Saturday, 17 February 2018

Israel: 17 - 18.02.2018

Day 13 17.02.2018
Having miss out on the desert survey yesterday, today it was my turn. The area I was given was the same area we had been last weekend, so I knew what to expect. The species were much the same as before; Temmincks and Desert Larks with Spotted Sandgrouse flying overhead. Mourning, Isabelline and Desert Wheatears completed the common species, whilst two Stone Curlew were a nice additional surprise. However the route took us on the other side of the road where we had not been before, into a sandy wadi. There was not a great deal of birdlife until the end of our route. We had just finished our last count and were preparing to leave when a flock of c.30 birds flew past us. Small, finch like birds with an unfamiliar call, plumages a mixture of green and grey; they could only be Syrian Serins, a species I did not think I would get the chance to see. Fortunately we followed the flock to where they landed and had exceptional views of the flock feeding on the desert vegetation. Apparently it’s the largest flock seen in the region for a few years. A really exciting find.
It was lunchtime when we wrapped up the survey completely. As feedback from areas began to drift in we were optimisitic of something good being found. We were lucky that a new group of Thick-billed Larks was found on our route back, so we decided to call in and have a look. A notoriously tricky species due to their being extremely mobile, I was not over optimistic, and even less so after an hour in the wadi yielded no sign, only a nice flock of Temmincks Larks. However, it was once we had given up and were on our way back to the car that we finally struck gold, when I stumbled across a group of eight birds, including a few males. When I picked them up I was initially overcome with shock, and could only half whistle and stutter to the others that I had them, but it was no problem as they quickly picked up the birds. They showed really quite well, and fairly close! It was an awesome encounter!
In the evening we went snorkelling for the first time in a few days, and to cap off an excellent day I got to see a stingray, more specifically a Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray. It was a beautiful fish, and my first wild cartilaginous fish. What an awesome day!
-Syrian Serin
-Desert Agama
-Temmincks Lark
-Thick-billed Lark

Species List:
Ovda: Feral Pigeon, European Stonechat, Hen Harrier, Spotted Sandgrouse, Stone Curlew, Desert Wheatear, Desert Warbler, Desert Wheatear, Crested Lark, Temmincks Lark, Steppe Eagle, Syrian Serin, Desert Lark, Scrub Warbler, Mourning Wheatear, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Blackstart, Brown-necked Raven, Isabelline Wheatear, Spanish Sparrow, Rock Martin, Southern Grey Shrike, Laughing Dove, Collard Dove, Palestine Sunbird, Hoopoe, Spectacled Bulbul, Chiffchaff, House Sparrow, Graceful Prinia, White Wagtail, Thick-billed Lark, Dorcas Gazelle, Wild Ass, Desert Agama, 

Day 14 18.02.2018
Because of my success yesterday, and the lack of success that the raptor counters suffered with just 10 eagles, I volunteered to take a shift in the mountains. After an extended absence I returned to High Mountain hopeful that the lack of eagles the previous day would not be repeated. It was! I did not see a single eagle, and the only raptors I saw were three Steppe Buzzards.
However, there was some solace in the fact that I got the spent most of my time with the Desert Larks that frequent the site, as well as Hooded Wheatear and on one occasion White-crowned Black Wheatear as well. The highlight though was when a Nubian Ibex came round to investigate my watchpoint. It was fearless and rather inquisitive, allowing me to get some rather nice photos of it.
-White-crowned Black Wheatear
-Nubian Ibex
-Desert Lark

Species List:
High Mountain: Steppe Buzzard, Scrub Warbler, Hooded Wheatear, Brown-necked Raven, Desert Lark, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Common Kestrel, Nubian Ibex

