A Powerful Tool

Noam Weiss & Rea Shaish 29/07/2018 00:00

 

 

A bird observatory - a powerful tool for nature conservation

 

29.7.18

 

The concept of segregation between nature and us, as appealing as it may be for the birds sanctuary's secretary Leaby (Spiders are not welcomed in our office) and to us who seek to protect nature, is so 2017. Nature and we are one. Nowhere on this planet, it's not us on our own, doing whatever we want. We also can't protect nature anymore without considering people's needs and development and we can't do it on our own. In order to protect nature, we have to do it with the people and for them. So how do we do that?

We have to change hearts and to bring people and birds together. This is what a bird observatory is all about.



 

Magic of Birds - face to face               Photo: Noam Weiss

 

It is built around an authentic natural value - something needs to be protected, and invites people to watch, enjoy, feel, learn and take action to protect it.

Eilat's bird Sanctuary is such a place.  We protect an authentic site important to migratory birds over the only land bridge connecting Africa with Europe and Asia, on the edge of the foodless Sahara Desert. We also restore the Saltmarsh that used to thrive here and create and maintain habitats to make this stopover site capable of serving a wide diversity and abundancy of birds.

We see it as a hub.

 


 

The IBRCE       Photo: Dov Greenblat

 

A hub of environmental awareness

We bring here the pupils of Eilat and the region to get to know the heroes of bird's migration, a tiny Willow Warbler or a massive Steppe Buzzard, to see how we research the physical conditions of the birds in the ringing station and implement the results by adjusting the habitats the bird's needs. When a young girl holds a warbler, small and weak looking, but fully capable and ready for migration, and srtes it off to its journey, we feel that we have changed this girl forever. We manage to create love for a bird and the care for it that follows.

We do four communal events every year to bridge the gap between birds and people, and to get the public on our side when conservation campaigns and fights are needed and we guide visitors to the sanctuary about what they can do to help migration happen and why the survival of humanity is dependent on this migration.

 

From here, we also run projects like "the choosing of the bird of Eilat", a place making communal project that aimed to define identity components for the residents of Eilat through birds and at the same time add bird migration to the shared identity of this town. See here (scroll down):

 

It is also a hub of monitoring and research. We conduct from here all kinds of bird surveys and stock up with valid and relevant data for our next conservation campaigns. We check the physical condition of the migrants at the ringing station, check the abundance of birds in the most important stopover sites, we count the raptor's migration on their flyway and go deep into the sea and the desert to survey our local birds.

With this data we build a master plan of stopover sites. Many of our stopover sites are manmade - fields and plantations, sewage and salt ponds, gardens and orchards thus require a different approach when we want to make them safer and better for the birds. Our next main goal are the farmers who still believe that birds are pests rather than pest controllers. We now build a research that would quantify the services of pest control and fields cleanup by migratory birds to crops in our region.

 

 

Tracking Bird Migration with the IBRCE Ringing team         Photo: Noam Weiss 

 

We also made it into a hub for birding tourism - here the birders can get real time birding information and advice, guiding services and a drink, along with quality birding and a welcoming ringing station open for the public to explore.

The bird sanctuary is also a hub for culture and leisure. We bring here authors to present their new books, artist's workshops, promote hiking and outdoor sports here, open up for picnics and welcome all kinds of volunteers. It's a nice and important place to be in.

This is why a bird observatory is such a powerful tool for nature conservation.

Its power comes for the community of bird loving and caring people it created and from the valid and extensive data it collects.

Its power also comes from being the source of knowledge about birds in the region for a farmer, teacher or decision makers and from the capable expert man (and women) power we have.  

A bird observatory creates open information channels to its supporters and to the rest of the public through long term and symbiotic relationships with the public media, Social media and its dedicated volunteers who serve as ambassadors wherever they can.

 

 

Drawing Birds - driven by Conversation      Photo: Noam Weiss

 

Therefore, if you want to fight a hazardous wind turbine, conserve or restore a habitat or change people's heart from poaching to birding and it does not work and no one listens - you need a Bird Observatory. You need the public to be on your side and this is how you do it.

If you have a bird observatory or you want to have one, you must come to the next International Bird Observatory Conference (IBOC) in March 2019 in Eilat and you can figure it all out here from the experts. If you come from Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe and it's harder for you to make it here, apply for a scholarship through the website. If you are a citizen of a country that "can't get a visa to Israel" - contact me and I'll work it out.

www.iboc2019.com

 

See you all in IBOC 2019 Eilat!!

Noam

 

 
 
Photos: Noam Weiss

 

 

The Bush summer party

 

6.6.18

 

Migration is practically over so it is time for party for us, the local birds. The migration rush left substantial amount of food on the trees that "needs to be eaten" and reasons for happy events are in every bush. It was rather spontaneous.

The Black Bush Robins, breeding successfully for the first time at the bird's sanctuary, made it to the (overrated) fame of parenthood with two healthy black with the cutest tiny yellow sides of bill fledglings and called the party. The fact that they were just busy fighting with the "cheeky" Rufous Bush Robins all party long did not ruin it at all; "it is their nature". 36 different species of birds arrived, dressed in their best summer plumages. The "Looking down at us" Stilts and the "Neighborhood Thugs" Spur-winged Lapwings brought all their so many youngs, running between the other guests joyfully, "blabber mouth" Prinias and Bulbuls are singing in the thicket, the "lanky and awkward" Flamingos came ashore to check what's up and the  "creepy" Little Bitterns where cheering from the reeds.

