Israel 2012

...with Mark Finn

March 24th - April 1st

This was our first spring trip to southern Israel for a few years and it again proved to be a very productive one for the visible migration of birds. Local birding sources put the sheer numbers of birds at its highest for almost twenty years. Highlights in and around Eilat included Brown Booby, Sand Partridge, Striated Heron, Pallid Harrier, Greater Spotted and Steppe Eagles, Red-necked Phalarope, White-eyed Gull, four species of Sandgrouse, Masked Shrike, Greater Hoopoe and Bimaculated Larks, huge falls of passerines, Ruppell’s, Eastern Olivaceous, Upcher’s and Eastern Orphean Warblers, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Bluethroat, Hooded, Pied and Cyprus Wheatears, Citrine Wagtail, Cretzschmar’s, Cinereous and Ortolan Buntings and Sinai Rosefinches. Further north in the Negev Desert we enjoyed close views of five Macqueen’s Bustards and Black-bellied Sandgrouse. The reserve of Ein Habasor was remarkable for thousands of migrant White Storks, Lesser Spotted Eagles and nearby breeding Barn and Long-eared Owls.

Our next scheduled tours to Israel are in March 2013 covering the south and later in the year to the Hula Valley and north (this also includes 5 days in the south).

March 24th: Heathrow, Tel Aviv, Eilat.

After checking in with British Airways at Heathrow we set off in a south-easterly direction to Tel Aviv in Israel. On arrival the airport was busy for a Saturday which resulted in delays at passport control. Picked up the rental vehicle with the car park providing a few birds including Spur-winged Lapwing, White-throated Kingfisher, Common Myna, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Hooded Crow and calling Rose-ringed Parakeets. The journey south went smoothly and we stopped at Yotvata for a snack before eventually reaching the resort of Eilat.

March 25th: Eilat, Central Park, Eilat Birdwatching Centre (EBWC), Amran’s Pillars, Eilat Sewage Pools, North Date Palm Plantation, North Beach.

Weather: Warm and sunny with light north-east wind

At 0700 hours we set off for a brief pre-breakfast walk into Central Park, where a male Sardinian Warbler was outside the main entrance. On returning to the park at 0800 hours we quickly located Laughing Dove, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Spanish Sparrow and Common Chiffchaff. A check of the upper area produced a single Common Quail, Eurasian Wryneck, Bluethroat, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler and Black-headed Wagtail. On the lower grassy areas we located good numbers of Tree, Red-throated and Tawny Pipits, Western Yellow Wagtail of the form flava, White Wagtail, Cretzschmar’s and Ortolan Buntings, Eastern Stonechat, Masked Shrike, Northern Wheatear and a lone Greater Short-toed Lark. A short diversion towards the North Beach canal area added Little Egret, Grey Heron and Greenshank. Just before EBWC a stop near a palm plantation revealed a northbound passage of raptors including Steppe Buzzard, Steppe Eagle, Eurasian Kestrel and a Western Marsh Harrier. At EBWC we embarked on a short walk around the reserve which was the former rubbish dump for Eilat. On the first lagoon we located Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls, Red-necked Phalarope, Common Redshank, Little and Temminck’s Stints, Dunlin and Greater Flamingo. In the extensive scrub we could hear Graceful Prinias whilst the open water attracted Little Grebe. In the reed edge plenty of Bluethroats and a Sedge Warbler which was feeding up on insects. Our next stop was the picturesque mountain gorge which leads to Amran’s Pillars. En route we found a Lesser Whitethroat feeding in a bush. At the end of the road we parked up and waited for birds to appear. After a short time a Desert Lark showed well and a White-tailed Wheatear performed in front of us. A pair of Sand Partridge flew overhead calling and landed on the arid hillside before disappearing from view (they appeared a few minutes later in the car park). Just as we were leaving two Sinai Rosefinches appeared and started feeding on the valley floor – a real bonus. The return to Route 90 was largely uneventful apart from a female Common Whitethroat. Next up were the sewage pools. By the main gate a fine male Citrine Wagtail and a Woodchat Shrike. By the pools the extensive cattle pens attracted Little Ringed and Common Ringed Plovers, European Turtle Dove and high numbers of Eurasian Collared Doves. A quick look into the lagoons produced a White Stork, Great Cormorants, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal and Common Coot. The date plantations were next on the agenda a very attractive area for migrants. A surprise find was three Squacco Herons, Black-eared Wheatear, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Common Redstart (both races) and a Blackcap. Time was getting on as we arrived at the North Beach. Offshore a Brown Booby was perched on a buoy and other highlights included White-eyed Gulls, Common Tern, Pied and Common Kingfishers and a Striated Heron feeding along the canal mouth. The light had started to go as we headed back to base.

