Saturday, November 01, 2014

The next generation

This week was all about preparations for the future.
Me, preparing a new generation of birding guides in Eilat and preparing for winter and spring tasks in the bird sanctuary, and the migratory birds, continuing to collect food, fat and courage in preparation for crossing the vast Saharan desert on the way to Africa.

The most dominant event was the birding guide's course that we conducted for the new fresh guides arriving to Eilat for the next year or two. The course was nothing less than cool and exciting, with 15 young people who had no idea that they liked birds that soon became bird lovers. Out of my "birders arrogance" I was thought for quite long that it is impossible to teach birding, bird identification and how to guide a bird watching trip without being a birder.

You never know what you're going to see with a group so you can't really prepare. You have to identify the bird perfectly without the time for a really good view, you have to understand the movement of the bird to assess if the group will actually be able to see it, wait for a specific behavior and be able to explain why it didn't work this time but usually works perfectly…

but these young guys proved me wrong. After 5 days of hard work they could identify almost every bird I showed them, look it up in the Bird Encyclopedia ,find the juicy details,  and make a story out of it to guide on.
They also learned how to extract birds from the mist nets, love every bird they had touched and appreciate their ability to migrate so far. It was great fun to spend some time in the field. One particular morning started with 3,000 Cranes passing over-head along with tens of Steppe Eagles, some Steppe buzzards, Black Kites and Booted Eagles. Later on at the KM 19 ponds we had the show of a lifetime with an Osprey catching fish just in front of us, Squacco Herons sneaking after fat dragonflies and catching every single one in the area, Caspian Terns diving for fish, and a Barbary Falcon playing with the pigeons. But mostly I enjoyed their company.

Some good birds showed up too this week with 6 Thick billed Larks and tens of Bar-tailed Larks in Uvda valley (Itai Shani and Shachar Shalev), 3 Oriental Skylarks and some Richard's Pipits in Yotvata fields (Itai Shani) and a Bailon's Crake along with a Little Crake shared a pool with a Sacred Ibis that looked young but will still be marked as a possible escape in Yotvata sewage pools (Itai and the IBRCE crew).
In Eilat 2 Hawfinches were seen in the bird sanctuary (rare so deep in the desert) and tens of Bluethroats everywhere. The ringing station is quite busy with lots of Bluethroats, Chiffchaffs and Common Redstarts. Red-backed Shrikes are still around with some more Reed and Savi's Warblers. Several Cetti's Warblers, a rare winterer and 2 different White breasted Kingfishers were ringed too.

We are also starting to build the monitoring plan for the next spring. Our main focus will be on a raptor migration survey that we haven't done for many years. Past data has shown passage of almost 1 million birds of prey with the main species being Steppe Buzzards, Honey Buzzards and Levant's Sparrowhawks.

These magnificent birds alongside with 20 more species of raptors pass in a relatively narrow corridor between the slopes of the Eilat Mountains and the red sea. Our main focus this time will be on the rare and probably declining Steppe Eagles who pass here in late autumn (peaking in November but can be seen going south until the middle of December) just to come back in early March (some are already seen going northeast in January).

We feel that there is a big gap of knowledge regarding this species. It is suggested in the literature that the Asian population from Mongolia and Kazakhstan migrates to India and the European ones move to Africa, but clearly our birds in autumn come from the east and very few follow the rest of the eagle species route from the north. It is also suggested that the young eagles stay in Africa for a few years but we see lots of 2nd calendar eagles going east in spring.

We are also interested in the correlation between wind conditions here and in crucial passage points south of us, on the way to Eilat, and how this affects eagle migration. We are creating a team to count these raptors between February and May and we will probably do some trapping too.
For the ringing station we are looking for trained ringers that are willing to come for at least 2 months. I can promise a ringing adventure of a lifetime and hard work. If you are up to it please contact me.
That is all for now. November is on the door step bringing the rare wintering species and eastern migrants, so stay posted.


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