Saturday, 26 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 6

It's my last day here in the Hula Valley and I'll be sad to leave.  The festival has been excellent with great birds, a fantastic location and, as in Eilat, world-class festival guides.

This morning we were out early for another Agamon Hula park mobile tour ride; we've seen some amazing birds this week but there can be few things that compare to thousands of cranes coming out of their roost in the morning.  The birds then fly into the nearby fields and allow a close approach by the tractors and trailers.

Other birds seen on the morning tour included two Marsh Sandpipers, a smart male Siberian (maurus) Stonechat, and close views of a Pied Kingfisher.  No sign of any Jungle Cats, which just goes to show how lucky we were with our multiple sightings earlier in the week.

Variation in Common Crane eye-colour:

After some breakfast back at the hotel we headed back to the park where we took a look at the family of Black-shouldered Kites, some Golden Plovers in one of the fields, more 'eastern' Stonechats etc. Then this afternoon we sat in on some of the lectures at the scientific conference that is taking place at the hotel—including excellent talks by Tim Appleton and Pete Dunne.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 5

Another excellent day at the Hula Valley Bird Festival today.  We headed back into the Golan in an attempt to clean up on a couple of the area's bird that we'd missed previously. We succeeded with excellent views of at least five Finsch's Wheatear, though sadly Long-billed Pipit eluded us. There was plenty more on offer, too, with Blue Rock Thrush, Eastern Imperial Eagle, flocks of Serins, Bramblings, plenty of Mountain Gazelle, two Red Foxes, Calandra Larks, a Syrian Woodpecker, and the usual Long-legged Buzzards etc.

Habitat shot

And one to show the feather detail...

One of our Finsch's Wheatear sites also happened to be a memorial to those who lost their lives in the fighting that took place in the Valley of Tears, near to the Syrian border; a really beautiful landscape.

The afternoon was spent back at Agamon Hula Park where we again had 'the usual' (Black-shouldered Kite, 1000s of Cranes, Hen Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle...) along with two Yellow Wagtails, a Griffon Vulture, a smart male Namaqua Dove, and nine Wild Boar that emerged from the reed bed at dusk.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 4

I had hoped to upload all of my pictures of each of last night's dinner's twelve courses but, again, I'm short of blogging time. We spent the full day exploring the Bet Shean valley south of the Sea of Galilee today then, after sunset, visited the opening of the Drawing Inspirations from the Hula Valley art exhibition; now it's dinner time and then we're off to a concert by Paul Winter.

Yet again, we had lots of great sightings of amazing birds: Desert Finch, Dead Sea & Spanish Sparrow, eagles, a singing Southern Grey Shrike, flocks of Pygmy Cormorants, Whiskered Terns, literally 100s of Black Kites, dozens of Black Storks etc etc.

 A dark-morph male Marsh Harrier was particularly striking:

My apologies for the appearance of gull photos in two posts on the trot; though I make no apologies for including photos of this beauty:

There was also an young Pallas's Gull in the flock:

And this Heuglin's Gull:

Finally, for a bit of fun, who can tell me how many species are in this photo and which species they are?

(That's a subtle way of saying I don't know, though my best educated guess is four)

P.S. For anyone following Yoav's blog and wondering why I'm one behind with my festival days; the festival officially started on Sunday but since I didn't arrive till Monday morning I'm down a day.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 3

An even briefer update this evening than the last two nights; we're off out again in a minute for a posh 12 (yes, twelve) course meal!

Another excellent day in the field, this time on the Med. coast at Maagan Michael.  Lots of all three Kingfishers, Citrine Wagtails, Temminck's Stints etc etc. and some decent gull flocks to search through.  The small gull flocks were made up of Black-headed and Slender-billed with three 1st year Med Gulls hidden amongst them.  The larger gulls were mostly Armenian with one (presumed) adult Baltic; also a few showing a varying number of "Caspian-like" features, though I'm not convinced any of them were anything other than [slightly atypical] armenicus (but feel free to disagree!).

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 2

Oh dear, this "blogging on location" isn't going to plan at all.  I'm having such a great time at the festival that I've had no time to write a proper blog post.  We've spent another full day in the field (this time exploring Mount Hermon and the Golan plateau) and I've just got back to my room after watching an excellent presentation by photographer-in-residence, Thomas Krumenacker.

After yesterday's Jungle Cat sightings, we scored today with excellent views of two Wolves.  By the time I'd grabbed by camera they were already on the other side of the valley.

