Monday, September 30, 2013

Israel: Day 21

It was the day of the Lesser Spotted Eagles today, we haven't added up the totals properly yet, but it looks like we had a total of around 25,000 birds through! I was based in Ginegar, on the Eastern edge of our string of watchpoints, and had been frustrated all morning as I received reports of several thousand birds passing over my colleagues. I could see large thermals distantly to my West, but had not a single Eagle in 'my airspace' until 2pm, when the stream suddenly shifted to the East with the wind, and 2000 birds passed over me in the space of 40 minutes. Well worth the wait!
As in previous days, the height of the birds only allowed crowd shots, imagine about 30 of these frames stitched together for an accurate representation

Spot the Steppe Eagle

There he is, if only real life had Crop and Levels functions

Nice juvenile Red-footed Falcon that hung around my watchpoint for an hour or so

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Israel: Day 20

A fairly regulation day today, Levant Sparrowhawks have almost completely finished, with only 14 over my watchpoint today, though ironically I got some of my closest views of this species, with birds coming out of a roost in nearby trees. Still too far for proper photos though, which is a shame as the males in particular are really smart little raptors.

Adult male Levant Sparrowhawk

Juvenile Levant Sparrowhawk
It was a good day for Lesser Spotted Eagles, I haven't seen the combined totals yet but I saw just over 2000, and the other stations recorded similar numbers, still nowhere near the expected peak days though.
Lesser Spotted Eagle
 And finally a few small birds around my watchpoint.
Masked Shrike

Tree Pipit

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Israel: Day 19

I had my weekly day off from the raptor count, so joined local birder Tuvia Kahn for a morning visit to Kfar Baruch Reservoir. The first view of the reservoir after topping the high concrete sides was breathtaking, it just looked tailor made for birds. The water levels were low, leaving just a shallow horseshoe of water, fringed neatly with mud, short grass in the middle, and one corner of reedy/sedgey scrub. The whole basin was full with birds; ducks on the water, waders on the mud, and wagtails on the grass,  and a big group of Pelicans on the far side.

The first few scans revealed a single Greater Flamingo, 5 Marbled Ducks and 2 Ferrguinous Ducks, along with Red-throated Pipit, Marsh Sandpiper, Avocets, Spoonbills and Smyrna Kingfisher, with big numbers of Little Stints.

White Pelicans surrounded by ducks and waders
More Pelicans incoming
Closer checking of the mud and grassy areas revealed a 1st winter male Desert Wheatear, a good bird around here apparently. After a bit of leopard crawling I managed some lovely close views, this species always seems to be rather approachable.

Desert Whetear
And while watching that, another good scarcity, a White-tailed Plover suddenly appeared from nowhere on a small isolated pool, possibly having been pushed from cover by a group of goats that were working their way through the rushes.

White- tailed Plover
Overall, an excellent bit of birding, good numbers of birds, plus a few semi-rares, and a nice change from the usual hours of skygazing.
A nice close juvenile Honey Buzzard from a few days ago, to make up
for a lack of raptor action in this post.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Israel: Day 17

WOW!! Another storming day, this time with Levant Sparrowhawks being the stars. We had been getting steady counts over the last week, but not the big numbers usually recorded. They had obviously all been hanging back as a big surge today saw 3,276 over my watchpoint at Alonim. The counts from around the stations today haven't been totted up, but it should come to over 7,000 I reckon, pretty impressive considering the world population is thought to be about 30,000 pairs.
Same old story applies, too high for close-up pics, but a phenomenal sight nonetheless. Levants migrate in pretty crazy way, they form up in flocks and circle round and round, like the flakes in those little snow-shaker in a jar things, before gliding for a few kms, and then circling again. At one point I had a flock of 1,600 spinning away overhead, really quite dizzying.

clouds of Levants

Levant Sparrowhawks and Lesser Spotted Eagles
 It was a reasonable day for Lesser Spotted Eagles, I had 870, some coming lower than I've had before, and also 4 Steppe Eagles.
Lesser Spotted Eagle

Lesser Spotted Eagle, with a few White Pelicans in the background

Steppe Eagle

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Israel: Day 15

Today was all about Red-footed Falcons. Yesterday gave a hint of things to come when I had 14 at my station, a respectable count here, and 3 perched in a tree when I arrived at my station this morning was a nice start. Over the next few hours I clocked 230 heading high South, mostly in groups of 4-6, but with one magic flock of 47. I was over the moon with this, Red-foots are a bird i've really not seen much of since my first at Pig Nose Valley, Prawle in 199(6?), so it was great to study them properly finally, but I couldn't help but feel a little deflated when I heard that the station at Afula had had a flock of 3000, a truly astonishing count. Inbetween the RFF's, I had my best Lesser Spotted Eagle day of the count, with 820, most of them in a 15 minute period(!), but Honey Buzzards and Levants were down big time. Bee-eaters were passing in numbers all day, and hawking close around me at one point.