 

 

Look at me - I got Bette Davis Eyes!               Me too...

 

 

Accepting the different - the refugees

The bird's sanctuary's community is known to be hospitable, mainly on migration time, but also now, welcoming the migration refugees with a warm "stay as much as you like" and in spite of their dreadful look "come as you are". A bit shy joined the flock of "eating in dirty water without washing bills" Slender billed Gulls (not the best example of how to polite your chicks...), some "used to be fashionable" Ringed Plovers and a single White-winged Black Tern (Looks like it will stay single…) that ran out of resources and is still in its drab winter clothes.

 

Party crashers

Not all were welcomed, but they made it in anyway. The disinvited Indian House Crow's noisy gang did not spare our party. As always, they tried to scare our guests away and keep all the food for themselves. Talking about eating, the mess they made was nothing short of disgusting. Who is going to clean that up now Heh? Don't count on the Little Green Bee eaters as they took their newborns away covering their eyes with their wings.

 

 

 

Phew, for a minute there

I lost myself

 

 

Party poopers

Well, the Sooty Falcons just had to give their entry and made all of us run screaming into the scrub. It was an opportunity to catch up with the "gossipmonger" Reed Warblers but we had imagined a different occasion to be updated. Can’t they just make their own party? The somewhat hysteric Moorhen was asking everyone "what do you think they had in mind for party food?"

 

The stockers

Some creatures only come to parties to watch. They stare, and make mean comments about us, who actually came to have fun. Last week there was a visiting birder (the local ones are nice!) who claimed that I have retained too many tail feathers and that my moult should have been completed by now… well smartass, go fishing in the saltpans!

So now, when everybody is gone and left me all the cleaning, I look back at our loving and cheerful community. There is nothing like home (Tzadok built me a nest box and Leaby feeds me with seeds), The Eilat's Bird Sanctuary.

Jack Sparrow & Mathilda the Egret.

 

 

 

If you like it then you should have put a ring on it...     Mathilda

 

 

 

The Grey Zone

 

30.5.18

 

It's warm outside… feels like summer is here. We have come a long way since the chilly spring mornings of late February when the park's air was full of beautiful Bluethroat's song, and the reed-bed was teeming with smart looking Penduline Tits and Mustached Warblers. March went by quickly as the little gemstones AKA Sylvia warblers were hoping around in every bush.  And April, with its colorful Bee-eaters splashing through the skies, is over.

 

Usually the 15th of May represents the end of substantial spring migration here in Eilat. The ringing season is officially over, the species variety dwindles and the heat strikes hard. That's when we enter the grey zone of migration…

 

Against all expectations, this spring's migration refuses to die and birds keep coming in numbers! The heroes of the last two weeks are some of the greyest birds we have, but only color-wise. Garden warblers has taken the lead from their black/orange capped relatives, and did it with style. They might have no bright feathers to show off, but you will never find one with a worn plumage. Making the epic long way from South Africa to northern Europe, these guys defiantly aren't Boring.  

Alongside the Garden Warblers hundreds of Eastern olivaceous Warblers, tens of Olive tree and Barred Warblers and singles Upcher's Warblers roam the bird's sanctuary's bushes and trees.

 

Up in the air a constant northbound stream of Hirundianes lead by the Sand Martins - some stop for a minute or two for a mosquito snack and then moving on. The park is alive and migration is as dynamic as ever.

 

 

No one is complaning...

 

On the colored side, Rosy Starlings, Eurasian Bee eaters and Golden Orioles are especially common this year and decorate the tops of the trees.

Our star bird of the week with a big Mazaltov Congratiolations are the pair of Black Bush Robins that following years of hopes finally made it to parenthood and hold 2 happy independent fledglings!

 

So the birds are still moving although they should have been in Europe/Asia by now. What caused this delay? We don't know. However, I can promise no one is complaining.       

Late May is also the time of the African vagrants such as Pink-backed Pelican and Yellow-billed Stork, both were recorded in the northern valleys recently. I am still waiting for one to land at Anita's lake…

This way or another summer is inevitable. Good thing there are Dragonflies and Damselflies- I promise I will write about them soon.

 

Peace,

Re'a

 

 

 

 

Change of Plan

 

13.5.18

 

 

I wanted to write something like there's no such thing as a "regular" birding season. Giving exciting examples such as Semi-collared flycatcher being the commonest B&W Flycatcher while the other two relatively scarce, Levant Sparrowhawks peaking 10 days earlier than expected, not a single Marsh Warbler, Oriental Honey Buzzards seen daily since March while their European cousins are still missing (opted a different route? Still stuck somewhere south of here? Less than 100,000 were observed this year until now). And of course about the amazing Basra reed Warbler (we will go back to that). Writing was even going well I'd say…and then that happened.

 

On the 11th I had a day off. On my way back from the bank & bakery I spontaneously decided to make a quick stop at Eilat's north beach. Expectations weren't high to say the least. And sure enough, the sea was EMPTY. I mean 0 birds in the 1 KM range. An Indian house crow was the only feathered representative. After 30 minutes of scanning deep sea, which produced a few tens of Common Terns a long way to the south along with 4 Skua sp. I had enough and went back to the car. Scope in the booth, and as I usually do, gave a last scan with my bins, nothing. I sat in the driver's seat, inserted the key and looked straight south as I was about to start the engine.  And right then, in the narrow gap between seeing and understanding, my hand withdrew from the key just before I realized the 3 black and white figures moving in front of me were actually birds. A moment later, very much aware, I looked at 3 Crab Plovers flying along the beach. I took one record shot and went back following them as they flew further out. I called Noam, sent an RBA massage and during these 10 seconds the birds disappeared.

