Friday 29 April 2016

Wraysbury GP - 28 April 2016

With some dreadful weather due over the coming days we made the most of a brief spell with manageable wind and went to Wraysbury to put a few nets on C6. We only put up 5 singles but were pleased to get a few migrants, including reoccurring birds, as well as some local breeders.

There were a couple of Willow Warblers and it was good to see some back after the terrible year they seem to have had from the low numbers present in 2016.

Willow Warbler

Garden Warbler, Whitethroat and Blackcap were also present.

One of two Garden Warblers.

As well as the a few new Whitethroat 4M D085929, initially ringed on 13/07/2013 and not recorded since was captured.

5M Whitethroat

The most numerous migrant species was Blackcap including two birds, ringed on C4 last year. Z527464 had been ringed on June 20th and Z071412 was ringed on July 12th. A third retrap, Z761002, was ringed on C6 on July 23rd and recorded again on C4 on August 8th. All were 3Js. There was also a control, 6F L280740.

Control - 6F Blackcap L280740

Totals: 15 (10)

Robin - 0 (3)
Dunnock -0 (1)
Lesser Whitethroat -1
Whitethroat - 3 (1)
Garden Warbler - 2
Blackcap - 5 (4)
Chiffchaff - 1
Willow Warbler -2
Blue Tit -0 (1)
Long-tailed Tit - 1

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Negev, Israel - Part 4 21 - 24 April 2016

Day 11 - 21 April

We met Darren at 4.15am and drove, for 45 minutes, to his CES site, Eshkol Park , in the Western Negev. On arrival the road was still muddy in places - just as well we had not come a few days earlier as originally planned. It didn't take too long to get the 10 nets up with only a couple of missing guys - the water had been through at this site too.

The park where this site is situated has natural springs so birds have a reliable source of water most of the year. The high proportion of Cetti's warblers being directly linked to this. We had a few new species for our trip with Syrian Woodpecker and an extremely late staying Sardinian Warbler and Robin.

 Syrian Woodpecker


 Sardinian Warbler
Ortolan Bunting

Cetti's Warblers look less rich brown here with more sandy tones.

 Graceful Prinia age 3

 View towards the nets

 The park has been developed with many non-native plants.

Totals: 51 (17)

Syrian Woodpecker - 1
Robin - 1
Thrush Nightingale -2
Rufous Bush Robin - 2
Graceful Prinia - 2 (3)
Cetti's Warbler - 5 (7)
Sedge Warbler - 1
Reed Warbler -10 (5)
Great Reed Warbler - 1
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler -1
Sardinian Warbler - 0 (1)
Lesser Whitethroat -3
Blackcap - 13
Great Tit - 1
Collared Flycatcher - 1
Spectacled Bulbul -2 (1)
House Sparrow - 3
Spanish Sparrow - 1
Ortolan Bunting - 1

After the catch we took a slow drive to take in local habitat areas. We birded too, seeing a Quail, Whinchat, Black-eared Wheatear and a few Bee-eaters that nest in the area.

In the afternoon we drove around Yeroham Lake, seeing that the water level was still high. We found a Spur-winged Plover pair with a couple of chicks. One was large enough to take a ring.

Spur-winged Plover chick

Although we have found a few pairs with chicks, others were a long way behind these, still displaying - potentially some nests and/or chicks were lost in the flash floods.

Day 12 - 22 April

We were at the Matash for 5am and found that the irrigation had been switched on. Some areas were quite wet and care had to be taken to avoid slipping on wet mud in the dark. In addition to Darren and ourselves there were a couple of Darren's ex-trainers and two others that arrived a little later. We took a good first round, but as the morning progresed there were no new species for our trip.

 Leaks in the irrigation system allow birds to drink, bathe and shower!

 Lots of grackles, but they all know about the nets so there will
probably be no more captures until after the chicks fledge.

The bird numbers soon dropped off and nets were taken down just after 10am due to the heat.

Totals: 95 (4)

Common Cuckoo - 1
Hoopoe - 3
Thrush Nightingale -4
Rufous Bush Robin - 1
Graceful Prinia - 1 (1)
Reed Warbler - 2
Great Reed Warbler - 1
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler - 7 (1)
Barred Warbler - 2
Eastern Orphean Warbler - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 5
Blackcap - 57 (2)
Pied Flycatcher - 1
Great Tit - 1
Masked Shrike -1
Greenfinch -2

After an early lunch we headed out to Ein Yorge'am again, hoping to see species that we've yet to catch up with. The pools left after the rain have now mostly dried up and tempertures reach well into the high 30s each afternoon. On arrival we saw a couple of Sinai Rosefinch, then over the next couple of hours watched the Arabian Babblers, Tristram's Grackles, Blackstart, Rock Martins, Pallid Swifts, White-crowned and Mourning Wheatears.

 Arabian Babbler

The Arabian Babblers, as we have seen before, hunted individually but together as a group. This time one bird seemed to keep watch while the others fed. 

 Arabian Babbler

We were treated to the spectacle of two Barbary Falcons, one adult and one juvenile, hunting Rock Doves in the gorge as we left.

