Friday, 23 February 2018

Israel: 23 - 25.02.2018

Day 18 23.02.2018
Now that we have decided to have three observers stationed in the mountains, the possibilities for days off become more limited. As a result I have to make the most of them when they come around, and today I did just that!
I went early morning with the sanctuary team, who dropped me off at K19 ponds just after first light. My plan was to hike to Amran Pillars to hopefully finally see Sinai Rosefinch, but I had a quick look on the pond first. As soon as I looked over the bank, BOOM! Three Great White Pelicans sat there. They did not sit there for long though, as soon as they saw me they took off and after a couple of flybys headed in Jordan.
Speaking of Jordan, the previous day the Lesser White-fronted Goose that had wintered in Israel yesterday reappeared in Jordan, a first for the country. Since it was less than kilometre from the border, I had hoped it would return to Israel. Scanning the water produced nothing, and as a result the idea passed that I might see it again. However, I was wrong, as the bird appeared from behind me with two Egyptian Geese, flew around the pond a couple of times and then returned from where it came. I can’t say I seriously expected to see it, so I was buzzing when that happened.
Two lifers in, and I hadn’t even begun on the days birding really. I worked the scrub around the pond, all the while making my way towards the Wadi containing Amran Pillars. It was some walk, but considered it to be worth it. As I arrived at the Wadi a car pulled up, containing a young German birder that I had met the previous day. We drove to the site and there, waiting for us, were a flock of 15 Sinai Rosefinch, including at least four males. There were a few photographers in the valley, and they had put down food and water for the birds, drawing them in stupidly close. It also drew in White-crowned Black Wheatear and Scrub Warbler.
After that I took a lift back to K19, and then birded my way back to the bird sanctuary. On the way I had a host of awesome birds; Barbary Falcon, Black-eared Wheatear, Caspian Stonechat, Woodchat Shrike and an awesome flock of 70+ Dead Sea Sparrows, which were something of a surprise.
Once I had returned to the bird sanctuary I then headed to Holland Park to see what new migrants were in. The first bird I saw was an Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, my fourth lifer of the day. It showed substantially better than the Western I had seen in Spain, so I can now finally feel like I’ve properly seen a Bonelli’s Warbler. I also had three Cyprus Warblers and three Quail, plus a host of Sardinian Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats, Sedge Warbler and Chiffchaffs. You can now feel that the birds are coming, and it’s very exciting.
-Great White Pelican
-Lesser White-fronted Goose
-Dorcas Gazelle
-Sinai Rosefinch
-Sinai Rosefinch & Scrub Warbler
-Arabian Babbler
-Dead Sea Sparrow
-Eastern Bonelli's Warbler
-Cape Hare
-Palestine Sunbird

Species List:
K19: Great White Pelican, Shoveler, Teal, Mallard, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Spur-winged Plover, Coot, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, House Sparrow, Egyptian Goose, Garganey, Marsh Harrier, Steppe Buzzard, Ruff, Lesser Whitethroat, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Tawny Pipit, Crested Lark, Chiffchaff, Spanish Sparrow, European Stonechat, Spectacled Bulbul, Laughing Dove, Collard Dove, Isabelline Wheatear, Hoopoe, Bluethroat, House Crow, Brown-necked Raven, Sardinian Warbler, White Wagtail, Trumpeter Finch, Barbary Falcon, Little Green Bee-eater, Arabian Babbler, Scrub Warbler, Graceful Prinia, Pintail, Wigeon, Dead Sea Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Marsh Sandpiper, Woodchat Shrike, Common Whitethroat, Caspian Stonechat, Black-eared Wheatear,
Amran Pillars: Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Spectacled Bulbul, Sardinian Warbler, Hooded Wheatear, Desert Lark, Sinai Rosefinch, Scrub Warbler, Blackstart, Crested Lark, Brown-necked Raven,
Holland Park: Chiffchaff, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, Tristrams Starling, Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Arabian Babbler, Common Whitethroat, Sardinian Warbler, Cyprus Warbler, Quail, Hoopoe, Black Redstart, Sand Partridge, Crested Lark, Feral Pigeon, Collard Dove, Laughing Dove, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Little Green Bee-eater, Spectacled Bulbul, Graceful Prinia, Palestine Sunbird, Common Kestrel, 

Day 19 24.02.2018
After my day off, today I was back in Low Mountain. It had rained heavily overnight, and as a result there was debris across many of the roads, and the wadi at High Mountain had a stream running through it. As has been the case for the last few days, there was a shortage of raptor movement; less than 20 Steppe Eagles, four Steppe Buzzards, Marsh Harrier and Barbary Falcon, but there were a few nice passerines around. Without doubt the peak of these was a superb male Rüppell's Warbler that had lingered after being found yesterday evening. It showed very well, and as there were not many raptors I was able to spend some time watching and photographing it, and it obliged with its performance. Because it was so slow, we left early to go and collect Gaidis from High Mountain. No sooner had we arrived than a sudden burst of 300 Steppe Eagles and 20 Black Storks moved through, so we did get to enjoy some good raptor passage in the end!
-Rüppell's Warbler

Species List:
Low Mountain: Rüppell's Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackstart, Hooded Wheatear, House Crow, Trumpeter Finch, Barn Swallow, Collard Dove, Feral Pigeon, House Sparrow, Pallid Swift, House Martin, Chiffchaff, Spectacled Bulbul, Steppe Eagle, Black Stork, Red-rumped Swallow, Desert Lark, Steppe Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Barbary Falcon, Sand Partridge, Sparrowhawk, Rock Martin, Common Kestrel,

