Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yellow-legged Gulls

Had some time between meetings at Ashdod to check the nearby ponds. Shorebirds were few with about 10 Temminck's Stints being the only shorebirds of note. I was happy to see this pair of Yellow-legged Gulls. They have been hanging around for a few weeks now. I wonder if they begin breeding soon - the Tel Aviv population is on eggs already. These guys were fooling around a bit but nothing too serious. The male is a huge bull!

They were being bothered by the local Spur-winged Lapwings:

No moult yet, should begin very soon:

I found this Hobby nearby, in one of those rare occasions you see them perched:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Desert routine

This morning I did another atlas box deep in the desert south of Shivta together with Eli and Shachar. Not prime habitat but still some good stuff. First thing in the morning a lone wolf walked across a ridge - nice way to start the day.

Quite a few raptors were roosting on the plains, including this Marsh Harrier. Later on we had some Honey Buzzards - first for me for this season.

Marsh Harrier
The plains had the expected selection of coursers, sandgrouse and larks. Quality larks included one Temminck's and several Lesser Short-toed. One LSTL was mimicing Bar-tailed Lark, so they must have been around and missed by us. Rufous Bush Robins have arrived in good numbers and are breeding in the vegetated wadis.

Rufous Bush Robin
We checked one scenic wadi that held breeding pairs of both Long-legged Buzzard and Raven - nice stuff. Raven has become a very rare bird in Israel.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Decent spring ringing

Back to my ringing site at Ashdod today after a long absence. I was fearing a boring morning as this is a very slow spring here in Israel with many missing species. I was happy to hear the reeds and bushes ticking with warblers as it became light. We had a good catch with lots of warblers of sorts. Highlight was this 2cy female Collared Flycatcher - nice bird.

Today was a bumper day at the JBO and a very good day at the IBRCE too, so I hope that from now on we will be getting decent migration coming through. A bit too late but better late than never.
Thanks to Edith, Miri and Shlomo for their help this morning.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dead Sea birding

Yesterday I met up with Michael and his Danish team, and with the IBRCE staff for some birding near Neot Hakikar. Just before I met them I had this cooperative Little Green Bee-eater posing in a typical Israeli scene:

These images are dedicated to my dear friend Thomas Krumenacker:

Some productive afternoon birding near Neot Hakikar produced Clamorous Reed Warbler, Dead Sea Sparrow and Namaqua Dove. As night fell we had terrific views of up to five Nubian Nightjars, and again I managed to catch one for ringing. This time Teun got a special ringing tick...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Birding around the clock

Earlier this week I had almost 36 hours of non-stop activity. It began with a morning at Nizzana with Meidad with all the usual suspects - bustards, sandgrouse and impressive numbers of Cream-coloured Coursers, including several families with large chicks. They are such charismatic birds and one of my favorite photography subjects.

Cream-coloured Courser

Black-winged Kites are still showing near Nizzana, almost a year after the influx began. Will they remain to breed in Israel for the first time ever? This must be a 2cy according to the pale tips to the coverts.

Be'erotayim grove was busy with many good migrants. We had a few Collared Flycatchers:

This 2cy Steppe Buzzard posed nicely:

Then I continued to Neot Hakikar where I met up with some Spanish and Luxembourgian birders. We had a fantastic time with the Nubian Nightjars, and I even managed to ring one bird for my research on the nightjars. Joseph from L'burg had a very special ringing tick... I will post images of this bird as soon as I get them from the other guys.
After we were done I drove to the Jerusalem Bird Observatory and arrived after 01:00. I was greeted in by the local porcupines. I opened the nets in the middle of the night trying to catch European Nightjars. I saw two birds but did not manage to catch any. This Scops Owl was nice though:

As dawn broke I started catching passerines of course. It was a rather standard morning with many warblers and not much else. Best bird was this cracking male Collared Flycatcher:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Festival video by Stephen Menzie

Check this great video summarizing the Eilat Bird Festival. You can even see me there for two seconds!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The desert prince

As the coordinator of the Negev & Arava atlas project, I have the privilege to chose my own boxes. So of course I gave myself the best boxes while I sent the rest of my team to survey shitholes in the desert... Today was no exception. I returned to one of my favorite places in the country, in the remote part of the Arava, Alaemon-land. In my previous visit there I had some birds but noticed hardly any breeding activity. This time things were much better. As I got out of the car I immediately heard the beautiful song of a male Hoopoe Lark, and soon found it performing its awesome display flight over the gravel plains. This is one of the most beautiful and rare sights of Israeli desert. Sorry for the crap images, I gave the birds respect and didn't get close at all.

Taking off:
Climbing up:
Almost missed it:
Later on I found this guy's wife, and then another pair in display. I hope they have some breeding success. Other good larks included many displaying Bar-tails and one singing male Temminck's. A few Spotted Sandgrouse were flying around:

Spotted Sandgrouse - male
Spotted Sandgrouse - male and female
I found this smart little Desert Agama Trapelus pallidus sunbathing by my car:

A brief stop at Bahad 1 produced two Levant Sparrowhawks and a Collared Flycatcher.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dirty dancing

Spent a few more days this week doing atlas boxes in the greater Nizzana region. The area received some very welcome rain last week, and the wadis are becoming green and lush. It seems to be changing the fortunes of this breeding season already, with some good breeding activity of our desert species. I found several pairs of Temminck's and Bar-tailed Larks, and had one brief Dunn's Lark west of Ezuz on the 7th. I found two female MacQueen's Bustards with small chicks, while their males are still dancing like crazy:

I must pay respect to my loyal assistants, the Crested Larks. They are the commonest breeding bird in the area, and I use their amazing mimicry skills whenever I do bird surveys. The males mimic the birds they hear around them, and by listening to their mimicry I can get a very good idea of what I should be expecting in the area. It's like a kind of an area search or point count carried out by the larks.

Crested Lark
This guy combined singing with some dancing as well:

Desert Wheatear numbers have gone up and many pairs are very busy breeding now. The males are so attractive and I never have enough of them:

Desert Little Owls are doing pretty well to:

I see Black-winged Kites in the area often. I wonder if they have become a regular addition to the Israeli avifauna after last years' influx.

There are still rather few migrants in the wadis, but Be'erotayim grove is packed with common migrants. The only bird of interest there was this Eurasian Cuckoo:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New gallery by Thomas Krumenacker

My good friend Thomas Krumenacker has just published a new gallery in his website with fantastic images from his recent trip to Israel. Most were taken during the festival week, and I had the privilege to disturb Thomas several times with phone calls while he was trying to get these shots. I like especially the Temminck's Lark take-off shot - one of the best I've ever seen!

Where have all the good birds gone?

You might have noticed the sudden disappearence of all the good birds in Israel in the last couple of weeks. Just have a look at the update frequency on my rarity pages - since the end of the festival we haven't had even a semi-decent pseudo-rarity. Hope things change soon.
But by then I have to settle for our common, local birds. Yesterday I had a meeting at home. While discussing standardizing national monitoring methods I noticed a couple of Spectacled Bulbuls preening on a loquat tree in my garden in beautiful soft light. Being one of Israel's commonest birds it's seriously underrated, but in fact they're one of my favorites - charismatic, social and attractive-looking. I grabbed my camera and fired off these shots, while my friends were laughing: "He's created another post for his blog".

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mountain Buntings

Yesterday afternoon I headed south along the Dead Sea to meet up with Johannes and his team from Belgium. En route I made a quick stop for a Mountain Bunting site right on the main road south of Ein Gedi. This site was discovered by chance by Itai during a festival Dead Sea tour, and it seems to be the easiest and most reliable site in Israel at the moment for this tricky species. And indeed I had three birds feeding right by the road in nice afternoon light. I had very little time with them so results are not too good but I will certainly be back there. This is a female: These are the original afternoon colours before PS colour adjustments. What do you think is better?

Male (left) and female (right):

We headed down to Neot Hakikar where we had great views of up to five Nubian Nightjars feeding very actively before the twilight dwindeled and the nightjars called it a night. Other wildlife we had included a Diadem Snake Spalerosophis diadema and Long-eared Hedgehog Hemiechinus auritus. The Belgian guys have images of both, I was a bit lazy...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kingfisher control

Received nice news from our ringing center that a Kingfisher I had ringed in October 2010 at my ringing site in Ashdod was controlled by Itay Shomshon at Ein Afek Reserve, near Haifa, on 30/3/11, distance of 122 km. This bird was probably moving south when had I ringed it, and Itay caught it during its' return migration north. Nice stuff!

View Kingfisher Ashdod - Afek in a larger map