 

 

 

1 on my wish list

 

Pumped full of adrenaline I kept scanning, and soon enough I picked them up heading back towards the shore and landing c.100 meters away from me! Seconds later Noam and Frank arrived. The birds stayed for a few more minutes before they were flushed by a non-birder. The Crab Plover was always no. 1 on my wish list. I can only say I'm extremely happy, and still buzzing high.

 

Overshadowed by the rare and full of character Plover, the Basra reed Warbler is a National and global rarity on its own right. We were lucky enough to trap and ring one of these Iraqi originated birds on the 8th of May.  I first saw this species in the summer of 2006 when a breeding population was found in the Hula Valley by Yoav Perlman and Amit Geffen, but never since.

 

 

Basra Reed Warbler - Global Rarity

 

The bird we caught in Eilat gave us a lesson in bird identification. Being on the big side of the biometric range (88mm wing) and having a rather thick bill, it was not the classic smallish and slender billed appearance characteristic of B.R.Warbler. After a long (and somewhat intense) measuring and consulting we were sure about our identification.

It's not yet the time to look back at the season, but we are surely getting there. The late spring species are everywhere - Rosy Starlings and Golden Orioles are daily at the birds sanctuary, Barred , Icterine, Upcher's  and Olive-tree Warblers roam every acacia grove. Beautiful migratory waders such as Curlew, Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers are sharing the salt pond's bank with tiny and un-proportional Spur winged Lapwing, Kentish Plover and Black winged Stilts fledglings.

 

 

Olive-tree & Upcher's

 

 

Barred & Golden

 

Next week we are going on the monthly deep sea monitoring, just saying.

Peace,

Re'a

 

Noam's comment - Disturbia is here

 

It was inspiring yet devastating to see these so beautiful 3 Crab plovers visiting our beach. I was lucky to see them also last time, 3 years ago and less lucky about 25 years ago when I missed them in a few minutes.

 

Why so devastating? Because they never stay here more than minutes. Watching them this time for 15 long minutes, it was obvious that they came here with positive intentions and planned at least to get some tan, but an Indian House Crow had to check how connected are their tail feathers to their body and made them fly to the Jordanian side of the border. There, the fully wire barbed environment gave them the scare so they came back just in front of where we were standing, just to be flushed by a walker that didn't or didn't want to understand our angry body language.

 

 

 

Nowhere to Land

 

They did give it another try and flew towards the south beaches of Eilat. With my scope I could see them searching for a possible quite spot, but in vain. Our natural beaches are gone. Disturbia is here – in Eilat. So for the birders who came too late and missed them, this time or in the past - it's up to us to change this reality and keep at least one beach closed and undisturbed.

 

 

 

The Hawk Days

 

25.4.18

 

It's not easy for me, sitting down and writing a blog while I know I'm possibly missing on a swarm of Levant Sparrowhawks .they are quick to appear, and even quicker to vanish as they fly north. Eventually I did feel relaxed to spend some time in front of the computer, having seen approx. 20,000 of them during the last few days.

 

 

 

Levant Sparrowhawks swirling overhead        photo: Rea Shaish

 

We were fortunate to enjoy a few magical mornings at the birds sanctuary, while many thousands of Levants passed at tree tops height, many of them stopping for a drink at Anita's lake (to the pleasure of the photographers lucky enough to sit at the special hide), or giving a swift go at hunting the nesting collared doves.   

By far, my best observation of the hawks, and one of my all-time best birding moments occurred while surveying at Timna Valley Park last week. A slow point count at the little puddle behind the Timna Lake ended with the 2 Spectacled Bulbuls going insane with alarm calls. I looked up and saw a mosquito-like pack of c.1000 Levant Sparrowhawks heading towards me.

I noticed many of them were lowering, showing clear intensions of hunting the 40 passerines I just counted and maybe also drinking.  A minute went past, and I was already set in the bush on the shore of the puddle. Waiting. At first, the birds seemed hesitant, and didn't land for more than a few seconds. But as the minutes went by, more and more hawks landed within 10 meters from me, drinking, fighting and moving on.

 

 

Magic moments 10 meters from me.     photo: Rea Shaish

 

It's hard to describe the feeling of being completely surrounded by hundreds of them, while 6,000-7,000 passing overhead. My photos, surely won't do justice to the consuming and at the same time reviving experience.

The Levant Sparrowhawk is a small and beautiful raptor, nesting in south-eastern Europe and western Asia. The world population is estimated 60,000 individuals, the majority of which pass through Eilat during 10 days in spring. Their passage period is usually very short, and characterized by huge and dense flocks, numbering thousands of birds. Their population is considered stable, but any danger (wind turbines etc.) on their flyways bottleneck - southern Arava valley might cause a severe threat.

 

 

You don't see it on movies but Ninja's do drink.      photos: Rea Shaish 

 

Other than the Ninja's (the nickname given to the Levants by Israeli birders) birding has been nothing less than brilliant. First big wave of Blackcaps arrived, accompanied by Barred Warblers, Olive-tree Warblers, Golden Orioles , Thrush Nightingales, Rock Thrushes and the 1st Rosy Starling of the season among others.

