Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Birding coldspots - birding hotspots

Left home in the middle of the night and went with Meidad to check one of the most important sites in the Arava valley for Hoopoe Lark and other larks. In previous years it was an amazing site - check this report from 2010 for instance. So expectations were high, especially after the good winter rain. But in fact we had an amazingly quiet morning. In about two hours of birding we had only 6 birds(!): two Asian Desert Warblers, two Brown-necked Ravens, one Bar-tailed Lark and one Hoopoe Lark - heard it several times and glimpsed it once. I have no idea why it was so dead. There is some germination in the wadi, and some bushes are in flower, and weather was OK. I do hope that in my next visit things will look better. Driving in, before dawn, we had one cute Lesser Egyptian Jerboa.

Asian Desert Warbler

After a couple of hours we wanted to go somewhere with birds. So we went to Hameishar Plains  - it was very good there, just by the road. Highlight was four pairs of Cream-coloured Coursers, busy courting and copulating. In addition, large numbers of Trumpeter Finches, Chiffchaffs and Isabelline Wheatears, and some Rueppell's Warblers too. Mammals included seven Wild Ass and some dorcas gazelles.

Rueppell's Warbler - male

Trumpeter Finch - male

Isabelline Wheatear - male singing

On the way back home I spotted a Griffon soaring low over the road south of Be'er Sheva, quite unusual there. I took some images - it's ringed of course. According to data provided promptly by Ohad Hatsofe (NPA), this individual hatched prior to 2001, was ringed in 2005 in the Judean Desert, and was last resighted in 2011. Thanks Ohad.

Eurasian Griffon

I had a quick look at the Yellow-browed Warbler found by Avner Rinot almost two weeks ago on the outskirts of Beer Sheva - it was rather shy and skulky, perhaps due to the strong wind and high temperatures. Good bird nevertheless.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Recent updates

Here in Israel spring is already evident, with more and more migrants appearing, and in the desert breeding is already taking place in some species. 
This is going to be a busy spring for me. I am coordinating to breeding bird atlas surveys - one in open scrub habitats ('Batha')n in the N Negev, and another on Mt. Hermon. On Wednesday had a look at Lahav reserve where the atlas project will take place. Just checked some different methods so didn't see much but found already three pairs of Spectacled Warbler nest-building and incubating, and a few Finsch's Wheatears.

Thursday evening and Friday morning I helped Meidad guiding his bird-guide training course at Nizzana. I gave a couple of presentations to his excellent trainees, and led a morning field excursion. At night, near our camp, we had a few singing Lilith Owls. In the morning I took them to my favourite hill overlooking some pristine, beautiful habitat south of Ezuz. We had there three dancing male MacQueen's Bustards. This hill has some ancient Nabatean rock carvings - really spiritual feeling to think how 2500 years ago people sat on the same hill and shared their observations with me.

Nabatean rock carvings

Later on we had another two dancing bustards, giving us all great views (but still to distant to photograph). Apart for that some coursers and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Enjoyed my first Eastern Black-eared Wheatear of the season. The desert is very green as a result of good rainfall - looking forward to another good breeding season.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pallid Harrier

Yesterday afternnon went rapror-ringing in the NW Negev with my brother Gidon, my elder son Uri and Gidon's son Shachar. Dream Team. Wind was very strong and lots of dust in the air, so raptors kept low and few. Still we managed to catch some buzzards and kestrels; best was a young Long-legged Buzzard - rufous morph. While we were waiting for a buzzard to get caught, Uri asks me: "Dad, what's this white bird near us?". I was sure it's a Cattle Egret but wow it was a fantastic Pallid Harrier feeding on a small bird - very close to us. What a bird. Unfortunately it was sat just by an ugly tarmac road that I did my best to crop out...

Pallid Harrier - male


Too close for a jump-shot

Long-legged Buzzard

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Russian Common Gull, Ashdod, 6/1/10

After seeing  heinei-type at Titchwell, Norfolk, UK a couple of weeks ago, I started learning more about its ID. Martin Garner, Chris Gibbins, Jan Jorgensen and Mars Muusse were very helpful with this (thanks guys). Common Gulls are generally scarce in Israel. Until the late 1990's some tens wintered at Shifdan (Tel Aviv sewage works, that since had been converted from open ponds to a modern facility) and other gull hotspots on our Med coast. In recent decade numbers have dropped considerabely and nowadays we have normally less than 10 wintering in Israel every winter (my estimate). Shirihai mentions in his book (The Birds of Israel, 1996) that heinei is rare in Israel and few individuals with characters belonging to this taxon occur at Eilat and on the Med coast. I think that today we should be able to identify the better, and I am sure that based on its breeding range we should have many more heinei's in Israel.
On 6 January 2010 I birded with Amir, Ehud and Sassi at Ashdod. We found this very tame adult Common Gull on the beach, and at that time we were quite happy just to find one and didn't consider its subspecies at all. As it is a rarity I took some shots of it - to date the only Common Gull I have photographed in Israel. Looking back at the images, this bird certainly looks good for heinei.

