Champions of the Flyway!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Northern Israel, Winter 2019 - Pipits, Larks & Wagtails

Citrine Wagtail - a fixture of the fishponds at  Kfar Ruppin and elsewhere
A slightly random grouping of species and experiences from the trip, and while arguably not the most aesthetically pleasing, definitely the most educational. Kfar Ruppin - the kibbutz and area incorporating the Jordan Valley Birding Center, the famous fishponds, and the surrounding agricultural and countryside habitats - was particularly productive, with plenty to look at and learn from.

The fishponds (just a few minutes from the JVBC, and absolutely crammed with birds - see next few posts....) were favoured by wagtails and pipits in some numbers, especially the partly drained, muddy areas, which typically attracted many White Wagtails and Water Pipits (the latter above and below); these two species were numerous both here and at various other wetland sites I visited over the trip.

The Water Pipits were fascinating; most were of the classic coutellii type (the middle-eastern subspecies), but the variation in plumage, particularly re: underpart ground colour and streaking and also head pattern, invited plenty of extra scrutinising and made for valuable lessons re: IDing of spinoletta subspecies, as well as Siberian.

White and Citrine Wagtails hanging out with Temminck's Stints and a Wood Sandpiper at Kfar Ruppin
Citrine Wagtails were pleasingly well scattered, again present at various wetlands but most numerous at the Kfar Ruppin fishponds, where up to seven were feeding together on one partly-drained pond. Yellow Wagtails were surpisingly well represented, with double figures on several days at the fishponds and local alfalfa fields combined, and while many at this time of year especially dodged subspecific identification, several males were more obvious - with one in particular inviting more attention:

This male was present for several days, and its features included a fully ashy head, darker ear coverts, clean white throat and a very small white fleck on the rear supercilium on each side of its head; it also gave a classic rasping / buzzy call every time it flushed, which when taken together, were features which fitted Ashy-headed (cinereocapilla). To thicken the plot further, however, the bird also fits 'Egyptian Wagtail' - either another subspecies of Yellow Wagtail, or a distinct / isolated form of cinereocapilla - and does indeed look small (this form being basically identical to cinereocapilla but smaller)... either would be a rare bird in Israel, so it's an interesting one regardless. Comments welcome.

Dream team - Red-throated, Siberian, Meadow and Water Pipits side by side
Sticking with the learning curve theme, there were certain taxa that, given the time and place, I was looking forward to seeing and getting to grips with during the trip - and top of the list were Oriental Skylark and Siberian* Pipit. With the excellent expertise and local knowledge of Tuvia at hand, we checked the alfalfa fields around the kibbutz (again, just a few minutes from the JVBC) and duly found one Siberian Pipit (pictured with a selection of congeners, above and below) and two Oriental Skylarks. Bingo!

Siberian Pipit (on the pipe, second from left)
The pipit was, I'm happy to say, both pretty straightforward from an ID perspective, and a cracking bird. The Skylarks were a little harder work, and with lots of very mobile Eurasian Skylarks (and a flock of ten Calandras in the same area) to check through, it was the call that betrayed their presence on both occasions - a distinctive, electrical buzz that you'd like to think would cause a mental red-alert on an October morning on the east coast...

... from there, the suite of plumage features on the birds in flight and (especially) on the deck were increasingly telling and educational, and two of the target birds for the trip (and their associated lessons) were in the bag.

(Mainly) Calandra and (less) Eurasian Skylarks

*I prefer to use the name Siberian Pipit because a) it sounds better, b) Buff-bellied is a shit name (why not just 'American' and 'Siberian'?) and c) Martin suggested it years back and it reminds me of him.