March 26th: Eilat, Central Park, Yotvata Oasis, North Fields and Palm Plantation, Eilat Sewage Pools.

Weather: Warm and sunny with light northeast winds, 32 C

At 0630 hours we met up and visited Central Park. Overhead there was a marked passage of Barn Swallows, House Martins and Common Swifts and smaller numbers of Red-rumped Swallows and Pallid Swifts. The birds within the garden were similar to the previous morning. Returned for breakfast and then headed north towards Yotvata where we filled up with fuel and purchased sandwiches for lunch. Behind the complex we started birding the extensive acacia scrub although much of it is now degraded. The tall palms attracted Tristram’s Starlings and ever-present Lesser Whitethroats. A walk among the stands of acacia provided us with views of Arabian Babbler, Blackstart, Graceful Prinia, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler and samamisicus Common Redstart. Overhead visible migration of birds included around 1000 White Storks, Black Storks, Steppe and Long-legged Buzzards, Greater Spotted, Steppe and Booted Eagles, Black Kite, Rock and Eurasian Crag Martins. Near the Jordanian border we finally caught up with a female Cyprus Wheatear and a smart Palestine Sunbird. It was starting to get hot as we approached the extensive fields north of the service station. On arrival we quickly located flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks and a party of Bimaculated Larks. A walk through the harvested cereal fields produced dozens of Western Yellow and Black-headed Wagtails, Black-eared, Isabelline and Northern Wheatears, Red-throated Pipits and a single Corn Bunting. By the water sprinkler a Eurasian Thick-knee was seen. Beyond Kibbutz Lotan we visited another area of fields close to the border where we found a Pied Wheatear and Green Bee-eaters plus some commoner migrants. A stop at another plantation added lots of Blackcaps and a single Blue Rock Thrush. At the end of the day we visited Eilat Sewage Lagoons with similar birds to yesterday plus an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler.

March 27th: Eilat, Central Park, Shizzafon, Neot Shadat, Ovda Valley.

Weather: Sunny with a strengthening northwest wind 24 C

We started the day with another visit to Central Park. It was obvious that a major clear out of birds had occurred overnight, although there were more Eurasian Wrynecks and Common Quail. A bonus came just before breakfast when an Upcher’s Warbler showed well in an acacia tree. At 0800 hours we set off in a northerly direction to visit Shizzafon a small reserve on the road to Mizpe Ramon. On arrival the first pool held Spur-winged Lapwing, Little Stint, Ruff, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Black-headed, Western Yellow and White Wagtails and two Blackstarts. On the drier area which is landscaped with flowers and surrounded by a wire fence birds were in abundance. The fence was attractive to a male Hooded Wheatear, Black-eared, Northern and Pied Wheatears. The moist areas held a Grey Wagtail, Bluethroat, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common and Lesser Whitethroats and Eastern Stonechats. Next on the agenda was the kibbutz at Neot Shadat where the orchards and fields are attractive to birds. In among the goat herd there was a single Cattle Egret. A walk around the kibbutz was largely uneventful apart from Steppe and Long-legged Buzzards, Blue Rock Thrush and a Sardinian Warbler. It was time to visit the Ovda Valley an extensive area of desert dotted with seed-bearing shrubs. I parked up and started the walk through the desert habitats in search of birds. Birding was slow to start with until a large flock of Greater Short-toed Larks were found feeding quietly on the ground. A male Woodchat Shrike was located and shortly afterwards a party of Spotted Sandgrouse. Lunch was taken further up the road when a party of Trumpeter Finches flew in to feed on some seed heads. In the distance a male Montagu’s Harrier was noted and high overhead calling Common Cranes. Travelled to the end of the road where we observed a female Hooded Wheatear and a White-tailed Wheatear. Retraced our steps to Shizzafon where the same birds were present and an addition in the form of a Common Snipe.