 

 

 

Good luck dear Valnerable European Turtle Dove on the left. and hello Oriental Turtle Dove on the right!

photo: Frank Moffatt (Master of spring 2018)

 

Tens of Turtle doves are passing daily, hopefully all of the will make it to their breeding grounds safely. On the waders front - numbers are picking up daily, with up to 23 Red necked Phalaropes at the birds sanctuary, Broad billed Sandpipers and Greater Sandplovers, and several Black-winged Pratincoles at the Flamingo ponds (KM20) & the birds sanctuary, good numbers of Caspian Plovers (most of which found by the relentless Frank Moffatt) and many more.

The sea is full of action as well - Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas are passing by, not before feeding free of charge thanks to the many Common, Little, Sandwich and (early) White Cheeked Terns. The 1st Sooty Shearwater was seen on the monthly deep sea monitoring last week.

 

 

Litte Bunting - Ofira park      photo: Shimon Shiff

 

Some good rarities were seen lately - A splendid Little Bunting was found at Ofira Park by Daniel Branch and the rest of the volunteer's team on the 11th- a very rare spring record and a lifer for me!

A Rufous turtle Dove was found and well recorded by Frank at Yotvata's fields on the 17th.   

Till next time,

 

Peace,

Re'a

 

 

 

Champions of the Flyway

 

9.4.18

 

The bird's flyway conservation family - The Champions of the Flyway, Eilat

 

The thousands of Steppe Buzzards, along with many other migratory bird species that crossed the skies of Eilat this March, probably noticed an unusually large gathering of people looking up at them. Perhaps that gave them a scare. But it was us, the teams assembled for Champions of the Flyway, and we were there to protect them.

 

 

 

Knights of the Flyway 2018 - The Leica Welsh Red Kites with Yoav Perlman.     

Photo: Alan Davies

 

Once a year, a very special family gathering is held in Eilat. Birdwatchers, scientists and nature conservationists from all over the world come here to celebrate the area's awesome spring migration, with a clear goal to protect the flyway, from Africa into Europe and Asia. The event is essentially a birding race; each team tries to see as many bird species as possible within 24 hours, while also competing to raise money from friends, family, and the general public in order to fund campaigns against illegal killing of birds on the flyway.

 

Champions of the Flyway 2018

Birding Ecotours World Youth Birders - 186 species

photo - John Kinghorn

 

The race is a very playful, cheerful and friendly family competition. It is by far more like a gathering of sometimes lonely people, who fight with minimal resources, often against powerful investors, and even their own government, to save birds from habitat destruction, illegal killing, and a myriad of other hazards.

They come from all over the world, and tell similar stories of success against all the odds but also frustration. But just like millions of tiny young warblers, who leave Europe overwhelmed with optimism in face of the many dangers and challenges of their migration, we too are always optimistic in out actions. We are the family of hope.

 

 

 

The Guardians of the Flyway 2018 - The Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers

raised over 28,000$ to the project

Photo: Rich Baines

 

Patricia Zurita, the CEO of BirdLife International, is often quoted saying that "we are the power of many" that gives us our strength. I would add, the power of many lonely people, who are used to fighting unspeakable challenges on their own, but now we are together. I imagine this is a little how the migratory birds feel down here. After the struggle of crossing the Sahara Desert, they find refuge and company, here at the Eilat Bird Sanctuary. Its gives us the extra drive we need to complete the journey, just when it seems impossible.

 

We are not completely alone. The ZEISS Optics Company gives us a strong and strengthening shoulder. It was ZEISS who made possible the inspiring ceremony opening the Champions of the Flyway and it was ZEISS that donated all of the fabulous telescopes and binoculars that we use to bring people closer to birds, nature, and their conservation.

 

 

The Palestine Sunbirds (my team!) - 3rd place with 181 species. Not bad...

photo: Robin Sandham

 

So like the best family gathering ever, we played and had fun. The race day is a real treat.  For once, all teams started the day (more like midnight…) with no birds on their list. Every bird species we saw was a "Lifer" - a first timer, so excitement came with almost every bird. For a birder who knows the feeling – it's awesome, and it was an awesome day. This year's event saw our most impressive results to date, with the winning team racking up a record-breaking 186 species, and a whopping $100,000 raised towards saving the quails in Serbia and Croatia from illegal hunting.

So now, when the fest is over, I wander with my pair of ZEISS Victory 10X42 binoculars on the trails of the Bird Sanctuary in Eilat, and watch the bee-eaters pass by their migration, I know they are not alone on their journey, and neither are we. With this kind of family and support, the flyway is safer than ever.

 

 

 

Darren Woodhead from the Zeiss Yorkshire Terriers Team drew 61 birds species during race day!

photo: Noam Weiss

 

 

 

 

The other migration wave

 

23.1.18

 

It's been amazingly busy two weeks in Eilat. Many good birds on a daily basis and dynamic migration, though the real issue, were the people.

During mid-late march the southern Arava and Eilat region are flooded with hundreds of birders, local and foreign, elderly and youth, first timers and many good old friends. Every morning the parking lot at the Bird sanctuary was packed before dawn, and the hides at Anita's lake were full of heavily armed (optically) folks. In between the different languages and faces (some more red than the others…use some sun-block guys!) one common feature is very much apparent- pure joy!

