Howling and Owling

Israel is now running out of birds, we only have a few birds left here. We’ll make an effort for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, and we will continue to search for that possible Caspian Plover. Anyways, I’m getting ahead of myself here. The first day for this post was allocated in it’s entirety to search for a Batteleur, an African Eagle lost in Israel for the last couple of years. Large beautiful fields in the area of Gal’on, we spent the entire day searching the fields. No eagle, enormous amounts of White Storks and raptors though. Black Kites, Short-toed Eagles, Steppe Buzzards, Long-legged Buzzards and one Greater Spotted.

Short-toed Snakeeagle
Short-toed Snake-eagle
Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard

No Batteleur though, maybe we’ll make time for one more effort on that bird, it is there.

We looked everywhere for the Batteleur
We looked everywhere for the Batteleur

Camped just outside Sde Boker kibbutz, with the idea to jump up early and search for Barn Owl in the Kibbutz. Just before we went to sleep, we heard wolfs howling, then just after that, the jackals also howled and we got confused. But then we saw them, two Arabian wolves walking in the moonlight. Mmmm.

No Barn Owl there, we’ll get it later, no harm in trying except sleep deprivation. Once in the car again, Erik checked Facebook, and shouted out – hey – President Trump has resigned. Uhh, we go – maybe not. it’s April first. We then post on our FB that we give up due to “social tension in the group” – we thought that was funny.  Sde Boker is not as good for migrants as the Ben-Gurion memorial site close by, we went there and found a Hume’s Warbler (which we already had from Kuwait)

Hume's Leaf-warbler
Hume’s Leaf-warbler

As well as a pair of migrating Collared Flycatchers.

Collared Flycatcher (female)
Collared Flycatcher (female)
Collared Flycatcher (male)
Collared Flycatcher (male)

Next wanted bird was Dead Sea Sparrow, which we had already halfheartedly searched for. Now we went to – tada – the Dead Sea, they have to be there. Searched tamarisk bushes here to no avail, and then died in the shadow of a nearby petrol station. Once the heat became non-lethal we went back to the same bushes and continued the search, and now with less heat the birds were more active and we could easily find them.

Dead Sea Sparrow (female)
Dead Sea Sparrow (female)
Dead Sea Sparrow (male)
Dead Sea Sparrow (male)

Set camp nearby the site of the Dead Sea Sparrows, perfect camping spot in a small wadi. In the evening we had a date with Barak Granit for a session to see Nubian Nightjar and Hume’s Owl. Two difficult species. Barak Granit delivers.

Nubian Nightjar
Nubian Nightjar

We had excellent views of the Hume’s Owl as well.

I’ve said it before – camping is great. And what is absolutely best with camping is that you wake up on the birding spot. At first light – even before coffee – we all wander about and do random birding. Lovely and completely unorganised.  We had:

Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin
Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin
Green Bee-eater
Green Bee-eater
Sand Grouse
Sand Partridge
Camping
Camping

With the Dead Sea species pocketed we went south again, towards Eilat, with a short stop at some ponds where Red-billed Teal was seen last year .. hmmm.  Spent the entire afternoon on the famous Yotvata Fields. Spectacular birding there, nothing new though. A tricky Pallid Harrier forced us to look close at the characteristics.

Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier (same individual)

Meeting COTF and Crake bonanza

We camped at Nizzana with the idea that we should wait by the drinking pools for Pintailed Sandgrouse to come drinking. They didn’t, or maybe they did, but not where we were. The Pintailed Sandgrouse would be good to get here, although if we don’t get it here – it’s possible to repair later in Spain or France. While waiting at the pools, we did find a resting Collared Pratincole.

Collared Pratincole
Collared Pratincole

Gave up on the Sandgrouse before noon, we started to drive – again – towards Eilat. Eilat is one of those world famous birding sites, up there together with Cape May and Falsterbo. On the way we stopped at some salt ponds, teeming with waders. Red-necked Phalarope had been reported there, but we just found all the regular expected waders.

Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Marsh Sandpiper
Marsh Sandpiper
Ruff
Ruff
Water pipit
Water pipit

Finished off by birding the famous North Beach of Eilat, the White-eyed Gull was common.

White-eyed Gull
White-eyed Gull
Greater Sandplover
Greater Sandplover

The Whatsup group for the Champions of the Flyway had announced a drinking session at a bar, downtown Eilat. We were eager to meet all the COTF guys. Very nice to meet many the participants of this great bird race. We will surely attend one day, maybe next year.

Late hungover, morning with some slow birding in Eilat city parks. Lots of migration birds in the parks. We were looking especially for flycatchers, no luck though. House Crows are everywhere in Eilat.

House Crow
House Crow

Went up into Eilat Mountains to check for raptor migration. Some raptor days are better than others, this was a slow raptor day. Picked up the Hooded Wheatear on the mountain.

