Category Archives: Israel

Champions of the Flyway 2017

By Yoav Perlman

Turtle Dove, Nizzana, Israel, August 2012. Photo by Yoav Perlman.

Turtle Dove, Nizzana, Israel, August 2012. Photo by Yoav Perlman.

25 million birds are killed and trapped illegally around the Mediterranean Basin annually – this staggering figure is an estimate by BirdLife International experts. This massacre directly affects bird populations in western Europe and in the UK – declining species like Turtle Dove, Quail and Song Thrush are among those that are most heavily hunted.

I guess many of our followers have heard of Champions of the Flyway (COTF). In brief, it’s an international conservation project, aiming to tackle illegal killing and trapping of birds around the Mediterranean Basin. The project begins with a huge fundraising campaign, and the climax is in a 24-hour bird race at Eilat, Israel on March 28th 2017. The project is coordinated by BirdLife partner in Israel, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, in collaboration with BirdLife International. Each year, BirdLife International chooses a local NGO to receive the funds raised in the project. In the three previous races, over $180,000 were raised for conservation. This may not seem a lot, but for small NGO’s like Sabuko in Georgia or Helenic Ornithological Society in Greece, such funds are vital.

Roula Trigou of BirdLife Greece receives COTF 2016 funds from BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita

Roula Trigou of BirdLife Greece receives COTF 2016 funds from BirdLife CEO Patricia Zurita

This year, BirdLife partner in Turkey, Doğa Derneği, will receive the funds. They were chosen because sadly Turkey is a hotspot for illegal killing of birds – millions of birds are killed there annually. COTF funds are essential for their incredible work on the ground. Before we started working directly with Doğa, I wasn’t aware of their huge efforts to tackle illegal killing of birds in Turkey. Now I know that they are doing exactly what needs to be done by NGO’s – focused work on educating children and local communities to stop this killing. And with COTF funds, they plan to expand their programs and make them more effective. One unique project they are operating is work with Syrian refugees in Turkey, who know little about conservation and without support and attention will surely hunt birds around where they currently reside. This kind of work that involves humanitarian work, conservation and education is truly groundbreaking. You can learn more about Doğa’s mission here.

Imperial Eagle_locals

Imperial Eagle research

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Some nice migratory birds from Eastern Turkey…

Grey-necked Bunting, Van, Turkey, June 2013.

Grey-necked Bunting, Van, Turkey, June 2013. Photo by Yoav Perlman. Maybe this year a first for Israel will be found on race day?

Paddyfield Warbler, Van, Turkey, June 2013. Photo by Yoav Perlman.

Paddyfield Warbler, Van, Turkey, June 2013. Photo by Yoav Perlman.

This year, COTF bird race will be bigger than ever. It’s an awesome event. Really great. You’ll love it. At the moment 18 international teams are registered – from UK, USA, South Africa, Finland, China, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and of course Turkey. We take special pride in the Palestinian team – the Palestine Sunbirds. Additionally, there is a parallel Israeli race, that includes currently 20 teams, about half of which are children, youth and women!

 

COTF 2016 participants remembering Martin Garner with a Boom!

COTF 2016 participants remembering Martin Garner with a Boom!

The race itself is a celebration of migration, but also of friendship, stamina and involvement. You can get the feel of the race in this brilliant video of last year’s race:

The three major optic companies, Swarovski, Zeiss and Leica, have supported COTF from the start, and every company supports several teams. Last year, Zeiss Arctic Redpolls won the international race. They are returning this year to defend their title. Will they succeed?

Zeiss Arctic Redpolls - Roni Väisänen, Vilppu Välimäki and Jarkko Santaharju receive their prize from Dale Forbers from Swarovski

Zeiss Arctic Redpolls – Roni Väisänen, Vilppu Välimäki and Jarkko Santaharju receive their prize from Dale Forbes from Swarovski Optik

Each one of the race teams is fundraising now for the conservation cause, through their team pages. Donations are collected by BirdLife International via justgiving.

The migratory birds that pass through Turkey need your help! $5, £5, €5, whatever you can – every cent is important. Please consider supporting one of the teams on the 2017 teams page. Personally, I have special links with several teams, and I recommend donating to them, but feel free to donate to the team of your choice. Here are my teams of choice:

Birdwatch – Birdguides Roadrunners – featuring in this team is my good friend Mark Pearson AKA Fileybirder. Mark was also a very good friend of Martin Garner, and contributes regularly material to Birding Frontiers. His team mates are Dawn Balmer, who is also a good friend of mine, through her work at BTO and OSME. Mike Alibone is an old friend too.

The Spokes Folkes – I first met Gary at 2016 Norfolk Birdfair. We had a good conversation, in which I told him about COTF. Gary got hooked on the idea, and a year later – he has a team! It’s a special team because it’s one of the few green teams in the race – Gary and his young intrepid teammates from Orkney will cycle through the playing field of southern Israel.

