This is the week of the Eilat Bird Festival and the teams for the Champions of the Flyway are covering every centimetre of Eilat and the Arava.
Many, many birders and huge numbers of birds pouring through. And while the raptor migration is breathtaking, everywhere and relentless, this was the week of the warbler.... and more specifically the week of the Subalpine Warbler.
Early monday morning I took the dog for a walk in the local park before going to work. Even before we arrived we could hear the chatter of warblers from every tree beside the road and the noise in Canada Park was deafening. Going through the red wattle trees lining two entrances to the park was like being in the Hitchcock movie Birds. Thousands of Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats, loads of Rueppell’s Warblers, Reed Warblers, Bonelli's Warblers etc. At the Eilat Bird Sanctuary they ringed more than 250 birds in just a few hours including 6 Subalpine Warblers! More were seen around the park, more than 10 in Park Holland and 3 in Canada Park, unprecedented numbers for this bird.
All week warblers continued to pour through in great numbers, Nightingales started arriving, the first flycatchers have arrived, Great Reed Warblers coming in, first Willow Warblers and Wood Warblers have been spotted it's all out there to be found. On the flip-side there are very few Short-toed Larks, no Bimaculated Larks, few Wheatears and only a few Masked Shrikes. These are the vagaries of migration that we see every spring, some species in abundance, others missing.
At the ponds things are warming up with Collared Pratincoles arriving, a White-tailed lapwing turned up, plenty of Glossy Ibis and Purple Herons coming through, Wood Sandpipers in groups, Gull-billed Terns, Common Terns and Little Terns ....plenty of interest in every visit.
Yotvata has seen plenty of good birds this week and our visit today was a lot of fun, south circular field packed with birds, raptors overhead, 3 Pallid Harriers, Cretzschmar’s bunting, lone Ortolan bunting, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Black-eared Wheatear etc.
But the biggest surprise for me was a Goldfinch! Don't remember ever seeing one here! The wadis behind Yahel and KM82 continue to be excellent for birding with Syrian Serins, Cyprus and Subalpine Warblers, a Rock Thrush and many regulars. In Ovda the opposite is happening. The desert birds are heading off to breed and it's getting harder to find the great birds that have been there since February. This will be a real test for the race. It's a big, big week coming up....
If you're a birder who enjoys migration today was the day to enjoy migration at it's very best in wonderfully mild overcast conditions.
The great weather meant the birds were out everywhere all day long in fantastic numbers. At the top of the bill were the raptors who streamed across Eilat all the way to Ovda, staying low all day long… thousands and thousands of raptors in never ending streams. The majority were buzzards but there were hundreds of Black Kites and Steppe Eagles plus the almost all the raptors in small numbers, Pallid, Hen and Montagu's Harriers, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Imperial Eagle, Egyptian Vulture etc.
It is one of the great spectacles of migration that has to be seen to be appreciated. Amongst the raptors was a the continual flow of barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Sand and House Martins and Swifts all heading north in big numbers everywhere you look.
At the IBRCE the bushes are bouncing with passerines, Bonelli’s Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Reed, Sedge and Savi's Warblers, Redstarts, Eastern Orphean Warblers,Ruppel’s Warblers, 3 Subalpine Warblers, the first Wryneck, two Eastern Stonechats, Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Bluethroats....it's endless!
Woodchat and Masked Shrikes are passing through, the crakes are wandering around in full view and wader numbers are increasing including the first Red-necked Phalarope. Later today we went to Yotvata south field where the long grass is just bouncing with Yellow Wagtails, incredible numbers of Reed and Sedge Warblers, Whitethroats and Bluethroats, Cretzschmar’s and Corn Buntings, Desert Finch and many more species. Great place for a prolonged visit.
Later we went to visit the Huume’s Leaf Warbler at Neot Smadar which showed well while Ovda is still sporting plenty of Wheatears and some of the cool desert species like Temminck’s Horned Larks and crowned Sandgrouse. Nahal Ya'alon and KM82 are also full of passerines and the Seyafim Plain is very popular with a pair of friendly Hoopoe Larks. Two Demoiselle Cranes spiced the week up and there is plenty more to come!
Time to be part of the action, see you next week!
Another busy weekend in the southern tip of Israel despite some strong southerly winds and even a little more rain with dust storms to follow tomorrow.
This isn't going to deter the birds or the many visiting birders now enjoying some great birding here now. On thursday a group of Belgian birders found Israel’s 6th Red-necked Grebe at the KM20 salt ponds which could have been very good news for those Israeli birders who missed the last bird which visited here 2 years ago.
