Eilat Weekly Updates

Shachar Shalev 16/02/2018 00:00









If last week was Wheatear week this week belonged to the Buntings. Monday afternoon I walked my daughter back from school, a two minute walk if you walk slowly. While still surrounded by screaming kids, barking dogs and whining cats a Cinereous Bunting popped up on the school fence about 1 metre from us. One would expect the bird to flee the chaos but he remained unphased. He even jumped around on the tiny grass patch as dogs ran past, cats stalked him and kids chased him. After a week he is still here in exactly the same spot having the time of his life! Unbelievable!


Then the IBRCE volunteers found a Little Bunting in Park Ofira - right in the middle of the hotels. It didn't stay long but gave plenty of birders good views and pictures. The third Bunting I was really happy to see this week was the Ortolan Bunting. It's been a number of years since we've seen this many Ortolan Buntings. They were everywhere. Eilat's parks were full of them, Eilot fields were full of them, KM20 was surrounded by them, Yotvata was crawling with them. So good to see this heavily hunted bird maybe bouncing back?


This week saw the first real wave of Blackcaps, with Lesser Whitethroats, Thrush Nightingales, Wrynecks etc joining them. Small numbers of Honey Buzzards, Levant Sparrowhawks, Barred Warblers, Eurasian Nightjars, Willow Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers and Great Reed Warblers also started arriving. Some birds, like the black and white Flycatchers, Masked Shrikes, Balkan Warblers are much lower in numbers than usual while others like Tree Pipits are coming through in greater than usual numbers.


This is a completely normal fluctuation as birds change their preferred flight paths due to conditions en route. We had days with thousands of Bee-eaters pouring through and today I hardly saw one.

KM 20 has been wonderful this weekend with excellent variety of species all over the area. Raptors are constantly passing over, Pipits,Larks, Wheatears and Ortolan Buntings surround the pools, ducks, herons, Pratincoles, the first White-winged Terns, gulls. it's all in the same place.


Yotvata continues to be the main hotspot with another Pied Wheatear, 2 Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, a nice male Caspian Plover, a daily Harrier festival, Lesser Kestrels and much more.


Km82 is starting to get late migrants and the other wadis may also be worth checking.

North Beach has Skuas daily, first White-cheeked Terns, Common Terns and will just improve from now on. Don't miss next week - it's going to be even better. As one of our volunteers commented- "Birding is just too easy here!"







After 3 wonderful weeks in New Zealand where conservation is the country's number one priority and birds enjoy VIP status I returned to the frontlines of old world migration. While we have a lot to do to reach New Zealand standards, you know that it is possible and that it works.


40 years ago I grew up in a New Zealand with a long list of critically endangered birds that only DOC rangers were allowed to see. On this trip I saw many of them for the first time, flying free in their natural environment… what a fantastic feeling!


back in Eilat huge numbers of birds continue to pour through the area… eating… drinking… moving on. As is often the case the stars of the week were wheatears. At least 4 Pied Wheatears were seen in the area, a Cyprus Wheatears,hundreds of stunningly beautiful Black-eared Wheatears, Northern and Isabelline Wheatears plus the local species. Tens of thousands of Buzzards are pouring through daily, Common and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters fill the air with their calls and everywhere you look Red-rumped and Barn Swallows, Sand and House Martins, Pallid and Common Swifts.


The pools are full of waders but the passerines are a bit slow still. Menetries’s warblers are having a good season with 2 birds at the park, one at KM20 and one at Yotvata that was particularly approachable.

While ringing was fairly slow this weekend I was surprised by the Bateleur flying over me as I took a bird out of the net. There were also 2 Oriental Honey Buzzards, a Bonelli's Eagle, Common Cuckoo at the park and a Cinerous Vulture at Yotvata. This spring is still just warming up. I feel there's lots of great birds still to be found… perhaps you can be the one who finds them!? Have a great week!






After a hard and hot week where temperatures hit 37C on Thursday, I was ready and rearing to get out in the field as cooler weather arrived Friday.

The morning ringing session was very quiet, hell there was hardly a Barn Swallow to be found! In the ebb and flow of migration there are days you struggle to see anything.


