Thursday, 11 February 2016

Rocky Mountain High

One of the great things about ringing in a small country like Israel is that the distance between ringing sites is not that great; Hula in the north to Eilat in the south is about 7 hours driving. Living where i do in the northern Negev Desert i get to ring in a lot of great places, Eilat one of the busiest sites in Europe (?), the amazingly atmospheric Hula, city centre ringing in Jerusalem, extreme desert ringing around the Negev and then there's Mount Hermon. The highest point in Israel at around 2000m it contains some unique species of bird. I was lucky enough to go ringing there recently. We started off with a scorpion hunt on the way to Hermon and ended up in our guest house around 12.30am. Alarms were sounding around 2.30 so with very little sleep we headed up the mountain. the first day we ringed around a small pond close to the ski slopes,
linnets were the main species of the day with some nice numbers of Syrian serin, some Black headed buntings and the elusive Upchers warbler adding to the interest. The next morning after 4 hours sleep, we were up there again, this time in one of the valleys. More great birds with 3 species of shrike, Sombre tits and the magnificent Rock nuthatch. In the 2 days we ringed somewhere around 200 birds, i managed 3 ringing ticks (sombre tit, rock nuthatch, and wren, yes i know its a common bird everywhere but it aint that common down in the desert). It was a great couple of days ringing and meeting old friends and making new ones. I'll definitely be off up there again next year!! 

Monday, 15 June 2015


I have never been a "twitcher". I have only ever been on one twitch, that was too see the Black -bush robin in Yotvata sewage ponds, and that was so easy as there was so many people. To be honest I'm not much of a birder really. I much prefer to be out ringing. So when Eyal Shochat suggested  after finishing our point surveys near Beit Guvrin, we go look for the Bateuler Eagle a rare African vagrant here in Israel first found by Ezra Hadad a couple of weeks previously, I thought why not we probably won't see anything and I'm in no rush to go home, so with very little anticipation on my part off we went to the vast areas of farmland north of Kiriyat Gat. After around 45 minutes we had clocked up an impressive list of 10 raptor species (Buzzard, Steppe Buzzard, Long-legged Buzzard, kestrel, Black Kite, Black-winged Kite, Marsh Harrier, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and Booted Eagle) and had been sent to many different places by people who had seen the bird 10 minutes previously. We finally ended up back where we had started in the place where the bird had first been located. Eyal was fixing up his scope and i began scanning the skies. Straight away i got on this fairly large raptor, I thought immediately this must be it as i could hardly make out a tail and it was flying in a "V" just as Eran Banker had described to me. I told Eyal to check out the bird and he immediately confirmed it. We got some good scope views before once more it flew of into the distance. Well will I become a twitcher, I don't think so and I'm not rushing to the North to see the Lappet-faced Vulture, but I must admit it was fairly exciting to find this bird and if something pops up closer too home I might be tempted to go and have a look.

Bateleur Eagle photo's courtesy of Rony Livne

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Trumpeters

We had a pretty wet winter here in the desert, with regular rainfall all the way into April. Everywhere was green with many flowers and grasses blooming. These wet winters always seem to be followed by a boom in breeding bird numbers. which is pretty obvious when you think about it more food equals more birds. the question is though when you have large numbers of birds spread over a very large area how do you get to ring them. Answer put your nets around a cistern. The Negev Desert has a number of these cisterns dotted around. they were built by the Nabateans, who were masters in the art of water collection. Rain water was channelled into these purposefully built cisterns were it remained over the long dry summer months and enabled  there camel caravans to pass through the most unhospitable regions of the desert. The Nabateans are long gone but there expertise remains to the benefit of the birds and other wildlife. Birds whose diet is rich in grains and seeds need water daily hence the importance of these cisterns to them and to us if we wish to ring them.

Hill Sparrow (Carpospiza brachydactyla)

Male Trumpeter finch (Bucanetes githagineus)

Nabatean Cistern

Monday, 18 May 2015

Week 1: Cute Birds Terrific Project.

My first day in my new job at the Yoracham Hoopoe Ecology Centre, saw me meet up with Yoav Motri, who is in charge of an amazing project. Bird boxes have been set up on agricultural land to encourage barn Owls and Kestrels to nest in them. The birds will then hunt rodents that feed in the fields adjacent to the boxes. having the birds as pest control agents means that farmers drastically reduce the amount of pesticide they use. A win win situation for all except the rodents! there are currently around 3000 nest boxes in Israel, with more in Palestine and Jordan. Recently Taiwan joined the project as well.
 As Barn Owls and Kestrels truly know no boundaries, they not only solve economic problems, but are also bringing peoples together. Something that is very much needed in the Middle East. For more info there was an article in the Guardian newspaper a few years back

it was also a ringing tick for me a although i'd handled many barn Owls before i had never actually ringed one

Barn owl chicks  photo courtesy of  Hoopoe Ecology Centre

As Rightly Pointed out to me (thanks Yoav) this project has been co-ordinated for many years by Proffesor Yossi Leshem, the Society For Protection of Nature In Israel, Tel Aviv University and The Ministry for Agriculture.