Archive for May 2013

23rd to 29th May – a nice walk at Kimmeridge and some family updates.   Leave a comment

Kara-taekwondo

Kara (right) lands a blow on her opponent. She continues to practice Taekwondo most nights of the week. Photo by Janis Dreosti.

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Top in her age/weight class. At a recent competition in London she was awarded a gold medal. Photo by Janis Dreosti.

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The 23rd of April started sunny and keen to get fit for my upcoming African trip, thought I would go for hike along the coast path. To avoid the excessive charge in the village, I parked in the quarry above Kimmeridge and walked down to the beach. Note the Isle of Portland on the horizon.

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It had become quite cloudy when I reached Kimmeridge Bay. This is one of Britain’s first marine reserves and protects a wonderful selection of inter-tidal species.

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The coast path to the west of Kimmeridge was closed as it crosses the Lulworth Ranges as the army was on exercises, so I headed eastwards.

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Just east of Kimmeridge is Clavell Tower. This folly, built in 1830, was in severe risk of falling into the sea due to cliff erosion and in 2006 was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt slightly inland. It has been renovated so that two people can stay there and thanks to this work will remain an important landmark on the Jurassic Coast well into the future.

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Unfortunately the recent wet weather has had a devastating effect on the Jurassic Coast with numerous cliff collapses and landslides. The path was closed just east of Clavell Tower so I had no alternative but to retrace my steps and abandon the coastal walk. I headed home via Corfe Castle, which I seldom see from this angle.

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Anita and John have been living in a flat in Upton for eight months now, but it takes Anita almost an hour to get to and from her job in Bournemouth. They have now found a flat in the centre of Bournemouth which is only minutes away from work. On the 24th I helped John and his friend Ian move their gear out of the Upton flat.

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In the evening Margaret and I went over to help them settle in.

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The flat overlooks the pedestrianised Old Christchurch Road. Its pretty quiet now but I told them that it will be a bit different at 11 pm on an August evening!

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It might have been quiet but there were still some strange characters about. Here Margaret and Anita meet Snow White and the Four Dwarves in the road just outside the flat.

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Kara arrived after Taekwondo and demonstrated the speed of her moves.

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Amber birthday is in June, but as most of her friends will be involved in exams then, she opted to have a 16th birthday party at half-term break and had a camping and BBQ event at a nearby camp site. John opted to stay overnight for adult supervision and Margaret and I popped in to help. However the weather wasn’t too good, but eventually the tents got erected and the food cooked.

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The cool and wet conditions didn’t stop Amber (L), Matt and Kara going swimming.

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Lee seemed less inclined to go for a swim, but the others made sure that he did!

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Eventually the food was ready and the kids settled in for a cool and rather damp evening. L-R Lillie, Kara, Amber, Matt and Lee. Charlie and Emily are out of shot.

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Kara and her zebraesque friend Lilly.

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The next morning fortunately was much drier and I returned to help them take down, but (with a few notable exceptions) organising teenagers to put things away is a bit like nailing custard to the ceiling.

This will be the last blog post for a while as I leave soon for an exciting trip to Africa. More in due course.

Posted May 31, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

26th May – The British Museum, London   2 comments

Getting away from the Emirates Stadium was surprisingly easy given the size of the crowd. We spent the night at a very basic B&B (well just a B) in Walthamstow. On the Sunday we spent about four hours at the British Museum. As always we just scratched the surface of these amazing exhibits, four hours is far too short a time to see it all, but I found that I just couldn’t absorb any more information after then. Here is a selection of some of these world-famous treasures.

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The lovely atrium of the British Museum, usually just referred to as the BM.

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Other treasures from the BM: enormous Assyrian statues.

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The actual mummy of Queen Cleopatra

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Another exhibit from the extensive Egyptology section.

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A wonderful Anglo-Saxon helmet from the Sutton Hoo treasure.

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A beautiful Grecian vase

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Part of the famous and controversial Elgin Marbles. Originally on the Parthenon in Athens, should they be returned to Greece?

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All but one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (the Great Pyramids) has been destroyed but these enormous statues from the Tomb of King Mausolus (the original mausoleum) remain.

 

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A beautiful bronze age shield.

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A gorgeous Bronze Age gold cape found in Wales.

