First signs of spring migration

Green Sandpiper on the ice

Green Sandpiper on the ice

There is that thing about birdwatching. Even after a trip to Israel the hunger for birding just keeps coming back after a while. So I went out for a short trip to Mogan Gölü.

It is still cold in Ankara. It freezes most nights so only the larger water bodies are ice-free. But despite the cold weather spring is at hand and the first migrants have appeared.

I haven’t seen White Wagtails for a few months but today about 10 of them were present. The first Stonechat of the year was also a nice surprise. The large flocks of larks have been gone but today a flock of about 500 larks were present. Most of them were Skylarks, but there were also a few Calandra Larks in the flock.

Ruddy Shelducks

Ruddy Shelducks

A flock of about 400 Ruddy Shelducks always gives a little warmth of a cold day. A flock of 20 Ruff, 7 Green Sandpipers, 12 Common Snipes and a few hundred Lapwings were also around.

Green Sandpipers

Green Sandpipers

Only 3 Marsh Harriers, 2 Hen Harriers, 1 Common Buzzard and two Long-legged Buzzards were a little disappointing. But in a few months there will be Lesser Kestrels and good numbers of Red-footed Falcons around – so it’s ok.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier

Silas Olofson

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Hatzeva and Lahav

Desert Finch

Desert Finch

After the Hume’s Owl experience we stayed one more night with Oded in Neot HaKikkare. After a good nights sleep we went birding in the Hatzeva area. We checked the Syrian Serins again and this time the birds gave much better views in perfect sunlight. Compared to yesterdays poor views it was almost like getting it as a lifer again.

Syrian Serin

Syrian Serin

Syrian Serins

Syrian Serins

 

Oded has made studies of both Southern Grey Shrike and Arabian Babblers behavior. So some birds around Hatzeva have become rather tame. For instance a Blackstart has been fed with worms every now and then. So Oded gave us some worms and we went to the Blackstart-place. And we soon located the bird – and when it found out that we had worms it went crazy walking less than a meter away from us. Truly stunning!

Blackstart

Blackstart

After finishing birding in Hatzeva we went to the Judean Desert in order to see the Striolated Bunting, but again we didn’t have any luck. The only addition to the trip-list was a Berbery Falcon.

Short-toed Snake-eagles

Short-toed Snake-eagles

Yoav had invited us to dinner before flying back to Turkey very early in the morning. On the way to Yoav we passed Lahav, where Emin saw Long-billed Pipit on our first day of birding. So we checked in once again. The first birds we noted were two Short-toed Snake-Eagles, that were hunting in the hills. After enjoying them for a while I started walking in the are and soon I got confused as I thought I heard the Long-billed Pipits, but their calls were mixed with Crested Larks and Skylarks. I went to check the sound and suddenly I flushed two Crested Larks, one Skylark and two LONG-BILLED PIPITS. Yes, finally I managed to see them. They are not exactly shy birds, so I managed to get a few pictures, even though they’re nothing to brag about.

Long-billed Pipit

Long-billed Pipit

Long-billed Pipit

Long-billed Pipit

 

After Lahav we went to Yoav, where we spent the evening in the company of him, his wife and their two boys. And at 01:00 we headed towards the airport – a very good birding trip to Israel had come to an end. Surely I’ll be back to this wonderful country.

Short-toed Snake-eagle

Short-toed Snake-eagle

At last I really wish to say thanks to Shachar Altenman, Amir ben Dov, Yoav Perlman, Jonathan Meyrav, Hadoram Shirihai, Itai Shanni and Oded Keynan for all their help with planning and carrying thou this trip.

We managed to see 159 different species on the trip (Emin flew a little later so he managed to add a few more species like Olive-backed Pipit and Monk Parakeet in Tev-Aviv). The species can be seen below:

1 Shelduck

2 Mallard

3 Pintail

4 Gadwall

5 Shoveler

6 Teal

7 Common Pochard

8 White-headed Duck

9 Chukar

10 Sand Partridge

11 Black-necked Grebe

12 Little Grebe

13 Yelkovan Shearwater

14 White Pelican

15 Great Cormorant

16 Nightheron

17 Straited Heron

18 Cattle Egret

19 Squacco Heron

20 Little Egret

21 Western Reef Egret

22 Great White Egret

23 Grey Heron

24 White Stork

25 Spoonbill

26 Greater Flamingo

27 Griffon Vulture

28 Osprey

29 Imperial Eagle

30 Great Spotted Eagle

31 Steppe Eagle

32 Short-toed Snake-eagle

33 Black Kite

34 Marsh Harrier

35 Pallid Herrier

36 Hen Harrier

37 Long-legged Buzzard

38 Common Buzzard (+ vulpinus)

39 Sparrowhawk

40 Kestrel

41 Berbery Falcon

42 Moorhen

43 Coot

44 Crane

45 MacQueens Bustard

46 Avocet

47 Black-winged Stilt

48 Stone Curlew

49 Ringed Plover

50 Little Ringed Plover

51 Northern Lapwing

52 Spur-winged Lapwing

53 Dunlins

54 Little Stint

55 Green Sandpiper

56 Common Sandpiper

57 Redshank

58 Greenshank

59 Curlew

60 Common Snipe

61 Arctic Skua

62 Black-headed Gull

63 Slender-billed Gull

64 Mediterrian Gull

64 Yellow-legged Gull

65 Armenian Gull

66 Palla’s Gull

67 Lesser Black-backed Gull (+Heuglini)

68 Little Gull

69 White-eyed Gull

70 Sandwich Tern

71 Black Tern

72 Whiskered Tern

73 Spotted Sandgrouse

74 Crowned Sandgrouse

75 Rock Dove

76 Collared Dove

77 Laughing Dove

78 Great Spotted Cuckoo

79 Pharaoe Eagle-owl

80 Hume’s Owl

81 Little Owl

82 Egyptian Nightjar

83 Nubian Nightjar

84 Common Swift

85 Pallied Swift

86 Alpine Swift

87 Hoopoe

88 Common Kingfisher

89 Pied Kingfisher

90 Little Green Bee-eater

91 Syrian Woodpecker

92 Skylark

93 Crested Lark

94 Short-toed Lark

95 Desert Lark

96 Bar-tailed Lark

97 Temminck’s Lark

98 Rock Martin

99 Barn Swallow

100 House Martin

101 Long-billed Pipit

102 Water Pipit

103 Meadow Pipit

104 Red-throated Pipit

105 White Wagtail

106 Yellow Wagtail

107 Grey Wagtail

108 Robin

109 Bluethroat

110 Redstart

111 Black Redstart

112 Isabelline Wheatear

113 Finche’s Wheatear

114 Mourning Wheatear

115 Hooded Wheatear

116 White-crowned Wheatear

117 Blackstart

118 Desert Wheatear

119 Stonechat

120 Sibirian Stonechat

121 Blackbird

122 Scrub Warbler

123 Graceful Prinia

124 Lesser White-throat

125 Arabian Warbler

126 Sardinian Warbler

127 Cyprus Warbler

128 Speckteled Warbler

129 Asian Desert Warbler

130 Reed Warbler

131 Chiffchaff

132 Great Tit

133 Southern Grey Shrike

134 White-speckled Bulbul

135 Palestine Sunbird

136 Arabian Babbler

137 Jay

138 Jackdove

139 Rook

140 Hooded Crow

141 Brown-necked Raven

142 Fan-tailed Raven

143 House Crow

144 Tristam’s starling

145 Starling

146 House Sparrow

147 Spanish Sparrow

148 Chafffinch

149 Linnet

150 Goldfinch

151 Greenfinch

152 Serin

153 Syrian Serin

154 Sinai Rosefinch

155 Trumpeter Finch

156 Desert Finch

157 Reed Bunting

158 Corn Bunting

159 Striolated Bunting

Hatzeva and the Judean Desert

Scrub Warbler with nesting material

Scrub Warbler with nesting material

Oded Keynan invited us to stay with him and his family after showing us the superb Nubian Nightjars. We accepted the invitation of course. In the evening he gave us a bunch of information about the area we were in. So we got up early and headed out to the field.

Syrian Serin

Syrian Serin

First we stopped at a point, where Oded had seen Syrian Serins the day before. Unfortunately it started to rain, but when the rain stopped Emin located 8 Syrian Serins in a tree. They flew away almost right after discovering them, but we did get some photos just to document them.

White-crowned Wheatears - adult and 1st year bird together.

White-crowned Wheatears – adult and 1st year bird together.

In the same area we also saw Desert Finches, Scrub Warblers and Sardinian Warblers.

Tristams Grackle

Tristams Grackle

Yoav Perlman called in the morning and said that he would join us for some birding in the Judean Desert. Our targets were Tristams Grackle, Fan-tailed Raven, Striolated Bunting and Cyprus Warbler. Tristams Grackle and the Fan-tailed Ravens we found even before we reached the area, but the last two were more difficult. We only heard Striolated Bunting sing for a while above the valley where we were birding, but we couldn’t locate the bird. And a Cyprus Warbler was flushed a few times, but did not give any satisfying views at all.

Rock Hyraxes and a Sand Partridge

Rock Hyraxes and a Sand Partridge

Yoav had to leave in the afternoon, but we continued birding for a while. Good birds included Scrub Warbler, 5 Griffon Vultures, Hen Harrier (weird to see in the desert), 20+ Sinai Rosefinches, Sardinian Warblers, male Hooded Wheatear and Palestine Sunbirds.