Friday, 16 February 2018

Israel: 14 - 16.02.2018

Day 10 14.02.2018
Once again I had the pleasure of a day off, and I was for than ready for it after yesterday’s disappointment. I decided to travel up to Yotvata, but since I could not drive I would have to take the bus, which turned out to be a very simple task. Anton came with me, so I had an extra pair of eyes for our birding.
We arrived at seven and made our way straight through to the fields to look for Larks and Pipits, whilst targeting Desert Finch. We met Itai, one of the local birders associated with the IBRCE. He gave us some information on where to look for birds, although he did not stop long himself. Despite not stopping long, he did pick up a small flock of Desert Finches, our number one target. The flock included a few nice males, and although they were very flighty we were able to get fairly close.
Next up we headed to the dunes to the NE of the field for Dead Sea Sparrow, where we were told they might be. We found them with relative ease, although they were really not showy. In the scrub there we also found Bluethroat and Wryneck, the latter being the first of the season.
We spent the rest of our time birding the large circular field in the centre of the site. We filtered through the larks; producing Skylark, Crested and our first Greater Short-toed Lark. Next we looked through the pipits; Red-throated, Tawny and Water. The latter of these we found a number of rather bleached birds which gave us a few headaches, but after sending photos to a few birders it’s clear none of them referred to the buff-bellied pipit which was on site. We also flushed two Quail from the field; also the first of the season. All the while overhead was a decent passage of Hirundines and Swifts; including my first Red-rumped Swallow and Alpine Swift of the trip. Raptor wise, I finally saw my first ever male Hen Harrier, unbelievable given how close I live to perfect habitat! We headed back at 13:00, after a very enjoyable days birding.
-Trumpeter Finch
-Desert Finch
-Dead Sea Sparrow
-Tristrams Starling
-Hen Harrier

Species List:
Yotvata: Tristrams Starling, Little Green Bee-eater, Spanish Sparrow, Spur-winged Plover, White Stork, Isabelline Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Water Pipit, Eurasian Skylark, European Stonechat, Red-throated Pipit, Trumpeter Finch, Linnet, Sand Martin, Hen Harrier, Desert Finch, Hoopoe, Black-headed Wagtail, Dead Sea Sparrow, House Martin, Wryneck, Sardinian Warbler, Quail, Greater Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit,  Common Kestrel, Grey-headed Wagtail, Red-rumped Swallow, Alpine Swift, Steppe Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Steppe Buzzard, Palestine Sunbird, Spectacled Bulbul, Collard Dove, House Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Crested Lark, Rock Martin, Common Swift, Laughing Dove, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Feral Pigeon, Graceful Prinia, Pallid Swift, White Wagtail, Brown-necked Raven, House Crow, 

Day 11 15.02.2018
After an excellent day off yesterday, today I was back on raptor counting duty in the mountains. I was positioned at Low Mountain, which turned out to be the spot for the year’s best day of Steppe Eagle movement so far. In total I counted over 1700 Eagles migrating northwards, sometimes in flocks exceeding 100 birds. It was an amazing spectacle, incredible to witness. Among the rafts of Eagles were a few Black Storks, my first of the trip, and in total I probably recorded 30 of these. The Hooded Wheatear and Blackstart continue to show stupidly well, while overhead was a nice passage of House Martins and Swifts. It was a fantastic day, so many birds all the time.
-Sand Partridge
-Hooded Wheatear
-Steppe Eagles

Species List:
Low Mountain: Sand Partridge, Feral Pigeon, Trumpeter Finch, Blackstart, Spectacled Bulbul, Tristrams Starling, Rock Martin, House Sparrow, Hooded Wheatear, Common Swift, House Martin, Steppe Eagle, Common Kestrel, Black Stork, Sparrowhawk, Hen Harrier, 

Day 12 16.02.2018
As a result of the rest of the raptor counting team being called out to be involved in a survey of desert birds, I was once again in charge of Low Mountain. I was naturally a bit disappointed but did not miss much in the desert, and the mountain was once again an excellent place to be. There were not the numbers of birds that there had been the previous day, but the 500 Steppe Eagles I had today were mainly overhead, allowing for much better views. The feather detail and moult pattern was far more visible than in the rising columns of birds I had seen yesterday. Other birds were once again thin on the ground. An Alpine Swift was the only bonus overhead, and the Hooded Wheatear once again showed like a porn star, largely as a result of my spilt lunch!
-Hooded Wheatear
-Steppe Eagle

Species List:
Low Mountain: Feral Pigeon, Blackstart, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Common Swift, Collard Dove, House Martin, House Sparrow, Sardinian Warbler, Steppe Eagle, Rock Martin, Spectacled Bulbul, Steppe Buzzard, Sand Partridge, Hooded Wheatear, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Laughing Dove, 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Israel: 11 - 13.02.2018