 

 

class of 1999 use sunscreen

 

The annual spring migration festival enthusiastic groups, the focused COTF (champions of the flyway) teams, and many others came and went. As always, it is a pleasure to have a cup of coffee with some old friends - hope to see you all again next year!

 

Just before the festival started, we had a slightly different event - Art&Birds at the bird sanctuary. During the weekend many families visited us, enjoyed the beauty of birds and expressed their feelings with the help of several artists whom brought their creativity to the field.

 

 

Lesser Flamingo... still around

 

Many eyes found many good birds, and to mention a few -

A beautiful adult male Turkestan Shrike was found on the 21st by Hadoram Shirihai and Guy Kirwan on the western fence of Uvda air force basecamp. A very rare migrant and a true stunner.

A Cyprus Wheatear was seen at Yotvata by David Schonefeld on the 17th. A few days later he found a Black bush Robin inside Kibbutz Lotan' which is highly twichable ATM. Several Semi-collared Flycatchers are present at the parks in and around Eilat. Bimaculated Larks are daily at Yotvata's fields among many Short-toed Larks. A (the?) Olive-backed Pipit is present at the north side of the birds sanctuary/date plantation.

 

 

 

phoenicuroides - a true stunner!    Photo: Frank Moffatt

 

Raptors migration is getting stronger and stronger- while most of the Steppe Eagles are gone by now (still some smart looking juv. around) the Steppe Buzzards are moving fast with up to 10,000 counted by our Raptor survey volunteers. No less than 3 Oriental Honey Buzzards were seen above the bird's sanctuary during the last week.

 

The Lesser Flamingo is still present and showing well at the Flamingo ponds (KM20). The long staying Lesser white-fronted Goose isn't nearly as cooperative as the LF, seen briefly at first light, usually flying out of Anita's lake accompanied by its two Egyptian allies.

 

 

The Dark princess   photo: Frank Moffatt

 

The north beach is slowly waking up, as the first Arctic Skuas showed up, well timed with the first Common Terns.

Next week is the COTF showdown- best of luck to all the teams! I'm sure we will see most of you here at the bird sanctuary…

 

Peace,

Re'a

 

 

A rare week

 

6.3.18

 

Since my last post was sealed and submitted, scarce and rare birds kept showing up in a frightening tempo!

First in line came a Black bush Robin. Although not a MEGA any longer, this dark princess is a heart throb initiator of a major caliber. Anton found this lovely and peaceful individual at the backside of Club-Inn hotel, AKA "Bushes of Liebzie".

 

 

Dark princess BBR    Photo: Shimon Shiff

 

Night life of Eilat is known to be an attraction for many. During the last week, Egyptian Nightjars were recorded in good numbers in the southern Arava - 2-3 at Yotvata's fields, and up to 4 together at Eilot's fields. A breeding population of this species was recently described in the Dead-Sea area. It would be very interesting to find out whether the birds seen each year during early spring in the Arava are somehow related to the breeding population.

 

 

 

Egyptian Nightjar  - Yotvata's fields      Photo: Rei Segali

 

On the 2nd of March, Shachar Shalev and Anton Liebermann had a special moment at the bird sanctuary. Hence a quote of Shachar's recap of their observation:

 

"Pacific Swift over the IBRCE! At this time of year there is a constant flow of Swifts over Eilat and the Arava which are superficially monitored at best. So many Common and Pallid Swifts pass through, we just have no way of checking each one individually. Last year I tried to check as many as I possibly could and didn't find anything of interest. This year I was back to the automatic check a few birds to get an idea of the ratio of Pallid to Common Swifts and maybe pick up the odd Little Swift. Today was a slow day ringing, many retraps, nothing of interest and we were walking back from a net round of only 5 birds.

 

The Steppe Eagles were starting to pass over so we were scanning the skies and I happened on a small number of Swifts coming low over Anita Lake. It was a complete shock when the first bird I checked had a clean white rump (and bears no similarity to a Little Swift whatsoever). "Holy crap! White-rumped Swift!" I yelled at Anton who was all of 1 meter away. I wasn't referring to the species but to the fact that the swift had a white rump. He was on it in a second as the bird weaved its way towards us. Quite a few expletives came out, partly because we didn't have our cameras on us but mainly because it was a stunning bird and it passed so low and close to us you could see every feather.

 

We were also lucky to get plenty of time on the swift which weaved around for around 60 seconds before continuing north. The most obvious feature of the bird was the broad white rump which was very clearly defined and easily visible as the bird turned and from a side view. As the bird came right towards us a Pallid Swift passed beside him giving an excellent chance to see the differences.

The Pacific Swift is really dark, blacker than a Common Swift and obviously nothing like a Pallid Swift. It was clearly bigger than the Pallid Swift, its wings were longer and more pointed and the tail was deeply forked. The barring on the belly was only visible when it came over us and wasn't as distinct as some other Pacific Swifts but clearly something you won't see on a Common Swift. The white throat patch was wide like a Pallid Swift but better defined. In general the bird looked in excellent condition without any blemishs or patches. Its size and color quickly ruled out White-rumped Swift and I had the RBA out very quickly after it disappeared. We were both very sure of the ID but we did go over all the possibilities just to be certain. So much adrenaline in such a short time!

After ringing we went north to look for swifts. We didn't find the bird but we did learn something. At Yotvata we saw hundreds of Swifts passing over and soon found five Little Swifts....the first we have seen this spring, so we are obviously missing them with the quick scans. Keep an eye on those swifts, one day it will pay off!"

