Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thoughts about The International Bird Research Centre in Eilat

 Although we met Noam Weiss on the last leg of our journey, the quality of time and his level of passion for birding, his devotion to his bird research, and his great desire to help me get the kind of birds I wanted, has left a huge impression on me as a birder, and a deeper passion for getting the message out about conservation, restoring habitat, trying to undo the damage we have done to our planet, that God so thoughtfully and with great skill, designed for us to inhabit. In the late 1800's, Eilat was all marsh land, and probably the heartbeat of many migrating species, if not all that cruised through this tiny piece of land called Palestine, and then Israel. Over the years, as the pictures showed on the wall of Noams office, all the marsh was lost to mankinds selfish desires.
  Eilat is a pretty little town, and I am grateful they are restoring as much as possible, but it will never be enough. Who can say how many species, how many individual birds lost their lives, because the bush they had relied on, or the fishing spot they had gone to for generations, was no longer there.
  The Bird Research Centre has replanted many essential plants, and try to have something for everyones needs all year long. Noam knows when so and so will be there, so they planted a certain plant, so the food will be ready for the bird on arrival.
  Much thought and planning goes into each and every plant, and water source for the migration, as well as the birds who are there year round.
  I am sure most of us have met someone who has felt called into the mission field, whether it is an orthodox Rabbi and his family, such as the one who recently lost their lives in India, or someone preaching the gospel in Africa. Noam shares that same passion. He and his family gave up the fast life, of making money, and owning a nice house, and he devotes fully to ministering to his flocks of thousands of those who come and go. (Birds don't pay any tithe, but they sure can fill the heart with joy) Noam and is family also live by faith, knowing that somehow their needs will be provided for. Noam is truly a man of honor, one of a kind. This is not supported much by government funds now, although there was some. It is supported by individuals, and there are many volunteers, and then birders like me, who come through and make a contribution.
  I can never say enough about this young man. I do wish I were a person of means, because I would surely give in abundance to this cause.
  Israel is truly God's country, and for me, the abundance of the birdlife that has gone through its gates for thousands of years, makes it even more so for me, and any other birder, who finally makes their way to this small haven of rest for birds.

  Noam worked tirelessly helping me find the pipits and Larks I wanted. They are not an easy subject, and I think when I mentioned I really wanted to see these, he was a bit surprised, but also seemed quite happy.  Many we were able to get good looks at, but a few, we watched fly by and just worked on their call notes. I learned a lot about the proper habitat of the birds, how the Arabian Babbler lives in groups with a guard, and they are hard to flush, hiding in the lower brush of the palm trees, of the organic Palm trees in the Kibbutz's we visited.  The Penduline Tit, is secretive, and has the quietest of tiny call notes, I think I have ever heard. We followed the sound, and saw movement in the brush, and that is about all you can get for this rare bird. One of the first birds of the day was the Corn Bunting, Noam was surprised I was so happy to see what he calls a really ugly bird, but I love the little guys, for the plainer the bird, the more elaborate the song.
 Noam was also able to help me id the bird I had up at Masada, a Desert Lark, I didn't even think to look at the larks for this bird I was able to film, it was almost under foot pecking at the ground. It was the Azizi sub species.
   We went to one beautiful sewage pond that they had graveled in and planted beautiful plants. Unfortunately the focus on the beauty of the plant, rather than a native one, so this doesn't really benefit the birds as much. This is where I saw my first flocks of Dead Sea Sparrows, which are VERY tiny, and finchlike in their flight.  I would discover later, on Saturday when getting the birds out of the the nets, they bite like the dickens, and are very persistant in that! They have quite the attitude. At these sewage "gardens" they also had my first Green Sandpiper, quite a noisy bird, gets upset rather easily. This is also where we had our first of many Blue Throats, my first being a male, was a real treat. Mark was even enjoying himself on this adventure. But this was one of the nicer Sewage ponds we were to visit. The quality of their condition and the rankness of the odour would deteriorate rapidly as the day wore on; and the heat continued to rise. Combining that and eating too many dates, make a bad combination for the afternoon. I don't recommend filling up on dates, no matter how free they are. I paid dearly for them later in the day!  We did a lot of birding under Palm date trees that had been harvested, and they were in such abundance, I should have left them alone! (such temptation was too great for me, but I have learned my lesson)
  I discovered Avocets, Stilts and Ruffs actually get deep enough in the ponds to swim around, not like the Phalaropes, but it was quite fun to watch.
  In another Sewage pond, we had the Kentish Plover, Little Ringed and Ringed Plover all at once, which made it great to compare the species, especially the ringed ones, noting their size difference was a great help.   Spur Winged Plovers often became obnoxious, giving alarm calls while we were there, or AFTER the harrier or Sparrow Hawk had already flown, they would go into a screaming frenzy. Such silly birds they are.  
  We had our first flock of Lapwings in the same field where we had an abundance of Pipits and Larks. There were 5-7 Lapwings, which flew as soon as we got within their comfort zone. But they soon settled down, out of reach, but easily watched with binos.
  The Pipits and Larks kept us very busy at this particular field, where they were growing a type of grass for the cows to eat.  Most every field is organic, so this is very good for the birds.  The Sewage Ponds were all organic, and full of insects, I did feel quite sorry for all the Little Stints, that seemed ignorant of what they were walking through to find their food.  At this point, I could barely keep MY food down, the stench in the heat, was by far the worst thing I have ever smelled.  This is something you MUST prepare yourself for, don't eat a big meal, and maybe something to drape across the nose and mouth, might be in order for next time. SOMETHING has to cover the smell......
 We had lots of Green Sandpipers, Red Shanks Green Shanks, Dunlin, the plovers I mentioned (only a couple of Kentish) Black Winged Stilts were also in abundance. I only had a handful of Avocets towards the end of the day, in the desalinization ponds.
 Nice numbers of Greater Flamingos, which we got closer to near dusk, since they were best viewed at that time. There were around 60 or so, I think that is what Noam said.
 He showed us where they started building nests last spring, but none of them actually nested.
  This is getting too long, I will add more tomorrow, my son called last night, Andrew, who lives in Nevada, and he found a cheap flight and will be home for 2 1/2 weeks. Although I am still supposed to stay in bed, I think I will get some cleaning done, my suitcases are not unpacked!

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