Thursday, November 06, 2014

Eilat's kind of winter

In Eilat you can tell it is winter only by the changing diversity of birds.
With early November temperatures reaching above 30 Celsius almost daily, only the birds tell us that something is changing to the north of us. Rare shadows of clouds sometimes indicate that Jerusalem is under heavy rain, but the birds never fail to signal the change of weather, it's just a change that happens elsewhere…

Winter marked itself this week with new arrivals that included some more Hawfinches (up to 4), Song Thrushes, Dead Sea Sparrows, Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles and some more Oriental Skylarks (up to 4).
Water, Red-Throated and Meadow Pipits are growing in numbers too and the usual end of October Stonechat blend of Common, Siberian, Caspian and Armenian are all present in good numbers.

The best bird of the week was the female Black crowned Sparrow Lark that was found by Yael Schiff in Yotvata northern circular field.
Yael realized that the lark is "not what she is used to seeing" and had sent pictures to Itai Shani who identified it, unfortunately too late to allow relocation of the bird.
The grounds of the circular field were full of other great birds. 2 Bimaculated larks, 1 eastern type Lesser Short toed Lark, 4 Oriental Skylarks and a Richard's Pipit.

In the air worth noting was a Crag Martin, a Little Swift and a second Black-winged Kite to the one seen the same day in Eilat. At the sewage ponds Itai and the southern Arava birding club found the first Yellow-Browed Warbler for the season and the Sacred Ibis was still present.

Uvda valley looked good too with new arrivals of wintering larks. The best were 9 Temminck's Horned Larks that joined the usual Bar-tailed and Desert Larks. There was no sign of last week's Thick-billed Larks but the area is large (Itai Shani).
I decided to break my weekly long drive to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for meetings at the Heimar reservoir, next to the southern part of the Dead Sea.

This reservoir is a dam built to catch the flood waters and prevent them from polluting the Dead Sea ponds that harvest potassium and magnesium. The place is a vast reed and tamarisk grove with some water and it swarms with birds. The best this week were 200 Dead Sea Sparrows that breed here and gather in winter, and all 4 Crakes of Israel - Water Rails (5), Spotted Crake, Little Crake and also the rare Baillon's Crake, were seen on the mud, along with Jack Snipe, 5 Kingfishers and tens of Bluethroats. 5 Clamorous Reed Warblers that breed here and are seen year round were sighted and heard too. It's a great spot and it is only a matter of time until something mega will show up there.

During a family picnic in the huge sand-stone cliffs of Nimra we heard a Pharaoh Eagle Owl, not for the first time, and during a day trip a Mangrove Heron surprised me in the small man-made lake of Timna park, fishing in the smog of barbeque clouds. As a result of a vegetarian wife I only got to smell it (the barbeque of course). The Wheatear's status in Timna park was interesting with 8 different White Crowned, 5 of them first years, no less than 12 Blackstarts and 1 young male Hooded.

The concentration of them and the number of young birds is exceptional. I have done a long term survey of these amazing desert birds and it is very interesting to see how in long drought years (4 years without any substantial rain) the numbers of Wheatears drop sharply and young birds are absent, whilst in good years with some rain you get much more young birds. Also the correlation of these Wheatears to irrigate and/or dense human activity is very interesting. This research is yet to be published, perhaps after the next breeding season.

At the ringing station the numbers of Chiffchaffs grows constantly and during a wader ringing evening a Whiskered Tern was ringed along with the usual Little Stints, Dunlins, Curlew Sandpiper, Redshank, Ruffs and Ringed Plovers (altogether 40 birds). A Barn Swallow that was ringed at the north Dead Sea site of Ein Fescha was caught in Eilat 5 days later.

Birding stuff down here gets warmer and exciting, so stay posted.


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