Category Archives: Israel

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Desert and Asian Grey Shrikes

Explorations

Martin Garner

Shrikes, aka butcher birds are always pleasing to see. Recent molecular studies have forced (yet another) rethink about what used to be called ‘Great Grey Shrikes’ and how they might be related to one another. A division between ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ forms is already well-known. Here’s a look at the Southern Grey Shrikes where there is much more to discovered about identification, genetics, vocalisations and interbreeding of forms. A birding frontier! Furthermore an ‘Asian Grey Shrike’ in Norfolk in 1982 considered to be an escape might be worth revisiting.

A paper published in 2010 (see end) suggested different possible (new) taxonomic treatments, with an option being to treat the southern birds as 3 separate species. This position has been adopted by e.g. Dutch Birding:

Desert Grey Shrike Lanius elegans with taxa: elegans, koenigi and algeriensis

Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis

Asian Grey Shrike Lanius lahtora with taxa: lahtora, pallidirostris and aucheri

What’s confusing is that birds with the most similar plumages and in some case breeding closest to one another, are not necessarily the most closely related. So takes some getting your head around! Expressed simply a broad sweep from the Canaries to India reveals most of the southern taxa are dark smoky-grey looking shrikes. From koenigi in the Canaries, algeriensis of coastal North Africa, aucheri of the Middle East through to lahtora in India all look broadly very similar. Into that mix the Iberian meridionalis is similarly dark, often with pinkish caste to underparts. The outstandingly paler form is elegans spanning right across inland North Africa through to the Middle East while the different looking pallidirostris sits perched in the NE corner (Central Asia) of this range.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging deep extensive grey tones below, contrasting with white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. Dutch have it as 'Desert Grey Shrike' and a subspecies of elegans (with algeriensis as another ssp.). The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species 'Iberian Grey Shrike' by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Desert Grey Shrike formkoenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging with deep extensive grey tones below with contrastingly white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species ‘Iberian Grey Shrike’ by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Desert Grey Shrike ‘koenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. A firts winter from nearby North Africa that seemed to fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal form,  algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans.

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. From nearby North Africa. Extensive white in the wing, with large white primarv patch and white outer webs in secondaries points to the paler elegans. Some aspects thought to indicate it fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans. Thankfully these are considered the same species in the new taxonomy! Bit more here

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans/ dodsoni, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

 

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike adult form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri in Israel (and algeriensis in N. Africa). Lots white in wing and tail, bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with very limited black over bill.

Adult Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012, Martin Garner. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri (Asian Grey Shrike) in Israel. Also with lots white in wing; large white primary patch and ‘linking’ white on secondary edges with bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with limited black on forehead/over top of bill base.

Southern Grey Shrike 2 aucheri Hula, Israel Nov 2012

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Billed as separate species from the paler elegans by the Dutch, aucheri is lumped with Asian Grey Shrike 'lahtora' and includes subspecies pallidirostris! This shrike is the commoner dark form in N Israel with darker grey upperparts, more black in mask and less white in wing than aucheri (e.g. see above).

2 photos above: First winter Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. You get 2 species to tick now in Israel!  the dark aucheri is lumped as Asian Grey Shrike with ‘lahtora’  from further east and includes central Asian subspecies pallidirostris, while elegans  is a Desert Grey Shrike. The more common form in N Israel is aucheri with darker grey upperparts, more extensive and darker grey in underparts,more black in mask and less white in wing than elegans (e.g. see above).

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. White in wing limited to primaries.

Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. White in wing essentially limited to primaries. Such a dark bird with limited white seems to fit more extreme end of aucheri, perhaps an example of taxon ‘theresae’ upheld by some authors

Southern Grey Shrike, , Beit She'an Valley,  Israel Nov 2013. In interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn't especially darker above and  with more white in wing than other easy 'aucheri'. This bird could be what is assumed to be an intergrade form between darker northern aucheri and paler southern elegans.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Beit She’an Valley, Israel Nov 2013, Martin Garner. An interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn’t especially darker above and with more white in wing than other easy ‘aucheri’…

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it's appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She'an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many 'Asian Grey Shrikes' were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980's? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not be reproduced in any form.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it’s appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She’an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many ‘Asian Grey Shrikes’ were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980’s? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not to be reproduced in any form.

 

Download the key paper which is bringing new taxonomic thinking:

 The Lanius excubitor conundrum

 

Grateful thanks to Roger Tidman, James McCallum, Chris Kehoe, Andy Stoddart, the MISC, Dani López-Velasco, Juan Sagardia and Yoav Perlman.

 

Champions of the Flyway – Back Birding Frontiers to Win!

illustration-v3

Champions of the Flyway IS:

  • A Big International Bird race

  • On April 1st 2014 in Eilat, Israel

  • To raise money to stop illegal bird killing

  • [and the Birding Frontiers team is going to win!]

 

You can read all the stuff on the >>>Champions of the Flyway<<<

“All our race teams are also competing to raise the most sponsorship in support of BirdLife‘s action against illegal killing of birds in Southern and Eastern Europe. You can donate to the team you wish to help the most here and cheer them on with a goodwill message.”

You can read about Birdlife’s Migratory Birds and Flyways Programme and the  very real threats facing populations of migratory birds.

Who is on the Birding Frontiers Team and who is supporting us?

……………….>>>Birding Frontiers Team<<<

and we would love you to support the Birding Frontiers Team efforts by giving directly to the conservation cause on our team page. Here:

……………………>>>Just Giving Page<<<

 

and check out this gorgeous set of moving images of the birds of Eilat. Have a cuppa, sit down to enjoy. LOADS of cool birds on it!

 

oddie_bwHere is a checklist of the 237 species seen during the Eilat Birding Festival in 2013.

Bill Oddie on Home Truths about Bird Racers (very funny)….

and this is the area we will be birding in for 24 hours, non-stop!

resized map

ooo and in case you missed it:

and we would love you to support the Birding Frontiers Team efforts by giving directly to the conservation cause on our team page. Here:

………………………….>>>Just Giving Page<<<

 

THANK YOU!

 

 

 

 

Steppe Merlin

Overlooked in Europe? No way, so distinctive!

Yoav Perlman

Merlin has a huge breeding range accross Europe and Asia. It has several subspecies – as in many other species the W European populations being darker, and the E populations being paler and larger. pallidus (‘Steppe Merlin’) is the largest and palest of those occuring in the WP. It breeds in the steppes of N Kazakhstan and SW Siberia, and winters mainly in the Indian Subcontinent. It is a rare winter visitor to the Middle East, and therefore it should be looked for in Europe as well. In Israel it is rare indeed, with one or two wintering in some winters.

Last week I was doing a wintering raptor census in the NW Negev, in the open fields of Urim. This area is very rich in winter, with a strong C Asian steppes influence – Saker, callidus Peregrine, Sociable Lapwing, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Pallid Harrier are regular winter visitors, and this area hosts important populations of these species. As I was working a small patch of Tamarix trees that often are used as day roosts for Merlins, I noticed a brilliant male pallidus Merlin shooting out of a tree. I had quick flight views at first, but this form is so distinctive – especially in direct sunlight the upperparts are as pale as a Pallid Harrier so ID wasn’t challenging… It landed in a farther tree, and I managed to drive up to it and get a couple of crap shots in the shade before it flew out again.

pallidus Merlin, NW Negev, israel, january 2014

pallidus Merlin, NW Negev, Israel, January 2014

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to focus on the bird in flight and got nothing of it in proper light conditions. So I checked google and found these fantastic shots by Indian friends Rajesh Shah and Nirav Bhatt – I use their images here with their kind permission:

pallidus Merlin, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India, November 2010

pallidus Merlin, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India, November 2010

merlindsc_0406

The size and structure differences from European aesalon might be difficult to judge in the field, especially in males that are anyway smaller than females. However, the pallid grey upperparts, pale head, faintly marked moustache and eyestripe, and faintly streaked upperparts make identification rather easy if seen in good light conditions. I guess that females and juveniles are much more challenging to identify – should be duller, paler and less streaked, but very hard to find convincing images.

Some more friends from the NW Negev:

Eastern Imperial Eagle, 3cy, NW Negev, January 2014

Eastern Imperial Eagle, 3cy, NW Negev, January 2014

sociable5

 

Saker, 1cy, NW Negev, Israel, December 2013

Saker, 1y, NW Negev, Israel, December 2013

 

 

 

Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit

Magical Moments 2013 #3

by Martin G.

japonicus Buff bellied MM 17.11.2013

What: Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus

Who: Sander Bot. A great companion who kept us searching when I was ready to give up.

Where: At Ma’agan Michael fish ponds

When: 17th November 2013

WhyIt was top of the most wanted list. the Siberian/ Asian/ Pacific Buff-bellied Pipit – taxon japonicus essentially winters in the far east. Go to Japan or South Korea if you want to see one easily. A few stray further west, with a small number each winter in Israel. Visiting Northern Israel again in November 2013, this was the bird I most wanted to see. Every day we checked suitable habitats seeing all many of nuanced variations in the coutelli Water Pipits, including one with Yoav P. which had nice black streaking below and large malar ‘block mimicking japonicus underpart pattern. Then on the last hour of the last day, having pretty much given up, Sander Bot and I found one. With about 3 minutes of close views- we left for the airport at Tel Aviv. Somehow the last minute nature of the sighting only makes it sweeter- after the little frustrations! A magic moment.

Target for the Footit Challenge and Patchwork Challenge in the New Year then :)

japonicus c Buff bellied MM 17.11.2013.jpg MG 1Recorded at least 3 times in Scandinavia (2 Norway,1 Sweden?). One of those in February 2008 was in Western Norway. Suggests to me that mid winter in the  Northern Isles  or east coast is not a bad punt for what would be a British ‘first’.

Smyrna Kingfisher 17 Nov 2013 M IsraelWhite-breasted or Smyrna Kingfisher, Ma’agan Michael fish ponds, 17th Nov 2013. ..and if you don’t like little brown jobs, 3 gaudy kingfisher species demand attention.

Eastern flavas in Norfolk and Donegal?

Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013

by Tim Allwood and Andy Kane

'Eastern' Yellow WagtailApparent Eastern flava wagtail, tschutschensis?  Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013. by Neil Bowman

 Hi Martin,
 I recall a few posts of yours on eastern and plexa wags and thought you might like a look at a bird we had in October in Norfolk.
 I was birding my local patch at Eccles, East Norfolk when I heard a strange call in high winds and rain. I initially thought it may have been Richard’s Pipit but the conditions were not conducive to hearing the call with any clarity and I also thought it had some wagtail-like quality. Despite tramping around for a while I couldn’t locate the bird, but Andy Kane found it next morning and on flushing thought it was going to be a Citrine due to its greyness, clear wingbars in flight and sharp, almost buzzy call. However, on the deck views showed it defo wasn’t Citrine (no clear ear covert surround, slight yellow wash on undertail etc). It’s clearly an interesting bird, the call was often sharp and pipit-like with a fizzy or buzzy quality (a sort of “tsseeep!”) and the appearance is highly unusual – we’ve never seen anything like it aside from Phil Heath who saw a similar bird on Shetland many Octobers ago. Despite attempts to record the call a few times on my phone I never got anything satisfactory as it was always windy and despite making recordings they were all too noisy. We were also going to attempt to trap the bird on the first available weekend but were again beaten by conditions and ultimately the departure of the bird!
 The appearance of the bird changed markedly with the prevailing light and cloud cover etc. At times a pale grey and at others a darker grey. Some could see a faint olive tinge on the lower mantle in optimum conditions. The undertail wash also varied in intensity in a similar fashion. I wondered if there may be some thunbergi influence (?) due to the yellowish wash on the undertail and rear flanks, but the head pattern and particularly supercilium, lores and dark supa-loral were very striking, much more so than expected for thunbergi… and the rest of the underparts were very pale off-white to white. Similar looking birds (with a yellow undertail wash can be found wintering in India
 Andy Kane heard the bird the same day and also thought the calls distinctive and thought them pipit or even lark-like. It could occasionally give softer versions of the call, but the loud and striking explosive “tsseeeep” surprised us and wasn’t something we’d heard from a wagtail.
 I have read as much as I can find on wagtail systematics and taxonomy recently, and frankly it’s a minefield as I guess you are well aware! Is there an area where tschutschensis is known to intergrade with thunbergi as suggested by the map in Alstrom et al, so birds could have yellowish wash on undertail but otherwise appear basically grey/white and have eastern-type calls? The bird was present Oct 13th to Oct 23rd and arrived during the weather that brought a Red-flanked bluetail only a mile to the north at Happisburgh and similar vagrants to the rest of the Norfolk coast. However, the area where the bird was is a series of sheep fields that were in use at the time (the sheep were attracting the wagtail in). Although we have negotiated access for a very few of us, the farmer was still not particularly happy with more than a couple of us being in the fields. This fact, combined with wide ditches and wet ground, and the fact that the bird could go missing for long periods made observation difficult.
 Tim Allwood (and Andy Kane)
P1030516 TA

