30/05/2016
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Red-billed Teal in Israel - second for the Western Palearctic

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On 30 January 2015 a Red-billed Teal was discovered in the northern Arava Valley at Idan, Israel. It was well twitched by Israeli birders and disappeared after a few days. Then, in mid-November 2015, the same bird was relocated nearby at Hatzeva. It was seen intermittently throughout winter 2015/16 and was still present in the area to at least 6 May 2016.

The origins of this bird have attracted considerable debate. The presence of up to four Red-billed Teal × Mallard hybrids alongside the pure bird since its appearance in early 2015 suggested that it had already been present in the area — or at least in Israel — for some time, this suspicion seemingly reinforced by subsequent news that a Red-billed Teal had been seen at Ashalim, near Nizzana, in August 2013.

Red-billed Teal
Red-billed Teal (left) with hybrid offspring, Hatzeva sewage works, Israel, 5 March 2016 (Photo: Josh Jones)

The combination of a long stay and hybridisation with local Mallards instantly roused concern among some Israeli birders that this was not typical behaviour for an Afrotropical vagrant, and that the bird was therefore more likely an escape. Others were sceptical of this stance, noting the total lack of Red-billed Teals kept in captivity in Israel (and seemingly neighbouring countries) for at least the past decade. While Red-billed Teal were absent, species such as White-cheeked Pintail were found to be reasonably common in collections around Israel.

A more in-depth article, considering the wild-or-escape debate, can be found here. In addition I wrote a blog post, summarising my own thoughts on the bird and its credentials, which can be read here.

In April 2016 the Israeli Rarities and Distribution Committee (IRDC) announced that the Arava Valley Red-billed Teal had been accepted as a wild bird, thus constituting the second record for Israel and the Western Palearctic following a bird at Ma'agan Michael fishponds from 20 June — 12 July 1958.


Red-billed Teal, Hatzeva sewage works, Israel, 5 March 2016 (Photos: Josh Jones)

Because of its long stay and relatively remote location, the Red-billed Teal is reported only occasionally. However, it is quite predictable and long periods between reports should not deter any prospective twitchers from searching for it. It has remained very site-faithful since its discovery in early 2015 and has been seen at just three small freshwater localities in the Idan and Hatzeva area, and anyone wanting to see these bird should focus their efforts on these until the bird is found.

Site 1: Idan sewage works

GPS: 30.8035, 35.3109

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Site 2: Hatzeva sewage works

GPS: 30.7668, 35.2888

Site 3: Hatzeva Field School

GPS: 30.7800, 35.2447

Spring 2016 witnessed high rainfall in the Arava Valley and this resulted in temporary natural floods in the desert. It is suspected that the teal may also favour a flood at 30.8258, 35.3323 at such times; for example, there was no sign of the bird at its favoured locations on 6 May 2016 until it arrived at Idan sewage works in the evening. Subsequent checking of the aforementioned flood found good numbers of Mallard and Teal there and it seems logical that the Red-billed Teal may also have visited.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Richard Bonser, who created the maps of the teal's favoured locations, and to Pierre-André Crochet for up-to-date information on the bird's chosen sites. It is also well worth mentioning that this bird is unlikely to have been accepted were it not for the tireless efforts of Amir Ben Dov, who invested large amounts of time in researching the species both in the wild and in captivity.