Wednesday 30 March 2016

Israel - update 3 (third time lucky)

I woke up as usual early on today, and had a quick look in at Holland Park. It was a bit breezy, and I quickly decided to go back down to my old favourite - Ofira Park - to see what was about. I parked up and in quick succession a couple of Wrynecks, a Hoopoe and two Cretzschmar's Buntings hopped out. Not bad at all, and though the buntings were skittish, I did manage something on this cracking male.
Cretzschmar's Bunting Ofira Park, Eilat 30th March 2016
Wryneck Ofira Park, Eilat 30th March 2016
Walking around the park even more, and I spotted something black-and-white whizz past in the wind. Thankfully it quickly settled, and it was a cracking (1st-summer) male Semi-collared Flycatcher. Some nice views perched and flycatching, where the extensive white tail sides were nicely seen.

1st-summer male Semi-collared Flycatcher Ofira Park, Eilat 30th March 2016
Picking up Karen from the hotel, we headed up into the Eilat Mountains for an hour or so of raptors - more than yesterday admittedly but largely confined to Steppe Buzzards with the odd Steppe Eagle and an Egyptian Vulture thrown in. Eastern Mourning Wheatear and Tristram's Grackle up there on Mount Yo'ash too.
Steppe Buzzard Eilat Mountains 30th March 2016
After another good breakfast, with a Tristram's Grackle for company, it was off back up route 90 for me. The unfortunate 'need' to see what conceivably is a mega Afrotropical vagrant (or dodgy duck?) meant that the third trip for the Red-billed Teal had to be done. Armed with a bit more info of other sites to check (thanks Yoav!), I pulled up at Iddan sewage works and was greeted by half a dozen Mallard, and with them... half a Red-billed Teal. One of a couple of hybrids that have been in the area.
hybrid Red-billed Teal x Mallard Iddan, Israel 30th March 2016
So I was getting closer... and so to Hatseva again and those two stinky sewage ponds. Nothing, predictably. And it was back towards the main road and taking a track northeast on the east side of the field school to a couple of irrigation ponds. Last throw of the dice for the day. As I got out of the car a couple of ducks flew about - both Teal. This gave me the impetus to start walking and no sooner had I started, and on the first scan, there was the target - the Red-billed Teal! Roosting on the bank, with such an exposed location, it quickly took flight and did a few circuits with five Teal before ditching down where I was able to get some nice views through the heat haze. Whatever the origins, it was a pretty smart bird and those 300km round trip drives from Eilat were all worthwhile. The joys of WP listing!

Red-billed Teal Hatseva, Israel 30th March 2016
Back in Eilat, after a bit more time with the Semi-collared Flycatcher and other bits in Ofira Park, Karen and I headed up to km20 salt pans for the last hour of light. A decent flock of Glossy Ibises cruised in from the south and three Red-necked Phalaropes were new in, but apart from that it was the same line up as yesterday.
Glossy Ibises km20 salt pans, Eilat 30th March 2016
Kentish Plover km20 salt pans, Eilat 30th March 2016

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Israel - update 2 (still dipping that teal)

Champions of the Flyway day today (not participating myself) and Eilat was heaving - North Beach in the evening and then the salt pans mid afternoon were gridlock too. Up until then though, I didn't see anyone really... but a decent part of the middle of the day was spent up at Hazeva dipping the Red-billed Teal again. Yoav gave me the gen where he saw it at the weekend, but Idan sewage works didn't deliver either. Six Teal, a Garganey, a Squacco and a few flava wagtails were all I got out of it.
Slender-billed Gull Eilat km20 salt pans, Israel 29th March 2016
However, all wasn't lost as early morning I had a drive about km20 pools, where there'd been an increase in Marsh Sandpipers since yesterday as well as a couple of Collared Pratincoles and a Caspian Tern. A group of Black Storks that had roosted in the desert took off on the first thermals of the day.
Marsh Sandpiper Eilat km20 salt pans, Israel 29th March 2016
Collared Pratincole Eilat km20 salt pans, Israel 29th March 2016
Back south into Eilat, this Little Bee-eater posed in the warm early morning light.
Little Bee-eater Eilat, Israel 29th March 2016
Eilat Mountains were disappointing mid morning, with a couple of Steppe Eagles along with the Steppe Buzzards - with the cool northerly wind, I was probably a little too early in the day for the thermals and so had to do with an impressive flock of White Storks early rising.
White Storks Eilat Mountains, Israel 29th March 2016
Similar to yesterday, I spent the evening at North Beach where there were still a couple of Brown Boobies on the Jordanian side, as well as a Little Tern, Caspian Tern and a few Steppe Buzzards and three Purple Herons over. Not vintage but it seemed like the crowds had enjoyed their day.
Black Kite Eilat, Israel 29th March 2016