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The Rosetta Stone, one of the most famous archaeological finds of all time. Dating from Egypt 196 BC the stone has the inscription in Egyptian hieroglyphs, ancient Greek and Demotic Egyptian script and allowed hieroglyphs to be deciphered for the first time.

We had a wonderful time at the museum but with so many other great museums and art galleries to see in London it might be a while before we can return. We stayed so long that we almost missed the bus back to Poole.

Posted May 29, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

May 25th – Portobello Road and the Emirates Stadium, London.   Leave a comment

 

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Our weekend in London started with a visit to Portobello Road market.

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Portobello Road was absolutely packed with tourists and progress was very slow.

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Brightly coloured buildings are typical of this attractive part of London.

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Attractive arcades full of interesting stalls.

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…. all to the sound of steel drums.

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Our main reason for going to London was to see the rock band Muse at the Emirates Stadium. Muse are a relatively modern band (been around for less than twenty years!) and their complex style which includes a mix of electronic music and heavy rock with classical influences reminds me of the progressive rock I loved as a youth. Unfortunately our seats were in the ‘gods’ at the highest point of the stadium and Margaret got an attack of vertigo, however the stewards got us seats lower down on the extreme left of this photo, which was actually closer to the stage.

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In a huge football stadium the band members look tiny (the guitarist in real life can just be seen below and right of his screen image), but images projected on giant screens allow a good view of drummer Dominic Howard and guitarist and vocalist Matthew Bellamy. The huge back drop was used for some fantastic visual effects.

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Using telephoto settings Matthew Bellamy is a bit more visible.

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… and bassist Christopher Wolstenholme  plays as the lyrics of the song are displayed behind

 

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These jets of flame were so powerful that the heat from them could be felt on the other side of the stadium,

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As darkness fell it was time to dim the lights and for the audience to wave their mobiles around.

 

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With it now fully dark, the lighting effects could really get going.

 

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Bizarrely a giant robot appeared on stage ….

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…. but my favourite moment was during the song ‘my guiding light’ when this enormous light bulb floated around the stadium, then an acrobat dropped out of the screw thread and performed above the crowd. A great show, great music and a great day out.

 

Posted May 29, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

10th – 21st May – areas near Poole, a choral concert and a serious dip.   Leave a comment

P5120547-Rubbish

We had a number of attempts to ring migrants at the back of PC World early in the week but none have been very successful. Most migrants seem to have have passed through now. The retail park is always covered in litter in the early morning. Why McDonald’s customers are incapable of using the many litter bins is beyond me.

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We also went to see the new Star Trek film. Certainly an amazing spectacle in 3D. I have long been a bit of a trekkie, and am glad that these recent prequel films have managed to keep the franchise going. Its remarkable that the concept has run for nearly 50 years.

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I have failed to see Puffins at Portland this year so on the 16th I walked down from Langton Matravers to Dancing Ledge. A few pairs breed on the nearby cliffs and I have seen as many as 18 birds here in the past. I found one on the water and an RSPB boat trip to the cliffs a few days later found only two. Whether this decline has anything to do with the recent spills of PIB in the Channel is open to conjecture. Note the school party on a rock climbing course.

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A Puffin on the water, a similar view to that which I obtained off dancing Ledge. Photo from the Internet.

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On the 17th I made a return visit to Mordon Bog, this was more successful than on previous trips with Redstart, Siskin, Crossbill, Spotted Flycatcher, Woodlark and Tree Pipit all seen and plenty of other birds heard.

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For some reason gorse bushes look particularly vivid this year,

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Threatening clouds looked they would curtail the birding but the rain never amounted to much.

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Margaret spent much of Saturday 18th rehearsing for the choir’s performance that evening, so I went up to Martin Down in the hope of seeing some Turtle Doves. I took the back route via Cranbourne and passed through these lovely bluebell woods.

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Martin Down, just over the border in Hampshire is an fragment of the chalk grassland that once covered the whole area and is a haven for many invertebrates and grassland flora. Nightingales and Turtle Doves were once common but the former no longer occur and the latter hasn’t been seen there yet this year.

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The lovely Orange Tip butterfly was some consolation …..

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… as was this gorgeous display of cowslips.

