Eilat Birds Festival - 2014

IOC 17/02/2015 00:00


The 8th Eilat Festival Summary and highlights



The festival started on a very high note. Several Groups headed down to Eilat from Tel Aviv via the Dead Sea and enjoyed spectacular scenery and INCREDIBLE soaring bird migration.


Over 3000 Steppe Buzzards, Steppe, Booted, Short-toed and Lesser Spotted Eagles, hundreds of Black Storks a dozen Egyptian Vultures and all at point blank, wow talk about a strong start.


Down at Eilat passerine migration is evident with bushes tzicking with Sylvia Warblers, including some beautiful male Rüppell's and Subalpine Warblers.  

The afternoon tour was very nice with the group’s first visits to the salt pools and the beach. White-eyed Gulls are easy this year as well as a long staying Brown Booby that apparently prefers the Jordan side of the bay.





The following morning started with news of a Black Bush Robin found at Yotvata but it was only seen by some of the festival tours.

Migration in the mountains was just as jaw dropping as the day before and the strong passage was dominated by thousands of Steppe Buzzards but with good numbers of Steppe Eagles, Lesser Spotted and Short-toed Eagles, Black Storks and more.


Down in the valley some quality migrants kept visitors lists growing. Semi collared Flycatcher, Masked Shrikes, Pallid Harrier and the first Levant Sparrowhawk of the year were all logged as well as some good local specialties like Spotted Sandgrouse, Greater Hoopoe Lark,Sand Partridge and Namaqua Doves.


It was around noon when the news of a Pied Bushchat – Saxicola caprata that was found near Neot Smadar by Israeli birder Igal Siman Tov. After a few minutes discussion it was clear that the afternoon tour will be a rarity hunt, and it was a successful one, with all the festival clients connecting with this mega rarity from the Asian Steppe.





The twitch went surprisingly quickly so we had time for an evening session at the K19 sewage pools. The reservoir was packed with birds, hundreds of ducks including several Ferruginous Ducks, Citrine Wagtails a Little Crake and more.

But our main target species here were Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse that come to drink after sunset. It was great to see how over 100 birders sat down quietly and patiently waited for the cryptic Sandgrouse to appear. And indeed 3 birds flew in to drink and everyone was treated to good views in the fading light, always an excellent species, and experience to finish a bird packed day.


The Nizzana and Negev day is a long day with an early start but the birding started strong from first light. The Macqueen’s Bustards and Cream colored Coursers put on a show as well as all 4 possible Sandgrouse species, some showing down to a few meters. The high Negev was productive and as well with good soaring bird migration (Lesser Spotted Eagles and Common Cranes) many quality migrants like Flycatchers, Golden Orioles and more kept groups entertained.



Some more quality birding in the Southern Arava and the K20 pools was the next day’s fare with surprising numbers of Red-necked Phalaropes and a couple of Broad-billed Sandpipers.


Several Collared and Semi-collared Flycatchers were cool as well as first good movement of Eurasian Bee-eaters. A lucky few connected with a group of 3 Blue-cheecked that called overhead. Little Crakes popped up at a few spots today and a few groups scored with 3 late Oriental Skylarks at Yotvata fields.








The 2014 Rambo tour was led by Yoav and Meidad Goren with the help of Paul French that was with a small Sunbird group. It was a highly successful day that started in the late morning, but ended deep into the night. First stop on the way north was at the Yotvata fields where Caspian Plovers were reported.


Indeed within minutes the groups connected with a nice male, always an exciting bird to see. It was back on the road and off to the Northern Arava, Shezaf nature reserve. The groups met with IOC leader Ayla Rimon and got up close and personal with a semi habituated family of Arabian Babblers.


These charismatic birds kept everyone entertained till a pair of Displaying Arabian (Red-Sea) Warblers were found nearby and showed very well, truly an incredible stroke of luck with such a difficult and normally discrete species.  It was on to a picturesque Wadi in the Judean Desert. Some good birds in the desert scrub kept the groups busy till sunset when a pair of Hume’s Owls starting communicating across the Wadi. The male flew low over the group and landed by the female.


For a few minutes the group enjoyed the pair calling, courting and the male even presented the female with a large Rodent!

Following the amazing spectacle by the Owls the groups headed to the southern Dead Sea marshes and searched for Nubian Nightjars. Despite relentless efforts by the leaders the group could not find a Nightjar.


Several birds called around but none could be seen, well it is birding after all. The drive back to Eilat was long but high spirited and the groups finally arrived past 1am. Everyone slept well that night.


Evening programs


As usual following a good dinner we assembled at the Agamim conference hall for a daily roundup of highlights and a main presentation.

This year was special as we welcomed the Champions of the Flyway bird race teams.


It was great to connect both events and have visiting birders mingle with some of the best birders in the world that were here to compete for the coveted Champions of the Flyway award, which were helpful and friendly to all.


One of the highlights of the week was the Champions of the Flyway opening event where event architects Jonathan of the IOC and Birdlife’s Jim Lawrence presented the teams, the trophies and the conservation cause.  


Professor Yossi Leshem gave an inspiring and dynamic talk as usual and Yoav Perlman and Meidad Goren of the IOC gave an excellent overview of the birds and projects of Israel’s deserts.







We would like to thank the ongoing support of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. Big thanks to the Isrotel Hotel chain and especially the management and staff of the Agamim hotel, for putting up with our birder antics and for their ongoing support.


Thanks to Yalon Swarovski Optik for sponsoring our event and supplying the festival tour leaders with the best optics available. We would like to thank the IBRCE volunteers and staff and especially Yael and Tzadok for their professional and helpful approach.  Thanks to the Eilat board of Tourism and the municipality of Eilat for supporting the festival.


I would like to thank the festival staff and tour leaders: Noam Weiss, Yuval Dax, Nadav Israeli, Itai Shanni, Yael Lenhart, Meidad Goren, Lior Kislev and Yoav Perlman for putting in the time, energy and effort to give our groups the best birding experience available.

It is thanks to their professional approach, field skills and more importantly people skills that the IOC festivals have such an incredible client return rate.


Finally I would like to extend a warm, personal thank you to IOC director Dan Alon, for sharing the vision and encouraging a strong professional approach to our birding tourism endeavors. Finally we would like to thank our festival visitors, some of which have become true friends. It is thanks to your support that we are able to do more for the birds of Israel than ever before.

The funds raised from the IOC festivals allow us to plan ahead, to tackle larger conservation issues and to do more for the Birds and wildlife of Israel.


Over 240 species were logged during the 2014 festival week.



The first ever "Champions of the Flyway"



This year we launched the first ever “Champions of the Flyway” a unique bird race for conservation in conjunction with Birdlife International. The Champions will become an annual project, tied in with the Eilat Birds Festival, in order to celebrate migration in Eilat and raise money for campaigns against the illegal slaughter of birds on migration.



The Eilat Festival and Champions of the Flyway event were widely acknowledged worldwide and caused a strong, positive “buzz” around Eilat in spring 2014.








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