Apparent Eastern flava wagtail, perhaps tschutschensis, Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013. Tim Allwood.

.P1620559 ta.
P1620571 ta

above 2 photos. Apparent Eastern flava wagtail, perhaps tschutschensis, Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013 by Andy Kane

 

More grey and white flavas

by Martin G

Tory Island, October 2013

The story is not over yet on this next bird. A similar bird to the Eccles, Norfolk individual was present on Tory Island, co. Donegal, also in October 2013. It has been discussed elsewhere and I agree with sentiments that it really looks the business for an eastern bird, similar to many tschutschensis Eastern Yellow Wagtails. Strikingly the upperpart grey tone looks saturated mostly cold almost blueish grey, the white supercilium while fading towards the bill base is off set by blackish lores (at certain angles). However the only calls which were heard and recorded seem to be ‘sweet’ sounding like western birds, and not raspy like Eastern birds. Some eastern types have been recorded giving both ‘sweet’ and rasping’ calls elsewhere in Europe, so….  The final aspect of this one’s ID may come from DNA if it can be sequenced from the poo samples sent off…

eyw3

eyw6eyw10eyw4

 Grey and white flava showing characters of eastern taxa, perhaps tschutschensis, Tory Island, Co Donegal, October 2013 by Aidan Kelly (thanks Aidan!)

 

by way of comparison

Here are 3 other grey and white looking flava wagtails. Western birds do throw out young grey and white looking birds. However all I have come across seem to usually have warm slight brownish wash to upperparts (not so cold and blueish looking) with less striking wing bars and lack blacker lores and subcoronal marks bordering the upperside of the supercilia- found to varying degrees on seeming eastern birds. The birds below just don’t look rare enough! And when they call, they inevitable give very typical  nice ‘sweet’ western calls.

flava type western Nafcha Negev 8 nov 2013
.flava type b western Nafcha Negev 8 nov 2013
grey and white flava- probably thunbergi, Nafcha, Negev, Israel, November 2013. This was heard to give lovely ‘sweet’ western calls’. Photos MG
thunbergi b dale of walls sept 13
thunbergi dale of walls sept 13
grey and white flava- probably thunbergi, Dale of Walls, Shetland, September 2013. This was also heard to give lovely ‘sweet’ western calls’. Photos MG
flava-wagtail-sumburgh-farm-one
grey-white-flava-rr3grey and white flava- probably nominate flava, Sumburgh, Shetland, October 2011. This was recorded and gave ‘sweet’ western calls’. Upper photo by Mark Payne, lower by Roger Riddington.

Red-fronted Serin, Syrian Serin and Serin Serin

3 serinus in November ’13

by Martin G

“During the last 6 weeks I have been coordinating an extensive Breeding Bird Atlas Project on Mt. Hermon. This is Israel’s highest peak, and our only alpine habitats are there. Therefore, 17 species breed only there in Israel. The structure of the bird community on Mt. Hermon closely resembles those of E Turkey and Iran.”
began Yoav P. in this post

hula 2013Jonathan Merav prepares the way for the ‘Perls of Wisdom’ to come from Yoav at this years festival.

