Saturday, October 23, 2010

Not an easy shrike!

This morning I was ringing at Ashdod. While opening the nets up in light rain and heavy cloud cover, it was apparent there's a great migrant fall happening in real-time! The were many vocal migrants calling (pipits, wagtails etc.) and I could actually see birds dropping out of the sky and crashing into the reeds a few minutes before first light!
And indeed a busy morning it was, with 170 birds ringed. There was a very strong fall of Willow Warblers (113 birds!). Lots of grey, long-winged birds among them with at least 6 yekutensis! Also good numbers of Bluethroats (19) especially early in the morning, and 16 Chiffchaffs were most welcome too. But star bird of the morning was an 'Isabelline' Shrike - my first for Ashdod, and actually the first good rarity I catch there. As always with Issy Shrikes, this bird bit very hard, much stronger than its sissy red-backed cousins...
This bird shows some pro-phoenicuroides features, including reddish crown contrasting to a greyer mantle, whitish below with bold flank streaks, contrasting pattern to median and greater coverts. But identifying 1cy's is very challenging and I wouldn't stick my neck out for this bird. Would be interested to get some feedback on it. Nevertheless a fine bird it is!

Rea was very happy with it:

After releasing the bird we saw it catch a Willow Warbler and carry it in its talons. What an agressive bird!
Another good bird was this Moustached Warbler - my first for the season:

Monday, October 18, 2010


This morning I went to Nizzana area with Ron (BTW yesterday Ron found a fine Rufous Turtle Dove at the JBO - well done Ron!). We began with a short ringing session which was pretty standard and rather slow. 1 yekutensis Willow Warbler, Marsh and Savi's Warblers being the only birds of note. A 1cy Rosy Starling flew over - a very good bird!
So we closed pretty early and went birding in the area. While closing the nets down many sandgrouse came in to drink in the nearby ponds. We stayed there for just a few minutes in order not to disturb the birds drinking. An adult Barbary Falcon flying around caused them much more panic. There were about 40 Crowned Sandgrouse, this group landed right next to us:

The adults are in active moult, with 4 to 6 replaced primaries:

There were about 30 Black-bellied Sandgrouse:

And about 50 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, many of them were juveniles, typical for these late breeders:
The long-staying Black-winged Kite is still around; it has already moulted 3 primaries:

Namaqua Doves are spreading fast in Israel. Once restricted to the Eilat region, this sweet dove is colonizing much of the Negev and Judean Plains, and is now quite easy to see in Nizzana. This female was preched on a rather ornamental fence, and was nicely backlit while stretching. Unfortunately it was quite distant.

And a large crop:

Later we visited Be'erotayim grove which was quite birdy with many Blackcaps and Redstarts. I had a probable female Pied Wheatear there. I had it for just a few seconds but I saw it was very dark and cold-toned, dark breast and neat pale fringes to mantle feathers. It vanished and we could not relocate it despite extensive searching; hopefully someone looks for it again in the next few days.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Brief Tsor'a

This morning took the kids for a short visit to Tsor'a. It was summer-hot, but still many birds about. Among the many Red-throated and Tawny Pipits there was one Richard's, and a male Desert Wheatear was a good bird for the region.
Later in the morning there was an impressive take-off of Lesser Spotted Eagles. This exceptionally late passage included several hundreds, many of them going down to drink in the nearby reservoir, no doubt because of the crazy heat.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Moral dilemma

Yesterday I went ringing in Ashdod with Shlomo. First thing in the morning a small group of Common Mynas flew into my nets, and I was contemplating what to do with them. This is an agressive invasive species, that is known to cause serious ecological damage around the world. In Israel there is no evidence yet whether they effect any local bird populations. Anyway, they have colonized the whole country, and practically they will never be eradicated from Israel, as the population size is too large and the authorities are too slow. So it seems that they are here to stay, and perhaps we should accept them as part of our fauna.
Anyway, it was 05:30 and I was thinking what to do with them. My options were to ring them, release them without a ring, or hit them on the head. I called Ohad and he said that roasted starlings are very tasty. Yosef asked me not to contaminate 'his' annual ringing report. And Gidon suggested ringing them so that we can learn something about their movements. Eventually I listened to my big brother and contaminated Yosef's report. They are not fun birds to handle - loud and biting and scartching, but are rather pretty.