 

 

 

Steppe by Steppe...      Photo: Rei Segali

 

The Raptor survey team, although having some good Steppe Eagle days, couldn't enjoy some of the Rare birds (the untwichable ones…). To even the field, on the  4th, Gaidis Grandans was lucky enough to spot a Lesser Flamingo among the hundreds of Greater Flamingos! This would be the 3rd national record! At last, a very sedentary and easy to relocate.

Sure enough, everyone saw it well as it is still at the same pool while I'm writing these words.

 

The last two records of Lesser Flamingoes were of shiny adult birds that over stayed for long periods, giving room to the claim that their origin was not completely natural or even that both records are of the same returning bird. This time the Flamingo is not an adult so they are probably natural after all, coming all the way from East Africa, with their bigger "brothers", the Great Flamingoes.

 

 

Lesser Flamingo - 3rd for Israel       Photo: Frank Moffatt

 

What's still to come? We can only hope and imagine…but I can guarantee we will do our best to make all you twitchers drive down south at the dead of night ;-)

 

Peace,

Re'a

 

 

 

 

So it's on again… Spring

 

28.2.18

 

So it's on again. Excitement of fresh arrivals of migrants washes our hearts every time we welcome new species of birds in the bird sanctuary, and now it's on a daily base.

The Steppe Eagles are back to roam Eilat's skies, House Martins, Barn Swallows, Pallid and Common Swifts are everywhere. It's all expected, and yes, we have seen it all before, but it's a magical moment to just listen to the new rustling in the scrub and the murmur between the high branches of the trees, and know, It's all coming back - migration.

 

 

 

Cyprus Warbler - male.      Photo: Yoav Perlman

 

I try to share my excitement with the school kids who often come to hear bird tales at the bird sanctuary or just a family that got lost and ended up here, and they grasp it - These tiny sophisticated cute creatures are also the bravest of all living beings, leaving their safe homes through deserts, dangers and famine, just to be somewhere better, somewhere new. Each one of these ticking and tacking warblers, is on an impossible private mission, heaped with optimism and hope, we can only admire.

And our new staff members, our volunteers' team is landing one by one, getting to know our small heaven of Eilat, through us birder's special binoculared spectacles (ZEISS Preferably, Victory 10X42 in my case) - the diversity of birds. I could feel their enthusiasm already through their last Emails, and now here, overwhelmed by the beauty and melody of a Sunbird, their eyes spark the excitement of migration and something big and new, that is on the way.

 

I'll do my best to keep you updated with what is happening here. The Raptor survey already works hard and today got to count hundreds of Steppe Buzzards and the Ringing station began the daily monitoring of the physical condition of the migrants on Thursday.

Please follow our Raptor survey on Trektellen at:

http://www.birds.org.il/en/trektellen-data.aspx?ttId=11

 

And visit our ringing station at the bird sanctuary.

Noam Weiss

 


 

 

Long-toed Stint - 3rd for Israel         Photo: Anton Lebermann

 

A fruitful first two weeks of the season had passed, and we can count some sweet early highlights!

First of all, a LONG TOED STINT, 3rd Israeli record was found at the canal just out of the bird sanctuary ( told you this place is going to provide!) by our monitoring team (Franz Wenzl, Anton Liebermann and yours truly). Unfortunately, the Stint was seen for several minutes and disappeared, and wasn’t found subsequently. These are the only photos, taken by Anton.

 

 

 

Long-toed Stint 25.2.18 IBRCE    Photo: Anton Liebermann

 

Such a find might overshadow the rest of the birds, but things are feeling very solid even without this mega rarity. Good numbers of Sylvia warblers are all around, including many Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Sardinian warblers, some Ruppell's and Spectacled Warblers, and good numbers of Cyprus Warblers (up to 5 together is some locations).

 

At the ringing station numbers are going up, with daily average of 70 birds. Last week we had the first foreign control - A Lesser Whitethroat carrying a Dutch ring! This bird was ringed as an adult, on the 2.6.2014. The ringing site is Lauwersoog, North West of Groningen, 3527 KM away from Eilat.

 

Other good early spring migrants seen around include many Balkan Warblers, Reed&Sedge Warblers, Woodchat Shrikes, Black Eared & Isabelline Wheatears, a single Bimaculated Lark, and some Short-Toed Larks.

Last but not least- the Crakes are here and showing well! Many Little Crakes and 2 Baillon's Crakes are present at Anita lake's lush reed bed. These mysterious and beautifully painted creatures are some of my all-time favorites!

 

I'm anxious what tomorrow will bring!

Peace,

Re'a

 

 

 

The great desert survey

 

26.2.18

 

 

 

Desert Survey - Feb 2018   photo - Hila Shwartz

 

We have just implemented one of the most incredible birding projects - the great desert survey. It was great in many special ways. We have monitored a region that was never surveyed and arrived in sites that were never observed by birders before.

We have done so with 25 teams of more than 60 volunteers who came from all over the country (and the world), proving the cynics that we have a vibrant birders community that will go far for nature conservation.

We have conducted it with full partnership with the National Parks Authority that brought its rangers, jeeps and knowledge of the area, Itai Shani from the regional council's environmental unit who was on the planning and precise implementation and the Ornithological Center that was on the GIS and reporting system.

