Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Israel, March '18 - Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters

A scarce but expected migrant through the region and high on the team's wish-list, it took us until race day to finally connect with Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - but when we did, we really did. I'll blog about the day itself in due course, but to say we took our time and lapped it up would be an understatement (as Darren's various paintings doubtless illustrate much better than photographs)....

Monday, April 16, 2018

Israel, March '18 - Arabian Green Bee-eaters

Widespread in suitable habitat and often endearingly tame, Arabian Green Bee-eaters (to give them their proper name - see here) were a joy throughout our time in Israel - and it's easy to see why. (For their larger and scarcer cousins, see the next post).

Friday, April 13, 2018

Israel, March '18 - Black Bush Robin

Although a rarity in the Western Palearctic, southern Israel in late March or early April is the time and place to connect with Black Bush Robin, the Darth Vader of tail-cocking chats, and we got very lucky indeed during the Terriers meanderings in the area.

As we sipped coffee and slurped freshly-made organic lassis with Bluethroats hopping around the tables at the paradisical Pundak Neot Semadar cafe, news of a bird at the nearby Kibbutz Lotan came through; with the rest of the team keen to catch up with this iconic personal first (I'd been lucky enough to see one last year), we decided to go for it on our way back to Eilat.

Was it still there? Would it show? Was it shy? The photos happily answer those questions, and we were treated to a ridiculously Bolan-esque stray cat strut of a performance as the bird flew out of its bushy bolt-hole straight towards us, landed pretty much at our feet and paraded around as we ooohed and aaahed appreciatively. Quality.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Israel, March '18 - Palestine Sunbirds & Palestine Sunbirders

They may be pretty much everywhere in Israel, but what absolute beauties Palestine Sunbirds are. Even in low light (as in these pretty grainy shots) their iridescence shines; as did our comrades the Palestine Sunbirders - Noam, Saed and especially Ikram (with Rich and I, below) - an inspiration to all.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Israel, March '18 - Yellow-stoned

xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, K20, Eilat, 20th March 2018. This bird was one of at least three black-headed-yellow-super'ed males, colloquially known as xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ due to (apparently) fairly stable morphological forms, present within a flock of more than a hundred flavas on the bank of the saltpans. Superficially similar to the eastern 'Green-headed' taivana form, there are several obvious differences, as detailed by Yoav here: .

If you like your Yellow Wagtails nice and clean and easy, look away now; but if you like 'em vibrant, messy and fascinating, dip your bread in. As with last year, I was easily sidetracked by the beauty, abundance and variety of the Flavas passing through various sites in southern Israel, a mesmerising kaliedoscope of neon yellows, greens, blues and blacks. But as expected, there were more questions than answers regarding subspecific pigeon-holing, and plenty to chin-scratch over while admiring these trans-Saharan pin-ups.......

xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, K20, Eilat, 20th March 2018 (same bird as above). 'Classic' superciliaris‘, an apparently commoner form with a white supercilium, were not noted. 

'dombrowski' (?) type Yellow Wagtail, K20, Eilat, Israel - 20th March 2018. 'dombrowski', another apparently stable mix-type (this one breeds in Romania), is supposed to look like a dark-headed/white supered flava, but to me looks more like an eye-browed/tear-dropped thunbergi. If that's what this is, which it probably isn't.

Fairly standard Blue-headed (ssp. flava) Yellow Wagtail, K20, Eilat, Israel - 20th March 2018. 'Fairly' standard, as in, showing hints of yellow in the face and supercilium - as many of them did out in Israel, and as many of those that I've been able to study close-up in the UK do, too. Discuss.

Same bird as above

Yellow Wagtail, site and date as above. I wonder what'd be made of this at a glance in the UK - Thunbergi? Feldegg hybrid? Glad I don't have to judge...

Yellow Wagtail, The Canal, Eilat, Israel - 21st March 2018. An interesting bird which superficially resembles beema (and probably would've been claimed as such historically in the UK), but which doesn't fit the accepted criteria re: head colour, ear-covert patch etc. Bit like a 'Channel Wagtail' (flava x flavissima) eh, British birders? It did, however, give a cracking, harsh, clearly 'eastern-type' call.... 

Same bird as above

Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, 20th March 2018. Ah, a nice classic Black-headed feldegg, right? Wrong! Not only would this bird be rejected as such in the UK due to the paler feathering in the hood (a trait shown by the vast majority of 'Black-headed' Wagtails here), it also called three times - each time a nice, sweet, flava-type call. Ouch.

