(Sm)walk on the Water

Barak Granit 18/09/2017 00:00



Hard to get back to everyday life after last Friday’s Eilat pelagic thrill. And what a thrill it was. Well - all is known and out, so from end to start: Willson’s Storm-petrel, Swinhoe’s SP, Yellow-throated Sparrow, 28 very happy birders, the one and only Noam Weiss who organized this amazing pelagic with super tasty and smelly chum, perfect weather, great atmosphere and so on. What a birding week it was in EIlat!




Yellow-throated Sparrow - IBRCE


I guess it was the local birders who had the 'cream' of the thrills by finding these birds. First it was Ohad Sherer - a young birder and ringer and volunteer at the IBRCE who had the privilege to take out of the net the 5th Yellow-throated Sparrow for Israel which became the first ever twitchable individual. This was followed by Rea Shaish and Itai Shanni who took the ‘pilot’’ pelagic on Tuesday which ended with 2 Swinhoe’s and 2 Willson’s - quite unbelievable! Just a reminder - Willson’s was first recorded in Israel at Eilat in june 1983 and hadn't been recorded since until September 2016 when (probably) two different birds were seen and photographed in a two-day pelagic. And now these birds. Actually Rea and Itai’s success has mixed the feelings towards Friday’s Pelagic - we knew the birds were out there but we also knew there was a fair chance we wouldn't succeed in seeing them and that things could end not so nicely...   





The Eilat experience

We are not talking the seas off Lanzarote here nor Maderian waters either. Pelagic in Israel, and especially at Eilat, means a show about nothing for most of the time. The waters are calm and devoid of birds. No rafts of shearwaters, no pteorodromas to be found. In September there are no Skuas either and forget about migrating Sabine’s Gulls. From time to time a local White-cheeked Tern is passing by but that’s about it. However, we actually had a good start as we spotted 3 Cory's Shearwater quite far away in Jordan. One actually came in to check out the chum slick but the overcast light of the early morning didn’t enable any focused record shot at this time - everybody tried and not only me and my reluctant-to-get-birds-in-focus camera. It came near, and after a while went away and that was that.


Now imagine you are there: chum block after chum block deployed, half an hour passing just to make room for the next half an hour to also pass painlessly. Scanning and scanning and...scanning and nothing. Another half an hour and already it’s two hours into the 4 hours at-sea window that we had before we had to get back. 29 birders, one after another gave way scanning, some got into silent frustration, some allowed themselves to take a snooze, some got bitter and cynical and I don’t blame them. Here is the test, here you have to overcome your nature and keep being optimistic the whole time. “They will come!”. I am actually proud of myself - I didn’t surrender to despair for a moment and believe me I was close. After more than 3 hours scanning and seeing water Amit Cohen, one of the young birders said “I think I see a Storm Petrel!” and all the dead awakened within a flash of a second.





(Sm)Walk on the water

It was a Swinhoe’s and it took many quite some time to put their bins on that bird. It came directly towards us from the south, so it was difficult to detect the head-on dark bird but then it turned east and continued its way to Jordan slowing 'getting away from us'. Some frustrated birders didn’t managed to see it at all. I had reasonably good views but it was just too hard to get a photo. Well Swinhoe’s is cool but I was in for the Willson’s - a species that I have dreamed to see ever since and it had to come. Several minutes later with lifted moral, all bins were active when Shachar Shalev spotted the next one. What a moment! That Willson’s, although it didn’t come as close as it might have, still gave a fantastic show, giving prolonged views and even for a moment gave its famous water-walking which I managed to capture. Were we in Israel? No. We were in Lanzarote, at least for that moment. Jouanin’s or Black-bellied Storm Petrel could just appear at any moment, and wouldn’t leave us too surprised, at least not at that moment. The hunger came in with the food.




Jonathan (left), Itai (right) and I



Easy to forget all the other birds around. I am happy I went a day earlier, having the Yellow-throated Sparrow the evening before the pelagic. It was just a lovely evening in the birding park with young European Cuckoo perching on a closed ringing net, 2 Montagu’s Harriers a male and a female flew over, Garden and many Willow Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes, Red-rumped Swallows that came to roost and a Sooty Falcon that came in right at time. On the day of the pelagic, when we were already at km 20, we heard there was a Rosy Starling at the park together with the YTS. Autumn was in the air. Finally! On the way back someone asked if we could take a wounded Little Bittern into care in Tel-aviv. It happened to be a Corncrake and it was just fine, a little bit tired, but just fine...      





land marks