Saturday, October 27


Sunday 21st was just another morning with 30 Bluethroats, a third of the whole captures... Chiffchaffs and Reed Warblers run after them and other remarkable species were Tree Pipit, Wryneck, Marsh Warblers and another momus Sardinian Warbler. So, the morning went by as usual while some clouds were covering the sky. During that afternoon the wind cursed from South and I thought it might be a nice chance for seabirds in North Beach. Just in the beach the wind grew stronger and White-eyed Gulls moved crazy around the buoys. No signals from the Brown Bobby and not even a single Sand Martin flying southwards over the Red Sea, clues enough for noticing a storm is coming but it´s plain that birds were smarter than I was because I kept standing on the beach with my binoculars, waiting for Noodies… till wind strength was able to take my teeth away just in the time it takes to say humus. I barely reached the Kangoo when the first drop of rain felt down and I arrived at the ringing station in the middle of a tropic rain, thunderbolts and dust, just in time for switch off the computers before the unavoidable electricity breakdown. So, I founded myself in the dark, nude with my drowned clothes off and surrounded in the floor by three Golden Spiny Mice, clever guests of the ringing station as wet and shaking as myself, may be looking for safety getting close to me in the misunderstood believing that I must know what exactly to do in a climate Armageddon like that. I´m no usually ending my days like this.

Monday 22nd started with the unlikely smell of wet land. No idea about the influence of the storm on the migrating birds so we expected whatever. And what we founded was a sort of “step back” in the composition of captures. Now that we were used to ring mostly Bluethroats and Chiffchaffs and once said goodbye to most of the warblers, this day Bluethroats and Chiffchaffs were by far led by Reed, Sedge and Marsh Warblers; Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats; Savi´s and Willows Warblers and even some Barn Swallows felt into the mist nets like they use to do in September. In the afternoon, we were twice lucky for going to dinner to Itai´s home that very evening and, before doing our best in the table (here Manolo would make a difference) the same Pharaoh Eagle Owl just reported in the last update, was perched over the chimney of Itai´s neighbour. Only after eaten an amazing amount of food, we could say the day was over and we could enjoy also the great photos David Schoneveld sent us from Uvda Valley…

Just one day after the storm, Tuesday 23rd, rules were back again. From 93 birds, almost 40 were Bluthroats, followed by Chiffchaffs and then the rest of birds expected like the latest wave of Reed Warblers, Spanish Sparrows, Redstarts, Sardinian Warblers and so. Very nice morning with some clouds as well. At K20 a strange dark Greater Flamingo, which didn't seem to be a young bird but rather an hyper pigmented individual…

Wednesday 24th the morning was little bit cool (I mean just 25º C) and the ringing seemed quite disappointing. With only nine Bluethroaths, Chiffchaffs became the most captured species for first time (and not the last, for sure) and also the diversity of species were lower than usual. Just thinking on closing nets and going to Tzadok´s house for another outrageous dinner (please notice about the South Arava hospitality) I proceeded to take out of the net another excruciating Red-backed Shrike, species that shows a regularity and an abundance all through this Autumn that sometimes I think they must be a sort of mystic punishment on account of my sins; I proceeded, as I told to handle it when, at the first bite, I find out the lower pain level. May be my fingers have become harder, as Michael Angelo´s David? I left apart ridiculous comparisons and focused on the bird. Medium size Shrike, sandy brown upperparts with dark ears, no bars in the crown and rufous rump and tail… We've got it, a first winter Isabeline Shrike making up our boring day - the very first this year 2012 for the IBRCE Ringing Station, just in time for saving the morning.
Sitting in the terrace of the station we saw the morning going by while in the sky, flying from East to West, tens of Steppe Eagles continues its migration with Long-legged Buzzards and Lesser-spotted Eagles.
Thursday 25th Autumn migration stands still providing us up to 60 birds from almost 20 species. Was a very interesting morning with all the species that belong to the end of the season, I mean the Bluethroats, Chiffchaffs, Redstarts, Sardinian Warblers, Spanish Sparrows and, my day´s favourite, the Caspian and the European Stonechats, adult males both of them. But also some other species already out of timing visited our nets like Willow, Garden and Great Reed Warblers, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins all of them agreed for joining us in the same morning.
Friday 26th woke up just like the day before, with the same promising feeling but, you know, feelings don´t rule too much in the field work specially in the ringing. The half number of birds ringed and few than this of species as the day before and, by first sight, nothing had changed from yesterday. Just a flock of eleven Dead Sea Sparrows, males and females, gave a touch of triumph instead the bitter taste produced for the European Nightjar that laughed in my face during the nets opening or the Isabeline Shrike that escaped from trap number 2 across a microscopic hole. Thank you, Dead Sea Sparrows… 

