Thursday, 27 October 2011

RBF for sure!!

After last weeks Taiga/Rb flycatcher we had a definite Red breasted flycatcher on wednesday morning. the bird had a much lighter bill with the pink underneath covering a much larger area and the rest being more yellowish. the upper tail coverts were clearly lighter than the tail. the tertials showed small white wedges that did not extend into the outer web. the measurements for the two birds were

P2 < wing tip 7.15mm
P2 = P6
P3 and P4 longest
P1 < P2 28.85mm
wing 71mm
tail 55mm
Bill to skull 12 .91mm
bill depth at back of nostrils 3.43mm

RB Flycatcher
P2 < wing tip 5.26mm
P2 = P6
P3 and P4 longest
P1 < P2 28.19mm
wing 68mm
tail 51mm
Bill to skull 12 .56mm
bill depth at back of nostrils 3.19mm

the photographs were taken by chris with his canon but unfortunately did not come out well and do not show the clear differences

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Taiga by the tail?

We had a little bit of excitement here on sunday, when after a good mornings catch, Chris, a ringer over here from the US of A doing a post doc, fetched what i first thought was a 1cy red breasted flycatcher out of the bag. i immediateley told him to hand it over as the senior ringer i was not going to let a ringing tick get away from me. So after ringing i began to examine the bird more thoroughly i first noticed the dark bill then checked the tail coverts which were black, excitement was starting to build now, so i rebagged the bird and took it to my house to take photos and make a few calls as i needed more expert help and was soon joined by Barak, Meidad and Yoav. After many photos and a comparison with a bird from the shetlands i was thinking that it was probably a rbf after all as our bird seemed a little warmer in its plumage than the shetland bird.We were joined by Oz in time to release the bird and play some calls in an attempt to entice some voice from it but it promptly disappeared into the gardens. Later that evening however i received an email from Yoav with some very interesting links (which can be viewed at Yoav blog ). After reading them and looking at the photos here i am a lot more optamistic now. But only time will tell and its in the hands of people with a lot more knowledge about this species than me.

Monday, 3 October 2011

When September ends

with september drawing to an end, the migrants started arriving here in much larger numbers and variety. We had a couple of firsts for the plot, i had ringed yellow wagtails around Beer Sheva, but never here, so was nicely surprised when 4 birds were brought to the ringing table. the other new bird was a ringing tick for me, quickly moving the apprentices out of the way when a scops owl was captured. this was my third tick of the month after ringed plovers and curlew sandpipers we had caught when venturing out to Nizzana. Other good birds for the month were 3 1cy ruppels warblers a couple of savis, a great reed, creztchmars bunting, a couple of wryneck, which are always fun to ring, and 11 black eared wheatears. We had only previously had a couple of these birds and always in the spring so to get so many here was really exciting.
the Orphean warblers seem like they have finally come to an end with a grand total of 90 birds of which only 2 were adults

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Political Conscienceness

Migrants are in the air

Well back to the ringing numbers havent been great the last week but there are signs it is starting to take off here with the number of species present begining to rise rapidly. We have caught the first  blackcaps, savi's, masked shrike, both nightingales, and a first ever for the station a Cettis warbler. Also what i believe is a juvenile Pied flycatcher. I have not got a lot of experience with this bird ( insert nought there, so would be grateful for any comments).

Balkan warbler aka eastern bonellis warbler

Various poses of a Pied flycatcher?

Savi's  warbler

Friday, 26 August 2011

Sooty Falcon Survey- Part One

In the last couple of months Darren has been updating the blog with summer birding manly during ringing operations here in Sde Boker. While He was jollying here I was busy running Birding Camps for children and preparing for some of the future activities. Trying to set up a Birding Center can be a little demanding and can mean not as much time as one wishes in the field.
Lucky for me, one of the tasks we set for this year was to study the current distribution of the Sooty Falcon, Falco concolor, one of the Negev specialties. So that means back to the field!
In order to do that, we decided to look back at previous breeding surveys. With the help of the IOC (Israel Ornithological Center) and NPA (Nature and Parks Authorities) we got hold of history breeding data and soon realized that information was pretty much undecided. Until the late 70's the Sooty Falcon was treated as a rare breeder in The Judean Desert and Eilat. A first survey showed that the species is more common than thought and a raptor survey conducted in 1980-84 suggested a population size of 70-100 pairs all over the deserts of Israel . But indication were made that lots of potential sites haven't been checked. Since then local counts have been conducted but no general population estimations have been done. The Sooty Falcon arrives back from his wintering grounds in Madagascar and southern Africa in April-May. It raises the chicks in autumn, timing it exactly to the peak of the bird migration (August-October). A study on some of the pairs breeding near Sde Boker showed that 95% of its diet is based on migratory birds. By late October all the birds have gone their way back to Africa.
We divided the Negev to different geographic areas and marked all the historical known nests in each and every one of them. Looking at the nests distribution we decided to focus on two areas which consisted most of the breeding sites even though some of them haven't been studied therally; the Cliffs of Zin River and the area east of Ramon Crater. These areas are vast, containing huge cliffs, all potential breeding sites for the Sooty Falcon. The way to do it, we learned, was to spend as much time as possible in the area, no short- cuts! After two weeks of working the Zin Cliffs, covering most of the cliffs we found four definite breeding sites and three potential ones. We've decided to return to this area later when the chicks will be older and noisier, hence easier to spot.
Encouraged by these results we set for our very big challenge; East of the Ramon Area. While the Zin Cliffs are pretty easy to reach by a normal private car, the Ramon-East area is very remote and can be reached only by 4X4b vehicles. If we want to find the birds we need to spend time there, mainly mornings and evening which means camping for at least two nights… Life is hard.

