Hawkwatching basics 3: Slang

19 09 2015

Peak Broad-winged Hawk season is almost upon us and many of you will be heading out to hawkwatches to catch the action. Are you up on hawkwatching slang and terms? Read on to make sure you know what to say and when, and avoid any unintentionally hilarious gaffs at your local hawkwatch.


ButtJam (Harlans) – Catherine Hamilton

The Birds:

Grey Ghost: (Adult male) Northern Harrier.  Weirdly I’ve heard people use Grey Ghost when talking about other grey raptors – WRONG!!!!!!!! If you want to suggest a slightly higher level of expertise, after seeing one, you might spend the next few minutes ruminating on why you see so few of them.

Buttjam: Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis. Weirdly I first heard this from someone who isn’t a hawkwatcher. If it isn’t in common use already it’s going to appeal to the puerile child in every hawkwatcher I know ;) “Tail” is a more commonly used term among the knowing.

BDubs: Broad-winged Hawk. Not even sure where this came from, but all the cool kids use it. I’m guessing most hawkwatchers aren’t big fans of Dappy and North London rappers N-Dubz, so it can’t be that!

K-bird: Good old American Kestrel. Personally I like using AK – just cos it makes me think of that Da Lench Mob track – you know the one?!? Worth noting that hawkwatchers use the two letter codes from our data sheets not the four letter BBL codes – bird nerds and Richard Crossley you have been warned ;)

Blue Jack: (adult male) Merlin: after their top side coloration.

BDubs Kettle - Steve Beale

BDubs Kettle – Steve Beale

What’s happening/conditions:

Blue Skies of Death: My own little contribution to the vernacular – perhaps aging myself. Nicked from the description given to a crashed computer. This term describes those clear cyan blue skies that always seem to greet large movements of Broad-winged Hawks. Without contrasting pale clouds these skies make speck-watching hard work, frustrating and painful on the eyes. Ditto “Broad-wing Blue”.

Kettle/Kettling: When a bunch of birds get into a little thermal of activity and use it to soar to greater altitude. Why it’s called kettling I’m not sure – to me it looks nothing like a bubbling kettle (the explanation I’ve been given)? What constitutes a kettle is a whole different argument. Two birds is definitely not a kettle, three might be depending on your level of desperation, lack of birds and also on the species. Three Bald Eagles could be a kettle; three Bdubs (see above) not so much.

Chimping: Often used when referring to checking the screen of your camera on pelagics in order to arrive at an ID for a bird. This term seems to have gained some traction in the world of hawkwatching when it comes to going to get a better look at a difficult bird in your scope.


Chimping raptors

Conversely a couple of things you might not want to say:

Immature: Young raptors in fall are juveniles. In fact choosing to use the word immature when relating to describing raptors is rarely going to be a good choice. If you think you are seeing young birds, stick to using juvenile and you’ll rarely go wrong. I can envision experienced hawkwatchers eyes rolling whenever I hear this word.

Phase or Morph: The cool trend is now to just use “dark” or “light” when referring to the color of a specific bird that may come in a variety of colors, dropping the defining term. I must admit when I talking to or writing for intermediate hawkwatchers and birders I often use morph. I just think it makes things a bit clearer, cool or not!

There are plenty of other little bits of slang that get banded around at watches but often don’t more beyond the local watch. One of my favorites being Scamming: the act of scanning – but not very hard. Interestingly Jerry Liguori posted a slang term I hadn’t heard before on his recent blog post for HWI – check it out (here). feel free to share some of your favorites here in the comments!

Hybrid Hummingbird

22 08 2015

Anna’s x Costa’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

On August 10th 2015 I was shooting some hummingbirds in my yard when a bird popped in to check out the feeder that immediately struck me as somewhat odd. Initially the flash of the color in the gorget had me thinking about Costa’s Hummingbird, but something about it wasn’t quite right. Costa’s tend to be pretty uncommon in the yard themselves, so I was quite keen to try get a shot or two of the bird in question even if it just turned into a funky Costa’s. Though the initial view was quite brief the gorget coloration appeared to change somewhat as the bird changed angles, going from something almost typically Costa’s purple to something that took on a distinctly pinkish hue. Compare the color of the gorget of the hybrid bird above with the adult male Costa’s I photographed this spring below.

