vrijdag 28 december 2012

Review of the year 2012: starting with Israel

As the end of the year closes in it's time to review this year! It's been a great year concerning birds, my two months stay in Israel being the definite highlight! Therefore I will start with a review of the two months Israel, followed by other top birding moments of 2012.

At the end of February I went to Israel to volunteer for 1,5 months at the IBRCE and for a week at the JBO. It was a great experience, learning lots of things about the passerines there - birdspecies I'd never handled before - and next to that, the raptor migration was impressive as well, with thousands of Steppe Buzzards passing by.

To start off with the typical migrants that stop by in Eilat:
 Cretzschmar's Bunting (Emberiza caesia). Many were present during the month March with up to 60+ at Ofira Park on one single occasion. All over the city and the IBRCE this species was seen. Ortolan Buntings arrived later, also passing by in huge numbers.
Rüppell's Warbler (Sylvia rueppelli). We observed and trapped many species of warblers. Rüppell's Warbler being one of my favourites! Over 100 individuals were trapped, an impressive number! This picture was taken in Ofira Park, where they were foraging out in the open. 
Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria). This is my other favourite warbler. Such 'bulky', large, sylvias are amazing birds to handle! And look at the eye...
Rufous-bush Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes). These beautiful bush robins arrived late March, early April. Too bad we missed out on the Black Bush Robins this year..
 Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka), adult male
Cyprus Wheatear (Oenanthe cypriaca), adult male
'Vittata' Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka), adult male

This spring was marked by an unprecedented influx of Pied and Cyprus Wheatears. They popped up everywhere and some eventually ended up in our mistnets at the IBRCE. Most wheatears were present just behind the IBRCE in the Date palm plantations. Identifying them in the field was quite a challenge, once in the hand it was much easier.. The second (well first one alive) 'vittata' for Israel was found on the 24th of March by two Dutch birders, Marc Guyt and Arjen van Egmond near K20.  It was my first Israeli twitch. It was a very nice bird, and certainly one of the Wheatear highlights for me. 

 Semi-collared Flycatcher (Ficedula semitorquata), male. While I was suffering from sinusitis and lying on my bed with a vast headache the boys woke me up, guess what we have!! They showed a beautiful male Semi-collared Flycatcher. A species that is not caught annually at the IBRCE (unlike this year with more than 10 being trapped). This bird made my sinusitis more bearable for sure... What a stunner! We also saw quite a few at the Date palm plantations behind the IBRCE. Up to 5/6 birds during one single visit.
Caspian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus variegatus). This surprise we found in the mistnet is one hell of a bird too! Nice white rump, T-shaped tail.. you won't get a Caspian better than this!

Crested Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus). Pictured above: the famous female that has been wintering in the Eilat Northern Date Palms for the past few years. The Crested Honey Buzzard was one my wish list, we first saw this female on 8-3, but I got very poor views of the bird, I couldn't tick it yet.. Then the next day we were extremely lucky to see the bird fly in between the two date palms. Normally we were only able to see it glide through the palm tops, having a very short observation. This observation however, was of longer duration! A few weeks later, we had an adult male Crested Honey Buzzard flying over the Southern Date Palms. First we thought it was an Osprey, then a Bonelli's Eagle and then: oh sh*t! Crested Honey Buzzard. Of course one of those moments during which you've left your camera at the ringing station..

Continueing with the Nightjars:
Egyptian Nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius), a memorable night we had in March at Yotvata. We observed several Egyptian Nightjars and were able to ring two of them! Other than the Egyptians the evening trip held lots of Stone Curlews, a Pharoah Eagle Owl, a Barn Owl and Jackals not to forget the Pallid Harrier we saw hunting on hundreds of Short-toed Larks in the evening!
European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus). On the last day of my stay in Israel we ringed two European Nightjars at the JBO. We'd caught one in Eilat too but catching European Nightjars in the middle of the city of Jerusalem is much more special...
Nubian Nightjar (Caprimulgus nubicus). This was a very special night. After a long drive to the Dead Sea, resulting in, eventually, a broken car, we had a crazy night with first Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters catching insects above our head and then as it started getting dark displaying Nubian Nightjars. To see (and ring) this endangered species was incredible!
Hume's Owl (Strix butleri). Together with Nubian Nightjar, these were my two target species for my trip! Walking in the dark in a deserted wadi, only light coming from the stars and moon and then... a singing Hume's Owl, showing off on a cliff just above our heads!
Scops Owl (Otus scops). Cute little owls, a pleasure to catch!
Common Bee-eater (Merops apiaster). Many Israeli bird ringers won't agree that this is a nice bird to catch, since they can be a plague for farmers and then the ringers have to catch them and take them to some other place! To me it's one of the most beautiful birds to have in hand.
Eurasian Bittern (Botaurus stellaris). When we got the report of a heron sitting in a small pool in one of the big hotels near the North Beach we'd never expected it would be a Eurasian Bittern! The bird was not weak at all, and after release it lingered around the IBRCE for quite some time! It's quite a rare bird in Eilat and its surroundings.
Hoopoe (Upupa epops). It would be a crime to leave out the National bird of Israel, the Hoopoe! 

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