Eilat Weekly Updates

Shachar Shalev 29/01/2017 00:00






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!






Wheatear Weekend!

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!




Shachar Shalev