Monday, October 22

Winter Birding, mud, rain and nice surprise down the road

The days are running fast, not only because they are getting shorter, but because birds numbers are in their best average as well. Bluethroats and Chiffchaffs have once and for all flooded the place and our first mint-nets round are providing us with up to forty birds every day. Starting by Wednesday the 17th, we had 22 Bluethroats, which mean more than the half of the morning´s captures in addition to the probably last Thrush Nightingale of the season; Tree PipitsRedstartsSedge Warbler (may be the last, as well…), Kingfisher and the usual staff. And these were the ringed species but, over and through the station but always having fun around our nets and traps, other migrant species were detected like the Spotted Crake that was the whole morning feeding beside the ponds nets (a Little Crake is also present at Yotveta sewage) or the2 Little Gulls that flew barely centimeters up the same nets. Little bit farther, in the salty ponds one, at least, Broad-billed Sandpiper were together the usual flock of waders. 

Thursday 18th was slightly better, with 23 Bluethroats that involved some subspecies like volgae, svecica and cyanecula, identifiable only in adult males.
Willow Warblers still contended against Chiffchaffs in number and around the Ringing Station some Cormorants just arrived. In K19, at the end of the afternoon, Manolo, Yael and I enjoyed the fun that two Bonelli´s Eagles, a young bird and an immature, flashing once and again the regular flocks of White StorksGrey Herons and Great Egrets plus a single Black Stork, seven Flamingos and more than a hundred ducks, Mallards, Pintails, Shovelers, Teals and Wigeons. Also the Purple Swamphen was feeding between the reeds and the Lichtenstein´s Sandgrouses exhibited its punctuality arriving at the half past five tea hour. The day, short as I said, was gone.
Friday 19th was better again than the day before with 28 Bluethroats, little more Chiffchaffs than Willow Warblers and other candies like a young male Namaqua Dove or the first Stonechat ringed this Autumn (Caspian Stonechats are also present in Yotveta and throughout).
Caspian Stonechat
Almost out of time after lunch (Yael´s vegetarian one, omnivorous mine and Manolo´s neverending) we checked North Beach where, of course, the Brown Bobby rested unconcerned about the sea border between Israel and Jordan. Also some White-checked Terns were sitting on the buoys, mixed with Sandwich and Caspian Terns and White-eyed Gulls. It seemed that we were just after opening nets when the sun felt down and another day was gone.
A day like Saturday 20th must be obligatory in any ringing station that works the Autumn. One hundred and thirty one captures in the morning, 61 of them Bluethroats; 30 Chiffchaffs vs. only one Willow Warbler, one Northern Wheatear and two females Dead Sea Sparrows were the highlights of the seventeen species, still with a lot of Reed Warblers, one Savi´s WarblerBlackcapsLesser WhitethroatGarden and Sardinian WarblerWryneckRedstarts and the very first day that we happily don´t catch any Shrike despite their presence. Perhaps the best day of the season (somebody remember the Paddyfield Warbler´s day, September 10th?), only misted up because Manolo´s go back to Spain with his superb Swarowsky telescop… we´ll miss you Manolo. Both of you…
On the 21st in the afternoon the sky were opened and at last we had some rain, flush floods and much mud throughout. Not too many birds were present due to this rain early in the morning of the 22nd at the IBRCE, but a beautiful Pharaoh Eagle Owl was seen and photographed on full daylight coming to drink from the fresh puddles in Beer-Ora (where I live).

