Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Local birding

Spent the last few days at home, did some small hikes near my house and enjoyed migration infull swing. On Monday a good take-off of Lesser Spotted Eagles, with about 1000 birds that roosted in the nearby forest flying low over my house. Scops Owls are very vocal at night, with at least three males singing right now around my house. I also had two birds singing in daytime during a hike today. Also today during that hike my first European Bee-eaters for my area this season, one Semi-collared Flycatcher, and one Nightingale. Still many lingering winter visitors, with several Hawfinches and Siskins, one Grey Wagtail and a late Chaffinch.
After dinner I was tempted by the singing scops, put a mistnet up and caught this gorgeous bird. It is like a cute toy...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hadoram Shirihai's response to sandplover ID

I got this very detailed response from Hadoram to the sandplover issue. Thanks Hadoram!

Well, about your ID case of Charadrius leschenaultii (GSP) versus C. mongolus (LSP), Eilat March 2010. For me it is just normal western race columbinus of GSP, and please note the following 5 key points:
1 JIZZ The legs are located from the mid-body point, producing more horizontal carriage with longer rear end. [In LSP there is usually more pear-shaped posture, with much of body in front of legs, with the impression that legs are located at the rear body.]Overall head structure also better for race columbinus of GSP than to LSP.
2 BILL Despite being columbinus of GSP the bill is still looking strong and heavy with quite-developed gonydeal angle, and it seem quite long too (i.e. a bit longer than the distance between bill base and rear of eye, and with the nail a bit longer than rest of bill. [On LSP bill is normally less robust and with indistinct gonydeal angle, and length approximately equal to distance between bill base and rear of eye, and with nail area shorter than rest of bill, as well as with the mandibles tapering more steeply.]
3 LEGS The tibia clearly long on this bird (and the feet reported to project well beyond tail tip in flight), while the (clean parts) seem light coloured, grey with green tinge - all perfect for GSP. 4 WINGBAR Note rather narrow and less prominent wingbar, and with the rear edge of outer bar being bulges on inner primaries. [The wingbar generally broader on outer secondaries in LSP, and which has fairly straight rear edge on primaries.]
5 TAIL PATTERN The bird seem to have much white in tip/sides of tail and with quite clear dark subterminal bar contrasting with paler basal area - better for GSP, again.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tern-mystery solved

On March 21st I photographed a Caspian-type Tern at North Beach. I was together with many other good birders, the bird flew by and we dismissed it as a caspian. I deleted all images from my memory card apart for this one which I uploaded that evening.
This bird set alarm bells off around the world, as it had a bright orange, pale-tipped bill, plus a few other features that could point towards Royal Tern - shape of black cap, overall paleness, bill shape.
I managed to recover the deleted images from my memory card (thanks Gal!), and the bird is a caspian after all. Note especially the extensive dark wingtips and short tail. It had my adrenalin pumping for a few hours but eventually we did not screw up a first for Israel as I was afraid (and hoping...).

On the way back from Eilat yesterday had a look at Uvda valley which was amazingly green. I had a few couples of Thick-billed Larks but they were all distant. Many Steppe Buzzards stopped there, going for insects:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Festival update - day 7

Last full day of the festival!
In the early morning I went with Phil to KM19 sewage ponds, after there was no sign of the sandplover. The only birds of note at KM20 were two Citrine Wagtails. We had a good time at the sewage. We found this female Cyprus Wheatear:

We had a flock of about 15 Pale rock Sparrows stop by for a minute before taking off and flying north. One Little Bittern and two Namaqua Doves were nice too.
Later that morning again strong migration low over the city, another Eastern Imperial Eagle among many other eagles.
Before lunch we got the news that the sandplover had been relocated. I drove there with Dick Forsman. On the way in we made a brief stop for this pretty Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse right next to the Arava highway:

At the KM20 the sandplover was showing well to a large crowd, but it took off just as we arrived. So I did not manage to improve my photographic achievements considerabely:

There is much debate over this bird. I must admit that I am less sure it's a lesser - let's wait for the experts to give their opinions.
North Beach was very good in the afternoon with many terns, gulls and ducks. Best bird was a distant White-cheeked Tern. Other good birds were Curlew and Pallas's Gulls.
In the evening a couple of Lich's Sandgrouse flew in to drink at KM19, giving superb views.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Festival update - day 6 - Lesser Sand-plover!

