Monday, 7 April 2014

Israel: Part 2

The next day we headed to Yotvata in the morning with the intention of throughly exploring the large arable fields and excellent sewage works.

We headed to the sewage works first, which were excellent, with at least three Citrine wagtails, a dozen or so Bluethroats (both white and red spots) dashing about in the reeds, 2 Little crakes and a Savi's warbler singing.
Selection of wagtails
Graceful prinia nest building
One of many Bluethroats
We then headed to the North fields. On arriving we picked up a female kestrel sp. Tim refused to look at it as he didn't want his first Lesser kestrel to be an imm/female type, and whilst I was identifying it, he called to get on a wader going over, the immediately shouted 'Caspian plover'! The air became electric as we all swung round to get on it, zipping through fairly high up. Thankfully it slowed and turned, then came in to the fields, giving great views over the course of the next hour before twitchers started to arrive and we drifted away.

Tim got his male Lesser kestrel whilst watching the Caspian plover

Black kites were common over the fields
 We had heard that there was an Oriental skylark on South Circular field, so we headed there in the midday heat without very great hopes of success. After flushing several hundred Short-toed larks, along with a few buntings and pipits, three small larks flew up, all calling identically. What was going on? But sure enough, we persevered and there was indeed 3 Oriental skylark (and one European skylark) feeding along the weedy strip. Happily one perched for views, albeit somewhat distantly in the heat haze.
Oriental skylark
 We then headed back to Km 20, as the heat had quietened most of the passerine action at Yotvata.
Apparently a bit scarce

Spur-winged plover

coutelli Water pipit in Km19-20 ditch

The next day, myself and James headed to the Dead Sea, to try and catch up with some of the specialities. In terms of the birds seen, we had a fantastic day, but most of the real specialities seemed to avoid the camera lens, so sadly not many pics!

We started at a wadi just south of the Dead Sea to look for Arabian warblers at dawn. Again, the wadi was incredibly alive with migrants, with at least two species of sandgrouse flying about. Eventually we tracked own a male Arabian warbler, which gave brief views before vanishing off down the wadi again.
Tawny pipit
Orphean warblers provided good comparisons
 We then headed on to Lot reservoir where we picked up a singing male Dead Sea sparrow, several singing Clamorous reed warblers and Indian silverbills
These look like they should be in Star Wars
This was on the fence around Lot Reservoir
We then headed on to En Gedi and a steep mountainous wadi to look for Sinai rosefinch. We went too far up, but the raptor watching was again spectacular, as were the Fan-tailed ravens and Nubian ibex.                                
Fan-tailed raven
Male Tristram's starling

Black storks were going over with the raptors
WE gave up after midday when the heat became too much and spent a few hours around En Gedi. Fortunately with a bit of encouragemnet from Josh Jones, we decided to return late afternoon, and found the spring. Within minutes a pair of Sinai rosefinch came in to drink, and the disembodied song that had been unlocatable in the morning eventually gave itself up as a distantly singing Mountain bunting. Excellent! but we had to dash to catch Barak Granit and his tour for the evening, rather than attempting closer views. We arrived with a few minutes spare, to be informed it was a perfect night for it. Good to his word, Barak had us watching a hunting Nubian nightjar within twenty minutes, then an hour or so later, a calling Hume's owl! All in all, a very succesful day.

More to follow

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Israel: part 1

I had heard how good spring trips to Israel could be, so when Tim Jones discussed the possibility of going out there for ten days in late March and early April, I decided to grasp the opportunity. As well as Tim, Rael Butcher and James Shergold came along, and we found pretty cheap flights in to Tel Aviv on the 23rd. We booked accommodation in a cheap hostel in Eilat, and based ourselves there throughout the trip.

We arrived too late to do any birding on 23rd, and just drove to Eilat. The 24th saw myself, James and Tim head to Holland Park early morning to try and catch up with a reported Black bush robin, but unfortunately no-one knew anything about it, and despite extensive searching. That said, Tim and James had wracked up half a dozen lifers before I'd even got my scope out of it's case, and after a few hours, I'd seen a fair few new birds myself. Holland Park was a fantastic start, absolutely dripping with migrants as well as some of the resident specialities.
Laughing dove

Eastern bonelli's warbler

Sand partridge

Male Ruppell's warbler-at least half a dozen of these beauties in Holland Park alone

Wrynecks were common throughout the trip

Arabian babbler

Groups of these were easy enough to find once we worked out the whistling call

Little green bee-eater cyanophrys-perhaps the best looking subspecies?
 As we were leaving we bumoed into Paul French, who told us he'd just found a Semi-collared flycatcher in Ofira park, right in the centre of Eilat, so we nipped round to have a look
Semi-collared flycatcher

Right in the centre of Eilat
 The rest of the day was less succesful, as we got our bearings, tried out a few places and had a few trips to North Beach, where there were plenty of white-eyed gulls, terns but no sign of the brown booby.

