Eilat Birds Festival - 2015

 

 

 

It was an amazing festival week and we are thankful to all of our participants and supporters for making this another wonderful festival. I would like to thank our team of dedicated leaders: Noam Weiss, Itai Shanni, Nadav Israeli, Elon Gur, Meidad Goren and the IBRCE Staff.

 

Special thanks to the Israel Ministry of Tourism for supporting our work, to Swarovski Optik for supporting the festival and finally to Dan Alon the director of the Israel Ornithological Center for quietly navigating things and closing all those loose ends that I forget in the heat of things J

 

 

 

The next Eilat Birds Festival will take place on March 20-27 2016

2016 will mark our 10th anniversary and we are sure it will be a great festival.

Join us and take an active part in protecting Israel’s birds and habitats, and enjoy an incredible birding vacation while doing so.

 

 

See you in Eilat!

 

Jonathan Meyrav on behalf of the Festival team.

 

 


 

Eilat Birds Festival daily summaries. Day 1 - 15/3/15

 

After pickup at the airport the group headed down to the Dead Sea.

The dramatic landscape is even more striking than usual with the nice green carpet of seasonal vegetation.

A quick coffee stop and stroll at the Northern Dead Sea produced our first flock of Black Storks and a showy Short-toed Eagle. Scanning south over the Judean desert we could see hundreds of Steppe Buzzards kettling up.

On the ground the group was thrilled with our first Little Green Bee-eaters, Arabian Babblers, a singing Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and a handful of Lesser Whites.

 

 

 

At some nearby fields we had brief looks at Indian Silver-bills, several Sand Partridges, our first Yellow Wagtails and Lesser short-toed Larks and a nice group of Desert Finch. We headed up the winding road to Metzoke Dragot where we had a few Northern and Isabelline Wheatears on the flowering slopes, White-crowned Wheatear and Blackstart.

 

Up at the viewpoint I was disappointed to see that most of the passage had shifted well west of us (thousands of Cranes and Storks were reported from Jerusalem…) but we still did well with all three Ravens (Fan-tailed, Brown necked and Common) Tristram’s Grackles and nice butterfly migration including good numbers of “Sahara” Swallowtails.

 

It was down to Eilat then, with the mandatory Falafel stop along the way.

After checking in the group headed out to the K20 Salt pools north of Eilat. The wind was strong and was not helpful but still the group led by Noam Weiss did very well with a nice selection of waders including several Marsh Sandpipers, and Gulls including a Heuglin’s.

 

The day ended with a superb Eastern Imperial Eagle that perched beautifully on a tree in the light of the setting sun.

 

 

 

 

Looking forward to the first full day of the festival tomorrow, the clear night will definitely bring birds.

 

Stay posted for more from the field, watch this space.

 

Good birding.

Jonathan Meyrav and the festival team.

 


 

 

Eilat Festival summaries. Day 2 - 16/3/15

 

 

Up bright and early for our first full day. A visit to the International Birding Center produced some cool birds in the hand, Eastern Bonneli’s Warblers, Red-rumped Swallows and more.

The skies above the park were full of Hirundines and Swifts and first Steppe Buzzards glided over the park. So it was up to the mountains where migration was in full swing!

 

Most of the passage was over high-mountain and the group enjoyed thousands of Steppe Buzzards with a nice supporting cast of several Egyptian Vultures, Steppe and Short-toed Eagles, Kites and groups of Black Storks.

The volume was impressive and the birds stayed very low battling the fierce north winds.

 

On the way down a singing male Hooded Wheatear was a cool detour. Our last stop of the morning was marvelous Holland Park. The park held large numbers of Sylvia Warblers including dozens of Lesser White-throat, 4-5 Rueppell’s Warblers, Eastern Orphean and E Subalpine Warbler, great stuff.

 

In the afternoon the winds were strong and we headed to a remote Wadi in the Eilat Mountains where we found White-Crowned Wheatears, Scrub Warblers, Trumpeter Finch and more.

 

 

 

 

We then descended to the North Beach.

The howling Northerlies are exactly the opposite of the conditions we want but we still managed Pied and Common Kingfishers, Sandwich Terns, several White-eyed, Baltic and Siberian Gull.

A Stone Curlew that came off the sea was an incredible sight. We made a brief stop at the Eilot fields where we found a nice flock of close to 100 Yellow Wagtails, mainly feldegg but also first dombrowski and a few supercirialis. Nearby we had a 2nd cal year Eastern Imperial Eagle.