I spent the morning doing non-birding stuff. After lunch I led a nightjar tour. We began with a quick look at the putative Lesser Sand-plover at KM20. To me this is the bird of the festival. Of course it is not an easy bird to identify, but to my eyes & knowledge this seems like a good candidate for atrifrons. In the field the bird really struck me as being different from all the petite Greater sands I had ever seen. Even though the bill is rather on the long side for atrifrons, I think it is still within the normal variation of this form. More details such as the state of wear and no advance in summer plumage, leg colour and wing pattern fit well. Unfortunately I had only my 400 mm lens with me, hence the crap images. Hopefully it sticks around for tomorrow morning when I will try to get better shots.

With Kentish Plover:

Showing its wingbars:

After that we had a good search for Arabian Warblers at Shezaf reserve, but only I managed brief views of a newly-fledged juvenile. Other local species showed well however.
We ended the day with a breathtaking performance of Nubian Nightjars - calling, displaying, foraging, all in a magical moonlit night in the desert. This performance was complimented by a close encounter with a Wild Cat!

Festival update - day 5 - Blyth's Pipit!

Yesterday I led the very-full-day Nizzana tour. We left Eilat very early and arrived at Nizzana in the early morning. We scored both MacQueen's Bustard and Cream-coloured Courser very easily, with terrific scope views for everyone at the 'theatre' - quite a few groups of birders were watching the same birds on the raised platform along the Nizzana -Ezuz road.
We continued to bird the area and saw much good stuff. We had a pretty hard time with sandgrouse though, as the birds don't come to the traditional drinking spots due to the heavy winter rains leaving puddles all over the desert. We saw a few tens of pin-tails, and heard spotted.
On the way out we had good views of 'lilith' Little Owl and this cracking male Rock Thrush:

We made several stops on our way south, and added some good species to our festival lists. A late afternoon stop at Hameishar hit the jackpot though. The place was very birdy, with huge numbers of wheatears and larks present. Just as we walked out of the car we flushed a Thick-billed Lark that flew north and never stopped. We had many good migrants there, including Quail, Bluethroats, Water Pipits, Bimaculated Larks and a single Lesser Short-toed Lark.
A small flock of wagtails included this pretty male Citrine Wagtail - a funny place to see it.

As you can see, I like this take-off shots:

On our way back to the vehicles we came across an interesting pipit. A first glance showed that it was either a Blyth's or Richard's. We had very close but very brief views of this skulker, side-on and front, and everything I could see fit well - small bill, pale lores, neatly streaked cap and mantle, shortish tail. When the bird flew it a perfect blyth's call: a yellow-wagtail like call, higher pitched and clearer than richard's, followed by two soft 'chup-chup's. The shortish tail was obvious in flight. We lost the bird as it crossed the road and out of site, and we had to leave to Eilat.
This is a mega in Israel, with three accepted records. I have to be cautious and call it a probable, as I did not photograph it, did not have perfect views and did not see all the fine details, such as median-coverts pattern, hind claw length, but I feel pretty good about this bird. I hope other birders manage to relocate it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Festival update - day 4

I had a rather relaxed day today. In the morning I led a half-day tour. We began at the IBRCE which is always fun to visit. The ringing team had just caught a Short-eared Owl - what a fantastic bird! I missed adding it to my ringing list by just a few minutes...

Other good birds around were a couple of flyover Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, and the long-staying Red-necked Phalarope. After that we climbed up to the Eilat mountains where we had massive raptor migration, with several thousand Steppe Buzzards making up most of the traffic. We were joined by Dick Forsman and together we had a good ID workshop, with most expected species observed. Three Little Swifts were nice to see migrating among the raptors.
In the afternnon I spent some time at North Beach, which was rather slow. We had several White-eyed Gulls fly west to roost, four Common Tern and one Caspian Tern showing well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Festival update - day 3

This morning I went birding with Jonathan at Yotvata, which held many good birds during the last few days. Yotvata was quite birdy, more than most other sites.
There were about 50 Lesser Kestrels hunting over the circular field:

We had a few Woodchat Shrikes:

Among the many hundreds of Greater Short-toed Larks we had about 15 Bimaculated Larks.

