Sunday, 6 April 2014
It's April and this has got to be the best month to be trampling the sacred grounds of The Scrubs, my beleagured local patch. My early spring wanderings here are due to change, almost certainly for the worst, once work commences on the HS2 and London Underground stations that are to be built immediately north of my patch. No doubt some of that building work will spill over onto the site. I imagine that I may have just one, perhaps two springs left before it's all change.
Anyway, the past few weeks have brought in two Wheatears, up to eight Blackcaps holding territory and around five singing Chiffchaffs. Many of the resident birds are in full song including Song Thrushes, Dunnock, Wrens and Robins. I even watched the latter species courtship feeding recently. Three days ago I recorded a flyby male Ring Ouzel that showed itself for the briefest of moments before heading high to the north.
Today, we had our first Swallows that swept low over the football pitches as they headed west into the grey, rain laden horizon. I also came across the below black-backed gull. At first I thought that I was looking at an adult Baltic Gull given its small size compared to the attendant Herring Gulls.
Baltic Gulls(Larus fuscus fuscus) are seen by most authorities as a northern subspecies of the more familiar Lesser Black-back (L.l graellsii) whilst others see them as a completely seperate species. The main differences are that fuscus has a black mantle that matches its black wingtips while graellsii has a mantle that is midway in hue between a Herring Gull and a Great Black back (which itself is as black-backed as fuscus). Thus, graellsii has a much darker slate grey back than a Herring Gull and the wingtips are discernably darker as they are black. The other notable difference is that fuscus has a slimmer more elegant carriage than graellsii, a feature made more prominent by the former's longer wings whose tips extend beyond the end of the tail - more so than graellsii.
Just wait until you try to start deciphering the mottled brown immature birds. Anyway, back to the bird that I spied on the football pitches. I was seriously thinking Baltic Gull until I noticed that my bird had pink legs and quite prominent white spots on its primaries. The bird was indeed a Great Black-back albeit a smallish one - perhaps a female. Great Black-backs have pink legs as opposed to the Lesser Black-back's yellow pins. Also, Great Black-backs normally have more white spotting (or mirrors) on their wingtips than their smaller congenor.
Great Black-back amongst 2nd summer Herring Gulls
Note the slightly bigger sizeIt's always worth looking at every bird you come across, even if it is in the middle of the concrete jungle. I went home after seeing the Great Black-back to pore over a couple of books to remind myself of its characteristics. Always be open to learning more about the birds that you often take for granted.
Saturday, 5 April 2014
White WagtailThe Champions of the Flyways Bird Race was organised by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The whole thing was steered by the energetic and all around nice guy Jonathan Meyrav with the help of his colleagues. The race featured 24 competing teams of birders from Israel, Britian, Georgia and the US racing around Eilat and the surrounding Negev Desert trying to identify as many species as possible over a 24 hour period.
To cut a long and sweaty story short, my team ended up with a very respectable 140 species. The winners were The Palestine Sunbirders on 169. Second were the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology e-birders on 165. Third were The Digital Stringers on 165 - the highest ranking British team.
The Media Birders - (L-R) Stephen Moss, Tim Appleton & TUB
Assembled teams awaiting an evening visit from Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse coming in to drink.
Eilat is an amazing region for birding and the cause for this brilliant bird race is also very very worthy.
Please donate here: - http://www.champions-of-the-flyway.com/ to help protect migrant birds from illegal hunting.
My Eilat and environs bird list
Western Reef Egret
Little Ringed Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Lesser Black-back Gull (fuscus)
Little Green Bee-eater
Yellow Wagtail (flava & feldegg)
White-crowned Black Wheatear
Pied Bush Chat
Eastern Orphean Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler
Wednesday, 2 April 2014
A selection of the birds we encountered on our bird race.
An Osprey preturbs a passing flock of Feral Pigeons
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears
Spotted Redshank with a Marsh Sandpiper
A colour-ringed Houbara Bustard of unknown provenance
Monday, 31 March 2014
Spent the day with my team mates Stephen Moss and Tim Appleton doing a leisurely semi run through of our route for the bird race tomorrow.
Saw some nice things. Only hope we can see it all again - and some - tomorrow!
Nubian Ibex - not a bird, I know!
White-headed Black Wheatear
A male Ruppell's Warbler
Sunday, 30 March 2014
The big news from Eilat is that after a lifetime of wanting to see a Quail and failing miserably I am delighted to announce that I saw my first this afternoon. It was practically stepped on my producer and director Stephen Moss, called by British Bird Watching Fair co-founder Tim Appleton and was greatly enjoyed by yours truly.
Now that's what I call teamwork!
A great wadi whose name I temporarily forgot. Great place for Ruppell's Warbler
A male White-crowned Black Wheatear
A female Bluethroat
Ruff, Dunlin, stints and a lone Red-throated Pipit at K20 Salt Pans
White and Citrine Wagtails
Citrine Wagtail with a White Wagtail
Saturday, 29 March 2014
I'm in Israel at the behest of BirdLife International Israel and others to compete in the Champions of the Flyways Bird Race to raise money and awareness for the plight of million of migrants that run the gauntlet of the many hunters that kill them in North Africa and the Mediterranean.
Along with several other teams from Israel, US and Europe the idea is to see as many species as possible in this amazing region over 24 hours this coming Tuesday.
Great sceneryTwo minibus loads of birders were shown the lay of the land today in order for individual teams to work out their strategy for the day of the race.
Some of the rabbleThe terrain ranges from urban to out and out desert.
The NegevThe possible birds to be seen is mind-blowing. Today, despite being in a big crowd we collectively managed to connect with Crowned Sandgrouse, Little Crake, Masked Shrike and even a vagrant Pied Bush Chat.
A male Ruppell's Warbler
A very brown looking Common Swift