Friday, 28 June 2013

Kibbutz ringing

Little green bee eater

I had heard about a kibbutz before but didn’t really know what to expect to find but was pleasantly surprised by the place. It was a real oasis in the desert with lots of cover and a real magnet for migrant birds. 

Our main base for ringing was to be the area around the organic garden. This included areas of vegetables that were used on the kibbutz, thick areas of tamarisk around the outside and even the opportunity to put up two-shelf nets around the dung heaps for pipits and wagtails. Our ringing days started with a pre-dawn opening of the nets which we all took turns in doing with the rest of the team arriving at 6am and usually carried on until 11am although strong winds on a couple of days did cause us to close early. After a couple of days, we did erect some nets in the ‘swimming pool’ area to increase our chances.

Like everywhere else, the spring had been a bit weird and the migration had been patchy, however on our first morning I struck gold. My first bird ringed of the trip was a blackcap but I was lucky enough to be doing a net round with Gary and Bob when we caught a rufous bush chat! Both of them had done one so I got to ring it. 

Rufous bush chat

I don’t really have space to give a full species list but I will choose some of my highlights.

A bird I have always wanted to see in the hand is a wryneck and to see the amazing display they perform with their necks. I was lucky enough to ring one and extract another. A very close second as the best bird of the trip was hoopoe and I was again fortunate enough to ring one of the three birds we caught.

What a cool bird. You can't believe how much they can twist their heads around. It feels like it could twist off at any time!!

Ageing my wryneck


Other highlights were extracting a female masked shrike, ringing wood, eastern olivaceous, greatreed and Balkan warblers, red rumped swallow and a male whinchat.

Over the week, we ringed 628 birds of 36 species with the top five species being blackcap (275), house sparrow (104), lesser whitethroat (60), red throated pipit (30) and thrush nightingale (25).

Even when the ringing was quiet, there was plenty to see especially overhead with large numbers of raptors on the move up the valley. Although it was difficult to concentrate fully on the migration, we did attempt to count as much as we could. The main species was steppe buzzard but during the week we recorded also recorded 1 hobby, 11 osprey, 6 marsh harrier, 71 black kite, 9 steppe eagle, 14 short toed eagle, 8 booted eagle, 1 Egyptian vulture, 344 bee eater, 1043 white stork, 129 black stork, 10 red rumped swallow, 1 alpine swift and 2 golden oriole.

It wasn’t just the birds that were fantastic but the whole experience. It was really good to learn from other ringers and trainers and pick up new hints and tips that I have been trying to use back here. I would thoroughly recommend the trip to anyone and would definitely go back again.

Wood warbler

Female masked shrike

Eastern olivaceous warbler

Tree pipit

One of two 1st summer male collared flycatchers we caught

One of our ringing sheets showing all the exciting birds we were catching

Thrush nightingale

Namaqua dove

The locals from the kibbutz were really interested in what we were doing with some of the children returning on several days

Great reed warbler

Spur winged plover

Male red backed shrike

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Well that was a roller coaster of a day. Started off with a very good garden ringing session, had a middle section of hassle from the general public and ended with an awesome wildlife experience.

With some decent weather, we were finally able to get out and start out annual dune tiger beetle surveying. Warm, sunny and calm days have been in very short supply this summer but it was well worth the wait. Dune tiger beetles are very restricted in their range with East Anglia being one of their strongholds. Being a creature of the strandline and dunes they are very prone to habitat loss following periods of stormy weather. With a fairly calm winter, the dune habitat is looking really good.

We only had time to survey half the beach but can up with some fantastic figures. Surveying is done by slowly walking along the dune edge counting any individuals. Out previous highest count (158 in 2012) was smashed with 265 wee beasties counted!!!

But that wasn't the only highlight...