Costa's Hummingbird - Luke Tiller

Costa’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

I was aware of the possibility of hybrid hummingbirds as the week or so before, local birder, John Garrett had photographed an interesting hummingbird which he’d identified as an hybrid Anna’s x Costa’s (photo here) just a mile or so from where this one had appeared. To my eye his bird essentially looked much like an Anna’s Hummingbird with a Costa’s colored gorget and a white upper breast and line down the belly which hints at it’s mixed parentage. The admixture of colors in my bird had me wondering whether I might have another potential hybrid, but this time leaning more heavily towards Costa’s in appearance.

After about ten minutes, which felt much longer, thankfully the bird returned. This time it allowed me to gather a few admittedly poor photographs. At least now though I had something to send people to show the gorget coloration. As the bird continued to return over the afternoon I managed to gather a few decent shots of the bird and started to note a few interesting features beyond the gorget coloration including what appeared to be an important one – the length of tail. Though in the process of replacing many of its tail feathers the birds outer retrices extended notably past the wings. This is a good feature for Anna’s Hummingbird (note this feature in this linked picture), but problematic for Costa’s which are notably short tailed/long winged (see link). Costa’s wing tips reaching the tip of their tail or extend beyond the tail tip (compare the longer two outer retrices extending distinctly beyond the wing tips on the picture of the bird below).


Anna’s x Costa’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

The bird certainly had many Costa’s features to it. I noted that the bird was distinctly white-breasted on the upper breast with a white line down the central breast down to the vent almost creating a vested appearance which is much more in line with Costa’s Hummingbird (features you can see quite nicely in the link on this bird I photographed in spring). Compare this to Anna’s below which typically shows a dingy upper breast and no central white stripe (you can also compare the gorget coloration to the hybrid). Speaking to local birders it seems that this white breasted and vested look is one often exhibited by suggested Anna’s x Costa’s hybrids and is hinted at in John Garret’s shot. The gorget shape with the long ‘tails’ is more suggestive of Costa’s Hummingbird than it is of Anna’s Hummingbird, though it is not as extensive on the crown or on the back of the head as it seems to be on most adult Costa’s.

One of the main things in favor of Costa’s was the overall size of the bird. Though it is not completely evident in the pictures the bird was noticeably on the small side. There are admittedly only 0.5 inches separating Anna’s and Costa’s in size, but that 0.5 inches is pretty noticeable at close range (down to ten feet or less) on a feeder.


Anna’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

Though there is a lot that weighs heavily in favor of Costa’s Hummingbird (more than one correspondent suggested it was perhaps just a young male) I and most other birders I have had contact with believe that there is enough admixture in the gorget, as well as the odd tail/wing length, to suggest this is a hybrid Anna’s x Costa’s. Interestingly the same day the hybrid appeared I first noticed and photographed a female type Costa’s Hummingbird in the yard. This one I only saw briefly and managed to take a quick record shot of while it was perched in pretty marginal lighting (see photo below). It then seemed to disappear for a few days but it (or another very similar looking bird) showed up again  a few days later. The female type was seemingly generally reluctant to come in to the feeders so it may be that it has been around but passed unnoticed at times.

Talking to local birders the timing of the arrival of the hybrid and this female wasn’t at a time generally associated with movement of Costa’s Hummingbirds, so where these birds came from and why, who knows. Unfortunately I never knowingly heard the hybrid bird vocalize so I’m not sure what it sounded like, it would have been useful to hear it and even better to have a recording.


Costa’s Hummingbird – Luke Tiller

Though there are only a few records of this particular hybrid on eBird (see link) at least one local birder thinks that it is probably relatively common within the world of hybrid hummingbirds. The two species are both in the genus Calypte and are closely related. There are at least two other records from LA County both from the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Gabriel Valley. It was a neat experience and I’m certainly glad I managed to capture a few decent photographs of it over the next couple of days before the bird departed on August 13th. You can view those other pictures on my flickr account (here).