Thursday, October 18

Mid October - less birds more species...

Welcome to mid October: These days have seen the unavoidable change of the leader in the autumn migration in Eilat. Last saturday 13th most ringed species were still Reed Warbler, the undisputed main character of the season and only four Bluethroats were ringed that day as well. But the next morning we rose up surrounded by the calls of Bluethroats and at the end of the morning, fourteen individuals carried the TEL AVIV UNIV rings… it was the most captured species of the day with not a single retrap. The date doesn´t fail and most of the Reed and Sedge Warblers must be somewhere through the Sahara by now. Bluethroats, plainly looking for a suitable winter ground in our latitudes. Just paying attention around us we could sense the lack of the noise of the Bee-eaters and the replacement of the calls, from Yellow to White Wagtails and from Tree to  Red-throated Pipits. Only Willow Warblers still wait for its substitution… where the Bloody Hell the Chiffchaffs are?

Monday morning stated tasty by every side. Between the flocks of Caspian Terns, Squacco and Grey Herons that fly every early morning northwards, we saw a Little Gull and a Purple Heron. Of course the Scops Owl occurred punctual in the first trap round but my special own delight was taken out from the Northeast nets by my very friend Tzadok. After a month and a half playing calls beside the nets and inside the traps; running after them between the acacia trees and seriously thinking on some kind of begging ritual dancing around the Mexican Bird-Snake Godness totem, after all those ridiculous exposing of myself, I mean, when Tzadok appeared from NE nets with my first-in-hand European Nightjar, a beautiful and hysterical young bird which hissed me as first reaction to my double-mortal jump. The morning was, apart from that, again led by Bluethroats but, suddenly, an emarginated 6th primary feather stroke all of us… it was the irrefutable diagnostic of the eagerly awaited very first Common Chiffcahff of the Autumn. And not just only one but two of them where ringed that morning after the accurate re-checking of the whole staff. Everybody agreed. We are on our way towards winter (forget the 35ºC…) and the morning was happily done.

Itai´s reports from Sat’ of Uvda plains and the common opinion about nothing too much to do for improving the day at the ringing station moved us during the afternoon up North. Manolo wished to find the Asian Wild Ass, perhaps because a misconceived of that suggestive name and neither Omer and I knew the place so we spent the last hours of the day walking after flocks of Spotted Sandgrouses, Trumpeter Finches and some Dorcas Gazelles but not wild donkeys just only its very generous droppings and prints in the sand. No way to forget the almost adult Imperial Eagle perched in the electric tower near to Samar, in the way to Uvda.
Tuesday 16th was the first day we knew for sure that Chiffchaffs, finally arrived, will not failure us. Actually, when the morning was over, six collybita were ringed and only four trochilus that means a seriously presence. The same we could say about the Bluethroats (sixteen today!) though some Reed and Sedge Warblers, even the (probably) last Marsh Warbler still occurred. Almost seventy birds of twenty species in less than four hours, including a Kingfisher, two Wrynecks, Lesser Whitethroats, Spanish Sparrows, Palestine Sunbird and, no one of us had ever seen this, an albino/leucistic young Masked Shrike… What else???

Sunday, October 14

Nice and easy...