 

 

Left - super supper in the desert   right - Scaning for the desert residents  photos - Eran Hyams

 

But what made it truly magnificent, was the desert.

I live here for quite many years now. I dream the desert in my sleep and wake up with it every morning. Blackstarts are my garden birds and the Sooty Falcons fill my summer skies with action.

As an extreme habitat it's also very interesting. In some rainy years (30mm of rain per year is a really wet one), the biological carrying capacities (the mass of life it can sustain) are high and in some years it's very low, and only the really tough ones - the White crowned and Hooded Wheatears, remain.

 

The birds, just like some humans, adapt to it by nomadism, placing themselves in the optimal spot in the desert to survive or even to grow a new generation, even if it means staying somewhere else every year. You sometimes need to be an opportunist to survive here. So each time, I and the birds I observe, get to see it from a different angel and in new sites.

Not so long ago, Temminck's and Thick-billed Larks were extremely rare. Hoopoe Larks were on the verge of extinction and a Spotted or Crowned Sandgrouse was almost unheard of. With the rain it all resurfaced after years of absence, but in different locations and patterns from year to year.

 

 

Hoopoe chase!    photo - Frank Moffatt

 

Our goal this time was to map these sites where the nomad birds roam, and we will do so for the next few years. The desert is threatened by development plans and we must be ready with valid data to protect the places where the birds stay.

 

The birders smiles coming out of the field, following a dusty adventurous day, was impossible to erase for some time. Their Facebook pages filled with virgin landscapes, insects and rare plants, Wolfs, Onagers, and Gazelles passed only a fringe of the excitement. It was awesome.

 

We got some really valuable data too. No less than 18 Hoopoe Larks were recorded - most of them were singing males in new locations in the Arava valley and high up the wadis in the southern Negev. Our distribution map of this species has changed dramatically. Thick-Billed Larks were found gathering in 3 sites we didn't know of, Temminck's Larks were recorded in hundreds and Macqueen Bustards apparently roam the higher plains along the Egyptian border.

 

 

Birders in the desert - see you next year...

 

But the real jewels were the common birds that we finally got to systematically monitor - Scrub and Spectacled Warblers, Mourning and Hooded Wheatears, Bar-tailed Larks and even Southern Grey Shrikes that our knowledge of their abundancy was very limited.

 

I hope we can reward the desert's beauty we experienced with protecting it. Now we have the tools to do so.

Thank you to all our partners and volunteers. You are beautiful people. We did something important together.

Let's make it a habit.

 

 
or a Rabbit...    photo - Jonathan Ben Simon

 

 

The Secret Garden of Birding

 

4.2.18

 

Birds are fabulous and we birders know it very well. They are beautiful, painted gray and white or with a rainbow of colors, matched together through centuries of evolution. They are amazingly capable of migrating immense distances or surviving the harshest habitats. They are irrationally optimist, leaving their homes for the first time to an unknown destination, through challenge and danger with determination no man has. They are funny, cute and diverse, and keep surprising us wherever we watch.

 

For many of us, birding is therapeutic. Connecting us to something we need to be attached to - our surroundings, nature and ourselves, even if it makes no practical sense sometimes. It's our secret garden, where our running minds are turned off and love and compassion grows. This is probably why we are so eager to protect it - it's precious.

 

Our job at Eilat's birds sanctuary is to protect the birds at the bottleneck of their flyway, where Steppe Eagles alongside with Willow Warblers use the only land bridge connecting Eurasia with Africa, and where they can safely stop-over and feed following the challenging crossing of the foodless Sahara desert.

We maintain habitats and study the bird's needs during their migration,  advocate and make environmental campaigns, educate and create a birds loving community who supports us now and when the day comes.

 



 

 

Our secret tool is the key to the secret garden.  We can tell the bird's epic stories of migration or describe their wisdom and beauty but that won't get you in. When the ZEISS team offered their support to the International Birding and Research Center in Eilat, we were thrilled to get the fantastic Victory SF for our guides and the Gavia telescopes for our monitoring team.

But what we really wanted were the ZEISS Terra binoculars. Relatively cheap but of great quality, it makes for the first timer the difference between a tale and reality; they are wowed. For me, ZEISS Terra is the key to share the secret garden. When I hand them to the visitors at the bird sanctuary I know, they are changed. They will never forget the bright sight of a hovering Pied Kingfisher or the deep blue face of the Little Green Bee-eater. "Did you notice the beautiful green eyes of a Cormorant?" they ask, and I know, what you see is what you love, and what you admire is what you will fight to protect.

 

Thank you ZEISS team - you made a difference!

 

 

 

 

Roses in the desert

 

24.1.18

 

When I began birding, as a young boy, I used to browse through my birds guide, an old and somewhat ran down Heinzel, Pitter & Parslow for hours. Acquainted mostly with the yard birds, some species appeared nothing less than mythical on the book pages. The Sinai Rosefinch was one of those which sparked my imagination.

A few years later, my first encounter with the pink desert fairies, at a remote fountain deep in the Judean desert was magical. Since then I have seen them many times, in several locations, but always in the same mysterious context - appearing out of the mountains, landing for a brief drink of water and vanishing back into the vastness of the mountains.

 

 

Very little is known about their life and populations in Israel, and in the Eilat region particularly in recent years. Traditionally they are seen in specific drinking locations, but their foraging and breeding grounds, as well as the true population size are vague. Hadoram Shirihai, in his 1996 Birds of Israel, describes seasonal movement of the majority of the population between breeding grounds at high elevation to lower wintering areas. During the 80’s some flocks of up to 45 birds were recorded on the edges of the southern Arava valley. However, since the 90’s there were no records of more than 20 birds together in this area.

