Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pallid beauty

This morning I went with Jonathan to bird in the Eilat area. Our first mission was to see the Grey Hypocolius found by Barak Granit a few days ago near the IBRCE. We searched for it for a long time but at first with no success. We worked the nearby date plantation, in which we had an Olive-backed Pipit. I heard a very interesting Phylloscopus calling several times. It first sounded to me like an odd humei call, but after consulting with my iPod I found it closely matching proregulus! The bird was very mobile and stayed high in the canopies. I kept losing it, even with the help of Itai and Jonathan. I had a glimpse of it flying from treetop to treetop - it was tiny but I could get no plumage details. Eventually we gave up on it, but if a pallas's gets found tomorrow then it's mine!

We returned to the IBRCE, and soon after we had a few brief encounters with this beautiful bird. Unfortunately it was very shy and jumpy, and kept disappearing in the thick vegetation of the IBRCE. lucky I managed a couple of shots. I was very happy to see it - haven't seen one for many years.

Grey Hypocolius - male

While searching for the hypo I had quite a few Indian Silverbills:

We continued to Yotvata fields. In the southern field I had two Richard's Pipits, male Hooded Wheatear and a few Crag Martins. No sign of the recent rarities (Blyth's pipit and Little Bunting), but it was nice to see the couple of Hoopoe Larks that have been hanging around in the field for a week or so. Bizarre to see them feeding like Crested Larks in the dry field. I am used to find them in the remotest corners of our desert. Part of the time they were feeding with a small group of Ringed Plovers - interesting combo.

Hoopoe Lark
In the northern fields we enjoyed (too?) good views of two first-winter White-fronted Geese. The white forehead is quite developed for a youngster, but the lack of barring on the underparts and dark tip to bill indicate these are young birds.

White-fronted Goose
There was considerable size difference between both birds, but the small one was not small enough...
This seems to be a good season for white-fronts in Israel, with small groups recorded in several sites all over the country.

Other nice birds in the field were 1 Oriental Skylark and a couple of Caucasian Stonechats.

Caucasian Stonechat

Monday, November 28, 2011


Nice to get back home after a week of bloody cranes all over the place. I had a couple of free hours this morning so went for a quick drive along the Urim powerline in the NW Negev. Didn't see too much, in fact raptors were rather few. Perhaps due to the fact that there is little raptor food - saw zero lapwings, few doves and starlings. Only skylarks in good numbers, with some calandras amongst them.
This powerful juv. Saker was sat on its regular pylon. What a bird!

Saker - 1cy

Only buzzards showed in good numbers, especially long-legs. I managed to screw this take-off shot:

Long-legged Buzzard - 1cy

Hula Festival days 6 & 7, and summary

The last couple of days of the festival were very hectic, and I had no time to write about them. Anyway, on Saturday I went with my group up to the Golan Heights, to check some orchards and hillsides for good stuff. Despite the freezing conditions, we had a great time. Saw nothing special but had lots of seedeaters in mixed flocks - Goldfinch, Linnet, Chaffinch, Corn Bunting and Serin. Also impressive were large numbers of Woodlarks.

Corn Buntings and Linnet
On the way down from the Golan we had a quick lokk at a rubbish dump above the valley, where we finally conected with a juv. Eastern Impreial Eagle. A juv. Bonellis' Eagle was also present.

On the final morning of the festival, Nadav and myself headed up with my group to Biriya orchards in the Upper Galilee. Again, lots of seedeaters, with impressive numbers of Bramblings (about 150), and in addition some quality stuff - tristis-type Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Hawfinches, 4 Yellowhammers, Siskin and a Redwing. These additions brought the festival total to a neat 202 species!

