Eilat Birds Festival - 2010

Jonathan Meyrav 19/02/2015 00:00



 Festival Summary






Another great festival week is behind us. The 4th festival drew a serious crowd of birders and caused a nice buzz around Eilat in late March 2010. All of the festival tours were booked solid as usual, and, besides the festival package visitors, many other birders visiting Eilat took part in the festival activities.


A nice selection of great rarities lingered throughout the week, allowing all the festival visitors to tick of some impressive WP species. To name a few, Pied and Cyprus Wheatears, White-tailed and Caspian Plovers, Thick-billed, Temminck's and Bimaculated Larks, a controversial Sand Plover and much more.


Spring 2010 is shaping up to be an extraordinary season, one that will be remembered for years. The irregular and large scale weather events of the previous winter brought significant amounts of rain to the deserts of Southern Israel. Areas that did not receive a drop of rain for 5-6 years got soaked and replenished.


Arid Wadis that lay barren for 20 years flash flooded this year bringing much needed water to the desert. The excellent winter brought life to even the most arid places in the southern Negev Plateaus. Carpets of desert bloom spread out through the desert and even the shallowest of wadis are lush and green and stand out like green snakes through the landscape.





It is heart-warming to see how the sudden abundance of resources and seasonal richness is embraced by many desert species. Birds that did not breed for some years due to the drought conditions finally did so, and with great success.


As is the case following such good winters, some rare and opportunistic Lark species sometimes show up in good numbers and attempt to breed. We greatly anticipate these invasions and the last time such an event occurred was in spring 2003.


This spring, Thick-billed Larks arrived in good numbers, allowing the festival visitors to get up close and personal with this rare and enigmatic species. Temminck's Horned Larks also got busy with breeding early and were very reliable singing and showing well. Amongst the thousands of Short-toed Larks around, small numbers of Bimaculated Larks were found with some patience. Several pairs of Lesser Short-toed Larks were seen displaying and singing daily at different green patches, with clear intentions of breeding.


This year's specialty tours were a great success with most target species seen well with a great supporting cast of migrants and specialties. Maqueen's Bustards were seen on all the Nizzana tours as well as exceptionally good numbers of Cream-colored Coursers.


Sandgrouse were difficult everywhere this year, with only small numbers seen here and there. This is largely due to the excellent rains and flooding that the Nizzana area received, as a result there is much water available in the desert, and most regular drinking spots lose their significance. Still, small numbers of Pin-tailed, Spotted and Black-bellied Sandgrouse were present.




The Dead Sea specialty tours were interesting and got all the specialty species of the region and much more, good raptor migration and a good look at the resident pair of Bonelli's Eagles that are nesting for the first time in 10 years.





The Nubian Nightjar tours got some of the best views ever of these enigmatic night species, down to a few meters. An added bonus to most of the Nightjar tours was a very cool family of Arabian Warblers, consisting of parents feeding 2 young fledglings at the Shezaf Nature Reserve.

The Hume's Owl tours were also enjoyable and although the group struggled with several reliable Owl pairs going silent, their efforts were rewarded with great views of Egyptian Nightjars and a hunting Pharaoh's Eagle Owl.



2010 Festival tour highlights


All the festival tours were productive and drew a good crowd daily. 2-3 minibuses left the hotel every morning, full of highly motivated birders that kept the general level of birding very high.


The guides efforts and field skills were highly acknowledged by visiting birders and many of the week's best birds were found on the guided morning coach tours. Many of the rarities found during the week lingered, allowing everyone to catch up with them.

We are happy to present you with a day to day summery of the festival week's highlights, as well as a few short tour reports, as compiled by the guides themselves.


This year a whopping 248 species were seen during the festival week, breaking last year's record and keeping the bar very high. The full 2010 festival checklist will be available right here soon.


Thursday 18th March - Festival Opening day, afternoon tour.


The 4th festival opened with a short afternoon tour to the K20 salt pans. The pools held the usual selection of waders, with the most interesting being a few Marsh Sandpipers and a Grey Plover.


A phone call from Itai Shanni that he had just found a White-tailed Plover was a nice diversion, and the group got to the site quickly and got great views of not one, but 2 White-tailed Plovers. Other good birds seen that afternoon were a Siberian Stonechat and a few supercirialis Yellow Wagtails.





Friday 19th March - First full festival day


The first tour to leave was the full day Dead-Sea specialty tour, closely followed by the 2 morning tours, the IBRCE Park and mountains tour, and the southern Arava Tour. I led the southern Arava tour that day and it was an excellent half day tour.


