Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Danish Ringer in Israel with a Danish Ringed Bird!


Eilat, Israel; a place where your dreams come true - especially when your dreams involve birds! Every day for the last 3 weeks I have been here, I have seen many new birds, which only in my wildest dreams could I imagine seeing in my homeland of Denmark! Every day is different and you never know what the next thrill will be! There have been many new birds for me as the new Danish IBRCE ringer, but also a surprising connection to "back home".

One morning turned out to be very special for me. A week after my arrival at IBRCE we caught a bird with a foreign ring. When we read the information upon it we discovered we were holding in our hands a Lesser Whitethroat with a Danish ring around its leg! - Wow what a thrill! On top of it I, as a Dane, had the luck of reading it.

Two days later we got a reply from The Danish Zoological Museum informing us that the bird was ringed in Denmark on 26th April 2014 at Blaavand Bird Observatory in Western Jutland. A distance in a straight line of 3587 kilometers in 10 months and 25 days. Not bad for a bird that weighs about 12 grams! Of course it has also been south of the Sahara Desert and now is on its way back north again.

What a very special recapture for me having a ”Danish” bird in my hands, and on top of that it was a bird ringed at Blaavand Bird Observatory, where in 2009 assisted the ringer of this bird Henrik Knudsen. What an amazing coincidence, and yet another example of the magnificent international flyways migratory birds use, and how they are linked together. The distances on earth are great, but at the same time the closeness and the connection in it all becomes clear, when something like this happens. l wonder if the "Danish” Lesser Whitethroat will appear in 3-4 weeks in Blaavand again?

This bird has been the highlight for me, but the ringing station is bursting with a rich variety of other birds, with the many species of warblers never ceasing to amaze me! As well as the standardized ringing sessions in the morning, we try when it is calm enough to catch gulls and waders on the salt pans in the evenings. This has resulted in some very interesting ringing with a variety of at least 10 species of waders and 2 species of gulls caught, including the "charming" Slender-billed Gull. This Thursday we also ringed the first Steppe Buzzard for the season.

Furthermore I have spent some days now in the Eilat Mountains monitoring migrating birds of prey as part of the raptor team. The Steppe Buzzards are peaking now with days with well over 30.000 individuals recorded. There are still a pretty good number of Steppe Eagles passing by, with 120 seen by myself one day. Now we look forward to the arrival of the Levant Sparrowhawks and the Honey Buzzards, which should begin very soon
So all in all, what more can a Danish birder like me ask for on this his first time to Israel in the legendary "birding hotspot" of Eilat!

Johan H. Funder Castenschiold


Monday, April 27, 2015

Migration is just crazy, Eilat.


The big events of the Spring Migration Festival and the Champions of the Flyway are finished. We've had some good birds and great birders and I was reunited with lot of old friends, so I've just been too busy to update the Eilat Blog. Sorry about that.

The winners of the Champions of the Flyway competition were none other than The American Dippers led by Doug, who is on the IBRCE field monitoring team. I was going to write that "for us it was a game but for them it was war" as the reason why they won, but I guess that's just because I lost…They were sharp, organized, calculated and very wise, which is what made them an exceptional team. I should have seen it from the first minute of the race. Very well done and very well deserved.

Now that the rush of important birders is gone I'm left here with the migration, and it is doing fantastically. There is now time to look carefully at every bird and ponder the birding questions we always carry in our minds.
Hadoram Shirihai, the founder of IBRCE, visited us for two weeks and lit the fire in our minds with the Oriental Skylark mystery. These larks are supposed to be a non-migratory bird with the closest known population in Pakistan. Nevertheless we get them here annually every winter, sometimes in good numbers.
Very few larks were caught and ringed about 25 years ago and the measurements were not completely within the range of the Pakistani subspecies, so Hadoram asked us to try and catch one. We spent 2 days trying a bird in Eilot's fields, but we missed it again and again by centimeters from the top of the nets. We will try in autumn again with hopefully more success.

Besides that migration is brilliant. We had some cooler days and the ringing station filled up with many birds, with 300 to 500 being ringed daily. Blackcaps, Lesser Whitethroats and all kinds of Swallows are in huge numbers. No less than millions are around the Arava now.
The air is sometimes so thick with them that it is scary to walk around the bird sanctuary as you feel one might fly into your eye. The diversity of species is also great. It is now that we get the "changing of shifts" of migrants. Chiffchaffs and Bluethroats are out and Thrush Nightingales, Collared Flycatchers, Blue-cheeked Bee eaters, Barred Warblers and many others replace them. The desert is blooming and the birds responded with a male Black-crowned Finch Lark, 3 Dunn's larks, 2 Thick-billed Larks and some Temminck's, Hoopoe and Bar-tailed Larks, all in one location at Meishar Haseifim, a small valley in the  Eilat mountains. Amazing.

The North beach is still fairly quiet with just one Sooty Shearwater and some Common, Little, Sandwich, Gull-billed and White-cheeked Terns.

Rarities include already 2 Crested Honey Buzzards, Caspian Plovers and Black Bush-robins here and there, and whilst writing these lines my phone vibrates and a picture of a possible male Taiga Flycatcher, photographed by someone who had no clue what it is, appears on my screen. Damn, this is good.
Get moving for that flycatcher!

See you