Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 6

It's my last day here in the Hula Valley and I'll be sad to leave.  The festival has been excellent with great birds, a fantastic location and, as in Eilat, world-class festival guides.

This morning we were out early for another Agamon Hula park mobile tour ride; we've seen some amazing birds this week but there can be few things that compare to thousands of cranes coming out of their roost in the morning.  The birds then fly into the nearby fields and allow a close approach by the tractors and trailers.

Other birds seen on the morning tour included two Marsh Sandpipers, a smart male Siberian (maurus) Stonechat, and close views of a Pied Kingfisher.  No sign of any Jungle Cats, which just goes to show how lucky we were with our multiple sightings earlier in the week.

Variation in Common Crane eye-colour:

After some breakfast back at the hotel we headed back to the park where we took a look at the family of Black-shouldered Kites, some Golden Plovers in one of the fields, more 'eastern' Stonechats etc. Then this afternoon we sat in on some of the lectures at the scientific conference that is taking place at the hotel—including excellent talks by Tim Appleton and Pete Dunne.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 5

Another excellent day at the Hula Valley Bird Festival today.  We headed back into the Golan in an attempt to clean up on a couple of the area's bird that we'd missed previously. We succeeded with excellent views of at least five Finsch's Wheatear, though sadly Long-billed Pipit eluded us. There was plenty more on offer, too, with Blue Rock Thrush, Eastern Imperial Eagle, flocks of Serins, Bramblings, plenty of Mountain Gazelle, two Red Foxes, Calandra Larks, a Syrian Woodpecker, and the usual Long-legged Buzzards etc.

Habitat shot

And one to show the feather detail...

One of our Finsch's Wheatear sites also happened to be a memorial to those who lost their lives in the fighting that took place in the Valley of Tears, near to the Syrian border; a really beautiful landscape.

The afternoon was spent back at Agamon Hula Park where we again had 'the usual' (Black-shouldered Kite, 1000s of Cranes, Hen Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle...) along with two Yellow Wagtails, a Griffon Vulture, a smart male Namaqua Dove, and nine Wild Boar that emerged from the reed bed at dusk.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 4

I had hoped to upload all of my pictures of each of last night's dinner's twelve courses but, again, I'm short of blogging time. We spent the full day exploring the Bet Shean valley south of the Sea of Galilee today then, after sunset, visited the opening of the Drawing Inspirations from the Hula Valley art exhibition; now it's dinner time and then we're off to a concert by Paul Winter.

Yet again, we had lots of great sightings of amazing birds: Desert Finch, Dead Sea & Spanish Sparrow, eagles, a singing Southern Grey Shrike, flocks of Pygmy Cormorants, Whiskered Terns, literally 100s of Black Kites, dozens of Black Storks etc etc.

 A dark-morph male Marsh Harrier was particularly striking:

My apologies for the appearance of gull photos in two posts on the trot; though I make no apologies for including photos of this beauty:

There was also an young Pallas's Gull in the flock:

And this Heuglin's Gull:

Finally, for a bit of fun, who can tell me how many species are in this photo and which species they are?

(That's a subtle way of saying I don't know, though my best educated guess is four)

P.S. For anyone following Yoav's blog and wondering why I'm one behind with my festival days; the festival officially started on Sunday but since I didn't arrive till Monday morning I'm down a day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 3

An even briefer update this evening than the last two nights; we're off out again in a minute for a posh 12 (yes, twelve) course meal!

Another excellent day in the field, this time on the Med. coast at Maagan Michael.  Lots of all three Kingfishers, Citrine Wagtails, Temminck's Stints etc etc. and some decent gull flocks to search through.  The small gull flocks were made up of Black-headed and Slender-billed with three 1st year Med Gulls hidden amongst them.  The larger gulls were mostly Armenian with one (presumed) adult Baltic; also a few showing a varying number of "Caspain-like" features, though I'm not convinced any of them were anything other than [slightly atypical] armenicus (but feel free to disagree!).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hula Valley Mammal Festival

Oh dear, this "blogging on location" isn't going to plan at all.  I'm having such a great time at the Hula Valley Bird Festival that I've had no time to write a proper blog post.  We've spent another full day in the field (this time exploring Mount Hermon and the Golan plateau) and I've just got back to my room after watching an excellent presentation by photographer-in-residence, Thomas Krumenacker.

After yesterday's Jungle Cat sightings, we scored today with excellent views of two Wolves.  By the time I'd grabbed by camera they were already on the other side of the valley.

The mammal list is ticking along nicely with Egyptian Mongoose, Egyptian Fruit Bats, Golden Jackel, and Copyu all seen.  Birds spotted today included Sombre Tit, Horned Lark, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Western Rock Nuthatch, and, at Hula Nature Reserve in the evening, a spectacular harrier (including several Pallid) and Merlin roost.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Merlins at dusk

Monday, November 21, 2011

Greetings from Israel!

It's the end of my first day here at the Hula Valley Bird Festival and it's fair to say I'm pretty cream crackered. To cut a long and foggy story short, I've had exactly zero minutes of sleep since yesterday morning and, after a full day in the field, I'm struggling to keep my head off the desk in front of me, let alone write a blog post that attempts to be vaguely interesting. So instead, here's a photo dump of interesting stuff I've seen in the Hula Valley so far. Enjoy!

Hula Lake at dawn

 Pied Kingfisher

More Pied Kingfishers... spot the impostor.

A gang of Armenians

Purple Heron

Smyrna Kingfisher

Black-shouldered Kite

Jungle Cat

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fungus foray

It was mothing at Perivale Woods this evening but, in between set-up and sun-down, we found time to search for some mushrooms. These were the ones we were after:

Blewits. Very tasty, apparently; and the colour of parma violets. The wood was full of all sorts of other (mostly unknown) species of every shape and colour.

Also a noisy Ring-necked Parakeet pre-roost.

Mothing was rather uneventful with two winter moths being the only Lepidoptera on the wing. More exciting was a Wood Mouse that we found in the 'bee tree'. We poked our heads into the cavity in the trunk, assuming that the bee colony wouldn't be active this late in the year. Imagine our surprise when we discovered the hive was still active...