Thursday, December 31, 2009

Special review - my best birds of 2009

I am happy to present images of the best birds I encountered during 2009. It was a good year with many exciting stuff and even a couple of Israel ticks for me!

The year began well with this beautiful male Kurdish Wheatear that took up a territory at Wadi Mishmar:
Late in January I ringed two Asian Desert Warblers together with Yosef Kiat at Hameyshar - a ringing tick for me and great little birds!

This Steppe Grey Shrike was found in February in the Hula lake:

Well, this is not a national rarity but it's my bird - and such a beautiful one. Nubian Nightjars are critically endangered in Israel, and I like this image very much. I hope that 2010 will bring good news for the conservation of the Neot Hakikar salt marsh.

I spent much of March guiding the 2009 International Bird Migration Festival at Eilat. I was busy guiding so didn't have much time for photography, but still got in touch with some good birds. This Black Bush Robin showed not-too-well inside Yotvata Hai-Bar reserve:

There were several Caspian Plovers about, including this cooperative male at KM 20 saltpans:

This male Pied Wheatear was a nice find by Barak, near Tel Arad:

See you in the 2010 festival!
This Sabine's Gull was the fourth for Israel. I saw it several times during its two-month-long stay at Ma'agan Michael:
Shorebird migration picked up in August, and this Red-necked Phalarope at Ma'agan Michael was nice to see and photograph as always:

In late August I visited Nachlieli island off the N Med coast, where a pair of Bridled Terns attempted to breed for the second year. We found only one bird among the Common Terns:

This Rueppell's Warbler I ringed at Ashdod in early September was a good autumn bird:

I successfully twitched this 4th Green Warbler for Israel at Netiv Halamed-He in early October. It wasn't too challenging - it waited for me in a bag...

I had several Red-breasted Flycatchers during late September - early October, including this one at Elifaz sewage in the S Arava:

This 9th Pectoral Sandpiper for Israel showed well during it's long stay at Ma'agan Michael:

I was happy to add Pacific Golden Plover to my Ashdod list. This bird was found in early November on the beach:

December began with another bag-twitch, this time a Paddyfield Warbler which waited in the bag for us at Ma'agan Michael (tick!):

And the year ended with another Israeli tick, this time two Red-throated Divers that showed well at Acre:
Today I am working from home. In the past such days ended up in a twitch several times, so who knows what happens today... But if nothing happens, this is the end of 2009 birding for me. All the very best wishes for 2010 - and many good birds for everyone!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Judean Desert

Yesterday (27/12/09) I had a meeting at Neot Hakikar, so I took the morning to check Wadi Mishmar in the Judean Desert. I primarily went to check whether the Kurdish Wheatear that took up a territory there last winter had returned, but there was no sign of it. Actually there was nothing unusual, the only birds of note were 2 Spectacled Warblers, 1 Cyprus Warbler heard, and several Trumpeter Finches. So I had some time to study and photograph the common desert species. This Blackstart was very cooperative:

Of course many Tristram's Starlings were hanging around the car park, waiting for leftovers. this is a female:

As I got my breakfast out, these inquisitive Arabian Babblers came to check me out. This is a male with a juvenile. They actually had some luck with a piece of bread I dropped on the ground.

Other birds of this group went for the traditional desert cuisine - grub a-la-acacia.

And after food it's time for some social interaction. This one is for Amotz Zahavi:

After I walked away from my car, the whole group went to check it out:

This Desert Lark was nicely back-lit:

And this is a badly-exposed image of a white-crowned Wheatear in the strong desert light:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tsor'a sunny morning

Yesterday (25/12/09) had a couple of free hours in the morning, so went to have a quick look at Tsor'a. The weather was beautiful - sunny and warm, and the birds evidently responded to that. There were hundreds of swallows hawking above the alfalfa field, among them a single House Martin. Prinias and cisticolas were singing in full blast, even though I think this isn't the real business yet but more of a practice for spring. Note that this male Prinia hasn't developed the black bill and gape yet, so I suppose it isn't involved in any relationship now:

This Hen Harrier flew over the field and spooked the hundreds of pipits and skylarks:

I paid Yosef's ringing course a visit. They had quite many birds, including this stonking male cyanecula Bluethroat:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cross-country twitching

Today (23/12/09) I spent the day birding with Gert Ottens, a good friend from the Netherlands. We decided to work the NW Negev first, so we made an early start and got to Ofakim just as there was enough light for birding. It was actually very cold and pretty quiet there. Didn't manage to find two target species there - Dotterel and CCCourser (Jonathan had them there the previous day - you bastard!). But still we had some good stuff, in form of Spectacled Warbler, two Merlins, a nice male Hen Harrier and this cracking male Finsch's Wheatear that behaved really well in the beautiful early morning light. Unfortunately it tilted its head a bit while singing:

Then we drove towards the famous pylons of Urim. On our way we bumped into a flock of 30 something Eurasian Golden Plovers. While driving along we got a call from Amir. He'd just found a loon in Acre, and went through the ID with us - it was a Red-throated Loon! I was developing the twitch-itch very quickly, but I didn't want to miss the NW Negev completely (and disappoint Gert), so we had a quick drive along the pylon line. Our best achievement there was not getting bogged with the car after yesterday's rains. Long-legged Buzzards were present in good numbers (including a stunning dark-morph), but other raptors were rather few. However, some birds we saw were two Eastern Imperial Eagles, two Peregrines, another Merlin, a few tens of Calandra Larks, and the best bird was this 1cy Lanner:

So at about 09:30 we started making our long way north to twitch the loon which evolved into two birds! Amir and Shachar were having such a great time with the birds, so I really stepped on it... Gert was being quite a sport. Even though he has tons of them back home in Holland, he was happy to join the twitch - and work on his Israeli list too. En route we were joined by Rami and Jonathan, and we got there in the early afternoon. We enjoyed good views of these terrific birds from the shore straight away, but soon realized that if we wanted to get some photos we needed to get a boat. Amir quickly arranged one for us, and off we went. Well, that's how one should enjoy a tick!
It was so much fun cruising through the bay with one of the birds, which seemed quite happy feeding on sardines. I wonder if they will overwinter.

It's so special to see loons in Israel, and of course this was a great tick for me. 4th record - and two together - and gripping views - and good images - what else can I ask for.

This is what happens when Amir gets overexcited:

There were so many other quality birds in the bay. This Great Black-backed Gull stirred quite a twitch when it first arrived in winter 2005/6, but now returning for its fourth winter it gets less attention. A great bird nevertheless, and still a huge rarity in Israel:

We also had a Common Gull (rare in Israel) and this 1cy Med Gull:

So, congrats Amir for this great find and I hope the birds will stick around enough time for everyone to get in touch with them.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ashdod bits and pieces

Sunny and cold morning. Set the nets up in the dark, just to discover that the water level is too high and my wellies are of no help... Ringing was pretty slow, as expected for this time of the year when the reeds are dry. Still some nice stuff around - Long-eared Owl at first light, late Masked Shrike and Lesser Whitehroat, Reed Bunting heard and Moustached Warbler trapped late in the morning.
Later, virtually no gulls at the gull site. Seven minutes of seawatching produced a 1cy Kittiwake, 1 Yelkouan Shearwater sitting on the water, and 15-20 Sandwich Terns. Not bad!
Thanks to Re'a, Miri and Shlomo for the help.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

IOC and brief Ma'agan Michael

Yesterday we had a great event - the annual ornithological conference, held at Tel Aviv University. This event grows every year - yesterday we had over 1000 guests! It was a nice but very busy day for me, had to smile to so many people and behave myself the whole day. But it was good to catch up with many good friends.
We had some superstar guests from overseas. Here is Marco Lambertini talking about his bird life:

And this is Thomas Krumenacker presenting his stunning images. One day I will photograph like him...

I was very proud of myself with the exhibition of the bird photography contest I had organized and produced:

Today I had the honour and pleasure to spend the morning with Ian Newton. I picked him up from Tel Aviv and we drove off to Ma'agan Michael. We had little time there, and the weather was quite British - cold, grey and windy, but we did quite OK I think. Ian had a good time for sure with four lifers (Ian - you owe me four pints next time we meet).
This Citrine Wagtail was very loyal to a small grassy patch which had tons of insects sheltering from the strong wind:

I totally screwed this image up - the focus stayed locked on the tail:

We had two male Siberian Stonechat. This one is a typical variegatus - note that at least half of the length of the rectrices is white:

Didn't get any images of the second bird but it was closer to armenicus, with very little white at the base of the rectrices - perhaps 1/4 of the feather.
Other good birds we had were four Pallas's Gulls (great views), one Yellow-legged and many Slender-billed Gulls (some were really pink - almost like a ross's - I wish...), many Water Pipits, Temminck's Stints, Sanderlings, Reed Bunting and lots of other stuff.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Seedeaters at Lakhish

Today, as part of my job as a regional coordinator of the barn owl project, I made a final sweep of the nest boxes before the breeding season begins. During January the owls already check the boxes out and choose their boxes for the next breeding season, so everything has to be ready by then. I went over all of my boxes in the Lakhish area, cleaned and fixed them - so now the owls have to do their own thing. This is one dirty job - cleaning the boxes after the previous breeding season is not much fun. Especially with the Jacksdaws filling the boxes up with junk. Thanks Miri for the help.
During the day we saw quite a few birds. The area is just packed with seedeaters - mixed flocks of Corn Buntings, Spanish Sparrows, Linnets, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, and also large numbers of Meadow and Red-throated Pipits and Skylarks. Among the raptors we had today two Greater Spotted Eagles, Merlin, Hen Harrier, and several Long-legged Buzzards.

Corn Buntings
Red-throated Pipit


Lakhish area