Mantle tones: remember that even in mid-winter sunlight in Israel is much stronger than in NW Europe, so I guess that in Europe mantle tone of this bird would look much darker. But still it's dark enough - check the flight shot below. 
Wing pattern: when perched, note that P10 to P8 are black all the way to the PC, giving a solid black wingtip. In nominate birds much grey is present on P9 and P8. In flight, note that also P7 has extensive black on outer web, almost reaching PC.

Russian Common Gull Larus canus heinei

Note the important feature - prominent black band on P5, quite michahellis-like:

Many heinei have pale eyes in winter, but not all. This is a dark-eyed individual; don't know what proportion of heinei show dark eye but according to Chris Gibbins this is not unusual.

Certainly worth to keep an eye open for these guys in the future, also in earlier plumages. I wonder if there are any heinei records from Kuwait, UAE or anywhere else in our region?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Safari birding

In the morning headed to the Safari park near Tel Aviv to collect a Pallas's Gull that had been treated at the NPA wildlife hospital there, and was ready to be released back to freedom. Before entering the hospital I had a look at the gull flock there. I found four of my colour-ringed yellow-legs. The adult yellow-legs are getting horny now - note how bright yellow the legs and bill have become. In this image appears a bird I ringed as pullus in summer 2010, hence it's in its fourth calendar-year. Also, note the Siberian Gull in the back, just to the right of the hippo nose...

Safari scenes

Quite many ducks on the lake - wild but very tame.


I released the Pallas's Gull at Ashdod - what a stunning bird. A real bird (according to Andy's standards (-:). It flew off well immediately (good job NPA hospital staff!), called several times and out of nowhere appeared two more Pallas's Gulls that joined my bird. I know this is personification but the bird looked very happy to be free again, after a month in hospital. Hope it makes it back to Kazakhstan safely.

Pallas's Gulls 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Hume's Warbler!

This morning I went to try and ring the Hume's Warbler I found near my house, to confirm its ID. I tried and succeeded. I was joined by Roni Livne. In fact during the first two hours of the morning we heard it several times but didn't manage to see it at all. Until finally it made its way into my net.
This is a sweet little bird. Pretty bright on secondaries fringes, and rather extensive pale lower mandible, but otherwise quite typical looking - greyish above, buffish supercilium, tiny MC wingbar, narrow and ill-defined tertial edges, dark legs. The forehead is dirty from sticky eucalyptus pollen.

Hume's Warbler (Phylloscopus humei)

While setting the nets up before dawn I had a male Eagle Owl singing next to me for about an hour: "uhhh... uhhh... uhhh...". What a bird. A 'real' bird, not like the above.

And another real bird: 
Lesser Spotted Eagle 

Thanks Roni for the help.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


This morning I went out to sea with the NPA marine team - Yatir and Alex. They are conducting monthly transects looking mainly for cataceans and sharks, but birders are always welcome on their dingy. Sea was quite calm today, so my breakfast didn't end up as fish food this time. We left Ashkelon and travelled four miles out into the sea, then headed north for about 10 miles and then returned south closer to the coast. We didn't find any marine mammals or sharks, only had some tuna and jellyfish. Birdwise, it was rather slow too. Apart for some gulls and Sandwich Terns, we had one Yelkouan Shearwater, two fly-by Gannets, and several Pallas's Gulls. Adults are really smart already with their black hood. Thanks to Yatir and Alex, looking forward to the next trips.

Yelkouan Shearwater

Pallas's Gull

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Frontier birding!

Two examples of how useful it is to have your phone with you while spending time with family:

On January 21st I went walking with my younger son in the eucalyptus forest behind my house. I had a pipit high in the canopy, and without my bins I could see nothing on it. It gave some calls that were OK for Olive-bcked Pipit - but I wasn't sure as they were of the more difficult tree-pipit-like type. I got a terrible recording with my phone - but it was good enough for Martin Garner to confirm it was an OBP - village tick of course. How cool is that? This is what MG wrote: "The pitch reaches up to 8 kHz and has fading quality to it - just like an OBP. Tree Pipit pitches around 7 kHz and has strongly modulated end with less fading", Thanks Martin - also for the sonogram.

