Birding month by month

Jonathan Meyrav 25/03/2014 00:00

Israel is well known as being one of the best places in the world to witness and truly experience bird migration. Millions of migrants from hundreds of species pass through Israel twice a year, making it one of the world's busiest and most impressive flyways.

 

Besides being a terrestrial bridge between the African continent and the Eurasian landmass, Israel is characterized by a wide range of habitats and as a result presents a rich diverse avifauna all year round.

Southern Israel is mostly arid and its interesting deserts are the northern tip of the breeding range of many African and near eastern bird species.

 

Northern Israel with its high mountains and fertile green areas is the southern tip for many birds of European and Asian origin. Mt. Hermon in Israel's extreme north is the tip of the vast Syrian mountain range and as such hosts some regional specialties that are hard to find anywhere else.

 

And finally Israel's mild winter hosts over 150 species of northern breeders, that choose to pass the winter months here, including some very rare and hard to come by species.

In conclusion, Israel offers excellent birding year round with every season hosting its own specialties.

 

We are happy to present a mini calendar of avian events and special targets month by month, to help you best time your visit.

 

Year round

 

 

Israel hosts a wide range of interesting breeding and non breeding resident species.

Common birds like Yellow-vented Bulbul, Palestine Sunbird, Laughing Dove, Hoopoe and Syrian Woodpecker can be found in metropolitan areas year round.

Highly coveted near-eastern species like Black francolin, Long-billed Pipit, Syrian Serin, Graceful Prinia and Clamorous Reed Warbler are easy to find most of the year in the right habitats.

 

 

 

Israel's diverse desert regions are home to regional specialties like: Macqueen's Bustard, Spotted, Black-bellied, Crowned and Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Western Reef Heron, White-eyed Gull, Nubian Nightjar, the enigmatic Hume's Tawny Owl, Namaqua Dove, 3 species of Wheatears, Blackstart, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Desert, bar-tailed and Hoopoe Larks, Arabian Warbler, Desert and Trumpeter finch and many more.

Most of these species can all be found year round if you know where to go.

 

We are happy to present you with a month to month elaborate overview of the birds and birding highlights Israel has to offer.

This is not a checklist but rather a taster of what visiting birders should expect. I have chosen to focus on the most interesting migration spectacles and most interesting species to observe. Besides the regular monthly attractions we have also chosen to highlight specific specialty species or species of high interest to visiting birders.

 

We hope you find this useful in preparation for an Israel trip, or for general knowledge about Israel’s magical Avifauna.

 

 

 

January

 

Being the peak month for wintering birds most birders focus on Israel's fertile north. The Hula valley is well known for the 30,000 Common Cranes and large numbers of White Pelicans that winter there. Besides these, the valleys fish ponds and fields host thousands of wintering water birds and songbirds and dozens of birds of prey. Species like Long legged Buzzard, Great Spotted and E. Imperial Eagles are seen daily and in recent year's ever growing numbers of Stonechats from the eastern forms winter in the valley.

 

 

The coastal area of Ma'agan Michael is also very rich this time of year and amongst the thousands of Gulls, Herons, Waders and more one should easily find Citrine Wagtail, Penduline Tit and Pallas's Gull. The latter is most easily seen in the low lying Beit Shean Valley where up to 1200 of these rare gulls winter.

 

Although Northern Israel is impressive, January is one of the best times to visit the Western Negev region.  Eastern Imperial Eagles are common along the Urim power line as are Peregrine Falcons. Rarer species like Saker, Lanner, Sociable Plover, Dotterel, and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse can all be found in the vast fields of the Negev, but require searching. The higher reaches of the Negev occasionally host good numbers of wintering Syrian Serins.

 

 

 

Israel's desert Wadis are home to wintering Sinai Rosefinch, Cyprus and Desert Warblers and several Striated Scops Owls winter in remote wadis with Acacia trees, in the extreme south of the country. The Eilat area is interesting as well and although quite rare one should expect Oriental Skylark, Buff-bellied and Richard's Pipits in agricultural areas as well as good numbers of Wheatears and wintering Larks.

 

Although we are still in mid-winter there are already spring migrants on the move this early, including Great Spotted Cuckoo, Tawny Pipit and more.

 

February

 

Early February is very similar to January with the Hula Valley and western Negev still providing the most exciting Birdwatching in the country. Around the 10th spring migration slowly kicks into gear. Swifts and Swallows of several species can be seen hawking for early insects and early migrants like Quail, Black eared Wheatear, Great Spotted Cuckoo and small numbers of Steppe Eagles can be seen, especially in the southern and Eastern Valleys.

 

February is probably the best month to see Pallid Harrier in Israel, especially in the fields of the West Negev. Steppe Eagles are very early migrants and on the move in good numbers in February. Several hundred Steppe Eagles can be seen migrating over the Eilat Mountains. The first flocks of Steppe Buzzards, White and Black Storks show up around the 20th.

 

 

Breeding raptors like Egyptian Vulture and Lanner show up at their breeding territories and Sinai Rose finches can be vocal and easy to see. February is one of the best months to watch the desert queen the Macqueen’s Bustard. These magnificent birds display during the month and gatherings of 6-7 males are not rare. Nizzana is excellent for observing large numbers of White Storks, including huge days of thousands of birds towards the end of the month.

 

 

 

March

 

Considered by many as the best month for birding in Israel, March marks the arrival of a large variety of migrants, returning breeders and a long list of vagrants. Southern Israel is the place to be with warm sunny days full of birds.

 

The Eilat Mountains offer a great chance to watch and photograph Steppe Eagles, Steppe Buzzards, Black Kites and Black Storks. The pools and reservoirs fill with returning waders and every bush, pool and green area becomes a migrant magnet. Sylvia Warblers are prominent with large numbers of Greater and Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Sardinian Warblers. Rueppell’s, Eastern Orphean and Subalpine Warblers can be found with some searching.

 

 

The flowering desert shrubs host large numbers of Chiffchaffs and Balkan Warblers. The agricultural areas attract large numbers of Yellow Wagtails, Pipits of several species, Cretzschmar's and Ortolan Buntings and Northern, Isabelline and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears. Migrant Shrikes like Masked, Red backed and Woodchat Shrike can be found perching on every available bush.

 

The skies fill with Hirundines and birds of prey. Resident specialties are easy to observe in March and normally shy birds like Namaqua Dove, Temminck’s and Bar-tailed Larks, Sandgrouse of several species, White-crowned, Hooded and Mourning Wheatear and a multitude of Larks are fairly easy to catch up with.

 

 

During March Israel’s breeding summer visitors’ return to their territories and this is a wonderful time to observe Bee-eaters, Swifts, Short-toed Eagles and Lesser Kestrels in suitable habitats. The list of rarities and vagrants that have turned up in March is very long, regular annual rarities include Citrine Wagtails, Caspian Plover, Cyprus Pied and Pied Wheatear and many more.

 

 

The third week of March is the International Eilat Birds Festival. This highly successful event is a true drawing stone for birders from all over the world and has contributed much to putting Eilat and southern Israel back on the international birding calendar, and in a big way.

 

April

 

Spring migration is in full swing in April and the volume of migration in southern Israel and Eilat can be overwhelming. A large variety of Passerines, Shorebirds and birds of prey move through the Great Rift Valley on their way back to the breeding grounds.

 

Besides the species mentioned in March visitors can expect uncommon species like Blue-cheecked Bee-eaters, Ficedula Flycatchers and quality April rarities like White-tailed Plover, Black-bush Robin or White-throated Robin.

The fields and pools host thousands of returning shorebirds and this is a good time to find a Terek or Broad-billed Sandpiper amongst the thousands of Little Stints, Ruff, Marsh Sandpipers and more.

 

 

Up to 8 races of Yellow-wagtails can be found in moist habitats and Lesser Grey and Red backed Shrikes, Rock Thrush, Quail and Corncrake and all 3 Crake species turn up. The last week of April begins one of the spring’s most exciting periods for raptor lovers. Levant Sparrowhawks peak in late April and flocks of 2-3 thousand can be seen daily.

 

Another species that peaks now and into May is the Honey Buzzard, whose whole world population passes through Southern Israel in around 20 days! Day counts of over 100,000 Honey Buzzards have been recorded every year in the last days of April.

 

 

May

 

The first half of the month is one of the most impressive periods of the spring migration.

The first week is characterized by huge soaring bird migration over Southern Israel. Huge passage of Honey Buzzards and Levant Sparrowhawks, with smaller numbers of Montague’s Harriers, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Black Kites and more. The pools and wetland areas host large numbers of shorebirds including rare species like Broad-billed Sandpipers and Phalaropes.

 

Another remarkable feature is the peak passage of White-winged Terns. Up to 20,000 of these elegant seabirds can be seen coming of the sea and rest in the salt pans.

 

 

Late migrants like the large Hippolais Warblers, Barred and Garden Warblers, Roller, Rosy Starling and more can turn up anywhere. Central and northern Israel fill with bird song as the breeding season kicks into gear.

 

The Northern Valleys fill with the strange calls of Black Francolins and classic Mediterranean species such as: Eurasian Bee-eater, Sardinian Warbler, Roller, Smyrna Kingfisher, Hoopoe, Barn and Red-rumped Swallow, Lesser Kestrel, Rufous Bush Chat and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears can be found with ease.

 

Specialties like Ferruginous Duck, Marbled Teal and Pygmy Cormorant can be found at known sites and the enigmatic Sooty Falcons return to their breeding cliffs in the south.

 

June

 

June is usually a fairly quiet month offering long days of steady birding.

The bay of Eilat heats up with the end of the Red-Sea breeding season and the North Beach offers visitors with hours of great sea watching. Amongst the large numbers of Common and Little Terns, rare terns like Lesser-crested, White-cheeked and Bridled Tern can be seen in double figures and all three Skuas make an appearance.

 

Rarities like Crested, Saunders’s and Sooty Tern and Red-billed Tropicbird have all turned up in June. The cliffs of the Judean Desert host breeding Sooty Falcons and specialties like Sinai Rosefinch and Striolated Bunting can be seen at drinking spots.

 

 

This is the best period to visit the High reaches of the Golan Heights and Mt Hermon. Around 20 species breed nowhere else in the country and quality species like Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Sombre Tit, Crimson Winged Finch and Syrian Serin can all be found with ease. The Golan holds Israel’s highest density of breeding Long-legged Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle and Eagle Owls.

 

Summer offers some unique chances for urban birding. Common Swifts are common breeders in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, every afternoon the city fills with the calls of Swifts as they zoom through the building at high speeds.

 

Long-eared Owls are common breeders and can be found in many villages and small towns in central and northern Israel, the calls of the pleading Owl fledglings are hard not to hear.

 

 

July

 

Even in high summer Israel offers visitors with ample options for birding.

The coastal areas hold good numbers of Common and Little Terns that gather at protected nesting colonies. Small numbers of michaellis Yellow-legged gulls breed on isolated islands off the Med coast.

 

The Judean Plains host large numbers of Short-toed Eagles that gather at agricultural areas to feed on voles and snakes. The area also holds small numbers of breeding Lesser Kestrels, Roller, Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes and Rufous Bush chats.

 

 

The Golan Heights offers great chances to study scarce breeders such as Black-headed Bunting, Calandra Lark and Long-billed Pipits. Fall migration starts as a trickle and small numbers of early waders like Green Sandpiper show up at wetlands, and Acacia wadis in the south can host Upcher’s and Olive-tree Warblers already migrating south.

 

August

 

Despite the fact that August is the warmest month in Israel, it is the month that marks the beginning of fall migration. From mid-month impressive flocks of White Storks can be seen moving south and what begins as a trickle of Honey Buzzards becomes an all on flood of birds towards the last days of the month.

 

 

Days of 50-60 thousand Honey Buzzards are annual during the last week of August. Besides soaring birds good numbers of migrants show up from mid-august onwards and migrant hotspots along the rift valley host water fowl and passerines of many species.

 

Most of Israel’s breeding birds are done with their cycles and this is a good time to observe many near eastern specialties busily feeding young.

 

September

 

An impressive month for migration, September offers visitors a wide and varies list of species and some memorable migration spectacles.

A large percentage of the world populations of scarce raptors like Levant Sparrowhawk and Lesser Spotted Eagle pss through Israel in short periods of time. Over 80,000 Lesser Spots are counted every year and over 50,000 Levants.

 

 

With these impressive waves one can expect around 15 species of soaring birds including Harriers, Short-toed and Booted Eagles and large numbers of Black Kites and Black Storks.

 

Several wintering species show up as early as this including the first Bluethroats, White Wagtails and more. The open fields and plains host large flocks of Passerines including Yellow Wagtails, Pipits, Wheatears and Shrikes.

 

October

 

October is one of the best months for birding in Israel. The weather is excellent and migration is evident everywhere.

The first week is very good for soaring birds with impressive flocks of White Pelicans, Common Cranes, Black Storks and Eagles and the wetland fill with wintering water fowl.

 

 

Migration in October has a distinct “Asian” flavor and migrants from Siberia and western Asia set the tone. This is a good time to find regular rarities like Black-winged Pratincole, Sociable and Pacific Plover and Isabelline type Shrikes.

 

Wintering Eagles such as Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial arrive at their wintering grounds. Fish ponds and wetlands along the Mediterranean Coast fill up with thousands of Gulls, Herons, Waders and ducks.

 

 

November

 

November is a month of transition, as the last migrants trickle through Israel moving south and wintering species establish themselves on winter territories.

 

Suddenly every bush in Israel hosts a Stonechat and every field teems with White Wagtails and Eurasian Skylarks. This is a great month to visit the Negev for a true spectacle of birds of Prey (see January) and shy desert species like Sandgrouse and Larks roam the desert and can be found with patience.

 

November marks the arrival of some more highly coveted winterers like Pallas’s Gulls, Buff-bellied Pipit and Oriental Skylark.

 

 

November is probably the month that holds the longet list of extreme rarities found over the years. Several “firsts” for Israel were found in November and birding at remote sites in the south can produce incredible birds.

Finally November is the month of the International Hula Valley Bird Festival.

 

We highly recommend the festival that offers a wide selection of birding tours and activities led by the best tour leaders in the country.

 

December

 

Israel's winter is relatively mild with temperatures rarely dropping close to 0 besides in the extreme north of the country. December is usually a fairly dry month with occasional rain events, mainly in the north.

 

Wintering species establish their wintering territories and good numbers of Great White Egrets, Great Cormorants, White Pelicans, Black Storks and Black headed Gulls can be seen near bodies of Water and wintering Eagles like Great Spotted and E. Imperial arrive in the Hula and in the Western Negev.

 

 

The bulk of the 30,000 or so Common Cranes wintering in the Hula valley arrive in early December and large flocks of seed eaters form in the Galilee and the Golan Heights.

 

In the south, Cyprus and Asian Desert Warblers aggressively hold winter territories and Fincsh's Wheatears can be found in good numbers in suitable habitats.

 

December marks the arrival of the globally endangered White-headed Duck to Israel, up to 20% of the world population if this beautiful duck winters in Israel, especially in the reservoirs of the Judean Plains.

 

 

 

 

 
land marks