Monday 28 March 2016

Israel update part 1

I couldn't really think of anything more imaginative to be honest. I've now had a couple of days back in Israel, my first visit here since spring 2009. Little seems to have changed, though I seem to be surrounded by the global birding glitterati this year with the likes of David Lindo et al all competing for the title of Champions of the Flyway. I had my own mission, and it was a tough start yesterday...

I arrived on the Judean Plains at just after 8am, with the first Short-toed Eagles taking off soon after along with some nice sounds of Quail, Bee-eater, Red-throated Pipit, Fan-tailed Warbler and Corn Bunting. However, a lot of what this trip was planned around - a long staying Bateleur - failed to show to start off with, and Lee and Garry arrived soon after to provide some decent value and chit chat. Around midday, and I had headed to another spot to the north of Gal'on to view, when all of a sudden I got a call from Baggers saying that they'd got the bird (well, Lee and one other). Hearing it was distant and well to the east of where they were, we all descended on one spot and failed to locate it again. So getting a bit impatient and standing in a spot where some Hungarians had seen it last week, I headed back to the original location. and, within 10 minutes or so of getting back, there over the distant hillside was a bat like creature, wings held high and zero tail - the distinctive silhouette of a Bateleur! So I called the guys again, though within a minute or so it had dropped down where according to Lee it had dropped down on his sighting. And that was that, because Karen had patiently waited for over 5 hours in the car and it was time to head south - happy but not elated as views were pretty average.
migrating Black Storks Hazeva, Israel 27th March 2016
Anyway, stopped in at Hazeva and no sign of the Red-billed Teal. Probably no indicator as sounds like I got the wrong place! A group of 20 Collared Pratincoles, a couple of Sand Partridges and a dozen Black Storks overhead were nice. A load of White Storks had come down in the desert last thing, and always good to see and atmospheric with it.
Spanish Sparrows Eilat, Israel 28th March 2016
Hoopoe Eilat, Israel 28th March 2016
Eastern Bonelli's Warbler Eilat, Israel 28th March 2016
So I started to day off in familiar style, heading to Ofira Park; I've always been a sucker for this place and it didn't disappoint in the way of an introduction to migrants - among the copious numbers of Lesser Whitethroats, there were Tree Pipit, Masked Shrike, Hoopoe, Ortolan, Wryneck, Bluethroat, Eastern Bonelli's, Eastern Subalpine, a female Ruppell's Warbler and a few Spanish Sparrows. What was amazing was the presence of a couple of Tristram's Grackles - seems they've spread like wildfire since I was last here.
Tristram's Grackle Eilat, Israel 28th March 2016
After a decent breakfast and quick relax, it was back off up the road to km20 saltpans late morning. Enjoyable times here with a load of common stuff like Little Stints, Ruff, Wood Sandpipers, Spur-winged Plovers and Slender-billed Gulls - Marsh Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover, a couple of Shelduck and Black-headed Gulls as well as a splattering of Greater Flamingos too.
Marsh Sandpiper km20 saltpans, Israel 28th March 2016
Slender-billed Gull km20 saltpans, Israel 28th March 2016
With a bit of time on my hands, I headed to Hai-bar, where in the reserve car park it seems there are some pretty faithful Black Bush Robins. And so there were, after an hour or so, one bird - great views but by the time I'd switched to the camera it didn't oblige. Incompetence on my part, though an Eastern Orphean Warbler didn't get away!
Eastern Orphean Warbler Arava Valley, Israel 28th March 2016
The late afternoon and evening were spent at North Beach where along with a couple of Brown Boobies and White-eyed Gulls offshore, eyes to the skies produced a flock of migrating Grey Herons with a couple of smaller Purples thrown in, some nice slick Baltic Gulls heading north and a group of fifty or so Glossy Ibises just prior to sunset. All this to the backdrop of the Eilat Mountains and loud voices of Champions of the Flyway contestants explaining to the media the significance of this year's event.