Los Angeles County Big Day – April 26th 2015

29 04 2015
Say's Phoebe - Luke Tiller

Say’s Phoebe – Luke Tiller

Sunday April 26th saw Catherine Hamilton, David Bell, Brittany O’Connor and I taking on a Birding Big Day in Los Angeles County. Our aim was to see or hear as many species of birds as possible in a 24hr period in order to raise money for the Pasadena Audubon Society. We started our day just before dawn and ended some eighteen exhausting hours later, well after the sun had gone down.

Our route planning was influenced as much by a desire not to just follow the typical route that most teams try but was also influenced by some scouting that we undertook pre-trip (though we managed to miss the two rarest birds that the group found whilst scouting: White-winged Scoter and Palm Warbler) . Our handy spreadsheet of stops helped keep our day on a airtight schedule and until we hit a rather sharp bump in the road we were a little ahead of it all day. Our main focus for much of the day was ruthlessly keeping on track and leaving sites with or without the species we needed from them once our allotted time was up: whether this was a two minute stop for a Canvasback or a thirty minute sweep of a renowned migrant trap.

I have to say that Big Days kind of go against my usual mode of birding. I like to bird locally and I like to thoroughly cover spots to make sure there is nothing there left unearthed. I soon opened my eyes though to the beauty and wonder of big days. It certainly doesn’t hurt that we had such a stunning visual backdrop to much of our explorations. In Los Angeles County you can easily go from shorebirds feeding on Grunion eggs, through standing amongst pines at 6000 plus feet looking at Clarke’s Nutcrackers and remnants of snow to enjoying views of beautiful desert birds like Scott’s Oriole and we did all that and more between sunrise and sunset.

Spotted Towhee - Luke Tiller

Spotted Towhee – Luke Tiller

Highlights on the day included those incredible swarms of shorebirds at Playa and a beautiful Mojave Green Rattlesnake that was sauntering across a private road in the desert half-light. The only rare birds we found on the day were a couple of flyover Common Ground Doves along the San Gabriel River. There were however some other interesting sightings: a late Greater Scaup near Playa Del Rey, a lost Acorn Woodpecker out in the desert near Lancaster and a baby Le Contes Thrasher (a notoriously secretive bird) at Edwards Airforce Base.

Of course you always miss some easy birds out on a long day like this and as a professional hawk watcher it particularly burned to not have pulled out either an Osprey, Swainson’s Hawk or Golden Eagle somewhere along our route. We won’t even mention the White-crowned Sparrow one of our group had at an early stop but forgot to convey to the rest of the group!

It still seems incredible to me to think that you can see or hear over 200 species of bird in just one single county in under 24 hours. In fact right until the end of the day our team had seen or heard every bird together until one of us was distracted by a jogger who was keen to know why we were running around a park with binoculars. Personally I think our team worked particularly well together and our different skills coalesced nicely to bring together different key elements to the group.

Red-tailed Hawk - Luke Tiller

Red-tailed Hawk – Luke Tiller

It was an amazingly fun day and showed off the outstanding diversity of habitat and birds that can be found in Los Angeles County nicely. Most outsiders when they think of LA think of city expanses, traffic and Hollywood. What they don’t think about are the majestic mountains, serene deserts as well as the river courses and green spaces where Angelenos play games, exercise, walk dogs and of course watch birds.

All in all a great days adventure. Even the bit where I learned how to rapidly change a tire on a Honda Odyssey! After carefully going over our list we discovered that in total we tallied 207 bird species (209 including non-countable birds: Yellow-chevroned Parakeet and Red-whiskered Bulbul).