"We left the hotel at 06:00 sharp, with our first stop being the southern Negev Plateau near Shizzafon junction. The area received a lot of rain and a beautiful green carpet had formed in the desert acting as a magnet to the many migrants around.


The green patch was hopping with Wheatears, Pipits, Wagtails and Larks. After about 10 minutes we had scored nicely with a pair of Thick-billed Larks. The birds were first seen in flight and then landed giving superb views. After enjoying the Larks we then continued birding the patch, coming up with at least 5 Bimaculated Larks amongst the dozens of Short-toed Larks around, another life bird for many.


It was a great start to the morning and so it was down to Ketura to try for the Cyprus Wheatear found there the previous day. The bird was quickly located and gave nice views, and the rarity chase continued. We set our course to the Yotvata fields where a Caspian Plover was reported, and after some searching we found the bird, a female type, sitting quietly in an onion field.

In between rarities we had many common migrants including such stars as Wryneck, Woodchat and Masked Shrikes, Siberian Stonechats and excellent local specialties in the form of several pairs of Little Green Bee-eaters and Namaqua Doves.

It was then back to the hotel in Eilat for lunch with an excellent first morning tour behind us".




Yoav Perlman led the Dead Sea specialty tour today and besides the usual target species like Fan-tailed Ravens, Smyrna Kingfisher and Tristram's Grackles the day's highlights included a great encounter with an Arabian Warbler at Shezaf Nature Reserve, a female Bonelli's Eagle on a nest at Wadi Darga, a superb male Mountain Bunting singing and collecting nesting material and many more common migrants.



Saturday March 20th - Festival day 3



Word of the 2 very successful tours of the previous morning drew a good crowd to the minibuses this morning, with over 40 people showing up bright and early.


The southern Arava tour connected with many of the lingering rarities and added the superb male Pied Wheatear found at Yotvata. It is great to be able to see both Cyprus and Pied Wheatear males within a few minutes drive.






The morning tour to the IBRCE Park and ringing station had an amazing experience when several flocks of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters lingered and hunted around the Birdwatching Park for many minutes. The experience was complete when several of these elegant birds were caught and ringed together with the group, what a bird to see in the hand!







In the late morning everyone's eyes turned to the skies as large numbers of raptors started pouring in over the mountains and the city of Eilat.


The strong northerly winds pushed the birds down and as a result we enjoyed awesome migration right over the hotel! Within 90 minutes, several thousand Steppe Buzzards passed, together with a few Steppe Eagles, Black Kites, Black Storks, Short-toed and Booted Eagles and more.


The majority of the birds passed low giving great views and photo ops. Yoav grabbed this handsome 4cyl Steppe Eagle from his hotel room balcony, not bad…



That evening Yoav and I led the evening tour targeting the endangered Nubian Nightjars. It was a lovely afternoon and a successful evening, as described by Yoav:


"On March 20th I led a tour targeting the endangered and beautiful Nubian Nightjar south of the Dead Sea. We left Eilat early in the afternoon and started to make our way north. We decided to make a couple of birding stops along the way. Our first stop was in a small green Wadi in the central Arava. Like most of southern Israel, this region got an exceptional amount of rain this winter, and the green wadis were amazing, with spectacular desert bloom.


We had some good birds in this small Wadi, including a male Cyprus Warbler (the sole festival observation of this winter visitor) and a Siberian Stonechat. Our next stop was at the scenic Shezaf Reserve in the northern Arava.


We walked along the main Wadi and scanned the big acacia trees for our prize bird - Arabian Warbler, and very soon we had quite an amazing show - a pair feeding two recently - fledged juveniles with caterpillars! We were so lucky to watch this critically endangered species in such excellent conditions.

We made it to Neot Hakikar right on time. We positioned ourselves in front an active territory, and soon we started hearing the Nubian Nightjars vocalizing, and could even pick out the different calls of the male and female.

We had nice views of the nightjars foraging on the edge of the salt marsh, and then we continued to search for them in nearby fields. Boom! We had mind-boggling views of several birds at point-blank range, on the deck and foraging.


What spectacular birds they are. Unfortunately, they are critically endangered too, so after we made sure that all the guests enjoyed good views of the nightjars, we let the birds be and took off triumphantly towards Eilat".Also on the evening of the 20th Noam Weiss led a night tour targeting Hume's Owls and desert wildlife.


