This morning I guided a birding workshop for NPA staff in the Judean Desert. I was really knackered and the weather forecast for today wasn't good, so I had low expectations, but I ended up with having one of the most powerful wildlife experiences I've ever had in Israel.
We started off very early, a couple of hours before dawn. We trekked up a small wadi where I knew there is a territory of Hume's Owl (thanks Barak). Normally I could not walk in there at night, as this site is inside a nature reserve, but the NPA guys are those who give permits so this morning I was able to check the site with them. Anyway, we started searching for the birds. At first we had no response, and I was getting worried, and my group was losing patience, but eventually after some presistence we managed to locate a male. At first it was distant but it was very curious and came in to check us out. Then it stood in full view on a small cliff about 15 m from us, watching us and calling - very good views. And then it decided to have a better look at us - it flew down and landed on the ground, about 4.5 m away from us, at the minimal focus distance of my lens! It stood there for about a minute, watched us, looking very interested in what we were doing: going crazy! I have watched this amazing bird many times before, but I have never had such an encounter with such an inquisitive bird.
The bird flew away to a nearby cliff, and stood there for another 15 minutes, hooting continuously. It was a great ending to this part of the morning - first light over the Dead Sea, with the silhouette of a calling Hume's Owl sat on a cliff - magic moments.
I screwed up the photographs - I forgot to pre-adjust the camera settings to night photography, so I had to do it in haste when the bird flew down towards us, and wasted a few precious seconds. These images are full-frame, cropped only to fit 3X4 format. Not perfectly sharp, but not too bad either.
After a quick coffee we headed off to wadi Salvadora, which was actually very quiet and we saw none of our target species. There were some good floods in the desert last week and there's lots of water in every wadi, so the attraction of the spring is smaller now.
We then moved on to wadi Mishmar. We had very good birding there, with all the expected local species seen well, incuding two Sinai Rosefinches. The commonest migrant was Cyprus Warbler - we had about 15-20 birds, good number but predictable at this time and place. This is peak migration for this fine little bird, and wadi Mishmar is certainly one of the best places in the country to see them. Nevertheless it was great to see them feeding mainly on Ochradenus baccatus bushes, which looked very happy after the flood of last week. Other sylvias there included one Rueppel's and one Spectacled Warblers.
Cyprus Warbler - 3cy+ male