The salt ponds were better with many waders, Greater Sand Plover, first Red-necked Phalarope etc. On to Yotvata where the Swifts and Swallows were out in big numbers, 9 Bimaculated Larks, lots of Short-toed Larks.... my day is improving. Up to Neot Smadar where things are improving too. A Richard’s Pipit in the long grass, a number of other regular Pipits, Eastern Stonechat, Gray Wagtail, first Common Redstart.... nice!


While Ovda was pretty empty last time I visited I wanted to see what condition the area is in. Well it has dried and it's not bad! Small numbers of Desert, Northern, Isabelline, Black-eared and local Wheatears. There were two pairs of Temminck’s Larks, pair of Bar-tailed Larks, Trumpeter Finch, Cream-coloured Courser, Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse, a big group of Short-toed Larks and a local Asian Ass.

Back down to Yotvata for the sunset hour where I met Frank, a bit of a natter, 600 White Storks drifting down into the field, Harriers racing around, loads of Passerines looking for a roost and a bright red sunset....magical.

We were about to go when I picked up the silhouette of the Pharaohs Eagle Owl on the irrigation line and he let us get close....very cool customer. A quick run round the potato field picked up a lone Egyptian Nightjar and home again!


This morning I picked up Ragnar and we went for a big day. We started with the Park regulars and 4 Greater Sand Plovers and then moved onto KM20. There were lots of birds around including some class acts. The White-tailed Lapwings are stunners, the Lesser Flamingo remained in the same spot, loads of waders all around the pools including nice numbers of Kentish Plovers, a nice variety of Yellow Wagtails, Larks all over the place including a slightly odd looking pair...., many Swifts, Swallows, gulls, Ducks, Wheatears all around ....a lot of fun!


Next stop Yotvata to see the resting Caspian Plover and the Bimaculated Larks who were jumping fields but finally gave us more than we dared dream of. Hundreds of Short-toed Larks were everywhere and really good birding everywhere you looked...not to be missed. We dropped in to Lotan to see if the Macqueen’s Bustard seen there this morning was still around...no luck. Next up was KM76 which was getting hot but still had a good selection of Wheatears, Cyprus Warbler, Cretzschmar’s Buntings, Spotted Sandgrouse, Linnets etc…

We had time so we went to KM94 to see if maybe the Red-rumped Wheatears had snuck back to breed. No luck but the Hoopoe Larks were there, Desert Wheatear and Bar-tailed Larks. Brilliant day, so much fun!

Make sure you have some fun too! Have a wonderful week!






This week was Anton Liebermann (our Danish ringer) big week. After his friends found the Verreaux's Eagle and Bateleur in the last few weeks he hit back big time with Israel's third Long-toed Stint on Sunday and first ever Pacific Swift on Friday.

The end of February is best known for the peak days of Steppe Eagle migration and much less for mega rarities. The Steppe Eagles didn't disappoint as they poured over the Eilat mountains and the IBRCE in the thousands. But it was the megas that blew us away.... and annoyed many with their very brief appearances.


Sunday after ringing, Re'a, Anton and Franz were doing the daily wader count of the salt ponds and canal when they found the Long-toed Stint. They were without cameras or telescope and had to race back to get them. Anton and Franz managed just a few shots before the bird flew and wasn't found again. I was among many who combed the area for the next few days to no avail.


Next Anton found a Black Bush Robin out the back of the Club Inn Hotel and then the first Eastern Subalpine Warbler of the season at the IBRCE. There were more Subalpine Warblers and Cyprus Warblers in Park Holland, a Calandra Lark, Bimaculated Larks, Short-eared Owl and Egyptian Nightjars at Yotvata, MacQueen’s Bustard at KM76, Golden Eagles and Imperial Eagles over the mountains, a Curlew at KM20 plus waves of regular migrants wherever you chose to look.


Amongst the most regular migrants are the Common Swifts, Pallid Swifts, Swallows and Martins. And out of the constant waves of Swifts came the Pacific Swift.

We were so lucky the bird came low over the lake (most Swifts remained high) and passed within a few metres of us giving stunning views.