Olive-backed Pipit, Nir Moshe, Israel, 21 January 2013

And then, this afternoon I was having a picnic in the same forest near my house. Again, no bins. Just before heading home in the afternoon, heard a Hume's Warbler calling from a nearby Carob tree. I couldn't see the bird but got the phone out again - slightly better quality this time (thanks Barak). Again, village tick! Will try to see it tomorrow.

Hume's Warbler, Nir Moshe, Israel, 9 February 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Turk, a Faroese and an Israeli went birding in the desert...

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke? Well it was quite good. Met up this morning with Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu and Silas Olofson in the Judean Desert. They have been birding in southern Israel for the past week, and had a great trip up till now. We birded in Wadi Mishmar which was OK. Not too busy but some good stuff among the commoner desert species. Highlights included Cyprus Warbler, some Sinai Rosefinches and a singing Striolated Bunting heard. The guys stayed after I had left, hope they managed to see it. Unusually, I didn't manage to get any proper bird image worth uploading. So instead - here's Silas:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

NL day 5 - proper birding at last!

At last had time today for a full day of proper birding. Left early with Gert and Reinoud Vermoolen and we headed west to Zeeland. We met there Pim Wolf. Pim is just awesome - he really knows every bird and stone on Zeeland (though there are no stones on Zeeland). 
We started off at the beach of Brouwersdam, despite the wind and cold. No sign of the hoped-for Great Northern Diver but lots of seaducks and divers. Highlights for me included two Long-tailed Ducks (male and female) that gave much better views than my previous bird, but still difficult to phtograph. Also five Velvet Scoters with the many commons, about 15 Slav Grebes, one Black-throated Diver among the numerous reds and two distant Ruddy Shelducks. Later on we found some Purple Sandpipers feeding on the rocky seawall - they are such tough little shorebirds. I really enjoyed watching this obliging individual fighting the waves.

Purple Sandpiper 

Something for my Israeli followers:

Common Goldeneye

And for gullers:

argenteus Herring Gull 2cy

We continued working our way through the island, where we encountered huge numbers of geese. This was the goosiet day I've ever had. We had in total today 9 proper species of goose and another two plastic species. So at first we started scanning through the large flocks of white-fronts, barnacles, brent and bean. We found one Pink-footed, and then we found two Pale-bellied Brents at Scharendijke - here's a record shot of one of them:

Pale-bellied Brent (center)

We continued birding and enjoyed a selection of geese, ducks and shorebirds, and some groups of Bewick's and Whooper Swans. Especially productive were the Polders south of Burgh-Haamstede. We had there some Hen Harriers, a Goshawk and best - a superb adult Black Brant. Much better than the two hybrids I had in the UK! Look at this full collar, almost connecting in the back of the neck. Also note how much the dark belly extends beyond the belly, and the solid dark mantle.

Black Brant - adult

A bit east of Burgh-Haamstede we found this fine adult Rough-legged Buzzard as it was fighting the wind for some minutes. Great views but light was shit. 

 Rough-legged Buzzard

This is the best I managed to get of the uppertail pattern:

After we said goodbye to Pim, we headed to Oudeland van Strijen in very poor weather. Again tons of geese. Couldn't find the red-breasted that was showing there in the morning - I guess perhaps we were reluctant to work the geese outside of the car because of the rain. We did manage to locate two Lesser White-fronts though - good views but again poor light conditions so the images don't do them any justice - they are very smart-looking geese.

Lesser White-fronted Goose

On the way back home checked the lake at Barendrecht but for the first time in eight winters the Bufflehead didn't show. Bummer.
But nevermind - it was a great day, good company, weather could have been better but could have been worse also. Tomorrow I return home - looking forward to some warm sunny weather. Many thanks to all of my friends and colleagues in UK & NL - BTO, Sovon, DBA, Gert, Martin, Tristan, Tormod, Chris, Nick, Andy, Rob, Vincent, Arjan, Reinoud and Pim are just few of the great people I met - you all made this trip highly successful and so much fun.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

NL day 4 - DBA Vogeldag

Today I attended the Dutch Birding Association day (DBA Vogeldag). It was a fantastic event - lots of great people to meet and chat, and an interesting program - very good talks. Ah, and also I gave two talks myself which I enjoyed very much. It was very good to finally meet in flesh lots of FB friends. Many thanks to Arjan and all the DB team for organizing this event and inviting me.

Friday, February 1, 2013

NL day 3 - just a bit of birding

And no images too... Most day was spent at Sovon offices. In the afternoon went with my old friend Vincent De-boer to have a quick look near Arnhem. Highlights included Tundra Bean Goose and an adult Caspian Gull.