March 28th: Eilat, Holland Park, Salar, Kibbutz Lotan, Yotvata North Fields, Km20 Saltpans, Eilat SP.

Weather: Sunny with a freshening west wind 27 C

Today we started with a visit to Holland Park on the northern edge of Eilat. The park has stands of acacia trees and shrubs within a very arid area. Common migrants were present in reasonable numbers plus a pair of Sand Partridge which crossed in front of us and up a steep slope. Back for breakfast and then a visit to the kibbutz at Salar. The grounds here held a group of Black-crowned Night Herons and a male Palestine Sunbird. Picked up supplies for lunch at Yotvata and proceeded to Kibbutz Lotan, another great place for birds. The lawns here attracted Red-throated Pipit, Northern and Black-eared Wheatears. The sewage settling beds attracted a host of birds including Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Citrine, Black-headed and White Wagtails, Tawny, Tree and Water Pipits, Eastern Stonechat and many Lesser Whitethroats and Bluethroats. A short diversion was made to a marshy area with a pool and hide. Mature trees attracted European Turtle Dove, Eastern Olivaceous and Upcher’s Warblers. Next on the agenda was the goat farm where the animal feed and straw attracts birds. We made two visits to this interesting area recording Ortolan, Cretzchmar’s and a beautiful Cinereous Bunting. I decided we should revisit the fields north of Yotvata which proved to be a success as Bimaculated Lark, Common Crane, Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers and a Barbary Falcon all put in an appearance. Back down the road towards Eilat and a visit to the saltpans and lagoons at kilometre 20. This was productive for Greater Flamingo, Common Shelduck, Slender-billed Gulls, White Stork, Kentish and Ringed Plovers, Ruff, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and Garganey. The day ended at Eilat Sewage Lagoons with similar birds to our previous visit. At 1820 hours in very poor light a pair of Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse came into drink.

March 29th: Eilat North Beach, Eilat Mountains, North Date Palms, Km20 Saltpans, Doum Palms, Yotvata North Fields.

Weather: Sunny with light northeast winds 26 C.

This morning we started our day with a visit to the North Beach. Two Brown Boobies were sitting on a buoy offshore whilst the beach attracted a Greater Sandplover, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper. The commoner migrants were present in the acacia scrub and along the canal. After breakfast we headed north along route 12 and stopped near the summit to witness the northbound raptor migration from Sinai. Careful scanning of the clear blue skies produced healthy numbers of Steppe Buzzard, Steppe Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Common and Alpine Swifts and a male Blue Rock Thrush which perched in a pylon. The visible migration was over by 1000 hours so we headed to the North Date Palms in search of birds. Within the palms we located Eurasian Wryneck, Northern and Black-eared Wheatears, Red-throated and Tree Pipits, Woodchat and Masked Shrikes, Semi-collared Flycatchers, Eastern Olivaceous and Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers, Eurasian Hoopoes and at least three Squacco Herons. A return visit to the KM 20 saltpans was in order to catch up on any new birds using the site. Similar species to yesterdays visit with the addition of Caspian and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single Pied Avocet. Doum Palms is nearby where I planned to have lunch. After lunch I located a Hoopoe Lark. The stunted bushes and acacia bushes attracted Lesser Whitethroat, Tawny Pipit and a male Palestine Sunbird. A final visit to Yotvata North Fields added a female Pallid Harrier, Eurasian Marsh Harriers, Eastern Stonechat, Common Quail and a flock of European Greenfinches. The weather started to worsen with sandstorms and light rain showers as we travelled back to Eilat for our last night in the south. A short visit to the North Beach allowed us to witness a party of Black-crowned Night Herons struggling against the elements. Common Kingfisher seen near the bridge before going back to our hotel.

March 30th: Eilat, Holland Park, Ovda Valley, Ben Gurion, Urim, Gvulot.

Weather: Sunny with a cool northwest wind 22 C.

