The ashamed man learns nothing…

2 10 2014
Oranit Station - Luke Tiller

Oranit Station – Luke Tiller

I owe the title of this blog post to Dudu, one of my fellow counters here in Israel. He has a load of Hebrew sayings he has been sharing with me. This one roughly translates as don’t be afraid to ask. Technically at the time he was talking about asking for what I wanted after he very generously invited me to his home for Rosh Hashanah. Of course the food there was amazing, including a cabbage and rice dish I definitely need to get the recipe for. I digress though, as what the saying actually made me think of was raptor ID.

As you’ll see from my first post from Israel, I’ve been dropped in at the deep end somewhat counting hawks that until now I had either little or sometimes no experience with. Of course the skills pretty much translate: how to scan, what to look for on birds in terms of shape, pattern, color and flying style but there are many intangibles that only come with a good many hours of practice.

Common Kestrel - Luke Tiller

Common Kestrel – Luke Tiller

There is also the question of status and distribution that can at least help you keep an eye open for a specific something or that at least might make you take a second look or rethink an ID. So while some species here are somewhat simple: Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, others are most decidedly not: Lesser and Common Kestrel, Eurasian and Levant’s Sparrowhawk and others again seem to border on the impossible: juvenile Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers.

It has certainly been exciting to look at migrating raptors with fresh eyes and also to feel in some ways the insecurity and occasionally the frustration that I know many beginner and intermediate hawkwatchers in the US feel. It’s been interesting to me to note that though common shapes and flight styles become imprinted quickly: the drooped winged soar and glide of a Lesser Spotted Eagle or the distinct dihedral  on the Booted Eagle, but also how much I find myself wanting to turn to the scope for a confirming color and pattern when I have something difficult or interesting. I’ve also noted that there are some angles that seem to be harder than others. It’s easy to spot the shape of a bird when it’s directly overhead but much harder when it’s ‘wing on’ gliding high to your left or right. Here all your sense of shape gets squished and flattened. I notice this at hawkwatches in the US too when birders seem unable to see what shapes and flight styles seem almost second nature to seasoned watchers.

Great White Pelicans - Luke Tiller

Great White Pelicans – Luke Tiller

What has become most obvious to me though here, is the importance of spending time with people who really know what it is they are looking at. Though I have been on my own a great deal, the watches here are more scientific survey than social occasion, the two or three days I spent with Eli Haviv (the survey coordinator) and Jonathan Meyrav (Tourism Manager at IOC and old hand at raptor surveys) looking at birds together were invaluable. Not just to check on ID’s, but to talk about what it was that they, or I, were seeing in a bird that lead to a particular ID conclusion. For all the book studying I had been doing, the reality of the field is something else and though I guess it’s not rocket science to say this learning from others is so much easier and infinitely more rewarding.

In the US there are watches scattered across the country and they are in my experience manned by some of the most knowledgeable and generous ‘birders’ in the country. If you haven’t already or feel your raptor ID needs some polishing, get down to one and sit down listen and start to learn. A few thoughtful questions will usually get you an in depth response, as most regulars to any hawkwatch I’ve been to love to share with anyone as enthusiastic about raptors as they are. There is a wealth of knowledge out there at your fingertips, whatever your level, just waiting for you to plug in to. Plus you’ll get to enjoy the magic of raptor migration just as pure spectacle.

Red-throated Pipit - Luke Tiller

Red-throated Pipit – Luke Tiller

As I’ve become a more and more seasoned watcher in the US it has become harder and harder for me to discover something new, but there is always something to learn. That is why it was such an amazing experience and treat to be sharing a platform with Frank Nicoletti this Spring at the Hawk Migration Association of North America Raptor ID Workshop at Braddock Bay. It was amazing to learn some of the advanced tips and tricks that Frank has up his sleeve. I’m really looking forward to co-leading it all again this Spring with Frank, and seeing as we have at least one returning participant I’m guessing they are looking forward to doing it all again too. If you really want to sharpen your skills in a positive environment with one of the most knowledgeable raptor experts out there (and me), as well as see some great birds in the process then why not come join us in April. You can find out more about the tour on the HMANA website ( link here).

Next post I’ll share some of the other birds I’ve been seeing, including a nice Mega. But for now, bed.



One response

3 10 2014

Thoughtful thoughts…

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