Hoodie
Hoodie

In the afternoon, we went to a pond at kilometer 19, searching for Crakes and it turned into Crake bonanza. Best Craking ever, we got all 3 crakes in the same pond. Especially the Baillon’s crake is good, possible the most elusive little bird in the entire Collin’s Guide. When dusk settled, a group of Lichtensteins’s Sandgrouse came flying in to the pool to drink. Birding doesn’t get much better than this.

Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse
Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse

Going south – no North

Woke up in the dark at the hippie hostel at Mitzpe Ramon and had breakfast at sunrise at nice sewage ponds outside the city. The idea being that Baillon’s Crake could possible be there. No Crakes but plenty of other nice birds.

Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron
Bluethroat
Bluethroat
Bonelli's Warbler
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler
Mourning Wheatear
Mourning Wheatear

We also had a suspected Marsh warbler, it wasn’t hanging out in the reeds, instead it choose the thick bushes close to the water. It was grayish in general, and the rump was clearly without red and brown. Since Marsh warbler is uncommon in Israel during spring, instead of ticking Marsh, Mårten took the extra time to do a deep study in the Advanced Bird Id Handbook: The Western Palearctic and the picture below shows that the emargination on outer web of p3 levels with secondary tips, in Marsh warbler more towards the wing tip, thus it is indeed a Reed Warbler ssp fuscus. Very very difficult, and truly hard to id in the field without the bird singing.
The book Advanced Bird Id Handbook, is an invaluable complement to the Collins guide.

Reed Warbler (ssp fuscus)
Reed Warbler (ssp fuscus)

Drove on to Sde Boker to look for Syrian Serin. First thing we heard when jumping out of the car was a calling Syrian Woodpecker.

Syrian Woodpecker
Syrian Woodpecker

Also the Palestine Sunbird was everywhere.

Palestine Sunbird
Palestine Sunbird

We met two local young birders there, Gal Marinov and Leor Dor. When we said that we were looking for Syrian Serin in Sde Boker, they said – uhh – why? You should be searching at Ben Gurion Memorial, we have the spot. A swimming pool next to our school. We went there but couldn’t

Desert Finch
Desert Finch

find the Serins. Desert Finches outside the Kibbutz though.

Gave up and went to a wadi close to km 152 where Rikard Ek had seen Arabian Warbler a few days ago. We found the warbler in the dry wadi at the very last light of the day.

Arabian Warbler
Arabian Warbler
Happy birders after Arabian Warbler was found.
Happy birders after Arabian Warbler was found.

Next day we started in Wadi Yahel, supposedly a safe spot for the Syrian Serin. Almost all birders we met have said that the Serins are easy in that wadi. Starting a day with some birding in the sunrise, and then do breakfast after an hour or two is a good way to start a day. No Serins though, Cretzschmar’s bunting, Scrub Warbler, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Subalpine Warbler and Ortolan Bunting.

Cretzschmar's bunting
Cretzschmar’s bunting
Ortolan Bunting
Ortolan Bunting

At this point, the damned Serin sailed up to an unthreatened most-wanted-bird position. The Syrian Serin winters in the south, and breeds in the north at high altitude. When we received fresh reports from Avner Rinot with 6 Oriental Skylarks close to Kfar Rupin and a group of Cinerous Buntings at Mount Gilboa We decided to go north, to Mount Hermon where the Syrian Serins are easy.
Since we were now in the South, very close to the known site for the Black Scrub-robin, we decided to tick that first.

 

We arrived at the right fields in the north with maybe an hour left to  sunset. The fields were packed with Yellow Wagtails, several thousands. Mostly Felldegg, but also Beema and Superciliaris. Difficult to search for the Larks with the distracting flocks of Wagtails. We didn’t find the Larks, but it felt good. Thus we decided to give the same field another go the next morning. Started at sunset to methodically walk the fields. Soon we flush one Oriental Skylark, and then another. Decent views and we all heard the call perfectly. Nice, a hard-to-find bird in WP.

Went to Mount Gilboa to search for Cinerous Bunting. A nice hike up the mountain. No buntings though. They are on their way to Turkey. We did find Long-billed Pipit again though. A few days ago we worked really hard to get it, and now we just got if for free.

Long-billed Pipit
Long-billed Pipit

Compare to the picture from the Collin’s Bird Guide – it’s the right bird ehh.

Long-billed Pipit from Collins Guide
Long-billed Pipit from Collins Guide

Continued north, via a lunch at the shore of Sea of Gaillei, where we got Pygmy Cormorant and Pallas’s Gull.

Pygmy Cormorant
Pygmy Cormorant

Arrived at Mount Hermon, Majdal Shams in the afternoon. Now it was time to nail that boogey Serin. No Serins, a few year ticks though, Western Rock-Nuthatch and Sombre Tit. Birded the slopes of Mount Hermon into the dark and gave up, freezing like crazy.

Next morning, at dawn, we’re back in the same hills, and we find the Serin immeditaly. Perseverance pays off.

 

With everything in the north ticked off, we went south again. Passing through the city of Pardes Hana-Karkur where Nanaday Parakeet was seen many years ago. The Paraket is considered exterpitaded from Israel, however nothing wrong with having lunch there – dreaming – you never know. Pushed on towards Nizzana where we after a few hours searching found the McQueens Bustard in the last light.

This was a bird on the difference list, Mårten saw it in Kuwait, but although we searched for hours there after that bird, we never saw it again. It feels good to be able to remove a bird from the difference list.

Mårten maintains the difference list, and we have quite a few birds on that list today. Whenever there are two good beds and one not so good, whoever has the most birds on the difference list gets to get the poor bed. The idea being that the person that is worst at sharing gets the worst bed. Erik got a really good bird on the difference list this morning, one that’ll be hard to repair. Boring.

Shalom Israel

We’ve arrived in Israel. What a birding country, and spring migration is in full swing. Warblers everywhere and a steady stream of raptors, storks and cranes pumping northbound.

Migration
Migration

It’s not just birds that abundant, but also birders. The competition Champions of the flyway runs now, and all the teams are scouting. We have been gratiously invited to their WhatsUp group as well as the Telegram group for rare-birds-alert in Israel so we are all set information wise.

Yesterday, we just had a few hours in a park in Tel-Aviv and started out in Israel where we left off in Holland, a Cat-C bird! Vinous-breasted Starling, a bird from south-east Asia.

Vinous-breasted Starling
Vinous-breasted Starling

Generally good birding in the park, including all 4 WP kingfishers in the same park. Lots of good bird and year ticks.

Masked Shrike
Masked Shrike
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Hoopoe
Turtle Dove
Turtle Dove
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Black-crowned Nightheron
Black-crowned Night Heron

Drove through the night towards the Dead Sea and slept in Arad.

This morning, we started real early, with Wadi Salvadora as the first goal. This is a well know spot for Sinai Rosefinch, a price bird. Also an important bird for us, since if we can find it here, our trip to Egypt later will be much easier and we can fly to Hurghada instead of Sharm El-Sheik. Walking the steep slope up the wadi we soon found shy Striolated Buntings.

Striolated Bunting
Striolated Bunting

A good bird, soon thereafter we also found a pair of Sinai Rosefinch, picture sucks, but hey.

Sinai Rosefinch
Sinai Rosefinch

With the Rosefinch in the pocket, we descended and found a Cyprus warbler on the way down, mmmm and also a Scrub Warbler.

Cyprus Warbler
Cyprus Warbler
Scrub Warbler
Scrub Warbler

We continued to Ein Gedi and the tourist trap Wadi David where a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler had been seen for quite some time. The touristy paved path was teeming with birds, warblers everywhere. Common and rare.

Rüppels's Warbler
Rüppels’s Warbler (male)
Rüppel's Warbler (female)
Rüppel’s Warbler (female)
Lesser Whitethroat
Lesser Whitethroat
Blackstart
Blackstart

The Tristram’s Starling was abundant and everywhere.

Tristram's Starling
Tristram’s Starling

Our goal was the Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, however it’s not easy to keep focused when such new lifer birds as Cretzschmar’s bunting appear. Erik screamed ROSTSPARV (Swedish name) and physically vibrated when he saw it.

Cretzschmar's bunting
Cretzschmar’s bunting (female)

Finally we found the lost vagrant, the Pallas’s Leaf warbler in a small stream of water.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler

With a spectacular start of the Israel trip we had a slow lunch at Arad and then went searching for Long-billed Pipit in an area where both of our friends Joachim Bertrands and Markus Craig had seen the bird previous years. An area with a habitat that exactly fitted the description of preferred habit in the Collins Guide, slopes with flat rocks and herbs. We walked those beautiful slopes for several hours, each step a joy for the nose. It smells of kitchen while walking in herbs. The area is some distance north of Arad, and birding in general there was just great. Blue Rock thrush, Spectacled Warbler, Rüppels’s warpler, Eastern Orphean warbler, Prinias, Finch’s Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike, Subalpine Warbler, Chukars, Steppe Buzzard, Pallid Harrier, Masked Shrike, Cyprus Warbler and more. Finally after many kilometers in the legs, Mårten found the bird.

Finished off the day with searching for Crakes in a sewage pond close to Mitzpe Ramon where we spent the night in a cheap weed-smoker hippie hostel. Long day, but a spectacular birding day, 87 birds in total and 23 new for the year. Maybe later during our two weeks in Israel when/if we run out of new species we’ll try for a Big Day.

 

Holland-cleanup

On our way to Israel, we decided to stop in Holland to get the lingering rarities as well as all the goddamn Cat-C species they have in Holland.

For the benefit of readers who are not up to speed on the categorisation of birds into categories A-E I’ll now diverge a bit on what that is. The list is different for each country. We have the following list:

  • Cat A. Regular birds that breed or appear naturally in a country.
  • Cat B. Birds seen in the country but not since 1949
  • Cat C. Introduced, but now with a self-sustaining population.
  • Cat D. Odd shit
  • Cat E. Cage birds

Many birders (and listers) do category A (and dream on, B) whereas e.g the WP listers to A-C. Since we’re doing a Big Year WP, we have to go through the Cat C species since that is what other WP lister do. At home, this is easy and a no brainer, Ring-necked Pheasant and Canadian Goose breed and have healthy populations. In the more southerly parts of WP it’s different though, there are quite a few introduced species and we have to tick them. Especially Dutch birders frown (todays understatement) upon this.

Anyways, two-day stop in Holland to get the Cat-C and the rarities. Our good friend Arjan Dwarshuis (world champion !!) offered to have us crashing at his place as well as tagging along. Arjan brought his friend Vincent van den Spek who made up the day-plan to go through all Cat-C as well as the good stuff. Busy day, starting out with Alexandrine Parakite in a park inside Amsterdam. Both Arjan and Vincent are brought up with the idea that Cat-C is dirty, whereas we are not. Being a Swedish birder, it feels quite natural to consider both Ring-necked Pheasant as well as Canada Goose parts of nature. I guess this changes if you live in a country where any released cage bird might change the birding scene. When Arjan did his now famous Big Year he ticked zero Cat-C species, we on the other hand are forced to.

Following Vincents plan, we just went through all the Cat-C birds, Arjan and Vincent complaining loudly when a bird was found, silently actually enjoying it, but nevertheless feeling dirty.  They both came around at the very end of the day though, when we searched an area with reeds and Arjan finally found the Vinous-throated Parrotbill. It was nice and we all shared the moment.

Vinous-throated Parrotbill
Vinous-throated Parrotbill

Most WP listers get this Chinese bird in northern Italy, and we believe that the population in Holland is not well know,

The full list of Cat-C for the day was: Alexandrine Paraket, Mandarin Duck, Black Swan, Vinous-throated Parrotbill and Bar-headed Goose. Earlier we had seen Egyptian Goose in Holland.

Almost Cat-C was a Snow Goose. This is tricky stuff, Snow Goose is bred in Holland and domesticated, and you can find it here and there. This unringed bird though, arrived together with Barnacle Geese this fall, thus possible to tick. Deemed to be the real thing according to Vincent.

Snow Goose
Snow Goose

Clearly not possible to determine just by looking at the bird.

Apart from the Cat-C birds we had two good birds to locate. The first one was Red-breasted Goose. It was reported a couple of days ago to be seen inside massive flocks of Barnacle Goose. We searched for maybe an hour, and eventually Arjan (yes – I’ll give it to him, world champ and all, he is good at finding the birds)  found it, two of them.

Red-breasted Goose
Red-breasted Goose

Next one was a recently reported Blythe’s pipit. We went to the site, searched for hours, freezing cold and eventually gave up. Decided to go to a forest known to host Middle-spotted Woodpecker instead. Also on Vincents itinerary. Played the call and it came immediately. Easy.

Middle-spotted Woodpecker
Middle-spotted Woodpecker

Now, after the easy woodpecker, the group was in a much better mood (after the non-existent pipit) and we had lunch and then made a new attempt at the Blyth’s pipit. When we arrived there it was already relocated by other birders at the site.

Blythe's pipit
Blythe’s pipit

Picture isn’t great, but we had great views of the pipit, and at least I love it when you see a bird that is hard to distinguish from other birds and it’s crystal clear that you see what you think you see. We heard the call too.

Having done a complete cleanup in Holland we had a whole day with nothing to do before embarking to Israel. Options were to (a) Get High in Amsterdam, (b) Do some regular birding without anything tickable (c) Go to Northern France (Calais) and find yet another Cat-C species, The Reeves’s Pheasant. We opted for (c). In the car on our way to France, Erik discovers by accident and random www surfing that the group of Reeves’s Pheasant close to Calais are not tickable. We believe quite a few WP listers have actually ticked these birds. France do have a tickable population of Reeves’s Pheasant on an Island outside Marseille, Iles d’Hyeres.  Mårten called Pierre-Andre’ Crochet to confirm and sadly so, the birds in Calais are bred for hunters and would not survive on their own. Halfway to France, turning the car around we started to appreciate our Dutch friends view on Cat-C – It is dirty. Once again with nothing to to, we had a long lunch in Breda, and decided to attempt to relocate the Baikal Teal close to Amsterdam that had now been gone for 11 day. This is the same Teal we were searching for with Marten Miske several weeks ago and – Dang!

Baikal Teal
Baikal Teal

So – thanks Arjan, Vincent and Holland. I’m sure we’ll return some time later during this year, when that mega arrives. Great birding country. Tomorrow we’ll be in Israel – another great birding country.

Sweden-forest

We have just surpassed 400 species with our latest forest trip to the north of Sweden. It felt good to go birding at home, although birding in the Swedish winter forest can be slow. It’s cold and snowy, and it is far between the birds.

We started out with a recently reported Stellar’s Eider on the coast of Medelpad just north of Sundsvall. Beautiful, cold sea.

Skeppshamn, north of Sundsvall.
Skeppshamn, north of Sundsvall.

After a cold walk out on the point, I had a short glimpse of a bird with clear wing bands and called out the bird. It disappeared and we searched for hours through the small flocks of Common Eider, quite a few of the females had good wing bands so we concluded that my initial observation was wrong. We came to the conclusion that the reporter had stringed the Common Eider I saw, and that was later confirmed by the original reporter.

Spirits still high, we put this setback down to our normal mode of operandi. This has now happened several times, we start out with a dip and then later strike gold.

Next day was allocated to normal forest birding inland from Sundsvall, and we quickly found a number of good forest birds.

Parrot Crossbill
Parrot Crossbill
Three-toed Woodpecker
Three-toed Woodpecker
Redpoll
Redpoll

This area of Sweden is the epicenter of fowls, thus just spending time in the right forest habitat should deliver Black Grouse and Capercaillie. The Hazel Grouse is usually tricker. The Capercaillie has now sailed up as the most-discussed-bird since we didn’t find a single one during our Norrland trip. Unbelievable. Almost none of the forest birds can be easily located, you have to just spend time in the forest. The Siberian Jay comes to feeders though.

Siberian Jay
Siberian Jay

The Pine Grossbeak is the opposite, you just have to be lucky.

In the afternoon we decided to drive further north towards a well known spot for Great-grey Owl close to Umeå, small village called Degernäs. Björn Melin (who tagged along on this trip to Norrland) eventually found the majestic Owl just before dark, much to the joy of the other birders there – also searching for the owl.

Great-grey Owl
Great-grey Owl
Great-grey Owl
Great-grey Owl

At Degernäs, we met a local birder who seemed to know his stuff. We told him that we were planning to visit a spot nearby for Grey-headed and Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers. Yeah, he said that’s good, and there is also the Woodpecker we cannot name there – just so you know. We immediately picked up on that and went into full Voldemort mode. The whereabouts of White-backed Woodpecker in Sweden is semi-secret. There are a few known spots, where birders visit, however there are most certainly quite a few secret spots. This turned up to be one of those, and sure enough the White-backed Woodpecker was there. Impossible to miss. In a manner it was a shame he told us about it since we’d already decided to go there. Had we just found a WB Woodpecker on chance – We would have screamed.

White-backed Woodpecker
White-backed Woodpecker

We ticked the Hazel Grouse the same morning, first we heard it playing it’s low-volume high-pitch sound. Later we got good views of two males feeding on seeds in the trees.

Hazel Grouse
Hazel Grouse

Dipper was also ticked in the area.

Dipper
Dipper

The remainder of the day was spent looking for fowls, mostly by driving slow on small forests roads. We saw, Elk, wolf tracks and Reindeers. The Reindeers are not wild, they are kept by the Sami.

Reindeer
Reindeer
Elk
Elk

Next day, we continued to search for fowl, eventually we found a flock of Black Grouse, no Capercaillie though.

Black Grouse
Black Grouse

Finally got good views of the (so far only heard) Grey-headed Woodpecker too.

Grey-headed Woodpecker
Grey-headed Woodpecker

Decided to give up on the fowl and go south, towards Uppland where I own a small cabin in Esarby which is a good area for both fowl, but in particular for Owls. The evening in northern Uppland produced an abundance of playing Tengmalm’s Owl. Next morning, well deserved we slept late  (partly due to the drinking session in the cabin) and went back to Stockholm.

Next birding day, we went south searching for some missing species reported in the Stockholm area.

Bewick's Swan
Bewick’s Swan
Rough-llegged Buzzard
Rough-legged Buzzard

Much of this day was allotted to the search of Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. During the day as a whole, we visited a large number of well knows spots for the species. The Lesser-spotted Woodpecker should be easy, but it’s still lacking on our list. The afternoon we went north towards Uppland (picking up a Glaucous Gull downtown Stockholm)

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull

 

and the evening was spent with good friend and awesome birder Johan Södercrantz who showed us the Ural Owl in northern Uppland. The Ural Owl was our #400 tick. Here we are, anxiously waiting for the Ural Owl to start displaying.

Waiting for the Ural Owl
Waiting for the Ural Owl

On the way back, Johan suggest a long-shot, a place he knew that had kept wintering Short-eared owls in the past. And, sure enough, in the dark with a powerful torchlight we found the owls. It’s the first time anyone of us ever saw this day-active owl in the dark.

 

 

Twitching Iberia

Unplanned twitch trip to Portugal and Spain with a quick stop in Amsterdam. In order to get a really high year-tick number, we don’t only have to go bird all the different countries in WP, but we must also do some twitching. So when those rare and lost vagrants appear, we must pick at least some of them. We cannot go for all of them, that is just too much. For example. the other day A White-throated Bee-eater was reported at Maghreb Ornito found at the very same hotel where we stayed in Dakhla, Western Sahara just two weeks ago. We’ll leave that Bee-eater alone.

However, we decided to go for a couple of rare ones reported from the Iberian Peninsula. First things first though, quick stop in Amsterdam for the Baikal Teal. The original plan was to take a cab from the Shiphol airport to the Teal, instead someone got the bright idea to ask our FB group for a friendly Dutch driver, Martin Miske volunteered and drove us to the Teal. We had maybe 4 hours to search for the duck in small ditches. We never found it and our first actual dip was a fact. Boring. Anyways, thanks Martin, and when we meet again, we owe you a beer.

Landed in Lisbon at midnight, and decided to skip sleeping and drove through the night to northern Spain. In the sleepy village San Cibrao in Galicia, a Thayer’s Gull has been wintering for the last couple of years.  We arrived at dawn and started to search for the Gull. It’s non trivial to locate among the thousands of Yellow-legged Gulls in the area. After a couple of hours we started to despair, however we did find an Iceland Gull which is also a good bird.

Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull

After lunch we decided to “return to the crime scene” which is always good tactics. Most sitings of the Thayer’s Gull have been at a fish farm west of San Cibrao. The farm attracts massive amounts of gulls – and then – dang. It’s there.

Thayer's Gull
Thayer’s Gull

It was clearly smaller than the Yellow-legged Gulls, and the legs are bright pink. Thank’s Canada.

Loong drive going all the way to the Algarve coast for an American Herring Gull and a Sora.

Mårten got to know Thijs Valkenburg when working in Portugal a few years ago, Thijs brother Joost Valkenburg grew up in the city where the Sora had been seen for the last couple of weeks and Joost stepped up to help with the Sora, and also show us his childhood local patch. Beautiful little city called Silves on the Arade River. When we’re two hours away from Silves, Joost text us and says that the Sora is still there. The Sora had been seen on the very same short stretch of reeds for several weeks, so it should be easy. We cannot find it though, it’s hiding. Instead we went for lunch and the American Herring Gull in Portimau. That bird – which actually didn’t look to well – was there.

American Herring Gull
American Herring Gull

It feels very good to have this species pocketed. When we visit the Azores later this year, we can then safely ignore all (I guess continuously ongoing) discussions there over gull characteristics. Gulling is hard. Fun, but sometimes it can be overwhelming.

Went back to Silves to search for the Sora. The tide was going up, and the reeds where the Sora had been seen were slowly getting under water. Finally, by pure skill and split vision, Erik sees the bird flying away. Landed on the other shore and we could get pics.

Sora
Sora

Phuwww. With 3 Yanks ready, we decided to go to Castro Verde which is a fantastic spot in southern Portugal. Vast plains with Bustards, Larks and in particular the endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle. I did a real bad choice of just stopping the car on the highway there (bird), and a police car came. Here are the tactics I recommend, just agree and repeat what they say.

Officer: Uhh, you cannot stop here.
Me: No, I know, I cannot stop here.
Officer: What were you thinking stopping here?
Me: Sorry, I wasn’t thinking at all.
Officer: It stupid to stop here, it’s dangerous.
Me: Yes, it’s stupid. We’re idiots.

At this point, officer will shake his head and just go away. It makes s small dent in your pride, but it’s worth it.

Thijs put us in contact with Bruno Herlander Martins who is a biologist at LPN. Bruno works with the protection of the Spanish Imperial Eagle and he told us about the various measures they take to aid the eagles. Ranging from fixing the branches on the eucalyptus trees which are too smooth to hold the nests, to befriending and educating the local farmers. Interesting work indeed.

We met with Bruno at dawn, and went searching for Bustards and Eagles. Before jumping into the car, Bruno asks – Do you guys need Long-eared Owl. Haha, Mårten has been bitching over that bird since we skipped a site in England. It’s one of those birds that are rare – but not sufficiently rare to make a directed effort to find. Bruno had a roosting tree in the village.

Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owl

Bustards were easy to find, especially Greater. Also plenty of Calandra Larks on the plains. Eventually we also found the Eagle. Thanks Bruno !!

 

Spanish Imperial Eagle (mature male)
Spanish Imperial Eagle (mature male)
Little Bustard
Little Bustard

Ticked a few Category C species on the way back to Lisbon, we even grabbed a “future Cat C” – talk about future proofing the list.

Scaly-breasted Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Crested Myna
Crested Myna

We have a whole bunch of Cat-C remaining in Portugal, and we’ll have to spend some more time on those when we revisit in August.

 

Pale Martin

After careful consideration we have concluded that the Martin we saw in Kuwait, indeed must be Pale Martin (Riparia Diluta) and we tick it. Plenty of good pictures of the individual, included here are two of the best ones captured by Omar Alsaheen.

Pale Martin
Pale Martin
Pale Martin
Pale Martin

 

Good arguments provided by Wouter Faveyts

“Looks interesting indeed! I checked the Alula article from 2007 (Schweizer & Ayé) again, and it seems that the bird could really be a Pale (Sand) Martin (Riparia diluta). Greyish cast, lack of clear distinction between dark ear coverts and paler throat, pale head with dark eye and lores are all ticking the right boxes. Also diffuse breast band, although this feature seems more variable in comparison to Sand Martin.”

As well as by Alan Joseph Dalton

“I think this is a Pale Martin. Note the darker new inner primaries on your bird, which fit in well with 2nd gen moult for the species. There are quite a few records in Oman, where it’s probably easily overlooked, so a Kuwait record would not really be unexpected. Head pattern and upper chest look good.”

The Alula article from 2007 (Schweizer & Ayé) seems to correlate with the Kuwait bird we saw.

KORC have not yet decided on this matter.

Au revoir Morocco

I’m just using a french word in the title here, it doesn’t mean anything. Neither of us speak french, which is truly detrimental when travelling Morocco. Everyone speaks french here and not being able to, feels almost barbaric. We’ve managed with english and sign language.

In total, our Morocco trip must be considered a success, the species we had on our list we missed were Dupont’s Lark, Tawny Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Egyptian Nightjar. Some of these we’ll repair later. We’re returning here in April, migration species and the Small Buttonquail. We’ll try to do some repairing then.

These last days from Agadir to Marrakesh we had some great birding as usual. We started the morning in Agadir with just casual birding in Oued Sous, nothing spectacular there though. One of the palace guards came running whistling loud, waving. We just walked away, pretending ignorance. The wild-goose-chase project of  Sunday 19 was to search Sous Valley for Tawny Eagle and the probably extirpated Dark Chanting Goshawk. The last sighting of the Goshawk is more than 10 years old. Planting ourselves on a hill, we got our number 350 – Short-toed Eagle.

Short-toed Eagle
Short-toed Eagle

The Short-toed Eagles are migrating north, and later next day driving across the High Atlas, in a high altitude pass, we saw flocks of Short-toed Eagles going north. Migration has started, driving further we saw newly arrived flocks of Red-rumped Swallows, Common Swift and Sedge Warbler.

Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow

Camping the night in a dry river bed which is a known nesting site for Egyptian Nightjar. We had red recent reports of Egyptian Nightjars that have just arrived at Merzuga. We didn’t hear any though.

Sunday 19, the project of the day is to find the sub species Mahgreb Wheater. According to IOC it’s a Mourning Wheatear, but according to Lars Svensson and the Collins guide, it’s a full species. We followed the Gosney guide, driving slowly along a road known to host the Wheatear. It’s a species that has steep rocky slopes as it’s habitat. We searched such areas to no avail. Eventually Erik says – I think it’ll sit in a bush on flat ground – Mårten and I go – Yeahh .. sure. One minute later, Erik finds it on flat ground, in a small bush.

Maghreb Wheatear
Maghreb Wheatear (male)
Maghreb Wheatear (male)
Maghreb Wheatear (male)
Maghreb Wheatear (female)
Maghreb Wheatear (female)

With the Wheatear (which WILL be split) in the bag, we decided to cross the Atlas mountains before dark. The Mourning Wheatear female looks like the male, this subspecies has the female all different.

Slept at nice hotel at Ait Ourir.

Last real birding day in Morocco, High Atlas and high altitude species at the ski resort Oukaimeden which at least for birders is more famous for the African Crimson-winged Finch than it is for its slopes. We had read quite a few birding reports with groups failing to get all the way to the end of the road due to weather conditions. Not to worry, we got there and lot’s of high-altitude birds there, in particular the price bird.

African Crimson-winged Finch
African Crimson-winged Finch
African Crimson-winged Finch
African Crimson-winged Finch

This bird recently used to be the same as the similar looking Eurasian Crimson-winged Finch which we’ll tick in Turkey, but is now a split. This appears to happen quite often with species that are the same/similar, but have radically geographically distributions. Same thing with the Desert Warbler. Lot’s of other good birds at Oukaimeden.