So off we went! Barak and I were joined by Tomer from Hazeva Field School and Yael. Scanning in the evenings and hiking during the days, especially mornings (day temperatures exceed the 40c°), we found at least 3 pairs with a potential fourth. On the second day during our lunch break a pair of Sooties was air-displaying along with an immature bird (probably 2nd yr) above our heads, so close we could actually hear the wwwooosshhh as they cut through the hot air. After that they sat 20m above our heads and cleaned themselves, beautiful!! We couldn't help but wonder if this second year bird has migrated all the way from southern Africa or stayed here after fledging last year, interesting.
Camping in this stunning part of the country was absolutely a pleasure. Barak learned the secrets of the pojke and we all learned a thing or two about the gorgeous Sooties and how to find them. Apart from them we had a nice wildlife list; Sinai Agama Agama sinaita, Ibex, Hyrax, Golden Spiny Mouse, Brown Hare, Sinai Rosefinch, two pairs of Egyptian Vultures and about 300 White Storks.
This survey is still ongoing and we have plenty of work ahead of us. I'll keep updating about our progress here in our blog .
I want to thank NPA's Ben and Yoram for logistic support.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Orpheans in the Undergrowth

the last week i have moved by to the pistachio plot, where i have ringed approximately 60 birds, half of these have been Eastern Orphean warblers, of which all but one have been youngsters.the youngsters leave the breeding grounds before the adults who hang around to do a bit of moulting, see the sites, relax on the Med islands etc. The adult i caught showed typical suspended moult of the 3rd and 4th secondaries.

Juv Orphean warbler with dark brown eye

Juv wing with moulted inner greater coverts

Adult bird with light eye

Adult wing with 3rd and 4th secondary unmoulted
Other highlights this week have included a Great grey shrike and a Hoopoe.


Great grey shrike

Monday, 8 August 2011

Mt Hermon

i was recently lucky enough to join some of Israel's top ringers and a thoroughly nice bunch of chaps and lassies they are too. i managed a couple of ringing ticks, (rock bunting, and rock sparrow) and got to ring a number of other species that are not so common down here in the desert. here's a few images from a great weekend.

Rock sparrow

Rock nuthatch

Rock bunting

Rock tits!! (great and sombre)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Turkish Delight

in May i trapped my first ever foreign ringed bird. a garden warbler JA98286 which was first caught on the 23 august 2010 at the Kızılırmak Cernek Ringing Station, Kızılırmak Delta, Samsun Turkey. A distance of  1195 km, although we know it had travelled much further as  i caught it on its way back to europe after wintering in southern africa. This was also the first ever garden warbler control for Israel.
I also recently had my first ever control of one of my ringed birds. a 2cy reed warbler was caught in lake Yerocham the grand total of 22km away, where it most likely went to breed and maybe originated from there. the lake is directly east of my site, so how did this bird know how to get there! migration is a fascinating subject and one we know so little about.

ibex problem!!!

What's the most unusual thing you have had in your nets? i've had numerous bats, a gerbil, a kid on a pushbike and during the ringing demo's this month ibex, fortunately i have not had to extract them as when one of these beasts hits the net, it makes a big hole! i cannot say i have enjoyed the past months ringing as i'm on edge constantly checking where the ibex are, but most the youngsters that have attended the sessions seemed to have gone away happy even if they did have to get out of their beds early. It has also given me a chance to ring quite a number of breeding species such as bulbul and bush robins and to ring a small number of blackstarts which we only catch occasionally in our usual ringing plot. I also caught only my second ever pale rock martin which flew into a net as it was being lowered.
the first migrants have also started to appear this month with a number of olivaceous warblers and a female eastern orphean warbler being caught, along with me seeing a phylloscopus warbler on my way to work this morning. If just those damned ibex would disappear this would be a terrific little location as it's one of the most scenic ringing spots in the world.