My third recommendation is The Golden Pheasents. This team was born in Warham Greens in Norfolk last October, when I went birding with Terry. We didn’t see much that morning, but I am happy that my enthusiasm motivated Terry to form the first Chinese team in COTF. Terry is a close friend and a Birding Frontiers team member too.

I must stress that I have close friends in almost all teams, and all teams represent important organisations and initiatives – Vulture Conservation, Artists for Nature and more. Check the team pages, choose your team or teams – and open your heart.

We have less than three weeks to go to the race. Teams will soon be arriving in Israel, so now it’s time to step up the fundraising. On race day, follow our live updates on Facebook and Twitter. As my mate Jonathan (COTF organiser) says – Bring it!

 

Christmas fudge goose

By Yoav Perlman

Geese are fun, aren’t they? The perfect head-scratching activity for dark and cold winter days. In Norfolk, views are typically rubbish, which makes it even more fun. Hybrid geese have been discussed on Birding Frontiers before.

When geese turn up in funny places, things get really interesting. This intriguing goose was found at the spectacular KKL Agamon Hula in Israel on Christmas day by Hamudi Musa Heib, and was later photographed by Dror Galili. Dror kindly allowed me to use his images here. Shai Agmon sent me some more images and shared his field impressions with me. It was an overcast day (even in Israel…) so Dror’s images are rather dark and blue.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

First impression is Lesser White-fronted Goose (LWFG), isn’t it? The bold eyering shouts loud. But then a closer look does show some pointers to other or mixed identities. In images it looks quite a brute, compared to Wigeon. However, people who saw it in the field said that the field impression wasn’t that massive. The neck is thick but rather long. The bill is long and powerful, different from the cute mini-beak of LWFG, to my eyes closer to Eurasian White-fronted Goose (EWFG).

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

First, ageing this bird is important – this appears to be a 1cy (1st-winter; it will turn 2cy in five days). Check moult contrast in scapulars and flanks. It is probably moulting out of juvenile plumage.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Some context: 

This is a special goose year in Israel. All geese are rare in Israel. The only regularly occurring species in Israel is Eurasian White-fronted, with single birds seen almost every winter. Agamon Hula is a hotspot for them. This winter Israel is experiencing a goose influx, with several flocks of White-fronts around the country, several flocks of the rare Greylag, and even records of mega rarities – Taiga Bean Goose (5th record) and Lesser White-fronted (7th record). Check this article in Hebrew (sorry), Google Translate will make you chuckle I’m sure. So it is likely that this bird is of wild origin.

In Israel this bird was first broadcast as Lesser White-fronted Goose. Then talk started about hybrid options.  With Eurasian white-fronted Goose? Red-breasted Goose? Egyptian Goose? Ruddy Shelduck? Perhaps wildfowl collections can create unlikely love stories? I don’t know if that’s even possible. So many question marks in one post… So to make some sense I contacted Dave Appleton from the excellent Bird Hybrids. Dave sent me this most detailed reply:

“Firstly I think the reddish colour on the flank feathers is a red herring… I think it is dirt and not a real plumage feature.  I don’t think any hybrid combination would give rise to such a plumage mark and also I don’t think the pattern of it really fits any normal feather patterns – it seems to cross feathers in a weird way, not like a normal plumage feature.  For example in IMG1897 (the top image in this post – YP) the rearmost blotch of reddish brown along the rear flanks seems to cover the outer half of the tip of one feather and the outer ¾ of the base of the feather behind it – like a random spot of dirt rather than a normal plumage pattern.

The other issues would all be explained, I think, if there was (Greater/Eurasian) White-fronted Goose influence – a first-winter would show a dark nail to the bill and have a longer bill than Lesser White-front, it would be large and heavy and I think the head shape and colour are ok too.  So then my question becomes, is it a hybrid between White-fronted Goose and Lesser White-fronted Goose, or could it be just a pure White-fronted Goose?  The features you mention as making it superficially like Lesser White-fronted Goose are the eye-ring and the long primaries.  To me the feathers at the wing-tip look dishevelled – the tertials aren’t lying flat and the primaries seem to be pointing at a slightly odd angle.  I am not sure if it is damaged or has loose feathers, but whatever the cause I am not sure it is safe to judge the relative length of the primaries in this state. 

