Winter Report

Frank Moffatt 06/01/2019 00:00

ISRAEL: Winter 2018

 

Arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday evening for my regular winter break in one of my favourite birding HotSpots, northern Israel. Took the short drive to my accommodation in the Harod Valley which will act as my base for the duration.

 

The Guru himself

Tuvia Khan. Jordan Valley Centre

 

Day 2: 18 December

Weather: Light rain overnight; overcast 7/8; little or no wind. Pleasant. Brightened PM.

 

Teamed up with my good friend Tuvia Kahn, birding guru of the Jordan Valley Center, and headed to Kfar Ruppin.

Packed with birds. A few selected highlights. Smart looking Daurian Shrike performed well, immature Greater Spotted Eagle, at least four Great Bitterns. Several hundred White Pelicans noted. Nice feeding flock of Glossy Ibis. Small groups of Black Storks. Bluethroats numerous, Cetti’s and Clamorous Reed Warblers vocal.

Light was dull so photography was tricky.

 

 

Day 3: 19 December 2018

THE AGAMON HULA

Weather: cloud 4/8; little or no wind; bright and sunny. Very Pleasant. Rain clouds came in from the north 1600hrs and brought showers with them.


When you’re in the north a trip to the Agamon Hula is a must especially when a first for Israel has spent much of the last month or so there: Barnacle Goose (if accepted). Fingers crossed.

I picked-up Tuvia Kahn (Jordan Valley Centre - birding) and off we went. A bit misty as we arrived at the fish ponds a little north of the AgHula but it cleared very quickly. Nice selection of birds including: single GSEagle, a smart Citrine Wagtail, Water Rail, Pied, Eurasian and Smyrna Kingfishers, Night Herons, Black Redstart, Great, Little and Cattle Egrets, Bluethroats, Clamorous Reed Warblers, Cetti’s Warblers, c.200 Shoveler, c.20 Pochard, 6+ Tufted and a mixed bag of regular waders inc. C. Snipe, Green and Common Sand, Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit.

The Agamon Hula. The sight and sound of c.60,000 Common Cranes (or part of) feeding in the lush, flat Hula Valley is an impressive start. Add the mountains of the Golan and the Upper Galilee as a back-drop and it’s a very special place to bird. Thankfully it didn’t take us long to find the BARNACLE GOOSE.

It was where it should be, left side of the main track, among the C.Cranes and not far from the red car.

The goose was nice but we were treated to a superb wintering eagle spectacular: GSE 14+, Eastern Imperial 3+, single Steppe and a rather scarce Golden Eagle. It was the latter that stole the show. Having circled overhead several times it dived down and through the feeding duck flock and picked-off a poor Mallard. Incredible to watch. Also E. Sparrowhawk, 7-8 Black-winged Kites, many Black Kites, 4-5 Long-legged Buzzard, 4+ C. Buzzard, 25-30 Marsh Harrier, single Hen Harrier and regular sightings of C. Kestrels. There was also a single White-tailed Eagle present but we failed to connect.

Other species included: Meadow and Red-throated Pipit, 15+ White Storks, Black Storks, White Pelicans, Glossy Ibis, Pygmy Cormorants.

We finished the day at Birya in a vain attempt to find a Pine Bunting. Plenty of Chaffinch, Greenfinch plus Siskin, Brambling, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Black Redstart, Robin, Wren, Syrian and E. Jays but once again this species eluded me.

A great days birding with Tuvia Kahn.

 

 

First for Israel - Barnacle Goose 19.12.18 Agamon Hula

 

 

Day 4: 20 December

Weather: heavy rain overnight; cloud 6/8; F2-3 south; bright and sunny. Rain showers passed through and around the Jordan/Beit Shean Valley on a regular basis but very pleasant all the same. Heavy underfoot and not the time to take the car into muddy areas.

 

Spent the morning and early afternoon in the Beit Shean Valley at Kfar Ruppin. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Packed with birds. I’ve posted a few images that caught my eye. Startled by a bright yellow-billed (and shield) coot on one of the fish ponds among the thousands of Eurasian Coots! Please let me know your informed thoughts.

Finished off to dusk in the Harod Valley. Minimum three Citrine Wagtails, at least two GSEagles, a stack of Marsh Harriers. The poor old White Pelicans are being given a hard time as attempts are made to prevent them from devouring the fish farms.

Another excellent day.

 

 

 

Interesting Coot - 20.12.18 Kfar Rupin

 

Day 5: 21st December

Weather: A little misty early on in places but soon cleared to leave a lovely, bright, sunny day. Quite warm, around 21C. Light F2 south wind. Cloud 2/8.

 

Collected Tuvia Kahn, Jordan Valley Centre - Birding, and we headed to Hamadia fish ponds in the Beit Shean Valley.

Isabelline Wheatear on the approaches and a nice Little Owl on the approach cliff. 3-4 GSEagles, 2 Ospreys, C. Kestrel, E. Sparrowhawk, C. Buzzard, Black Kites, several Marsh Harriers. We noted a perched Bonelli’s Eagle that eventually took flight right overhead and performed brilliantly. Not a common sight anymore in Israel. This bird was ringed and was carrying a GPS tag so it is very likely part of the International rehabilitation/release scheme coordinated in Israel. Posted a few images so maybe someone can read the ring.

 

All the usual egrets, herons, Black and White Storks, kingfishers, and mostly in good numbers. Three of four Citrine Wagtails let themselves be known, Bluethroats, Water Pipits, Clam Reed Warblers, Chiffchaffs, plenty of Dead Sea Sparrows, C. Stonechats, Pied Wagtails.

Waders were also present in good numbers: Little Stint, Ruff, Dunlin, Spotted and C. Redshanks, Greenshank, Green, Marsh, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Ringed and LRPlovers, Black-winged Stilts, C. Snipe, Spur-winged Plovers and a lone Black-tailed Godwit.

All really good stuff. Unfortunately what was not so pleasant was the noxious smelling substance that was blowing up the valley and making us feel unwell. Maybe chemical spraying?

However, we didn't let it spoil what was an excellent few hours birding.

 

 

 

 

This Bonelli’s Eagle was ringed as a chick at a nest at Gamla,

in the Golan, Israel, by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority on 29th March 2018.

Observed at Hamdia, Fish Ponds 21st December 2018, a distance of aprox. 47kms south of the nest site.

 
 

Day 6: 22nd December

Misty, overcast start but soon cleared to give a gorgeous bright sunny day. Warmest temps of the trip thus far hitting at least 23C before midday but dropping just a little early afternoon. Cloud 2/8. Little or no breeze.


Wandered the hills above the kibbutz early morning: R-r Parakeets, Common Mynas (seem to be everywhere. Keep increasing), 2-3 C.Kestrel, 2 C.Buzzard, several Chaffinch, Greenfinch and a Brambling calling. 5-6 Chiffchaff.

After breakfast I made the short 20 minute drive into the Beit Shean Valley and to the agricultural fields west of the Kfar Ruppin fishponds.

Still far too claggy underfoot to search properly for Oriental Skylark and Buff-bellied Pipit… but I was listening. Still think the latter is tricky on call. Plenty of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, Corn Bunting, White Wagtails, Water and Red-throated Pipits. Did a three hour circuit covering the vegetated fringes west of the raised fishponds: many Chiffchaffs, Bluethroats, Spanish Sparrows, Cetti’s Warblers and C. Stonechats.

The fields held an impressive group of 121 Black Storks, 6+ White Storks plus many Great and Little Egrets and Grey Herons. At least 20 Northern Lapwings, Jackdaws over and good numbers of White Pelicans.

Raptors were impressive: at least 4 GSEagles up together, several each of Osprey, Marsh Harrier, C. Kestrel, single C. Buzzard and as always many Black Kites.

After a coffee break I finished the day in the Harod Valley with emphasis on the trees and scrubby areas in an attempt to find a lurking phyllosc or better. Had to make do with numerous Chiffchaffs which are always interesting.

Yet another very enjoyable day.

Butterflies: Painted Lady, African Monarch (both seen most days) and what looks like a Clouded Yellow (of some sort). Please let me know regarding the latter.

