Sunday, 25 December 2011

Another one bites the dust

On Thursday afternoon (22/12), while Avishai and I were driving to ring at the wagtail roost, I received a phone call about a small bird wearing an Israeli ring that had hit a window in a nearby village. The lady gave me the digits on the ring but without the ring's series; this is very important in order to identify the ring, but she had already disposed the bird with the ring… Because it was close I decided to recover the bird myself. I arrived there and found one of my White Wagtails that I had ringed last winter. After talking to the lady that had found the dead bird, I found out that it's the second bird that got itself killed against the same window. I advised her to mark the window, to prevent future collisions.

Last week the White Wagtails in the roost were joined by a Snipe and nice coutelli Water Pipit.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Eastern Stonechat and other winter roosters

On Tuesday (13/12) I ringed at the Tzor'a reservoir, instead of my regular Friday sessions; this Friday I will conduct a ringing course at Ma'agan Michael. Only 33 birds were caught, 23 recaptures. The first bird for the morning was a nice female Eastern Stonechat with typical appearance, measurements (wing length: 71 mm) and about 10 mm pale at base of rectrices, concealed under the uppertail coverts.

During the past three days I ringed 145 White Wagtails. Lots of other birds join the roost, and I caught some representatives: Penduline Tit (1), Spanish Sparrow (4), Reed Bunting (6) and Corn Bunting (6). One White Wagtail was recaptured from autumn 2008, ringed in the alfalfa field (10 km).
Other old recaptures were Moustached Warbler from 2010, Clamorous Reed-warbler from 2008 and some Cetti's Warblers and Chiffchaffs from 2009-10.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Some notes about our residents

On Friday (09/12) I ringed again at the Tzor'a reservoir, typical winter morning with only 44 birds, 19 recaptured. Worth noting was the large number of local Barn Swallows - about 500 hunting above the reservoir and 300 in the alfalfa. One Swallow was ringed, nice bird at the end of complete post-breeding/juvenile moult; in this time of year European Swallow only begin moulting in their African wintering grounds.

On 07/12 one of my Barn Swallow was found freshly dead after it hit a window; this bird was ringed in October during a large roost catch in Tzor'a and found in Haifa, 114 km north! This was probably a local bird, joined a migrant flock and then returned back north.
Another interesting bird was a Clamorous Reed Warbler at the end of post-juvenile moult and had five retained secondaries. This is a very late and interesting moult pattern.

Friday, 9 December 2011

'pygmaea' Yellow Wagtail

I have just completed punching all of the autumn ringing data in. It was a great season with grand total of 4713 birds ringed and 814 recaptured. The species richness was also very good with 76 different species. During this season we controlled three birds with foreign ring from Hungary, Norway and Zambia - very nice result; during this period only one more passerine with foreign ring was controlled in Israel (!).
On the first day of winter I ringed this putative 'pygmaea' Yellow Wagtail. It was a first year female and struck me as being tiny. Wing length was 72mm and tail length 63mm, both measurements fit perfectly with this tiny race breeding in Egypt. Also plumage details are good - dark olive-green above, short and narrow supercilium and dark breast patches. Shirihai mentions in his book three previous records between 1986 and 1990, all from Eilat (two in winter). I will send this interesting record to some experts for a second opinion, and will post the final decision soon.

Monday, 28 November 2011

From autumn to winter within a week

After last week that was exceptionally rainy, I was eagerly waiting for the first sunny days; those post-storm days often result in many migrants knocked down to the ground. I ringed at the Tzor'a Valley Ringing Station between Sunday and Tuesday (20-22/11) and indeed I was not disappointed. The area was very wet with fresh grass. At first I got very wet from the last shower on Sunday morning, but the continuation was nice and dry. On Sunday and Monday mornings at the reservoir I ringed 120 and 140 birds respectively. Total of those three days was 444 birds; these were nice autumn days. I returned to the area on Friday and discovered that winter suddenly settled, with a minor catch of only 56 birds. In winter most populations are rather sedentary, and that was the case on Friday: most birds were recaptures with a few from last years.
The total of this successful week is exactly 500 birds, 113 were recaptures; the most ringed species were Chiffchaffs (162), White Wagtails (70) and Spanish Sparrow (25).
The nice catch of Reed Bunting continued with another 14 individuals, including a nice adult male.

Reed Bunting - adult male

In Tuesday evening (22/11) I ringed this nice adult male Caucasian Stonechat. It shows the important ID signs: paler plumage, white base of tail feathers, pale rump, dark underwing and long wing of 74 mm.

Caucasian Stonechat - adult male

Other interesting birds were 5 Jack Snipes, 1 Common Snipe, 1 Water Rail, 3 Wrynecks, 3 Moustached Warblers, 2 Penduline Tits and 12 Corn Buntings.

Common Snipe

Penduline Tit

On Friday (25/11) I ringed a juvenile Marsh Warbler; this is the 12th for this successful season and a month later compared to normal passage. This bird should have been now in Kenya.

Marsh Warbler

Many thanks to Ron, Avishai, Rafi, Eli and Shahar for their help.

Tzor'a Reservoir

Water Rail

Corn Bunting

Sardinian Warbler - female

Reed Bunting - juvenile

European Stonechat

Monday, 14 November 2011


On Friday (11/11) I ringed again at the Tzor'a reservoir, with a large team. After only half an hour of sleep, I returned to the snipe's little puddle. The result was very similar to previous morning. We caught 6 Jack Snipes, juvenile Night Heron and the Pin-tailed Snipe was recaptured, this time on the other side of reservoir. This was a nice reward for my regular volunteers and for the 2-3 twitchers that joined us.