Friday 25 March 2016

First signs of spring here in London

Cloudless and blue today. After such a slog this winter to get any decent weather, perhaps Spring is finally here. For today at least. Anyway, a walk around Crossness with John A produced a couple of Little Ringed Plovers (my first summer migrants of the year) on the paddocks as well as two Green Sandpipers. Three Buzzards went through, while the river was really quiet - a ringed Black-headed Gull was the best we could do (it was ringed as a chick at Lea Farm GP, Berkshire in 2014).

Back in Rotherhithe, I managed to get a patch tick out of the day. There'd been a Green Woodpecker discovered in Russia Dock Woodland a couple of weeks back by Richard PJ, and I finally managed to lay my eyes on it today. It was a bit of a pain, always being one step ahead as were the five Redwings that were feeding in the leaf litter in the newly cleared area. And so it was time for an easier target, with the female Common Scoter still lingering in Southwark Park and trying to evade the pedalos on this sunny Bank Holiday afternoon.

female Common Scoter Southwark Park 25th March 2016
On the walk back, still in Southwark Park, a couple of Stock Doves were on the bank by the athletics track and on Greenland Dock with large gull numbers building up there was a NTGG ringed 2nd-winter Herring Gull.
Stock Dove Southwark Park 25th March 2016
2nd-winter Herring Gull Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe 25th March 2016

Tuesday 22 March 2016

a not so common scoter

On Monday morning, a Common Scoter was found on the lake at Southwark Park. A crippling record for Rotherhithe, and with the lake itself pretty small, the views were excellent. Last night it didn't help that I arrived late, and without my camera! Seeing it diving about among some newly hatched Egyptian Geese was slightly bizarre though. With it still being about today, I decided to have some more prolonged second looks in the last hour of light.
female Common Scoter Southwark Park 22nd March 2016
Good to see a pair of Little Grebe on Southwark Park lake too - not always a permanent fixture here in Rotherhithe. Nice also to see a bit more coverage here the past few weeks, though not by me with work and life meaning I've been neglecting the local area recently unfortunately.

Sunday 20 March 2016

Saturday's tip action - Caspian Gulls and more

I spent the morning on the tip yesterday. There were a surprising amount of gulls still up there, as it is about now things tend to fizzle out. It was pretty overcast, with a breeze creating more than usual in the way of dust but the gulls evidently didn't mind. As usual, it started off slow but things got going with the highlights being three Caspian Gulls, a handful of Mediterranean Gulls and some interesting rings among the 30+ I managed to read. The best Caspian Gull was a 1st-winter bird that I hadn't seen before; a well-marked individual that was extremely aggressive as well as showy.
1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea, Essex 19th March 2016
 Last week's 1st-winter Caspian Gull was once again present: -

1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea, Essex 19th March 2016 - same bird as last weekend
While my first second-winter Caspian Gull for a while roosted up on one of the banks for a while before heading into the melee. This bird exhibits all the plumage traits you'd expect with a Caspian Gull of this age, including the P10 mirrors: -

2nd-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea, Essex 19th March 2016
Med Gull wise, there was a close knit pair and the odd single which included this yellow-ringed bird: -
Mediterranean Gull 2E30 Pitsea, Essex 19th March 2016. Ringed here in Feb 2012, and seen in both Kent and Suffolk in February 2016.
Among the gull rings, a few really interesting records too. There was the return of a now 22 year old Great Black-backed Gull from Norway, an 11 year old Norwegian Lesser Black-backed Gull that hadn't been seen since 2009 as well as a Lesser Black-backed Gull with a new ringing scheme for me, most probably from northern Germany.
adult Great Black-backed Gull JH417 Pitsea, Essex 19th March 2016. 22 years old, having been ringed as a chick at Kjellingen, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway on 8th July 1994. Now fitted with a colour ring and data logger, this bird spends its summers in Norway and winters around southeast England and France.
adult Lesser Black-backed Gull J154 Pitsea, Essex 19th March 2016. Ringed as a chick on Lislandholmen, Nordhorsvær, Sømna, Nordland, Norway on 21st July 2005, and seen at Pinto landfill, Madrid, Spain on 14th November 2009 (but nowhere since).
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull JWJ32 Pitsea, Essex 19th March 2016. Ringed as a chick at Nordre Rønner, Læsø, Nordjylland, Denmark on 29th June 2015 (and I saw this at Pitsea on 6th Feb 2016 too).