The species list in full:

  1. Greater White-fronted Goose
  2. Snow Goose
  3. Ross’s Goose
  4. Cackling Goose
  5. Canada Goose
  6. Gadwall
  7. American Wigeon
  8. Mallard
  9. Blue-winged Teal
  10. Cinnamon Teal
  11. Northern Shoveler
  12. Northern Pintail
  13. Canvasback
  14. Redhead
  15. Ring-necked Duck
  16. Lesser Scaup
  17. Greater Scaup
  18. Surf Scoter
  19. Bufflehead
  20. Red-breasted Merganser
  21. Ruddy Duck
  22. Mountain Quail
  23. California Quail
  24. Common Loon
  25. Pied-billed Grebe
  26. Horned Grebe
  27. Eared Grebe
  28. Western Grebe
  29. Clark’s Grebe
  30. Brandt’s Cormorant
  31. Double-crested Cormorant
  32. Pelagic Cormorant
  33. Brown Pelican
  34. Least Bittern
  35. Great Blue Heron
  36. Great Egret
  37. Snowy Egret
  38. Green Heron
  39. Black-crowned Night-Heron
  40. White-faced Ibis
  41. Turkey Vulture
  42. White-tailed Kite
  43. Northern Harrier
  44. Cooper’s Hawk
  45. Red-shouldered Hawk
  46. Red-tailed Hawk
  47. Virginia Rail
  48. Sora
  49. Common Gallinule
  50. American Coot
  51. Black-necked Stilt
  52. American Avocet
  53. Black Oystercatcher
  54. Black-bellied Plover
  55. Semipalmated Plover
  56. Killdeer
  57. Spotted Sandpiper
  58. Greater Yellowlegs
  59. Willet
  60. Whimbrel
  61. Marbled Godwit
  62. Ruddy Turnstone
  63. Black Turnstone
  64. Surfbird
  65. Sanderling
  66. Dunlin
  67. Least Sandpiper
  68. Western Sandpiper
  69. Short-billed Dowitcher
  70. Long-billed Dowitcher
  71. Wilson’s Phalarope
  72. Red-necked Phalarope
  73. Bonaparte’s Gull
  74. Heermann’s Gull
  75. Ring-billed Gull
  76. Western Gull
  77. California Gull
  78. Least Tern
  79. Caspian Tern
  80. Forster’s Tern
  81. Royal Tern
  82. Elegant Tern
  83. Black Skimmer
  84. Rock Pigeon
  85. Band-tailed Pigeon
  86. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  87. Common Ground-Dove
  88. Mourning Dove
  89. Barn Owl
  90. Western Screech-Owl
  91. Great Horned Owl
  92. Northern Pygmy-Owl
  93. Burrowing Owl
  94. Lesser Nighthawk
  95. Common Poorwill
  96. Vaux’s Swift
  97. White-throated Swift
  98. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  99. Anna’s Hummingbird
  100. Allen’s Hummingbird
  101. Lewis’s Woodpecker
  102. Acorn Woodpecker
  103. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  104. Nuttall’s Woodpecker
  105. Hairy Woodpecker
  106. White-headed Woodpecker
  107. Northern Flicker
  108. American Kestrel
  109. Merlin
  110. Peregrine Falcon
  111. Prairie Falcon
  112. Olive-sided Flycatcher
  113. Western Wood-Pewee
  114. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  115. Gray Flycatcher
  116. Pacific-slope Flycatcher
  117. Black Phoebe
  118. Say’s Phoebe
  119. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  120. Cassin’s Kingbird
  121. Western Kingbird
  122. Loggerhead Shrike
  123. Bell’s Vireo
  124. Cassin’s Vireo
  125. Hutton’s Vireo
  126. Warbling Vireo
  127. Steller’s Jay
  128. Western Scrub-Jay
  129. Clark’s Nutcracker
  130. American Crow
  131. Common Raven
  132. Horned Lark
  133. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  134. Tree Swallow
  135. Violet-green Swallow
  136. Bank Swallow
  137. Barn Swallow
  138. Cliff Swallow
  139. Mountain Chickadee
  140. Oak Titmouse
  141. Bushtit
  142. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  143. White-breasted Nuthatch
  144. Pygmy Nuthatch
  145. Brown Creeper
  146. Rock Wren
  147. Canyon Wren
  148. House Wren
  149. Marsh Wren
  150. Bewick’s Wren
  151. Cactus Wren
  152. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  153. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  154. Wrentit
  155. Western Bluebird
  156. Townsend’s Solitaire
  157. Swainson’s Thrush
  158. American Robin
  159. California Thrasher
  160. Le Conte’s Thrasher
  161. Northern Mockingbird
  162. European Starling
  163. American Pipit
  164. Cedar Waxwing
  165. Phainopepla
  166. Orange-crowned Warbler
  167. Nashville Warbler
  168. Common Yellowthroat
  169. American Redstart
  170. Yellow Warbler
  171. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  172. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  173. Townsend’s Warbler
  174. Hermit Warbler
  175. Wilson’s Warbler
  176. Yellow-breasted Chat
  177. Green-tailed Towhee
  178. Spotted Towhee
  179. Rufous-crowned Sparrow
  180. California Towhee
  181. Chipping Sparrow
  182. Black-chinned Sparrow
  183. Black-throated Sparrow
  184. Savannah Sparrow
  185. Fox Sparrow
  186. Song Sparrow
  187. Dark-eyed Junco
  188. Western Tanager
  189. Black-headed Grosbeak
  190. Lazuli Bunting
  191. Red-winged Blackbird
  192. Western Meadowlark
  193. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  194. Brewer’s Blackbird
  195. Great-tailed Grackle
  196. Brown-headed Cowbird
  197. Hooded Oriole
  198. Bullock’s Oriole
  199. Scott’s Oriole
  200. House Finch
  201. Purple Finch
  202. Cassin’s Finch
  203. Pine Siskin
  204. Lesser Goldfinch
  205. Lawrence’s Goldfinch
  206. American Goldfinch
  207. House Sparrow