The tour was one of the best Noam ever had with great views of a Hume's Owl, 2 Egyptian Nightjars at Yotvata as well as the local Pharaoh's Eagle Owl that hunted and gave fantastic views, what a way to end another excellent day.




Sunday March 21st - Festival day 4


A wonderful northern breeze greeted us early in the morning, holding great promise of another day of migration. Three tours departed the hotel this morning, the Dead Sea tour that filled up again, this time led by Oz Horine and Eyal Shochat.


The morning tours were both very successful. The group visiting the ringing station had a great treat in the form of a Short-eared Owl, a rare migrant and an awesome bird to see in the hand. Also around the park were a few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and a single spinning Red-necked Phalarope.





Once again this morning the raptor passage picked up in the late morning and thousands of soaring birds swept over the Eilat Mtns and the southern Arava.        

Dick Forsman joined the group at the mountains and with the courtesy of the low passing birds, gave an excellent identification workshop in the field.


The day wrapped up with an evening session at the North beach, where several Caspian Terns, White-eyed Gulls and a few Pied Kingfishers wrapped up another great day of migration.




Monday March 22nd - Festival day 5


The two coach trips were once again full this morning; Jonathan led the southern Arava tour. A quick sweep of some of the lingering rarities (Thick-bills, Pied and Cyprus Wheatears) was complimented by some of the best raptor migration we had this week.


E Imperial Eagle, Steppe Eagles, Egyptian Vultures and thousands of Buzzards passed low and gave great views. A visit to a Wadi north of Yahel produced a male Blue Rock Thrush and a brief view of a Subalpine Warbler.

The surprise of the morning came in the form of a single Fan-tailed Raven, which is extremely rare this far south of the Judean Desert.


The Nizzana trip left bright and early and was led by Yoav Perlman and Dan Alon. The group had a great time with displaying Maqueen's Bustard and many CC Coursers. Once again due to the rainfall Sandgrouse were scattered and difficult to find but small numbers of Pin-tailed and fly over Spotted Sandgrouse were very nice.


The Nizzana group started heading back towards Eilat stopping at various spots along the road, adding attractive species like Citrine Wagtail, Little Owl and several Rock Thrushes to the daily list.



It was at the Meishar on road 40 that the group had the experience of the day, as Yoav Perlman writes:


"On our way back to the vehicles we came across an interesting pipit. A first glance showed that it was either a Blyth's or Richard's. We had very close but very brief views of this skulker, side-on and front, and everything I could see fit well - small bill, pale lores, neatly streaked cap and mantle, shortish tail. When the bird flew it had a perfect Blyth's call: a yellow-wagtail like call, higher pitched and clearer than Richard's, followed by two soft 'chup-chup's.


The shortish tail was obvious in flight. We lost the bird as it crossed the road and out of sight, and we had to leave to Eilat. Blyth's Pipit is a mega in Israel, with three accepted records. I have to be cautious and call it a probable, as I did not photograph it, did not have perfect views and did not see all the fine details, such as median-coverts pattern, hind claw length, but I feel pretty good about this bird."

Unfortunately the Pipit was not relocated that day nor the following.



Tuesday March 23rd - Festival day 6



One of the most intriguing birds of the 2010 festival was the famous Sandplover sp.  from the K20 pools. The bird was first found around the 20th of March and lingered around throughout the festival week.


The Sandplover was seen and photographed by numerous birders in the field. In all it is a small Sandplover with a shortish bill and short legs, showing characteristics of Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus, a very rare bird in Israel with only 2 previous records.


The bird caused a heated debate both during the festival week and a long time after, with many experts joining the discussion on various forums on-line.


In conclusion, it seems that although a good candidate for mongolus, it is impossible to safely rule out a small Greater Sandplover Charadrius leschenaultii. In some cases, definite ID is impossible to seal, even with great views and images, and a very interesting and educational case for us all.



A festival group also headed up to Nizzana this morning, led by Jonathan. The group got excellent views at 4 different Maqueen's Bustard including a displaying male, over 30 Cream-colored Coursers, Lesser Short-toed Larks, Spotted and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and all 3 resident black and white Wheatears ( Hooded, Mourning and White-crowned Black).


That evening Yoav led yet another successful Nubian Nightjar tour at the southern Dead Sea. The group saw Nightjars foraging, calling and displaying and wrapped up the evening with a close encounter with a Wild Cat.


Wednesday March 24th - Festival day 7


The last full day of the festival opened with the Sandplover going absent, only to be relocated later in the day.

The Eilat Mtns tour scored nicely with excellent raptor migration but the highlight of the morning for many was a pristine male Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse that gave excellent prolonged views right off highway 90.


Yoav and Phil found a female type Cyprus Wheatear at the K19 sewage and a small flock of Hill Sparrows stopped briefly and moved on.



The southern Arava tour had several Thick-billed Larks, Trumpeter Finches, Southern Grey Shrike, Siberian Stonechats, Pallid Harrier, Wryneck and a nice encounter with a huge Egyptian Uromastyx near Shizzafon.



2010 Festival Evening activities and presentations


The evening activities at the Agamim hotel drew a nice crowd and were a very relaxed and interesting way to wrap up the long days in the field. The lectures were given in an informal manner with the conference hall being transformed into a "birders pub" where we all enjoyed a drink with the presentations.


The interesting lectures and great atmosphere in the evenings caused a nice buzz around Eilat and from night to night more and more birders showed up for the presentations and just to mingle with other like-minded birders from all over the world. The following presentations were given during the week:


Opening Banquet and presentation - the 2010 festival was launched with the traditional opening banquet on the evening of March 18th. The banquet involves a cocktail dinner and drinks poolside on the beautiful Agamim Hotel deck.


Visitors were free to mingle whilst enjoying good food and local wines and ales. Following the dinner, we assembled in the conference hall where we enjoyed a presentation about Israel's birds as portrayed by Thomas Krumenacker.


On the 19th Amir Balaban of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory showed some recently filmed material from Israel's deserts. Amir spent several weeks in the field and captured some incredible material not seen before of displaying Bustards, Hoopoe Lark and much more.

On the 20th the birders pub featured Prof.


Reuven Yosef of the IBRCE who gave a very interesting talk about migrant's survival in extreme conditions.

On the 21st, Raptor specialist Dick Forsman presented some mouthwatering images of birds of prey from around the world. Dick's in-depth knowledge of birds of prey, complimented by his fantastic pictures was an evening to remember.


On the 22nd, photographer and film maker Paul Doherty was kind enough to come to our rescue after our original speaker Klaus Ollsen was very ill. Paul presented some of the material that he managed to film during the first days of the festival. The amazing footage included the Caspian Plovers from Yotvata, Namaqua Doves, raptor migration and more.

On the evening of the 23rd the festival leaders presented some of the festival highlights in a very interesting open discussion.


I had the pleasure to present many of the key species seen during the week, together with a short summary of the status and identification of each. Noam and Yoav presented a summary of their nighttime endeavors and Eyal Shochat lifted the glove and delved into the identification of the notorious Sandplover from K20.


March 24th was the last evening of the festival and we all gathered to compile the 2010 festival checklist. Yoav and I went through the species and discussed the special trends of spring 2010 and the unique dynamics of migration in southern Israel.

The tally for the festival was a mind boggling 248 species and the full checklist will be available for download right here on the site soon.







We would like to thank the following for making the 4th festival one of the best we had to date:

The Festival leaders, Yoav Perlman, Noam Weiss, Oz Horine, Eyal Shochat, Shai Agmon, Eran Banker, Yuval Dax and Amihud Naor who together with yours truly, put in 25 hours a day and provided visitors with world class guiding services and much more.


Thanks to Amir Balaban for a wonderful evening presentation and a helping hand. A warm thank you to the Staff of the IRBCE, Tzadok, Yael and the volunteers for the time they put in and of course to Dr. Reuven Yosef for his great efforts and ongoing partnership.


To Richard Melzack for his great work in the UK and foreign markets, and for his prolonged help and support. A large thank you and a hug go to Laya Labi for her great work at the festival information desk.


We would like to thank our distinguished guest speakers: Thomas Krumenacker for his continuing support of the festival, Israel and its birding projects and to Dick Forsman, Klaus Olsen and Paul Doherty for their contributions in making the event what it is.


Thanks must go to Fiona Barclay from Birdguides and to David Bismuth of Ornithomedia for finding the time to come join us at Eilat and cover the festival, I am 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. Thanks must go also to the team at LAPAM, for their help in promoting the event with various media, foreign and domestic.    

We would like to thank the Isrotel hotel chain for their ongoing support, and  especially the "Agamim 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 especially those from overseas. Your continuing support of Israel despite various political distractions and your taking part in Israeli Birdwatching events is the best testament to the projects’ value.


We are happy to say that the 4th festival was the largest and most successful yet and we could not have gone this far without your continuous feedback and support.



Jonathan Meyrav Dan Alon

Israel Ornithological Center


















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