Wadi Zin


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

New Site

with lots of demonstrations booked for july and no birds inside the pistacchio plot, i had to try somewhere new, but still inside the village. So it was off to Ben Gurions burial site, which has a nice little park attached to it. ringing used to be good here until all the tamarix was removed. along with eran we put up 6 nets, and relaxed to watch the sun rise over the Zin wilderness, well that was what we hoped but along came the ibex and we had to constantly watch the nets too make sure we didnt trap an unwanted species as i would imagine they would make a fine mess. birds here where still few and far between. but we did manage a couple of bush robins, one of which had recently fledged along with his dad, its mom was a bit wiser and sat on top of the net before flying off. Then when i was coming back from a net round i saw Meidad, who finally made it by 6.45 running to the nets where what i thought must be a blackbird was caught, but to my delight i was wrong and we had a Tristrams Grackle, which are fairly common around here now, but we dont seem to catch any, these being the first since 2007. we had just finished ringing the first, a adult male, when a second female crashed into the same net, which delighted the small crowd of sightseers that were passing. We had only 9 birds in total but this site will have to do for the next month until the migrants start to return.

Tristrams Grackles

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Boring June

i was getting so bored with the lack of ringing i decided enough was enough and i was gonna get out and do a little. I took 5 nets and decided to try somewhere new. so i i had seen a Blackbird around the university and thought lets try there. Bingo! first bird out the nets. there was not a lot else though with a couple of sunbirds a very late olivaceous warbler and 5 bulbuls. a total of 9 birds may not sound a lot but for me it relieved the last couple of weeks boredom. and with only a couple of weeks until july when i have 10 groups booked, a day out in Tel Aviv to see Jello Biafra and a birthday to look forward to, it was just what i needed.

the back of a sunbirds head

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Migrations end

things on the migration front have gone quiet over the last few weeks, i did manage to catch 17 garden warblers in 2 days which increased their totals considerably also a few river warblers were a nice late addition, but not much else of note except a bulbul first caught two years ago by Francis on one of his trips down this way, also a Turtle dove from 2008 and my first Blackbird inside the plot, i had caught them inside the village before but never out here, whats so special about a blackbird i hear you foreigners shout, well we are right on the edge of the species southern most range 60 km into the desert and its almost certainly only here because of us humans with our manicured lawns and hedgerows so it was a nice addition to my plots species list..
meidad also reported a long eared owl flying around his home and i have not managed to locate the Mynah birds again so hopefully they have dispersed back north and wont decide to settle here.

Last week we joined some of Israels top ringers Yoav, Nadav and Roni in attempting to ring trumpeter finch and rock sparrows not far from the watering hole we had great success at last year, but alas it was not to be, after a 3am start and surrounding the pool with nets we waited and waited for the birds to arrive, but arrive they did not, i dont know what meidad had been smoking when he saw hundreds of birds there, but it must have been good stuff!! the morning was saved from being a complete wipe out by the first spectacled warbler i had seen in the hand.


The A team

Watering hole

Spectacled warbler

Monday, 16 May 2011

1000 up

Migration here in the desert is starting to slow down, another couple of weeks and i'll put the nets away for a month for their post season rest, before the birds start to return in July. We managed to get another couple of ringing sessions over the weekend and one more this morning, with two more species to add to the list, a Great reed warbler and a Tree pipit. the weekend also bought the 1000 bird to be ringed here this year, a fledgling house sparrow had the honours, sorry there are no pics as 1) i didnt realise and 2) they are not the best looking birds at that stage. we processed yet another corncrake the fourth we have ringed plus there have been at least two more to our knowledge in the village, in all my time here i had only seen 1, and this year they seem to be dropping out of the sky into peoples gardens on a regular basis. i was told by a now ex friend that he had seen a golden oriole in the school grounds, i couldn't believe he never told me, i keep dipping out on this bird since seeing one in India 10 years ago. every year someone comes up to me and says did you see the Oriole, it was amazing blah blah blah, i'll catch one soon i'm sure or i'll have no friends left around here.

Great reed warbler

female house sparrow

Olivaceous warbler

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Mad May

The first week of May has been phenomenal. There have been migrants everywhere. Since the 2nd of May i have ringed for 9 straight days and i'm looking forward to a long earned rest tomorrow. In this time we have ringed over 400 birds including 98 birds on Friday, we would have got the magical 100 but i managed to drop a blackcap and a babbler escaped the net. Luckily Eran had brought his new girlfriend Shira and we quickly put her too use scribing so we both could ring. The highlights included a Foreign ringed Garden warbler (more to follow when i have the info), a turtle dove first ringed here in April 2008, 3 terrific adult barred warblers, a river warbler, and a couple of olive tree warblers.

By this morning the rush had died down and i was back down to 27 birds, although i did manage a rather beautiful migrant, that bird that every time i see it it just fills me with wonderment at how a bird can be so magnificent, i caught the first bee eater of the spring, hopefully a couple more will follow as they are passing in great numbers at the moment.

Turtle dove

barred warbler

Barred warbler

Bee Eater


River warbler