Wild Goose Chase

Jonathan Meyrav 08/12/2018 00:00

On November 25th local farmer Hanoch Seif found an interesting Goose with a flock of Cranes in the Hula Valley. Hanoch is one of the project managers of the "Crane project" and spends long days in the fields of the Hula chasing Cranes from the newly sown fields. Hanoch immediately realized that the Goose is something special and managed to grab a few distant photos. When he shared the photos it was clear that the bird is a Barnacle Goose, the first ever record of this northern Goose in Israel!


As a birder it is clear that when such a bird shows up you drop everything and go for it. As a husband and father of 3 it is not that simple… Frantic phone calls and messages started to pile up and plans started to formulate. The bird was found in the afternoon so it was clear that we had to be at the site the following morning, who knows how long the Goose will stay. Luckily I had a meeting scheduled with Yoav P and Dan Alon the following morning in the north so we all agreed to head up to the Hula, twitch the Barnacle Goose and continue to the meeting.

Just as I was finalizing details with the guys my wife reminded me that I promised to take the kids to school and to fix her car first thing in the morning and that she doesn't care about "my goose", she needs the car on the road tomorrow… So in order to avoid a serious domestic crisis I informed Yoav and Dan that I will not be joining them first thing as I have some urgent matters to tend to.





BWK - tens of tham around


Monday morning started with a message that the Goose was relocated while I was working on the car. I managed to finish the task quickly and hit the road for the 2 hour journey to the Hula. I was about an hour away when Yoav called to say that the bird was still around. I was about 20 minutes away when a few people mentioned that the bird had just flown to the east and was gone… When I arrived I met a few people that had already seen the bird, they were all happy and assured me that it is still around. I spent the following few hours scrutinizing Crane flocks and the huge fields in the area, to no avail; the freakin' Goose was nowhere to be found, what a colossal dip! Strike 1. I drove back home and spent the rest of the day grumpy and impatient…


On Tuesday many people searched for the Goose but it was not relocated.

On Wed I cancelled some meetings and headed back to the Hula Valley. I spent 4 hours driving around searching. I had a great morning that included a Wolf (super rare in the valley) and good birds such as Daurian Shrike, Citrine Wagtails, Bittern and 15 species of raptors but the Goose was nowhere to be seen, strike 2.




A rare sight in the valley - Wolf


Thursday - No Goose again and that horrible sinking feeling that it is gone crept in, I could not believe that I missed a 1st for Israel.

On Friday morning Ofer Frumkin reported that the Goose was back, close to the original place it was found. There was no way I could head up there and I had to settle for the frustrating photos of everyone that did manage to catch up with it.

Saturday, same thing, Goose was present and showing well on and off, but I had family duties, Shabbat with the kids etc and there was no way I could escape up to the Hula, grumpy and frustrated again.


On Sunday I had some important meetings in Tel Aviv, real work stuff so no chance to try again. Many photos and messages from friends "don't worry, it is around, you will get it… check out this great photo etc…" of course I was very nice to everyone but deep down inside I was cursing and fuming.  I knew I had to drive up on Monday and finally see this bird, put the demons to rest and get on with life.

I could not leave very early but was on the road by 8:00 am. Once again I was about an hour away when the Goose was relocated but this time a new factor came into play, the weather.


Every once in a while the Hula Valley gets pounded with east winds. These gale force winds stir up clouds of dry peat and the valley is blanketed by clouds of black dust. These dust storms can be horrible; not only are the conditions uncomfortable, the birds are very anxious and fly around all the time. When I arrived I parked and walked into the park. I had about a mile to walk and the conditions were not good… strong winds and dust everywhere, thousands of Cranes all over the sky and overall crappy birding weather. I met a few friends that had seen the bird earlier but they said it had taken off. I walked up to the "goose field" where I met Eran Banker. Eran had seen the bird 30 minutes earlier, but he too said it took off with the Cranes and disappeared to the north… aaargggggghhh!!! Will I miss it yet again?!





Crappy Birding Weather


As we were waiting, Yaron Charka drove up and offered that we check out the fields to the north, Eran and I were happy to get out of the wind and we jumped in the car. We drove around for an hour, scrutinizing the fields but to no avail. We did find a Golden Eagle which is a great bird for the valley but no Goose. The guys had to leave so they dropped me back at the field and left. The wind calmed down a bit so it was bearable to be outside. After a few minutes the lingering Demoiselle Crane flew right over my head with a group of Cranes; an omen of good fortune?


I was then joined by Israeli birding Guru Ehud Dovrat that also came for the Goose. It was great to chat with Ehud but my time was running out. I kept checking the groups of Cranes flying in from the north in hope of spotting the Goose with them. Flock after flock more Cranes started landing in the field when suddenly - there it was! I spotted the Goose with a flock of about 100 Cranes flying towards us. I started shouting trying to get Ehud on the bird in flight; luckily the flock came down in the field in front of us, with the Goose.




A first for Israel - Barnacle Goose - Hula valley 

I got it in the scope, showed it to Ehud and could finally enjoy it for a couple of minutes. I was just about to set up the digiscoping adapter when suddenly all the Cranes took off for no apparent reason and the Goose with them. It flew over us and to the south and disappeared.  We packed up and drove home, relaxed and satisfied; talk about a wild goose chase.

We were very fortunate, we had no more than 3 minutes with the Barnacle Goose and it was gone. But those moments are the ones we remember and cherish, the reason we are in this crazy game.

Needless to say, I had a great evening with the family - order was restored J


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