Happy Jewish New Year

Common Kingfisher. As if there's anything "common" about something this beautiful

The Common Kingfishers are migrating through Israel now. They arrived a few weeks ago, practically starved from their long way, and are hunting to their hearts content to fill up for the next stage of their journey. I'll share some photos of their thinner version in an upcoming blog post, but for this post I just had to share these beautiful birds from up close - I was lucky to have one land less than 5m from me! And from such a distance, this tiny bird can fill the frame - cropping is not even necessary. Every glorious feather can be seen in detail. I really recommend enlarging the pictures - it's a treat!

A new (Jewish) year is upon us, and some changes are coming to my blog. You may have noticed that the links to the full photo albums on 500px are now gone. Instead, lead pictures for each subject are enlarged, and further pictures appear as smaller thumbnails. Each picture can be clicked to see a full-window view, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

There are also links to buy the picture in various formats (printed or digital) directly in the blog. The links appear automatically whenever a picture is viewed in a large size (after being clicked, or right on this page for the lead pictures). I hope you like the changes - let me know!

White-Throated Kingfisher

On the way I managed to catch a White-Throated Kingfisher observing from a wire. They're in Israel the entire year (a couple was even nesting on a tree in my yard, I believe), and they are beautiful as well. Much larger than the Common Kingfishers, they eat everything they can catch - fish, insects, smaller birds, lizards, frogs, you name it.

Black-Crowned Night Heron landing with some ducks and gulls in the background

I was visiting the fish lakes at Maagan-Michael/Mishmarot earlier this week. The birds are having a party there, coming there to fill their bellies. The sheer number and variety of birds is incredible. Watching them in action is a wonderful experience.

Black-Crowned Night Heron stalking fish

The Night Herons put an especially impressive show on that day. They stalk the fish, either from within the water or from a vantage point a bit higher.

Black-Crowned Night Heron pulling a fish out of the water

And they they make a sudden move and catch an unsuspecting fish in a split second. You can see just the moment when one of them was pulling the fish out of the water in these photos.

Black-Crowned Heron flying off with the fish she caught

Once the fish is secure in their beak, they're usually off to a quieter place to feed at their leisure. And they're so beautiful when they fly...

Great Blue Heron landing

Equally impressive are the Great Blue Herons. Much larger than the Night Herons, and with a significantly longer neck, their method of hunting is slightly different. First they arrive at the scene majestically, then look for the right spot to hunt. Every time they spread their wings it's breath-taking - they appear to be dancing.

Great Blue Heron with catch, and an envious seagull

When they spot a fish under water, they use their long, flexible neck to drive their pointy beak through the fish, much like a harpoon!

The look on the face of the seagull above is priceless! He clearly wanted that fish, but is not going to get it.

Great Blue Heron catching the fish it threw in the air

Being such a large and strong bird the Great Blue Herons are less likely to fly off with their catch (although this does happen), and they usually go about their business of consuming the fish on the spot. First, they throw the fish in the air and catch it with their beak.

And then they align it carefully and finally swallow the fish whole. I'll publish some photos of that process in the future - didn't get any good ones on this day.

Great Blue Heron meditating

And then, when their bellies are full (usually after several fish), it's time for meditation!

They would look right at home in some temple dedicated to the fish god, wouldn't they?

Striated Heron observing intensely while licking her lips

I also encountered the beautiful Striated Heron. Had no luck in actually taking a photo of them catching something, but I find their penetrating gaze impressive, and somewhat terrifying. Especially if you're a fish.

The pose above sums it all for me: every inch of the Striated Heron is saying: "I'm going to catch some fish and eat it, and there's nothing anyone can do about that!"

Black-Winged Stilts in water

When starting to head back I encountered some Black-Winged Stilts, which are always so elegant. It was beautiful to see their reflections in the water.

But right before I left there was a surprise waiting for me, however.

Osprey in flight

An Osprey was circling one of the ponds! I was looking forward for a long white to see one close enough to get a decent picture. It's a pretty impressive raptor, with it's slow typical flight. Slow until it encounters something of interest, that is. When that happens, it can change directions very rapidly and catches an unsuspecting fish by surprise.

Osprey attacked by a Spur-Winged Lapwing

I followed the Osprey for a while, and eventually it landed on a pole. Only that a Spur-Winged Lapwing was not happy with the location. Was probably too close to their nest. So the much smaller Lapwing went about attacking the much larger Osprey, to try and drive it off.

Osprey immediately after takeoff

And surprisingly, he succeeded! After a minute or so, the Osprey took off to find a quieter place to rest. The Lapwings are amazingly courageous birds, and most larger birds tend to give in if the Lapwings are insisting.

All in all - a wonderful day! A wonderful collection of memories from just 3 hours of visiting the fish lakes.

So what do you think of the new blog format? Do you like it? Any suggestions for improvement? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Jewish New Year everyone!