 

Our final stop was the k19 reservoir. We birded till last light and sat in silence and waited for our main target species, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse.

These magical and poorly known birds drink only at very last light. We waited and suddenly the birds arrived out of nowhere 30 meters away. We had a total of 7 birds 5 males and 2 females.

The experience is magic, these enigmatic birds suddenly materialize, come down to the water to drink, preen a bit and fly back into the darkness. It was an incredible way to end a great day of birding around Eilat.

 

Tomorrow it is up to the Negev, with Bustards and Coursers in mind.

 

Stay posted and good birding.

 

Jonathan and the team

 


 

 

 

Eilat Festival summaries. Day 3 - 17/3/15

 

 

It's Election Day in Israel and with high hopes we drove out towards Nizzana in search of the majestic Macqueen's Bustard, Cream-coloured Coursers and more...

We hit the road at 04:10 and had a long drive which proved well as once we arrived a nice dancing male was performing not too far away. We enjoyed great views and after a while another dancing male was found and also a female which flew in and had one of the males running towards her to be chosen as well.

 

Soon after, 10-15 pairs of Coursers were also found and huge flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks were flying all over while a group of five Spotted Sandgrouse flew close by.

 

 

We then proceeded towards Ezuz and found a very obliging 'lilith' Little Owl and some 3000 White Storks in huge thermals overhead.

Next stop was Sde-Boker where Griffon Vultures were seen in good numbers and Egyptian Vultures were seen in intimate moments. A nice male Blue Rock Thrush was also spotted enjoying the great view of the Zin Valley.

 

After short lunch we drove on towards the Meishar and had great views of some 20-30 Bimaculated Larks flying among hundreds of Short-toed Larks and also few Skylarks. A nice male Caspian Stonechat was another nice bonus.

 


It was a long day with lots of elections; Bustards, Coursers, Isabelline Wheatears,

Egyptian Vultures and even a government for Israel.

This morning we woke up to understand that at least the birds knew better...

 

 

Itai Shanni and the festival team.

 


 

Eilat Festival summaries. Day 4 - 18/3/15

 

The groups headed out bright and early towards the Uvda Valley.

Our first bird of the day was an E. Imperial Eagle perched on a pylon near Yotvata. At the Uvda Valley we spread out and quickly got on to some good birds.

 

Good numbers of Bar-tailed Larks were present as well as a pair of Mourning Wheatears. Nice flocks of Short-toed Larks held a few Bimaculated Larks and quite a few migrant Northern and Isabelline Wheatears, Tawny Pipits and White Wags foraged in the shallow Wadis.

The rarer birds played hard to get with a flyover of 6 Thick-billed Larks and small numbers of Spotted Sandgrouse.

 

Great news were 2 pairs of Cream colored Coursers that gave great views, displaying and calling. Hopefully they will remain to breed in the area.

 

 

 

Following  breakfast we headed to Neot Smadar sewage where the first bird we saw was an adult Egyptian Vulture overhead. In the complex we found a handful of migrants including 2 Caspian Stonechats, Redstarts, Yellow Wags and more common migrants.

 

In the afternoon Noam Weiss managed to get the group on the female Semi-collared Flycatcher at Canada gardens but we failed once again with the Black Bush Robin that is still at Holland Park, but very skittish.

 

We then headed down to the K20 date plantations where a Cyprus Wheatear was reported. It took some time but we managed to find the bird in the fading light and it was an incredible bird to finish off another great day.

 


 

 

Eilat Festival summaries. Day 5 - 19/3/15

 

In the afternoon we headed north towards the Dead Sea for the “Stars of the Night” tour.

 

Following some light birding at Hemar reservoir where besides about 1,000 Pallid Swifts we had 6 Ferruginous Ducks and (only) singing Clamorous Reed Warblers.

A handful of migrants were present including this cracking male Woodchat Shrike that to our amazement took a Graceful Prinia in front of us, killed it quickly and carried it away, wow.

 

About an hour after sunset we assembled for the main event. We got off the coach and walked the short trail to the cliff edge where we waited.

Within minutes of our arrival a male Desert Tawny Owl called across the canyon. Despite our best efforts the bird would not come closer. I decided to instruct the group to step back and crouch down.

 

 

 

Within 5 minutes we had this stunning creature 20 meters below us on the cliffs. The bird stayed long enough for the group to all get great views and some pictures. It was an incredible encounter with the mysterious Owl of Israel’s desert.

