Sunday, 20 April 2014

Citrine Wagtail

Checked the sewage ponds while taking our dog out for a morning walk and was absolutely delighted to find one of my favourite birds feeding by the less noxious of the two pools. Citrine Wagtail! A stunning male of the citreola race (black collar extending over wing bend and some black feathering in the crown) and a superb patch tick!









Amazing how different it looks in slightly different light.





Short-toed Eagle flew overhead, calling.

Two Black-winged Stilts on the same pool were also patch ticks for me.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Long-billed Pipit and Hill Sparrow

Arrived at Har Amasa early on an uncharacteristically overcast and cool morning. After a few minutes of not much happening at all I heard a Long-billed Pipit singing. After a bit of scannning I found it perched on a rock, occasionally flying up to display/sing before returning to its perch. Lovely views of its back plumage.



A brief bit of sunshine allowed the colours to warm up a bit.

Near the kibbutz I stopped to watch some Serins - this very dark cheeked male having a morning drink.


A female arrives,

they size each other up,

and she goes for it . . . .

Water won.

Up on the top of Har Amasa a Sparrowhawk kept the passerines low in the bushes and I didn't see much apart from some flocks of Ortolans, Spectacled and Scrub Warblers and a single Rockthrush.

Headed downslope and heard a familar 'wheeeeze' and quickly located this Hill Sparrow singing from a rock. I heard several other singers so hopefully this'll be a good year for them.

This (tastefully soft-focussed) one with an Ortolan on either side.

More Ortolan - I love these buntings.


Lots of Isabelline Wheatears around on the low ground by the road,

as well as many Black-eareds higher on the slopes. Final bird of the day was a stunning male Montagu's Harrier. However, it was midday and the sun was making photography impossible - this is a record shot that redefines the term . . . .
Great bird though.


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Spotted Crake

Woke up this morning to the sound of Thrush Nightingales calling from the shrubbery around our house. I had a couple of hours spare so thought it was about time to check Ha Besor Reservoir again in the hope of more crakes. Many more Thrush Nightingales were calling here too - there's a large wave of these and Nightingales passing through now. One Little Crake was feeding nervously on the reed edges but it scuttled off into hiding and did not reappear. Further round the reservoir I saw two Spotted Crakes. Like the Little Crakes from my previous visit they were very busy feeding and this one allowed a reasonably close approach.


Lovely birds - I can't get enough of crakes.

Just above the crakes one of the many Nightingales popped out and sat in the sun for a few moments.

Heard a familiar song and looked up to see this Great Spotted Cuckoo flying past at some distance - managed a couple of record shots.


Lots of Bee-eaters arriving now.

Once again, this place has turned up a good morning's birding - I'm sure it's only a matter of time before something really unusual turns up.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Champions of the Flyway 2014


Well, on the 1st of April we, The Desert Coursers, set off for an epic charity Big Day - Champions of the Flyway - the first of its kind for Israel and hopefully the start of an annual event (http://www.champions-of-the-flyway.com/). Check the website.This was an important event that, despite the fun we had, has a deeply serious message - helping to prevent the illegal hunting and killing of birds in southern and eastern Europe.

Our team was led by Meidad Goren, a superb birder, and the other lynch-pin of the group was the driver, Adam (adamsela.com) who put in an awesome display of on- and off-road driving. The ever-cheerful spotters were Harel, Elon (spotter and record keeper), Nimrod and myself.

This was a hugely fun but tough day and although we saw 143 species in total I didn't have time to take many photos. We started at Nizanna with coffee and Crested Larks starting the dawn chorus. Quickly caught up with McQueen's Bustard, Cream Coloured Courser and, with a bit more work, three sandgrouse species - Pin-tailed, Black-bellied and Spotted (below) . . . .


. . . before heading off to Kibbutz Sde Boker where we immediately located Yellow-browed Warbler, reported earlier by the Cornell team. We had the calls and after a bit of searching got fleeting but diagnostic views of this really unusual but delightful warbler. We then headed off into the desert where Adam's Land Rover really came into its own. Common Raven, Golden Eagle and Lanner Falcon were seen before heading back for Bonelli's Eagle at Ein Avdat. The south beckoned and time and our total were running short so we got on the road. Driving down the road into Maktesh Ramon a White-crowned Wheatear popped into the middle of the road to grab an insect. Easy! Later we spotted a beautiful male Montagu's Harrier flying north near the road. Found our fourth sandgrouse (Crowned) near the Meishar plateau along with Desert Wheatear (pictured above), Tawny Pipit, Yellow Wagtail


and Ruppell's Warbler.

Finally arrived at the Km 20 salt pool for a serious wader fest - Greater Sandplover, Red-necked phalarope and Spoonbills being the best of the bunch. 25+ Collared Pratincoles were great to see. We walked down to Km 19 seeing Citrine Wagtail and a small flock of Dead Sea Sparrows. Now came a decision moment - head off to Eilat North Beach and bag more species or stay for Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse and complete the set? We stayed, along with many of the other teams, and saw the sandgrouse fly in. All five sandgrouse in one day is a real achievement! Little Crake, Night Heron, Garganey, Teal were nice additions to our total. As darkness fell we headed back north to Yotvata for some night-spotting and saw Barn Owl and our last bird of the day, #143 - a roosting Booted Eagle.

A fantastic day and I'm already preparing for next year's Champions of the Flyway!

Wood Warbler at Sde Boker - one of my favourite warblers.

 

Little-green Bee-eater - what can I say? 

 Eastern Bonelli's/Balkan Warbler, whatever the name a great little warbler.


Saturday, 15 March 2014

Little Crakes

Ha Besor Reservoir is full of water and the first surprise of the day was this distant Slender-billed Gull. I don't see many gulls in this area of the Negev. This is the first one actually.



The best part of the day though was an influx of Little Crakes. Instead of their usual solitary, skulking behaviour they were out in the open and feeding within two metres of me. From where I was sitting I counted four on my left and four on my right. I've never seen so many together before or had such fantastic views.



























Moving just a bit around the reservoir another three came into view. One scuttled off immediately but the other two remained out in the open. The one on the right made my heart beat a bit faster - the short primary projection made me think 'Baillon's'. When it moved round to more favourable light I could see the red base of the bill - another Little, albeit an odd one.






Lots of Squacco Herons around too, as well as two Great Spotted Cuckoos (heard one song, saw one individual), Sedge Warblers have arrived together with a large movement of Lesser Whitethroats.