Thursday 17 March 2016

Last weekend - Iceland and Caspian Gulls on the tip

It's been a bit of a slog this week, and I meant to write this a couple of nights ago - just a brief summary of a decent morning last Saturday on the tip, and then a brief hour or so in Greenwich on Sunday.
juvenile Iceland Gull Pitsea, Essex 13th March 2016
Saturday started off really murky, but once the fog had burnt off it became a pretty pleasant early spring day. Top of the pile bird wise was the first Iceland Gull, a juvenile, of the winter on the tip; it came in late morning (at 11.15am) as I picked it up flying, but no sooner had I picked it up - and managed one photo - the ringers' cannon went bang and that was that!

1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea, Essex 13th March 2016
A couple of Caspian Gulls were welcome too, a first-winter that hung about for most of the morning as well as a really slick looking near-adult that was present in the melee by the tip face rather more briefly.

1st-winter Caspian Gull Pitsea, Essex 13th March 2016
Ring wise, things were a little quiet with 16 NTGG birds as well as a Dutch ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull too; interestingly one of the NTGG ringed Lesser Black-backed Gulls was a Dutch breeder too, so perhaps a push of birds heading back to their breeding grounds.
adult female Lesser Black-backed Gull (FANW) Pitsea, Essex 13th March 2016; ringed as an adult female at Texel, The Netherlands on 29th May 2012 and seen every year since with over 40 ring reads (though this is the first non-Dutch one)
It was also the first time this spring that it felt like Mediterranean Gull numbers had really increased, with at least half a dozen - all adults bar a first-winter.
adult Mediterranean Gull Pitsea, Essex 13th March 2016
Back in Rotherhithe, a walk about Russia Dock Woodland on Saturday afternoon produced a vocal flock of 10 Siskins plus a Kingfisher and Mistle Thrush. Sunday was again a nice bright day, but with other stuff I needed to do, birding was confined to an hour blitz of the Greenwich gulls by the O2. Pretty quiet, though always nice to get a Norwegian beast: -
1st-winter Great Black-backed Gull (JZ700) Greenwich, London 14th March 2016 ringed at Værholmen, Arendal, Aust-Agder, Norway as a chick on 30th June 2015

Saturday 12 March 2016

female Pine Bunting and bits from last weekend

Back to last weekend and my day out in The Netherlands. There were birds everywhere - good to see lots of geese and ducks by the roadside as we headed back southwest from Amsterdam. Target was a female Pine Bunting, a plumage I'd never seen before having only seen two males of this species (both in Britain, in 1996 and 2005). And having found the site at Wilhelminadorp, just like the rubythroat earlier in the day, this was one showy little bird. Very educational too. As always click on the images to see them in decent definition.

Never having seen a female Pine Bunting, I'd got my search image all wrong. I thought it was going to 'feel' like a Yellowhammer, but this didn't. It felt nice and rare, fresh from Siberia. It was heard to call too; like a Yellowhammer but pinchier and slightly more metallic. A lovely warm rump, cold mantle braces, dark ear-covert surround and an open facial pattern with a nice pale eye ring, sub-moustachial and slightly streaked, pale throat.

female Pine Bunting Wilhelminadorp, Zeeland, The Netherlands 5th March 2016
And on the way, I got my only Western Palearctic tick of the day - Alexandrine Parakeet in trees on the north side of Vondelpark, Amsterdam! Every little helps.
Alexandrine Parakeet Vondelpark, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 5th March 2016
Sunday was inevitably spent close to home, in a bit of a daze due to the lack of sleep on Friday night. Anyway, local birding delivered and there was a Firecrest in Russia Dock Woodland (first I've seen there for over 5 years) as well as a Kingfisher, while on the river a ringed Herring Gull proved to be from near Rufforth, Yorkshire.
Herring Gull Y:109 Rotherhithe, London 6th March 2016 - ringed at Harewood Whin, Rufforth, Yorks on 26th October 2015