Eilat Weekly Updates

Shachar Shalev 12/12/2018 00:00








Every spring is a little bit different and this spring (so far) will be remembered for two things - the Pale Rock (Hill) Sparrow invasion and the Meyshar Plain covered in flowers, grass, birds, butterflies and animals. For those unfamaliar with this plain, it has been a barren, dry firing range that you speed past on route 40 on your way to Eilat. Today I packed the dog, the daughter and 2 volunteers (Anton and Robin) into the car to go and enjoy this very special transformation.

We first did an early morning stop at Ovda which has seen more rain and is looking pretty smart. First up were five Bimaculated Larks in a group of Short Toed Larks, 200+ Pale Rock Sparrows, loads of Northern, Isabelline and Black-eared Wheatears, Tawny Pipits, Yellow Wagtails and a few Spotted Sandgrouse. Off to the Meyshar - flowers everywhere and the humming/singing of Pale Rock Sparrows everywhere you go, all around you everywhere! Rough estimate- over 5000 P.R. Sparrows there this morning… quite incredible! Wheatears everywhere- 5 of them were fighting to stand in the shade of an abandoned pallet… and they were all left out in the sun fighting!? Sandgrouse were flying, plenty of Spotted, a couple of groups of Crowned and a pair of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Tawny Pipits, Short-toed Larks and Brown-necked Ravens everywhere, Bimaculated Larks in three spots, but just one Trumpeter Finch and a lone Temminck's Lark landed at our feet to make Anton's day perfect. For him it was a lifer and he was wearing a Temminck's Lark T-Shirt!




The place is a must see! We did the Mitzpe Ramon refreshment stop - Mourning Wheatears and Common Raven, then a detour on the way back to KM94… Robin has been dreaming of a Hoopoe Lark. Not much there, took almost two minutes to find the male singing loudly, displaying and chaperoning his mate away from us, pair of Bar-tailed Larks were another lifer for Anton and a Temminck’s Lark drifted through.

KM82- Subalpine Warbler, Eastern Orphean Warblers etcand back at Yotvata a few more Bimaculated Larks - fair day.


Elsewhere there is a noticeable shortage of Shrikes, Buntings, etc put the first Phalaropes, Pratincoles etc are arriving. Big raptor migration everywhere, waders pouring in, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters passing through, occasional Rock Thrush seen, Black-Bush Robins popping up, Namaqua Doves returning. there is still a few birds to see.All is set for the big race Tuesday!





Mid-March and migratory manic-depression is starting to kick in. As we all know migration arrives in waves and the mood of the birders becomes a roller-coaster of excitement then disappointment.

If last week we were getting a wonderful 80 species a day, stunning raptor migration and a new species arriving each day, then today we only barely managed to scrape out 102 species in the park, the hundreds of raptors streaming over us were so high we were getting a sore neck, only 5 new species today and why are there only 500 waders on the ponds? Well I really did have a rough time Friday! Honestly!

Had to take my daughter to school in a Purim costume so I missed the best part of the morning - (though I did drag her around Park Canada at 6am) guided families around Yotvata where we saw nothing at all, Noam's car broke down, my phone and camera batteries gave up and even the zip on my pants refused to work.


Today was also a struggle.... a struggle to keep up with all the birds going past! The first big wave of Lesser Whitethroats is upon us, both the park and Park Holland clicking with their dulcet tones. Lots of Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers are replacing the Chiffchaffs and the first Willow Warbler also arrived. Redstarts, Common Nightingales, Eastern Orphean Warblers and Masked Shrikes have arrived while Park Holland still has many Ruppell’s Warblers, 2-3 Subalpine Warblers (also in the IBRCE) , Common Whitethroats, Blackcaps etc.

Strong raptor migration daily over the mountains and visible most mornings along the Arava, Lesser Kestrels are coming through, masses of Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites interspersed with Steppe Eagles, Short-toed Eagles, occasional Lesser Spotted Eagle,Black Storks,first Pallid Harrier, a very early Hobby etc etc.