Day 7 11.02.2018
Today I was back up at the Low Mountain raptor watchpoint. Sadly it lacked in any raptors, the Steppe Eagle total for the day being a very modest three. However, there were some other good birds around, namely the regular Blackstarts at this site, still showing very well, and a very nice male Hooded Wheatear, which appeared briefly mid-morning. Also a flock of Tristrams starlings was nice, while a flock of Pallid Swifts soared overhead.
In the evening, as per, we went snorkelling. Once again it was beyond amazing, with my first ever Lionfish. SPECTACULAR! An amazing fish to see, among a raft of other amazing species.
-Hooded Wheatear
-Tristrams Starling

Species List:
Low Mountain: Blackstart, Hooded Wheatear, Steppe Eagle, Kestrel, Feral Pigeon, Pallid Swift, Tristrams Starling, Sardinian Warbler, House Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Spectacled Bulbul, 

Day 8 12.02.2018
In order to work out days off for some of the other volunteers, I spent the day working in the bird park rather than in the mountain. It was much slower work, repairing one of the Heligoland traps, but there were many more birds on offer. Huge numbers of Swifts and Swallows over the park lake were a nice site, and at least 50 eagles flew over the reserve. More than the previous day in the mountains! Because I was in the park I was able to observe some of the Israeli ringing style for when I get into the park to ring my own birds. I did ring one bird today; a Spectacled Bulbul, what better bird to start with. It shed absolutely everywhere, but still a nice bird.
The evenings snorkelling produced a cracking Pufferfish, a few really smart Groupers and my first Emperor Angelfish, which is an absolute beast of a fish. A really stunning animal! I also saw my first Greater Sandplover of the trip, which was obviously very nice.
-Spanish Sparrow
-Spectacled Bulbul
-Funky Grasshopper

Species List:
Bird Park: Pallid Swift, Common Swift, Barn Swallow, Rock Martin, House Martin, Ruff, Common Snipe, Marsh Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Greenshank, Common Redshank, Spur-winged Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Greater Flamingo, Steppe Eagle, Steppe Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Spectacled Bulbul, Graceful Prinia, Little Green Bee-eater, Spanish Sparrow, House Sparrow, Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler, Cormorant, Coot, Little Grebe, Marsh Harrier, Laughing Dove, Collard Dove, Feral Pigeon, 

Day 9 13.02.2018
This was only my second visit to High Mountain, so I was hopeful for more opportunities to photograph Wheatears and Larks. Sadly that was not how things transpired, as a strong northerly wind moved in overnight, bringing with it rain and a drastic drop in temperature. Most of my watch was spent huddled up watch the small passage of distant Steppe Eagles. The Larks and Wheatears did drop by occasionally, but I will have to wait a little while before I get the shots I have been after.
-Desert Lark

Species List:
High Mountain: Steppe Eagle, Hooded Wheatear, Desert Lark, Feral Pigeon, Rock Martin,

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Israel: 08 - 10.02.2018

Day 04 08.02.2018
High mountain raptor viewpoint was the last place I still needed to visit of what are going to be my regular haunts over the next couple of months. It was another decent day of raptor passage, with around 30 Steppe Eagles seen, most of which flew straight overhead. There were also some rather tame passerines around, all you had to do was put out a little water and they arrived. First of these was a pair of Desert Larks that visited a few times during the day. Then a young White-crowned Black Wheatear and Isabelline Wheatear, although neither hung around, and then a smart Hooded Wheatear right at the end of my watch. There was also a Nubian Ibex on the hillside when I arrived in the morning, my second mammal of the trip.
Once I had returned from the mountain I went off in search of a Cyprus Warbler in a nearby wadi. It was fairly easy to locate, and showed fairly well, but it did not allow us to get close.
-Scrub Warbler
-Steppe Eagle
-Desert Lark
-Hooded Wheatear
-Cyprus Warbler

Species List:
High Mountain: White-crowned Black Wheatear, Desert Lark, Steppe Eagle, Isabelline Wheatear, Pallid Swift, Scrub Warbler, Feral Pigeon, Brown-necked Raven, Sand Partridge,
Eilat Field Centre: Cyprus Warbler, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Sand Partridge, Spectacled Bulbul, Blackstart, Laughing Dove, Collard Dove, 