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The Barclays House Choir’s spring concert at St Peter’s Church, Ashley Cross. Margaret is just to the left of conductor James Eaton.

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Soloists Pablo Strong and Ashley Duplechein gave a wonderful performance. It was a most eclectic mix of music , ranging from favourite operatic standards like March of the Toreador’s from Carmen, and the Anvil Chorus from Il Travatore to music from films and TV programs including pieces from Dr Who (hence the Dalek on the pulpit) and from Finding Nemo (hence the orange fish).

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I keep getting in trouble with Amber for posting supposedly unflattering pictures of her on my blog, but she can’t complain of this nice pic of her and Auntie Anita in the pub afterwards.

 

 

Prior to the concert there was an unfortunate development. News broke very late on the Friday evening (after we had gone to bed) of a major rarity in Margate, Kent. A Dusky Thrush had been seen for several days but news only got out late at night. We had a lazy morning on Saturday and I didn’t pick up the news until 1000. Some friends were already  there and others said they could go on Sunday but then at 1030 I was offered a lift. Allowing 30 minutes to get to my lift, 3.5 hours driving each way and two at the bird and I would be back at  7 pm only 30 minutes before Margaret’s concert. Any delay and I would miss it. In the end I did the honourable thing, declined the lift and went on the Sunday.

Dusky Thrush is one of seven Asiatic thrushes (of the genus Turdus or Zoothera) that have occurred in the UK. I have seen all but one somewhere in Asia, but only three in the UK. The last twitchable Dusky Thrush was in 1959, so although I don’t chase rare birds anything like as often as I once did, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The thrush was seen off and on all day but wasn’t seen on Sunday. Roger Howell, Jol Mitchell and I set off at 0530 but turned around on the M3 when it was obvious that it had gone. We birded a bit in the New Forest before calling it a day. At least I have seen good numbers of the species in China, Japan and Siberia. Margaret and Janis’ friends Angela and Helen had come over from Southampton for the concert and had stayed with us so I spent the rest of the day socialising with them and our  family.

 

 

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Mandarin Duck male: A small population of this introduced duck breeds in the New Forest. A beautiful bird, but scant compensation for missing a  Dusky Thrush.

 

Steve Ashton Dusky Thrush

For anyone who wonders what the bird looked like, here is a photo from the internet by Steve Ashton. http://steveashtonwildlifephotography.blogspot.co.uk
If only news had broken earlier, if only I had checked the bird news earlier, if only it hadn’t been the day of the concert, if only it had stayed until Sunday, if only I’d stop whinging and accept that dipping is a normal part of birding!!

 

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On the evening of the 22nd we climbed up the chalk ridge that runs between Corfe Castle and Old Harry as a Nightingale had been heard there recently. The view was spectacular, although in the fading light you can see little of the landscape in the photo. The Nightingale sang well, but as always, was invisible. Later we drove around Hartland Moor where we heard one Nightjar and saw another.

Posted May 22, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

7th – 14th April – ringing at Kibbutz Lotan, Israel   Leave a comment

For my final post about Israel I’ll show a few photos that we took of birds in the hand at Lotan. Over the week we handled 628 birds of 38 species, the totals are shown below. We also ringed a few birds at the Eilat ringing station on our final evening.

If anyone doubts the value of ringing birds in Israel then may I direct you to this website showing where birds ringed in Israel have been recovered. If you click on each flag it gives the co-ordinates of when the bird was recovered but not the ringing and recovery dates. Israeli ringers use a six letter code for each species, which is the first three letters of the generic and specific scientific name,

e.g. Syl cur = Sylvia curruca = Lesser Whitethroat or But but = Buteo buteo = Common Buzzard etc

http://eilatbirding.blogspot.co.uk/p/ibrce-controls-recoveries.html

Number of birds ringed at Lotan

Blackcap 275
House Sparrow 104
Lesser Whitethroat 60
Red-throated Pipit 30
Thrush Nightingale 25
Common Nightingale 18
White-spectacled Bulbul 15
Common Whitethroat 11
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler 10
Common Redstart 9
Laughing Dove 9
Eurasian Wryneck 7
Eurasian Reed-warbler 6
Wood Warbler 5
Great Reed-warbler 4
Willow Warbler 4
Eurasian Hoopoe 3
Spotted Flycatcher 3
Tree Pipit 3
Balkan Warbler 2
Barn Swallow 2
Collared Flycatcher 2
Common Quail 2
Little Green Bee-eater 2
Masked Shrike 2
Ortolan Bunting 2
Red-backed Shrike 2
Sedge Warbler 2
Spur-winged Lapwing 2
Eastern Orphean Warbler 1
Eurasian Collared-dove 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1
Namaqua Dove 1
Red-rumped Swallow 1
Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin 1
Whinchat 1
Grand Total 628
Total species 36
The Team at Neot Samadar Apr 13

