Little Brown Jobs? Not Sylvia.
Western Palaearctic warblers are terrible birds: Acrocephalus warblers are brown-grey; Hippolais warblers are olive-grey; Phylloscopus warblers are greenish-grey; and Locustellas are just brown. They are a true nightmare for identification, even in the hand. They hybridize and mix. And they just look so boring! If you find some streaks or a wingbar on a bird it means you’re one lucky birder.
The only exception to this is a branch of the genus Sylvia, breeding around the Mediterranean basin. The females stick to the tradition of being LBJ’s, but the males sport bright head and breast patterns, and you can actually place them in the good-looking bird category. Most of these species breed over small ranges, in underwatched regions, and are often extreme skulkers, so getting good views of them in the field is a rewarding experience.
The sylvias breeding around the eastern Mediterranean basin perform short or medium-distance migration. Eastern Subalpine and Rueppell’s breed in SE Europe and Turkey, and winter in NE Africa. Cyprus Warbler breeds obviously in Cyprus and winters in S Israel and Sinai. Spectacled Warbler and Sardinian Warbler are either resident or perfom short winter movements. In early spring, they all funnel through Israel on their way north to their breeding grounds. They are most easily seen in the desert regions of southern Israel. They are found mainly in lush wadis that received some rainfall or experienced a flash flood or two during winter. Some of these wadis have rich plant communities, and one of the most dominant bushes is Taily Weed Ochradenus baccatus. This bush blooms and produces fruit almost year round, and its fruit are exceptionally rich in fat, which makes them favorite food for migrants trying to fatten up for migration. In return, birds are important vectors in seed dispersal of this bush.
A visit to one of the desert wadis these days can be very enjoyable. Sylvias are among the most dominant migrants in this time of year, and seeing tens of these beautiful, charismatic birds in one morning is a real treat.
Top Photo: Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Israel, March 2007. Yoav Perlman