Day 5 09.02.2018
I was left at something of a loss for my first day off. With no vehicle I did not really know what to do. In the end I caught the bus into Eilat, and then walked to the bird sanctuary via North Beach. Most of the species I saw were common species but it gave me a chance to take some photos of them, as well as pick up a few ticks for the trip; Marsh Sandpiper, Ringed Plover. A sub-adult Peregrine was nice, harassing Black-winged Stilts on the salt pans.
Once in the bird park I caught up with some of the other volunteers and together we did a survey of the park area. After dipping on the first occasion, it was nice to see the Caspian Stonechat, although it was somewhat distant. The bird was extremely active along the edge of a reedbed, but its frequent hunting meant it showed off its tail quite a bit.
By early afternoon it was far too hot for anything else, so we headed to the beach to cool off. Eilat is well known for its coral reef, and we were not in a coral reef area, but the fish were absolutely amazing. There were Tangs, Surgeonfish and Parrotfish, as well as Groupers, Snappers and an Octopus, the first one I have ever seen. It was absolutely amazing and really looking forward to getting back in the water.
-Laughing Dove
-Crested Lark
-Marsh Sandpiper
-Little Green Bee-eater

Species List:
Eilat & North Beach: Tristrams Starling, Ringed Plover, Pied Kingfisher, Western Reed Egret, Redshank, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Common Sandpiper, Sparrowhawk, Greenshank, House Crow, Spectacled Bulbul, Spur-winged Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Peregrine, Graceful Prinia, House Sparrow, Crested Lark, Laughing Dove, Collard Dove, Feral Pigeon, White-eyed Gull, Little Green Bee-eater, Globe Skimmer, Lesser Emperor,
Bird Park: Marsh Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Temminck’s Stint, Greater Flamingo, Grey Heron, Great White Egret, Citrine Wagtail, Barn Swallow, European Stonechat, Caspian Stonechat, Little Green Bee-eater, House Sparrow, Spectacled Bulbul, Coot, White Wagtail, Cormorant, Redshank, Ruff, Chiffchaff, Palestine Sunbird, Graceful Prinia, Laughing Dove, Collard Dove, Blackstart, Spur-winged Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Black-headed Gull, 

Day 7 10.02.2018
With the number of counters way exceeding the number of raptors, I was blessed with another day off today. It was just as well, as I arranged with the Danish volunteers to go with a local birder to some of the more distant sites away from Eilat, allowing me to connect with a number of the species that would otherwise be tricky.
First call was for a male Red-rumped Wheatear, which we found with ease. The bird showed well but was not overly approachable. A new Wheatear for me, plus it’s always a bonus to see the first as an adult male. Next port of call was an area with potential for desert birds, where we had a few nice trip ticks. We moved on mid-morning to a site for Temmincks Lark, just north of Ovda. In the end we had a flock of over 50 birds. One of the highlights of the trip so far, they were really smart birds. Also in the area were Bar-tailed Larks, and my final Sandgrouse species for a complete Collins page; Spotted. There were large flocks of Spotted Sandgrouse but they were typically difficult to approach, until one flock landed near the road just as we were driving off.
On the way back we called off at the Yotvata farmland, but with it being the middle of the day there was very little in the way of birdlife. A couple of nice Spanish Sparrows and Red-throated Pipit were about the best that we could manage in our whistle-stop tour of the area.
For the remainder of the afternoon I went back to the beach for some more snorkelling. The fish were amazing once again, including my first every Clownfish (Twoband though, not true clownfish), as well as a host of other awesome fish; Triggerfish, Lizardfish, Trevally, Butterflyfish and the real highlight; a Yellowmouth Moray Eel. It’s been quite a day.
-Red-rumped Wheatear 
-Temminck's Lark
-Bar-tailed Lark
-Mourning Wheatear
-Spotted Sandgrouse
-Spanish Sparrow

Species List:
Ovda & Adjacent Areas: Red-rumped Wheatear, Asian Desert Warbler, Desert Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Mourning Wheatear, Tawny Pipit, Crested Lark, Greenfinch, Linnet, Scrub Warbler, Short-toed Eagle, Spotted Sandgrouse, Temminck’s Lark, Desert Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Afghan Babbler, Trumpeter Finch, Brown-necked Raven, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Spectacled Bulbul, Blackstart, Black Redstart, House Martin, Rock Martin, Barn Swallow,
Yotvata: White Stork, Spanish Sparrow, Bluethroat, Red-throated Pipit, Water Pipit, White Wagtail, Barn Swallow, Crested Lark, Common Skylark, European Stonechat,