Sinai Rosefinch

Sinai Rosefinch

Hooded Wheatear - young male

Hooded Wheatear

Blackstart

Blackstart

We then decided to check another valley around the Dead Sea where we stayed at a public camping ground untill dusk. And suddenly we heard an owl, two owls, three owls – and they were Hume’s Owls! Wow… a dream bird for us!

Hume's Owl - click to enlarge!

Hume’s Owl – click to enlarge!

This time of year might be the best time of year to observe Hume’s Owls as they are very vocal as they protect their territory. Furthermore they are very curious birds. Especially one of the birds came very close to us several times – down to a distance of less than 8 meters. Truly stunning in deed! And we even managed to get photos!

Hume's Owl

Hume’s Owl

Well, night birding has really impressed us here in Israel. First 5 Egyptian Nightjars, then 3-4 Nubian Nightjars and now 3 Hume’s Owls…

Silas Olofson

Eilat – Uvda Valley – Ne’ot Hakikkar

Sinai Rosefinch male

Sinai Rosefinch male

We got up early today as our morning target was Sinai Rosefinch. It can be seen in desert mountains, but there are a few places where it is easier to be found. Itai had told us of such a place just north of Eilat.

Sinai Rosefinch male

Sinai Rosefinch male

And finally there was an easy bird after all the difficult ones. After a short while in a wadi just north of Eilat we found a male and a female that gave very good views for a long period.

But we didn’t use much time with the Sinai Rosefinches as we wanted to go to Uvda Valley to search for larks and other stuff.

Mourning Wheatear

Mourning Wheatear

We came to the area a while later. It is quite a big area, so there are many hiding places  for larks. We walked, checked, looked, searched – but we couldn’t find any of our target larks. But that didn’t mean that there were no birds around. About 50 Trumpeter Finches, several Desert Wheatears, three Isabelline Wheatears and a steady flow of migrating Steppe Eagles made the birding quite good.

Mourning Wheatear

Mourning Wheatear

After a while I came across our first Mourning Wheatear and an hour later we had found three different birds.

Mourning Wheatear and a fly

Mourning Wheatear and a fly

But the highlight in Udva were a flock of about 10 Crowned Sandgrouses, that were not shy at all. As long as we stayed in the car they came within 10 meters distance of it. Quite a way to get a lifer.

Male Crowned Sandgrouse

Male Crowned Sandgrouse

Crowned Sandgrouses

Crowned Sandgrouses

Crowned Sandgrouses

Crowned Sandgrouses

Crowned Sandgrouse

Crowned Sandgrouse

We decided to go north to the Judean Desert. On the way there we stopped at K152, where we saw three more Arabian Warblers and finally we also saw a Scrub Warbler. We then headed to Ne’ot Hakikkar. Oded Keynan – a local birder – had promised us to take us on a “nubian nightjar” trip even though it is the worst time of year to go and look for them. So we didn’t really expect to see them. But we came to the area and five minutes  later we saw our first Nubian Nightjar flying around the car – amazing.

Nubian Nightjar - yellow light from the car

Nubian Nightjar – yellow light from the car

Nubian Nightjar of the subspecies ssp tamaricis is very rare. There are about 20 pairs breeding in Israel and a few more in Jordan and maybe a few other places. But in Jordan their habitat is under severe pressure and it might be a question of time before they’re extinct there. Luckily at least their main breeding area in Israel – Ne’ot Hakikkare – has just been turned into a Nature Reserve. So hopefully they birds will not be extinct.

Nubian Nightjar

Nubian Nightjar

It is alway challenging with night-photos, because the birds/the photos colours are determained by the light in the torches. So just check the difference.

Nubian Nightjar - in blue light. Click to enlarge.

Nubian Nightjar – in blue light. Click to enlarge.

Silas Olofson

 

Eilat – part two

Western Reef Egret - click to enlarge. Seriously you should click!

Western Reef Egret – click to enlarge. Seriously you should click!

I woke up at 5.30 because I wanted to go to check the beach at Eilat before the days birding really started. Straited Heron is a regular visitor to the beaches of Eilat, but so far we didn’t have any luck locating it.

I went to the beach, but I only found a Western Reef Egret and a lot of Red-eyed Gulls. And finally I found a spot where it was possible to get close to them. So I got some nice photos at last.

Red-eyed Gull in winter plumage.

Red-eyed Gull in winter plumage.

After coming back to Arava Hostel were we had stayed (a nice and cheap place in Eilat) we had some breakfast and then we headed to meet with Itai Shanni – leader of Eilat Bird observatory – as he had promised to take us to some places around Eilat.

We met with Itai and got a lot of valuable information. For instance he finally helped us see a Straited Heron at the Dolphin Reef Resort. Otherwise there were not many birds around. Itai has not seen so much rain in Eilat in 15 years and it really has changed the rules of engagement when it comes to the desert species. Now the birds don’t come to drink or stick to a specific green spot, because there are green spots and water all over.