Lesser Grey Shrike

A monumental cloudburst in the early afternoon caused a brief break from counting, and had the effect of forcing down some of the passing raptors, including the Red-foots, giving some much closer views.

2 cy Red-footed Falcon, awesome mix of juvenile and adult feathers in the wing.

Adult male Red-footed Falcon
On return to the Kibbutz, we were amazed to see around 100 Red-foots swooping low over our apartment, clearly looking for somewhere to roost. It was really dark by then, so my photos are all pants, but it was a phenomenal sight.

Adult female Red-footed Falcon

Roosting Red-footed Falcons

As we were watching the Red-foots, a Levant Sparrowhawk flew in to a nearby tree for a few minutes, again, far too dark for nice photos, but a great chance to study up-close a bird that we normally see c1km up.
Juvenile Levant Sparrowhawk

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Israel: Day 13

As expected, the last few days have seen a significant increase in the number of Levant Sparrowhawks (c2500 for me today and yesterday together) and a noticeable drop in the number of Honey Buzzards. The birds continue to fly mostly too high to photograph, so you'll have to take my word for it that the sight of a flock of 500 Levants thermalling up and away is truly spectacular.

Black Kite low over the olive groves, shortly before dropping
down to feast on a turd (not mine)
Dark morph Marsh Harrier, poor distant shot, but you don't see many of these

Red-footed Falcon, nice and low for a change

Friday, September 20, 2013

Israel: Day 11

Apologies for a few days with no updates, the wi-fi has been a bit temperamental...
The count has been a little slow, with the main Honey Buzzard passage all but over, and the Levants and Lesser Spotted Eagles still warming up. White Pelicans have been the stars, with a flock of 3000+ hanging around on the valley, frequently breaking up into smaller groups and bimbling around, giving some nice close views.
Of the raptors there have been, most have all been very high up, not high enough to prevent me picking up a beauty of a pale juvenile Oriental Honey Buzzard yesterday though, nice WP tick!

White Pelican
After the count today, we went for a drive around the Bet She'an valley, which provided some nice photographic opportunities:
Red-backed Shrike

Steppe Buzzard

Isabelline Wheatear

Golden Jackal

Little Bee-eater

Little Owl

Egyptian Mongoose

Monday, September 16, 2013

Israel: Day 8

Today was my best day yet in Israel, with 4 lifers (reflecting my shameful lack of European birding effort lately) and a great variety of species, both passing overhead and grounded migrants. We started of with a look at some ponds, which held a single Marbled Duck (lifer#1) amongst a heap of Little and Black-necked Grebes, and a Savi's Warbler (lifer#2) in a roadside ditch. As we dropped one of the team of at his watchpoint there was an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (lifer#3) hopping around.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

My watch started well with a good stream of Lesser Spotted Eagles for the first hour, but this soon tailed off with the total on 321, the rest of the morning consisted of a steady Honey Buzzard (540) and Levant Sparrowhawk (605) passage. After a 'heads-up' from the Hula Valley, a flock of 600 Great White pelicans appeared over the ridge to the North, appearing to be nothing more than a distant shimmering cloud at first, but eventually coming close enough to admire. One bird (visible in the middle of the photo below was leucistic, raising brief hopes of something rarer) The highlight however was a stunning juvenile Steppe Eagle which passed over low enough for a record shot, and I finished with an adult male Red-footed Falcon high overhead.
Great White Pelicans

Steppe Eagle
After the watch we went for some more birding, this time around some freshly cut cereal fields. As we arrived, a quick scan revealed 3 Roller (lifer#4) sat on the deck, and occasionally flying to reveal their astonishing cobalt blue wings. While watching these, both Pallid and Montagu's Harrier patrolled the fields, sometimes coming really close. As we left, a young Lesser Grey Shrike perched up nicely close to the car.
Montagu's Harrier
Pallid Harrier
Lesser Grey Shrike

EDIT!!! While writing this outside my room, a Scops Owl (lifer#5) started calling in some nearby trees, we all rushed over and managed a brief view of it as it flew to the next clump of trees. What a day!