Friday 12th was the first-day-after the last Swallows wave so the number of captures turned back from the hundreds to the forties and Reed and Sedge Warblers and Blackcaps led the morning while the number of Willow Warblers decreased. Quite the opposite with Bluethroats, who are coming for staying the whole winter. 
Savi´s Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats still remain but Eastern Orpheans and Olivaceus Warblers or Common Whitethroats have left the house till next spring migration...
And the Chiffchaffs? Everybody who comes to the IBRCE Ringing Station ask if the Chiffchaffs have come already? as if the migration timing of every single species were our duty... Sadly it´s not, in spite of one´s shortcomings or the unlimited Manolo´s cooking skills, not a single one Chiffchaff yet despite the reports of some friends, like Steven, who swears to have seen some last week in Northern Israel… OK, we´re patient guys so be patient you as well!
Saturday the 13th started promising; A young Cuckoo demanded our attention just at first light. Such a nice bird could be a nice ringing at any Spanish ringing station but here, a dark shadow covered our initial gladness… All Israeli birdwatchers know why, there is another bird, named Oriental Cuckoo that resembles the same. Not just in a cloudy day watching, even in the hand, and even also if you hear it… After a quick reading of the available bibliography and making the whole station untidy, we couldn't find a single feature for suspecting about the mighty Manchurian origin of this single Cuckoo. So we released the bird after the ringing with our best wishes for all the splitters and geneticists who always care for avoiding our boredom… Please, leave the birds and look for a cure for baldness, Manolo will appreciate that!!!
The morning didn't provide us more unusual birds to ring, on the other hand, raptor migration cursed the sky over us again. Big birds this time like some tens of Steppe Eagles, including a brand new plumaged first year individual and also a young Griffon Vulture, scarce visitor in Eilat, that shared the thermal with the eagles in the same flock. 
Also small raptors as the Hobby or Lesser Kestrels were flying to South all noon along. 
We decided that this fluxes may be even stronger in the Eilat Mountains so, after the sine qua nom lunch, Steven, Manolo and I drove till Wadi Eteq where, despite the low number of raptor migration, we were gladly surprised for the variety or Wheatears and migratory passerines we found there. Enough to say we could enjoy five Oenanthe species Black-eared, Desert, White-crowned, Hooded and Eastern Mourning Wheatear plus the Blackstartsall together, just in the same place, local desert species and migrant ones...
And not forget the Desert Larks, Eastern Stonchat, Sand Partridges, Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers, Sooty Falcons or Steppe Eagle. Not bad at all for a day that was already done.


And a short report from myself (Itai) after checking few spots in the desert during Sat’ together with Shachar Shalev:
We started at 06:30 at Uvda Valley where first groups of wintering Larks were present; these included some 50-70 Bar-tailed Larks and 30-40 of each Thick-billed & Temminck’s Larks as well as good numbers of Trumpeter Finches, few Desert Larks and a nice collection of Wheatears (5 species) including this nice male Desert Wheatear. 

At one point a mixed group of species were mobbing a beautiful Saw-scald Viper Echis clolratus.
And an Asian Wild Ass Equus hemionus was another great treat for this morning.

The recent floods have created a lot of water puddles along the wadies so not even a single Sandgrouse was heard throughout the morning. We drove towards Neot Smadar sewage, but could not find any worth noting species so we decided to continue down to Yotveta. A juv’ Hobby (a product of this year breeding season) was hunting in the northern fields (sorry for the quality...),

while the southern circular field was not too busy with only a few tens of Red-throated and Tawny Pipits and a very big wave of White Wagtails at the sewage pond with the few Common Snipes and the first Northern Pintail as well.

Thursday, October 11

Bits, pieces and an Oriental Skylark...

No Asian rarities or strong numbers can be afforded every day. Some days we´re down to 50 or even 40 birds though the variety never goes below the 15 species freezing line. But when the migration doesn't link birds enough for taking our bottoms up from the breakfast (of course, I'm not talking about Manolo), the local species keep our attention on. 
On the 4th the morning began with an unsuccessful chase after one Little Crake which found the track of the IBRCE Ringing Station charming enough for a peaceful walk. 
Tzadok, Yotam and myself defeated the dense bushes and the spiny acacias but the little devil left us mainly breathless, a little desolated and embarrassed. Thankfully, after this episode Yohay brought from the Helgolands trap a mighty male Palestine Sunbird, a tropical gift in the Middle East (such a beauty may become even better when contrasted with my own moustache face…)

About the time the morning was supposed to be done, the ringing station staff left both the pliers and rings and grabbed on their binoculars to observe 4 Eurasian Cranes flying southwards followed by Lesser Spotted, Steppe, Booted and Short-toed Eagles all flying over our heads and creating a nice stream of raptors before lunch.