The team birding at Neot Samadar: L-R: Paul Aubrey, Roger Walsh, Rachael Eele, Paul Eele, Gary Elton, Bob Gifford, Mike Gould, Dave Taylor, Terry Elborne & some bloke from Poole. Shaun Robson took the photo and Ray and Katie Knock were back at Lotan.

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Most of the mist nets were erected in the organic garden. A few were also put near to the (empty) swimming pool.

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A Hoopoe: just as wonderful to see in the hand as it is in the field.

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Although only the nominate race occurs in the WP the sub-Saharan race ‘senegalensis’ can be identified by having more white in the secondaries. The southern African form, ‘africana’, usually treated as a full species, has much more white in the secondaries but has wholly black primaries.

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Learning how to age a Hoopoe from the shape of the white areas on the tail.

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There is some variation in the colour of a Red-throated Pipit’s throat but it isn’t clear if this is age or sex related.

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Wrynecks constantly live up to their name by twisting their necks in a strange snake-like manner. This is thought to have evolved as a threat mechanism to predators. Photo by Terry Elborne

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This female Masked Shrike was a firm favourite.

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In the hand you appreciate what a huge bird Great Reed Warbler really is.

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Since I started birding Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin has changed its vernacular name more often than Italy has changed governments. Also in that time there hasn’t been a twitchable one in the UK which is strange as they long-distance migrants and aren’t that rare in their Mediterranean and western Asian breeding grounds.

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Thrush Nightingale (R) is very similar to the eastern race ‘golzii’ of Common Nightingale (L), especially from behind. Common Nightingales we see in western Europe are much more rufous. There are differences in the colour and length of the tail and the streaking/blotching of the breast but the length of the first primary (> primary coverts in Common, < in Thrush) is diagnostic, but obviously isn’t easy to see in the field.

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A Common Quail that managed to escape being trapped for food on its long journey from Africa.

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Stunning !

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A Wood Warbler on route to some east European ancient woodland.

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This tiny male Namaqua Dove was a real surprise.

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Our last full day was the Sabbath and with the kids of school many came down to find out what we were up to.

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On our final evening we drove down to Eilat ringing station (at the Birdwatching Centre) where they were ringing Barn and Red-rumped Swallows at roost. Bob looks pretty pleased to be ringing a Red-rumped Swallow.

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On our final morning we did a little ringing before packing up and heading back to Eilat. We were just outside the town refuelling the hire cars when Gary got a phone call to say they had just trapped a White-throated Robin at the Birdwatching Centre. We quickly detoured just in time to see this mega in the hand. I have seen this species before in Turkey and Armenia but it was a tick for most of the crew.

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And they then produced a second surprise, this fantastic male Levant Sparrowhawk. A very local breeder across Turkey and western Asia, Levants are hardly ever seen in winter in Africa and pass through Israel in late April when most visiting birders have left. We were lucky to see one of the vanguard at the very last moment of our trip. Photo by TE

Posted May 16, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

7th – 14th April: Lotan and southern Arvava, Israel   Leave a comment

As I explained at the start of the Israel account, this trip was in two parts, eleven days sightseeing and birding with Margaret and a week bird ringing at Kibbutz Lotan with eleven other British ringers. Ringing abroad can only be done by qualified ringers at the request and with the permission of the local ringing authority. As many foreign ringing schemes are undermanned this allows for further research to be carried out, whilst giving visiting ringers valuable experience they couldn’t obtain at home.