That leaves only the yellow eye-ring (or more correctly, orbital ring) to potentially indicate Lesser White-fronted Goose origin.  Of course White-fronted Goose can have a slightly yellowish orbital ring, it’s just that its usually so dull and inconspicuous that you don’t notice it.  It does vary though – e.g. the Reeber Wildfowl book says (under the description of adult Greater White-fronted Goose), “Brown iris with a usually inconspicuous orbital ring, which is sometimes yellow (most frequently in breeding males).”  I can’t find them now but I’m sure I’ve seen photos of apparently pure White-fronted Geese with yellow orbital rings that would make a Lesser White-front proud.  Of course your bird appears to be a first-winter, so that may be more unusual in a bird of that age, but I am not sure it is enough on its own to exclude a pure White-fronted Goose.  On the other hand they say that most captive Lesser White-fronts are not pure, having some White-front ancestry (which in my experience rings true – they often seem to have less white on the forehead than wild birds) and I guess the opposite might be true of captive White-fronts.  So if captive origin is likely then perhaps mixed ancestry might be the best way of explaining the yellow eye-ring, but if wild origin is more likely (and if recent events in England are anything to go by it must be a good winter to see White-fronts a bit outside their usual range) then I would tentatively suggest a pure first-winter White-fronted Goose would be the most likely identification.”

Many thanks to Dave for this interesting and eye-opening analysis.

I have some points to discuss though – open to debate:

  1. I think the red colouration on the flanks is genuine feather pattern, rather than red dirt. It seems to be symmetrical on both sides (check two top images).
  2. I agree that wingtip structure is not fully clear in relation to tertials, but the primaries do certainly project beyond tail. It is hard to judge exactly how much, but this is more than I would expect from a EWFG.
  3. I am not sure that the dark bill nail is not a result of the goose digging in the dark peat soil of the Hula Valley.

Would be interesting to hear more opinions on this bird!

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

I apologize for a certain back-log I have here on BF. I promise to address the grey chat (stejnegeri?) issue soon. I also have some interesting terns in the oven, and should also write about a certain house martin that I hope to see on Thursday when I arrive in Israel for a short visit…

So stay tuned for some more exciting stuff here on Birding Frontiers in 2017. I wish all of our followers and supporters a lovely and exciting 2017!

 

Tawny Eagle identification by Barak Granit

First, a short introduction (by YP):

Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax is rather poorly known in the WP. It is widespread in Africa and S Asia, but now with the North African population probably extirpated, the only breeding population is perhaps in the southern Arabian Peninsula, though I have managed to find no recent evidence of this. Ssp. belisarius breeds across the Sahel Region and sub-Saharan Africa. It is generally sedentary, but some individuals disperse, occasionally to long distances. It seems to occur as a rare visitor to S Arabia, Egypt, Israel and perhaps also S Morocco. It is unclear whether WP occurrences involve also birds from the Asian subspecies vindhiana.

A recent individual that was found in Israel a couple of weeks ago sparked an interesting ID exercise. Barak Granit, one of Israel’s top birders, was involved in the identification process, and wrote a nice identification article that first appeared on the Israeli Birding Portal. It is reproduced here:

Tawny Eagle Identification by Barak Granit

On July 14th, Olga Chagina posted on her Facebook page a series of images of an Aquila sp. she took south of Kibbutz Ze’elim in the northwestern Negev (not far from the famous Urim powerline), seeking for ID Help. Initial responses called for Steppe Eagle while others suggested Lesser Spotted. Itai Shanni was the first to call for Tawny Eagle – a species with only five previous national records, four of which in the same general area. Shortly after Itai’s opinion appeared on FB, I supported Itai’s identification as Tawny Eagle and pointed out some diagnostic identification features. These are Olga’s first photos:

Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Later on, Dick Forsman approved the identification. This is not an ‘Identification article’ proper – identification features of Tawny Eagle are available in literature. I review here the status of Tawny Eagle in Israel, and point out the key features that separated this individual from similar species.

Status in Israel

Tawny Eagle was first recorded in Israel on 1st November 1992 at Urim (Shirihai, Harris and Williams). Subsequent records came from the same locality: one on 22nd November 1996 (Aldersons), and one on 21st December 1997. Information about these records are in Hadoram Shirihai’s book Bird of Israel (1996) and in volume 21(1) of Sandgrouse, dedicated to fifty new species Hadoram had found in Israel.

Between January 1999 and March 2000 a Tawny Eagle was seen occasionally around Urim-Zeelim, by different birders including James Smith, Trevor Ellery, Eyal Shochat and others. On December 17th, 2000 while conducting a wintering raptor survey I finally locked on that bird. During the following weeks we were amazed to discover that it had built a huge nest (!) on one of the Eucalyptus trees by Urim’s gas station. Moreover, soon after a (probable) female Eastern Imperial Eagle showed some interest in becoming a partner, and it was observed perched by the nest and it even collected some nesting material.

Eventually, no breeding occurred but that bird enabled a close look at the species’ key features. It is possible that this bird was the same bird seen in 1996 and 1997 or perhaps even the same bird from 1992 that ranged in the area for almost a decade. We’ll never know.

13 years later, in early August 2013, Ezra Hadad photographed a Tawny Eagle near Bet-Kama in the northern Negev, some 20 km east of Urim. This bird was seen again by several birders over next few days.

Key features seen on Olga’s photos

Tawny eagle is a highly variable species. In Israel we don’t have records of the easy creamy-buff morph or the more difficult dark morph. All the birds recorded involved tawny-brown individuals. In this respect confusion might happen with Steppe Eagle, especially sub-adult birds which lack already the broad white greater coverts and with Lesser Spotted Eagle. Here I give the main ID pointers that could be seen in the first set of photos. Hopefully this will refine the ‘Search Image’ for local and visiting birders in Israel.

  1. Ageing the bird – the bird is in active moult, growing outer primaries while the outermost primary being paler and pointed, thus unreplaced yet, indicating a 3rd calendar bird (hatched in 2014). Actually correct ageing was enough to eliminate other species of the same age: Steppe Eagle still shows a broad white line on the greater coverts at this age; and Lesser Spotted still shows some whitish undertail coverts.
  1. Structure: Large headed with somewhat shortish wings compared with the long wings of Steppe or the more well-proportioned Lesser Spotted. When perched, tail looks rather short as well and the whole ‘weight’ of the bird is moved forward. The Bill is large compared to Lesser Spotted but the gape-line is only medium-long reaching the centre of the Eye, not as long as in Steppe.
Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

In flight the wings are typically pressed forward and although it was not clear if that feature was a result of a photo that caught it during active wingbeats, the effect could be noted.

Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

  1. Partially black greater coverts – contrary to Lesser Spotted and Steppe, the black GC are more solid and prominent. Actually the prominent black GC are similar to that of fulvescens Greater Spotted Eagle which in general, at least the intermediate morph can look quite similar!
Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

  1. Barring on flight feathers – every Aquila Eagle has a unique barring pattern which enables diagnostic identification (see in Dick Forsman’s new raptor ID book). In Lesser Spotted, the dark barring extends along all the feathers to the trailing edge. In sub-adult Steppe (from 4th year plumage) the barring is well developed and first adult feathers show a broad black trailing edge. On Olga’s photos it is clear that the barring doesn’t reach the trailing edge, thus covers only inner part of the feather (as in juvenile and immature Great Spotted), but also that the bars are faint, unlike all other species.
Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

  1. Almost entirely plain tail feathers – unlike in any of the similar species. This is a very important feature.
  1. Paler ‘wedges’ on inner primaries – that was actually a good example of how a good feature was hard to detect in a too-close photo. Later on, when flight photos from greater distance became available, this feature was easily noted: somewhat resembling juvenile / immature Eastern Imperial Eagle though fainter, Tawny Eagle has paler inner primaries that create pale ‘wedges’. On the first set of photos this pattern was difficult to see.
  1. General plumage tones – the plain ground colour of the belly, trousers (lacking any spots typical in both Spotted Eagle species) and undertail coverts are unique for Tawny Eagle. Personally when seeing the first set of photos I hesitated on this feature the most, since it was hard to tell if it was the real colour or a result of light-effect of low evening sun. However, the entirely tawny and plain undertail coverts convinced me that the tones seen in the photos were close to reality.
Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Many of these features were confirmed later by Dick Forsman, who also added the elongated shape of the nostril as in Steppe and unlike ‘spotted’ eagles that have a round nostril.

Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Itai Shanni also pointed out the contrast from above between the paler median coverts to the much darker greater coverts.

Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

This individual is still present in the same area, and became very popular during the first two weeks of its stay among Israel birders and photographers.

Many thanks to the photographers Olga, Ezra, Eldad, Avi and Meir who contributed their superb photos to this article.

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe identification

By Yoav Perlman

Swinhoe’s Snipe and Pin-tailed Snipe are a notoriously difficult species-pair. In fact they might be the only birds in the WP that even in perfect field conditions cannot be identified. In this post I will try to spotlight some potential ID features. Jari Laitasalo, an intrepid Finnish birder and ringer, has kindly allowed me to publish these images of a Swinhoe’s Snipe he took in May 2016 at Baikal Bird Ringing Station on the shores of Lake Baikal in eastern Russia. I will highlight here what little is known about their field identification (in fact I just need an excuse to show here Jari’s perfect images).

WP status

Both species breed right in the northeastern corner of the WP, in the northern Urals. In this context both are potential vagrants to the UK and western Europe. If I am not mistaken there are a few UK reports of ‘dark-underwing no trailing edge’ snipes – Martin once told me about one he had on Shetland some years ago but he couldn’t nail it. Swinhoe’s Snipe was recorded only once in the less extreme parts of the WP – a displaying male was in southeastern Finland in June – July 2008. It was identified by its unique display song, and during its display flights it did fan the tail and the characteristic outer tail feathers were seen well. Pin-tailed Snipe has been recorded twice in Italy (Sicily) – if I am not mistaken the only European records away from Urals. In the Middle East it is more frequent. In Israel it is a very rare but regular autumn visitor, just about annual in recent years, with 10 records up to late 2015. The situation in Israel is slightly awkward: three of these ten records involved ringed birds, and they were all Pin-tails (see some images below). All other seven records could not be separated positively from Swinhoe’s in the field. Until there is further evidence about how to identify them in the field, they are regarded by IRDC as Pin-tailed ‘by default’. Similarly, in eastern Arabia and Persian Gulf Pin-tailed is also a rare but regular visitor. If I am not mistaken there are also a couple of records of Pin-tailed Snipe in Sinai, Egypt. I must say that from the images I found online of Middle Eastern birds that were not trapped, the possibility that these were Swinhoe’s Snipe could not be eliminated.

Some clues towards identification

When you find a ‘dark underwing no trailing edge’ snipe in the WP, try to catch it! Please use a mistnet and not a gun as happened with the first Pin-tailed Snipe for Sicily that was shot by hunters (if I am not mistaken – couldn’t find anything on it online). In the hand first check the outer tail feathers. The outer tail feathers of Swinhoe’s Snipe are nice and broad, gradually broadening from the outermost pair inwards:

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

The outer tail feathers of Pin-tailed Snipe are very different – all outer tail feathers (normally 8 pairs but varies between 6 and 9 pairs) are of equal width, about 1.5 – 2 mm. This is a scan of a slide (over-saturated, sorry) I took of the 2nd Pin-tailed Snipe for Israel I took in November 1998:

Pin-tailed Snipe, Kfar Ruppin, Israel, November 1998

Pin-tailed Snipe, Kfar Ruppin, Israel, November 1998

And here’s another example, of a bird ringed at Tsora, Israel by Yosef Kiat:

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Pins indeed.

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Pins indeed.

But what to do with birds in the field? It may be possible that in exceptional images of a landing or preening bird, the shape of the outer feathers can be identified. However I have not had success with this yet. Andrea Corso told me that he found a difference in the tail shape in flight: Pin-tailed Snipe has a more diamond-shaped tail (similar to Raven), as a result of the short pin-feathers at the base of the tail. Swinhoe’s should have a more square- or gently rounded-shaped tail. I have tried to check this on images online but there are very few rear flight shots, and anyway in most it is impossible to say whether they were identified correctly. This is how Jari’s Swinhoe’s  looks like in a view similar to flight – square tailed?

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

And Yosef’s pin-tailed in a similar view, when those pin-feathers are clustered: raven-shaped?

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Check also the scapulars - inner webs buff, outer webs white.

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Check also the scapulars – inner webs buff, outer webs white.

This is something that is certainly worth looking into, especially in birds of known identity. In general, I find Pin-tailed to be less-patterned above, with narrower fringes to scapulars and mantle braces compared to more boldly patterned Swinhoe’s. However this must be very variable, depending on wear and age.

Some more images of Jari’s Swinhoe’s:

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo). Check the scapulars - inner and outer webs both buff toned.

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo). Check the scapulars – inner and outer webs both buff toned.

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Vocalisations

Both species are rather silent, much less vocal than Common Snipe. Paul Leader and Geoff Carey discussed the possible differences in length in their excellent BB article, but they admitted that even to an experienced ear telling them apart is not straightforward. They suggested that Swinhoe’s is even more mute than Pin-tailed. Both species give soft take-off calls, though it is possible that calls of Pin-tailed are higher-pitched and clearer, while Swinhoe’s gives a lower-pitched, hoarser call. The bottom line is that it is worth sound-recording suspicious snipes, though it is not easy (I have tried several times but if the snipe did call it was very faint).

If you are lucky enough to be in an area where they breed and encounter a displaying bird, then display songs are sufficiently different. The song of Swinhoe’s is harsher and contains more ‘rrr’ notes, while Pin-tailed contains softer, more nasal notes. Check this educational post by Magnus Hellström.

What else?

Not much at the moment. Studying a large sample of birds in the hand in Hong Kong, Leader and Carey found no consistent differences between the two species other than outer tail feathers and perhaps vocalisations. They demonstrated that both species show considerable morphological variation in almost all features. Previous publications discussed features such as bill length, tail projection, overall patterns and pattern of scapulars, loral stripe and a few others. There might be something in the pattern on the scapulars: in Swinhoe’s, a higher proportion of individuals showed same-coloured outer and inner webs, while in Pin-tailed more individuals had white outer webs and buff inner webs. Check the images of the individuals above – in these individuals here this works but this is a tiny sample size and it is really about percentages of birds and does not apply to a single bird. And it would be very difficult to judge this on worn birds in the field, as WP vagrants would probably be.

This is a bird I photographed in November 2013 – hard to tell what it is. So frustrating.

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe's) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, November 2013. This bird was silent. Scapular pattern? Hard to say on this worn bird.

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013. This bird was silent. Scapular pattern? Hard to say on this worn bird.

Lior Kislev has kindly allowed me to use his flight shots of this same individual. Not easy to tell what the tail shape is. In some it looks more pointed and narrow, in others it looks more rounded and fuller.

 

Nice wing pattern:

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

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Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

And here it does look more pointed with a distinct ‘bulge’ at the base of the tail: pins?

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Can I see pins here when its landing? BTW there is a Spotted Crake in this image too…

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev).

Some more information about Baikal Bird Ringing Station

Capture

This exciting ringing project started in 2012. If I am not mistaken they ring there only in Spring. Check their blog! They catch there mouthwatering Siberian species such as this stunner:

Siberian Blue Robin, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Siberian Blue Robin, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

You can find more great images Jari took there this year on his Facebook page, and other images from previous years in his Tarsiger gallery. Many thanks to Jari, Lior and Yosef for allowing me to use their images.

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

Mixed Yellow Wagtails

Israel in spring is a great place to study Yellow Wagtail subspecies. There is a good mix of western and eastern forms, and the males are obviously very good looking in spring. Among the more distinct forms, such as nominate flava or the almost-full-species feldegg (ask the Dutch), there are some interesting ‘mixed’ birds. In late March, quite a few males that look similar to feldegg but have a supercilium are seen. Some have nice clean white supercilium:

Male ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2011

Male ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2011

Note also the prominent lower eye-ring. This bird is what I would expect a mix between feldegg and flava to look like. These birds normally give a sweet ‘western-type’ call. I would expect the female to look like this:

Female ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, Israel, March 2008

Female ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, Israel, March 2008

I call these birds ‘superciliaris‘ with quotation marks because the consensus is that it is not a real subspecies, but rather a ‘fluid’ mix from E of the Balkans.

During the recent Champions of the Flyway race day in late March, I found this stunning bird at Neot Smadar sewage farm. This tiny gem of a site in the desert held a couple hundred Yellow Wagtails, mainly feldegg and flava. I had very little time so couldn’t study it properly and just fired off a few images. I did hear it call – it gave a western call. But it looks very much like what I would expect from ‘xanthophrys‘ – another dodgy mix thing. This bird has a vivid yellow supercilium and dark green – blackish crown and ear coverts.

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

It superficially resembles taivana, which belongs to the Eastern Yellow Wagtail group, but is separated by having too much black on the crown and ear coverts (taivana is greener) and also mantle is too dark green. taivana has a vivid green-yellow mantle, and lacks a prominent lower white eyering. Check stunning images here. And of course the call of the Eastern Yellow Wagtail group is distinctive, closer to Citrine Wagtail – check here.

This individual was seen by other birders as well and did attract some attention, because xanthophrys types are not commonly seen in Israel. I was slightly disappointed to hear its western call. xanthophrys should have rasping eastern calls, similar to feldegg and lutea that are the supposed ancestors of this mix. So what is this bird? I am not sure, probably superciliaris too. But because both forms superciliaris and xanthophrys are mixed anyway, I am not sure whether there is a real distinction between them or are they just two ends of a cline between birds with white supercilium in the west and yellow supercilium in the east?

Another mix-type that is seen in Israel in pretty good numbers is dombrowski that breeds in Romania. dombrowski is another type of mix between flava and feldegg or beema and feldegg:

‘dombrowski’ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2012

‘dombrowski’ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2012

It looks more like a very dark flava, rather than an eye-browed feldegg. Some individuals can be slightly paler and bluer than this, but they typically are dark and dull on the head and lack a pale ear coverts patch.

And here are some of the ancestors. Male Black-headed Yellow Wagtails are really unmistakable, and cracking too…

Black-headed Yellow Wagtails (feldegg), Yotvata,Israel, March 2016

Black-headed Yellow Wagtails (feldegg), Yotvata,Israel, March 2016

Female feldegg typically have a short yellow or sometimes whitish supercilium behind the eye:

female feldegg Yellow Wagtail, Bet Kama, N Negev, Israel, September 2013

female feldegg Yellow Wagtail, Bet Kama, N Negev, Israel, September 2013

flava Yellow Wagtails are pretty variable in Israel. Some are rather dark, deep blue-headed like this one and lack almost any pale on the ear coverts:

flava yellow Wagtail, Arava Valley, March 2013

flava yellow Wagtail, Arava Valley, March 2013

Some are a bit drabber, paler-headed with more pale on the ear coverts. This is a young male (2cy) – check the obvious moult contrast in the greater coverts:

flava Yellow Wagtail, 2cy male, Neot Smadar, May 2012

flava Yellow Wagtail, 2cy male, Neot Smadar, May 2012

beema Yellow wagtails are very pale headed, and typically have a large pale patch on the ear coverts. They have an eastern call.

beema Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, April 2014

beema Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, April 2014

lutea is a striking bird. Not dissimilar to the British Yellow Wagtails. Some have slightly greener ear coverts and crown. They have an eastern call as well. They are uncommon in Israel, but they are one of the dominant forms seen in East Africa in winter.

lutea Yellow Wagtail, Chem-Chem Lake, Kenya, December 2010

lutea Yellow Wagtail, Chem-Chem Lake, Kenya, December 2010

Saunders’s and Little Terns ID pitfalls

 

Yoav Perlman

This is a topic I talked about briefly in my 2015 Spurn Migfest talk. Saunders’s Tern is one of the rarest and least-known breeding birds in the WP. Despite having a large range around the Indian Ocean, including Red Sea, coastal East Africa, Arabia and Indian Subcontinent, it is still a poorly-known species worldwide. ID of adults in summer is better described. Compared to its sister Sternula species, Little Tern, it is smaller and slimmer. Seeing them side by side (I have seen two in Israel alongside Little Terns), you get a similar comparison to Common versus Arctic Tern in differences in size, structure and derived flight pattern – about 10% smaller and more delicate, and flight more light and bouncy. Calls are also different – check the Xeno Canto page with lots of variation in call but the mainstream seems to be softer and less coarse than Little Tern. Some plumage features seem to be rather robust – first of all, contrary to what some birders may think, adult summer Saunders’s are paler above than adult little, very pale silvery-white. They have a larger dark primary patch, usually 4-5 dark primaries, compared to the normal 2-3 dark primaries in adult Littles. Also, Littles have a contrasting white rump and tail, at least the outer tail feathers (apprently greyer central tail feathers are quite normal in Little Terns). Saunders’s has concolorous (pale) grey mantle, rump and entire tail. And that’s it more or less. All the other features mentioned in literature are of unknown validity, mainly becuase the limits of variation within Saunders’s Tern, even adults in summer plumage, are little known.

But that’s not the only reason why separating these two species is challenging. Interestingly, the amount of variation shown by adult summer Little Tern, which is such a familiar and popular European bird, a photographer’s favourite, is not well described. More on this below.

My interest in them increased a few months ago. I noticed this Saunders’s-type tern in a blogpost of my good friend from Kuwait, Mike Pope from late April 2015:

Tern sp. with little Tern in background, Sea City, Kuwait, 25/4/15 by Mike Pope

Tern sp. with little Tern in background, Sea City, Kuwait, 25/4/15 by Mike Pope

This bird made some alarm bells go off – look at this broad wing patch (4 primaries), concolorous rump and complete grey tail – this must be a Saunders’s Tern, no? I flagged it up to Mike, he circulated among some experts, and the views were leaning towards Saunder’s tern – that would have been a long overdue first for Kuwait.

But then the plot thickened. I circulated Mike’s report among my fellow IRDC members. Yosef Kiat has been ringing Common and Little Terns for several years now in a breeding colony at Atlit, south of Haifa, on the Med Coast. He sent me some images of Little Terns from the breeding colony this late summer that knocked me off my chair. I was aware of the variation they show there, I did join him several times on his nocturnal adventures there, but have never seen extreme birds like these. First, a 2cy bird – this bird hatched in the colony to ‘normal’ looking Little Tern parents in 2014, and was retrapped this year:

2cy Little Tern, Atlit, israel, 25 August 2015 by Yosef Kiat

2cy Little Tern, Atlit, israel, 25 August 2015 by Yosef Kiat

Look at the grey rump and tail: perhaps outer tail feathers are slightly paler than the heavily abraded and dirty central tail feathers, but I am sure in the field this would look like a solid grey tail.

And take a look at this 1cy bird, hatched 2015, again to’normal’ Little Tern parents, wow!

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

Hmmm…. Grey rump, grey tail… And the wing looks like this – in the field it would look like a huge dark wedge:

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, Israel, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, Israel, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

Also this summer, in June, Yuda Siliki, an Israeli birder sent me this nice comparison of Little Terns from Ma’agan Michael – these birds are from the same colony in Atlit. Check out the variation in supposed features for Saunders’s Tern – shape of forehead patch and extent of dark bill tip. Saunders’s has much more limited white foreahead, not unlike the lower individual, but the white patch needs to more squared off in Saunders’s, less of a supercilium above and behind the eye, but still check the amount of variation among the two. Also, what about the amount of dark on the bill tip? Saunders’s should have more extensive dark than little, so what’s going on here?

Adult Little Terns, ma'agan Michael, Israel, 7/6/15 by Yuda Siliki

Adult Little Terns, ma’agan Michael, Israel, 7/6/15 by Yuda Siliki

I think it is very interesting to explore this species pair now. They were found breeding only recently in southwest Sinai, just 150 km away from the Mediterranean. For a long-distance migrant to hop into the Med is no big deal, and then it could practically turn up anywhere around the Mediterranean. An adult in summer plumage should be possible to pick out among Little Terns, but what about a young bird? and a non-breeding bird? Headache. If you read carefully Klaus Malling Olsen’s tern book he does state that in non-breeding and juvenile plumages it would not be safe to separate the species. With the circumstancial evidence provided here I tend to agree, but it is hard for me to accept that they cannot be separated. There must be something out there to teach us.