The Festival was a great success. It was our first northern festival, but our team has lots of experience from the Eilat festivals, and I think that in the bottom line our guests, participating in all the different activities (birding package, photography workshop, journalists, scientific conference) had a great time. We received some very positive feedback from our guests, and we are looking forward to see them in Israel again. Many thanks to the organizing team for their efforts: Dan, Jonathan and Nadav.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hula Festival day 6

After driving long distances the whole week, I decided to spend the time in the Agamon, enjoying a relaxing day of birding. We had a great day, nothing unusual but just lots of birds, fantastic weather and a lot of time to walk patiently and simply enjoy birding.
By the southern watchpoint of the lake we had great views of two Moustached Warblers, atypically feeding out in the open:

Moustached Warbler

We had great views of this male Pallid Harrier:

On the way back to the hotel we improved our views of Ferruginous and White-headed Ducks.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hula Festival day 5

Yet another fantastic day with the perfect combination of good birds, large, colourful birds, and great weather and scenery.
We started off in a site overlooking Lake Kinneret (thanks Meidad). After some searching we found a couple of Long-billed Pipit, that showed very well. While searching for them we had 4-5 Finsch's Wheatears, 3-4 Blue Rock Thrushes and a Little Owl.

Long-billed Pipit

Then we continued to Bet She'an Valley, where we checked some fields and fishponds. It was quite spectacular with many thousnads of birds all over the place. Gulls, kites, storks, pelicans, cormorants, herons, starlings - just spectacular. Some good birds we had there included two Oriental Skylarks (crap views of flying birds), Common Rosefinch, Steppe and Pallas's Gulls. This dark morph Marsh Harrier was a cracking bird:

Marsh Harrier - ad. male, dark morph

This stunning Black Kite was hanging around amongst the thousands of normal kites:

Some kites:
We had good numbers of Caucasian Stonechats:

Lots of Pygmy Cormorants were flying around:

About 20 Whiskered Terns were doing their thing over the ponds:
White Pelicans against the mountains of Jordan:

We spent the late afternoon at the awesome harrier roost in the Hula Reserve. It was absolutely great, with about 40-50 hens, lots of marshes and a few pallids. 3-4 Merlins added to the fun. Great way to end the day - at one moment we estimated about 150,000 birds up in the air.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hula Festival day 4

Today I took my group to Ma'agan Michael, and we had a terrific day. Jonathan and his reporters' group follow us wherever we go, thus Stephen Menzie has very similar posts to mine. Birding was good with lots of common, big and colourful birds (herons, gulls, kingfishers etc.), rarities and scarcities for the European visitors (best were Siberian buff-bellied Pipit, 15 Temminck's Stints and 10 Citrine Wagtails), and good Israeli rarities for myself - Bar-tailed Godwit, Gannet, Eurasian Curlew and several Med Gulls.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Eurasian Spoonbill
It wasn't me who flushed them!

Citrine Wagtail - 1cy male
Having fun on the beach:

A short visit to Atlit saltpans was very nice with more big, colouful birds.

Greater Flamingo

Mediterranean Gull - 1cy
Exciting news from the south today - James Smith struck gold again with a Blyth's Pipit at Yotvata. See the rarities page for full details.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hula Festival day 3

Today I went with my group up to Mt. Hermon and the Golan Heights. We started off on Mt. Hermon, and very quickly connected with some of our main target species - Sombre Tit, Western Rock Nuthatch and Rock Bunting. Later on we went up to the higher elevations where we had good numbers of Shore Larks (about 40) and four Crimson-winged Finches in flight. For us Israelis, 100 Fieldfare and 20 Mistle Thrush were good birds. Most frustrating were two Chough sp. Mark and I saw flying miles away. I have never seen a chough in Israel before. But nevertheless it was a fun morning, with good birds and spectaculr scenery, even though birding was rather slow at times.

On the way down we received an unexpected bonus in the form of two Wolves - great views of these mighty animals, bringing pur mammal list to 10.
After lunch we drove to Gamla. It is quite sad to be in Gamla without griffons, but still we had some good birds. Best were a pair of Bonelli's Eagles, performing some display and collecting nest material. Other good birds were many Rock Sparrows and several Eurasian Crag Martins. This nice momus Sardinian Warbler posed nicely:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hula Festival days 1 & 2

The first two days of the Festival have been awesome. A smooth take off with lots of smiling faces, great weather and fantastic birding. Was very happy to meet many old friends and many new ones from Europe and USA. I am leading one of the groups for the whole week; we have a very exciting program that I am really looking forward to.
And to the birds we saw - it has been truly awesome. We had some birding experiences to remember, such as 30,000 cranes coming to land on our heads practically. Yesterday we had a rather short intro tour, but today we had a full day in the Valley and had lots of good birds. In fact we saw almost all the specialties we planned, and added a few good birds. Hightlights for me were Saker (a huge, pale adult), Ruddy Shelduck, White-fronted Goose, the family of Black-winged Kites (2 adults and 4 juveniles), lots of Caucasian and Siberian Stonechats, Citrine Wagtails, Little Bitterns, Moustached Warblers, White-headed and Ferruginous Ducks, and the list goes on and on.
Stay tuned for my next updates!

0.0049% of 30,000 Eurasian Cranes:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Red-flanked Bluetail

What began as a peaceful day at home with the family, ended with a long-distance twitch.
I am leaving tomorrow for the Hula Festival, so I was glad to stay at home today. It was raining so birding was impossible anyway. At 09:00 I received a call from Barak, asking if I could send out an RBA message. When he told me it's James P. Smith I instantly knew I was in trouble. And in trouble I was indeed - Red-flanked Bluetail at Eilat, the 2nd for Israel! I saw the first for Israel in 1996, and I will be away for the whole of next week, so I decided not to go. But as the morning developed, and I heard from the first twitchers arriving at the site that the bird was very showy, I grew more and more restless.
At noon I finally decided to test my wifes' love and commitment once again, and went for it. I took my elder son Uri with me for his first twitch. We picked Meidad along the way, and arrived at Eilat at 15:45, with fading light. Yotam joined us there. We got onto the bird quickly and had great views. That's how twitching in Israel is - such a mega bird, and we were the only birders on site. The light was awful and the bird was feeding inside bushes most of the time, but I managed to get this decent shot. What a great little bird, and congrats to James for yet another excellent find in Israel.

Red-flanked Bluetail - 1cy male
You can see the bird on the right hand side of the bush:

So tomorrow morning I'm leaving for the Hula. I am really looking forward towards the Festival. After five very successful festivals at Eilat, I am sure that our first Hula Festival will be just as good. I will be leading the visiting birders' group the whole week. We have a great program, making the best out of the Hula Valley, and visiting some of the top birding sites of northern Israel. I will try to post daily updates, so stay tuned!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Who, me?

This morning I went with Re'a and Meidad to give the 'rarity sites' in the high Negev Mts. another chance. We started off at Sde Boker. Lots of birds but nothing better than 1 Brambling. From there we continued to Mitzpe Ramon sewage. Very quickly we had a brown, streaked bunting - but alas it was a Reed Bunting. That's a very good bird for this region, but we were hoping for something more exotic.
We continued scanning the trees and bushes, when Re'a found a wing-barred Phylloscopus. I got on to it quite quickly. It was rather shy and very mobile, but we got reasonable views, and heard it many times. It gave the classic humei call - "dooip", like a drop falling on water. I managed to get some record shots, all into the sun that give it a very contrasting look, much more than it was in the field. Good bird!

Hume's Warbler Phylloscopus humei
Rather faint wingbar on GC, very faint wingbar on MC:

Dark legs, no dark bases to secondaries:

White supercilium without dark lateral crown stripes:

Some pale at base of lower mandible - seen from below:

Little contrast on tertials pattern:

After an hour or so of trying to relocate the bird and only hearing it for a couple of times, we moved on. We had a look at the Mitzpe Ramon park for the ochrorus Black Redstart I had had there two weeks ago, and were surprised to find a different, striking Black Redstart. This bird has a very prominent wing patch. However, this bird is too striking to be anything else than an Eastern Black Redstart. It has so much orange on the belly, sharply demarcated against a grey band across the lower breast. The mantle is very dark, and extensive black on the face and throat. Very interesting bird that needs more studying.

When we arrived at Nafha it was already pretty late and hot, thus we were very surprised to bump into this stunning Wolf, walking out in the open, quite indifferent to our presence. It has acquired an impressive winter coat already. My best ever views of a wolf.

Birding was quite good, and we regretted for leaving this site last for this morning. I had very brief flight views of a 'black thrush', that was either a Ring Ouzel or a Blackbird. I got the impression of paler wing flashes, and it gave a very thrush-like call, unlike a Blackbird. However it disappeared, and despite intensive searching (an ouzel would have been a lifer for Re'a) we never saw it again.

Lots of Mourning Wheatears today: