Friday, 28 April 2017

Chobham Common - 21st April 2017

Today Chris and myself visited Chobham. This was our first visit after the fires on the common and we were not sure exactly what we'd find. It looked as though some damage had occurred on the hill area on the southern section of the area north of the M3, but we believe most of the damage is on the area south of the M3. It's unclear how many nests will have been lost but adult birds may have had a chance to escape into the surrounding common in the fire that happened overnight. The same cannot be said for insects and the Grayling butterflies, mostly found on the hill area, that would be in their larval instar stage at this time of year.

We employed our usual strategy of using a couple of nets, using calls for a short while, then moving on. All appropriate tape endorsements are held.

There were quite a few Dartford Warbler about, however precisely none came to tape. The densities on the common are really high now and it seems that birds have become more tolerant of other Dartford Warblers in close proximity. Perhaps territories will be smaller, or non exclusive as a result. We did catch two, but these were on one net with Wood Lark playing and another playing Lesser Redpoll. We didn't really expect to get any Redpolls, simply used that call to limit the time that we played for our target birds.

We only got five birds but with one Tree Pipit, one Wood Lark and the two Dartford Warbler these were really interesting captures.

 Tree Pipit 5M

Part of the charred area - paths provided vital firebreaks

Total: 5

Wood Lark - 1
Tree Pipit - 1
Dartford Warbler - 2
Chiffchaff - 1

Broadwater GP - 16th April 2017

Broadwater can be an excellent ringing site, but not in the spring! We make a few visits for consistency's sake - barely creeping into double figures was pretty much what we expected.

Total: 9 (4)

Wren - 2 (2)
Dunnock - 1 (1)
Robin - 1
Blackcap - 4
Chiffchaff - 1 (1)

Wraysbury GP - 14th April 2017

Our first outing since returning to the UK and we met up with WA and LON to work C6. We were all stunned to see how much biomass had been cut and removed. We knew that some work was to be undertaken but not having been included in discussions about clearance work, as had been the case for the CES site with the lead ringer of that site, we were left feeling that the planned Whitethroat RAS was probably jeopardised, we had actually lost rides for three nets completely, there were now significantly fewer nesting sites and of course the amount of food for birds leaving in the autumn would be much reduced. The birds would not be moving through the site as they had done up until now.

View from the gate to C4 and as it was.

No direct comparisons for these photos, but those brown patches used to be bramble clumps
of some 7ft tall.

Vast open spaces

We had been there since six but only put a few nets up some 90 minutes later as it took a  while to come to terms with the changes. We tried a new double on ground that had been completely covered with bramble, another new double in a different area and an 18m in one of the remaining rides.

Eighteen birds were caught, one being a Magpie, a species not caught on this site for the last 4 and a half years and only five times since 2010 - a result of the changes perhaps.

Magpie, aged five

Total: 12 (6)

Dunnock - 2 (2)
Whitethroat - 0 (1)
Blackcap - 6 (1)
Chiffchaff - 2
Willow Warbler - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 0 (2)
Magpie - 1

Friday, 21 April 2017

Eilat, Israel - 1st to 10th April 2017

1st April

Today there was a great deal of help at the ringing station so we took the opportunity to explore some of the city parks. It was clear there had been a fall with plenty of birds about. We started at Central Park and saw Eastern Subalpine Warbler (1 male, 1 female), Tristram's Grackle (6), Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, Wryneck (1), Ruppell's Warbler (1 male), Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (1), Redstart (1 male), Masked Shrike (1), Whitethroat (1) and Bluethroat (1).

At Ofira there was another Masked Shrike, a Wryneck, a Whitethroat and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (2).

 Masked Shrike


North Beach turned up a Greater Sand Plover, two Sandwich Terns and  Western Reef Heron.
We then went up to the High Watch Point (as the lower was now closed) as met two of the three volunteer watchers. Steppe Buzzards were still going through although numbers tailed off mid morning. There were also three Black Kite. Two very confiding birds looking for scraps of food on the ground were a Trumpeter Finch and a Desert Lark.