On Friday (5th October), another step into the Autumn progressed with a Cetti´s Warbler (which is a winter guest in South Arava Valley) among the daily amount of Reed and Marsh Warblers, Eastern Orphean, Savi's Warblers, Winchats, Blackcaps and (no way to forget our very best ringed) Shrikes. A female Spanish Sparrow (in Spain we call them just Sparrows…) is another call “Winter is coming…”  
Manolo and I took a couple of free days out of Eilat area and spent them around the Dead Sea. Some new species waited for us like the Sinai Rosefinches, Dead-sea Sparrows, Fun-tailed Ravens and the Striolated Buntings which are so similar to the Saharan Buntings that we know from Morocco.

Once satisfied the lifers thirst, we proof the famous density of the Dead Sea; If Manolo doesn't drown into its waters, no one could do and I hoped that the super-salty fluid might kill the fungi plague of his feet… no way, perhaps something stronger, like the Zombi Sea… Anyway, after this healthy break, full of new birds, both of us went back to the station anxiously expecting some new wave of migrant’s. We opened the nets as usual and we ringed as usual: Bluethroats, Redstarts and the rest still were passing over the station.

On the 7th a nice surprise was waiting for us some 2-3 km further south, feeding upon the grass of the Eilat´s football field. After an early call from Itai who found the bird, we closed the nets in time and visited the place. At the field we found tens of Yellow Wagtails and Red-throated Pipits, a White Wagtail and the point of the search: one single and beautiful Oriental Skylark. A Smaller and warmer coloured version of the Common Skylarks. We managed to hear the call which is absolutely different from its kin! Just when I was about to get probably the best photos in my whole life, the coach of the Eilat juniors football team has decided that it was the proper time for some short races among the very localised place where the bird was feeding. No doubt, the Oriental Skylark ignored the real purpose of that green paradise... Some complaints slipped out of our mouths, luckily in Spanish, mainly focused on the criteria wills of the coach. From these pages, I am sorry, Mister Trainer and for now we will have to do with Itai's poor photos...
The new week started with no big changes. Almost a daily Scops Owl in the very first round of the morning followed by the already traditional and unsuccessfully trials for catching European Nightjars, performed by myself; some Reed, Sedge and (also one per day) Marsh Warblers; Willow Warblers, Bluethroats, Redstarts, of course Masked and Red-backed Shrikes (bibliography about the timing of its migrations must be wrong or deliberately lies...) and usually another new species according with the season. For example, on Tuesday October 9th, a Sardinian Warbler, subspecies momus, from the Middle East was the highlight of the day. Smaller and paler than nominal ones, this bird was very welcome and quit predicted by Itai and Yotam, the local ringers.

The next morning began with the normal Scops Owl and a bigger number t
han usually occurs during the morning of Sand Martins and Barn Swallows, including also a Bulgarian Barn Swallow. Not more than this is what we need for setting up an evening roost ringing, so that very afternoon, Yotam, Manolo and I got ready for a good time. We hoped, maybe, a hundred or so swallows, that could be good enough but finally 260 birds comprised of Sand Martins, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows broke to the best our predictions. We had also the helpfully attacks of a Barn Owl in the roost during the nesting work which flashed over us so many birds. This high incoming of Swallows and Sand Martins was noticed during the next morning, when those species still felt down into the mist nets without the support of the calls recordings. Almost 90 birds were ringed, not only swallows, also the daily stuff of warblers, one White-throated Kingfisher and a young male Eurasian Sparrowhawk, stuck in the mist nets victim of the greedy produced by the sight of fifteen birds hanging on… 

p.s Avi Meir took some nice photos of Little Gull and Eurasian Curlew today at the salt pond of the IBRCE and there are still big numbers of waders at K20 including this nice Broad-billed Sandpiper.