On the  early morning of the 7th we dropped the hire car off at Ben Gurion airport and Margaret took the shuttle to the international terminal for the flight home and I went to the domestic terminal for the flight to Eilat. I had wondered about keeping hold of the hire car and driving down there but decided it would be best to do the same as the others and get on the same flight. I sat in the departure lounge for ages but there was no sign of the four from our ringing group or the seven other ringers who they were joining. In time I boarded the plane, but still no sign, I was feeling resigned to the fact that they had missed the flight when they arrived a couple of minutes before departure, apparently security had taken a dislike to Terry and Mike and had subjected them to repeated searches.

Once at Eilat we picked up hire cars (four between the 12 of us) and drove the 45 km north to Kibbutz Lotan. Having settled in we spent the afternoon setting up the nets for the following day. During the following week we settled into a pattern. The nets would be opened at 0530, we would ring until about 1130 (sometimes a bit early if it got too hot for the birds), have lunch and then go out birding in the afternoon. Usually all 12 of us (sometimes accompanied by Dave Taylor, a Dorset birder who was also staying at the kibbutz) would go to the same destination but occasionally we would split up. Most of the sites we visited were small wetlands (usually sewage works) or areas of open desert and included areas like Yotvata, Km 20 and Eilat Birdwatching Centre that have already been illustrated on the blog.

This post shows some of the birds we saw during the week. Unfortunately on the second day I accidentally changed the settings on my camera so that very low resolution pics were taken, this meant that cropping was impractical. As I result, I have posted some taken by Terry Elborne as well as my own.

 

Kibbutz Lotan - Arava Valley

Seen from the western Rift Valley escarpment Kibbutz Lotan stands out as a green oasis in the desert. The settlement close to the furthest mountains is in Jordan. Photo by Terry Elborne.

 

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The accommodation at Kibbutz Lotan

 

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At nearby Yotvata we saw this pair of Caspian Plovers on route from the savannas of East Africa to the breeding grounds in Central Asia. This is a male.

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The rather dowdier female.

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Black Bush Robin, a bird that I have seen before in Africa but not in the Western Palearctic. On my previous visits it was a very uncommon visitor to Israel, but now they are annual in small numbers in spring and may even have bred.

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Margaret and I searched for a very elusive individual at Km 19 without success so I was very pleased to get such good views of these birds and voted it my ‘bird of the trip’.

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Afternoon at Yotvata sewage works. Early in the week, southerly winds produced dust storms that obscured the sun and depressed migration. A switch to northerlies and clearer skies mid-week was most welcome.

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The general feeling was that there were much fewer migrant passerines around this spring than normal. Rain in Sudan, providing an alternative refueling stop and unregulated bird trapping for food in Sinai were suggested as reasons. Even so if we came across such ‘low’ numbers of Blackcaps back home as we experienced that week, we would declare it a major fall!

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It wasn’t too hard to find ‘ringtail’ harriers migrating against the dramatic back drop of Jordan’s Rift Escarpment, it was identifying them as Pallid or Montague’s that was the problem.

Tanwy Pipit

This Tawny Pipit was found in an open desert area at Km 76. The surrounding vegetation is the result of the heavy winter rains, most years this would be completely barren. Photo by Terry Elborne

Semi-Collared Fly

One of the first birds we saw at Lotan was this superb male Semi-collared Flycatcher. Photo by Terry Elborne.

 

Collared Fly

Here for comparison is the superb Collared Flycatcher, one of Europe’s most attractive breeding birds. Not all as easy to identify as this adult male! Identification of the ‘black-and-white’ flycatchers in female or first year plumage is complex and resulted in lengthy discussions.Photo by Terry Elborne.

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A few Palestinian Sunbirds were seen around the kibbutz gardens. Photo by Terry Elborne

Pale Grag Martin

A pair of Pale Crag Martins were often seen over our nets but avoided all attempts to trap them. Photo by Terry Elborne

Ortolan Bunting

Flocks of migrant Ortolan Buntings were seen in desert areas. Photo by Terry Elborne

Kentish Chick

At the Km 20 salt pans loads of cute Kentish Plover chicks were running about. See earlier posts for pics of the adults. Photo by Terry Elborne

 

Broad-billed Sand

This Broad-billed Sandpiper was an excellent find at Km 20. Oman and the Gulf is the nearest wintering area for this species and they seldom pass through Israel on their way north. Photo by Terry Elborne

Red-n-Phalarope

This Red-necked Phalarope would have spent the winter at sea in the Indian Ocean before heading overland to its breeding grounds on the Russian tundra. Photographed (along with a Slender-billed Gull) by Terry Elborne at Km 20.