Apart for un-roasted mynas, I had many Willow Warblers (some very grey Scandinavian birds) and a few Bluethroats, all females:

Among the acros I had one Great Reed and one Marsh Warbler.
Marsh Warbler - note the short bill and pale claws
Today I had meetings in Be'er Sheva. While driving down I got a call from Eyal asking me whether I've seen Red-breasted Flycatcher this year yet. The answer was no, so I joined Eyal for a minor twitch in one of Be'er Sheva's city parks. It was actually a nice adult male with a red throat and it behaved very well. Unfortunately I left my camere at home. Eyal also found there another good bird - Collared Flycatcher.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Photo contest

I am happy to announce that the annual photo contest in memory of Amit Geffen that I am coordinating started rolling today. It is the main bird photography contest in Israel, and each year its level is getting higher.
Amit Geffen was a dear friend who passed away tragically in 2007 at the age of 21. He was a fantastic birder and a very skilled photographer. In those days most of us did digiscoping, and Amit achieved impressive results with his digiscoping kit. This photo contest in his memory helps us promote conservation in Israel.
Unfortunately for all the international readers, at the moment the contest is open to Israeli photgraphers only; but I hope that in the near future we will be able to organize an international contest.
Full details on the contest (in Hebrew :-( ) appear in the SPNI website.
I will keep you posted when we have the winning images selected.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Knot a bad day

What a lousy pun...
Anyway, spent the morning with Jon Olav Larsen, a Norwegian birder and reporter. We left Tel Aviv early and made our way directly to the Ma'agan Michael beach. Quite many birds on the beach, with the best bird being this 1cy Red Knot. This bird has been present since Friday at least. It was showing pretty well.

We met Liri on the beach and he joined us for the rest of the morning. Other quality species on the beach were one Oystercrapper, 1 Eurasian Curlew, and 1 Gull-billed Tern. There were good numbers of plovers roosting on the beach, including 13 Grey Plovers and about 40 Greater Sandplovers.
Greater Sandplover
About 30 Sanderlings were present, most were juveniles but some adults haven't completed their moult yet:

We had a nice take-off of about 1000 White Pelicans:

Pied Kingfishers are always photogenic:

Many Marsh Harriers kept spooking all the birds:

At one point during the morning I expressed my will to see an Eleonora's Falcon, and indeed 10 seconds later Liri spotted a falcon flying over the sea! It approached us while chasing after passerines migrating over the sea, and we identified it as a dark-morph Eleonora's! Cool bird!
Other good birds this morning included 7-8 Citrine Wagtails, 1 Spotted Redshank and 1 Eurasian Cuckoo.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Last days were peak migration days of Lesser Spotted Eagle. It is always exciting to see such huge numbers of such a rare bird.
On Wednesday I joined the raptor migration team (or in American 'hawk-watch') to help them on the predicted peak day. And peak day it was, with over 25000 birds passing through (thanks Jonathan for the data). Lucky me, most of the action was not over my station directly, so I could enjoy the huge numbers without having to count them. Eventually I had a great day with lots of birds and lots of time to have lots of coffee with lots of good friends. And got paid for that... And you call that a real job...

Today while visiting my in-laws in an adjacent village to mine, I had fantastic eagle migration just before we were hit by the first real weather system of the season. I had a only few hundreds of eagles, but apparently soaring conditions were awful and the poor birds were flying at tree-top level. Quite an amazing site. Among the lesser spots I had several Steppes, 1 greater spot and 1 Eastern Imp. Unfortunately no camera...

Special thanks to Thomas Krumenacker for his great images, all taken in recent days.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Northern tour

Two days of tour leading up in the North produced some good birds but no images as I was too busy.
On October 3rd at Ma'agan Michael we had two Bar-tailed Godwits (one of them was ringed), two Citrine Wagtails, one Gull-billed Tern and many other birds. A sunset visit to the Agmon was stunning as always - 1200 pelicans came in to roost together with a few hundred cranes, and many thousands of Barn Swallows and Yellow Wagtails roosted together in a nearby reedbed.
October 4th: we started off early at the Agmon again for some pleasent pre-breakfast birding. Highlights were flyover Richard's Pipit and Black-winged Pratincole; other good birds were two Greater Spotted Eagles and a few Penduline Tits. Local specialities seen well were Black Francolins and Clamorous Reed Warbler. We had a light raptor take-off, with a few Short-toed, Lesser Spotted and Booted Eagles.
An afternoon visit to the Bet She'an Valley was very birdy with lots of stuff around. Highlights were about 100 Tawny Pipits in one field, among them were another two Richard's Pipits, and another Greater Spotted Eagle.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Normal autumn migration (which is fantastic)

Again, sorry for the slow rate of new posts. My regular excuses include no internet connection in my new house yet plus a minor flu that got me grounded for three days... I promise to be a good boy from now on...
Anyway I have nothing too amazing to report; ringing in Ashdod a few days ago was pretty slow due to the terrible heat wave. The last week has been so bloody hot and must have slowed passerine migration down. The only birds of note were two Garden Warblers.
There has been good Lesser Spotted Eagle migration over my house in recent days, with several thousnads seen every day. Many Levants among them too.
Unfortunately I missed an extraordianry ringing session at Ma'agan Michael on Thursday night because of my flu. The guys had tons of birds, the best being two (!) Barwits and a Broad-billed Sandpiper. Perfect timing for catching a flu... Ron posted some images on the JBO website.
Tomorrow I'm off to lead a tour up north, hope to get some nice stuff.