Sunday, April 28

Up and down and again...

This Spring is surely the one to be reminded as one of the least stable migration we had for years down in the Arava. While some morning start in full swing and there seems to be birds on every bush in the Arava and the sky are filled with migrating raptors, we have many mornings which seems to to be in an urgent need of a good kick-start!
Nevertheless we still enjoy a great variety of species that are coming through and like a ride on a roller-coaster some times we're up and sometime down...

At the beginning of this week we got a report through Jan, that one of our  Lesser Whitethroats was controlled in Belgium! a short communication revealed that this bird has been trapped by our dreamteam 42 days earlier in Eilat and has covered the distance of at least 3577 Km during this period.
We also had an important visit by the Tourism Corporation Office staff of Eilat and they have enjoyed a great demonstration of the IBRCE ringing station with many species, great food from Tzadok and a good speech from Jan who has left us the next morning and we would like to thank him again.

But this is blog is about birds!

Over the last few days we've been re-trapping the nice 2CY Irania that was trapped also last week and every time it is a great addition of colours 

and there were many more Barred Warblers among the big wave of Blackcaps and Thrush Nightingales

Honey Buzzards have shown a huge influx and many thousands are passing daily over the mountains and the station. During this time of year we usually get many birds to treat and release just like this female which still retained one inner secondary of a juv' bird on both sides and thus is proposed to be a 3 CY bird.
 A morning at the Gulf together with Avi Meir and Itsik Cohen produced no less than 11 Arctic, 3 Long-tailed and 1 Pomarine Skuas as well as 1 Sooty Shearwater, 4 Whimbrells many Little & Common Terns  a single Black Tern, White-cheeked Tern few Gull-billed and Sandwich Terns and long staying Baltic Gulls.

Below is a  another summery of the last period by Shachar (our Kiwi representative)...

"The Acacias of the Arava are bulging with fruit under the greenist caonopy seen here for many years. The ground ripples with insects and the air buzzes with dragonflies, flies and swarms of bird delicacies. The sea is overflowing with fish and the weather has been mild, beautiful.... in short a paradise for all birds. So where are they??? We stare down the gulf wondering if maybe they are waiting down there somewhere. Or maybe they have bypassed us? Some have even blamed that trapping in the Sinai Peninsula now that law and order has completely broken down there. But nothing deter our fearless ringers Jan and Markus as they coped with the onslaught of Blackcaps at the start of the week. 

The Levant Spaarowhawks have also not disappointed with 2-3 diving into the nets each morning. And this is the catch, some days big waves of birds come through with some species reaching their normal spring levels while others are just missing. Where are the Red-backed Shrikes which were so abundant in spring? On the other hand the Masked Shrikes are coming through as usual. Where are the Cuckoos? Willow Warblers? Spotted Flycatchers?
When the ponds and bushes are empty I go down to the North Beach where the Terns are sure to please. I can watch their poise,grace and skill all day. One evening I was treated to a rare sight of thousands of Common Terns in a feeding frenzy. They abandoned their normal calm composed tactics for high speed clashes, stealing and squabbling over every catch. On that evening the Little Terns, Sandwich Terns and lone White-cheeked Tern kept their distance from the crazy mob.

At Km 20 the number of waders has dwindled with Little Stints, Wood Sandpipers,Collared Pratincoles and Greenshanks making up the bulk of the birds there. But with a careful look I found some Temmincks Stints, a group of 5 Broad-billed Sandpipers, the first Curlew Sandpipers and 3 White-winged terns.

Friday morning at the station, Itai arrived with a local group of fledgling birders, a big and very welcome step on the road to building a local community that will support the station and conservation of birds in this important but sadly neglected area. Despite a slow morning they were fortunate to see in the hand both male and female Levant Sparrowhawks, a rare Red-backed Shrike and the White-throated Robin that was first caught earlier in the week.

On Saturday morning Marcus noticed a Eurasian Nightjar lurking near the nets as he opened them. He smartly put the Nightjar call on the speaker and minutes later the bird was in the net, a first for this season...