Marsh Sand

Marsh Sandpiper, one of the most attractive of the ‘tringa’ Sandpipers. Photo by Terry Elborne.

Corncrake

One afternoon Terry, Mike and Bob stayed behind whilst Shaun and I went birding elsewhere. They had superb views of this Corncrake at the Kibbutz and managed to release the news in a most amusing manner that evening. Photo by Terry Elborne.
White Storks

From mid-week onwards, migrants flocks of raptors and storks would appear over the kibbutz from 1000 – 1200. These are White Storks but we also had good numbers of Black Storks, Buzzards and Black Kites with a few Ospreys, Short-toed, Booted, Lesser Spotted and Steppe Eagles.

Little green Beeater

Green Bee-eaters were a common site around the Kibbutz. Photo by Terry Elborne

Squacco

Squacco Herons were seen on most bodies of water however small. Photo by Terry Elborne.

K33

Birding at Km 33. L- R: Rachael Eele, Paul Eele, Bob Gifford, me, Roger Walsh, Mike Gould, Shaun Robson, Dave Taylor. Photo by Terry Elborne.

Posted May 15, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

April 29th – May 9th – at last a post that’s not about Israel!   Leave a comment

Over the last week and half I have made four or five ringing trips either to PC World drain or Durlston, none have been particularly successful. A run of cold northerlies and clear nights has not induced many migrant birds and a change of weather at the weekend brought coastal fog. Are efforts haven’t been totally in vain as we have re-trapped a number of Whitethroats from previous years showing breeding site fidelity in a sub-Saharan migrant. Keeping going though the less productive winter and spring months has also allowed three of our trainee ringers to gain sufficient experience to apply for their C permits, which means they will be able to ring unsupervised but their trainer will still be in overall control of their ringing activities.

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Early morning fog was not what we wanted at Durlston, but it was very atmospheric.

I have made several birding trips to Lytchett Bay, where the Red-throated Diver and Little Gull previously reported were seen again but one of the most interesting outings was our attempt to see, or at least hear a Savi’s Warbler on the edge of Wareham Channel near Holton Lee. Heard earlier in the day by Dave Chown whilst doing a Water Rail survey, this is a very scarce visitor to Dorset. Several of us who had permits to visit this private area gathered in the evening to assess the practicality of arranging a twitch, which the owners indicated they would agree to if it was practical. In the end we failed to even hear the bird and assumed it must have moved on, but a twitch would have been hard to organise, as we had to walk though deep mud on the edge of Wareham Channel and this was only passable at low tide.

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Walking along the shore of Wareham Channel ……

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.. and then we had to find away through this very wet marsh. No sign of the Savi’s but we did see an Osprey and a Marsh Harrier and several groups of Whimbrel.

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At the weekend Margaret and I had a wander around Mordon Bog in Wareham Forest. There weren’t birds around but Cuckoo and Tree Pipit were highlights.

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Margaret at Mordon Bog

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On Bank Holiday Monday, the girls wanted to go to the beach at Sandbanks. This was the same day I was fog bound at Durlston. The fog seemed to have cleared on my way back but once be drove down to Sandbanks we found I was wrong.

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Although the sun almost broke through, it remained quite cool. A shame as most of the country had the hottest day of the year. Amber, Janis and Margaret at Sandbanks.

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Kara playing ‘catch’

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A number of straps secured between posts provided great fun for the girls.

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Amber struggles to stay on ….

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Evan John got in on the act but I couldn’t stay on long enough for any photos to be taken!

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I made a couple of visits to Portland in search of seabirds. The most successful was today (9th). Although very strong winds were forecast they didn’t materialise until the afternoon, after I had gone home, but I did see a Pomarine and Great Skuas, lots of Arctic Terns and a few Manx Shearwaters.

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I wasn’t the only birder seeking seabirds at the Bill

IMG_2052-Cormorant

All attempts to photograph seabirds failed except for this Cormorant taking off close to the Bill. Interestingly the shape of the greenish gular patch is diagnostic of the Atlantic nominate race, which is exactly what you would expect.

Posted May 9, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized