Champions of the Flyway!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Israel 2019, day sixteen - Batha Time

Calandra Lark - one of many 
Up into the beautiful, rolling hills north of Jerusalem for another very welcome opportunity to soak up the diversity and beauty of the Batha habitat (as enjoyed on the first day of the trip at Mt Amasa - see here), again tagging along with Yoav while surveying these picturesque, nature-filled slopes.

Scrub Warbler
Lots to enjoy, the stars being Calandra larks singing and displaying all around us, Pale Rock Sparrows, Long-billed Pipits, Scrub Warblers, Mourning Wheatears and stunning flora - not least the rare Judean Iris (see below).

Judean Iris

Mourning Wheatear

Long-billed Pipit
Great Spotted Cuckoo

Israel 2019, day fifteen - Hatzuk Beach and Yoav's patch

Cyprus White-arse
Another pre-dawn excursion, this time north to Tel Aviv and the Hatzuk Beach area, a scrubby, productive wasteland on the Mediterranean coast. A Cyprus Wheatear had been found there the day before, and Yoav promised a decent cast of migrants - and both aspirations were duly met as the sun came up, with a couple of hours great birding and lots of land-bound and overhead action.

Pre-dawn Savi's
Back in Yoav's hometown of Mazkeret Batya, we checked out his local patch on several early mornings - a vegetated stream with decent habitat that begins just a few minutes from the house and leads into more open, agricultural land with adjoining suburban gardens. He's building up quite the patch list here, and one evening excitedly exclaimed that the following morning was when Collared Flycatcher was going to be added to that list, and proceeded to tell me exactly where it would be - and there it was. Nobody likes a smart-arse, Yoav.....

Great Reed Warbler, five minutes from the house...
... as well as Syrian Woodpeckers...

..... and a Collared Flycatcher on demand
Mynas are everywhere in the neighbourhood ....
... as are Red-rumped Swallows

Friday, April 26, 2019

Israel 2019, day fourteen - Jerusalem

One of many Lesser Spotted Eagles we encountered on the way there (bless Yoav for pulling over on the busy highway so we could enjoy the spectacle)
As our time ticked away and with Jerusalem within striking distance, we were very keen to squeeze in a trip, and we stole a day with both Yoav and Adva to do so. With so many friends and associations connected to it - as well as it basically representing a venn diagram of everything I love about cities, conservation and outreach - the Bird Observatory was very much top of the priority list, and what an unsurprisingly and wholly inspiring time we had there.

What a place - a lush oasis smack bang in the middle of the city, bustling with avian and community activity, where flycatchers and warblers rub shoulders with schoolkids and volunteers. The work done here is genuinely inspirational, across cultural, religious and political barriers - a lesson to us all.

In the JBO visitor centre and gift shop
Great to see the wonderful Alen and her team, who showed us around and made us feel as welcome and at ease as she always does. Great also to bump into our Swiss birding friend Sophie, who ended up spending the day with us, as we tackled the markets (one word - falafel) and the sights, the latter including the Western Wall. The latter was especially interesting, not only for its cultural significance, but its abundant birdlife - Tristram's Starlings, Mynas, Swifts, House Sparrows and Laughing Doves all calling it home.

Eastern Orphean - phwoaarh
The pond - where the magic happens
The outdoor ringing lab / classroom - where the magic also happens
Comb-over Jay

birding in the middle of Jerusalem (pic courtesy of Yoav)
Praying for east coast rares (pic courtesy of Yoav)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Israel 2019, day thirteen - Ashdod Dunes

Masked Shrike - one of many in the dunes
Day twelve was our first legitimate rest day of the trip, which we spent relaxing and hanging out with the Perlmans; but Yoav and I were back in the ring and up well before dawn the following morning, and soon on our way north-west to Ashdod beach and dunes.

Mountain Gazelle
I tagged along with Yoav and IPNA Ranger Sivan for a few hours monitoring this potential nature reserve on the Mediterranean coast, sandwiched between Ashdod's industrial wastelands and Tel Aviv's southern suburbs - despite the huge volumes of litter on the beach (apparently mostly from Egypt, Gaza and further west), it was full of birds and indeed potential, especially the scrubby dune system.

Super-chilled, big-eared Red Fox
Warblers, hirundines and other insectivores abounded, and after reducing a little over recent days, Painted Lady migration went through the roof again, with countless waves moving north (and a minute's count back in Yoav's garden totalling 302....). Other highlights included an entertaining paryy of European Bee-eaters, Mountain Gazelles, and a Red Fox - which occupied the only sofa cushion on the beach as if it were placed there specifically for it....

European Bee-eater


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