A rare week

Noam Weiss & Rea Shaish 07/03/2018 00:00







Since my last post was sealed and submitted, scarce and rare birds kept showing up in a frightening tempo!

First in line came a Black bush Robin. Although not a MEGA any longer, this dark princess is a heart throb initiator of a major caliber. Anton found this lovely and peaceful individual at the backside of Club-Inn hotel, AKA "Bushes of Liebzie".



Dark princess BBR    Photo: Shimon Shiff


Night life of Eilat is known to be an attraction for many. During the last week, Egyptian Nightjars were recorded in good numbers in the southern Arava - 2-3 at Yotvata's fields, and up to 4 together at Eilot's fields. A breeding population of this species was recently described in the Dead-Sea area. It would be very interesting to find out whether the birds seen each year during early spring in the Arava are somehow related to the breeding population.




Egyptian Nightjar  - Yotvata's fields      Photo: Rei Segali


On the 2nd of March, Shachar Shalev and Anton Liebermann had a special moment at the bird sanctuary. Hence a quote of Shachar's recap of their observation:


"Pacific Swift over the IBRCE! At this time of year there is a constant flow of Swifts over Eilat and the Arava which are superficially monitored at best. So many Common and Pallid Swifts pass through, we just have no way of checking each one individually. Last year I tried to check as many as I possibly could and didn't find anything of interest. This year I was back to the automatic check a few birds to get an idea of the ratio of Pallid to Common Swifts and maybe pick up the odd Little Swift. Today was a slow day ringing, many retraps, nothing of interest and we were walking back from a net round of only 5 birds.


The Steppe Eagles were starting to pass over so we were scanning the skies and I happened on a small number of Swifts coming low over Anita Lake. It was a complete shock when the first bird I checked had a clean white rump (and bears no similarity to a Little Swift whatsoever). "Holy crap! White-rumped Swift!" I yelled at Anton who was all of 1 meter away. I wasn't referring to the species but to the fact that the swift had a white rump. He was on it in a second as the bird weaved its way towards us. Quite a few expletives came out, partly because we didn't have our cameras on us but mainly because it was a stunning bird and it passed so low and close to us you could see every feather.


We were also lucky to get plenty of time on the swift which weaved around for around 60 seconds before continuing north. The most obvious feature of the bird was the broad white rump which was very clearly defined and easily visible as the bird turned and from a side view. As the bird came right towards us a Pallid Swift passed beside him giving an excellent chance to see the differences.

The Pacific Swift is really dark, blacker than a Common Swift and obviously nothing like a Pallid Swift. It was clearly bigger than the Pallid Swift, its wings were longer and more pointed and the tail was deeply forked. The barring on the belly was only visible when it came over us and wasn't as distinct as some other Pacific Swifts but clearly something you won't see on a Common Swift. The white throat patch was wide like a Pallid Swift but better defined. In general the bird looked in excellent condition without any blemishs or patches. Its size and color quickly ruled out White-rumped Swift and I had the RBA out very quickly after it disappeared. We were both very sure of the ID but we did go over all the possibilities just to be certain. So much adrenaline in such a short time!

After ringing we went north to look for swifts. We didn't find the bird but we did learn something. At Yotvata we saw hundreds of Swifts passing over and soon found five Little Swifts....the first we have seen this spring, so we are obviously missing them with the quick scans. Keep an eye on those swifts, one day it will pay off!"




Steppe by Steppe...      Photo: Rei Segali


The Raptor survey team, although having some good Steppe Eagle days, couldn't enjoy some of the Rare birds (the untwichable ones…). To even the field, on the  4th, Gaidis Grandans was lucky enough to spot a Lesser Flamingo among the hundreds of Greater Flamingos! This would be the 3rd national record! At last, a very sedentary and easy to relocate.

Sure enough, everyone saw it well as it is still at the same pool while I'm writing these words.


The last two records of Lesser Flamingoes were of shiny adult birds that over stayed for long periods, giving room to the claim that their origin was not completely natural or even that both records are of the same returning bird. This time the Flamingo is not an adult so they are probably natural after all, coming all the way from East Africa, with their bigger "brothers", the Great Flamingoes.



Lesser Flamingo - 3rd for Israel       Photo: Frank Moffatt


What's still to come? We can only hope and imagine…but I can guarantee we will do our best to make all you twitchers drive down south at the dead of night ;-)








So it's on again… Spring




So it's on again. Excitement of fresh arrivals of migrants washes our hearts every time we welcome new species of birds in the bird sanctuary, and now it's on a daily base.

The Steppe Eagles are back to roam Eilat's skies, House Martins, Barn Swallows, Pallid and Common Swifts are everywhere. It's all expected, and yes, we have seen it all before, but it's a magical moment to just listen to the new rustling in the scrub and the murmur between the high branches of the trees, and know, It's all coming back - migration.