Trumpeter Finch female

Desert Lark

We took a drive into Wadi Shlomo, finding Striolated Bunting, Sand Partridge and two Blackstart before the track defeated our Nissan Micra.

We bumped into the American counter (still don't know his name) near the helipad and found out that a Kurdistan Wheatear had been seen in the area. We started to search for the bird, then met the finders and got directions. We found our way into the wadi finding Ortolan Bunting, Black-eared Wheatear, Blackstart, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Sand Partridge, but the Kurdistan Wheatear was nowhere to be seen. We thought it had been pushed out of the wadi, and searched further, but Chris still couldn't find it.

Scouring the rocks

Ortolan Bunting

In the afternoon we drove to Yotvata, passing the peace gate between Israel and Jordan. This is very different to the border fence erected in Eilat. The fence is being extended along the entire length of the border, so this charming little gateway will soon be removed.

 The peace gate

The list for Yotvata was made up of Masked Shrike, Green Bee-eater, White Stork (5), Wheatear (2), Red-throated Pipit (2), Black Kite (1), Montagu's Harrier (1), Ortolan Bunting (1), Lesser Kestrel (6), Hen Harrier (1 female), Quail (1), Short-toed Lark (c30), Stone Curlew (3) and European Nightjar (1).

Red-throated Pipit

2nd April

A trip for Desert Tawny Owl that we had been booked onto for the 7th was cancelled, so we had to go on the 2nd. This involved a lengthy drive to the Dead Sea - so no ringing today, or tomorrow in all probability.

We started off at Holland Park where there was nothing new for the trip. Central Park was less busy than the previous day, the most interesting observations being Quail, Tree Pipit (5), a male Collared Flycatcher and a female semi-collared Flycatcher. A Levant Sparrowhawk was seen overhead.

 Cretzschmar's Bunting, Holland Park

Laughing Dove, Central Park

On the way North for the owl trip we dropped in at a site where Arabian Warbler had been reported from close to the car park. We could only find an Eastern Orphean Warbler, but did find a Cyprus Warbler, reportedly seen at the same time. We tried a little further along the wadi finding Arabian Warbler as we'd hoped, also Arabian Babbler and a few migrants.

Arabian Warbler

Arabian Babbler

At some pools close to the garage where everyone was to meet, where two Ferruginous Duck, a Great White Egret, Gadwall and a White-breasted Kingfisher. It was viewed from the road as signs warned of landmines in the area. Flooding washed the devices into marshland areas some years ago and the precise locations are not known.

The night visit for the Desert Tawny Owl visited 3 locations. At the first place there was no sign of the owl, second place was more promising with returning calls although it never came close. At the third place we were treated to the howls of a not too distant wolf pack, fairly brief but quite intense, probably the signal for the pack to set off hunting.  There were owl calls from a bird that remained further along the wadi with no response to calls, necessitating a change of location. The owl perched below us briefly but was looking away from the spotlight so was not dazzled, flying off almost immediately. Chris saw nothing and I just got a brief glimpse of wings disappearing into the dark - insufficient views to independently identify the bird so it can not appear on our list for the night. The Nubian Nightjar was much easier altogether, but we had seen that before - some group members also
 .missed that too

It was a late night, we finally arrived back at the hotel at 4am.

3rd April

We had quite a late start and headed first to the IBRCE. At Anita Lake in addition to the regulars we found a Spotted Crake on the reeded island, three Greenshank and a Broad-billed Sandpiper. A Penduline Tit was heard calling from the tamarisk and a Booted Eagle flew over.

Blue Spotted Arab

White Stork at KM17 sewage works

Storks could be seen kettling off in the distance, from the pools at KM17, and one made a very brief stop off.

At KM20 pools the Black-tailed Godwits were up to six. There was a single Greater Sand Plover and a Collared Pratincole. The wind was quite strong and some waders were seen to shelter behind the salty deposits around the edge.

