Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Presidential visits

Israeli President Shimon Peres gets his hands on a Syrian woodpecker
White tailed lapwing
It is usually mad here in Pesach, when thousands of tourists come from all over the country to visit the local sites such as Ein Avdat, Ein Akev, Nizzana, Ramon Crater and the rest of the pretty sites of the Negev. It is also peak bird migration and breeding seasons and so there is lots of action here. Last Thursday The annual "Vulture Day" organized by the Nature and {Parks Authorities attracted many visitors who had the chance to watch vultures and other raptors feeding on carcasses in the Avdat feeding restaurant. Amongst the birds observed were about 50 Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vultures, a few Steppe Eagles, One Lesser Spotted Eagle and some Black Kites. An interesting sight was of a Griffon Vulture which was tagged in the Czech Republic!
The most exciting non-avian visitor we had was our president Mr. Shimon Peres who visited the area last weekend. We wanted to present him the new born Ramat Hanegev Birding Center and so we decided to give him a one-on-one experience with birds. Early morning while the president was sleeping Darren and I set up 7 nets in different spots we located a week earlier in the Holiday Village where he was staying and when he woke we waited for him outside his room with a cup of coffee and more than 30 birds!! Amir Balaban and Yossi Leshem entertained the president with fabulous stories the way only these two can.
After that I packed my backpack and went for a 3 day hike in one of the most remote areas of the Negev. We hiked from the Meishar to the Arava and had some nice birds such as Cinereous Bunting, which was the first I've seen this season, Ortolan Buntings and lots of the usual migrating sylvia spp (Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Orphean Warbler). We found a local Short-toed Eagle which my suspicions became true when I was notified by the local ranger that a pair breeds in the area and has one egg in the nest (I really hope that the hikers which recorded that didn't scare the bird away from the nest, that could be crucial for this species which scarcely breed in the desert).
I was also very glad to see the pink ball of fire (Sinai Rosefinch) with some chicks flying happily and feeding on the seeds of the low bushes along with a family of  Trumpeter finch.
Little late but worth mentioning is a White-tailed Lapwing recorded two weeks ago by Edith Katsnelson who spent the day in Sde Boker and Nizzana area. When I came the following morning it wasn't there but I had a nice view of 7 tired Purple Herons landing after a night of hard flapping.
More updates soon.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The woods are alive!

its been a busy week of ringing, with a couple of demonstrations and me making the use of some lax time at work to get in some extra ringing. the blackcaps finally arrived in force with close to a hundred being ringed this week. there have been all three species of black and white flycatchers about the village but only one managed to find its way into the nets, and the first bee eaters were around this week. We had our first house sparrows of the year, they only seem to venture away from the village when the spanish begin to move away. Also first turtle dove and surprisingly the first Bulbul of the year, but the star species of the week was the Wood warbler. i had only previously ringed 3 birds and one of those was a couple of weeks ago so imagine my surprise when 4 were found in the nets and these were soon followed by a further pair. Does anyone know if these birds move in pairs as they were all caught in twos?

Wood warblers

Pied flycatcher

Turtle dove

Ortolan bunting

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Busy busy in the Negev!

Top: Barbary Falcon visiting the Golden Eagle before they deserted the nest

Bottom: Spotted Sandgrouse

It's about time I will join Darren and contribute something to our blog. As Darren focusses on the ringing activities I try to run around in the area and check on the birdlife in the Negev. I also try to collect all kind of interesting sights from people who are birding around and put it out there so if you've been birding here and wish to share it with us feel free to contact me on

We've been doing some interesting stuff lately including trapping soundgrouse in the sewage ponds at Nizzana area and monitoring one of the only Golden Eagle nests left in the Negev desert.

While helping the NPA to study the movements of sandgrouse species we caught a few birds in one of the sewage ponds and placed radio transmitters on two of them. Data is been collected these days and we'll try to keep track with the results of this interesting study. There are great concerns regards to all the sandgrouse spp and we are all happy about this initiative.

As you might know the Golden Eagle has become one of the rarest breeding raptors in the Negev. Not too long ago this species was quite common in the Negev where he roamed the skies effortless and breeding very successfully. But unfortunately, in the Negev, the number of pairs shrunk since the 80's from 25 to less than 5. As weird as it might sound we are not sure why. One of the things we hope to do in the new Ramat Hanegev Birding Center is study this case and try to protect this vulnerable species. We will keep you posted on the progress of this population which we, together with the NPA try to closely monitor. Unfortunately, a nest which was monitored by the local ranger and me has been deserted last week, probably due to interference. As sad as it may be we are trying to take it to positive places and already scheduled a tour with the local army unit to prevent this from happening next year.

Darren has been updating the blog with news from the ringing station. What also makes us all happy is the interest we're getting from the local community and every morning we entertain people who pop in to see what we're up to. As migration and breeding season is on fire you should hear from me very soon!



Monday, 11 April 2011

Damn Cats!!!!

there is a big problem in Israel with feral cats, and one of them was sitting under our new net that had been catching so well with a couple of dead sparrows. we chased him off and hired the bottom shelves but he still returned, so what was an extremely prosperous net has now been decommissioned. these damn moggies are everywhere all over the country and no one seems to want to take responsibility for them. maybe its time for me old airgun to see the light of day. Only joking, before all you cat lovers get on to me apparently its illegal to shoot them here, palestinians ok but cats no chance. Whoops a bit political there better get back to the birds. A couple of good days have been had with over 50 new birds ringed. First on Saturday, i put the nets up alone again i might add, Eran has this knack of turning up just as i am on the last net, the catch was mostly blackcaps but we managed a couple of Orphean warblers, one of which was a beautiful adult female. Then monday morning, while doing a demo for some soldiers, the blackcaps were joined by spanish sparrows, another nightingale and a 2nd year male pied flycatcher. i'll post the pictures later as my camera battery is currently being recharged. if anyone can help with the cat problem i'll be happy to look into all humane responses.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Blackcap arrival, ringing demo's and rain

Its been a busy week here in the Desert with 4 ringing demonstrations for local school kids. with so many early mornings i was grateful the clocks had changed. But its worth it when you see the faces of the children, and we already have a couple of youngsters attending regularly on their way to school.

Meidad showing the children he knows where about in the world we are
I'd noticed large numbers of sylvia warblers were congregating in a hedge close to the university, presumably for the rich nectar pickings it provides, and for a couple of years had wanted to put a net there, but the site close to the buildings and within range of all the cats the students keep and the fact that it was only just visible from our ringing table, had put me off until this springs low bird numbers. So i decided to go for it and put up a 6m net across the hedge and in 3 mornings i've had over 30 birds in it, i just regret not doing it sooner.
Strategically placed 6m net!!
One of the many Lesser whitethroats caught this week.

With hardly any rain all winter this week has seen two showers both arriving fortunately just as we were wrapping up the demos but the one storm gave us the first floods of the year, a bit too late to give us the Savannah like conditions of last year but none the less was very welcome indeed. Finally the blackcaps and other migrants have started to arrive, with catching numbers rising from single figures to over 30 birds a morning, i have no time to sit and watch the Fat sand rat running from one patch of vegetation to another and back again any more.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Another snake

it seems the most interesting thing inside our ringing patch at the moment are the snakes. i saw an unidentified snake on friday, it again looked like a Racer (Coluba sp) but was too quick for me to take in much detail. This migration will almost certainly go down as one of the worst on record here in Sde Boker, as the low winter rainfall, we received around 30mm, compared to our 90mm average, failed to green the area enough to make it an attractive proposition to migrants. We managed 19 new birds in two sessions. We did capture our first bluethroats and a nice Ortolan bunting to add to the growing (slowly) species list. what is really amazing me is that there are no blackcaps around, i have only ringed 6 birds and have seen about the same number, with only 3 birds arriving in the last week, i would have expected around 40 birds by now. lets hope the rest of this week brings us better luck!

Bluethroat ssp cyanecula

Lesser whitethroat