Cyprus Warbler - male.      Photo: Yoav Perlman


I try to share my excitement with the school kids who often come to hear bird tales at the bird sanctuary or just a family that got lost and ended up here, and they grasp it - These tiny sophisticated cute creatures are also the bravest of all living beings, leaving their safe homes through deserts, dangers and famine, just to be somewhere better, somewhere new. Each one of these ticking and tacking warblers, is on an impossible private mission, heaped with optimism and hope, we can only admire.

And our new staff members, our volunteers' team is landing one by one, getting to know our small heaven of Eilat, through us birder's special binoculared spectacles (ZEISS Preferably, Victory 10X42 in my case) - the diversity of birds. I could feel their enthusiasm already through their last Emails, and now here, overwhelmed by the beauty and melody of a Sunbird, their eyes spark the excitement of migration and something big and new, that is on the way.


I'll do my best to keep you updated with what is happening here. The Raptor survey already works hard and today got to count hundreds of Steppe Buzzards and the Ringing station began the daily monitoring of the physical condition of the migrants on Thursday.

Please follow our Raptor survey on Trektellen at:



And visit our ringing station at the bird sanctuary.

Noam Weiss




Long-toed Stint - 3rd for Israel         Photo: Anton Lebermann


A fruitful first two weeks of the season had passed, and we can count some sweet early highlights!

First of all, a LONG TOED STINT, 3rd Israeli record was found at the canal just out of the bird sanctuary ( told you this place is going to provide!) by our monitoring team (Franz Wenzl, Anton Liebermann and yours truly). Unfortunately, the Stint was seen for several minutes and disappeared, and wasn’t found subsequently. These are the only photos, taken by Anton.




Long-toed Stint 25.2.18 IBRCE    Photo: Anton Liebermann


Such a find might overshadow the rest of the birds, but things are feeling very solid even without this mega rarity. Good numbers of Sylvia warblers are all around, including many Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Sardinian warblers, some Ruppell's and Spectacled Warblers, and good numbers of Cyprus Warblers (up to 5 together is some locations).


At the ringing station numbers are going up, with daily average of 70 birds. Last week we had the first foreign control - A Lesser Whitethroat carrying a Dutch ring! This bird was ringed as an adult, on the 2.6.2014. The ringing site is Lauwersoog, North West of Groningen, 3527 KM away from Eilat.


Other good early spring migrants seen around include many Balkan Warblers, Reed&Sedge Warblers, Woodchat Shrikes, Black Eared & Isabelline Wheatears, a single Bimaculated Lark, and some Short-Toed Larks.

Last but not least- the Crakes are here and showing well! Many Little Crakes and 2 Baillon's Crakes are present at Anita lake's lush reed bed. These mysterious and beautifully painted creatures are some of my all-time favorites!


I'm anxious what tomorrow will bring!






The great desert survey






Desert Survey - Feb 2018   photo - Hila Shwartz


We have just implemented one of the most incredible birding projects - the great desert survey. It was great in many special ways. We have monitored a region that was never surveyed and arrived in sites that were never observed by birders before.

We have done so with 25 teams of more than 60 volunteers who came from all over the country (and the world), proving the cynics that we have a vibrant birders community that will go far for nature conservation.

We have conducted it with full partnership with the National Parks Authority that brought its rangers, jeeps and knowledge of the area, Itai Shani from the regional council's environmental unit who was on the planning and precise implementation and the Ornithological Center that was on the GIS and reporting system.



Left - super supper in the desert   right - Scaning for the desert residents  photos - Eran Hyams


But what made it truly magnificent, was the desert.

I live here for quite many years now. I dream the desert in my sleep and wake up with it every morning. Blackstarts are my garden birds and the Sooty Falcons fill my summer skies with action.

As an extreme habitat it's also very interesting. In some rainy years (30mm of rain per year is a really wet one), the biological carrying capacities (the mass of life it can sustain) are high and in some years it's very low, and only the really tough ones - the White crowned and Hooded Wheatears, remain.


The birds, just like some humans, adapt to it by nomadism, placing themselves in the optimal spot in the desert to survive or even to grow a new generation, even if it means staying somewhere else every year. You sometimes need to be an opportunist to survive here. So each time, I and the birds I observe, get to see it from a different angel and in new sites.

Not so long ago, Temminck's and Thick-billed Larks were extremely rare. Hoopoe Larks were on the verge of extinction and a Spotted or Crowned Sandgrouse was almost unheard of. With the rain it all resurfaced after years of absence, but in different locations and patterns from year to year.