The next morning we left our hostel at dawn to do some early morning birding in the Eilat mountains before the raptors got started. We came across this female Hooded wheatear, as well as a couple of more flighty males, as well as several White-crowned black wheatears
Hooded wheatear

Tim and Rael trekking in the Eilat mountains
 By mid-morning raptors had started to stream over the Eilat mountains, with penty of Steppe eagles, 1000s of Steppe buzzards, Egyptian vultures, Pallid harrier and others. Hopefully I will do a seperate blog post with some raptor photos soon.

We spent the afternoon birding around Km20 and the IRBC, getting highlights like Namaqua dove and Pallas's gull.

The next morning saw a very early start as we made for the vulture feeding station near S'de Boker. No sign of the hoped for hyaenas, but a pair of distant wolves made up for it, as well as flyover Richard's pipit and spotted sandgrouse and an impressive number of vultures first thing.
Distant pair of wolves

This jackal ran across the track on the way back to the main road
 Unfortunately, we stayed for  little too long, and missed our chance to see Mcqueen's bustards displaying in the early morning, and there was no sign of tghem in the increasing mid-morning temperatures. Sandgrouse were also notably absent around the sewage pools at Nizzana, but there was still some outstanding desert birding to be had, including one wadi absolutely stuffed with migrants.
Southern grey shrike aucheri

Part of a family group of 4 CCC with juvs
Eastern black-eared wheatear
We flushed these feeding out in the desert on lush growth

Pin-tailed sandgrouse
Desert lark- a very washed out individual
Red-rumped swallow
 We decided to wait it out until the evening when the bustards would be back out displaying again, but whilst we were escaping the midday heat in a nearby shack/cafe, news came through of a Pied bushchat back at Neot Samadar. We decided to dash back for it, and leave the bustards for another day. The drive back was somewhat eventful, whilst James slept, myself and Tim managed to count 300+ painted ladies crossing north over the road in just 15 minutes whilst the road was running east-west. Truly incredible, although there seemed to be an even higher density moving on our final day further north in Tel Aviv. Certainly our windscreen was constantly smeared with the unfortunate ones.
Roadside Mourning wheatear
We arrived at Neot Samaderto find the Pied Bushchat showing well, a cracking male...

More highlights to follow.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Late winter and early spring

A few highlights from work and the odd birding trip in the UK at the start of this year:

 The period started quietly, but as always there were plenty of gulls at Rufforth tip, with a smattering of Iceland and Glaucous gulls around, and Chris' 3w Kumlien's continued to knock about.

The first hints of spring came on a walk along Filey bay with Cat, with double figures of skylark arriving in off. The sea was a bit more wintery though, with slav grebe, velvet scoter and a few red-throats seen distantly. The cute sanderlings stole the show though, and I put up with still digging sand out of my hair the next day to get a few eye level shots.

Young male peregrine over Bank Island
In terms of finding birds, the first weekend of March was the highlight, when this Tundra bean goose showed up at Castle Howard in the feral goose flock one afternoon, and the next day, two more bean geese were at Bubwith Bridge, but stayed too frustratingly distant to be ceratin of racial ID, despite hinting at being Taiga.

From March, the survey season picks up a little and I was kept busy at work out in the field (thankfully the weather was pretty good):
These always brighten up a survey
 It's been great working on quite a few sites with these this year:
This 2cy male came close whilst hunting woodpigeons

Showing the white patchy markings to the mantle

...and clear streaking on the underside
 Meanwhile it was good to start bumping into the odd barn owl back out hunting in the day again. After a poor breeding season in 2013, this was a hard species to see locally over winter with the adults hunting almost entirely after full darkness

Carrying food back to it's box

Church Bridge at dusk
 And some from work trips further north:
Adders were out basking in early March

And ravens were 'gronking' and displaying overhead

Always a highlight of any day!

And it was good to see these back on their ledge
 Whilst it was pretty quiet locally in March, there were a few nice bits and pieces to see:

...including Glaucous and 3 Iceland gulls in one field in Poppleton