Friday, September 18, 2015

Hawkwatching Across The Globe - Israel

Hawkwatching panorama Israel - Luke Tiller
1/ Tell us a little about your watch.
The Israeli Ornithological Center Soaring Birds Count has been going on for over 30 years. During this period the survey has been held in 2 different parts of Israel: in the Northern Valleys and in recent years the west Samaria Hills, about 10 miles east of Tel Aviv. The survey consists of three to five posts, several miles apart spanning the width of the country. The posts are manned daily and the season is eight weeks in length from mid-August to mid-October. We have used volunteers over the years but in recent years we have moved over to using mainly paid local surveyors. 

In spring 2015 we returned to the Eilat mountains after 18 years and re-established a Spring Soaring Birds Count. This is also a long term project that is run by a mixture of paid surveyors and volunteers.

Red-footed Falcon - Luke Tiller
2/ What is the most numerous raptor species seen at your count? 
In the fall, Honey Buzzards (Honeys) are the most common with an average of over 400,000 individuals, also 300,000 White Storks, 110,000 Lesser Spotted Eagles and 50,000 Pelicans and Levant Sparrowhawks. In the Spring half a million Steppe Buzzards and close to half a million Honey Buzzards as well. Both seasons have another 200,000 soaring birds of other species. 

3/ What are the most sought after?
We put special emphasis on different species for different reasons. Storks we count as part of the flight safety project. Levant Sparrowhawks and Lesser Spotted Eagles are counted as means of monitoring the populations of these species as the majority of their population passes through Israel in migration. There is special interest in "pulling out" the larger Eagles, especially in the fall, Eastern Imperial, Greater Spotted and Steppe. There is always interest in rarities and when possible we search for Crested (Oriental) Honey Buzzards within the streams of Honey Buzzards and we always keep an eye out for the rarer Falcons, Eleonora's, Lanner, Saker etc.

Steppe Eagle - Luke Tiller
4/ Do you band/ring raptors too?
We do in Eilat in the spring. There is a small scale project to band Steppe Buzzards and Levant Sparrowhwks down there. Eilat is the most important place for banding Levants in the world. 

5/ Do you just count raptors or are you counting other bird species as well?
Just raptors for now, we have separate surveys for passerine flights. 

6/ What are the goals of your count (outreach, conservation issues, population monitoring all of the above)?
One of the main, and unique, goals of the count is to ensure air travel safety. The huge numbers of migrants soaring birds crossing Israel can prove to be an issue for both civil and military aircraft and the survey is held in collaboration with the IAF. This means survey leaders are in constant contact with air traffic control to update them about movements of birds. Our team identifies and counts everything that passes and the data is collected. We also use the main survey posts as an educational and outreach tool and we hold open weekends for the public. 
These weekends often attract large numbers of visitors. As part of this we have interpretative naturalists and educators to help explain this incredible migration spectacle to visitors. The central post is highly accessible being just outside the capital and near the crossings of both both main North/South and East/West Routes through the country.
Marsh Harrier - Luke Tiller
7/ What is the best time to visit your watch ?
There is always something to look at in a hawkwatch post in Israel. In the fall I suggest the last week of September to mid October when the larger birds pass in impressive streams, Pelicans, Lesser Spotted Eagles and other aquila species like Greater Spotted, Imperial, Steppe etc can be seen. The relatively uniform weather here means that flights are fairly predictable and regular with late morning when the passage usually kicks off.

8/ Can your data be viewed online, if so where?
Data and daily updates can be found on the Israel Birds Portal

9/ If visitors from the US wanted to visit your site where should they go to find out more?
Same thing, the portal, they can contact us through there!

Great White Pelicans - Luke Tiller
Thanks to Jonathan Meyrav from the Israeli Ornithological Center for asnwering our questions. To read more about hawkwatching in Israel you can read HMANA board member Luke Tiller's blog posts about his time out there counting in fall (on his blog). You can get an idea of spring migration by reading Doug Gochfeld's experiences out there this spring on The Leica Birding Blog (here). 

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