7 Apr 2014

7 April 14 - A Desert Owl Tick

After a great first morning in Israel at Wadi Salvadora & a drink stop we were heading back to the previous afternoon's viewpoint above the Dead Sea. As there was clearly a Northerly Raptor movement, we hoping for some close views from the viewpoint.
Masada: This is the historic Jewish hill top settlement which held out against Roman rule until finally overrun around 73 AD when the remaining Jewish rebels committed suicide. I enjoyed visiting it on the first trip, so wasn't too worried about not walking up it again on this trip
We arrived at the viewpoint on the Arad road to find a couple of Dutch birders already there who had been photographing the spectacle. My little 400 mm lens felt very small compared to their two much larger 500 mm lens positioned on their tripods. However, I can easily walk around with my camera set up all day & take photos without having to carry a heavy tripod as well, so overall I think the 400 mm lens is a better set up for me. Almost as soon as we were out of the car, we saw our first Black Storks & Raptors and they kept coming over the next hour or so, but at a slower rate compared to the Wadi Salvadora.
Black Stork: 3 more passed North over the viewpoint
Black Stork 
Buzzard: Over 100 Steppe Buzzards headed North 
Steppe Eagle: With another 10 Steppe Eagles
Finally, we decided we had better head back to the accommodation for a quick kip as we knew we had a long night of looking for Nightbirds ahead of us. Feeling refreshed it was then back to the restaurant for some more Yellow-vented Bulbuls photos (surely I mean food).
Laughing Dove
Laughing Dove: This bird was nesting inside the marquee & quite unconcerned at the number of people feeding close by
Little Green Bee-eater: This is the cyanophrys subspecies which also occurs in the Arabian Peninsula
Yellow-vented Bulbul: Proving they also can be found outside the marquee
House Sparrow: Male. Ever the opportunist they were quick to appear after customers had left 
House Sparrow: Female
We met our Yoav Perlman, our Nightbird guide just after 17:00, along with our 2 new Dutch friends. We were given two options for the last couple of hours of light: either look for Clamorous Reed Warblers & Silverbills or look for a Black Bush Robin that had been found earlier that morning. It wasn't a difficult decision that we were going to head South to Hazeva for the latter rarity. Arriving about 20 minutes later we soon spread out to look for it. It was quickly seen, but disappeared into a tangle of bushes under an Acacia. However, a few minutes later & it was relocated & we all had great views of this bonus species along with a Rufous Bushchat in the same vegetation.
Graceful Prinia: I didn't spend long on photographing this bird, as there was another more interesting species with a long, stuck up tail to see
Rufous Bushchat: All 3 subspecies occur in Israel. The greyer-brown upperparts & slightly greyish wash to the underparts indicates this is the syriacus subspecies. The commoner & nominate galactotes subspecies has pale rufous to rufous-brown upperparts & sandy or creamy underparts & the uncommon migrant familiaris would be greyer, rather than browner on the upperparts than syriacus
Black Bush Robin: This is a rarity in Israel with a few Spring records each year. Having seen a few in Northern Cameroons, I could still remember what a great bird this was and was keen to see another 
Black Bush Robin: Showing the characteristic stuck up tail. Frustratingly I had knocked the camera onto the wrong settings & the best photos were unexposed
Black Bush Robin: Israeli vagrants seems to be an intergrade between the nominate podobe subspecies which occurs from Mali to Somalia & the melanoptera subspecies of the Arabia Peninsula. This shows the characteristic white undertail markings
Having had good views of the Black Bush Robin, it was soon time to head back to Neot Hakikar. This is a kibbutz which borders Jordon & Yoav had arranged with the army for us to look along the border fence line for Nubian Nightjars until it got dark. We arrived in the half light & saw 2 Nubian Nightjars briefly. After leaving as it turned dark, we tried for other birds in the kibbutz & had better views of one sitting on a track. Apparently, they like sitting on tracks & jumping up to catch some food, before quickly returning to the track.
We were right on the border fence line
Army watchtower
Nubian Nightjar: Given it's a rare breeding bird in Israel, you are not allowed to use flash & I had to make do with the Yoav's torchlight. this is the tamaricis subspecies which occurs in Israel & Jordon, SW Saudi Arabia & Yeman
It was then time to go to look for Desert Tawny Owl. This is a bird I only managed to hear on my first visit to Israel in 1994, when it was known as Hume's Tawny Owl. On that trip, I had been totally unimpressed with the lack of skill our esteemed guide for the night showed in looking for Owls. Additionally, he insisted he was the only person good enough to drive our hired car up the wadi, whilst smashing up the exhaust in the process: which we ended up having to pay for when the car was returned. Fortunately, Yoav was a complete contrast, being a more knowledgeable & pleasant birding guide.
Desert Tawny Owl: We saw 2 birds that evening
My main reason for visiting Israel again were to see Desert Tawny Owl & Nubian Nightjar. In this single evening Yoav had succeeded in showing us both of them along with the Black Bush Robin. A long & tiring, but very rewarding day's birding.