At the ponds a Kittiwake occasionally showed itself (also North Beach) , the first Red-necked Phalarope, waders, herons and gulls in every corner never a dull moment. The parks in Eilat are filling up with song birds and they are going to get some good birds including the flycatchers. There are pipits, larks, Yellow Wagtails, Shrikes and Wheatears in the fields and Swifts and Swallows constantly moving north including four Eurasian Crag Martins and some Alpine Swifts. And yes - the Crested Honey Buzzards are still here and making themselves scarce whenever someone looks for them. My advice - just ignore them! It's going to be a great week. who is going to find the best bird? Have a great week and support the #govultures!



 Maleficent - Magnificent - IBRCE spring 2019




A strong cool northerly breeze put a bit of a damper on bird-watching this weekend. We had to make do with a couple of Subalpine Warblers among the many Ruppell’s Warblers, Lesser and Greater Whitethroats, Chiffs and Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers at Holland Park.

And of course there was the White-tailed Lapwing posing for everyone with more waders arriving, plenty of Little Ringed Plovers, a few Wood Sandpipers , a couple of Greater Sand Plovers, some Glossy Ibis etc.


Lots of Little Crakes are prancing around Lake Anita at the IBRCE, along with Water Rails, Little Bitterns, herons and egrets of all kinds, masses of Swallows, Martins and Swifts, warblers, Chiffs, Penduline Tits, Bluethroats etc. And of course there was much better Steppe Eagle migration almost all week, many cruising low over the park, and a sharp rise in Steppe Buzzards coming across. A few Short-toed Eagles, Black Kites, Egyptian Vulture, Sparrowhawks and a couple of Lesser Kestrels also joined the wave.


Cretzchmars Buntings have started to arrive, Northern Wheatears have joined the other 7 species of wheatears here, first Wrynecks, Woodchat Shrikes, Yellow Wagtails popping up everywhere, Syrian Serins still at Ovda and middle Arava, big gulls continue to flow in plus a few more Gull-billed Terns. so pretty quiet...  How quiet? you may be asking yourself. Well there are almost no Reed Warblers around, so few that one of the ringers got excited about catching one! No Eastern Orphean Warblers yet either. maybe they are weary of the Crested Honey Buzzards - they are still here! Have a birdful week, it will get better!






Birds, lots and lots of birds! That is March in Eilat. We have finally put the Crested Honey Buzzards behind us and are doing some real birding! This was the week of the humble Sedge Warbler. I've never seen so many Sedges as this spring and Tuesday morning at Yotvata north circular field they were literally everywhere, hundreds of them. Reed Warblers have been fairly scarce but they were also there in numbers along with Savi's Warblers, Bluethroats and masses of Prinias.


Lake Anita is also crawling with Sedge Warblers who are driving the Moustached Warblers crazy trying to protect their territory. Rails and Crakes are cruising the edges, many, many Chiffs with Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers now pouring in too. The sky is moving with a constant flow of Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, House, Sand and Pale Crag Martins, Pallid and Common Swifts with some Alpine Swifts and a lone Little Swift.

A few more waders are arriving including another White-tailed Lapwing and an early Curlew Sandpiper plus some Godwits. Loads of gulls are moving through including the occasional Pallas's Gull, many Caspian,Heuglin and Baltic gulls.


Park Holland is hopping with big numbers of Ruppells Warblers and the first Subalpines also seen. There are loads of Lesser Whitethroats and a few Common Whitethroats and plenty more to come shortly. Steppe Eagle migration has been painfully slow but a few more birds today along with the occasional Steppe Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles, an Egyptian Vulture and Imperial Eagle.