Jack Snipe
Other notes from this nice week at Tzor'a Valley Ringing Station:
First, Cetti's Warbler dynamics: in Tzor'a this is a resident species but also wintering and migrant population appear in late autumn; the distinction between those populations is very difficult. In these days we noticed a small influx of unringed Cetti's Warblers. Most importantly, these birds are larger and with slightly different tones compared to our breeding population. My breeding males have wings of 63-66 mm. On Thursday I ringed a migrant male with wing of 71 mm and tail of 70 mm; this bird must belong to the form albiventris, breeding in Kazakhstan. This is only 4th record of this race at Tzor'a; all records occurred during the second week of November and all birds had a wing length of 69.5-71 mm and long tails. The females are harder to identify because the large overlap in measurements with other races.
See below the graph showing the ratio of new Cetti's Warblers in May-November 2011. First peak in June represents the local juveniles fledging and dispersing in Tzor'a. Most ringed in August-October are after post-breeding dispersing birds and short distance migrants. For example this autumn I caught two birds ringed nearby: one 9 km NE (controlled in September) and second 11 km NW (controlled in October). The second peak in November represents a significant migrant wave.

Another Whinchat was ringed on 10/11; this is unusually late for this species. Until this year I never caught any Whinchats at the reservoir, only in the fields. This autumn I have already six at the reservoir habitat.

This year is also unusual for Acrocephalus warblers. Most of these birds have already left south but Moustached Warblers are winter visitors to Tzor'a and this year I catch exceptional numbers. Until last week I ringed 13 birds, the highest number ringed in one year at Tzor'a (the average is four per year).
I wrote previously on Reed Buntings, but with two more from Friday and a total of 7 last week they are wroth another mention. Many more can heard calling around my site; no doubt this is a special season for this species.
When my returning winter visitors appear, I often receive some exceptionally old recaptures. The two most interesting were Cetti's Warbler S-39797 ringed in May 2005 and Chiffchaff ringed in November 2007; see more in the summary table below:

Night Heron - juvenile

Serin - juvenile male

Many thanks to all volunteers this week.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Pin-tailed Snipe!

After I saw some snipes at Tzor'a reservoir last Monday, I decided to try catching them this morning (10/11). I arrived very early, two hours before sunrise and set one 12 m net with wader calls in little pond near the reservoir. This effort was very productive with four Jack Snipes. A few minutes after sunrise, while I was taking pictures of a Jack Snipe, I see a 'regular' snipe in the net. After Eli released the bird from the net, I noticed that the bird was very vocal and I remembered that snipes are always quiet in hand. I asked myself what is this noisy snipe? As I checked the tail, I thought it might be a Great Snipe. I was hoping to find white outer tail feathers, but what I saw (see image below) caused me to shout 'Pin-tailed Snipe!'.

After a phone call to Yoav Perlman and checking all ID signs with him, I positively identified the bird as Pin-tailed Snipe (Gallinago stenura); 3rd ringed in Israel and only 7-8 records!
An RBA message was sent out, and by the time I had ended the first net round and measured the snipe, two early twitchers arrived. We quickly photographed the bird and released it.

In short, the important ID signs:
Very noisy bird, only in hand, with unique, soft calls!
Pins in the outers tail feathers.
Short bill, about 15 mm shorter than Common Snipe.
Short tail, about 20 mm shorter than Common Snipe.
Very thin white trailing edge.
Sandy pale upperwing panel.
Plainer mantle and scapulars pattern, compared to bold pattern of Common Snipe.

Other interesting birds ringed today included: 1cy male Caucasian Stonechat, 2 Moustached Warblers, adult male Penduline Tit and 5 Reed Bunting; until today I have ringed at Tzor'a only 2 Reed Bunting, so it was very nice!

Many thanks to Eli and Rafi for their help today; I look forward to tomorrow's surprises, maybe a foreign ring?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Solo flight

After Friday's ringing session with many volunteers, Tuesday's ringing session was very quiet; I ringed alone. I had only 120 meters of mist nets open and caught 95 birds. While I was opening the net this nice Long-eared Owl got caught; it's only the sixth ever ringed at Tzor'a Valley.

Bluethroat and Phylloscopus numbers were much lower - only 23 Bluethroats, 3 Chiffchaffs and 3 Willow Warblers were caught. But seedeaters drinking made up for this morning's catch: 20 Greenfinch, 12 Serin, 5 Chaffinch and 4 Spanish Sparrow.
I had a few recaptures from previous years: two Bluethroats, first ringed in November 2009 and again in November 2010. I also had a Robin ringed in November 2010, and a Chaffinch ringed in January 2011. Unfortunately most of my birds breed in remote parts of Russia where nobody rings, so the chances for foreign controls from these species are very slim. Another interesting recapture was a female Spanish Sparrow ringed in November 2010; it's the first recapture of this species in my database. Spanish Sparrow is a regular migrant and winter visitor in my area; they arrive from the Balkan and Mediterranean. Unfortunately, many of them end up on lime sticks in Cyprus.

White Wagtail

Spanish Sparrow

Serin is a common winter bird in Israel but is not often ringed. Most years I catch about 15 in Tzor'a; so a catch of 12 was very good. Most were first calendar birds with distinct moult limit in GC and new central tail feathers.


Serin - first year with moult limit in GC

Serin - adult, all GC fresh

First year - new central tail feathers

Chaffinch - male