 

The habitat choice of this extreme desert dwellers makes them even more enigmatic and prestigious - nesting is held in remote and craggy high desert mountains, dependent on permanent drinking water source. Winter is spent in desert wadis and plateaus, usually around Acacia trees and Ochradenus baccatus bushes.

Currently, it seems something has changed - throughout this winter big numbers of Sinai Rosefinches are present in their traditional locations - up to 35 ind. at Amram pillars, 10-15 at wadi Netafim, and big numbers also in Timna Park (at least 35 birds at a single spot).

Adi Gantz even reported a frock of 45 in wadi Botem, high up in the Eilat mountains.  

 

 

Are these big flocks a sign of the local population’s growth or just a normal fluctuation? Honestly, I can’t say. Anyway, it’s an experience not to be missed!

 

Other than that, the birding around here is slow but very solid! The desert is still packed with goodies like 50 Temminck’s larks and 35 Bar-tailed Larks at Ovda, several Hoopoe Larks in different locations, and numerous Asian desert Warblers. All of the rare Wheatears (Red-rumped, Basalt and Kurdish) are showing well too.

 

 

left - Common Rosefinch   right - Siberian Chiffchaf

 

Yotvata’s fields provide a good afternoon’s worth of birding, with a Steppe Grey Shrike, many Desert Wheatears, a few Lesser short toed Larks and a single Oriental skylark.

At the bird sanctuary a good variety of winter visitors like Olive-backed Pipit, Common Rosefinch, Siberian Chiffchaff and others are seen daily alongside with the vanguard of spring migrants - Pallid Swifts, Barn Swallows, House Martins and a few splendid Mustached Warblers.

Our first volunteer of the season, Franz, arrived a few day ago, and we are anticipating the arrival of the rest of the team.

 

Peace,

Re'a   

 

 

 

 

Black Coffee, White Front

 

3.1.18

 

Winter at the bird sanctuary - no ringing, mornings are cold (15°C), birding is kind of slow. In this non dramatic environment little rituals are created to maintain the daily routines - writing programs and proposals, habitat maintenance and management, planning new exciting things for the next seasons and so on.

 

The day's first cup of coffee is, by far, my favorite ritual. I drink it black, hot, with a pinch of sugar. Yesterday though,  my coffee ceremony was brutally interrupted.

The annual wintering Greater Cormorant count was conducted from early morning by Noam. He asked me to help him by counting the Cormorants at Anita's lake, while he start the "real" survey at the north beach. I can't say I was over thrilled to say the least, especially as my boiling mug was just about at the right temperature. Nevertheless I braved out of the ringing station towards the lake.

 

Initially, I considered not taking my bins - I could have easily counted 13 cormorants from 25 meters with the naked eye. Eventually I did end up taking it with me, not sure why - perhaps it was the notion of the Great Bittern that has been eluding me since November…  or maybe just my basic birding instinct.

 

At the lake, me to myself:

Me: one Cormorant, two Cormorants…9 Cormorants…wait, what is swimming in the back?

Self: Lesser white-fronted Goose.

Me: oh…

Self:

Me: wait, what!?!?

Self: wasn't I clear? Look at the white front, tiny pink bill, a complete orange orbital ring, and its size. Now get yourself together and call Ohad and Noam before it buggers off!

 

 

 

Lesser White-fronted Goose - Lake Anita 3.1.18

Photo: Noam Weiss

 

Two minutes later Ohad joined me to enjoy the goose, swimming around, feeding on reed leafs and generally acting calmly, A lifer for me and an extreme rarity (10th national record). I was overwhelmed, but I felt something was missing…my coffee!

I went back to the ringing station, had a warm-ish coffee gulp, and headed out, just to meet Ohad with the news that the bird just flew away. Oh well, back to writing autumn 2017 ringing summary.

 

This is a 2nd cy bird, with an incomplete white blaze and almost no dark belly patches. Geese are generally rare in Israel. Greater white-fronted Geese are scarce but regular winter visitors, Greylags are very rare and irregular, Bean Goose is a vagrant with 4-5 records. Quite amazingly, I have seen all of them around dry Eilat. The Lesser White-fronted Goose is listed as vulnerable and decreasing by BirdLife International.

 

 

 

Lesser White-fronted Goose in Eilat - 10th for Israel - Januar 2018

Photo: Noam Weiss

 

So things are not really as slow as you may think. End of December and the beginning of January are the slowest days of the year, with virtually no migration, but still some good birds are seen around - a Brown Booby at the north beach (sadly, tangled with some fishing wires), an occasional Syrian Serin or two at the bird sanctuary, a breeding plumage White-winged black Tern at KM20 Flamingo ponds.

The desert is as good as ever before, with all the rare Wheatears (Basalt, Red-rumped and Kurdish) still showing well, abnormal numbers of Asian desert Warblers, Sinai Rosefinches in several locations and so on.

We are still waiting for a winter storm that will bring the first rain to the southern Arava, though spring is just around the corner - last week the first House Martin flew north overhead!

 

 

Peace,

Re’a  

 


 

 


 

See you in Eilat

 

Spring is just around the corner

 

Noam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Little Green Bee-eater. Photo - Shlomi Bachar


 

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