This is how some Saunders’s Tern breeding in Sinai look like – many thanks to Rich Bonser for allowing me to use his brilliant pics. Adults have a nice prominent wing patch, but only three dark primaries here. Is it moulting? Unclear. It has a small forehead patch, that doesn’t extend above and behind the eye:

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Difficult light conditions here. Rump is grey – however in this image tail looks paler?

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

This bird in better light conditions does show the rump and tail pattern nicely. It is in active primary moult, so wing patch much reduced here:

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

More extensive white forehead patch here, but again does not extend back above eye:

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Very pale silvery white above. Solid dark bill tip as in all photos. There is some talk about Saunder’s having duller leg colour but I think this feature is not worth much. This is so dependent on the hormonal condition the bird is in during breeding. Also bill tip must change according to breeding condition?

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Siani, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Siani, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

This one below is a 1cy. I do not know if the colony at Ras Sudr is mixed with Little Terns or not, but in Rich’s blog this is a 1cy Saunders’s Tern – I will go with the flow. Not dissimilar to the Atlit 1cy Little Tern above? Pretty pallid bird but extensive wing patch. Greater and lesser primary coverts very dark here, but is it different to how the Atlit 1cy would look like in the field? I am not sure.

1cy Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

1cy Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

1cy Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

1cy Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

It would be great to study the amount of variation the Sinai Saunders’s Terns show in key features like forehead patch, bill tip and tail pattern. Also how many dark primaries do they have before moult?

One incredible place to study Saunders’s Tern in non-breeding would be Kenya. I visited Sabaki river mouth, north of Malindi in December 2010. There is a roost of hundreds of thousands of Saunders’s Terns (!) there during the northern winter. I was there at daytime so there were only few thousands… But they were all distant, and scoping them into the sun didn’t provide me with much insight on their ID. I wonder if anyone rings them there, or at least photograhps them.

But one very important piece missing in the jigsaw is how much variation ‘our’ Little Terns show, in adult summer plumage and also in other plumages. Does this variation that I have shown here in Israeli birds occur in northern populations as well? The Little Terns I have seen here in the UK looked all bog standard, but I didn’t study any juveniles. I guess that few 2cy Little Terns return in summer to N Europe? Would be great to get some feedback from ringers and birders with field experience.

Olivaceous Warbler ID and Iduna Issues

 

Yoav Perlman 

On October 1st Noam Weiss trapped this intriguing Iduna Warbler at IBRCE, Eilat.

Noam is the director of the IBRCE, and is one of the most experienced ringers in Israel. Noam must have handled in his extensive ringing carrier several thousand Eastern Olivaceous Warblers I. elaeica, the default Iduna in Israel, and he was immediately struck by this individual – how pallid and sandy it was, and this amazing bill!profile1

 

Noam understood he had an unusual bird in his hands, and did what an experienced ringer should do in cases like this: he took full measurements of the bird, made sure he had enough photographs in good light conditions, and collected a couple of belly feathers that were shed during the normal ringing process, for DNA analysis. He suspected it could be opaca, the Western Olivaceous Warbler based on its very long bill. There are no accepted records of opaca in Israel, yet…

wing

Naom’s bird was rather large, larger than average elaeica, with a wing length of 67 mm. The wing formula wasn’t helpful – especially the 2nd primary that falls between P6/7 – OK for both species:

The bill length fits opaca, with length to skull of 19.6 mm, but the bill width was too narrow and fits elaeica better – 4.4 mm. Also note the bill shape from below – in opaca it’s supposed to be convex, with swollen mandibles, while elaeica shows straight or slightly concave mandibles:

bill

 

A few other pointers to this bird being elaeica are:

Pale wing panel on secondaries – opaca lacks a wing panel.
Overall tones – though this bird lacks the typically olive-grey tones of elaeica, it still lacks the brown, almost Acrocephalus tones of opaca.
The lores are pretty dark, and supercilium rather pronounced. opaca has a more open-faced impression with pale lores.

back

profile2

After consulting with members of the Spanish rarities committee, including Manolo Garcia, the consensus on this bird is that it is an unusual elaeica with a deformed bill, and not opaca. But maybe DNA analysis provides different insights? We will know more soon. Thumbs up to Noam for picking out this interesting bird, and sharing the images and information with me.

normal Eastern Olivaceous Warblers

Here are a few images of normal elaeica from Israel. They normally are darker and have stronger olive tones, though this is often hard to perceive in photographs, as it depends on light conditions and on how images are manipulated in editing software. This is an individual in May – look at the pointed and narrow bill:

m

 

And this is a cute 1cy, recently fledged (huge awww factor), after a limited post-juvenile moult. Very short and thin bill:oli

Identification of Iduna warblers has been discussed on Birding Frontiers before – check this post with some images of opaca and reiseri. But always there is more to learn!