Later, another first for the season arrived in the form of a female Golden Oriole much to everybody's pleasure. The strange morning ended with less than 60 birds, half of them retraps but 18 different species including 2 Garden Warblers, a late Whitethroat, Great Reed Warbler and a young Pied Flycatcher

Can't wait to see what turns up tomorrow!"

Monday, April 22

Here it comes again

Late April is usually a very good season with a huge influx of migrants.

This year is no different and despite the very strange season we had (with relate to numbers), yesterday on my way to the ringing station I could count some 3000 Levant's Sparrowhawks on the ground, on the trees and in the air. I really wanted to stop and have a proper count as it seemed like a good morning, but a short call from the ringing station suggested otherwise (surely there were much more, but I was counting while driving...)
 At the ringing station we had the best morning so far for this spring (which is low comparing to the average springs) with a total of 440 new birds mainly comprised of Blackcaps, Eastern Olivacous, Thrush Nightingale, Lesser Whitethroats & Reed Warblers. But surely the most interesting species were Barred Warbler and a very late Kingfisher. The dreamteam was happy to get a beautiful life bird to both an Olive-tree Warbler which was trapped one day earlier though...

Later during noon time many raptors were seen over K20 including:
Booted Eagles, Steppe Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and the first Honey Buzzards.
Last week, Mr Klus Bjerre from Denmark photographed the first Oriental Honey Buzzard for the season over the mountains.

Let the Spring continue...

Monday, April 15

A crazy morning at the IBRCE ringing station

Spring is always hectic around Eilat and there is much to do at all times but yesterday i've managed to allocate the whole morning, to be with the Dream Team at the ringing station. Unfortunately to me, I decided that I won't need the camera today which has proven to be a very bad decision when a beautiful male White-throated Robin came out of a bag.
Below is a summery of yesterday morning by Jan Visser...  

"Today is an important day for Israel and its people (It is Israel's Memorial day which is followed by its Independence day).

The dream team has fallen apart and only Markus and I are left in addition to Itai and Tsadok of course. Moreover we are still being supported by Utte, Sylvia and Noa who is training to be a ringer some day. She is a good observer and quick as a lightning with her camera. Yesterday, in a nanosecond, she photographed an unidentified bird and only today it became clear that it was a Siskin, a species rarely seen in Eilat.

The morning started like any other day, the first two rounds with birds such as Blackcap, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat interspersed by a Thrush Nightingale. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the first Levant Sparrowhawk was caught in a mistnet; a young male! The day before, was the first observed (and there should be many more to come, now that it started) but it's really something else to have it in the hand! A beautiful new hand species for both Markus and I!
Sylvia surprised us all bringing a bag to the station, that should include "a beautiful bird"... When taking the bird out, Markus was totally amazed when he realized to be handling a stunning 2CY male White- throated Robin! A species that is not caught every year at the station and is still considered a rarity also in Israel. Once again, for us (the volunteers) a new 'lifer' and a new species in the hand. A beautiful bird, absolute special!
Today there was also an unrelenting stream of raptors above the ringing station including many Steppe Buzzards and Kites, a Long-legged Buzzard, some Booted and Short toad Eagles.

The weather stays unchangeable, a solid North wind plays tricks on us for days and this you can see in the numbers of caught birds.

We hope, of course, on more of these days because this is Eilat after all!
Jan Visser"

At K20 there is a drop in waders numbers but still there seems to be constant movement with the recent arrival of 11 Red-necked Phalaropes, at least 2 Broad-billed Sandpipers and 2 Greater Sand Plovers, Gull-billed Terns...

At north beach there is a growing number of Common Terns and the first White-winged Terns can be seen almost daily. And at the city parks there is more and more movement of B&W Ficedula.

Thursday, April 11

Migration non-stop

The season proceeds and with it there are evident changes both in the field and at the ringing station. Today we said goodbye to Arnold and Luc from Holland who has been with us for 4 & 2 weeks each. The "DreamTeam" is never going to be the same again...
Top: Arnold, Jan, Itai.
Bottom: Luc, Markus, Tzadok

Also there are many new birds which are evident and this time its the turn of the Caspian Plovers to win the best bird of the week prize, after I found 5 on Tue' morning while guiding Dave Richardson (though we are still overwhelmed by the 15 Black Bush Robins which were seen up to now during this season).

