Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bird watching in Israel

As some of you may know from reading this blog, Israel has a reputation for being a world superpower--in birding. Why? Because twice a year, birds from the Northern countries fly south for the winter--and then turn around a few months later to return North.

What does this have to do with Israel? They come through Israel on both trips--app 500,000 birds each time.

It's no joke. Israel is a superpower.

So with that in mind, my wife and I went bird-watching last week. We went south, to the desert--to the Negev.

The Negev in late June is hot--perhaps 96-98 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of our visit--but not unbearably hot. Because there's no humidity to speak of, 96-98 degrees is not miserable. But because it is 96 (or higher) it is still dangerous, partly because the sun in the desert here is not the same sun you get in the Eastern USA. It is brighter, hotter, more intense.

Because we live in the desert ourselves, we didn't take many pictures of the desert in the Northern Negev. We are accustomed to looking at a desert. Another reason we didn't take pictures was that this desert is no longer desert. It is farmland. Perhaps you have heard that the Jews have made the desert bloom; well, this is proof. I would guess that we saw literally hundreds of acres (or more) either growing crops--leafy, green, thick--being prepared for growing something, or just having been plowed. We saw what looked like peach orchards and at least one watermelon field. We didn't know what the leafy green stuff was.

The experience of seeing this farming on such a hot landscape was itself worth the trip. We were so surprised, we didn't think to snap pictures. But then, we were after bigger things; and we were not disappointed.

My first picture is of a momma bird--big, slow and just hovering above her babies. It was quite a picture. Here is it:

That's momma bird in the middle, hovering. Her babies are on the ground, to the right.

Do you know what momma birds do with their babies? They pick them up. Like this:

Momma birds take care of their own, right?

And when a momma bird realizes that she is being watched by perhaps 5,000 people sitting in a sun-drenched desert amphitheatre right next to her, what does she do? She turns around, and gives you all a look:

bye, bye momma bird.

Momma birds are big--and they take care of their babies. Daddy birds, on the other hand are different. Many daddy birds in  nature are more colorful than mamma birds. How do those daddies behave? They show off, of course--like this:

They travel in groups and show off their colors!

In addition to momma and daddies, birds have grandparents. Some grandparents are old--very old. For example, here is a grandparenting pair. They'll old and slow. But boy, can they fly:

First, the introductions:

The plane on the right is a Stillman, probably from the late nineteen thirties-early forties. It's called a bi-plane because it has two wings, one above the other. Can you see that?

Oh, look at the left. That's another 1940's plane.

Wait. Maybe you can't see these two that well. Let's make an adjustment:

Is that better? You can see the yellow plane more clearly, right? Its profile suggests a World War Two Flight Trainer, but it might be something else.I didn't catch its name. You still have a problem seeing the biplane's two wings, though, so let's watch  the planes fly:

Here, the two planes , performing together as a pair. They are just beginning to separate, pulling away from each other. Now you can see why the plane on the right is called a bi-plane. 'Bi' means 'two' or 'divided into two'--and you can see why the plane gets that name.

Now, here's a challenge: with one camera and two planes moving away from each other, which do you follow?


Oh, my, he's fast!

Let's try to catch another picture:

Ugh! Missed him!

Wait. He's climbing higher. Maybe, if I wait, he'll come down--you know, closer:

Got 'em!

What's he doing now? He's turning. He's coming overhead. Quick, catch him in the camera lens. Quick!!

He's low, he's close--and he's past you in a JIF!

By the way, here's a tip: these planes are fast. The ones you will see below are faster. So when they come down at you like this, be careful. Don't lean back with your camera as they fly past overhead. You can fall over!

Okay, you can rest your neck--for now.

Let's look on the ground for a change, at some of the younger birds. You know, the kind that like to show off:

Here are some real show-offs. Why, they don't even wait to get up into the air!

The two birds in the back-left of the picture are just taking off. You can see that their wheels are just a couple of feet off the tarmac; and yes, they're show-offs.

Look at the smoke they are blowing off!

And they aren't the only show-offs. There's more. First, three:

Then, finally, four for some fantastic formal flying formations--really fun!

Flying down--

Flying up--


Flying straight up CLOSER:

Then--waaaay up and a loop-di-loop:

Can you figure out what they did in this picture? First down, then a sharp turn up, then--now--at the top, just before turning sharply down again!

Until, finally, a farewell--almost close enough to touch:

Bye, bye birdees.

Then, just as your neck stops hurting, you have to look higher up into the air for-------------------------

a nursing mommy!

When they get closer, you get a second look:

Next, a surprise, as in, 'Look, Ma, no hands!'

Can you tell what this is? It's a drone--an unmanned aircraft.

Pretty cool, eh?

Now, have you ever seen a bird poop while flying? Well, here's Big Bird. Is he really pooping?

Nope. Those are cargo boxes connected to parachutes. Are they Hummers?

No. Here's the Hummer:

Now, for the next two photos, you have to use your imagination. Imagine, if you will, you are a VERY BIG PLANE, like this:

Next, imagine that you have just unloaded that white Hummer vehicle above--and now, you've got to get airborne--pronto.

Got the picture?


Now imagine that you don't have much road in front of you to take off. What do you do?

Can you guess?

You back up!

Which is what this plane above did. By the way, when he did that, I didn't get a picture because I didn't understand what he was doing. But I could see that he was moving pretty fast for a mechanized hippopotamus--maybe 20 MPH backwards. He went back perhaps a hundred yards, paused, revved up and drove forward as fast as he could get his weight to move. In an instant--much faster than I had expected him to do--he did something extraordinary for his weight.

Can you guess?

That's one of his specialities: short take-off.

Well, I don't know what 'short' really means, but this beast didn't need much road at all before he literally LIFTED up off the ground.

Take it from me: when you watch a hippopotamus fly, that's impressive!

Now, cover your ears. You need to do that, because the police are about to show up--and let me tell you, these guys are not only fast, they are LOUD!

Look, here comes one now.


Now I realize that this is only a picture. But you can still see how low he is to the ground.

I want to tell you something about these jet-fighters: DID I TELL YOU THEY WERE LOUD?



Listen, when these guys fly by this close, they turn up the volume (they seem to be able to do that) and your ears don't hurt at all: they just go NUMB.

You whole body vibrates--ftrom the inside out.

Then, after multiple fly-overs, especially with multiple LOUD planes--

 you have only one half-deaf reaction:

                                          I WANT ONE OF THOSE!

But these guys weren't the LOUDEST or the FASTEST or the BADDEST guys we saw. That ear-splitting/ear-numbing/body-vibrating thrill was saved for last:

This is Israel's front-line, premier police officer. He's LOUD and then LOUDER and then LOUDER still. He can turn on a dime, literally, and fly straight up. Literally. He was so fast, this was the only picture I could get.

What a beauty. What a noise. What power. What a thrill!

                                            I WANT ONE FOR MY BIRTHDAY!

Actually, that's not true. My ears were so numb and my insides so vibrating, I couildn't think at all--all I could do was stare in complete, mind-boggling, ear-numbing awe.

It was my wife who said,

                                     I WANT ONE FOR MY BIRTHDAY!

So of course I told her I'd get her one.

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