Another enjoyable day in the field.

 
 
Kfar Rupin fields - 22.12.18
 

 

Day 7: 23rd December

Weather: Cloud 1-2/8, hazy. Almost no breeze. Cool start, fleece almost came out, but pretty warm by early afternoon 21C. Felt warmer down in the depths of the Beit Shean. Bright, sunny, pleasant day.


To the Beit Shean but a little further south to one of my favourite sites, Tirats Tsvi. Similar species mix to previous mornings (at other fish pond complexes in the Valley) but selected counts included: Little Stint 161, N. Lapwing 132, Glossy Ibis c.900 inc. one group of 764. Probably many more. At least 3 GSEagles, 4 Citrine Wagtails. Bumped into my first Pallas’s Gulls of the trip 14+. Had quite a long wander around the vegetated fringes but only the usual suspects noted… but loads of them.

After a coffee break I made my way north to Hamadia ponds. Similar mix as previous visits: Little Stint c.200, at least one GSEagle, several Penduline Tits and active flocks of Dead Sea Sparrows. C.35 Corn Buntings came in late to roost. Searched through the Water Pipits but no Buff-bellied yet. Must be there.

A bird-packed day. To the magnificent Golan tomorrow before the weather worsens. Must be a Pine Bunting up there somewhere.

 

 
Water Pipit - Tirat Tsvi 23.12.18
 

 

Day 8: 24th December

Collected Tuvia Kahn, Jordan Valley Birding Center, and headed up into the Golan where we teamed up with local Golan birder Galit Moshe. Very nice to see her again. Gorgeous weather in the Beit Shean Valley but, alas, thick mist on the tops of the Golan and cold temperatures to go with it. It was frustrating because the birds were there in numbers but we struggled to see them.

 

Nevertheless, we made the most of it.

Some highlights: small groups of Woodlarks, good numbers of Corn Buntings, plenty of Chaffinches and Spanish Sparrows, at least four Black-winged Kites, several C. Kestrels, Common Buzzard, Greenfinches, Linnets and Bramblings, Robins, Jays, Southern Grey Shrike, C. Stonechats, Chiffchaffs and numerous White-spectacled Bulbuls, Laughing Doves and Graceful Prinias.

 

Our chances of finding any of the specialities e.g. Radde’s Accentor, Red-fronted Serin, Pine Bunting, seemed slim to we cut our losses and headed down to bird the shore of Lake Tiberias. Selected highlights: 3 Kentish Plover, a few Ringed Plovers, at least 2 Little Stints, C. Redshanks, White Wagtails and Water Pipits. On or over Tiberias included: Whiskered Tern, Slender-billed Gull and Great-crested Grebe.

To the fish ponds of Gesher and then Neve Ur to dusk. As expected similar mix to previous days but also my first Booted Eagle of the trip – images distant and in poor light but they’re the only ones of the day so I’ll post them - as it was relentlessly hassled by Black Kites. Also a small group of 6 colourful Desert Finches around one of the pond fringes. And that was it. Another trip to the Golan is required. Something to look forward to.

 

Day 9: 25th December.

Firstly may I wish everyone a very MERRY CHRISTMAS. Go easy on the stuffing.

Decided to give the Golan another try. Weather was gorgeous. Little breeze, bright and sunny, just shirt sleeves required.

 

Headed directly to Alonei Habashan but failed to find any buntings. Plenty of Jays, Robins, Chiffs, Black Redstarts, Syrian Woodpeckers, Robins, Great Tits, a few Chaffinch and Greenfinch, Wild Boar and an odd Golden Jackal or two. Moved a little north to the hiking trail near the wind turbines. Similar story but I did manage at least 3 Yellowhammers mixed in with a small flock of Chaffinches. No sign of the large flock of c.70 Yellowhammers seen recently. Certainly nothing flying around or calling nearby. Maybe they were feeding on the ground? Stumbled upon a group of burly Wild Boar. Thankfully they took the easy option and ran the other way.

