Tuesday 27 October 2015

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Wow! This was the view on the road from Urim to Re'im this afternoon. The Pin-tailed flock of the NW Negev! No idea exactly how many there were but I guess around 600.

After wheeling around for many minutes they started to settle onto the field.



gone. Hard to believe there're 600 birds in there.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Pelicans and sandgrouse

Surprisingly quiet days here. Very little of interest at Besor Resrvoir except for these Pelicans last week.

About a dozen birds on the reedy bit but the upper reservoir held a huge flock - possibly 100+ all told.

Clocks went back yesterday which meant that I passed Revivim an hour later than usual. I had ten minutes to spare so stopped at the sewage ponds for a quick check. Not much around but I was delighted to see a flock of sandgrouse fly in. I love sandgrouse - they are wonderful desert birds, both cryptic and colourful and even the 'common' ones are under threat. This flock was mainly Black-bellied but included a smattering of Spotted as well.

 Black-bellied with a nicely obvious Spotted.

Seven Spotteds.

Sandgrouse stick fairly closely to morning drinking times so I guess that I've been an hour too late for them all this (very hot and dry) summer. The clear skies here have been replaced with thick rain cloud. Not so good for me but presumably better for these birds - they won't be reliant on sewage ponds for water.

Saturday 10 October 2015

Besor Reservoir update

A very pleasant morning's birding at Besor today. This time in the company of some excellent birders from the north - Avner Rinot and David Koter together with Noa Vortman from this area. We checked the first patch of water/mud and Avner immediately found a Jacksnipe among the other Snipe, David a Spotted Crake and me with the largest and easiest - the first of many Purple Swamphens. A couple of Water Rail were feeding at the water's edge, as usual. Great Reed and Clamorous Reed Warblers were calling, ditto Spotted Redshank (nice bird for here) and Thrush Nightingales. Pipits were Tawny and Tree. Around the reservoir we flushed the juvenile Black Stork that has been around for a couple of weeks now.

Best bird of the day, for me, was a single Black-winged Pratincole that flew off along nahal Besor - a lifer! Best birds in terms of numbers were the Swamphens. We saw at least seven, including three subadults (very much greyer than adults).

Careful watching of the reed/water mosaic also produced another crake (probably Spotted) and several more Water Rail. The large pool contained Spoonbill and a few Great White Egrets along with the Squacco Herons and Little Egrets.

Overhead we had a pair of Red-footed Falcons (gorgeous adult male here),

Osprey and a Lesser Spotted Eagle.

Final birds were a family group of Little Green Bee-eaters.

It was a real pleasure to bird this site with Avner, David and Noa - having three more pairs of eyes (and ears) and all that expertise paid dividends!

Still Rollers moving through - two of three individuals on the wires near home.

And not to forget the huge fall of Willow Warblers - they are everywhere at the moment (including the sewage pool) . . . .

Thursday 8 October 2015

Pintail Snipe update

As this is the ninth record of Pintail Snipe in Israel I feel I should add a little more detail to the story and my field impressions. I set myself a personal goal this autumn - to make sure that no snipe is left unchecked. I am doing this because I've seen a lot of Common Snipe that don't fall completely into the quintessential snipe plumage. I've seen many with obvious white outer tail feathers, bills that appear shorter than 2x head length, significant flank barring etc. but they have all been Common Snipe. 

So, on Monday afternoon I went out to check the local sewage pond that has been attracting snipe in the past few weeks. A quick scan of the bank produced three snipe. One was obviously different from the others and it was fortunate that the bird was with two CS for easy comparison. It immediately struck me as bigger, stockier and paler than the richer brown CS. A more detailed view showed extensive barring on the breast and flanks but this did not extend to the belly. The bill was obviously sturdier and shorter than the long, slender bills of CS. I knew I had something seriously interesting here.

Using a Canon SX50 I took some high magnification photographs and saw that the covert tips were pure white with no black shafts showing. The covert tips formed bars but not quite of the type often seen on Great Snipe and the barring did not extend all the way down the thighs as it apparently should in adult birds. However, younger Great Snipe may not always have this feature and I've already commented on the variability seen in CS. I did not see the bird well enough in flight to see any tail or wing features. Putting two and two together and making five I concluded that I had a 1 cy Great Snipe. 

At home I checked a couple of guides, satisfied myself that I was not wrong and sent off a few photos to two excellent birders whose opinion I respect. Both replied with a (retrospectively) cautious affirmative. Great Snipe would be a lifer for me so I eagerly accepted it as a superb local patch and life tick. I published the sighting with photos the next morning but on the way to work I felt a twinge of disappointment that I had not seen the diagnostic white outer tail feathers that would make the ID perfect. So far I had satisfied myself that the build, bill, and barring was all good enough for GS but therein lies the rub, I thought it was 'good enough' and with lifers that simply is not good enough. Later that morning my phone hiccuped a message - the bloo-bloop of the IMO Rare Bird Alert app that sends pulses racing. The RBA text was that a Pintail Snipe had been identified by Barak Granit from photographs taken by Dominic Standing. . . .  

Birding is a learning process and I learn new things about plumage, behaviour and calls every time I go out. What I learnt from this experience is more to do with my approach to birding - even if you have convinced yourself of an ID, if it is a lifer then perforce, you have no direct field experience of the bird. It is far better to curb one's enthusiasm, and triple check before going public. Megas don't come along every day and a little bit of patience would have served me better. However, I now know a lot more about snipe and when the next non-Common Snipe comes into binocular view my approach will reflect this experience.

Barak is a vastly experienced, world class birder and has first-hand experience (literally) of Pintail Snipe and I am very thankful that he saw the photos and correctly identified the bird. Every birder knows the pain of 'getting it wrong' sometimes but despite that I am thrilled to have found such a rare and subtle beauty!

A few more images of this wonderful bird. 

(is it possible to make out the pintail feathers here or am I imagining it? I will not make a guess)


And now for something a little easier . . . .

A Black-winged Kite from Besor Resrvoir - patch tick.

And a female Red-footed Falcon from this morning on the kibbutz. Lovely birds.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Pintail Snipe

Whoops! I thought I had a Great Snipe but it was re-identified this morning by Barak Granit as a mega rare Pintail Snipe. Sometimes it feels really good to be wrong.

A big find for me yesterday around the Nir Oz sewage pools. Pintail Snipe!

Other stuff around - Besor had a movement of Great White Egrets (four or five)

and a flock of Spoonbills (seven in total)

and a couple of Ferruginous Duck.

Only one Spotted Crake around but still a few Water Rail.

Friday 2 October 2015

Besor and Nir Oz updates

A fairly weak start to October but September finished with a fantastic home patch (and Israel) tick - Nightjar! I was walking the dog and passed within 1 m of the bird roosting in a patch of dead leaves under a shrub. It flew off as I was fumbling for my camera and I couldn't relocate it. A two second view but so close!

Golden Orioles are still around/passing through. The last few years' migration here were characterised by GOs coming through in small groups within a short period. This year I've seen many singles over many weeks.

The first Peregrine of the winter flew across the fields this morning. A dozen Cattle Egret, five Black-winged Stilts, half a dozen each of Wood and Green Sandpiper are at the sewage pond.

Besor is quiet - the crakes have left but there seem to be more Water Rails around.

Finally managed to get a reasonable couple of pics of a Kingfisher. I suspect that this one was less concerned with me and more focussed on whatever it was that was lodged in its throat.

Swamphen numbers appear to have dropped with the water level - this pair and one other remain.

Short-toed Larks have been arriving in small flocks. These ones joined the Yellow Wagtails, Northern and Isabelline Wheatears on the lettuce fields.

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