sooty Shearwater, 3 Arctic Skuas etc.,  but still we left back home disappointed. II am really depressed not only by not seeing the bird but by the idea that I might need to drive all the way down to Eilat in the coming days to try for it again - if it gets refound. 
Arctic Skua