Arabian Warbler

Arabian Warbler

The highligt of the day came in the afternoon where we found two Arabian Warblers in some Acasia-scrub just south of Yotvata. It is really a nice and big sylvia – and a lifter! But it is not an easy bird as it tends to disappear for a long time.

In the evening we had another try at the Egyptian Nightjars and while looking for them a Pharaoe Eagle Owl flew over our head. We didn’t get any photos, but the Egyptian Nightjars were quite cooperative.

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Silas Olofson

Meishar and Yotvata

Spotted Sandgrouse

Spotted Sandgrouse

We woke up very early in order to find larks and other birds at Meishar – a plato i the Negev Desert. The rain had stopped, so desert birding was again possible.

It didn’t take us long to see several flocks of Spotted Sandgrouse. We decided to get better views of these stunning birds. Mostly it is not easy to get close to such birds, but we had a lot of luck today – eventually we got the see them down to a few meters distance.

Spotted Sandgrouse

Spotted Sandgrouse

Spotted Sandgrouse

Spotted Sandgrouse

But the larks were our primary target, but there was not much to see. Maybe it was due to the rain in the past days. But after a while we same some movement in a bush and seconds later we enjoyed supreme views of two Asian Desert Warblers. Without looking specifically for them we saw four different birds during the day.

Asian Desert Warbler

Asian Desert Warbler

Asian Desert Warbler

Asian Desert Warbler

A little later Emin spotted a small bird on the ground. As we got closer no less than 5 Temminck’s Larks were foraging on the ground – finally the first target-lark was found.

Female Temminck's Lark

Female Temminck’s Lark

And the good luck continued as we found first one and then several Bar-tail Larks – our second target-lark. But we really couldn’t find more gold at Meishar.

Bar-tailed Lark

Bar-tailed Lark

So we went south to Yotvata. On our way there we saw a male Hooded Wheatear, but upon arrival we didn’t find neither Oriental Skylark or Hoopoe Lark. But we decided to stay untill after dusk in order to see a Pharaoe Eagle-Owl that is possible in the area.

Wild Donkeys

Wild Donkeys

The Pharaoe Eagle-owl didn’t appear, but after a while Emin located some nightjars. We managed to get good views and eventually we got some bad pictures. Pale underwing, pale appearance – wow, they were Egyptian Nightjars. A lifer for both of us. And a real surprise as they according to local israeli birders are “really rare” before march. A nice surprise no matter what!

Egyptian Nightjar

Egyptian Nightjar

Little Green bee-eater

Little Green bee-eater

Little Green bee-eater

Little Green bee-eater

Little Green bee-eater

Little Green bee-eater

Silas Olofson

Nizzana and Ezuz

MacQueens Bustard displaying - click to enlarge

MacQueens Bustard displaying – click to enlarge

All the rain in the south made us change our plans and go north to Nizzana and Ezuz – an area know for its MacQueens Bustards. Israeli birders have been extremely helpful in the process of planing and helping after arrival. And at Nizzana local birder Shachar Alterman took us out.

MacQueens Bustard in the landscape

MacQueens Bustard in the landscape

Actually he told us to meet at a certain point on the Nizzana – Ezuz road (near a fallen water tower). We arrived a little before him around 6:30 in the morning and 3 minutes later I spotted a MacQueens Bustard dancing east of the road. Shortly after Shachar arrived and we enjoyed prolonged views of the bird while it was dancing. Is was not within photo distance relly, but it was really special to observe the dancing through the scope.

Flying MacQueens Bustard

Flying MacQueens Bustard

While watching the bustard about 150 Spotted Sandgrouses flew over. So after enjoying the bustard for about an hour we went to some sewage ponds, where the sandgrouses use to drink. But as there is fresh water all over due to the recent rain no birds came in. We only saw some Bluethroats (a male gave supreme views), some Chuckars and a Southern Grey Shrike.

Northern Bluethroat

Northern Bluethroat

After that Shachar took us around the area and both Emin and I got Arabian Babbler as a lifer as a family gave really put on a show in a wadi.

Arabian Babbler - ad. and juv.

Arabian Babbler – ad. and juv.

Arabian Babbler

Arabian Babbler

Other good birds include Great Spotted Cuckoo, Little Owl, Speckled Warbler, Palestine Sunbirds, Little Green Bee-eaters and the best Chukars that I have ever seen.

Chukar - note the ear tufts!

Chukar – note the ear tufts!

Chukar

Chukar

All in all a fantastic day – and thanks for helping Shachar!

Little Green Bee-eater - I never get tierd of this one!

Little Green Bee-eater – I never get tired of this one!

Silas Olofson