9 Apr 2014

9 April 14 - Bonus Caspian Plover

It was another early start after being out for the Pharaoh Eagle Owl the previous evening. The plan was to get to the start of the Ovda Airport road, near to the Ne'ot Smadar kibbutz, for just after first light, to look for the previous afternoon's Caspian Plover. Soon after turning off the main road, we surprised a couple of Nubian Ibex crossing the road where the road cut through a hillside. Unfortunately, they were back up the hill & out of sight before I could get any photos.
Nubian Ibex: They are great looking animals as this roundabout in Eilat indicates (but not as large as this in real life)
The Caspian Plover had been found in an narrow green area around a dried up water course in a wider area of desert. But this area extended for 2 or 3 miles. We started exploring the area & were really impressed when Nigel announced he had relocated the female Caspian Plover soon after we arrived. We all had chance for good scope views, but without any reason the bird suddenly flew up & flew towards Ovda airport, before finally appearing to drop again after about 2 miles. Whilst disappointed I hadn't had the chance to get any photos, I was pleased to have seen this rare Western P species.
Caspian Plover: The illustration on the right gives you an idea what it looked like. The Pharaoh Eagle Owl was a tick for Edge & Simon
Crowned Sandgrouse: A party flew over, before finally landing. The short tail & black flight feathers on both upperwing & underwing rules out all the other Sandgrouse. This is the vastitas subspecies of the Israel, Jordon & the
Sinai deserts
The Caspian Plover area: The bird disappeared into the distance to the left
Another view of the Caspian Plover area
A more typical view of the area overlooking the Eilat - Yotvata valley: Which shows why the Caspian Plover area was a migrant trap
There was chance for a quick look at the Ne'ot Smadar kibbutz sewerage works, before heading back to Eilat for a late hotel breakfast.
Yellow Wagtail: Male of the feldegg subspecies also known as Black-headed Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail:  Yesterday's 'superciliaris' was a Black-headed Wagtail hybrid with another Yellow Wagtail subspecies. I really find it hard to see why the Dutch split the Yellow Wagtail complex into a number of species
Having had a filling breakfast, it was back to explore the saline water tanks at km 20 (North of Eilat). There is another fresh water tank at km 19 with a set of bush & scrub surrounded small pools between them. This whole area is great birding. It's possible to drive around the km 20 water tanks which is the best way to cover them & avoid disturbing the good numbers of Flamingos, Waders & Gulls. It's worth walking down to the km 19 water tank (from the km 20 water tanks) as there are a good selection of birds in the bushes, although the Dead Sea Sparrows & Indian Silverbills managed to elude us despite several visits. Migrants also funnel through this area, with Raptors on the move North overhead. The km 19 water tanks can also be reached from the main road. These are best watched by sitting on the bank & scanning with a telescope. We eventually found there was a small dirt/metalled road heading back towards the Eilat ringing area. This avoids the long detour North on the Yotvata dual carriageway to turn the car around & head back to Eilat. Wish we had spotted that local road sooner as we ended up going the long way back on the several visits.
The saline water tanks at km 20
The surrounding track was wide enough to allow you to drive around the tanks
Birding the saline tanks: Nigel, Simon & Edge
Bird Hide overlooking the saline tanks: Israeli Army design (large)
Squacco Heron
Glossy Ibis: The diagnostic shape with the mountains of Jordon behind
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingo
Egyptian Goose: These 3 individuals were considered to be introduced birds, rather than genuine vagrants from Egypt's Nile Valley or Sub-Saharan Africa
Osprey: Adult. The dark tail band & dark central band on the underwing indicates this is an adult bird
Osprey: Adult. The uniform upperwing also indicates this is an adult. This is the nominate haliaetus subspecies of the Palearctic, which winters to Africa, India & the Philippines
Osprey: Adult. Two minutes after the first photos, the Osprey was leaving again with lunch. Osprey or Swallow is probably the species I've seen in more countries than any other species
Imperial Eagle: Unfortunately, this North bound Imperial Eagle didn't pass close to us to allow a decent photo
Coot: There was a reasonably large flock on the km 19 water tank of the nominate atra subspecies
Black-winged Stilt: This was no consolation for missing 2 BW Stilts in Poole Harbour whilst I was in Israel (the first PH record since an unsubmitted Brownsea record in 1978)
