Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Special: my best moments of 2012

Wow, what a year this was. Not over yet, small chance for another good bird to show up by the year's end, but I feel I am ready to summarize. Again I was lucky this year to have the best job on earth, that allows me to bird and photograph (almost) as much as I want.
In this post I will present some of my highlights of the year - best birds, and favourite photographs.

The year started well with some desert excursions. First, a stunning encounter with Hume's Owl in the Judean Desert - this inquisitive bird came down to 4.59 m away from my lens!

Hume's Owl

I joined a ringing session in the Uvda Valley, in the southern Negev, which produced many quality desert birds, including some lovely Temminck's Larks:

A pelagic into the rough Mediterranean in early February produced an incredible at-sea encounter with Leach's Petrel - the first I was ever able to photograph in Israel:

Leach's Petrel

Spring began very well in March. Especially in southern Israel, migrants arrived in extraordinary numbers. In one of my nightjar tours at Neot Hakikar I found this mega bonus - Egyptian Nightjar:

Most impressive were wheatears. Southern Israel experienced an unprecedented influx of Pied and Cyprus Wheatears, and on my way down to the Eilat Festival I saw one of the first three vittata ever recorded in Israel, near Eilat:

vittata Pied Wheatear

During the Eilat Festival, that was a great success,  we saw so many wheatears that they almost became boring.

Cyprus Wheatear

My star bird of the year was this Basalt Wheatear at Uvda Valley. 6th record for Israel, I also ringed it with Hadoram. Stonker.

Sylvias showed in huge numbers too at Eilat:

Rueppel's Warbler

This handsome Demoiselle Crane lingered in a small reservoir in the Judean Lowlands during April:

May 1st was a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I went down to the Arava Valley and witnessed the largest fall of migrants one can imagine, with thousands of migrants just pouring out of every bush.

Thanks to Itai, managed to add some quality to the quantity too:

Arabian Dunn's Lark

The colonization of Black-winged Kites in Israel continued this year, and I enjoyed a breeding pair not far from Tel Aviv in mid May:

Another visit to Arava & Eilat later in May produced another black beauty:

Black Bush Robin

And this Common Goldeneye that caused some hallucinations among Israeli birders:

While monitoring some scrub habitats in S Judean Plains, I found some breeding Upcher's Warblers:

And Spectacled Warblers:

As always I continued my work on Nubian Nightjars, and had some powerful night experiences with them in June and July:

In mid June I went on a weekend trip to Turkey with some friends. We had a fantastic trip, highlights being: 

Western Fish Owl 

Iraq Babbler

Chestnut-shouldered Petronia

 Eastern Rock Nuthatch

The annual Mt. Hermon ringing session in early July was good, as always. We ringed most of the mountains' specialties, including this male semirufus Black Redstart:

  I also joined Yosef for some tern ringing at night:

In August, lots of migrants were going through, mainly shorebirds and terns:

Whiskered Tern

And this Red Knot ringed at Ma'agan Michael was a good bird to ring:

Another awesome desert encounter I had happened in September. I helped Meidad with some fieldwork on his Sooty Falcon survey, and together we watched in awe a fantastic pair breeding in the Negev Mts.

Sooty Falcon

October produced an early and impressive run of eastern vagrants. The best two were at Lake Yeruham. First, this Dusky Warbler, ringed by Rony Livne:

Then, just a few days later, this stunning Pied Bushchat showed up in the same spot:

A nice adult Pacific Golden Plover favoured a sewage pond at Timorim:

And in early november I saw several Oriental Skylark, including this stupidly obliging individual at Nizzana:

The main event in November was the Hula Festival. I had a great time during the week, that took me to the best birding sites in the Hula Valley and northern Israel in general.

Eurasian Cranes

Syrian Serin - Mt. Hermon

Eurasian Griffons - Gamla

In late november I visited a small group of overwintering Olive-backed Pipits at Elkana:

In December, another desert ringing expedition to Hameishar Plains produced a record-breaking total of 11 Asian Desert Warblers, among many other desert goodies:

And just a few days ago I was lucky to photograph one of Israels' most endangered species, Arabian Warbler at Hazeva:

As always, none of this would be possible without the help and good friendship of my friends and colleagues.  Some names that I should mention (in random order) are Jonathan Meyrav, Meidad Goren, Dan Alon, Yosef Kiat, Nadav Israeli, Amir Balaban, Itai Shanni, Rony Livne, Rami Mizrachi, Shachar Alterman, Hadoram Shirihai, Asaf Mayrose, Oded Keynan, Martin Garner, Tristan Reid and many many more. Thanks to all of you guys!

And, as always, what would I be without my precious family? I love you very much.




I wish all my readers and followers all the best wishes for 2013!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Acacia Prince

This morning I went with Meidad to check some territories of Arabian Warbler in the acacia savanna near Hazeva, in the N Arava Valley. We spent most of the morning with Oded Keynan - thnaks Oded. Arabian Warbler is one of Israel's rarest breeding birds, with less than 20 pairs found during the recent atlas project in the Arava I coordinated; most are found near Hazeva. This decline in Israel reflects the poor state of Israel's acacia savannas.
Following some surprising rains and floods earlier in autumn, parts of the acacia savanna are blooming nicely, and in response this year Arabian Warblers started declaring territories and courting earlier than normal. I don't believe they breed now - the nights are too cold, but for sure they are getting ready for the breeding season.
Anyway, rather quickly after dawn we found a pair, loafing in the acacias. The female was rather shy, but the male was very curious and came to check us out. He also foraged out in the open, often very close to the ground. He didn't sing much though. The second male we found, in another location, was singing constantly, but showed less well.
They are such charismatic birds. With this huge black tail, lovely black hood with smart white eyering, I find them very attractive. They have a unique 'move', jumping around in the trees much slower and calmer compared to other hectic sylvias, constantly waving their tail from side to side. I hope that this series of images succeeds to demonstarte this.
For me this was a very special morning. I have seen them many times before, but this is the first time I get proper images of these critically endangered birds.

Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomeleana negevensis) - male


Got it


During the morning I managed to get some poor recordings with my phone - it's time for me to purchase a proper recording system.


And song:

Didn't see to much else. Some Spotted Sandgrouse flew over, and other desert species. This is a Blackstart from the rare unringed subspecies:

Sunrise over Jordan; Arabian Warbler habitat

Merry Christmas to all my readers in the world!