Greater Short-toed Lark

We saw the Pied Wheatear which has been around for a few days. It is a fine male, very clean and neat. It was performing very nicely:

And here it shows the extensive white rump:

After breakfast I noticed there was massive migration over the hotel, with thousands of buzzards and kites, mixed with good numbers of other species, mainly Steppe Eagles, but also some booted and lesser spots, Short-toed Eagles, Black Storks, and Marsh Harriers. All of the following images were taken from my balcony:

Steppe Eagle (4cy)

Booted Eagle

I had one 2cy Eastern Imperial Eagle:

In the afternnon I led together with Jonathan a tour targeting the Nubian Nightjars south of the Dead Sea. We made a couple of stops along the Arava that produced a male Cyprus Warbler and fantastic views of Arabian Warblers - a couple interacting and feeding a recently fledged juvenile.
At Neot Hakikar, we had superb views of four nightjars that concluded a terrific day.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Festival update - day 2

Today I led the Dead Sea tour. We made a very early start. Our first stop was at Shezaf reserve. Soon we located an Arabian Warbler, feeding very actively and giving us superb scope views. Other good birds were Scrub Warbler, Desert Finches, and a flyover Spotted Sandgrouse.
From there we drove staright to Metzoke Dragot. There was no raptor migration, possibly due to the cold front in central Israel that must have pushed the stream farther south. But there were some quality birds around - we had a female Bonelli's Eagle sitting on a nest across the mighty Darga gorge, and a male Mountain Bunting performed nicely on the cliff below us, singing and collecting nest material.

The rest of the day wasn't that busy. In Wadi Mishmar I had a male Hooded Wheatear but none of the group managed to get on to it. We didn't manage to see Clamorous Reed Warbler and Dead-Sea Sparrow but heard both south of the Dead Sea. A White-throated Kingfisher at Hemar reservoir was nice.
We ended the dat at the very birdy KM 76. Lots of wheatears, Short-toed Larks and Tawny Pipits there, with the added value of Pallid Harrier and Siberian Stonechat.
Tomorrow I have a morning off so I will try to catch up with some of the goodies around - Menetries's Warbler, Pied Wheatear etc.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Festival update - day 1

This morning I drove south with Klaus Malling Olsen on our way to the festival. Our first productive stop was at Hameishar. It was very cold and windy, so we didn't see too many birds. There were many common migrants - Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipits and Isabelline and Northern Wheatears:

The only bird of note was this female Siberian Stonechat:

Later we followed Jonathan's report and stopped at a small green patch south of Shizzafon junction. We quickly located this amazing male Thick-billed Lark. What a beast!

There were also several Desert Wheatears there:

On the way to Eilat we had a quick look at Ketura and soon saw the Cyprus Wheatear first seen yesterday. It was very mobile and didn't allow photography.
In the afternoon I led the first festival tour to the KM20 saltpans. We found there the regular good variety of shorebirds, including several Marsh Sands and a Grey Plover. We got a call from Itai that he had just found a White-tailed Plover just south of the saltpans. We rushed there and had close views of the bird - another great bird for this day. Unfortunately I messed up the camera settings and didn't manage to get any decent image of it. Later it flew off and was joined by another! We also had another Siberian Stonechat and several superciliaris Yellow Wagtails.
Tomorrow I am leading the Dead sea tour - looking forward to some qulity birding. hopefully we will be able to catch up with several good birds seen today - Pied Wheatear, Black Bush Robin and Brown Booby.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ashdod gulls with KMO

Today I had the pleasure to spend a day gulling at Ashdod with Klaus Malling Olsen. He arrived a couple of days before the festival to join the Ashdod gull team (Amir, Ehud and myself) for some hardcore drop-dead gulling.
It was a terrific gull day, with peak fuscus migration. We had something like 3000 gulls, about 80% of them were fuscus. The light was excellent so we had good photographic opportunities.
It was a very educational day for me. Even after watching gulls for so many days at Ashdod, I learned so much from Klaus today. Eventually we agreed on most gulls, which was a good sign for me...

Most barabensis have left already by now, but we had a few birds, including this beautiful couple. Look at this amazing yellow tongue!

This image shows the wing pattern quite nicely, especially the black tongues all the way to P4, with strong black 'streaks' penetrating the grey.

It was another big day for rings (Ehud has the figures, possibly 50 or so), including this Swedish ring.

There were other birds too. We had two late Greater Spotted Eagles. This bird confused us a bit because of its long gape, but it is identified by the unbarred remiges and characteristic pale comma on outer primaries.

Another nice bird we had was a male Desert Wheatear. One late Pallas's Gull was nice too.
The rubbish dump was very attractive today. It was very impressive to see all of those fuscus.

This is a nice trio - fuscus, armenicus (2nd winter) and heuglini (3rd winter):

And a close up on the heuglini admiring the Israeli scenery. Note the still growing P10 - typically late moult of this species:

we had very large numbers of cachinnans, almost all 1st-winters.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nizzana and nightjars

Weather was terrible today in the south, with a mighty and dramatic sandstorm blowing the whole day. I was stupid enough to try an atlas box near Ezuz, and ended up with seeing relatively few birds. The slightly sheltered wadis had some birds, but the open hills were totally empty. However I had some good migrants, including 1 Oriental Skylark, 15 Bimaculated Larks, and an Eastern Black Redstart (probably ochrorus). Among the local birds worth mentioning were 1 MacQueen's Bustard, and a pair of Bar-tailed Larks.
I did not manage to locate two Cyprus Wheatears seen yesterday, one at Nizzana fortress and another near Zohar junction. I can blame the weather for this...
I was very pessimistic about chances for nightjars this evening as the sandstorm was blowing in full blast down at Neot Hakikar. I met up with Gonzalo et al. (Spain) and Miguel (Belgium) and we gave it a try anyway. After a bad start we eventually had terrific views of three birds at point blank range.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ashdod ringing

Nice ringing this morning, migration is picking up. Lots of Lesser Whitethroats and good numbers of Bluethroats and Chiffchaffs. Reed Warblers are back with some old recoveries. Had my first Savi's Warbler of the season.
Other good birds in the field included Little Crake, Reed Bunting and several Balkan Warblers.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Migration Festival is almost here

Next week I will be joining the Allstar festival team for the fourth International Spring Migration Festival. I am really looking forward to this great week at Eilat. Spring migration is picking up fast, and there are already so many good birds around - I hope they stick around for next week. The exceptional rainfall the Arava Valley experienced this winter resulted in some amazing green patches that are already attracting those sexy larks...
During the festival I will be busy guiding, but hopefully I will have some time for birding and photography on my own. If I have some energy left in the evenings, I hope to post daily updates on the festival and the best birds around. So stay posted!

To warm you guys up, this is a taste of what we might expect during the festival, based on what we had in previous years.

Best bird for us Israeli birders during the 2007 festival was this Bean goose - the first for Israel. It hung around on the soccer field 200 m from our hotel.

Forgive me for the mediocre images from back then - I had just bought my first DSLR with a humble 400 mm, so the resluts aren't that great, unlike Dick Forsman who already had a big cannon back then. Dick is back again this year for the festival; looking forward to spend some time in the field and on the bar with him.
Another star bird was This Dunn's Lark at KM 76. It showed up during an amazing migrant fall. The light wasn't very good, and I had little intimacy with the bird, as I was followed by 20 birders in my group (these are further excuses for bad photography):

By far the most popular bird of the 2008 festival was this showy Black bush Robin, present at the IBRCE for several weeks.

It was enjoyed by all the festival guests. This image was taken by Amir Ben-Dov - thanks Amir for this great image:

Thick-billed Larks showed well at Hameyshar during the festival. They probably bred there that year. When I drove past with a group back from a Nizzana tour, Dick flagged us off the main road to put us on this fantastic bird:

Thick-billed Larks are already present in good numbers in the Arava at the moment, so the chances for us to see them next week are very good.
Several Caspian Plovers showed rediculously well during the 2009 festival. This one was at KM 20 saltpans. Three birds were already seen yesterday, so hopefully they will stick around for the festival.
This is LGRE searching for the plover:

Another good bird last year was this male Pied Wheatear at Arad. I really want to get good images of Cyprus Wheatear this year.

Not a rarity, but such a great bird! Sinai Rosefinches showed exceptionally well last year in the Eilat Mts.

I am sure festival 2010 will produce good new birds, as well as the 'regulars' mentioned above. I am looking forward to this great experience. See you next week!