Next to the scenic and historic site of Gamla. Always a pleasure to wander around here. Woodlarks, Southern Grey Shrikes, E. Serins, Greenfinches, Sardinian Warblers (you hear them all over the north but usually tricky to see), several each of Robins, C. Stonechats and Black Redstarts. As expected Griffons were soaring high overhead and always nice to see another Bonelli’s Eagle drift past. This time it was an adult.

A very nice way to spend Christmas Day.

 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS from Gamla - 25.12.18

 

 

Day 10: 26th December

Weather: Cloud 1/8 to midday then 4-5/8, hazy. F2 wind from south freshened F3 afternoon. Bright and sunny, slightly cooler temps but very, very pleasant shirt-sleeved birding.

 

Stayed local today. Headed to Kfar Ruppin via the ‘scenic’ track on east of the Beit Shean Valley overlooking the Jordan Valley. Several each of Chiffchaff, Meadow and Red-throated Pipit, E. Skylark, C. Stonechat, Great Tit, Corn Buntings plus Chukkar and Blackbird.

Tuvia Kahn, Jordan Valley Birding Center, rang me regarding a freshly cut alfalfa field ‘full of birds’. Coming from Kfar Ruppin continue west, past the left turn to the ringing station, and the field is on the right (north) side of the road. Basically it’s where yesterday’s Little Bustard was.

I spent three hours or so in the field and as Tuvia suggested, it was very good.

Many Red-throated, Water and Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails especially. Also C. Kestrels, N. Lapwings, Hoopoe, Black Kites and GSEagle.

I’d walked north less than 100m when I flushed a calling ORIENTAL SKYLARK. I moved closer and realised there were at least five birds closely grouped. As they flushed they called and dragged in others. I estimated up to eleven birds in total. Very nice. It got even better. Scanning the cut crop I picked up a very conspicuous BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT. It actually called as it flushed a short distance. I was able to scope the birds pretty well but it proved impossible to get photos. No doubt there are more of each species out there and no doubt yesterday’s Little Bustard was not too far away. Almost certainly they’ve been there all along but this was the first opportunity to get among them and search properly. Good stuff.

Posted a few images from Kfar Ruppin fish ponds.

 
 
Pallas's Gull - Kfar Rupin Fishponds - 26.12.18
 

Day 11: 27th December

Unfortunately it was the weather that stole the show today. Woken by the sound of thunder and rain accompanied by a strong gusty wind from the south. The thunder eased by mid-morning but the rain stayed with us throughout in the form of heavy showers. Overcast and dark for the most part. The occasional rainbows were pretty spectacular I should add. Temps reached a meagre 12C.


Ventured to Kfar Ruppin but the tracks were out of bounds; far too muddy. Did my best to check the waders which included: c.250 Little Stint, a few Temminck’s Stint mixed in, Spotted and Common Redshank, Greenshank, c.50 Ringed Plover, c.30 Kentish Plover, Common, Wood and Green Sandpiper, N. Lapwing and Spur-winged Plover.

They were extremely skittish and tended to stick to the distant part of the pond which didn’t help my attempts to count them. Similarly the gulls were also nervous - yesterday’s Peregrine was probably still around - but included 3-4 Pallas’s among the many hundreds of Black-headed and Armenian.

 

Stuck it out until dusk but the weather beat me in the end. Too dark for photography but posted a few poor images anyway: Collared Doves winter in their thousands in these parts plus another Pallas’s Gull – don’t you just love them. Be nice to see one at Kilnsea Wetlands, Spurn, East Yorkshire.

 

Day 12: 28th December

Weather: 8/8 cloud. Overcast with heavy rain showers early to mid-morning. F3 NW. Coolish 10C. Looked like the worst of the weather would be to the east so me and Tuvia Kahn headed west to the picturesque Mediterranean Coast. The rain stayed with us to 10:00 hrs after which it brightened and was very pleasant for the remainder of the day.