Rock Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Rock Bunting
Red-billed Chough
Red-billed Chough
Alpine Chough
Alpine Chough
Alpine Accentor
Alpine Accentor

As well as the locally resident Horned Lark which is a possible future split

Atlas Horned Lark
Horned Lark

Now that we’re diverging into the mine field of sub species, why don’t we all go full dutch, i.e split everything. I give you the Atlas Chaffinch  and the Moroccan Pied Wagtail

Atlas Chaffinch
Atlas Chaffinch
Pied Wagtail (ssp subpersonata)
Pied Wagtail (ssp subpersonata)

Final remarks on this Morocco trip. Morocco is a very easy country to travel, people are friendly and helpful, and even though we don’t speak French, everything went smooth and easy.  Massive amount of police check points, especially in the south. However, the policemen are correct and friendly, it just takes time. We’d like give super special thanks to  Mohamed Amezian who has provided excellent help on a number of occasions when we were stumped. Thanks!! and hopefully we’ll hang some on our April return trip.

 

Towards Agadir

Thursday Feb 16 we allocated the entire day to search for Bonelli’s Eagle in the mountains south of Guelmim. We had been told about a cliff with nests by Miguel Perea. We went there and sure enough, the cliff had hosted raptors – but none were there. Massive amounts of Wheatears though, mostly Red-tailed and also Desert, Black and Northern.

We lunched below the cliff, spent time, waited and eventually gave up after a couple of hours. Went further on the small mountain road on chance and – dang!

Bonelli's Eagle
Bonelli’s Eagle

A rare bird, according to Collins Bird Guide, approximately 600 pairs exist in the entire region. This one is an adult.

Went north towards the famous NP Oued Massa which is famous for it’s population of the almost extinct Northern Bald Ibis. We sneak-camped at the entrance to the park which had reports of Red-necked Nightjar. Listening in the dark after what has become Mårtens boogie-bird. He has searched for it on numerous occasions to no avail.

The morning of Friday Feb 17 started out with some excellent general birding. The main target was the Black-crowned Tchagra, but we just – birded. Lot’s of common, but nice birds.

Spanish Sparrow (male)
Spanish Sparrow (male)
Spanish Sparrow (female)
Spanish Sparrow (female)
Sardinian Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
European Siskin
European Serin
Subalpine Warbler (ssp Iberiae or Inornata)
Subalpine Warbler (ssp Iberiae or Inornata)
Cirl Bunting (female)
Cirl Bunting (female)
Cirl Bunting (male)
Cirl Bunting (male)

Eventually we also found the Tchagra.

Black-crowned Tchagra
Black-crowned Tchagra

Despite it’s appearance, it has a beautiful – easiliy identified song. Two main targets remained in the area, we started with what we thought was the hardest and also most important, the Ibis. They’re not especially easy to find – they roam the area – which is large. We searched for hours on the “wellknown” spots. While doing so, we saw the goodlooking ssp algeriensis of Southern Grey Shrike. Very dark form.

Souther Grey Shrike (ssp algeriensis)
Southern Grey Shrike (ssp algeriensis)

Again, just spending time on the right spot payed off – a flock of 21 Ibises came flying in.

Northern Bald Ibis
Northern Bald Ibis
Northern Bald Ibis
Northern Bald Ibis

Next target was Brown-throated Martin. According to the Gosney guide, they were nesting close to a bridge, just outside of the NP. We spent some time on the bridge, but no swallow. What often happens when we wait – after a while, everybody just starts to bird. Once you do that, other birds appear. In this case, some common but nevertheless nice birds.

Yellow Wagtail (ssp Iberiae)
Yellow Wagtail (ssp Iberiae)
Common Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Common Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher

No Martins here, neither in a pool we also visited. We gave up, and went further north towards Agadir and Oued Sous. The Gosney guide suggests to look at a place close the entrance of the Royal Palace. The Martin was there alright. Again, a really good WP species.

Brown-throated Martin
Brown-throated Martin

Now, just the Red-necked Nightjar remained. Birded the river and the forest around while waiting for the dark. Barbary Partridges and Stone Curlews in the forest and lots of gulls on the river.

Little Gull
Little Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull

Gosney recommends the area close to the entrance of the Palace for the Nightjar. The king actually lives there, and thus the place is heavily guarded. No chance in hell to enter. Once dark fell, we silently went without lights along the fence, listening attentively in the dark. After an hour or so, Mårten and Erik heard the bird, I didn’t due to age and too many Rock’n Roll concerts. We went further in and finally I heard the bird too … phhhu. We were fantasising about what we should say if the guards saw us in the dark, with what appears to be high-tec gear. Stay back! We’re the idiot-margot-wallström-attack-team .. mmm maybe not.

Anyways – full goddamn cleanup in Sous Massa – feels just great.