Unfortunately the bird didn't stick around, but who knows, maybe it will reappear as the last bird did a number of times.
Ringing at the IBRCE was slower during the week but picked up over the weekend with 90 birds ringed this morning. After the dust storm I expect a big wave of migrants will arrive, something worth aiming for. Today we had our first Cretzschmar’s Bunting ringed, Black-eared Wheatears have arrived and a Pharaoh's Eagle Owl is active in the park. Anita lake is still crawling with Crakes, I had an incredible 2 Baillon’s Crakes, 5 Little Crakes and two Rails all together in the reed hide at 6am. A Great Bittern was seen the evening before and Little Bitterns are also moving through.
The salt ponds have the first Wood Sandpipers arriving, Pelicans and Storks are moving through and a couple of Pallas's Gulls were also popular. The South field of Yotvata is bouncing with pipits, the first groups of Greater Short-toed Larks and growing numbers of Yellow Wagtails. A pair of Pallid Harriers is also worth checking out there. Meanwhile the Seyafim Plain is warming up with a Dunn's Lark and a pair of Hoopoe Larks and Ovda still has good numbers of birds.
Raptor migration has been very slow because of the southerly winds but that will change very shorlty. North Beach was pretty quiet but at the south beach the Brown Booby is still showing nicely.
Have a great week!
Wednesday morning 4am the skies opened up and Eilat to Be'er Ora got a deluge including 3 hail storms that had some very large hailstones. I found one that measured 5 centimetres!! The hail did a fair bit of damage to the flowering trees, knocking off leaves, flowers and fruits that the migrating birds really need. The birds were also hit hard, obviously some didn't survive while there were many tailless birds the next day in the nets and many more with broken feathers. But after the rain came the sun and two big waves of migrants.
The IBRCE park is literally bouncing with migrants wherever you look. Large numbers of Chiffchaffs are on the move along with Bonelli’s Warblers, Eastern Orphean Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats, Common Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers, the first Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Ruppell’s Warblers, Red-rumped Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins, Barn Swallows, hundreds of Pallid Swifts, Common Swifts, Raptors...everybody heading north.
Lake Anita is packed with Crakes and today we got a chance to put a Baillons Crake and Little Crake side by side for comparison. It was a hectic morning with well over a hundred birds ringed from 22 different species and over 80 species seen in the park this morning. Some of the more fun birds this morning were a cute Scops Owl, a load of Little Green Bee-eaters, a Hoopoe and Dead Sea Sparrow. Elsewhere we had a rare visit from a Red Merganser at KM20 which is seeing some new waders with Greater sand Plovers and Little Ringed Plovers arriving and a Curlew is hanging around. At sea the first Brown Booby of the year has arrived and the mountains have ever growing numbers of raptors pouring across.
This is high season and it looks like it's going to be a good one!
Don't miss it!
Didn't go very far this weekend but who needs to go anywhere when the Steppe Eagles are coming straight over Eilat and the IBRCE! Friday morning was the best morning so far with nearly 1,000 of these magnificent eagles counted passing low over the mountains before crossing over the city and bird park and passing into Jordan.
I had a grandstand view from the park as did the many visitors.
Passerine migration is growing also with Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Savi's Warblers and Bonelli's Warblers all becoming common sights now. Even the Chiffchaffs are moving and this week they were big! Many had 65+m"m wings and weighed in between 7-8 grams. The crakes have also arrived in force and can be easily seen at Lake Anita wandering around even in the middle of the day.
Elsewhere the Thick-billed Larks have been seen again at Nahal Shita, Noam found a Hume's Leaf Warbler at Naot Smadar restaurant, Ovda is still excellent and the Basalt Wheatears continue to star in their different locations.
And next week will be even better!
Have a fun week!
After roaming the countryside all last weekend, I spent this weekend in the place I love the most with the people I love the most (birdwise that is) the IBRCE.
Spring ringing has begun with the able help of Carmela from the Basque region. Friday morning started quietly in very cool conditions and then the House Martins arrived in force, nearly 100 birds ringed in two hours! Amongst the swarm of House Martins were Pale Crag Martins, Barn Swallows, Pallid and Common Swifts.
Walking round the park in the morning is like having the Battle of Britain going off around your ears!
Much lower numbers of other migrants but we had the first Bonelli’s Warbler, Savi's Warbler plus more Sedge Warblers and Common Whitethroats. This morning we had around 50 birds ringed so early signs are good for this spring.
In the skies there is a steady stream of Steppe Eagles plus the first Short-toed eagles and an Egyptian Vulture. This week I expect the numbers to rise quite sharply, well worth checking out the mountains now and the guys would love some company!
Ovda valley still has most of the great birds for those who haven't visited yet and the Basalt Wheatears are all still present in their territories.
The salt ponds and KM19 have reasonable numbers of birds and will soon have a greater variety as the migrants arrive. We're looking forward to a week of mild weather and ever growing numbers of migrants, come and enjoy it with us!
This week I had a birthday and decided to treat myself to a great weekend of birding!
Friday morning I picked up Ted (raptor count volunteer) and Arnaud Da Silva and after a brief stop for two Imperial Eagles near Samar, we headed to Nahal Ya'alon behind Kibbutz Yahel.
It's recovered after a flood wiped out most of the scrub two years ago and is flowering brilliantly. There are already migrants with Whitethroats, a Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcaps, Cyprus Warblers and two Greater Spotted Cuckoos present. There were also two Syrian Serins, Trumpeter Finch and other locals....it's going to be the best place for passerine migration this spring.
It was then up to Ovda to take in once again the fantastic numbers of desert birds wintering there. both Spotted and Crowned sandgrouse were everywhere and friendlier than usual. Still fantastic numbers of Temminck's Horned Larks, Bar-tailed Larks, Trumpeter Finch, a lone Syrian Serin, Wheatears including the Basalt Wheatears with the Thick-billed Larks and a Hoopoe Lark also present.
Yotvata still has the WF Geese and Ruddy Shelducks plus loads of pipits and the numbers of Steppe Eagles coming over the mountains is steadily increasing.
This morning I picked up Noé Terorde (raptor counter) and Limor along with my daughter and dog we headed off to the Dead Sea to twitch the Pallas's Leaf Warbler. On the way up we stopped to enjoy a Pallid Scops Owl at Or Ovot Hatzeva, I always seem to forget just how small these birds are when they sleep! We arrived at Nahal David along with a good numbers of other birders and after a very short look the bird disappeared for over an hour. Patience paid off though and it came out and gave excellent veiws and some record shots for over 20 minutes. We were all very happy not to mention relieved!
Wadi Salvadora had a few Sinai Rosefinch and some Falcon was screaming very loudly but we failed to find his perch....very annoying. We still wanted Striolated Buntings and sure enough near the checkpoint two ridiculously friendly Striolated Buntings were perched on the fence. We checked out some water holes on the way back which had hundreds of Pallid Swifts plying the air above, some Ferruginous Ducks etc What a great weekend, couldn't ask for more!
Next weekend treat yourself to a great weekend here too! Many did it this weekend and none were disappointed!
Have a great week!
At the start of this week our raptor count volunteers arrived and the first day on the job for Noé Terorde was a memorable one - the fifth Basalt Wheatear of the season was sitting waiting for him at the Low mountain station.
This time it was a shiny black adult bird though a little shy. The fourth Basalt Wheatear of the season was found earlier in the week in Ovda - a fantastic year for these extremely rare birds.
Ovda continued to be fantastic with over 500 Temminck’s Larks but the Bar-tailed Larks have mostly left and with the desert birds looking to breed now these big groups of birds won't be here for much longer.
Thursday afternoon I managed a trip up to KM81 - Shita wadi where the trees are very green and starting to flower. It's going to be a great place for passerine migrants very shortly.
On the plain I didn't find any Thick-billed Larks but there were 80 Temminck’s Larks, Tawny Pipits, Desert Larks and Wheatears.
Yotvata south circular field is coming to life with growing numbers of Pipits and Larks, including a Buff-bellied Pipit and Oriental Skylark. The long-staying Ruddy Shelducks and White-fronted Geese are also seen daily.
Migration is picking up with groups of Steppe Eagles and Steppe buzzards passing daily, lots of House Martins and Barn Swallows heading north and growing numbers of Common Swifts. The first few Yellow wagtails are arriving and a Sedge Warbler was also ringed yesterday.
Friday morning I visited Seyafim Plain, it was 1C with a rare frost covering the plain. Not too many birds but the Hoopoe Larks showed well and I'm sure that plenty of birds will find it a great breeding spot or migration stop off.
So join us next week, it's only going to get better!
While the rest of the country had a very wintery weekend, and admittedly it was a little cool and cloudy here, we had fantastic birding for all who came.
Ovda was the place to be but Friday I decided to check out some remote spots at the base of the mountains between Be'er Ora and Grofit. There were plenty of green patches and some nice flowering but surprisingly few birds. The pick was a Cyprus Warbler, Imperial Eagle and regular wheatears.
This morning I had 4 hours to check out all the corners of Ovda. We started with the Basalt Wheatear, a few Spectacled Warblers, Asian Desert Warbler, Hen harriers and an Arabian Wolf crossing the road. 8am the plain area was eerily quiet with a lone Desert Wheatear and some Tawny Pipits. Where are the hundreds of birds from last week? At the base of the black hill there were 80 odd Bar-tailed Larks with the odd Temminck’s Lark. Then from a small patch of long grass 200 Temminck’s larks jumped out and swept all around. After walking all around the mountain and plain I had over 500 Temminck’s larks, 200 Bar-tailed Larks, Trumpeter Finch, Spotted Sandgrouse, Tawny Pipits, Skylarks, 5 species of Wheatear, Desert Larks, Crested Larks etc some points it was like wading through a sea of birds.
Also present in other corners were the Thick-billed Larks and Striolated Buntings. Further north in the Arava Itai picked up 40-50 more Thick-billed Larks. In the unforgettable words of D. Trump: “You should make your visit right here, right now! It's going to be fantastic, it's going to be really great!”
This week the raptor count in the Eilat Mountains begins and very shortly the spring migration will be in full swing.
So stay tuned and have a great week!
Another week, another Basalt Wheatear!
It is really exciting to have three of these incredibly rare birds here and all three were showing nicely today. It is so exciting that Hadoram Shirhai cancelled his flight from Taiwan to Chile to come here instead and study the birds.
If you haven't seen this elusive species this is the time to do so, they may not be with us much longer! While there is still some debate over the status of the bird, the more we see the bird the clearer it is that it is a species in it's own right, easily identifiable from the other wheatear species.
To make your trip even more worthwhile, Ovda is packed with great species, the best winter there in a number of years. This morning I had over 300 Temminck’s Horned Larks there stretching the full length of the road, with a single group numbering near 150 individuals.
An elusive Dunn's Lark was amongst them and then gone. Also present were a small number of Striolated Buntings, Syrian Serins (I missed them, others got them displaying nicely), many Trumpeter Finch, Spotted Sandgrouse, wheatears of all kinds, Linnets, Greenfinch and a couple of Thick-billed Larks towards the airport.
You can easily spend a full day there and there are probably some more rare birds lurking in the distant corners of the valley.
Back At the park spring migration has arrived with substantial groups of House Martins and Barn Swallows heading north, Pallid Swifts high above Elifaz and a couple of Steppe Eagles wandering north in the Yotvata area. Before you know it the floodgates will open and migrants will fill every corner of the Arava.
Tuesday I went out on the gulf to Israel's southernmost maritime border and saw very little....but it's only a matter of time before some visitor will arrive unannounced!
Have a great week and come and visit soon!
This week I had a rare break to head north and do some birding in the rest of the country.
This year I aim to take my Israel list over 400 species. At the start of the week I had 382 species and by the end of the week I hit 393 species, mainly due to a number of not particularly rare species I just hadn't got around to looking for.
Drove up to Tel Aviv on Monday for a family affair (Brit) and stopped off at Kefar Menachem to pick up the White-headed Ducks and a young Imperial Eagle was also giving a show there. The next morning had a look around a smallish park in Ramat Gan surrounded by city. I was amazed to find 23 different species there, the place was bouncing with birds as was the rest of the country.
Virtually anywhere you stop you will finds europe birds wintering over in big numbers. After the Brit I drove up to Akko for a Mediterannean seawatch. It was fairly calm but there are still Mediterranean Gulls, a Common Gull, 2 Pallas's Gulls, a full range of big gulls, many waders etc very cool spot.
Wednsday morning I picked up Ohad Shearer, a rising star in the next generation of Israeli birders, and we headed out with a list of birds I was missing. Our first stop was an impromptu visit to Cahal, a nature reserve near Biria where he had seen Long-billed Pipits in the past. We looked around for half an hour, lots of birds but no pipits. As we drove out a Long-billed Pipit very kindly perched on the fence only 2 metres away, great start!
Up to Biria for the Goldcrests who played thier part by bouncing around the beautiful cedars there. We also picked up some Wrens, Dunnock and Wood Pigeons while a Woodcock rather strangely called eerily.
We then went looking for geese in the Jordan river area and local reservoirs, no luck but plenty of ducks, cranes etc. It was then up to the Golan to look for Red-fronted Serins and Yellowhammers. The Yellowhammers didn't show up but the Serins did, though they were very skittish and neither of us managed a photo. There were loads of Brambling and Chaffinch and even some snow.
Finally we raced to Gamla where three Cinerous Vultures hovered above us and two! Radde's Accentors played amongst the ruins. When the other birders left the Accentors calmly came out and perched on a rock together 2 metres from us. I fluffed the shot, maybe Ohad did better! Many thanks to Ohad for a fantastic day.
Next morning I started at Ha-ala rest stop where plenty of Hawfinch were munching away amongst the other regulars. Then down to the Hula where the geese were no-shows again but had 3 White-tailed Eagles, 2 Imperial Eagles, many Greater Spotted Eagles and one or two cranes.... what a great place to spend a winter morning.
Needing to get to Jerusalem by the evening I raced to Beit She’an to twitch the Slavonian Grebe but didn't have time for the Little Bastards… Bustards that is. Friday morning in Jerusalem I had just enough time to see some Fieldfares at the Rose Garden, Mistle Thrush at Mitzpe Niftoah and even some Hawfinch and then home again....what a great week!
Hope you can have such a week next week!
The rains have done the job and the wheatears are out in force. A Kurdish Wheatear was found last weekend but only reported this week and then boom! two Basalt Wheatears found just a few days apart and 10 km apart. These are the 8th and 9th records of this extremely rare wheatear in Israel - With the population estimated at a few hundred individuals at the most. these two youngsters are a must see.
The area around Be'er Ora is bouncing with Wheatears. The White-crowned Wheatears have been breeding already and there are fresh youngsters everywhere. Also present are good numbers of Mourning and Hooded Wheatears while a Steppe Shrike added a nice touch to an area that is often overlooked.
Asian Desert Warblers and Spectacled Warblers can be found trailing round after Wheatears, I found them near Be'er Ora, Amrams Columns, Evrona and Seyafim plain.
This morning I went to look for the Kurdish Wheatear but instead I got a White-crowned Wheatear mimicking the playback I was trying. Fortunately there were some Striolated Buntings to keep me company.
Also in the news was a Dunn's Lark at Ovda found by Itai Shani who really enjoyed himself this week. He had already found the second Basalt Wheatear and topped it off with a rare visit from a Golden Eagle to our area.
The IBRCE was pretty quiet this morning but we had a nice surprise when a Redwing popped up in front of us, a very rare visitor to Eilat. A Pelican in our little lake was also a novelty for the families passing through.
Very little of interest at KM19 and KM20 or North Beach… this is the time to head out to the mountains and find a great wheatear!
As a sideline there are some great desert flowers popping up, some quite rare and I also found a very rare desert snail, it's worth keeping an eye open.
So when are you arriving!
This weekend we saw out 2016 in fine fashion with the Hannukah Happening at the IBRCE.
The weather was magnificent and over 2000 locals and tourists flowed into the park to learn a little about the birds and conservation. It was a fitting way to celebrate the scrapping of plans to build a wind turbine farm north of the park.
The birds played their part with over 30 birds ringed each morning from 14 different species and over 60 different species within the park. Most surprising was the good number of Blackcaps and a Reed Warbler still heading south with plenty of fat onboard. Even the PendulineTits are still moving with some weighing in over 12 grams. Elsewhere a first Thick-billed Lark has turned up at Ovda, a good sign for the near future.
Didn't take any photos so instead we have the top birds of 2016 for our wonderful area.
Top of my list are the Storm Petrels with Israel's 2nd and 3rd Wilson's Storm Petrels seen one day after the other! That they were seen with the country's 7th Swinhoes Petrel is just incredible and the 6th Swinhoes was seen earlier in the year.
Second on my list is Israel's 5th Crab Plover. You need extraordinary luck to see this brief visitor and two Frenchmen who were in the country for only 24 hours picked him up on a crowded beach...unbelievable! (I was also extremely lucky to be there!).
Third on my list are the Nubian Nightjars, magically reappearing at the IBRCE after a 30 year absence! Even more amazingly one appeared on the Municipality building in the middle of town!
The Arabian Golden Sparrow (along with the Persian Squirrel) are our mystery visitors this year. We don't know where they came from but they made our year more colourful and more interesting.
The Basalt Wheatear, Kurdish Wheatear, Greater Scaup are very rare visitors who gave great views to all who came to see while the Turkestan Shrike left town too quickly but still a good record.
Some local birds that are generally hard to find also starred by coming out in full view. The Hoopoe Larks at KM20 were stars for all visitors for almost 6 months and the Thick-billed Larks breeding in the Arava also gave many birderssome memorable moments.
Caspian Plovers in autumn are almost unheard of but this year they arrived every weekend throughout August. They were followed by a big group of Rosefinch who were also very obliging, quite a rare event in Israel.
And lastly we have the annual migration stars, the raptors. The Levant Sparrowhawk and Honey Buzzard migrations are one of the great sights of world birding, they will make any list!
Looking forward to 2017! Happy New Birding Year!