The mammal list is ticking along nicely with Egyptian Mongoose, Egyptian Fruit Bats, Golden Jackel, and Copyu all seen.  Birds spotted today included Sombre Tit, Horned Lark, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Western Rock Nuthatch, and, at Hula Nature Reserve in the evening, a spectacular harrier (including several Pallid) and Merlin roost.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Merlins at dusk

Monday, 21 November 2011

Greetings from Israel!

It's the end of my first day here at the Hula Valley Bird Festival and it's fair to say I'm pretty cream crackered. To cut a long and foggy story short, I've had exactly zero minutes of sleep since yesterday morning and, after a full day in the field, I'm struggling to keep my head off the desk in front of me, let alone write a blog post that attempts to be vaguely interesting. So instead, here's a photo dump of interesting stuff I've seen in the Hula Valley so far. Enjoy!

Hula Lake at dawn

 Pied Kingfisher

More Pied Kingfishers... spot the impostor.

A gang of Armenians

Purple Heron

Smyrna Kingfisher

Black-shouldered Kite

Jungle Cat

Friday, 18 November 2011

Ghosts of Gone Birds

On Wednesday evening, we took a trip across town to Shoreditch to take a look at the fabulous Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibition. While we were there, we were lucky enough to be able to chat to Ceri & Chris, co-creators of Ghosts, about the project, the art, what they hope to achieve, what they want to do next, and Ceri's recent visit to Malta.

The exhibition runs in London until Wednesday 23rd November 2011.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Dipper from Norway to Essex

Here's an interesting story from the BTO Ringing Blog:
Continental Black-bellied Dippers are recorded most years on the islands in the north of Scotland and on the east coast of the UK. However, ringing recoveries have been surprisingly lacking in the origin of these migratory Dippers that visit the UK in the winter. More than 1,900 Dippers were ringed under the BTO ringing scheme during 2010, 1,700 of them ringed as chicks. Encounters of ringed adults are rather low outside of special projects, and recoveries of foreign ringed birds are very unusual. 
So we were quite surprised when we had a phone call about a Dipper from Norway! This is the third ever recovery of a Dipper with a foreign ring found in the UK and this bird was unfortunately attacked by a cat near Colchester, Essex. We don't know yet where in Norway this bird came from but previously we have had two other movements of Dippers between the British Isles and Scandinavia, as the map below illustrates. Both birds were ringed as chicks. The one in purple was ringed on 22 May 2004 near Bergen and later controlled by ringers in Voe (Shetland Mainland) on the 2 Feb 2006. The one in yellow was ringed north of Kristiandsand (south Norway) on the 31 May 1993 and later found killed by car the 28 Oct 1993.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

British Trust for Ornithology 2011 awards

Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor at the Independent and author of the best-selling Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo, was presented with the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Dilys Breese medal, awarded to outstanding communicators who deliver BTO science to new audiences. 

During the last few years Michael has provided a major impetus for the BTO’s migrant-related work. Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo is dripping with BTO-related material and his follow-up articles on Nightingales and Cuckoos provided a benchmark which was followed by journalists, not only here in the UK, but around the world. 

Michael really understands conservation and environmental issues but, more importantly, he really understands the importance of the work of the BTO. Many of our summer visitors, birds like the Nightingale and the Cuckoo, have experienced alarming declines; we have lost more than half of both during the last twenty-five years, and Michael has gone out of his way to support this work by putting BTO messages before an Independent audience, including decision-makers and opinion-formers. 

Presenting the medal to Michael, Dame Barbara Young, President of the BTO, said, "I am delighted to present this award to Michael, with a small number of words he can grab your heart - he is a very fitting recipient." 

Michael commented, "I had the great pleasure to meet Max Nicholson, one of the driving forces behind the formation of the BTO in 1933.  Max saw the power of harnessing the interest of amateurs in the collection of meaningful data - BTO has continued to do so ever since.  I am delighted to receive this award and thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Additionally, Dr Ian Hartley was awarded the Marsh Award for Ornithology for his significant contribution to the field, and Henfield Birdwatch’s Mike Russell received the Marsh Local Ornithology Award for their published study on the birds of the Parish of Henfield, Sussex. Earlier the same day, we also honoured the long service of 12 of our BTO Regional Reps, who have all dedicated 25 years of time and effort to supporting our volunteers.

The ceremony was hosted by the Society for Wildlife Artists.