One of the trips I previously missed out one as part of the Hula Bird Festival, was Mount Hermon. Israel’s only ‘alpine’ zone. Yoav’s inspired evening lecture spurred me on so very glad I went this time. 2 visits, one lead by Yoav and one with the ringing team got us some iconic birds. Not least the 2 serins:

Red-fronted or Fire-fronted Serin (more info from BirdLife hereand

Syrian or Tristram’s Serin (more info from BirdLife here). Syrian Serin is a particularly tricky species to see in its very limited range.

 

red fronted serin Hermon nov 13

red fronted serin b Hermon nov 13above. First winter Fire-fronted Serin, Serinus pusillus, Mount Hermon, 15th November 2013 by Martin Garner. One of the highlights of very early morning ringing and birding session. 3: 00 am departure! Black feathering is just beginning to break through the caramel coloured juvenile face, especially over lores and throat.

Red fronted serin amir ben dov 1

Red fronted serin amir ben dov 2above. First winter Fire-fronted Serin, Serinus pusillus, Mount Hermon, 15th November 2013. by Amir Ben Dov, Israel. This cheeky young bird appeared just after the nets had been taken down. It has mor caramel face than the trapped bird above. Amir had a patient wait to get these lovely shots as we packed up.

 

syrian ypSyrian Serin Serinus syriacus Mount Hermon, November 2012 by Yoav Perlman. This individual was photographed at last years Hermon trip as part of the Hula Valley Bird Festival.

syrian_adadult male Syrian Serin Serinus syriacus Mount Hermon, June 2010 by Yoav Perlman. Not always easy to age and sex. An article on Aging Syian Serin by Yael Lehnardt, Reuven Yusef and Gidon Perlman appeared in Dutch Birding only last year. You can read it here:

2012 Syrian Serin ageing

early on MOunt Hermon nov 13Setting up nets required very early start in clothing typical worn on British winters day. Yorkshire’s Mick Cunningham in the foreground had warm gloves on!

ringing on HermonA make shift ringing station was set at on the bob sleigh ride by the alpine resort. A seemingly incongruous establishment in what appeared to be montane/semi-desert habitat. The giant plastic snowman nearby seemed especially out-of-place. Yael is not normally so coy.

15th nov hermon riningersYael and the rest of the team were a great blessing to me and others in our questioning and learning!

So now I have seen all of the Western Palearctic serinus that spread over 2 pages of the Collins Bird Guide. With those 2 specialties I returned home to a much commoner and more widespread European Serin, within walking distance of my house at Flamborough. Found while I was away by the indefatigable Brett Richards, one of Flamborough’s most prolific  bird finders.

serin flam DA

Brett Richards flamb nov 2013above male European Serin Serinus serinus by Dave Aitken and Brett Richards, the bird’s finder in the viewing field at Millenium Wood, Flamborugh. I found another serinus species nearby- the Yellow-fronted Canary Serinus mozambicus, several years ago at South Landing. Most likely NOT a wild bird though :).

Canaries 2 Lanzarote Sept 2012

Canaries Lanzarote Sept 2012And here the most well known serinus. The Atlantic/ Island Canary Serinus canaria. The wild ancestor of the familiar cage-bird. With the Lanzarote Pelagic crew we found a roost of over 30 birds in Sept. 2012 in the middle of Lanzarote (2 photos above by MG). Which is amazing when you consider they don’t even occur on the island according to 2nd ed. Collins Bird Guides. Don’t believe everything you read ;)

 

Mystery Stonechat

It’s a male.

by Martin G.

Which is not much of a clue. It’s not easy, but interesting I hope :).

I watched this bird with Sander Bot and Mick Cunningham in the Beit She’an Valley in Israel a couple of weeks ago. Israel hosts at least 3 stonechat taxa and probably up to 5. So it’s a great place to learn the stonechats.

Only one person was bold enough to put  a name to it (Portland’s Grahame Walbridge) when a photo was first put up here, so I have now added 3 more photos in the hope that it will at least pique some more curiosity. Whaddya think?

Which one is it?

stonechat israel nov 13 b

stonechat israel nov 13 c

stonechat israel nov 13 a