Day 20 25.02.2018
Low mountain was once again my destination for the day, as a result of how the shifts had worked out with the over volunteers. The day was generally very slow but between 15:00 - 16:00 there was a good passage of around 150 Steppe Eagles, as well as 10 Steppe Buzzards, 5 Marsh Harrier plus a single Short-toed Eagle and Hen Harrier. The Hen Harrier took on one of the Steppe Eagles on its passage through, creating quite the avian duel. There was not very much happening on the passerine front, two Striolated Buntings that flew past were about the best we managed.
A Long-toed Stint was found at the bird sanctuary during the afternoon but our attempted twitch when we left the mountain resulted in disappointment. We saw some nice bits though, including my first Kentish Plovers of the trip, and two Caspian Terns perched in the centre of the lake.
-Steppe Eagle
-Steppe Buzzard
-Hen Harrier vs Steppe Eagle

Species List:
Low Mountain: Steppe Buzzard, Steppe Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, Common Kestrel, House Crow, Striolated Bunting, Trumpeter Finch, Little Green Bee-eater, Spectacled Bulbul, Blackstart, Common Swift, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Pallid Swift,
Eilat Bird Sanctuary: Greater Flamingo, Grey Heron, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Redshank, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Temmincks Stint, Dunlin, Black-winged Stilt, Shelduck, Caspian Tern, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, 

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Israel: 20 - 22.02.2018

Day 15 20.02.2018
After a few days in the mountains I was able to have another day off. My initial plan was to go out birding somewhere, but decided to eventually go to the Bird Park in Eilat and do some ringing. We caught a few nice birds during the morning; Spanish Sparrow, Lesser Whitethroat and a lifer for me; Savi’s Warbler, of which we caught two. Once we closed the nets we spent the afternoon birding around the bird park, where we saw quite a few bits and pieces, including another lifer; Little Crake. One had been seen in the park the previous day, so I returned to the spot where it had been seen, along with the finder of the bird. We only had to wait a short while before we saw the bird moving through the reeds. We got exceptional views, but it was never out in the open, so no photos to reflect how good the encounter was.
-Savi's Warbler
-Eastern Imperial Eagle
-Marsh Sandpiper 
-Spur-winged Plover
-Greater Flamingo
-Little Green Bee-eater

Species List:
IBRCE Bird Park: Northern Lapwing, Purple Heron, Savi’s Warbler, Palestine Sunbird, Ring-necked Parakeet, Sardinian Warbler, Spur-winged Plover, Great Cormorant, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Spanish Sparrow, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Spectacled Bulbul, Bluethroat, Black-winged Stilt, Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Greater Flamingo, Black Kite, Common Swift, Barn Swallow, Marsh Harrier, Tristrams Starling, Collard Dove, Laughing Dove, White Wagtail, House Martin, Sand Martin, Rock Martin, Temminck’s Stint, Little Crake, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Sparrowhawk, House Crow,

Day 16 21.02.2018
Once again I found myself at High Mountain, where I expected a fairly quiet day. However, for about an hour I was treated to the most exceptional show of Steppe Eagles I could ever have imagined, with nearly 300 birds flying directly overhead, all so low I could take frame filling pictures. It more than made up for the lack of eagles during the rest of time up there. But before we even got there we had to stop off at the park, and as chance would have it Anton had just caught a European Scops Owl, so we got to see that stunning beast in the hand.
-European Scops Owl
-Steppe Eagle

Species List:
High Mountain: Steppe Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Brown-necked Raven, Desert Lark, Hooded Wheatear, Tristrams Starling, Striolated Bunting, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Sand Partridge, Sardinian Warbler, Rock Martin, 

Day 17 22.02.2018
After large numbers yesterday, and now finding myself back at Low Mountain, I was optimistic of having another good day of passage. Sadly the 65 Eagles we had were nothing on what the previous day had been. Ten Steppe Buzzards thrown in were a nice addition to our count, but that was all for birds moving overhead. As for birds on around the watchpoint, we were treated to a good performance from the Striolated Bunting, although always distant.
Once we had wrapped up in the mountains, which took a little longer than usual on account of the rental car being crashed, we headed down to go snorkelling again. As before, the Blue Ribbontail Ray was still present, and there were awesome views of Lionfish, Angelfish and the usual host of amazing species. I also found some Christmas-tree Worms, which are amazing creatures, and something I had no idea I would see. Ana, another of the raptor volunteers gave me her GoPro to take out, so I was able to grab some video, hopefully I’ll be able to get more the next time we go out.
-Striolated Bunting
-Desert Agama

Species List:
Low Mountain: Steppe Buzzard, Steppe Eagle, Feral Pigeon, Desert Lark, Lesser Whitethroat, Spectacled Bulbul, Striolated Bunting, Collard Dove, House Crow, Common Swift, Desert Agama, Painted Lady,

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Israel: 17 - 19.02.2018

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

Day 14 19.02.2018
It was decided, for whatever reason, that we should have two counters based in the mountains. As a result I was positioned at Low Mountain where I got to enjoy a very slow passage of just eight Steppe Eagles. It was not all tedious though, as we also had passing visits from a Striolated Bunting and the Hooded Wheatear showed extraordinarily well, possibly even better than it ever has before.
-Hooded Wheatear
-Striolated Bunting
-Sand Partridge

Species List:

Low Mountain: Steppe Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Hooded Wheatear, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Striolated Bunting, Barn Swallow, Rock Martin, Pallid Swift, Sand Partridge, Spectacled Bulbul, Feral Pigeon, Laughing Dove,