Eilat Weekly Updates

Shachar Shalev 12/12/2018 00:00

 

 

 

 

18.5.19

 

It's final… spring is over.

Every day this week was 40C, the birds are gone, the birders have gone, the volunteers have left, the nets have been folded, the bags washed and we are left drying the tears... is it even worth getting up now??? Well there is still the chance of odds and sods - maybe a late Blackcap or Garden Warbler, a few Barn Swallows...

Thursday the first odds and sods turned up, a pair of Grey (or Red) Phalaropes quite a scarcity here. Km 20 has been so empty it was comforting to see a couple of phalaropes at all. When I got closer I thought all my Christmas's had come at once, and we don't even have Christmas here! One was clearly a winter plummage Grey Phalarope and the second looked larger with a long thin bill! It was such a mess I couldn't make out what colours it was. When they disappeared I put out an RBA and when I found them he had taken a bath and morphed back into a Grey Phalarope. still a very cool bird at any time here.

 

 

Friday morning I checked the park for more odds and sods: 3 Golden Orioles were soon joined by 3 Rosy Starlings, 4 Crested Honey Buzzards, the Black Bush Robin singing loudly etc etc. It was quite comical to see the two Rosy Starlings jump above the Tristrams Starlings and sing away at them for 15 minutes. maybe they thought they had a chance with their larger bretheren but the Tristrams just kept gorging themselves on berries.

The canal beside the park has become the wader hotspot with Temminck's Stints, Sanderling, Broad-billed Sandpiper, plenty of Wood Sandpipers, Spoonbills and plenty more. North Beach had a very unusual crow with beautiful white breast, no forehead, slightly larger bill than House Crow and bigger than a House Crow. I wonder if it's a hybrid Pied/House Crow??

There were a few Arctic Skuas around but the wind was whipping up the sand so I went to the park to see which birds were taking cover. Plenty of Common and Little Terns were roosting with some Caspian Terns and in the middle an adult Lesser Crested Tern in perfect condition. I've never seen this bird inland and it's also the first time I've seen White-cheeked Terns inland too! I could get used to this end of season. Add to this the first Marsh warbler of the season, one of the only Willow Warblers, Barbary Falcon at KM19 (which actually has plenty of birds) swifts and swallows still moving, some Bee-eaters, Baltic Gulls....it's actually quite busy here. So if anyone is feeling really crazy you could do worse than Eilat!

 

 

11.5.19

 


The start of the week saw the Honey Buzzard tsunami continue with Sunday and Monday also topping 100 000, one of the most intensive years we have seen for them. Tuesday saw just a few thousand and Wednsday singles here and here.

 

Tuesday evening at the park had the very eerie feeling of the season end, nothing moving… what are we going to do all summer. Well it wasn't a huge surprise that the end of season party was just starting! Wednesday things kicked off with a River Warbler and Olive-tree Warbler and finally an increase in passerine migration.

Thursday was even better with plenty of Garden Warblers arriving, Rosy Starlings frollicking in the berry trees, Golden Orioles slinking from tree to tree, some Barred Warblers and plenty of traffic through the air. When 350 White Storks turned up Friday I wondered if someone had turned the seasons around, Black Storks were arriving in ever larger groups, Little Egrets everywhere including 56 at KM19! Pratincoles overhead, Little Crake and Snipe which we haven't seen for sometime… and then the skies filled with Honey Buzzards again! It was just by chance that I stopped to look at a pair of raptors dropping into Km19 and one glimpse through the binoculars revealed the entire sky packed with Honey Buzzards a couple of kilometres high.

 

 

Saturday morning saw many more drop in and then Steppe Buzzard took off again! Hundreds of these pale washed out morphs streamed through all afternoon. But what really took the cake was a Subalpine Warbler male singing his heart out for over half an hour near the nets - this guy is way late! Locally it is great action too - the Black Bush Robins are getting romantic and one jumped into the nets as a leaving present for our volunteer Molly Brown and well deserved too, she has done a great job and kept the stroppy Swedes in line!