Hoopoe chase!    photo - Frank Moffatt


Our goal this time was to map these sites where the nomad birds roam, and we will do so for the next few years. The desert is threatened by development plans and we must be ready with valid data to protect the places where the birds stay.


The birders smiles coming out of the field, following a dusty adventurous day, was impossible to erase for some time. Their Facebook pages filled with virgin landscapes, insects and rare plants, Wolfs, Onagers, and Gazelles passed only a fringe of the excitement. It was awesome.


We got some really valuable data too. No less than 18 Hoopoe Larks were recorded - most of them were singing males in new locations in the Arava valley and high up the wadis in the southern Negev. Our distribution map of this species has changed dramatically. Thick-Billed Larks were found gathering in 3 sites we didn't know of, Temminck's Larks were recorded in hundreds and Macqueen Bustards apparently roam the higher plains along the Egyptian border.



Birders in the desert - see you next year...


But the real jewels were the common birds that we finally got to systematically monitor - Scrub and Spectacled Warblers, Mourning and Hooded Wheatears, Bar-tailed Larks and even Southern Grey Shrikes that our knowledge of their abundancy was very limited.


I hope we can reward the desert's beauty we experienced with protecting it. Now we have the tools to do so.

Thank you to all our partners and volunteers. You are beautiful people. We did something important together.

Let's make it a habit.


or a Rabbit...    photo - Jonathan Ben Simon



The Secret Garden of Birding




Birds are fabulous and we birders know it very well. They are beautiful, painted gray and white or with a rainbow of colors, matched together through centuries of evolution. They are amazingly capable of migrating immense distances or surviving the harshest habitats. They are irrationally optimist, leaving their homes for the first time to an unknown destination, through challenge and danger with determination no man has. They are funny, cute and diverse, and keep surprising us wherever we watch.


For many of us, birding is therapeutic. Connecting us to something we need to be attached to - our surroundings, nature and ourselves, even if it makes no practical sense sometimes. It's our secret garden, where our running minds are turned off and love and compassion grows. This is probably why we are so eager to protect it - it's precious.


Our job at Eilat's birds sanctuary is to protect the birds at the bottleneck of their flyway, where Steppe Eagles alongside with Willow Warblers use the only land bridge connecting Eurasia with Africa, and where they can safely stop-over and feed following the challenging crossing of the foodless Sahara desert.

We maintain habitats and study the bird's needs during their migration,  advocate and make environmental campaigns, educate and create a birds loving community who supports us now and when the day comes.




Our secret tool is the key to the secret garden.  We can tell the bird's epic stories of migration or describe their wisdom and beauty but that won't get you in. When the ZEISS team offered their support to the International Birding and Research Center in Eilat, we were thrilled to get the fantastic Victory SF for our guides and the Gavia telescopes for our monitoring team.

But what we really wanted were the ZEISS Terra binoculars. Relatively cheap but of great quality, it makes for the first timer the difference between a tale and reality; they are wowed. For me, ZEISS Terra is the key to share the secret garden. When I hand them to the visitors at the bird sanctuary I know, they are changed. They will never forget the bright sight of a hovering Pied Kingfisher or the deep blue face of the Little Green Bee-eater. "Did you notice the beautiful green eyes of a Cormorant?" they ask, and I know, what you see is what you love, and what you admire is what you will fight to protect.


Thank you ZEISS team - you made a difference!





Roses in the desert




When I began birding, as a young boy, I used to browse through my birds guide, an old and somewhat ran down Heinzel, Pitter & Parslow for hours. Acquainted mostly with the yard birds, some species appeared nothing less than mythical on the book pages. The Sinai Rosefinch was one of those which sparked my imagination.

A few years later, my first encounter with the pink desert fairies, at a remote fountain deep in the Judean desert was magical. Since then I have seen them many times, in several locations, but always in the same mysterious context - appearing out of the mountains, landing for a brief drink of water and vanishing back into the vastness of the mountains.



Very little is known about their life and populations in Israel, and in the Eilat region particularly in recent years. Traditionally they are seen in specific drinking locations, but their foraging and breeding grounds, as well as the true population size are vague. Hadoram Shirihai, in his 1996 Birds of Israel, describes seasonal movement of the majority of the population between breeding grounds at high elevation to lower wintering areas. During the 80’s some flocks of up to 45 birds were recorded on the edges of the southern Arava valley. However, since the 90’s there were no records of more than 20 birds together in this area.


The habitat choice of this extreme desert dwellers makes them even more enigmatic and prestigious - nesting is held in remote and craggy high desert mountains, dependent on permanent drinking water source. Winter is spent in desert wadis and plateaus, usually around Acacia trees and Ochradenus baccatus bushes.

Currently, it seems something has changed - throughout this winter big numbers of Sinai Rosefinches are present in their traditional locations - up to 35 ind. at Amram pillars, 10-15 at wadi Netafim, and big numbers also in Timna Park (at least 35 birds at a single spot).

Adi Gantz even reported a frock of 45 in wadi Botem, high up in the Eilat mountains.  



Are these big flocks a sign of the local population’s growth or just a normal fluctuation? Honestly, I can’t say. Anyway, it’s an experience not to be missed!


Other than that, the birding around here is slow but very solid! The desert is still packed with goodies like 50 Temminck’s larks and 35 Bar-tailed Larks at Ovda, several Hoopoe Larks in different locations, and numerous Asian desert Warblers. All of the rare Wheatears (Red-rumped, Basalt and Kurdish) are showing well too.



left - Common Rosefinch   right - Siberian Chiffchaf


Yotvata’s fields provide a good afternoon’s worth of birding, with a Steppe Grey Shrike, many Desert Wheatears, a few Lesser short toed Larks and a single Oriental skylark.

At the bird sanctuary a good variety of winter visitors like Olive-backed Pipit, Common Rosefinch, Siberian Chiffchaff and others are seen daily alongside with the vanguard of spring migrants - Pallid Swifts, Barn Swallows, House Martins and a few splendid Mustached Warblers.

Our first volunteer of the season, Franz, arrived a few day ago, and we are anticipating the arrival of the rest of the team.








Black Coffee, White Front




Winter at the bird sanctuary - no ringing, mornings are cold (15°C), birding is kind of slow. In this non dramatic environment little rituals are created to maintain the daily routines - writing programs and proposals, habitat maintenance and management, planning new exciting things for the next seasons and so on.


The day's first cup of coffee is, by far, my favorite ritual. I drink it black, hot, with a pinch of sugar. Yesterday though,  my coffee ceremony was brutally interrupted.

The annual wintering Greater Cormorant count was conducted from early morning by Noam. He asked me to help him by counting the Cormorants at Anita's lake, while he start the "real" survey at the north beach. I can't say I was over thrilled to say the least, especially as my boiling mug was just about at the right temperature. Nevertheless I braved out of the ringing station towards the lake.


Initially, I considered not taking my bins - I could have easily counted 13 cormorants from 25 meters with the naked eye. Eventually I did end up taking it with me, not sure why - perhaps it was the notion of the Great Bittern that has been eluding me since November…  or maybe just my basic birding instinct.


At the lake, me to myself:

Me: one Cormorant, two Cormorants…9 Cormorants…wait, what is swimming in the back?

Self: Lesser white-fronted Goose.

Me: oh…


Me: wait, what!?!?

Self: wasn't I clear? Look at the white front, tiny pink bill, a complete orange orbital ring, and its size. Now get yourself together and call Ohad and Noam before it buggers off!




Lesser White-fronted Goose - Lake Anita 3.1.18

Photo: Noam Weiss


Two minutes later Ohad joined me to enjoy the goose, swimming around, feeding on reed leafs and generally acting calmly, A lifer for me and an extreme rarity (10th national record). I was overwhelmed, but I felt something was missing…my coffee!

I went back to the ringing station, had a warm-ish coffee gulp, and headed out, just to meet Ohad with the news that the bird just flew away. Oh well, back to writing autumn 2017 ringing summary.


This is a 2nd cy bird, with an incomplete white blaze and almost no dark belly patches. Geese are generally rare in Israel. Greater white-fronted Geese are scarce but regular winter visitors, Greylags are very rare and irregular, Bean Goose is a vagrant with 4-5 records. Quite amazingly, I have seen all of them around dry Eilat. The Lesser White-fronted Goose is listed as vulnerable and decreasing by BirdLife International.




Lesser White-fronted Goose in Eilat - 10th for Israel - Januar 2018

Photo: Noam Weiss


So things are not really as slow as you may think. End of December and the beginning of January are the slowest days of the year, with virtually no migration, but still some good birds are seen around - a Brown Booby at the north beach (sadly, tangled with some fishing wires), an occasional Syrian Serin or two at the bird sanctuary, a breeding plumage White-winged black Tern at KM20 Flamingo ponds.

The desert is as good as ever before, with all the rare Wheatears (Basalt, Red-rumped and Kurdish) still showing well, abnormal numbers of Asian desert Warblers, Sinai Rosefinches in several locations and so on.

We are still waiting for a winter storm that will bring the first rain to the southern Arava, though spring is just around the corner - last week the first House Martin flew north overhead!









See you in Eilat


Spring is just around the corner















Little Green Bee-eater. Photo - Shlomi Bachar


Eilat - birders HOTSPOT

land marks