Hawk Migration Studies Article

28 01 2015

Here’s a little piece I wrote for the next edition of Hawk Migration Studies HMANA’s Membership Magazine. Details on membership from their website (here).

Luke Tiller - Yuval Dax

Luke Tiller – Yuval Dax

In May 2014 I was lucky enough to meet with Yoav Perlman and Jonathan Meyrav from the Israel Ornithological Center (IOC) while they were undertaking a tour of North America that included taking in some birding at Braddock Bay. It was through that initial contact that I found myself touching down in Tel Aviv in September to spend the next few weeks witnessing perhaps one of the most spectacular raptor migration spectacles on earth as part of the IOC’s Fall Soaring Bird Survey team.

The five count sites were focused on the narrowest section of the county, stretching east/west with the western most site less than 20 km from the coast and the eastern most post sitting right on the border with the West Bank. Individual sites were just a few kilometers apart, which gives you an idea of just how incredibly narrow the country is at that particular point. This setup essentially provided a net to catch every bird passing through the center of the country, the kind of coverage unimaginable in the US. What we counted was also a little different as we monitored other large soaring birds including pelicans, stork and cranes as well as raptors.

Red-footed Falcon - Luke Tiller

Red-footed Falcon – Luke Tiller

With the sites situated relatively close together you could see birds that were being counted by your neighboring counter. A walkie-talkie was therefore an essential piece of kit which allowed you to discuss handing over of streams of drifting birds, kept you on your toes and helped check that you weren’t committing the cardinal sin of ‘double-counting’. This constant contact also helped build a great sense of camaraderie amongst the team and made me wish that something similar could be set up among US watches.

Most of the Israeli watch sites were not officially open to the public, so the centrally located Qasim site, which was, acted as the focus for education and public outreach. At weekends visitor numbers were often impressive (in the hundreds) and a team of naturalists helped interpret what was happening. Personally I enjoy the education and outreach side of things, in fact to me it’s almost as important as the count itself. The great thing about the flights in Israel is that they are pretty steady, even on the slower days, so it’s rare that you are scratching around for things to show people.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier - Luke Tiller

Juvenile Marsh Harrier – Luke Tiller

The focal point of the raptor survey were three distinct species. Early season the spotlight was on Honey Buzzards, a species that comes in a staggering array of plumage flavors from mainly white to almost black. Their stripes and bars make them initially look almost Hook-billed Kite-ish but with Rough-legged Hawk style carpal patches. To get an idea of the flight, imagine one of those crazy pepper spot Broad-winged days and add the kind of lift 100f degree temperatures gives you! My busiest day I tallied about 6000 individuals of that species, but that was because I had missed the starting weeks of the survey and the 30,000 bird days.

Mid-season the focus switched to Levant Sparrowhawk, an accipiter good-natured enough to travel in large groups. They often formed incredible swirling kettles of birds that looked like those glittering silvery balls of bait fish that are so beloved of cameramen in nature documentaries. A large kettle might number a few hundred to a couple of thousand birds, but their smaller size and rapid movements still made them surprisingly difficult to spot in cloudless blue skies, as was the norm.

Short-toed Eagle

Short-toed Eagle

The season closed on the movement of Lesser Spotted Eagles. If you can imagine days where a stream of 8,000 small golden eagles passed your watch you have something analogous to the flight. Mixed in were a small number of exciting species including other Aquila eagles like Steppe, Imperial and Greater Spotted.

Over the season I tallied an impressive 22 different raptor species. Though from Europe initially myself, I am now much more knowledgeable about those raptors that are found in the northeastern part of the US. That said it was amazing how quickly hawkwatching skills translated from identifying North American raptors to European ones – translating shapes, plumage patterns, flight style and coloration into a crystallized identification.

Lesser Kestrel – Luke Tiller

When Israeli ornithologists started undertaking these raptor survey in the mid 1980’s they sometimes lacked the skilled local personnel to man the counts. With a burgeoning skilled birding community this is no longer the case and so participation is really now by special invite only. That said if you fancy going and seeing the spectacle for yourself the IOC has a great English language website which can help you plan your visit from when and where to go, to helping you attend a festival or find a tour leader for your stay: www.birds.org.il

Luke Tiller has counted hawks for a number of seasons in New England and Western New York State. He currently sits on the Board of HMANA and is the committee chair for our Tours and Events Committee http://www.hmana.org/events/ You can read more about his adventures in Israel and elsewhere on his blog www.underclearskies.com

Christmas Gifts for Raptorheads

15 12 2014
H is for Hawk - Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Every year I try to put together a little list of cool (and this year last-minute) gifts that I think might appeal to the birding/raptor nut in your family.

One book that has been getting rave reviews across the board, not just among birders, is “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald. The story follows Macdonalds immersion in the world of falconry as she attempts to fulfill the dream of training a Northern Goshawk, whilst dealing with the grief caused by the loss of her father. The book obviously has a nod to the TH White classic ‘The Goshawk’, and received this years Samuel Johnson Prize. You can hear the author discussing the book and reading some of it on The Guardian website (here).


Geeky Get – Funny Side Up Owl

Everyone knows that the way to a hawkwatcher’s heart is through their stomach, that everyone likes owls and that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Given these facts, why is it that no-one has come up with this awesome idea before: Owl shaped eggs (check out the link here)?

PRBY Apparel - Snowy Owl winter hat

PRBY Apparel – Snowy Owl winter hat

Tired of your typical tie-dyed Bald Eagle nonsense when it comes to raptor T-shirts, then why not check out Punk Rock Big Year Apparel’s super cool Northern Goshawk and deliciously gory Turkey Vulture tees. New to the line is their awesome Snowy Owl hat. I can also safely vouch for the legitimacy of the designer’s punk rock credentials following our DK’s duet at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival this year . PRBY Apparel also make their products in America in a way that is as socially and environmentally responsible as possible (link).

Hawk Watch International - 2015 Calendar

Hawk Watch International – 2015 Calendar

Need to know what the date is? Need to know what the date is while looking at super cool pictures of raptors? Then you need to get a copy of Hawkwatch International’s 2015 Calendar. An awesome gift that includes a series of incredible photos from raptor mastermind Jerry Liguori. Even better the profits from the calendar help support raptor conservation (link here).