Began at Nahsholim with a wander along the vegetated coastal strip. Several Corn Buntings, Meadow Pipits, Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers, and C. Stonechats but no sign of a Richard’s Pipit. Probably they were around but the poor conditions didn’t help our search efforts. The ponds (none drained) included: 73 G. Flamingos, c.150 Slender-billed Gulls, 2 Pied Avocet, Clam Reed, Chiffchaff, Cetti’s, G. Prinia, C. Myna, C.Stonechat, Glossy Ibis, C.Sandpiper, single Quail, 2 Robin, Spanish Sparrow, G.Prinia, Marsh Harrier, Great and Pygmy Cormorant, 3-4 Caspian Gull, single Yellow-legged Gull, numerous Armenian Gull. Retired for a quick coffee after which the weather improved.


Headed next to the coastal fishponds at Ma'ayan Tzvi, a little north of Ma’agan Michael. The beach hosted several smartly coloured Slender-billed and a single Mediterranean Gull plus Turnstone. A nearby reed bed held several Chiffchaffs and Clamorous Reed Warblers, single Reed Bunting plus a squealing Water Rail, but the stars were the 3-4 Moustached Warblers that sang and called regularly. Really smart birds imo. Tried quite hard but couldn’t capture an image so simply enjoyed them.


The Ponds here were also full of water and highlights included: Pied, Smyrna and E. Kingfisher, Great and Pygmy Cormorant, G. Heron, Great and Little Egret, C.Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Spur-winged Plover, c.30 Little and single Black-necked Grebe. We did eventually find one drained pond thankfully: 12 Dunlin and 15 Little Stint, 11 Temminck’s Stint, 3 Marsh Sandpiper, 5 Common and 1-2 Green Sand, single Ringed Plover, C. Redshank, 14 Pied Avocet, c.100 White single Grey, single Yellow and 3-4 Citrine Wagtail, Sardinian Warbler, C. Stonechat, 2 Bluethroat, single Robin, Spanish Sparrow, Water Pipit. Despite many gulls being present inc. c.50 Slender-billed, several Black-headed and Armenian, we only managed a single Pallas’s. Maybe it’s a lean winter for them this time? Also recorded inc.: Black Stork, E. Spoonbill, Night Heron, Grey Heron, Great and Little Egret.

I always try and fit in a visit to this stretch of coastline. Many rarities have been discovered here but the general birding is thoroughly enjoyable and today was just that.

 
 
Clam Reed... 
 

Day 13: 29th December

Weather: Cloud 8/8, showers, cool, wind F3 S influence. Overcast and dark. Rain eased afternoon and resulted in pleasant birding conditions.


Began on east side of Beit Shean Valley. Nothing new to add from this area. Still plenty of Meadow Pipits, Corn Buntings, Greenfinches and C. Stonechats plus Robin. Headed south to Tirat Tsvi. Difficult birding conditions but plenty of birds, especially on the large drained pool to the south. Highlights included: c.300 Glossy Ibis, c.125 N. Lapwing, single group of c.100 Great Egrets, min 4 GSEagles, 6+ Temminck’s Stints and at least 3 Desert Finches.

Took a coffee break and headed north to Hamadia. The lone Isabelline Wheatear was still on the approaches which were packed with C. Stonechats and several S. Grey Shrikes. The gate was locked so walked the track north and checked the vegetated fringes: 2 GSEagles over and C. Buzzard. Stacks more C. Stonechats, Bluethroats, Dead Sea and Spanish Sparrows, Chiffchaffs, Cetti’s, Sardinian and Clamorous Reed Warblers, single Reed Bunting.

 

So pleasant down here today with very little human disturbance. The main pools were packed with waders including a hugely impressive: c.600 Little Stints, several Temminck’s, c.300 Ringed Plover, 198 Ruff, many C. Snipe, at least 5 Spotted Redshank, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 50+ Dunlin, several Kentish Plover, Greenshank, C. Redshank, Green, Common, Marsh and Wood Sandpiper, N. Lapwings, Black-winged Stilts, loads of White Wagtails and numerous Water Pipits, Black Storks, E. Spoonbills, more Glossy Ibis, Grey Heron, all three kingfishers, Great and Pygmy Cormorants, egrets, Teal. Incredible really. 1-2 very brightly coloured Barn Swallows - rusty-red underparts. Any thoughts to the ssp. involved e.g. transitiva? Plenty more I could list. I didn't stray far round the ponds as I didn’t want to flush anything. Loads more to see there I’m sure. I’ll be back.