Many B&W 'Ficedula' Flycatchers throughout as well as many 'feldegg' Yellow Wagtails, Rt Pipits and the last Citrine Wagtails and Little Bitterns... 
Semi-collared Flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher
'feldegg' Yellow Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail

Red-throated Pipit

Still some Wrynecks, Cretzschmar's & Ortolan Buntings, nice aggregations of Purple Herons, first Temminck's Sandpipers...
Purple Herons

Cretzschmar's Bunting

Temminck's Stint

reports from Neot Smadar of Baillon's & Little Crakes. Pied & Hooded Wheatears at K76 and today I found a Cyprus Pied Wheatear at the entrance to the Eilot North Palm grove.

Hopefully we will soon start getting the Levant's and other good late migrants.
stay tunes for more updates,

And here are some notes from Markus at the IBRCE ringing station:

"Last two weeks at the ringing station have been quite varying with a little bit better numbers of ringings compared to earlier. Last saturday we had the best day so far with 398 birds caught. Unsurprisingly 238 of them were Blackcaps. Yesterday was the best Swallow roost catch so far with 167 birds including also one Common Kingfisher retrap from last year. Evening sessions have also produced altogether 17 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. I have to say that these are the most gorgeous birds I've ever seen anywhere. Absolutely epic!

Almost every day have been caught some "season's firsts", most recently a Barred Warbler today. Numbers of Common & Thrush Nightingales have increased and the first Collared Flycatchers have been caught. Wood & Willow Warblers, Rufous Bush Chats, Great Reed Warblers, Ortolan Buntings, Namaqua Dove, Corncrake... 
Barred Warbler
Namaqua Dove
The station has also had its part of the Black Bush Robin invasion with two individuals in the area. Both of them were annoyingly close to get caught...

Rarities have been avoiding the station area lately. Luckily there has still been couple of nice things to be twitched somewhere else like White-cheeked Tern at the North Beach and Turkestan Shrike at Yotvata. Today the Dutch guys saw the 5 Caspian Plovers at Yotvata and last week I managed to see a single Thick-Billed Lark at Uvda Valley, which made me very happy.

For last two weeks our dream team has included three Dutch guys (Arnold, Jan & Luc) besides me. Unfortunately Arnold and Luc have to fly back home tomorrow but Jan will still carry on with me for two more weeks. In Hopefully we can still figure out something good!


Saturday, April 6

Rain of Birds at last...

This spring has been very strange. After such a rainy winter with 4-6 floods in the southern Arava, we all expected that the desert will be filled with migrants.
Then came March and by the end of it we were still looking hard to find birds in the Arava. Nevertheless there were many quality species like Menetrie's Warblers, Black Bush Robins, White-tailed Plovers... the over-whole numbers of migration were lower than the average so far. One reasonable explanation for this is the high frequency of southern winds which were 3-4 times more than the usual Feb-Mar.

Over the last week still there were some quality species around, but surely the most outstanding is a wave of Black Bush Robins with a total of 10-11 so far (including 3 birds found today at Yotveta sewage by Tuvia Kahan and another bird I found with Raz, my 4 years old son, next to the Flamingo view point of K20).
Also, we had one big swarm of Desert Locust which made the farmers in the area very stressed, but it has been a paradise of migrating Steppe Buzzards, Lesser Kestrels and Black KitesOne more species which seemed to enjoy this swarm of flying food, was more surprising, but even the gentle Collared Pratincoles were seen flying up in the air to trap these fatty grasshoppers and enjoy a very juicy nutrition on migration...

At the IBRCE ringing station, the dream team has managed at last to get a proper Spring day with a total of 398 birds ringed this morning comprised mainly by Blackcaps but there are also representatives of other Sylvia warblers including a late Subalpine Warbler and also the first Nightingale and Thrush Nightingales. Out in the field, there are 3 species of Ficedula and many more Yellow Wagtails, Rufous Bush Robins and the first chicks of Kentish Plovers! 

