Saturday 30 March 2013

Black Bush Robin

Bush Robin at dawn

Though far from guaranteed to turn up, Black Bush Robin is a species that many visitors to Israel hope to see on an early spring trip. On our outward journey from Luton we had vowed that, if one were to turn up, we would make an effort to see it as soon as was possible and thus receiving news of two birds at Neot Smadar on 16th saw us driving south from the Dead Sea late that evening. After an hour or two searching Yotvata unsuccessfully for Egyptian Nightjars in a delirious state, we eventually settled in the car for an hour's kip at Shizzafon sewage works. Soon after dawn, we were out and quickly located the bird showing well although it wasn't until the sun came up that we managed some half-decent pics - my camera settings were a bit off so the shots aren't as nice as I had hoped:

As it turned out, March 2013 proved an excellent period for the species in Israel with as many as six birds found in the south of the country. We even saw the second bird at Ne'ot Smadar the following day:

Friday 29 March 2013

The Dead Sea

Call us boring, but we all resisted temptation to take a paddle in the Dead Sea after Dan's advice that it was hideously salty and more bothersome than enjoying. The scenery was spectacular, though, and the birds were pretty good too. The Dead Sea was the only place we observed Fan-tailed Raven, Mountain Bunting, Sinai Rosefinch and Indian Silverbill as well as the nocturnal specialities - Nubian Nightjar and Hume's Owl.

Tristram's Grackle

Fan-tailed Raven

Mountain Bunting

Sinai Rosefinch

Migrating Black Storks - in a sandstorm hence the ochre tones!

Steppe Eagle

Lesser Spotted Eagle

On 22nd, we also experienced a steady raptor and stork passage through the area, with an hour or so at Metsoke Dragot early afternoon producing small numbers of Steppe and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Egyptian Vultures and Ospreys among the more numerous Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites until a sandstorm engulfed the area. It was almost eerie watching Black Storks and raptors suddenly appearing very close overhead in the ochre, sand-filled skies, quickly disappearing again as they drifted off north on the strong southerly breeze. If the sandstorm wasn't enough of a problem, that evening we were fortunate enough to watch a local pair of Bonelli's Eagles giving the migrating birds plenty of grief as they struggled up the gorge on the weakening thermals. Incredible stuff!

Nubian Ibex

Though essentially sheep with ridiculous horns, Nubian Ibex are nevertheless quite characterful and impressive beasts. Those above were photographed by the road that ascends up to Metsoke Dragot, north of Ein Gedi in the Dead Sea - we saw them here on every visit and, as the photos above testify, they showed very well if you stayed in the car.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Category C: it's the place to be

Common Myna

Vinous-breasted Starlings

One of the great joys about being keen on your Western Palearctic list is the unique opportunity it gives you to spend large quantities of time searching for introduced, self-sustaining populations of alien bird species. These populations are often quite small, making them difficult and challenging to locate and, to cap it all off, the general close proximity of these populations to human settlement means that you regularly get to visit places that you'd never normally go to - in many cases quite rightly so. However, our Cat C hunt in Israel took us to some genuinely pleasant places: though we didn't see the Nanday Parakeets (over two visits!) we found Pardes Hanna a quaint little town with plenty of other birdlife (think White-throated Kingfishers, Syrian Woodpeckers and Palestine Sunbirds), and watching Common Mynas and Vinous-breasted Starlings in Hayakron Park, Tel Aviv was almost like being back in Bangkok - were it not for the Monk and Ring-necked Parakeets zooming around the place!

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Egyptian Fruit Bats

These Egyptian Fruit Bats were a chance encounter in the centre of Herzliya on our first evening in Israel, found while searching for a suitable restaurant! After our meal, we returned to the car to find the bats still actively feeding on the fruiting trees around the adjacent square, so we got the torch out and started to have a bit of fun photographing them as they fed. Although often skittish, they would occasionally show really well and at point blank range which in turn afforded some great photo opportunities. As it turned out, they proved one of the highlights of the trip and were a fabulous way to start the holiday.


I'm fresh back from an extremely successful ten-day tour of Israel in which we saw almost all of the country's specialities as well as a few more of our targets and some great mammals. Much in the way I conducted my Californian posts, I'll be updating my blog gradually over the next week or two with various photographs - a full, detailed trip report will be available at a later date to view and download from my blog. Stay tuned.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Double-crested Cormorants

Plenty of these seen during our week in California, though my favourite encounter came on the final afternoon at Fort Mason. I noticed an adult DCC wrestling with a pretty large fish and so sprinted round the harbour to get the sun behind me. Bird was a little distant and in harsh light for really great images but I'm pretty happy with the results. Thanks to O. Foley for the fish identification - looks to be one of the scorpionfish!

Tuesday 12 March 2013

American Robin

I finally managed some reasonable shots of American Robin on our final afternoon. This individual was spotted feeding on manicured lawns in a leafy suburb of San Francisco. Unfortunately the warm sunshine was evaporating the morning dew, creating some pretty intense heat haze and thus the shots aren't as sharp as they might otherwise have been.

Golden Gate Park

Our final morning in California was spent in Golden Gate Park. We were a bit lazy when it came to searching for passerines and, being a Saturday morning, the area soon became quite busy. Nevertheless we were thoroughly impressed by how showy some of the wildfowl was. Many failed the bread test, like this drake American Wigeon:

The morning light and reflections on the lake also made for some fun Ring-necked Duck photography:

This Pied-billed Grebe briefly came quite close and was one of several seen:

One of the only passerines to perform for the camera was this male Anna's Hummingbird. It's really difficult to try and catch the light on the iridescent throat and forehead; all my photos showing the purple sheen came out soft.

As always, click for larger versions!

Monday 11 March 2013

Showy Scoters

Prior to heading to California, my previous experience of Surf Scoter had been limited to a number of distant (to very distant!) blobs bobbing around off various parts of the British and Irish coastline. Not the case with these boys and girls at Moss Landing, which regularly showed to within 30 metres or so. Watching these birds courting, feeding and generally lazing around against the blue seas in warm sunshine was on of the highlights of the trip for me. Drakes are surely strong contenders for the best-looking of all ducks, aren't they?

Heermann's Gulls

A few friendly Heermann's Gulls were seen around Monterey harbour either side of our whale watching trip. Though we failed to see a full adult bird during the week, these immature birds (of varying ages) were still pretty nice. The final photo above was taken with my 10-22mm lens at a range of about two metres, illustrating just how tame they were.