We started the day with a visit to Holland Park on the outskirts of Eilat. The sandstorm of the previous day had forced a few birds down as the numbers of passerines and hirundines had increased. A short walk into the park added Eastern Orphean Warbler and a male Ruppell’s Warbler and several Red-rumped Swallows. A covey of Sand Partridges was also noted scurrying up a rocky slope. We checked out of the hotel and started the journey north to Mizpe Ramon via the Ovda Valley. On arriving in the valley our first walk produced a mixed flock of Calandra and Greater Short-toed Larks and a Brown-necked Raven. Further down the valley we stopped again and scanned the desert with a group of sandgrouse in the distance. We walked towards the birds which were Spotted Sandgrouse feeding quietly on the ground. A group of Israeli birders joined us for the next hour with sightings of Crowned Sandgrouse and a large party of larks which were attacked by a Barbary Falcon. Next on the agenda was a visit to Ben Gurion’s resting place. A walk around the gardens here had several Blackstarts and our first Eurasian Blackbirds of the tour. At Urim a Great Spotted Cuckoo was seen chasing Hooded Crows a favoured host species in the area. The vast cereal fields held few birds compared to the winter months with the exception of a pair of Chukar and a party of migrant Ortolan Buntings. On arrival at Gvulot the local rubbish dump added Black Kite, White Stork and six Eurasian Hoopoes in a dead tree. The grounds at Gvulot had a roosting Long-eared Owl. Before going to dinner a hunting Barn Owl was observed and after dinner the distinctive calls of Egyptian Nightjar.

March 31st: Nizzana, Lake Yeroham, Ein Habasor, Gvulot.

Weather: Sunny with a west wind 20 C.

An early departure this morning to Nizzana on the border with Egypt. In the kibbutz grounds the distinctive call of Long-eared Owls and their young. Before reaching Road 40 a European Nightjar was flushed from the road. As we arrived at Nizzana the weather was bitterly cold with a west wind. Careful scanning across the desert habitats revealed a pair of Cream-coloured Coursers, Chukar, Eurasian Hoopoe, Isabelline Wheatear and Brown-necked Raven. Further up the road our main target species was found the rare and declining Macqueen’s Bustard, five birds were seen with one male in display. Nearby thousands of White Storks wandered through the desert picking up food before continuing their northward migration. Nizzana water treatment lagoons were next on the agenda. The pools and muddy edges attracted Little Grebe, Mallard, Common Redshank, Little Stint, Marsh and Green Sandpipers, Ringed Plover, White Wagtail, Tawny Pipit and three Black-bellied Sandgrouse coming down to drink. Around the pools a hunting Barbary Falcon and a Southern Grey Shrike sitting on top of a bush. Before too long it was time to move on and visit the area around the ruined fortress. A Little Owl was found sitting on top of a rock near the car park. A walk in the area produced Eurasian Thick-knee, Woodchat Shrike, Sardinian Warbler, Arabian Babbler and Desert Lark. In the afternoon a visit to Lake Yeroham which has a range of habitats including open water fringed by scrub and reeds. A marshy area attracted Little Egret, Purple Heron, Mallard, Eurasian Teal, Common Moorhen and Common Coot. Scrubby areas and dead reeds held the commoner migrants and brief views of a Common Nightingale. Our last stop was Ein Habasor a long, thin strip of reeds and water in an arid area. Great Spotted Cuckoo was easy to see here. In the reedbeds a singing Clamorous Reed Warbler, and views of a European Reed Warbler. Overhead impressive numbers of birds including White Stork, Black Kite and Lesser Spotted Eagle. Before leaving the area a Common Cuckoo was noted plus European Goldfinch and Syrian Woodpecker in Gvulot.

April 1st: Gvulot, Ein Habasor, Tel Aviv, London.

Final species total: 168.

Weather: Sunny with a northwest wind 24 C.

Our last full day in Israel started with a walk around the kibbutz grounds. In the older trees we obtained close views of Syrian Woodpeckers and Palestine Sunbirds. At 0900 we left for Ein Habasor and slowly drove alongside the gorge. White Storks were in evidence plus good numbers of Black Kite, Lesser Spotted Eagle and a bonus bird in the form of a male Northern Goshawk. At the dam we turned towards a large agricultural area used for growing vegetables and flowers. Joined the main road towards Tel Aviv and then north to the airport. Our final bird was a party of Eurasian Jackdaws feeding on the roundabout near the car rental pound. Checked in with British Airways and landed on time just under five hours later where the tour concluded.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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