Tuesday 30 May 2017

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Little Bitterns

An interesting mix of sandgrouse and bitterns this morning at Besor Reservoir this morning. Started off with a glimpse of this Little Bittern through the reeds.
 Saw a second bird by accident as I took a photo of this superb summer plumage Squacco Heron.

I edged round the reeds to try and get a better view and disturbed another one which flew off to the other side of the pool. Two females together.

 Another one (or one of the original three?) in the reeds.
The far pool also held a couple and I found two more as I walked back along the reservoir bank. Seven in total! An impressive number.

A few Little Stints by the pool, showing the red of summer plumage. Interesting apparent size difference.

The Night Herons have returned but instead of a large pool of water and dozens of trees they have a rapidly shrinking 'puddle' and only a couple of roosting trees.

The large and mostly dry bowl of the lake bed held the other surprise of the morning. 14 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in three small groups. Great birds - it's always a thrill to see them.

A really good morning's birding - lots of colour (Rollers, Bee-eaters,

Hoopoes) and lots of interest with the seven Little Bitterns and 14 sandgrouse, topped off with a Hobby on a roadside plyon.

Sunday 14 May 2017

Georgia - Tbilisi Botanic Gardens

April 26 - May 3 2017. We had a bit of spare time in Tbilisi before we met our guides and the botanic gardens seemed like a good place to whet our appetite for the birding to come.

After a morning stroll through the delightful streets of Old Tbilisi I arrived at the botanic garden gates at opening time (nominally 08:00, entry 2 lari) to be greeted by a couple of Yellow Wagtails,

a Caucasian coloured Jay
and many Phylloscopus warblers most of which seemed to be Willow Warblers. Walking into the gardens proper I was gratified to spot a pair of Red-breasted Flycatchers.

Then I saw more, and more. The place was full of them, one or two every 100 m or so.

Other Ficedulas were a pair of Semi-collareds

and a single Collared.

Collared Flycatcher doesn't often appear on Georgian trip reports and it seems to be a fairly uncommon migrant.

I was focussed more on the warblers. Green Warbler was one of my target species for this trip and I thought the gardens would be as good a place as any for them. However, working through the quick, darting movements of warblers in the canopy was not easy. Finally though, I was rewarded with brief views of this little wing-barred beauty.

I left to meet up with Rod and we returned to the gardens after a quick bite to eat. It was much busier with visitors than the morning and although we saw plenty more Red-breasted Flycatchers the other two species had moved on and neither did we see any other Green Warblers. That was disappointing but we saw other birds that I have not seen for years. Dipper - a personal favourite ever since seeing them in Wales when I was a young boy. Black bellied ones here. Very nice.

And Long-tailed Tit. Common enough in our Scottish garden but unknown in Israel.

The few hours spent here was really productive - many species and large numbers of them - Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, the flycatchers, Dipper, wagtails, tits, a flock of Bee-eaters flying over. A great start to the trip in a really beautiful setting.

A caveat - Rod revisited the gardens 10 days later and saw very few migrants. We hit it lucky to visit when we did and caught a major fall.

Friday 12 May 2017

Armenia birding - Armash fish ponds (Day 3 of 3)

We had one final morning before we had to return to Tbilisi for flights back home. Where else to go then but the famed Armash fish ponds? Targets here were White-tailed Lapwing and Paddyfield Warbler.

Visitors need a permit to enter here but it is straightforward to arrange. While we were waiting at the gate we saw a vast number of Sand Martins sitting on the telegraph wires. Then a cracking male Menetries Warbler popped up on the fence for a quick song. I had somehow managed to turn the autofocus off on my camera and my hurried manual focus wasn't that accurate so I missed the best opportunity so far for a close and perfectly lit portrait. Ho hum.

After we'd completed formalities we drove to the first big pond. It contained a large number of waders - Black Stilt, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover (seen by Ani), Ruff (breeding plumage), Common, Wood and a single Broad-billed Sandpiper, Avocet, Redshank, Little Stint, as well as Little,

Gull-billed, Whiskered and White-winged Terns.

Rod picked out a Black Tern amongst the roosting White-winged - a good bird for here. My attention though was firmly on the drier fields where several White-tailed Lapwings were. Another lifer!

(white tail!)

(a bird-in-flight opportunity missed)

Next up was a delightful Bearded Reedling - so long since I've seen them.

A Great Reed Warbler (with an engorged tick above its eye) perched photogenically on a reed to pluck insects out of a spider's web.

As one would expect ducks were well represented. Tufted and Red-crested Pochard

Pochard, Teal, Garganey, Ferruginous

and White-headed Ducks were quickly seen.

Lots of fine looking Great Crested Grebes in full breeding plumage.

Pygmy Cormorants and Glossy Ibis were everywhere. Gulls (I admit not spending a great deal of time with them) included Armenian, Slender-billed and Black-headed. Herons included Grey, Night and Purple

while the only egret seen was Little.

Rod found a Paddyfield Warbler which, agonisingly, evaded me for some time before giving brief but clear views and disappearing into the reeds to sing. We drove a little further along the bank stopping for Yellow Wagtail (feldegg) and a couple of distant pratincoles presumed to be Collared. Savi's Warbler reeled evocatively in the reeds while highly cryptic Lesser Short-toed Larks fed in the dry fields and flew up to sing.

Suddenly we saw this startling bird in the reeds.

Reed Bunting ssp caspia (Caspian Reed Bunting). Wow - that bill!

One of the last birds seen before we had to leave was this . . . .
Paddyfield Warbler. A lifer for me and perhaps sweeter because, while I was in the airport waiting for my flight, Darren Burns was ringing one in Sde Boker where I work. So happy to have such great views.

Clouds gathered and large drops of rain put a timely end to birding and any temptation to linger. We had a taxi booked and a long journey ahead of us back to Tbilisi. One last gem though, as we drove back out through the rain, were these Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, arguably the most beautiful of WP species and a fitting end to an incredible two-and-a-half days in Armenia.

With special thanks to Ani Sarkisyan and Artem Muradkhanyan for their  great kindness, hospitality and birding skills. They made our short visit into an exceptional birding trip and one that we  enjoyed tremendously. 

I look forward to returning.

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