27 Jun 2015

27 June 15 - A Short Foreign Trip

Back in the Spring, I was contacted by Nigel Jones about whether I was interested in a short six day Western Palearctic trip. Both Nigel & Simon Ingram were going, so the chance for a reunion of three-quarters of the 2014 Israel Spring Birders. The final member of the team, Edge, had been to the destination in the last few years. It sounded interesting & I figured by that time, it would be good to great a week's break from work: so I signed up. It was originally billed as a private trip using Wildwings to organise all the ground arrangements & provide a local guide. But in the end Nigel was unable to fill the whole trip & it was opened up to Birdwatch mag to fill the rest of the group. This gave me some reservations as organised tours are not something I have every wanted to go on. OK sometimes it's necessary & my trips to the New Zealand Subantarctic islands & last years Pitcairn & Henderson Island trips were organised tours. But in my mind that is different as they were Birding/Wildlife cruises & being ship based was the only way to visit the region. But this was the first tour I had been on to a country which I should have been able to sort out as an independent trip. After all, it was one of my first foreign trips back in 1986. But by the time the trip was opened up to the wider Birding public, I was committed as I had paid the deposit & wasn't sure if I would get it back. But I was planning an extension at the end of the trip. I also knew that I was going to struggle to find other mates who would want to do the trip if I was to try & do it independently, so I stayed committed. I won't name the country yet, I'll leave that to the next Post so there is the chance to guess.
There was clearly a lot of building going on in the country 
On the Saturday morning, I joined Nigel & Simon & their mate Bob Marchant (another Hampshire Birder), for a dawn breakfast at Heathrow. Soon after we were heading for the plane & the chance to try & spot the other punters. I knew there were all flying out from the UK & likely to be on the same plane. There were three or four other likely looking candidates. As we arrived for the connecting flight from the capital, we had a couple of hours for a coffee & the chance to meet a couple of the Birders who were tagging along: Tony Pollard from Devon & John Armitage from Islay. John had retained his Yorkshire sense of humour, despite many years on the Western Isles & fitted in very well with the Hampshire/Dorset contingent. After a short internal flight, we arrived with all the group & bags intact, at the final airport. We were quickly out & met our guide for the trip. There was a dull hour of travelling, before a stop for an hour of early evening Birding.
Here is a big clue about the religion of the country
The first stop was just off the main road & gave us the chance to stretch our legs & check the cameras were working OK: they would be in serious use the following morning. This was a few dry short grass fields next to a nice reed-fringed irrigation ditch.
The dry short grass fields were grazed by a few horses
The reed filled irrigation ditch was home to a few nice looking Dragonflies
Southern White Duck: Tickable under IQ40 rules from Domestic White Duck, Farmyard White Duck, Yellow-billed White Duck & Donald Duck (obviously not Tickable to serious Birders). Note, the way the male holds the tail in an attempt to look like a White-headed Duck: this is characteristic of Southern White Ducks
But the Southern White Ducks weren't the main target species. This was Spur-winged Plover, which didn't take long to get the group onto, especially, as I had clocked the first one before we turned off the road.
Spur-winged Plover: This is an uncommon breeding species in this part of the country
Crested Lark: Crested Larks inhabit a lot of interesting countries, but this is the zion subspecies: Jerusalem is at the other end of the range of this subspecies
Graceful Prinia: I didn't try very hard to get photos of this individual, but in the end it was the only photo opportunity I had in the trip. This is the akyildizi subspecies which is an endemic subspecies & only occurs in this coastal strip of the country. A better photo might have been in focus!
There were some interesting Dragonflies in the irrigation ditch: unfortunately, we only had a few minutes before it was time to leave.
Keeled Skimmer: This is the Southern subspecies anceps which is bluer on the thorax & abdomen than the males than the UK subspecies
Dark-winged Groundling: This proved to be a fairly commonly species seen on the trip alongside wet edges. The pale pterostigma contrast well with the dark wings
Violet Dropwing: Male. A stunning coloured Dragonfly
We also saw the first Agama Lizards of the trip. There is only one Agama species in the country, Agama stellio.
Agama stellio: This was the most widespread Lizard species that I saw on the trip
All to quickly it was time to get on the minibus again for the final half hour to the hotel. A quick chance to unpack before heading out for some food. We didn't want to linger over food that evening as it had been a long day of travelling & more importantly, it was an 04:00 departure the following morning.