Today I got to Ovda with two English guests who helped find a nice list of birds. It is really green in parts and the Isabelline Wheatears are everywhere. Nice numbers also of Desert, Mourning, Hooded, White-crowned Wheatears and the first Black-eared Wheatears also coming through. There were still Asian Desert Warblers and a nice group of 15 Syrian Serins. Plenty of migrants are also there including Ruppells Warblers, Tawny Pipits, Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats, still a pair of Hen Harriers and Steppe Eagles passing high above.

The Richards Pipit is still showing at Neot Smadar and loads of Desert Finch at Yotvata and a couple of Oriental Skylarks. It's going to be good there shortly so don't miss it. So much to see and so little time, come and help me see it all! Have an even better week this week!





Yes I know you are probably sick of hearing about Crested Honey Buzzards. We are sick of them too. they have become a menace, sticking their noses in wherever you go.

6:30 am is first net round and there is a Crested Honey Buzzard showing off in the tree above the nets.

I take an innocent tourist to see the Long-eared Owls and a Crested Honey Buzzard glides past at ankle height: "Just ignore", I tell the visitor, "he's showing off and we don't want to encourage him". He comes back 10 minutes later with a new addition, a young female (possible hybrid).


Rei and I decide to go deal with them and we find them hanging around on the ground just waiting to be photographed. So much Chutzpah! We get rid of them and I go to help some tourists find Steppe Eagles. Looking high above us I soon see six birds very high in a thermal - all Crested Honey Buzzards pretending to be Steppe Eagles, pathetic.

I am quietly minding my own business, happily counting Bulbuls and Collared Doves on the trees when 5 Crested Honey Buzzards come to sit on the same trees, scaring away my Bulbuls, this is getting annoying. I go back to the lake to count Barn Swallows and House Martins and the male and new female come waltzing in playing lovey dovey in the middle of the swallows.




The new girl in town. She is pretty good looking you have to admit.


Well, love is in the air in the park and it's bringing some unusual pairings. The Pygmy Cormorant is making mating calls and doing a neck dance, so far only a Mallard has shown any interest. A White-throated and Pied Kingfisher have been spending their days together which could be an interesting hybrid. And then there is the Cormorant who has been hanging around on the powerlines with a Purple Heron and I don't even want to think how disfunctional that hybrid might be!

So if you come to the park please don't encourage the Honey Buzzards and weird couples, just ignore them. The real birding this weekend was pretty much limited to Lake Anita with the first hide looking glorious again. The Crakes are back again, the Rail is there, Savis and Sedge Warblers wandering around nonchalently, loads of Chiffs, Bluethroats, Cetti's and Moustached warblers still around and occasionally a Little Bittern comes to visit - all in the 3 metre enclave.


Swallows, Martins and Swifts continue to pour through but other warblers limited mainly to Park Holland (5 Ruppell’s Warblers already there) and Nahal Ya'alon behind Kibbutz Yahel. But they will soon see plenty of migrants coming in, first Wryneck was seen in Samar today.


Ponds have been pretty quiet except in the evenings when hundreds of gulls come in. Almost no Steppe Eagles seen all weekend, one Short-toed Eagle but this will change very quickly...should be big numbers coming through this week. Plenty of birds to look forward too, just ignore the Crested Honey Buzzards!





Nothing much happened this week.... except for a flood of birds moving in from Africa on their way to the breeding grounds in Europe and Asia.

My favourite part of the early migration is the clouds of swifts and swallows that appear over the Yotvata fields. Strong southerly winds on Friday prevented that but this afternoon it was show time! Thousands of Pallid Swifts filled the air from ground level to kilometers high joined by hundreds of Barn Swallows, Pale Crag Martins, a few House Martins and even some Sand Martins. The fields are strangely lacking in Pipits and Larks but there were some Desert Finch, Corn Buntings, the Yellow wagtail, Imperial Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, a couple of Steppe Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard etc.


The park also saw a nice wave of passerine migration with loads of Chiffchaffs, the first Savi's Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Sedge and Reed Warblers. And of course the Crested Honey Buzzards continue to molest visitors by turning up 5 minutes after they leave. This morning was cloudy and even a little rainy so the birds were out cruising around and sitting on tree tops over the fields. There were good numbers of Steppe Eagles during the week but only a few at the weekend but that will definitely change this week.


Ovda was wild and windy when I visited Friday but plenty of green patches in the first half of the valley, still worth a visit in the mornings.

The ponds were sort of quiet this week, one Bonelli’s Eagle still around but the canal section at North Beach was absolutely bouncing with birds, worth checking out on the way to an empty beach.

If you're coming be sure to drop into the visitor centre, get the latest info, we'd love to see you! Have a wonderful week!




Eilat is beginning to lose it's good name… on Thursday it rained for the fourth time this winter. we might as well be in Wales! We got a whopping 9mm of rain, nearly half the annual average.


But the weekend brought back sunshine, 25C temperatures, a light wind. in short - paradise. Following the rains is a huge burst of insects, butterflies and dragonflies and strangely not too many birds taking advantage of the fantastic conditions.

On Friday I had a birthday breakfast to get too so I had just a couple of hours in the park. It was enough to see a marked increase in activity, mainly Chiffchaffs and Bluethroats coming in but also Reed and Sedge Warblers. During a walk around the park I picked up a White-tailed Lapwing flying over (Rei and Robin also picked him up), a very early date for this fairly rare species. He was seen later on the canal and is probably hanging around the Eilot fields.


There was also the wintering Common Rosefinch, the odd Crested Honey Buzzard, the Lesser White-fronted Goose made a couple of appearances, a Great Bittern crash landing, not too shabby. I had breakfast by the southern beach and the Brown Booby dropped in briefly while 14 Greater Sand Plovers were among many waders at the oil port. Later I took Maciek to look for Silverbills, his boogie bird, along the date plantations till Yotvata. Of course when you need them none are to be found and we found very few birds anywhere.

The Merganser was still at Elifaz, not exactly the species that would interest a Pole.


Today was family day at the park, thousands of visitors packed the park and I was ringing all day. The Honey Buzzards came over 3 times, Steppe Eagles were moving around 10am, White-winged Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered Tern, a couple of Yellow Wagtails… a bits and pieces sort of day.

Evenings on the lake have been popular with Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse speeding past spot on time, Bitterns, Rails etc. A Calandra Lark was reported near the lake, Dead Sea Sparrows on the canal, Maciek had 3 groups of Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse in Wadi Shachamon where the Pallid Scops Owl was and the desert still has all it's goodies. Next week migration will change everything, many birds leaving, many arriving, it's going to be fun! Have a great week!




Déjà vu - it happened again.... . It's nearly a year since Anton and I saw the Pacific Swift sweep over Anita Lake. This morning around 10:30 I'm sitting in the lake hide drinking coffee with Yaniv when the first group of Pallid Swifts arrived on the lake. and one of them has a beautiful white rump. I get rid of the coffee, grab the camera and leap out of the hide cursing away at the poor timing. While I picked him up quite quickly all I could do was watch it disappear with the other swifts across into Jordan. It wasn't a Pacific Swift, slightly smaller than the Pallids, lighter brown, long thin wings and gone too quickly to know much more.


The strong, cool northerly winds meant very few birds were moving about and we certainly weren't expecting anything interesting. I trudged off to close the nets and soon saw the Crested Honey Buzzards moving low over the Eilot fields - this after confidently telling all the visiting birders that you won't see the Honey Buzzards on such a windy day with clear skies.

I tried to ignore them but a few minutes later they were all around me… some at head height only metres away. I tried to take a normal photo but it's not easy when your hands are full of birds!



Despite the wind migration is now obvious everywhere. House Martins and Barn Swallows are everywhere, Steppe Eagles arrive each morning around 10, the first Sedge Warbler arrived in the nets and a Yellow Wagtail popped up at Yotvata. Another nice find was a Yellow-Browed Warbler and Hume’s Leaf Warbler in a small park near home - courtesy of Limor Malul.


The Merganser is back at Elifaz, Black Bush Robins were bathing at Samar, 7 Greater Sand Plovers were at the southern beach (the oil port) - courtesy of Maarten Sluijter, the Pygmy Cormorant is coming into breeding plumage, the Great Bitterns are still terrorising the lake residents, a Roller is milling around , lots of regular birds are being cute and all this without getting into the desert.

Yes, even a slow weekend can be a challenge. and I haven't mentioned the two 8yo girls climbing all over me all weekend! Have a super week!





There were two major events in Eilat and the Arava this weekend - Israel's Iron Man race and the annual Desert Birds Survey. While they swam 4 kms, biked 180 kms and ran 42.2kms we walked around in circles in the desert generally seeing very little ...in short we were competing to see who were the bigger masochists.

In the end the Iron men won, too many birders enjoyed themselves despite walking 10 km in 5 hours to see 5 birds. We thought our first morning was rough when we saw just a few Desert larks, Scrub Warblers, a Desert Wheatear and a couple of Hoopoe Larks… but we were the lucky ones, some teams seeing only a couple of Brown-necked Ravens floating away in the distance.



Today we saw even less but it is all for a very worthy cause and by the many smiles I think we're going to have even more volunteers next year. Many thanks to Noam, Itai, Libby, Eran and his team for exceptional organisation and keeping the spirits high. In the afternoon the volunteers headed off to see the goodies wintering along the Arava. still plenty of good birding around the regular sites. Plus migration is now being felt in a number of areas.

Yotvata this afternoon had a couple of hundred Pallid Swifts, some Common Swifts and even a Sand Martin. Steppe Eagles are now daily, one sitting on our polygon this morning and others drifting across mid-morning. Two Isabelline Wheatears passed through the park this afternoon and a Greater Spotted Cuckoo was also seen.

K19 is still good in the evenings and plenty of gulls are still coming in to roost in the park pools. It's all good.....that's our motto!





If last week was a wild goose chase, today it was a wild wheatear chase. Along with Rei, Robin (our new volunteer) and Le'a we headed off to look for the reported Red-rumped and Basalt Wheatears. there was no sign of either and the area was virtually empty of life.


On the way up we stopped to look for drinking Sandgrouse on the Sayerim Plain, not a bird in sight but Robin spotted a wolf in the distance. When we got a bit closer we could see he had brought down a large male Dorcas Gazelle which was largely intact. She dragged the carcass around a bit and chased crows away while occasionally pulling off a chunk of meat and eating - it was our National Geographic moment!



Later we checked Ovda which had plenty of Wheatears (6 species) small numbers of Bar-tailed Larks, Temminck’s Larks, a few Asian Desert Warblers (including one ridiculously co-operative bird) and a Spectacled Warbler.

K19 is still the most active spot with raptors coming through regularly - Barbary and Peregrine Falcons, 2 Bonellis Eagles, Greater Spotted and Imperial Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard etc etc Pallas's Gulls have been hanging out there along with the regular water fowl. The Oriental Honey Buzzards are out and about mainly on cloudy days but I found they also frequent the little dry vineyard just north of the bird sanctuary.


The sanctuary continues to sport the Pygmy Cormorant and nice numbers of birds. Thursday evening I had the good fortune to have a Nightjar and Pharaoh's Eagle Owl come across the lake after dark ...no such luck yesterday or today. But there were 150 big gulls on the salt ponds along with a forlorn Pelican! Even stranger a Red-rumped Swallow is hanging around the canal! And of course we finally have a twitchable Pallid Scops Owl very close to my home. he is a cutie! Have a nice week- the big desert survey is coming up next weekend!




When is a twitch not a twitch?

When I told my wife I was taking Le'a to visit friends in the north for the weekend she looked at me skeptically… "So you're not going birding while you're there?" she asked disbelievingly. "Well maybe a little" I answered "but the important thing is some father/daughter bonding, just the two of us together on a road trip". That was met by hysterical laughter.

"so you're dragging our daughter across the country so you can see a goose!"

"Maybe but Le'a also needs to add some birds to her list", I replied to rolls of laughter. It doesn't matter how much packaging you do, a twitch is a twitch is a twitch. And when that twitch entails two days,over 1,000 kms and an eight year old you need to figure in stops at McDonalds, icecreams and avoiding boring birding stops.


We headed off bright and early, no not 4am, 7am, checked a few places on the way without anything of note and arrived at Gamla by 2pm. They were closing at 3pm and the ranger at the gate didn't want any more visitors. One hour is fine I told him, we only want to see the vultures. "There are no vultures today" he told us, "come back another day". "I'll be the judge of that", I replied "now give me a damn ticket!" We muscled our way in and sure enough a couple of Cinereous Vultures floated in and 12 Griffons were sitting around. A Blue Rock Thrush popped up too alongside plenty of passerines wintering there. We spent a really nice evening in Hanita with friends and awoke to Great Tits singing and Jays cackling.

It was time for a twitch but first we stopped at the Ha'ela picnic area which was buzzing, a couple of Hawfinch and Brambling among the many regular winterers, really nice spot. Down to the Hula valley before the crowds arrive and the good news is the goose has been seen already. We stroll in confidently and crawl out three hours later with no goose or Demoiselle Crane anywhere to be found. it was going to be a long drive back.


Le'a was more than happy with what we saw and demanded a celebration - at McDonalds of course. We did manage a little more birding on the way back. The reservoir beside the Dead Sea factories had a Purple Swamphen, a hundred Pallid Swifts, half a dozen Common Swifts, Pochards, Ferruginous Ducks etc.

Yotvata at night, the Pharaohs Eagle Owl was sitting on the irrigation mobile line and the 3 Egyptian Nightjars were flushed as we headed out to buy icecream.

All in all we had a pretty good time together and I'm sure we'll do plenty more twithcing. I mean bonding, in the future!





It's a brand new year and all the birds just got a year older... at least as far as ringers are concerned. We are hoping for a bumper year with loads of migrants, vagrants and pleasant surprises but in the meantime we still have last years birds.

There was just one notable arrival this week, a Pygmy Cormorant at the park. While it is a resident species in the north it is very rare here in the south. I didn't go far or see anything particularly interesting but I have found just sitting around watching the regulars at work and play to be very enjoyable.

So what can a visitor to Eilat expect to see this winter?

North Beach has good numbers of White-eyed Gulls, big gulls and Black-headed Gulls and the Striated Heron is back on the bouys.

The canal and southern most salt ponds have 60+ big gulls coming in to roost and occasionally Pallas's Gulls. There are a load of flamingo's, herons, ducks and waders on the canal, well worth an evening visit.

The park has the Great and Little Bitterns, Rails, Bluethroats, Moustached Warblers, Penduline Tits etc. The Olive-backed Pipit makes the occasional visit, the Oriental Honey Buzzards were out and about most of the week, the Menetries Warbler is only occasionally seen, a Common Rosefinch is still hanging around and a Barbary Falcon comes blasting through most days.

At KM19 the Lesser White-fronted Goose is more absent than present, the raptors come through fairly regularly, Citrine Wagtail plus the usual ducks, Cormorants and herons. The Merganser is still at Elifaz, the Humes Warbler and Black-Bush Robins are still at Samar, Sinai Rosefinch and Striolated Buntings at Amrams columns, Basalt Wheatear and hoopoe Lark at Ovda and at Yotvata the Egyptian Nightjars and Pharaoh's Eagle Owl were playing hard to get ... but they are still there.

In two weeks the big desert survey will give us a better idea of what is out in the desert, till then we'll enjoy what we have!





Shachar Shalev



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