Spur-winged Plover

Collared Pratincole

There were a couple of Namaqua Dove on the fence surrounding one of the areas planted with date palms.

Namaqua Doves in Eilat palms

4th April

We started off at the ringing centre. In addition to Carmelle there were a couple of volunteers. During the morning a Booted Eagle flew through and was quite low. The ringers that helped her while we took time out to try to see the owls had shown her some ‘time saving’ features on the laptop and as a result she decided that there would only be one ringing at a time.  As a result the day went very slowly, and the data recording was considerably slowed up. We had the only Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler of our stay in Israel from the nets.

 Wood Warbler

 Saw-scaled Viper at its regular spot - at
least we always knew where this one was!

There are many vipers on site. Ringers are no longer housed on site due to snakes turning up in the accommodation, including one in the shower, another in the kitchen and another in the bird-bag storage. Since 2015, ringers no longer live on site.

Booted Eagle

A quick turn around the reserve before leaving turned up a Broad-billed Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint and a Rufous Bush Robin.

Someone had photographed a Corncrake in the date palms so we checked for that but had no luck although there was a Namaqua Dove.

It really was very hot by the afternoon. We took some time out, then went down to the North Beach for the end of the day. At 7pm, the temperature was still 31 degrees, also there were a whole host of caravans, tents and awning along the beach access road and actual beach. Music was blaring loudly from one of the cars. This really wasn't what we envisaged when reading about the Eilat North Beach and the birds that had been recorded here. There were two Pied Kingfishers, a Western Reef Heron and a Greenshank along the shoreline. A Caspian Tern flew through (with fishing line trailing from its legs) and eight White-eyed Gulls flew past on their way to roost while a flock of Wigeon and some 15 terns, believed to be Common Terns, were seen some distance off shore. The Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian gunboats all kept to their respective sectors of the Red Sea.

5th April

We started off at the ringing station again, but with the 'only one ringing' rule still in operation, Carmelle, a visiting Israeli ringer, three volunteer extractors and us - we didn't even fit in the ringing room. We bowed out after the first round and went birding.

A quick turn around the reserve turned up a male Little Bittern and a Temminck's Stint on the lake, Redstart, Red-throated and Tree Pipit, Rufous Bush Chat and our first Indian Silverbills in the vegetation. Broad-billed Sandpiper was recorded for the third day running and a couple of Ruppell's Warbler and Nightingale are known to have come from the nets.

 A swift drop in to Central Park at around 9am found more of the usual migrants with both Collared (male) and Semi-collared (female) Flycatcher conspicuous in small trees by buildings adjacent to the park. Five Tree Pipits were fresh in and foraging amongst the grass.

The plan was to work our way over to Yotvata and spend some time trying for birds and animals after dark. After a leisurely drink we began travelling North to the KM20 salt pans. It has become clear to us that, taking into account the smell and grimy colouration of the 'salt', these are probably settling beds linked into the processing of sewage water so vital in irrigation of the area, still the birds find them invaluable so we just had to put up with the stench and hope the whiff didn't cling to our clothes and hair too much.

There were 'stand out' birds today, three very tired looking White-tailed Plovers, right next to the track and disinclined to move off or even feed up.

 White-tailed Plovers at KM20 pools

We had seen several Osprey try for fish at these ponds, but this was the first to be seen alighted on the salt deposits.


Amongst the regular Waders, we had our first Curlew today, a single Red-necked Phalarope, three Collared Pratincole and two Cattle Egrets.

Cattle Egrets at KM20 pools.

We continued via En Avrona but the Black Bush Robin, reported on several consecutive dates appeared to have gone. We had to be content with some Scrub Warblers, Arabian Babblers, the usual Eastern Bonelli's Warblers and Lesser Whitethroat  (both still going through in large numbers) and a Southern Grey Shrike. Again we saw Dorca Gazelle, but no sign of the reintroduction McQueen's Bustard that had been seen in the area apparently having negotiated the border fence with Jordan.