 Tristram's Grackles panting in the shade

When we finished our walk from the gorge floor back to the car the temperature had reached 42c. This is not usual for April, being more typical of late June temperatures.

 Day 13 - 23 April

In view of the high temperatures, and the fact that the area would have been packed during Passover, we decided against a trip to the Dead Sea, instead revisiting Nizzana. We hoped that the drier conditions might give up more species than our first trip.

We saw European Roller on the drive there, before we even started at the sewage works.  We got Tawny Pipit while we waited for the sandgrouse to come in. This time we watched with the sun to the right of us, not so good for viewing but less intrusive to the birds. They began to arrive at 8.30am. There were a few Black-bellied Sandgrouse first then two separate groups of Crowned Sandgrouse. This time there was not a single Pin-tailed and although two poorly seen and distant birds may have been Spotted Sandgrouse, views were not sufficient to claim them - so we still have yet to see this species.

 Crowned Sandgrouse

We covered the same areas as before, but this time there were no model aircraft enthusiasts to disturb the peace. We tried some additional tracks and side roads and added several species that had been nowhere to be seen before. The list now included Slender-billed Gull, Shelduck, Teal, Little Owl and McQueen's Bustard (an adult and juvenile) from Nizanna - Ezuz Road.

On the Mandtoric Road we saw some Barred Warblers, Redstart, Whinchat, Masked Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher, Cream-coloured Courser, c10 Crowned Sandgrouse (that flew over the car) and Dorca's Gazelle. So much better than the week before - just goes to show it all depends on the day.

 Cream-coloured Courser

Day 14 - 24 April

Our last ringing day and we worked the mulberry trees with Yorum, Darren and Elan. As expected, the Grackles avoided the nets but we did catch a few Golden Orioles - a real challenge to age and sex! There were a few Garden Warblers that we hadn't really seen many of, and despite it being the last day we still managed some less familiar species such as Laughing Dove and another juvenile Palestine Sunbird.

Golden Orioles - never easy

Garden Warbler

3J Palestine Sunbird

Laughing Dove

It was fitting that among the last birds from the nets as we took down, due to heat, at 10am was a Hoopoe - the national bird of Israel.

 Hoopoe - National bird of Israel

Totals: 115 (12)

Collared Dove - 1
Laughing Dove - 1
Hoopoe - 1
Thrush Nightingale - 1
Nightingale - 1
Graceful Prinia - 0 (2)
Reed Warbler -1
Great Reed Warbler - 1
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler -1
Barred Warbler - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 5
Garden Warbler - 4
Blackcap - 87 (8) 
Wood Warbler - 1
Spotted Flycatcher - 1
Palestine Sunbird - 1 (1)
Golden Oriole - 4
Greenfinch -2 (1)
Masked Shrike -1

We spent a bit of time packing and cleaning the apartment before taking one last turn around Yeroham Lake where we added Great Cormorant to our watch list.


The next day we were invited to take a traditional passover breakfast with Yoram and Edna on the morning of our flight and it was delicious. Thank you both so much for your wonderful hospitality.

Thanks also to Francis Argyle who settled us into the accommodation and explained a few things in advance, and to Darren Burns who found some alternative sites after the first two days when the regular places were washed out and who was very patient while we struggled to identify one piece of vegetation from another, locate guys and put nets up at four separate sites, in the dark, over the fortnight. We were also unused to the extreme tension that was required on many of the nets (Francis had set up one of the alternative places - and he really like tension) and two of us had not encountered the 'Israeli knot' before - but that has now been mastered and may even be used at some of our own sites from time to time.

Thanks also to all who helped with birding information, particularly good spots for desert species.

The ringing station at Yeroham is managed through Hoopoe Ornithology and Ecology The contact if anyone would like to spend time with the team at Yerolum is Darren (email:, who is always grateful of help, particularly at busy times of year. The organisation is keen to have more visiting ringers in the future and will help you with finding rented accommodation. 

A car is really essential, as much as anything else to get to the Negev from Tel Aviv airport (about one and half hours travelling time) and as we held equipment for part of the time (especially while Darren had car trouble) it was essential for us during the visit, but would also be useful if wishing to do any independent ringing whilst visiting.

We found this a most worthwhile visit and we'd be happy to speak with anyone who is thinking about a trip to the Negev to ring with Darren at Yeroham.

Thursday 21 April 2016

Negev, Israel - Part 3 18 - 20 April 2016

Day 8 - 18 April

Back to the Matash Terraces again today. Normally we and the Israeli ringers would prefer not to ring the same area on consecutive days, but due to the lake nets being flooded and the time of year, we are somewhat limited. We put nets up around the mulberry trees again with some other nets on the terraces. Francis and Yoram were with us and important visitors were expected later in the day.

It was another good day with the first Rufous Bush Robin, Whitethroat and Savi's Warbler for our trip.

 Rufous Bush Robin - first returner of the year at Yeroham.

Savi's Warbler

As usual, there was a high proportion of Blackcaps. There were some more Tristram's Grackles and our first female Masked Shrike.