Same bird as above

A bit easier (and a perfect example of why bird names should always be capitalised!): a lovely yellow wagtail - not a lovely Yellow Wagtail - at the IBRCE, in fact a very accommodating female Citrine Wagtail. Would be made very welcome at East Lea, Filey in the next few weeks.

Citrine Wagtail, IBRCE, 26th March 2018. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Guardians Of The Flyway 2018 – The Yorkshire Terriers!

As we finally disembark, dizzied, drooling and vaguely delirious, from the rollercoaster that was Champions of the Flyway 2018, it’s time to reflect on the achievements of my lip-smackin’, record-breakin’, all-conquerin’, love-spreadin’ team, The Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers - and the awareness- and fund-raising successes that we’re proud to have delivered for the project.

Not least among those is the still almost unbelievable final total of over £20,000 – or over $28,000 – that directly funds the joint Birdlife Serbia and Birdlife Croatia projects on the ground to help save our migratory birds on the flyway, and which saw us receive what we considered to be the Champions award that really matters – The Guardians of the Flyway 2018. GO TERRIERS!

And what a ride it’s been. We’re proud to say we smashed records and then re-smashed them time and time again, radically resetting the bar for fundraising efforts, raising more than double the previous single team total and providing no less than a third of the overall 2018 total - a record in itself of $100,000. If I said it was easy, I’d be lying – we put in an inordinate amount of our ‘spare’ time and energy, from autumn last year to right up until the curtain fell last week. But if I said it was enjoyable, from the very start to the very end, well that’d be the truth - it was a blast, an education and an obsession, and a unique opportunity to make a real difference thanks to our thriving and generous wider community. Plenty of fellow teams and prospective participants have asked how we did it, so look out for an upcoming post here in the next week or two dedicated to our fund- and awareness-raising techniques and efforts (and then go ahead and beat us, punks!).

Our team name, which I came up with in order to publicise (and ideally capitalise on) our strong county connection and pride – and, let’s be honest, it sounds better than the Yorkshire Puddings - became more and more appropriate as we went on. Those characteristics of tenacity, grit, determination, and - if you were on the receiving end of our social media carpet-bombing or personal communications, a constant and annoying yapping – successfully encapsulated our team spirit and captured the imagination of our supporters far and wide. (Ikram, I never did tie the pink ribbon in my beard…. Next time eh?).

And what a team. With all efforts focused on spreading the word and shaking the can, I’ve barely had the opportunity to give them the mountains of praise they deserve. To be honest, I’m smugly self-satisfied regarding my team selection – as with all classic teams, we were greater than the sum of our parts, as well as being a self-generating reactor of constant energy, a sixteen-pawed tightly-knit pack of boundless enthusiasm, and perhaps most important of all when it came to actually being together out there in desert, a comedy quartet of unrelenting proportions. I can’t remember a time when my main physical concern at the end of each long day was how much my ribs hurt though excessive laughter, or where the intensity and longevity of our mutual hysterics almost forced us off the road on many occasions. Many was the time I lifted by Zeiss to find the lenses smudged not with desert sand but with the tears of a team captain reduced to the status of a hysterical toddler.

Rich, Darren, Jono, I salute you comrades, you were unbelievable from start to finish, and together we really achieved something tangibly, directly important through our collective efforts. You’re all heroes, and I’m already looking forward to the Terriers reunion - let’s just hope it involves a car we can actually start / unlock / find the handbrake / wind the windows down on…. and maybe we can squeeze in a few hours’ sleep next time, eh?

Only kidding ;-)

So this rabbit walks into a butcher’s shop….

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Israel, March '18 - A Quail In The Desert

They think it's all over..... well, not until I've racked up a succession of posts documenting our frankly wonderful nine days spent lapping up the birds and people that made up Champions of the Flyway 2018. I wanted to start with this little beauty, which we found way out in the searing heat and sparsely vegetated semi-desert expanse of Seifim Plains, a harshly beautiful and peaceful place to the west of Eilat.

Of all the species reflecting this year's COTF awareness and fundraising efforts, the Quail (to precede with 'Common' seems far from appropriate) is an unparalleled exemplar. Hunted, trapped and massacred in their tens of thousands every spring on their epic and arduous return journeys to Europe, their plight effectively symbolises the plight of all our long-distance migrants battling home through the killing fields of the Mediterranean; we take their supposed abundance and ubiquity for granted at our peril.

To watch this intrepid, pocket-sized migrant pit-stopping out there in the middle of nowhere, alongside Desert Larks, Chukars and Hooded Wheatears, was both a privilege and a potent reminder of why we were there at all.