We arrived at Yotvata with plenty of time to spare so took a quick drive around the fields in the daylight. The area known as the circular field was being watered. Pools had formed and birds were bathing and drinking, in particular Little Ringed Plover, Red-throated Pipit and Ortolan Bunting. A Wryneck made a brief visit.

Watering system, circular field, Yotvata

Red-throated Pipit

Red-throated Pipit panting in the heat of the afternoon

There were now ten Lesser Kestrels over towards the dunes. Interestingly they were mainly on the ground, flying in very short bursts before resettling. Whereas the birds seen in Cyprus usually hunt on the wing it seems that these target the many black ground beetles that are so common here.

We saw several harriers, a female Hen Harrier that employed a strategy of targeting birds in bushes, forcing them out before attempting to chase them down and three Marsh Harriers, one male and two female/immature type, quartering the fields in a much more familiar fashion. We ate at the establishment that is best described as like a service station called Yotvata Inn. The food is basic, but they do have wonderful ice-cream, made at the kibbutz. There are also several life sized cow models if you like that kind of thing. In the semi darkness we returned to the fields, seeing Cape Hare and several large bats, but no Egyptian Nightjar or Pharaoh's Eagle Owl, although in fairness we didn't stay very late, probably not late enough.

6th April

We birded again today, but mixed it in with exploration of some tracks and places not visited before.

The road to Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley was the first port of call. Here the geology was as interesting as any that we've seen in the Negev. We also found several boulders with fossils.

I suspect that these fossils were laid down when the area was covered by sea.

While in the Hidden Valley we heard a loud raucous 'cronking' call of a Common Raven. We were certain it was not a Brown-necked Raven and have been told that there have been 'rumours' of this bird before. Unfortunately the photos are not fantastic. We also saw Pallid Swift, a Pale Crag Martin and a Hooded Wheatear. On the way back to the car we noticed a Red Fox cub amongst the rocks. As we continued to watch, a further two showed themselves.

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) by the den

We moved on to Shehoret Canyon. On the track down were four large lizards soaking up the sun.

Egyptian Mastigure (Uromastyx Aegyptius)

Shehoret Canyon

The canyon opens up into a broad riverbed.

Here we found both White-crowned and Hooded Wheatear, Desert Lark, both Southern Grey and Masked Shrike, Blackstart and Sand Partridge.

Sand Partridge male

The day was so hot that we spent the afternoon back at the hotel.

7th April

Time to leave Eilat and we packed our bags, made an effort to take the worst of the dust out of the car and started to work our way North. We had spent so much time scouting for birds at the KM20, that of course we made one last visit there. The Slender-billed Gulls were there, as always, with several now showing a flush of pink.

Slender-billed Gull

Black-winged Stilts have also been present on every visit. Today we noticed that one of the males had a metal ring. We got some photographs but the ring was either corroded or caked in salt deposits. It was illegible.

Male Black-ringed Stilt with ring

Two Greater Sand Plover were resting on the deposits, as were five Snipe, the first that we'd seen in Israel.

Greater Sand Plover


Greater Flamingo

Other birds present that day included two Collared Pratincole, Wood, Marsh & Broad-billed Sandpipers. The seven Black-tailed Godwits were still there and some Greenshank. Around 10 European Bee-eater flew through.

We drove on and stopped off at Sapir. This park was quite busy with families having picnics and kids swimming in the pool filled with partially cleansed effluent. Notices warned that drinking or swimming in the water was strictly forbidden. There were a few birds around despite of the disturbance.

Male Pied Flycatcher


There were plenty of migrant Blackcaps and Eastern Bonelli's Warblers feeding in the ornamental trees.

Male Blackcap with pollen around beak. 

The only other birds were a Masked Shrike, a female Redstart and eight Chukars.

At the KM188 pools, Clamorous Reed Warblers could readily be heard, and eventually we managed to see one as it changed position in the reed bed before settling itself back into the reeds, out of sight. Nine Ferruginous Ducks and a Garganey were seen on the water's surface, Ruff and Wood Sandpiper picked around the pool edge. Green Bee-eaters were present and are seen frequently throughout  the Negev, but a less common Blue-cheeked Bee-eater was also seen in the branches of a dead tree.