 

The Crested Honey Buzzards have been out and about all weekend, this stunning pale morph with completely white head putting on a great show. I think we'll have a number for summer, could be interesting.

North Beach has been overrun by Independence Day celebrations but my spies on boats say there have been plenty of Skuas, Sooty Shearwaters and Terns, tomorrow we reclaim the beach! Waders are still low but my guess is plenty more will arrive and the party is set to go on!

If you had as good a weekend as I did then you are very lucky or came to Eilat! Have a great week!

 

 

 

5.5.19

 


As you have probably noticed the Honey Buzzard invasion is upon us and it is a tsunami this year. I managed to get up to the mountains Friday morning and after watching a few thousand birds drift west of Mt Yoash the wind changed to a stiff cool westerly. I headed down to the low mountain lookout and the Honey Buzzards were pouring through in huge numbers and fast!

 

They were constantly kettling all around us and then gliding at speed across to Jordan. And this was just the appetiser. Saturday saw even more birds pouring over while today over 100,000 streamed over- total madness. Even more exciting is having them dropping in to drink. It happens suddenly and without warning, any pool of water can suddenly attract hundreds of Honey Buzzards.

I was checking waders at the IBRCE when they started dropping out of the sky all around us- they are both beautiful and comical and to have the full variety of morphs all around you is one of the great birding experiences.

 

 

40C and two very dedicated photographers were laying on the salt waiting for a Broad-billed Sandpiper

 

KM20 also saw hundreds of birds dropping in to drink … which is fortunate because it is inexplicably empty of waders again. Passerine migration is also very slow but a wave must come soon and even slow times aren't that bad here! Swallows, Swifts and Bee-eaters continue to fill the air, a few Black-winged Pratincoles have joined their Collared cousins, really good numbers of Broad-billed Sandpipers, north beach has had some good evenings and mornings and there are plenty of birds who are still to arrive. Fantastic week and another one coming...don't miss it!

 

 

Broad-billed sandpiper parade

 

28.4.19

 


It's migration silly season, just crazy numbers of birds pouring through. And like every spring Levant Sparrowhawks are the undisputed stars of late April. You can pretty much set your calendar and your watch by their migration… arriving in the last light of the evening, thousands of birds pack the trees and date palms and in the morning they put on an unparalleled display before moving off into Jordan. Their migration peaked this weekend with tens of thousands of them coming through the Arava and terrorising the poor passerines. Today Honey Buzzards joined the aerial display with thousands now pouring through outnumbering the dwindling migration of Steppe Buzzards. And it's not only raptors coming through the air.

 

 

every evening at the park is a magic experience with thousands of swallows and martins in the air, Common and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters noisily joining in, flocks of Common Terns, White-winged Terns, Whiskered Terns, Glossy Ibis, Herons and Egrets, lots of Turtle Doves, waders etc all moving in to roost. While passerine migration wisely remained low there were still plenty of flycatchers around, Golden Orioles have arrived in numbers, a few Thrush Nightingales and many more passerines yet to arrive. Corncrakes are wandering around in the silliest places but it is the silly season so why not?!

North Beach was packed with holidaymakers but is now thankfully back to normal. Lots of terns, a few Skuas, Sooty Shearwaters and waders in a pool behind the army base. Km20 is the quietest it's been for many years...I had to make do with 10 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, 13 Collared Pratincoles, Whiskered Terns, Glossy Ibis, first Red-backed Shrike, a few hundred waders, two Black-necked Grebes, Spoonbills, Yellow wagtails, Honey Buzzards drinking etc etc etc. So many birds and so little time to see them all. it's a good thing it wasn't my wife's birthday this weekend - oh dear, it was her birthday, okay I have some explaining to do. Have a wonderful week!

 

21.4.19

 


In Eilat and the Arava you have brilliant birding in late February when the desert birds are at their best, migrants are starting to pour through and Steppe Eagles rule the skies. Or you can have fantastic birding in late March when the song birds are peaking, raptors are pouring across the mountains and a huge variety of birds make their way back to Europe.

And then you can have unbelievable birding in late April as Levant Sparrowhawks and Honey Buzzards flood through, late song birds litter the trees in every remaining green patch, North Beach is bouncing with Terns and Skuas and waders pour through. Those visiting can choose whether they want brilliant birding, fantastic birding or unbelievable birding… but me? I live here, I have to put up with this stuff every week, no respite… go to the desert, go to the beach, go to the parks, go to the pools, don't forget the fields, the mountains - I forgot the mountains, I'm getting dizzy.

 

And this week we got an extra dose of massive migration and tricky birds. Flycatcher migration is through the roof throughout the country and here is no exception with Collared, Pied and Semi-collared Flycatchers packing out the parks and more than 20 ringed this weekend. A huge wave of Blackcaps wearing the ringers down and Wood Warblers are still pouring through. Add to this Barred Warblers and the first wave of Levant Sparrowhawks and your hands are full. A Bateleur drifted through, more wader species are arriving and then Crested trouble arrives.

First it's the Greater Crested Terns, 3 of them are hanging around with two taking a fancy to sitting on posts between Israel and Jordan. I saw them 3 times in a week but they have a habit of disappearing when they are really needed.

 

 

CHB - Adult female supervising (?) a 1CY bird.

 

And then we have Crested Honey Buzzard trouble. I've had this theory/hunch that the birds here are going to breed here. That would seem illogical for a bird that breeds in June in Siberia, but I don't think our birds belong to the population that migrates through here in late April/May. They have been turning up at irregular intervals with no connection to the season and one maybe two have spent the summer here. So I was thinking this might be the Indian sub-species that starts breeding in February. Friday morning I went to visit their termite hunting patch and I meet what looks like a very young Crested Honey Buzzard.

 

 

1CY Crested Honey Buzzard. did it hatch here?

 

The heavy blotching on the breast is something I've never seen but juvenile Honey Buzzard plumage is known to mimic other raptors plumage as a defence tactic. And this bird looks very similiar to a Goshawk ! (Barak Granit pointed that out to me). While this is all guesswork and conjecture on my part it certainly looks interesting. The female accompanying the young bird has been very busy this week, arriving in the park at 6AM, same tree opposite the lake hide and foraging all morning long.

 

The other birds have been out and about too while Eurasian honey Buzzards are also arriving, we've had some Bar-tailed Godwits, lots of Whimbrels, a few Curlews, steady numbers of Broad-billed Sandpipers, Skuas, Sooty Shearwaters...and the list goes on. It would be best to just come and enjoy it …

the next two weeks are going to be crazy!

 

 

14.4.19

 


The lull before the storm… the second week of April is traditionally a clearing out period whereas next week will see the Levant Sparrowhawk and Honey Buzzard invasion alongside a myriad of late migrants like Barred Warblers, Garden Warblers, Thrush Nightingales, Golden Orioles, many waders and many many more species.

 

Thursday evening I went to sit with Ian Cowgill in the Anita Lake hide. A stiff cool northerly breeze means we're not going to see anything so we may as well sit sheltered and drown our sorrows with strong coffee. There was very little moving except for 40-50 Collared Pratincoles prancing around, 100 Levants came high overhead, 3 Osprey thought about fishing in the lake and then moved on, a handful of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and 40 odd Common Bee-eaters, buzzards, kites and harriers, hundreds of swallows, martins and swifts, 60+ Wood Sandpipers going over, 6 Gull-billed Terns dropped in, all the usual herons, bitterns, crakes, rails, warblers, Rufous Bush-robins etc good thing we will get some more migration next week.

 

Friday morning I headed up to a remote canyon for a raptor breeding survey. It was freezing cold and blowing a gale… we really are going to see absolutely nothing. In the regular raptor watchpoint above Eilat tens of thousands of raptors poured through and we got them dribbling through in the hundreds where we were. Amongst them was a Lanner Falcon which was nice, I don't often see them. Then an Egyptian Vulture cruised into our canyon, scoured the walls and eventually settled on the opposite wall. He picked up something and headed off with it, that was nice. Then a Bonelli's Eagle comes in doing the same routine search, disappeared and then came screaming back ambushing and carrying off a Rock Pigeon - very cool indeed. Here too bee-eaters, swallows and martins were cruising past, an Ortolan Bunting was hopping around the rocks, Bonelli's Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps, two Hooded Wheatear parents with a young bird and a constant stream of raptors.

Neot Smadar, Ovda and Yotvata are very quiet but it's still possible to see something. Park Canada is perhaps the nicest spot this week as it is shady and cool, the Red-Breasted Flycatcher still showing by the school, Collared and Pied Flycatchers are easily found and the Wood Warbler acacias always have 6-7 Wood Warblers. Wader numbers are very low but must pick up soon, North Beach will also soon be packed with terns. Let the fun begin! Enjoy your week, I will certainly enjoy mine!

 

 

7.4.19

 


The week started with an excellent wave of songbird migration that saw the trees in Eilat's parks dripping with birds as were all the green spots along the Arava Valley. By midweek most of the birds had moved on and the lull period left an eerie quiet.

The brilliant flowering through the Negev has siphoned off almost all the wheatears, larks, Yellow Wagtails, Bee-eaters? and probably many of the swifts, swallows and even Scops Owls. Wader migration hasn't really taken off yet and even raptor migration was very slow. It was a good thing then that a Greater Creasted Tern decided to visit and keep the throngs of birders very happy - except the following day twitchers that is. Greater Crested Terns are pretty rare visitors here and generally drift through being seen by one or two lucky birders at most. This one spent the evening on a buoy right in front of us and everyone who made it got excellent views.

 

Eran Banker broke his 20 year curse with the bird and maybe we'll let him come on a pelagic to see if it has broken his other curses!? Friday saw the first Eurasian Honey Buzzard drop into the park, still a few Ruppell's and Subalpine Warblers around, Rufous Bush Robins now singing everywhere, Black Bush Robins reported in a dozen different places, everything ticking along nicely.

Saturday afternoon our volunteers (Molly Brown, Anton Blanch,Hannes Andersson,Saed Shomaly) joined me and Stefan Lindqvist for a trip up to KM94. The mission was a Hoooe Lark for Molly and Hannes, but also to see some blooming desert. On the way up we saw plenty of raptors including an Egyptian Vulture hugging the foothills around Yahel, 3 just out of the nest Great Gray Shrikes and a Pale Rock Martin breeding in a very public place. KM94 got plenty of rain and is blossoming beautifully with loads of Painted Ladies coming through too. We met Tawny and Tree Pipits wandering up the wadi along with Isabelline and Black-eared Wheatears, Greater Short-toed Larks, a GG Shrike, Desert Larks and then pairs of Bar-tailed Larks singing.

A fresh juvenile BT Lark took a fancy to us and bounced around us singing away.

 

The Hoopoe Lark was playing hard to get though and just as we were ready to leave Anton picked him up in the distance. He sang and displayed brilliantly and we headed off to KM82, the west side. Here the Acacia tree wadi is bouncing with migrants, apart from the many Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Bonelli's Warblers we found our first Levants Sparrowhawk of the season, a couple of Turtle Doves, Masked Shrikes, Ruppells Warblers, a Redstart etc’ The place is in good condition and will only get more active now.

This afternoon I had a Collared and a Pied Flycatcher in Park Canada, 5 Whimbrels at North Beach and a Brown Booby arrived after I left. Anita Lake was packed with waders alongside the normal load of crakes, rails, herons etc it is all good...really good...and about to get really crazy. So stay tuned!

 

30.3.19

 


Sneak Birding: When you live in a place like Eilat and migration is going on all around you - you find ways to sneak 5 minutes here for this park while shopping, this field on the way to work and the skies at coffee break. Sometimes this reaches another level. you invent a reason to get out of the house to check a spot you haven't got around to… despite birding all day two days straight.

 

Wednsday evening I spotted such an opportunity when a certain non-birding member of the family recieved a call from her sister. "Just going to buy milk dear" I say as I slip out the door and race to the nearest park. I was hoping for some black/white flycatchers but no luck. I still have a little time until Le'a's tennis class. If I run quickly I can check Shachamon Park which can be really good for flycatchers. Racing down to the bottom section of the park I saw plenty of birds on the trees, even a couple of Subalpine Warblers but no flycatchers. As I race back to the car a Wryneck lands at the base of a tree a metre away. I'm already late and send him flying off to the top of the next tree, where he lands beside a shrike - a Brown Shrike. Well this is awkward. I'm late, it's getting dark, my phone is being charged at home, there are no other birders in sight, the bird has spotted me and is now hiding among the top leaves, I have no milk and no plausible excuse. It's a glory or abject failure moment, and this damn shrike is not going to get the better of me! I feign a move to the left and the moment he moved right I darted right and caught him in the open. He was probably amused by my comical antics but I got a couple of pictures, one of them passable.

I race home, badly late, no milk, camera on shoulder, saved only by the prolonged phone call. Le'a is off to tennis, I get an RBA out - mission accomplished! I really thought the bird would stick around and everyone would get to see it, it was not to be. but Israel has a new species for the national list!

 

 

 

Brown Shrike - Shachamon Park Eilat city 27.3.19

 

Elsewhere the International Birding Observatory Conference has brought great birders and conservationists to Eilat, an intensive learning process and of course many friends from afar to meet. The network of birding observatories is growing fast and will provide ever better service to birders and birds alike.

One question that surfaces every spring around the start of april is "are we having a good spring?" . Everyone will give you a different answer but my answer is an emphatic " We are having a fantastic spring! for the birds!" What makes it especially fantastic is the excellent rains that have turned the desert green spotted with millions of flowers combined with massive butterfly migration which has the desert crawling with caterpillars. The birds are feasting, they look great, there is plenty for everyone and they are getting fat!

Nitzana is fantastic, the Meishar is brilliant, Mitzpe Ramon is blooming, the Arava looks great, the parks in Eilat are bouncing with birds, raptors are pouring over in stunning numbers and I have a Brown Shrike (okay I won't mention the Shrike) life is great!

 

The birds that have really arrived in great numbers include the Pale Rock Sparrows, Ruppell’s Warblers, Subalpine Warblers, Lesser Kestrels, Northern Wheatears, Black Bush Robins, Lesser Whitethroats, Spanish Sparrows, Sedge Warblers...it is not a bad list. The best places at the moment: Nahal Ya'alon + KM82 excellent warbler numbers. Ovda- still looking green and attracting migrants. Yotvata- many more Harriers, huge Spanish Sparrow flock ...not much else. Eilat parks- bouncing with warblers plus raptors overhead. IBRCE- no visit is complete without a day at the park! Wow- enjoy it while it's here!

 

23.3.19

 


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!

 

 

16.3.19

 


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

 

9.3.19

 


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!

 

 

 

2.3.19

 


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!

 

 

23.2.19

 


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!

 

 

16.2.19

 


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!

 

9.2.19

 


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!

 

2.2.19

 


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!

 

 

27.1.19

 


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!

 

 

20.1.19

 


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!

 
 

13.1.19

 


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!

 

 

5.1.19

 


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

 
 
 

Articles

land marks