5F Masked Shrike

Scops Owl

It was fairly hot and the captures trailed off quite early. We were a little worried that there would be nothing to show our VIPs at 11.15am. However there were a few birds for Yoram to process with them while we started to take down nets.

Michael Biton, Yeroham's mayor visits

I took the opportunity to photograph some of the flowering plants after the rains.

Totals: 93 (18)

Scops Owl - 1
Thrush Nightingale - 1
Nightingale - 1
Graceful Prinia - 1 (1)
Rufous Bush Robin - 0 (1)
Savi's Warbler - 1
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler - 5
Eastern Bonelli's Warbler -1
Eastern Orphean Warbler - 1
Whitethroat - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Blackcap - 59 (14)
Masked Shrike -1
Tristram's Grackle - 10 (2)
Greenfinch -9

We arranged to meet with Yoram early that evening to look for scorpions at an undisclosed site near the Dead Sea. We dropped to 400ft below sea level, where the temperature was still above 30C, and tried a wadi that he checks a few times every year but this time the UV lamp revealed nothing. Whether this was as a result of the bright moonlight or after the severe weather that occurred a week or so ago. We hope he has better luck next time.

We passed through the area known for Nubian Nightjar and on our way back we were fortunate enough to see two on the road and still get back by 11.30pm. We made sure to set our alarms for 4am as we were going to a desert site, some distance away next day.

Day 9 - 19 April

Things went a bit awry when we spent 15 minutes waiting, for Darren,in the wrong bus stop! But we weren't too worried as we found him easily once we realised our mistake. We only expected to put up 4 nets so it would take no time at all. When we got to Borot Haktsinim the water was higher than Darren had ever seen it. We had to set a little further back from the cistern edge and used 5 nets.
We caught a Masked Shrike almost straight away. There was a Red-backed Shrike, in the tamarisk growing in the cistern, and although it did hit the net, it bounced and after a few minutes sitting on a branch contemplating the nets soon flew off over the top.

Borot Haktsinim

There was very little around - we knew that birds still had plenty of small pools and need not come to the waterhole. We caught nothing else.

 Desert sunrise

Total: 1
Masked Shrike - 1

We finished early and spent the morning at the Avdat ruins. This is a Nabatean city that was the most important city on the incense route after Petra.

 Reconstructed ruins

 Mourning Wheatear with scorpion

 Reconstructed columns

Cistern with collapsed roof

The Nabateans stored water by excavating underground tanks.The walls were rendered and the water remained clear while the roof was intact.

These cisterns were placed along the route at the distance camels are able to travel in a day. At Borot Haktsinim the roof has collapsed long ago. The Nabateans also developed a means of limiting erosion by  building stone walls across wadis. This methodology was forgotten long ago, but is now being used to encourage plants to flourish in the desert.

 A series of walls retain top soil and limit erosion.

In the evening after dinner we went for a drive to the rubbish tip and Yeroham Park, looking for animals. There were no jackels or hyenas at the tip and just some Hares at the park. We did find some Spur-winged Plover chicks on the road by the Sewage plant, but having caught some we tried the EE sized ring and they were just too small. They were released back to their parents without any individual markers.

Day 10 - 20 April

Ringing at the mulberry trees again. There were fewer birds today and the grackles are definitely getting wise to the nets! The 'first for the trip' birds kept coming with Redstart and Red-back Shrike and Black-eared Wheatear that Chris manoeuvred into the nets.

 5M Redstart

 Red-backed Shrike 5M

 Black-eared Wheatear

 Spectacled Bulbul

We continued to catch lots of Blackcaps, and one bird carried a ring from the N. MUSEUM PRAHA, ring number TR16669. The adult male had already been marked within the scheme run in the Czech Republic.

The total exceeded 140 captures.

Totals: 133 (8)

Collared Dove - 1
Thrush Nightingale - 3
Redstart - 1
Black-eared Wheatear - 1
Graceful Prinia - 1
Reed Warbler - 1
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler -5
Willow Warbler - 1
Barred Warbler - 5
Whitethroat - 2
Lesser Whitethroat - 9
Blackcap - 94 (8)
Spotted Flycatcher - 1
Spectacled Bulbul - 1
Red-backed Shrike - 1
Masked Shrike - 2
Tristram's Grackle -2
Greenfinch - 1

 Steppe Buzzards continue to migrate through.

In the afternoon we headed back to Yeroham Park to photograph some of the butterflies.

Grass Jewel

Then on to the Avedat Gorge and Zin River The scenery was spectacular.

 The course of the Zin River is clear fom above.

We parked and walked up the gorge. There had clearly been severe flooding with the recent rains.

 Several areas within the gorge still hold water.

 Chris scanning for birds.

 Brown-necked Raven

We saw a couple of Eyptian Vulture and a Griffon Vulture, that on closer inspection of the photograph bears a wing tag.

Griffon Vulture K66 at rest on a ledge.

We were unsuccessful in finding any of the species that remain outstanding. Larks were never likely but no Trumpeter Finch or Sinai Rosefinch or any smaller Falcons.

We drove onto a camp ground as we made our way out and found a pair of Sand Partridge.

 Male and female Sand Partridge.

They were most obliging - I even managed a brief video.