We made our way to Neve Zohar and the checked into the room where we would spend the next couple of nights. We were just two minutes walk from the Dead Sea, although this end of the sea takes the form of salt pans. 

8th April

The morning was reserved for tracking down Dead Sea Sparrow and we found four at Lots Reservoir. As we walked along the track a Booted Eagle was seen to take to the wing and we also had a Rufous Bush Robin. White-breasted Kingfisher was seen at the site once again, there was a Marsh Harrier, four Green Bee-eaters and a Common Raven. Clamorous Reed Warbler proved difficult to pin down, but we did manage to see some in the reed fringed pools across the road from the reservoir.

At Wadi Salvadori there were views of raptors along the ridge, A Steppe Eagle and  Bonelli's Eagle were seen amongst the Steppe Buzzards. There were some distant views of three Fan-tailed Ravens.

The distinctive outlines of two Fan-tailed Raven

Along the path were a couple of White-crowned Wheatears, a Striolated Bunting, two Blackstarts, Desert Lark and yet more Green Bee-eater. Tristram's Grackles frequented all the parking spots along the road, on the look out for scraps and frequently emitting loud contact calls to other birds along the road.

Nubian Ibex

Tristram's Grackles come prospecting for food

9th April

We had a late start and breakfasted outside our room. There seemed to have been a fall and a walk around the trees and ornamental shrubs of Neve Zohar produced a male Collared Flycatcher and Masked Shrike amongst the Blackcaps, Lesser Whitethroats and Eastern Bonelli's Warblers.

We then went to visit Masada, exploring the ruins and enjoying the expansive views from the high point. We did see some birds up there, Tristram's Grackles that are found anywhere that people might feed them, Desert Lark, Pale Crag Martin and three Fan-tailed Ravens.

Fan-tailed Raven

It was the end of the morning by the time we came down from Masada so we went to Wadi Zohar to have a look at the Zohar Stronghold. In the heat of the midday sun we also saw a couple of Blackstart, a Green Bee-eater and another Fan-tailed Raven.

Zohar Stronghold

Rock Hyrax

White Spectacled Bulbul

We had also noticed that water was flowing through the wadi at Ein Boqeq. There was a lot of disturbance as holidaymakers from the hotels were walking up the wadi, many hoping to find somewhere suitable for swimming in freshwater.

Wadi Boqeq

Palestinian Sunbird

Birds seen were more of the very common migrants, Desert Lark, Blackstart and Pale Crag Martin. A Semi-collared Flycatcher female was seen amongst the Tamarisk and there were more birds around but vegetation was dense (this is one of the few streams flowing after others have long dried) and disturbance from Dead Sea visitors was almost continuous.

We spent a little time beside the Dead Sea looking at the fascinating mineral deposits - and there was  no sign of any animal, insect or bird in or on the viscous water.

 Dead Sea mineral deposits

That afternoon we drove further North. The landscape became considerably greener after only an hour driving. We began to see camels by the roadside and flocks of sheep and goats. Horses appeared to be an important work animal. We reached Metar where we would spend our last night before travelling on to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Here we saw our first Jay as we took the cases in and there were also a couple of Lesser Kestrels. We were reliably informed that these actually nest in the roof by the owner.

10th April

We had an afternoon flight so after repacking the car, during which time we saw our first Blackbird in Israel, we set off for North Lahav Reserve in the hope of finding Long-billed Pipit. As it happened, we did hear a few but they proved really difficult to see. We met three other birders who we'd met a few times at the sites around  Eilat  and even with the extra eyes we couldn't find the singing males.
Other birds seen in the immediate area included a couple of Spectacled Warblers and a flock of around 30 Ortolan Buntings. We saw our only Jackdaw of the visit and finished up with kettling birds - circa 15 Lesser Spotted Eagles, a Short-toed Eagle, a Booted Eagle with several Black Kite, Steppe Buzzard and White Stork