After seeing to the call of nature in the dunes I sat down to wait for Georgie and Neil to catch me up so I didn't disturb and beetles when I noticed a bird flying by. I raised my bins to see a STONE CURLEW flying over the beach!!! I jumped up and started to shout to the other two as the bird dropped onto the beach further out. The guys go onto it but it again flew, this time closer towards the sea and dropped down again. The haze was so bad that we couldn't actually see it. A radio message went back to the visitor centre but we couldn't relocate again.
It was a notable bird for me as the last one (in 2004) spent the day on the brackish marsh and although it was reported throughout the day, nobody thought to tell the workers. This was made even worse as we had been on the brackish marsh all day and didn't know it was there!!!!! Its is only the 5th reserve record and my 268 species for the reserve.

Time for a beer me thinks

Friday, 21 June 2013

Its all come up rosy

Inspired by my success with the roller I decided to strike while the iron was hot and go and have a look at the Wells rose coloured starling. Well it is only a 15min drive away so it seemed silly not to!

It was well worth the visit and it is a stunning full summer plumage adult showing down to just a few metres. Only my 3rd in the UK following a juv on Scilly and an adult near the Bird Fair a few years ago.

There are lots of better photos out there but with only a 300mm lens I am satisfied with my shots.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Roller coaster few days

The highs and lows of twitching...

With news of the Pacific swift breaking on Saturday, I like most people didn't think that it would stay so I wasn't too bothered about going for it. It was still there in the evening and at lunchtime on Sunday so, after I had finished my CES I decided to go for it. A quick phone call to Dave and a last minute arrival from Connor and we were off.

Parking was pretty easy on arrival and we headed off. Almost straight away I bumped into someone I knew and had a little chat while Dave and Connor carried on. It was a decent walk but by the time I arrived there were still plenty of people on the seawall watching. I joined the end of the crowd. By this time I hadn't seen Dave and Connor for half an hour until Dave walked along the line and said if we have been watching the bird. Sadly, being away from the main crowd (only by 10m) nobody had passed on the message that the bird was showing!!!!

The rest is history but NO, I didn't see the bird! Oh well, that is twitching for you....

While we were waiting for the bird to reappear, Connor got a phone call about a roller that had just been found near Holt. I was knackered after a 4am start so couldn't be bothered to go for it but as it was still there today I decided I would.

I went with Simon from the reserve on his first twitch and Al joined us. Although there were plenty of cars when we arrived, the location wasn't obvious until someone came back. Across the field, over the stile, around the pond, through the wood and up onto the heath were the directions and within 15mins, via a slight detour by Al, we were watching the bird sat on the edge of the wood. It posed well for about 20mins before flying over the wood. 2 singing woodlarks also gave Simon is 2nd tick of the evening.

 See, twitching isn't always a frustrating nightmare..... Until the next time!!

The usual excuse of distance and poor light but you can tell what it is

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A little taster...

Now that I have pulled my finger out and had a lesson in using Lightroom I can get posting some more images from our ringing Eilat this spring. This is just a little taster showing some of the variety of birds we caught. I will keep you waiting for the goodies!!


Blackcap - the commonest species rung



One of 2 spur winged plover chicks ringed

 Female red backed shrike

Wood warbler being processed

 Wryneck in the field

Lesser whitethroat

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Middle East spring

After seeing an advert in the ringers bulletin last autumn, I couldn’t resist signing up for a ringing trip to Israel this spring. I had heard lots about birding in Eilat from the amazing spectacle of bird migration through to the difficulties faced by foreign visitors getting in and out of the country.

Fast forward to early April this year and we were on our way to Heathrow to meet up with the rest of the group. Only knowing Gary, our leader, I wasn’t sure what the rest of the group would be like but I didn’t really need to worry and the group were brilliant. There was a group of 4 from the Stour Ringing Group in Dorset, and then individuals from Norfolk, Wiltshire and Derbyshire. We didn’t have to wait long for the first taste of security. Before boarding could start, the armed airport police arrived with sniffer dogs to check the area for explosives before the seemingly endless questions could start from the paranoid security staff. Thankfully Rachael and I got away lightly but poor Terry and Mike seemed to catch securities eye and got stopped at every checkpoint!!! After a long flight and a fairly painless transfer in Tel Aviv, we made it to Eilat early on April 7th. After collecting our hire cars, we headed ca50km north to Kibbutz Lotan, our base for the next week.

