Eilat Birds Festival - 2012

6th International Eilat Bird Festival







Another great festival week is behind us.

The 6th Eilat Birds Festival drew a great crowd of birders and brought together a fascinating bunch of birding professionals of the highest level and amateurs birders, both from abroad and from Israel. Besides the varied birding groups the festival held a highly successful photography workshop that was attended by 15 photographers from Israel, the Netherlands and the UK.


On top of the classic festival visitors, the event was joined and acknowledged by hundreds of birders visiting Eilat causing a nice “buzz” around Eilat in late March 2012.


2012 - Eilat is back!


Spring 2012 is shaping up to be an extraordinary season (some say the best in 20 years) both in terms of numbers of common migrants and with the added value of irregular waves of some rare Eastern species. Besides the awesome waves of migrants it seems that 2012 is finally the season that brought Eilat back to the center of the WP scene.


Birders from Finland, the Netherlands and the UK returned in good numbers this spring, adding to the excellent birding atmosphere.

Big names in the WP Birding scene popped up in Eilat, and for many closing the day at the North Beach alongside the likes of Hadoram Shirihai, Dick Forsman and Klaus Malling Olssen was just as exciting as the birds! Surely the spring of 2012 will be a memorable one for years to come.



Festival Birding highlights


As mentioned and hailed all over the web, spring 2012 is shaping up to be a record spring for many migrants, both common and rare. Around mid-march awesome waves of passerines were noted in Eilat and southern Israel.


The desert wadis filled with ticking Sylvia Warblers, including an unprecedented wave of Rueppell’s and Cyprus Warblers. Large numbers of Redstarts, both of the nominate form and the beautiful sammamisicus (Ehrenberg’s) Redstart filled the plantations and fields.


On some of the festival morning tours the groups enjoyed literally 100’s of these beauties, mainly males. Impressive numbers of Black-eared Wheatears, Tree Pipits, Chiffchaffs and Cretzschmar’s Buntings were noticeable. Towards the end of the week Balkan Warblers, Ortolan Buntings, Masked and Woodchat Shrikes, Blue and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes added color to the desert scrub.


The most intriguing wave of migrants so far was the arrival of record numbers of both Cyprus and Pied Wheatears. Normally rare and sporadic, up to 30 Pied and around 20 Cyprus Wheatears were recorded in the last 10 days of March. Most of the birds found were males, many 1st winter birds and our field sessions were dominated by talk of Wheatear identification.

Amongst the Pied Wheatears 2 male birds of the rare Asian form vittata were found, representing the first 2 records of this form for Israel.




Israel’s sixth Basalt Wheatear - Oenanthe warriae was found at the Uvda Valley on March 22nd.The bird remained throughout the festival and was loyal to a small area, thus allowing

many birders to study this intriguing, geographically isolated form, surely a separate species.




Up to 5 Caspian Plovers were seen on and off at the Yotvata fields which hosted huge numbers of Greater Short-toed Larks and up to 40 Bimaculated Larks.


Southern Israel is home to many near eastern specialties, and many resident and nomadic desert birds such as Larks, Wheatears and Sandgrouse are easier to see here than anywhere else. Despite the very dry winter over much of southern Israel, good numbers of rare Larks with nomadic tendencies lingered in the Uvda Valley and were seen on the festival desert tours.


Good numbers of Thick-billed, Temminck’s and Bar-tailed Larks delighted one and all, and Spotted & Crowned Sandgrouses, Trumpeter Finches, Mourning, Hooded and Desert Wheatears were easy to locate.  


Eilat is known as a premier spot for soaring bird migration and indeed weather patterns this year were ideal and the Eilat Mnts were the place to be in late march.

Festival groups got the ultimate combination, close up views of many quality species ( Steppe and Long-legged Buzzards, Steppe, Lesser spotted, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Black Kites, Egyptian Vultures and more) and were treated to a few memorable awesome flocks, mainly of White Storks, including a whopping 12,000 on the last morning of the festival !!


Specialty tours


Nizzana and the Negev received good rains this past winter and the region specialties showed well. Good numbers of Cream-coloured Coursers and a few dancing male Macqueen’s Bustard stole the show but up to 4 species of Sandgrouse (Spotted, Crowned, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied) were all seen.

The Nizzana trips also logged many species of birds of prey including Pallid Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard, Barbary Falcon, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures.


The Dead Sea trips scored with awesome views of Bonelli’s Eagles, Striolated Buntings, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Fan-tailed Ravens, Streaked Scrub Warbler, as well as a long list of migrants. Both trips also enjoyed good soaring bird migration with groups of Cranes, good numbers of White and Black Storks and thousands of Steppe Buzzards.


The Night trips were excellent as well.

The Yotvata fields held hunting Egyptian Nightjars and up to 5 were seen on our trips. The groups also had cracking views of the resident Pharaohs Eagle Owl and good encounters with mammals like Golden Jackal, Wolf, Fox and Hare.




The 2 Rambo night trips during the week were memorable as well. The Nubian Nightjars showed very well at the southern Dead Sea and were even joined by a migrant Egyptian Nightjar that lingered for nearly 2 weeks. Hume’s Owls were hard this year and one of the groups only heard a distant Owl.

Never the less the second Rambo night trip was an astounding success with good views of the Owl as well as a Wild Cat.





The 6th festival could not have been such a memorable week without the geniuine efforts of the following:


·         Israel Ornithological Center Director Dan Alon.


·         Festival Coordinators and leaders – Jonathan Meyrav and Itai Shanni.


·         The leaders – Yoav Perlman, Noam Weiss, Yuval Dax, Asaf Mayrose,  Meidad Goren and Eran Banker.


·         Photography workshop leaders – Yossi Eshbol and Roni Livne.


·          The lecturers – Jonathan Meyrav, Yoav Perlman, Roni Livne, Martin Garner,   Dr. Benny Shalmon and Itai Shanni for wonderful evening presentations.


·          The International Birding & Research Centre Eilat (IBRCE) – Tzadok Tsemach, Yotam Lenhardt, Itai Shanni and the volunteers: Roni Vaisanen Fabian Meijer, Christian Brinkman for their great hospitality and wonderful explanations.


·         Richard Melzack for his great work in the UK and foreign markets, and for his prolonged help and support.


·         Ofra Lavie at the festival information desk.


·         The “Journalists” – Martin Garner (Birding Frontiers), Neil Glenn (Birding Magazine) and Laura Kammermeier (Birds, Words and Websites) for finding the time to come join us at Eilat and cover the festival, We’re sure they did not suffer too much…


·         Thanks to John Brodie Good and his team at WILDWINGS for their on-going help in marketing and promoting the festival, and giving us a proper stage to promote the event worldwide. Many of our UK and other birders came through WildWings and this is worthy of special thanks.





We would like to thank the Israeli Board of Tourism for their generous support and help with foreign journalist coverage and other expenses.


A special thank goes to the “Isrotel” hotel chain for their on-going support, and especially the "Yam-Suf Hotel” staff for making us feel at home and catering to all our strange birder requests at all hours of the day and night.

A final word of thanks has to go to our visitors, Israeli and International alike.







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