Collared Pratincole: This is the nominate pratincola subspecies which is occurs from South Europe to Pakistan & winters South to Northern Sub-Saharan Africa 
Collared Pratincole: Collared Pratincoles aren't easy to separate from Black-winged Pratincoles or Oriental Pratincoles when seen on the ground, but in flight the reddish underwing & white trailing edge to the secondaries are diagnostic
Spur-winged Plover: This was a very common bird where ever there was a little bit of water
Ringed Plover: This is the tundrae subspecies (which are slightly smaller & darker) than the typical UK breeding subspecies (which is the nominate histicula)
Little Ringed Plover: This is the curonicus subspecies of the Norther Palearctic, which winters to Africa, Arabia, East China & Indonesia. Seems surprising that the nominate subspecies occurs in the Philippines, New Guinea & Bismarck Archipelago. I would have expected the type specimen to have been described somewhere in Europe
Kentish Plover: Male of the nominate alexandrinus subspecies which occurs from the Western Palearctic to Eastern China & Southern Japan, with 2 other subspecies in SE India to Sri Lanka and SE Asia, respectively
Kentish Plover: Female. It was fitting that my first KP was seen at Cliffe Lagoons in Kent
Kentish Plover: Chick. We think this was a KP, but there was no adult with it, although a KP was fairly close & was the nearest bird
Black-tailed Godwit: This is the nominate limosa subspecies. The birds I see in Dorset are the islandica birds which are part of the Iceland breeding population: which have the red of the breast extending further onto the lower breast & flanks compared to limosa individuals
Green Sandpiper
Little Stint: A fairly common migrant with up to 100 birds present at km 20 on our visits
Little Stint: Flight shot of a different individual
Ruff: It was good to see flocks of 20 to 40 Ruffs. In Poole Harbour, a couple of flocks of 4 last winter were the biggest I've seen in the harbour in 17 years of living there
Slender-billed Gull: Adult
Pied Kingfisher: This is the nominate rudis subspecies of Sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, Israel, Turkey to Iran
Red-throated Pipit
Graceful Prinia: This is the palaestinae subspecies of East Sinai, South Israel, Lebanon, South Syria, North & West Jordon & NW Saudi Arabia. The deltae subspecies occurs further North in West & Central Israel
Spanish Sparrow: Male. The breeding birds are the transcaspicus subspecies of Israel to Turkey, Central & Eastern Asia to NW India. The nominate hispaniolensis subspecies of Southern Europe, North Africa & the islands off North Africa of Cape Verde, Canaries & Madeira is a less common winter visitor & migrant
Finally, by early afternoon, we decided to get out of the heat & retreated to the hotel to recharge the batteries in more than one way. Firstly, a chance to catch up on lost sleep as all these early starts and late nights were taking their toll. Secondly, it also gave me the opportunity to find a camera shop to recharge one of the camera batteries (as I had foolishly decided I could manage on my 2 batteries and had taken so many photos that the battery power was looking decidedly low & the charger was at home). After a lot of looking I tracked down a decent camera opposite Eilat airport, where the owner kindly recharged the battery for me. Late afternoon saw us heading to the beach, not for swimming, but because there were 2 or 3 White-cheeked Terns hanging around Aqaba on the Jordanian side of the border, but which sometimes came closer & fed off Eilat's North beach. This is a World Tick that I didn't think we had a chance of seeing, as they generally don't appear until much later in the Spring: but these sub adult birds had been around for a while.
Eilat's North Beach: The border is just behind these trees with Aqaba, Jordon in the background
Eilat's North Beach: Looking South with the Jordon - Saudi Arabia border somewhere in the picture
Caspian Tern: No mistaking this bill
White-cheeked Tern: My one chance when a bird came into Eilat waters & I blew it. Still it does show the fine bill & contrast between the inner & outer primaries
Finally, it was on to Eilat's Dolphin Reef where 2 Little Green Herons had been hanging around. The light was starting to go now, but we were all happy when I picked up a bird flying from the pontoon surrounding the Dolphin enclosure. A great end to a day with a World Tick & 2 additional Western P ticks: none of which were on my expected trip list.
Bottle-nosed Dolphin: Dolphin Reef - not a place I would be prepared to pay to see Dolphins. They should be in the sea & swimming free, not in a sea cage as these Dolphins are (note, we were looking from a public car park, not the Dolphin Reef attraction)