Rather than do a full trip report, I am going to give an idea of some of the sites we visited and the key species we saw.

The two main sites we visited in this area was the sewage farm (a recurring theme on this trip) and the irrigated pivot fields. Our main targets at these sites were a pair on Caspian plover on the fields and the wintering black bush robin around the sewage farm.

Male Caspian plover

It was very windy on our first visit and it was very difficult viewing conditions around the fields due to all the dust in the air but thankfully the plovers showed so close to the cars that it didn’t really matter. There wasn’t much else here apart from a few crested larks and a wheatear. The sewage farm was much better and produced loads of birds. The highlight was 2 black bush robins on our first visit but on our 2nd visit we had blackstart, masked shrike and wryneck sat on a fence in the same scope view! The site produced a fantastic selection of yellow wagtail races including many stunning male black headed wags. This was the only site that I saw woodchat shrike.

Pivot fields and sewage farm

Ketura sewage farm

Only a tiny little site but they don’t have to be much to attract birds. They are not the best place to spend much time as the smell can be overpowering but if you want to see good birds then you have to take the rough with the smooth. Ketura produced out only Arabian babbler, a rather distant pair, ortolan bunting, masked shrike, namaqua dove and 6 little stints.

Neot Semadar sewage farm

A small which we dropped into a couple of times during the week. Although it has been largely redeveloped and landscaped there were still 3 sewage pools. Rufous bush chat, male trumpeter finch and a male collared flycatcher on our first visit showed the site had promise. The 2nd visit produced a cracking male hooded wheatear on the rocky hills behind the sewage works and 4 little stint, wood sand, squacco heron and a pair of trumpeter finches within the site.

Kibbutz Neot Semadar

The last time a group had visited the area ringing in 2009, they visited this very productive site. We had heard that the irrigation lake on the site was particularly productive but on our first visit we couldn’t find the lake and to be honest we were not really supposed to be there! We managed to find out how to get in through the ‘back gate’ and paid another visit. It was well worth the effort as the site was fantastic. Although plastic lined, the lake was well vegetated around the edges, had a large island in the middle and was great for birds. The first birds around the edge were great reed and sedge warblers in the reeds and several cattle egrets. While I was mooching away from the group I missed a little crake feeding out in the open but I did manage to see it feeding later with a little bittern and squacco heron! As we were watching the crake and herons, Paul casually said ‘I have got a blue cheeked beeeater’ Sure enough, sat in the top of the reeds was a cracking adult! Great views were had of the bird hawking over the pool and even some dodgy digiscope photos managed. I a small patch of reeds on the far side of the lake another small crake was seen. After a short wait the bird came out, our 2nd crake of the day, a fine Baillon’s crake. The bird fed out in the open completely unfazed by our presence and showed down to 10 feet. A fantastic little bird. By the end of the walk round we had built up a good heron list. Purple heron, 2+ little bittern, cattle egret, squacco heron and 2 roosting night herons

We also checked out an olive groves on the edge of the kibbutz that had recently been good for flycatchers. Its proved to be the case with 4 male collared, male semi collared, 2 male pied and a spotted plus nightingale and a calling male sand partridge from the hillside.


Many of the sites in this area either don’t have names or they are unpronounceable so the KM markers along the main road are used to name and locate them. K76, is 76km north of the Egyptian border and about 20 mins drive north of Lotan. The site is alongside the Jordanian border and you can bird right upto the border fence. If you fancy a stay in a Jordanian prison then the fence is so poor in places you can hop across the border but it is highly unrecommended!!!