 

So with one of our two targets secured it was on to the southern Dead Sea to search for Nubian Nightjar.

 

It was a very dark night with no moon; luckily it was warm enough for some insect activity. i went ahead as scout, found a bird and returned to get the group. We walked quietly in the dark and got amazing flight views of one Nubian Nightjar and another more confiding Nightjar on the track.  


What a remarkable tour, 36 people, no moon and yet a clean sweep in great time. High fives all around, a quick dinner and we were back in Eilat before midnight. Meidad Goren did an excellent Job and me, well, I was a bit strict with the group, but it paid off, big time!

 


 

Eilat Bird Festival daily summaries. Day 6 - 20/2/15

 
 

As we managed to return fairly early following the successful night tour there was demand for birding bright and early. So Itai stepped up to the plate and led the group to Yotvata first thing in the morning. The fields were fairly slow so the group climbed the eastern dunes and managed to connect with a Greater Hoopoe Lark (within Jordan, so good for the Jordan list;). The bird called frequently and even did its crazy somersault display flight, far but impressive.

 

Later the group headed for the K20 salt pans where besides the usual shorebirds and gulls we managed to find a stunning adult Pallas’s Gull in full summer plumage and a confiding male Citrine Wagtail.

 

 

 

 

In the late afternoon we gathered at Eilat North Beach where we met up with the team from Swarovski Optik that had set up a Digiscoping demo for visiting birders.

The group used the top glass to admire good numbers of White-eyed Gulls and some “white-headed Gulls” such as Armenian, Heuglin’s and Baltic Gulls.

 

Several Pied Kingfishers hunted nearby and the young dark morph Western Reef heron was staked out in the canal. Just before sunset Itai picked up a flock of Common Cranes that arrived over the bay, and continued over land. The sun set, but the journey continues.

 

In the evening we assembled for a fascinating talk about Digiscoping as presented by Daniel Muhllman from Swarovski Optik. Daniel went over the basics of digiscoping and shared some incredible images and videos that kept us all in awe at what can be achieved with a scope, adapter and a mobile phone, wow.

 

It was a great day, full of some quality birds and moments, more to come tomorrow.

 


 

 

Eilat Bird Festival daily summaries. Day 7 - 21/3/15

 

Meidad Goren set out with the group to the IBRCE Park for a short ringing session.

The bird park was alive with passerines and we enjoyed some quality species in the hand.

Besides the usual suspects we got up close and personal with an Arabian Babbler, several species of Swallows and an odd looking Reed Warbler that caused some debate due to its strange shapes and measurements, you know regular Eilat stuff.

 

Following another Digiscoping demo courtesy of Swarovski the group headed for Amram’s Pillars. At the pillars we had a nice selection of desert birds including a nesting pair of Streaked Scrub Warblers.

 

After a much needed break (by the pool) we headed for Yotvata. The Acacia scrub was alive with migrants, Masked Shrike, many Eastern Bonnelli’s Warblers, Redstart and more. A male Namaqua Dove was a great bird to finally find, they are hard this year.

The fields were rather slow so we headed toward the old Turkish Police post where we birded the scrub. It took some searching but eventually we found our target bird; Arabian Warbler (aka Red-sea Warbler).

 

 

 

 

This rare Warbler is barely clinging with only a handful of pairs in the Eilat area and only a dozen or so known territories in Israel. The group enjoyed fine views of a singing male, what a great bird to finish another great day in the field.

In the evening we gathered for the festival closing ceremony and presentation. Following some final words the stage was set for the Eilat Festival Keynote presentation.

 

Yossi Leshem gave an inspiring talk about birding projects in Israel and was followed by one of the most well known birders in the World Hadoram Shirichai.

Hadoram shared his incredible voyages following the world’s rarest seabirds, talked about his history in Eilat, where he arrived in 1985, exactly 30 years ago. Hadoram closed with the fascinating story of the Desert Tawny Owl Strix hadorami, that was just recently re-described.

 

Final morning - 22/3/15

The final morning of the festival was devoted to one of our special sites in the desert. Noam Weiss chose to take the group to Se’ifim plains; a remote desert area home to some great birds and wildlife. The spectacular landscape also produced 3 Asian Desert Warblers, Bar-tailed Larks, Desert Wheatear and more. It was a fitting way to end this great week of birding.

 

 


 

We wish you all a great spring and

make sure to check this page regularly for

festival updates and images from the field.

 

 

 

 

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