Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Steam Trains, Standing Stones, Military Bases and more... North York Moors NP surveying, April 2019

A quick one from the last few days, which I've spent up on the more remote areas of the North Yorkshire Moors conducting breeding wader surveys for Wold Ecology. Highlights have included Golden Plovers, Merlins, Curlews, Lapwings and the first few Wheatears up on the tops, as well as various non-avian distractions...

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Israel 2019, day eleven - goodbye Eilat, hello Hameishar

Pallid Swift, IBRCE
A great day's birding, despite the fact we only got the chance to do so for a couple of hours.... first up was the always wonderful IBRCE early on, sadly for the last time this trip - lots of goodbyes, lots of good birds as always, and lots more great memories added to those already made at this jewel of a reserve.

Masked Shrike, IBRCE
But we were on a tight schedule, and so after dropping off our hire car, we crammed into Yoav's, with hitch-hiker Jochan (from Team Helgoland) on board to make the journey north even more intimate and entertaining...

Graceful Prinia, IBRCE

Hameishar Plains 
We hit the road so soon in order to leave a window of birding opportunity for Hameishar Plains on the way up north - and oh my, am I glad we did. An epic, wild semi-desert landscape with what, for the area, are unusually lush, and extensive flora-rich green patches (on account of the exceptional spring rains) which looked very good for an hour or so's wandering.

Temminck's Lark, Hameishar Plains 
So Yoav, Amity, Jochan, Nadav and I (great to squeeze in a bit more time with the mighty Nadav - live long and sprosser, my friend) piled out of the cars and were immediately blitzed with birds - everywhere. On the more open areas, we had a mind-numbing 600+ Greater Short-toed Larks, 220 (!) Pale Rock Sparrows, a single Temminck's Lark, four singing Lesser Short-toed Larks, 20 Crested Larks, 20 Tawny Ppits and a Red-throated Pipit as well as a huge Spiny-tailed Lizard, Mountain Gazelles and 300 White Storks)....

.... while in the vegetation, we were tripping over passerines - two Siberian Stonechats, two Wrynecks, Ruppells, Eastern Orphean and Spectacled Warblers (as well as the expected clouds of Lesser Whitethroats), 15 Ortolans, 80 Spanish Sparrows, Redstart, Nightingale, and Black-eared and Northern Wheatears ....

.... and there was surely more to be found, but time sadly soon ran out. But what an hour's birding - great birds, habitat, company and migration at full tilt.

Tawny Pipit, Hameishar Plains 
Pale Rock Sparrow, Hameishar Plains 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Israel 2019, day nine - fur and spikes

Our early morning pre-conference session on the 30th was headlined by this little beauty - a bandit-masked, super-fast Desert Hedgehog, which we bumped into on the trak on the way to K20, with the sun still tucked behind the Jordanian mountains .....

... while the aforementioned afternoon break in Wadi Shlomo (and its Partridge entertainment) in the Eilat mountains also involved a close encounter with a small roaming group of Nubian Ibex, a rapidly declining and localised species that is seen less and less in these, its traditional and natural environs.

Israel 2019, days nine & ten - Hot Stuff

The 30th and 31st were all about the conference, although a few hit-and-run sessions pre-kick off and during breaks were managed:. an early session at K20 on 30th with Ammie was notable not only for Dorca's Gazelles, Greater Sand Plover, Collared Pratincole and a good selection of birds, but also for a certain spiky bandit at the roadside (see next post). Later in the day, kidnapped by Amir and bundled into his 4x4 for an hour on the increasingly windy afternoon with Yoav and Annie, we crawled up the track through a nearby gorge and bumped into a pair of comedy-gold Sand Partridges in the heat of a whirlwind romance...

They cared not about our presence, being immersed instead in the nuances of sweet, sweet love, manifested in a courtship routine involving the female following the male closely, the male stopping, strutting and singing, the female alluringly giving the green light and blink-and-you'll-miss-it bouts of copulation. Hot stuff.

The follwing day, Ammie, Doug, Annie and I hit the desert road during the early afternoon, heading clockwise through the Eilat mountains and through the plains towards Neot Samadar. After gorging on (organic, free range) goat's milk ice cream and delicious coffee and juice there we checked out Grofit sewage farm - tons of birds (with a fall of warblers clearly having just occurred, including a 20-strong (!) flock of Balkan Warblers), the pick of which was this gingery beauty - a vocal and accommodating Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Israel 2019, day eight - urban education, warbler-style

Hume's innit
The first full day of the International Bird Observatories Conference (#IBOC2019) was packed with talks and sessions, pretty much all of which were unmissable, and so the only birding of the day involved a quick 45 minutes or so break with Yoav to Shakhamon Park, an urban green-ish space in the middle of town.

We were into warblers as soon as we got out of the car, and soon came across the reported Yellow-browed Warbler of the previous day. Yoav immediately called it as a Hume's, despite the previous consensus and the arguably somewhat bright (and heavily worn) spring plumage - vindicated by the call, which the bird delivered many times, making it easy to track through the trees. A very educational bird and a lesson in variability....

The rest of the park was teaming with insectivores - Balkan, Eastern Olivaceous, Eastern Orphean, Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Wrynecks and more - classic urban birding, Eilat-style.

Tree Pipit 
The Sylvias just love the bottlebrush, as this Eastern Orphean demonstrates

Entertaining, tail-dipping Eastern Oliveceous Warblers 

Israel 2019, day seven - Champions ends & IBOC begins (and a little birding inbetween)

With Champions sadly but victoriously in the rear view mirror, it was time to focus on my comms and digital media role for the International Bird Observatories Conference for the next four days. Before then, we'd a few hours before changing hotels, and so we took a drive up into the Eilat mountains -

- a stark, barren, beautiful landscape rising up as soon as you hit the road leading south-west out of town, we took in the views before spending a while at the raptor viewpoint, where we enjoyed a decent trickle of Steppe Buzzard and Steppe Eagle migration, as well as White-crowned Wheatear and Desert Lark hopping around by our feet.

Back into town and over the canal between North Beach and the IBRCE, where an excellent assemblage of waders had gathered, including lots of the commoner sandpipers and a Temminck's Stint - and where, for a dramatic 10 minutes, we were treated to one of those classic out-of-nowhere Eilat raptor pulses - Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed, Booted and three Steppe Eagles, 60 Steppe Buzzards, 20 Black Kites, Lesser Kestrels and a Marsh Harrier.

Sadly time was running out, and I headed back to North Beach to cover the first event of IBOC, a huge beach (and land) clean in collaboration with World Migratory Bird Day, involving various partners and a lot of very enthusiastic schoolkids - who timed their arrival at the sorting point perfectly with the arrival of a Striated Heron, which pitched up on the rocks just metres away and allowed everyone a closer look....

From there to the IBOC hotel at the southern end of town, and a reunion with many good friends from around the world...