As we were ringing from early morning, the desert sites were not that productive as the key birds had gone quiet and the wind had increased making hearing songs difficult. Despite that, it was a fantastic experience birding these areas. The massive area of flat, dry stony ground seemed lifeless and hard to find anything. A couple of visits produced pallid harrier, 4 long legged buzzard, desert lark, 30 Spanish sparrow, female black eared, 2 Isabelline and 3 hooded, 2 northern wheatears , tawny pipit and 2 stone curlews. We also had a Blandford’s fox and a den.


There had been a wintering hoopoe lark at this site but we only made a short stop. It did produce great views of both pallid and Montagu’s harriers, 6 short toed larks, 2 trumpeter finch, 12 black stork and 14 beeeater but I sadly dipped on bar tailed desert lark.

Desert birding with the mountains of Jordan in the background


 The largest body of water we saw on the trip and being at the start of the valley heading north, it was an obvious draw for migrating waders. There was nothing special about the site, just 4 saltpans surrounded by bank which you could drive around the outside and bird from the car, simples.... The great thing about the site was how close you could get to the birds and with a big camera lens you could get some great shots, sadly I don’t. We were split up into 4 cars and decided to meet up and pass news between us. We decided to head around the southern pan and I started to count the waders. This turned out to be a thankless task when we go to the rest of the site so I could only estimate in the end. By far the commonest bird was little stint with at least 500 birds present. The waters’ edge was crawling with birds, big numbers of black winged stilt (175), ruff, greenshank, marsh sand (60+), little ringed plover and a few wood sands. A summer plumaged broad-billed sandpiper or the 9 red-necked phalaropes would have been the highlights until I spotted a wader while we were stopped. Close up to the car was a winter plumaged greater sandplover but by the time I got the camera ready it had gone. I told the other cars a little while later, Dave and Shaun found a sandplover. We all headed around to see it and to my surprise, the bird was in summer plumage, a 2nd bird! 98 greater flamingo, Caspian and 2 white-winged black tern and a large number of slender billed gulls made it a fantastic few hours birding.

 Slender billed gull

 Marsh sandpiper

Little stint

Red necked phalarope


A small irrigation tank we visited for an evening sandgrouse roost but sadly no birds came in. We did get a few trip ticks with 9 grey heron, 39 shoveler, drake garganey, 4 coot, 2 cormorant, 9 night heron and 2 squacco heron.

Eilat area

We spent an afternoon in the area which included a visit to the International Ringing Centre for a swallow roost where we were all lucky enough to ring a process a red rumped swallow each and a trip to the beach, birding or course!

We didn’t spend much time at the ringing station but it was enough time to catch some birds. The highlight for me was a melanistic Montagu’s harrier north along with 2 marsh harrier, osprey and a barbary falcon. The overhead raptors were disturbing the gulls on a sewage farm just over the border with lots of slender billed, 10 Baltic, 2 Heuglin’s and 3 black headed gulls. 2 spoonbill, 9 greater flamingo on the saltpans and a masked shrike in the bushes.

The beach wasn’t heaving with birds but I did trip tick sandwich, common and little terns plus common kingfisher in the same ditch a 2 pied kingfishers. Offshore there was good numbers of large gulls but to be honest there is more to life than spending hours trying to do them (sorry gull fans) but my attention was grabbed by a flyby group of 5 white eyed gulls.

Birding the beach at Eilat

We were all slightly worried about the return journey having heard all about the security issues trying to get out of the country especially after the problems some had had on the way out. Our attentions were somewhat diverted when Gary had a text from the guys at Eilat to say they had caught a white throated robin and a Levant’s sparrowhawk and they would hold onto them until we got there. After a mad dash, we were watching a fine male robin in the hand followed swiftly by the sparrowhawk.

Male white throated robin

Male Levant’s sparrowhawk 

The omens were good and we got out of the country without a hitch and just in the nick of time as 3 days later there was a rocket attack on Eilat that closed the airport and tightened security! Phew....