At north beach there are rising numbers of Common Terns and more reports of Arctic & Pomarine Skuas.

Tomorrow we should get another heat wave with southern winds, I just hope that it wont blow all the birds away and that soon after it, we will get another good wave of migrants...

Monday, April 1

Kiwi reports from the Arava...

Over the last few weeks I've been overloaded with guiding, monitoring, managing and in between being a father to my two sons who are enjoying a Passover vacation and a husband to my lovely wife who supports me throughout. This has led to lack of writing time for the blog... Yesterday I received a complaining mail from Shacahr Shalev, a local Eilat birder who was born in  Christchurch New Zealand, eighth child of 13!  He moved to Israel on his own some 20 years ago and became Israeli since. in the last 15 years he resides in Eilat, work in Plastics factory in Grofit. His love for birds has never found its place while here in Eilat, but last year we met and since than, he has joined our team and he is working hard to better his identification and photography skills. Below is the first post by Shachar (with comments and additions from me), hope more will follow soon...

"The weather is warming rapidly while the number of birders is declining rapidly. All agree that it has been hard work finding birds this spring but almost all have been very happy with the wonderful variety of species available in this very special area of the world. Some are already planning their return next spring.
In a trip to the Ovda valley we found the generally barren landscape overgrown with huge thorn bushes and sprawling green areas all due to the winter rains. The local wolves, jackals, foxes, rabbits along with some locusts visiting from Egypt were all enjoying the new-found abundance. Apart from the Quail regularly flying out from under your feet, we still found good numbers of Asian Desert, Spectacled & Scrub Warblers building nests, Tawny Pipits and the usual variety of Wheatears, a treat for any visiting birder.

KM 76 is similarly green and huge flocks of Short-toed Larks were enjoying the conditions along with the Hill Sparrows, Cretzschmar'sOrtolan Buntings (ISH - a single Cinereous Bunting was also present last week at K76) as well as an array of Pipits. Some Harriers and Kestrels were enjoying the flood of locusts which provide a easy and very nutritious meal!  

A variety of warblers, Eastern Orphean, Whitethroats, Ruppell's and ever-present Lesser Whitethroats rounded off the morning (ISH - 2 male Menetrie's Warbler of 2 different subspecies were also present last week at K20 found by Bark Granit et al and the first Rufous Bush Chats are also present). 

Kibbutz Lotan appeared to be bird-free, but we have since received a report of an Olive-tree Warbler inside the Kibbutz. Similarly a Turkestan Shrike has been viewed in the north-east fields of Yotvata. Passing through the salt ponds at KM 20 we saw a family of Red-necked Phalarope cruising and snoozing, but always close together. With them were a group of about 50 Glossy Ibis on an overnight stop, black-tailed Godwits, Greenshanks  with other Sandpipers of all varieties and a constant stream of Steppe Buzzards, Black Kites and Birders watching them carefully (ISH - as well as the first Collared Pratincoles and a 2nd Caspian Plover today). 
The canal between KM 20 and KM 19 is still full of water from the winter rains and has become a favoured spot for birders and birds alike. Here we found the Little Crake, one more White-tailed Plover, Purple Herons and a wide array of warblers including a Great Reed Warbler busy chasing the smaller birds off his territory. The local Black Bush Robin put on a photo session for us sitting on the border fence quietly for all to enjoy. Unfortunately a pair of British photographers came bundling down the track in their car and scared him off. It turned out they had been waiting 4 days to get a picture of the bird! Not a pleasant feeling...

In the Eilat mountains large groups of eager birders have been watching the Steppe Buzzard and various Eagle migration with some days seeing tens of thousands of birds passing over. For birders anywhere in the world this is a must see, so make sure you put us in next years plans!  

Lastly we have the parks in Eilat where we are seeing only small numbers of birds but it is always pleasant and surprising to walk out your front door and meet a Semi-collared Flycatcher (finally some flycatchers have arrived! ISH- another Semi-collared was found in my garden in the house) or a Nightingale!    

The End ( that was Fun!)