Frank Nicoletti and Luke Tiller - 2014 HMANA Raptor Workshop

Frank Nicoletti and Luke Tiller – 2014 HMANA Raptor Workshop

People often say that memories are the best gifts of all. Many of my favorite memories this year were from the HMANA Raptor ID Workshop I was honored to co-lead with Frank Nicoletti. Not only did everyone get to see a lot of raptors and learn a lot about IDing them they also got to have a great time doing it. You can find out more about joining us for the 2015 trip as well as read the report from the 2014 workshop on the HMANA website (link here).

Falcon Frenzy

17 10 2014
Red-footed Falcon - Luke Tiller

Red-footed Falcon – Luke Tiller

Sometimes I write a blog post to get some vague point across and sometimes I do it just to share some nice photos I took. This is one of the latter.

Red-footed Falcon - Luke Tiller

Red-footed Falcon – Luke Tiller

My last day in Israel Tzoor Magen took me out to look for both Ferruginous Duck and Bonelli’s Eagle. Though we successfully twitched both, the show-stealers of the day were a flock of photogenic falcons that were partly dining out on a hatch out of flying ants that the morning’s heavy rains had set off.

Kestrel - Luke Tiller

Lesser Kestrel – Luke Tiller

There was also a shepherd in the area with some goats and the falcon flock was flying around them, taking advantage of any other insects they were probably disturbing. I just kinda attached myself to the edge of the flock, crossed my fingers and shot some pics.

Red-footed Falcon - Luke Tiller

Red-footed Falcon – Luke Tiller

A couple of them turned out very pleasingly. They obviously aren’t up there with some of the incredible raptor shots you find gracing FB pages and websites, but they make me happy at least. I’ve really been very impressed with the Tamron 70-300mm lens I purchased for travel just before I left. At the price it has really held up well I think. I wonder how their new 16-300mm performs?


Note: you can enlarge any of the photos by clicking on them.

That’s all folks…

13 10 2014
Empty skies - Luke Tiller

Empty skies – Luke Tiller

Well almost. I do have a few days left in Israel to do some birding, but my time as an official hawk surveyor is at an end. It ended with not so much a bang (though a last day Imperial Eagle and Greater-spotted Cuckoo were nice) but with something of a whimper, and some (amazing) hummus.

Traveling and meeting new people is always something of a bitter sweet experience. You get to make new friends, but then all too soon you have to get back to your own part of the world and leave them all behind. The regulars at the survey have been a great team to be part of, we’ve shared long hours watching raptors, trying to put each other on some of the better ones and making sure that we didn’t duplicate too many sightings. Over all there are about 20 awesome people who have been part of the team both as watchers and interpretive naturalists but a few: Eli, Shahar, Dudu and Tzoor have been a constant part of my last month – and I think I have finally gotten most of the pronunciations of their names right. Of course they have also had to also translate my rambling English on the walkie-talkie into something that makes sense too – so they were working even harder than I have.

Short-toed Eagle

Short-toed Eagle

The thing I love about birding is that it brings together people from across the spectrum of humanity regardless of age, gender or pretty much anything else for that matter. Perhaps it’s just my own personal biases but I also think there is a special camaraderie among hawkwatchers; there is just something particular (and maybe peculiar) about spending eight hours a day sat in the same spot looking for distant specks to identify in temperatures which range from 10-102 degrees.

Though not necessarily overly lucrative, life as a professional hawkwatcher can certainly be richly rewarding. It’s really been a fantastic time here in Israel and I will have many fond memories of this trip: of course the birds but also of the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen, and I hope I will be back again in the not too distant future.

Long-legged Buzzard - Luke Tiller

Long-legged Buzzard – Luke Tiller

Special thanks to Yoav Perlman for inviting me to become part of the Soaring Bird Survey, Jonathan Meyrav for being a great birding host and to Laura Kammermeier for introducing me to both these guys up at Braddock Bay this Spring. Thanks also to Eli Haviv for running such a tight and friendly ship!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.