We spent the rest of the day watching Swifts over Yotvata where they were coming over in their hundreds. We picked up 5 Little Swifts but no sign of the Pacific Swift which we vaguely hoped would stop to feed somewhere along the Arava.

There were plenty of Short-toed Larks, Eastern stonechats, a first Pallid Harrier, Short-toed Eagle with a snake and the area will attract many more breeds very shortly. Phew.....what will happen next week???? Tune in to find out!







With the migration season now well underway a game changer arrived this weekend.... rain! Rain is a rare commodity in the desert and when it arrives the desert is transformed in a very short time.

While the 5mm that fell friday were just enough to saturate the soil, Saturday night saw heavy rain in the Eilat area, streams running and big pools of water everywhere.

The Seyafim Plain got some good rain too. A few weeks ago I didn't see any birds there, on Friday we had 13 species there including a nice Cream Courser, 5 species of Wheatear including the Black-eared Wheatears which have popped up everywhere this week, a couple of Sinai Rosefinch and tawny Pipits.


Nahal Hiyyon was very wet today but we only found around 30 Temminck’s Larks, plenty of Spotted Sandgrouse, very few Wheatears and tens of thousands of flying ants!

Ovda valley was saturated but the birds had dissolved! Almost none of the birds counted last week were anywhere to be found today! It will be very green shortly and could attract migrants but the desert birds are likely to move to drier sparser areas.


Around Eilat the Ruppell’s Warblers have moved in over the weekend, lots of sightings and photos of Cyprus Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats and Whitethroats now common, Yellow Wagtails moving in, Bimaculated Larks have arrived....in short plenty of action for all birders.


Steppe Eagles are pouring through and will peak this week, plenty of other raptors also being seen amongst them .

Yotvata North field is packed now with Bluethroats, Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats and it's going to get even better next month once it is dried and cut. In the south field we had an Eastern Stonechat and Spectacled Warbler and it could be productive quite shortly too!

Next week we will see many more species arriving, don't miss them!

Have a fun week!





This weekend I had the honour and privilege of taking part in the first comprehensive survey of the desert birds throughout the Arava, Southern Negev, Eilat Mountains area.

23 teams spread out across this huge area methodically surveying predetermined areas in an attempt to understand the importance of each area and as a tool for protecting these areas.


Friday morning I surveyed a large section of the hemda river bad starting around KM94. We walked for 5 hours with few birds at the start and even fewer by the end. 3 Desert Wheatears, an Asian Desert Warbler, 2 Bar-tailed Larks, a few Desert Larks and 10 Scrub Warblers.

You know it's a real desert area when you don't see a single pigeon, Collared Dove or Bulbul.


This morning started with stormy weather and an extraordinary sight of dozens of Steppe Eagles flying west over Samar and Yotvata at 6am!!! They were riding the very strong winds instead of riding thermals.

We got one of the best areas in Ovda valley with birds preparing to breed in every corner. We started with a Hen Harrier male doing extraordinary acrobatics for more than 10 minutes trying to catch a Desert Lark. The nonchalent Desert Lark didn't flee, he just turned him in ever tighter circles till the Harrier gave up. Next up was a Cream Courser wandering past, many Wheatears, Temminck's Larks, Asian Desert Warblers and Scrub Warblers, Sandgrouse and Sand Partridge, a Hoopoe Lark and more… all of Ovda is a real treat at the moment. In other areas excellent numbers of Hoopoe Larks were seen (9 in one particular site), small numbers of Thick-billed Larks preparing to breed, many Temminck's Larks in many areas, Macqueen’s Bustards, a Little Bunting and a very early Caspian Plover!


Fantastic weekend for all brilliantly organised by Noam Weiss, Itai Shani, Chai Bar and the Parks and Nature Authority guys.

Elsewhere a Bateleur was seen by the Raptor survey team before it returned to Egypt. A wave of migrants came in for the first day of ringing, 62 birds caught included two Cyprus Warblers and a Tawny Pipit.

Plenty of birds at Km19, KM20, Yotvata, North Beach etc and so little time to check them all! On the downside the Basalt Wheatear and Red-rumped Wheatear at Ovda are gone, the Red-rumped Wheatear male at KM94 hasn't been seen since Thursday and the other Wheatears are likely to leave very shortly.

This is a great time to visit!

Have a great week!





It's very early in the spring migration and it should be a quiet week of preparations for the waves of birds that will shortly arrive.

Instead the week started with a bang, a Verreaux's Eagle. Every time we go up to the mountains we dream of seeing this bird and he never fails to disappoint. Once every few years one pops across the border for 20 minutes and some very lucky visiting birder sees him.


This time was no different as the eagle passed between our raptor counters, Gaidis and Ragnar, and the rest of us were left hoping that just maybe he would make another visit.

Egyptian Nightjars have also returned and been seen in the northern fields of Yotvata and around the Bird Sanctuary. There is an improved flow of Steppe Eagles with over 100 per day along with Greater Spotted Eagles, Short-toed Eagles, a couple of Imperial Eagles and a Griffon Vulture.


This morning I headed out with 3 of our volunteers for a spot of desert birding and there too things are moving. Started at first light at Km94 where the Red-rumped Wheatear still rules the roost. he had an accompanying Asian Desert Warbler and Desert Wheatear but the Hoopoe Larks weren't showing.

Km76 was surprisingly busy with many Desert and Isabelline Wheatears moving through, Water and Tawny Pipits, Linnets and Greenfinch, Trumpeter Finch and plenty of Swallows.

Ovda was even better with some big groups of Temminck's Larks, Bar-tailed Larks everywhere, big groups of Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse, Desert, Isabelline, Mourning, White-crowned Wheatears in big numbers, plenty of Asian Desert Warblers and a Dunn's Lark that gave us the slip amongst the Bar-tailed Larks. It won't be like this for long, now is the time to enjoy it!

KM19, KM20, the Bird Sanctuary and North Beach are also sporting nice numbers of birds and are just going to get better! Have a great week!





This week marked the beginning of the annual raptor survey in the Eilat Mountains.


Our volunteers arrived from their frozen european homes to a pleasant 28C today, clear blue skies and not a breath of wind.

Some of our wintering birds also seem to think summer has arrived and appear to have moved on. The Red-rumped Wheatear at Ovda wasn't seen and nor was the Steppe Grey Shrike at Yotvata.

The Red-rumped male at Km94 is still there as is the Kurdish Wheatear, the Basalt Wheatears and the Lesser White-fronted Goose, but they will soon be moving. Not too many migrants passing through, 30-40 Steppe Eagles each day, House Martins, Pallid Swifts… still slim pickings.


Today I picked up two of our volunteers, Gaidis and Franz, and along with Le'a and Susi we headed out to the desert. First stop was Sayerim Plain where almost no-one goes. I hoped to see Sandgrouse drinking at a little sewage pond on the plain but none arrived and we didn't hear any in the vicinity. A walk across a section of the plain turned up a wolf, 4 Dorcas Gazelles, a Cape Hare and many mounds of Ass droppings.

Birds were few and far between, a Mourning Wheatear, Blackstart, Desert Lark, some Scrub Warblers and a Brown-necked Raven. So we headed to Ovda to improve our prospects and were soon rewarded with 80-90 Temminck's Larks, plenty of Wheatears (Desert, Mourning, Basalt, White-crowned and Isabelline) a Tawny Pipit, Trumpeter Finch, around 60 Spotted Sandgrouse with a few Crowned Sandgrouse mixed in, 4-5 Asian Desert Warblers and Desert Larks.

There are still large numbers of beatles around and something quite extraordinary happened while we were there. When we drove in we didn't see any beatles on the road but by the time we left there were tens of thousands of beatles committing suicide the entire length of the road. They appear to be eating beatles that have been squashed by cars and then getting squashed themselves.


Yotvata was very quiet and a screw in my back wheel pushed us back towards Eilat. Km19 had 4 Ferruginous Ducks and lots of regular birds while another volunteer, Anton, caught up with the Crested Honey Buzzard south of the park. We then finished on North Beach to break Gaidis's bogey with the Brown Booby and eventually the bird returned from it's fishing trip giving a nice display. Life is soon going to get interesting! Come join us next week for great birds and great weather!




Winter arrived this weekend for a quick visit. It was cold… sort of, raining... for about 20 minutes, and windy...occasionally. It was a really good weekend to stay in bed and do nothing… so I went out to do a bit of birding.


North Beach was breezy with the normal crew present. The Brown Booby was up and about, a few Siberian Gulls, White-eyed Gulls and Western Reef Herons.

The park was good for a cup of coffee and lots of regular winterers. The Lesser White-Fronted Goose was at KM19 with a couple of Pelicans and Greater Crested Grebe while KM20 was too muddy to even contemplate a visit.


At Yotvata the Steppe Gray Shrike was still around and a Curlew joined him but I avoided the muddy areas along with most of the birds. All our Wheatears are in place but dropped into Amrams Pillars with Noam Shani to look for Asian Desert Warblers and we couldn't find any?! The Sinai Rosefinch were up at the Pillars carpark and there were the Basalt, Desert, Mourning, White-crowned and Hooded Wheatears by the road.

This morning I took the girls up to the Seyafim Plain and stream to see if it had gotten rain. There were some small pools of water but it needs more rain if it's going to attract birds this spring… we didn't see a single bird there this morning!

Next week we will start getting groups of Steppe Eagles plus other migrants....don't miss it!





While the first "spring" migrants continued to trickle through it was some of the rarer and unusual wintering birds who stole the limelight this week.

It started with the Olive-backed Pipit being spotted in the bird sanctuary again and has been heard both in the date plantation and the park since. Then a Common Rosefinch showed up near the nets, a very unusual visitor at this time of year. Then there were sightings of a probable Oriental Honey Buzzard in the date plantations near the park - possibly the same bird that has already wintered here twice. And today the Lesser White-fronted Goose reappeared at KM19 happily tagging along after two Egyptian Geese.

If the bird isn't unduly disturbed it should be possible to see her quite easily both early morning and evening at KM19.


Our best birding areas have maintained the same concentrations of birds. North Beach, KM19, KM 20, Yotvata and Ovda are all worth a good visit but my favourite spot this weekend was Amram's Pillars. The road in has nice numbers of birds close to the road that are unphased by cars.

The Basalt Wheatear was showing well, Asian Desert Warblers can be found near any Wheatear including the Blackstarts, Mourning, White-crowned and Hooded Wheatears are easily seen, small groups of Trumpeter Finch feed by the road, Sand Partridge scurry across the road and near the camping area good numbers of Sinai Rosefinch are generally quite confiding. Add to this the fantastic landscape and wonderful weather and you know you're going to enjoy yourself! Have a great weeks birding.....preferably in Eilat!





Spring is here!

How do we know?

Apart from the sunshine and temperatures in the mid - 20s Celsius, the Pallid Swifts have arrived along with a number of Greater Spotted Cuckoos. There were around 100 Pallid Swifts at the Elifaz reservoir today while Greater Spotted Cuckoos were seen in two different areas around Samar. Add to that a Tawny Pipit at KM 20 and a couple of Isabelline Wheatears at Yotvata and you feel the first migrants are moving north.


Meanwhile the fun place to visit this week was a section of Samars fields where the Pharaoh's Eagle Owl, a Pallid Scops Owl and 11 Long-eared Owls are sharing lodgings. The Eagle Owl seemed unimpressed with visitors as he flew out as I was leaving and crapped all over my windscreen.

At Yotvata the very dry South Circular Field still has lots of Desert Finch, a lone Oriental Skylark and the very wet North Circular field is packed with Pipits, a Steppe Grey Shrike and a lone White Stork.

The northern fields also have plenty of birds with some Lesser Short-toed Larks, many Pipits, Skylarks, Desert and Hooded Wheatears etc.


KM19 and KM20 have good numbers of regular winterers and even Lake Anita was worth a visit with a number of Citrine Wagtails, a Rail, a Barbary falcon and a couple of Moustached Warblers singing.

Life is good in the deep south, come enjoy the early spring!




It's a brand new year, the weather is heavily overcast, strong winds and even a bit of rain.... good time for a quiet weekend at home.

Then again a little birdwatching could also be relaxing.


6am Friday I went down to the bird sanctuary to meet my first bird for 2018- a Lesser White-fronted Goose, 10th record for Israel. And there it was, in the middle of Lake Anita just as it had been for 3 mornings in a row. I was waiting for better light to get a proper photo when it stretched it's wings and disappeared off to Jordan.... but I think it will be back again.

I then picked up Gert Ottens for the Wheatear run.

The first Basalt Wheatear in Ovda took 30 seconds to find while the neighbouring Red-rumped female took over half an hour till we found her. We watched her pulling some beatles apart, preening etc she's behaving much more naturally these days.


We dropped in on the Kurdish Wheatear (Ketura) who was feeling miserable in the stormy conditions and then on to the Basalt Wheatears at Be'er Ora and Amrams columns. In Be'er Ora we got to hear the distinctive alarm call as a White-crowned Wheatear poached the birds spot. Interestingly the three birds have different plumage tones, the Ovda bird being quite a sooty black, the Amram's Column bird is the most brownish tone and the be'er Ora bird the cleanest black tone.


Saturday morning Noam joined us in a trip to KM94 and the male Red-rumped Wheatear. Initially he just kept moving away but then he started calling loudly and frequently. When two Hoopoe Larks appeared he doubled back and seemed to be defending a patch with a number of holes. He did a dance spreading his wings and tail, did some vertical jumping and attacked a hoopoe Lark which came too close. He shadowed the Hoopoe Larks for a bit as they moved on and then doubled back to his original area.

The female Red-rumped Wheatear was nowhere to be seen but a Mourning Wheatear stuck with him the entire time.... are we going to get a weird hybrid???


Later we tried a couple of spots near Tzihor Junction without much luck, the Desert Wheatear, Spectacled Warbler and Asian Desert Warbler were waiting by the car when we got back from wandering the barren plain.

Elsewhere North Beach has two Brown Boobys, at least one Greater Crested Grebe and a Greater Sand Plover. There are at least three White-winged Terns hanging around, both KM19 and KM20 have increased numbers of winterers and a wet Yotvata has lots of Water Pipits. 2018 has started in style, don't miss us!





For the last weekend of 2017 I headed north to get a few birds for the years list. The trip nearly fell through when my wife became sick Thursday evening. But bravery prevailed and Susi and I set out at 3am Friday morning.

first stop near Beit She’an to look for Little Bustards. There were none to be found but the place is brimming with birds, both the fields and the ponds. We gave it a couple of hours and then headed to Arbel cliff to see the Wallcreepers. These birds are never going to be easier than right now. 100 metres from the parking lot you sit on the edge of the cliff and the bird comes fluttering up to within a few metres of you.

Along with plenty of other birders/photographers we watched it dancing flamenco on the cliff, going into crevices and even a short skirmish between two Wallcreepers. Don't miss this bird this year, it doesn't get better than this!

The area is also bouncing with loads of Blue Rock Thrush, 6 Little Swifts popped in with a number of Crag Martins, a couple of Long-billed Pipits, Meadow Pipits, Black Redstarts, Corn Buntings… lots of action in a small area.


The afternoon was spent drifting along the side of the Jordan River in the Hula Valley, again big numbers of regular winterers, nothing of special interest but I finally found a couple of Francolins I was looking for. After a rest at Nimrod I went looking for owls in and around Lahavot Habashan. It took a while (except for the screeching Barn Owls) until I found the Tawny Owls and a Long-eared Owl.


Saturday morning I headed up to the Hermon, heavily overcast but not too cold. Tried three different pools to get birds coming to drink, not a single bird came to drink in four hours! Had to do some footwork following calls before I eventually found a handful of Yellowhammers, Rock Buntings, Sombre Tits, Western Nuthatch and other regulars. I had dreamed of a Pine Bunting but in the conditions I was lucky to find any birds.


Heading back to Eilat I tried to find an Eagle Owl with no luck, tried the Little Bustards again without any luck and finally the Hume’s Owl near the Arava Junction who also didn't show. Still it was a pretty cool trip and a really nice way to end a fantastic year!


Happy New Year and we'll do it all again next year!



Shachar Shalev



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