Despite the difficult start it turned into a really good birding day. Very few photos taken and only at distance in bad light so apologies once again for the poor quality.

 

 
So pleasant down here today - 29.12.18 Hamadia
 

 

Day 14: 30th December

Weather: Overnight rain. Overcast 8/8 but 6/8 by mid-afternoon. Showers coming in from west. Light F2-3. Mild but a little cooler during showers.


Decided to start at Gesher. Checked the bushes and trees near entrance to ponds: Bluethroat, several Chiffchaff plus the regulars. Nothing different at the ponds but nice Osprey overhead and the Desert Finch flock (I believe up to 30) remain faithful to the north end.

The entrance to Afikim was a quagmire (not sure of the state of the ponds there. Are they still worth checking?) so gave up before I began. Turned south and took the turn up the hills towards Kokhav Hayarden (Belvoir) NP and checked the hillsides. Nice mixed flock c.300 of Chaffinch and Brambling plus a few Goldfinch, Greenfinch and E. Serin. Also numerous Corn Buntings, C. Stonechats and Palestine Sunbirds. It was time for some culture.


Visited the historic Crusader fortress of Belvoir situated 312m above sea level overlooking the Jordan Valley 550m below – stands on the basalt terrain of eastern lower Galilee at the edge of a plateau. Mightily impressive. The Muslim historians of the 12 Century description of the fortress read, “It is but a nest of eagles and the dwelling place of the moon.” Really enjoyed my visit. The whole area is full of history. Also some nice birds: Black Redstarts, C. Stonechats and Chiffs, Great Tits, Chukars, Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian Warblers, E. Serins, Robin. Weather took a turn for the worse around 1600hrs so that was it for the day. Something different.

 
 
Kochav Ha'Yarden - Belvoir 
 

 

Day 15: 31st December

Weather: Overcast 8/8 but 6/8 by early-afternoon and 4/8 by late PM. Light occasional showers from W. Virtually no wind to early afternoon but picked up F3 W late PM. Very mild but cooled late PM. Pleasant.


Began at the spectacular sheer cliff of Mount Arbel NR and NP. More history plus several birds: at least 8 Blue Rock Thrush inc. 6 in one field of view plus song. No sign of a Wallcreeper but some compensation with great views of Long-billed Pipit inc. flight calls. No great views of the landscape due to low cloud but still superb to be up there. Visited the Ancient Synagogue on the road out. Always try and get at least one visit in.


After a coffee break called back in at Hamadya. Birds included: c.385 Ringed Plover, c.400 Little Stint, several Temminck’s Stint, c.43 Kentish Plover, what looked like at least 2 LRP, 137 Ruff, 3 Pied Avocet, c.80 C. Snipe, 12+ Spotted Redshank, c.150 Dunlin, 2 Black-tailed Godwit, 122 N. Lapwing, 5+ Marsh Sands, Green and Wood Sand, C. Redshank, S-w Plover, Black-winged Stilt.

Many White Wagtails, 2+ Citrine heard and in flight, Water and Red-throated Pipits, 5 E Spoonbill, Grey and Purple Heron plus the usual suspects. Single GSEagle, several Marsh Harriers, C, Kestrel, many Black Kites, Osprey. A good sprinkling of Common Teal and several Black Storks and White Pelicans. The gate was locked again so walked a little so as not to flush anything. Only scratched the surface.

Amazing watching the tens of thousands of birds heading to roost near dusk.

Pretty amazing place right now. Got to be Buff-bellied Pipit in there somewhere or something rarer perhaps?

All good stuff.

 
 
Long-billed Pipit - Arbel cliff
 

 

Day 16: 1st January 2019

Weather: Glorious sunshine, little or no wind. Cloud 1/8.

May I start by wishing everyone a very HAPPY NEW YEAR.


Off with Tuvia Kahn, Jordan Valley Birding Center, to east Jerusalem to look for a wintering Pine Bunting (my bogey bird in Israel) near the grounds of the Hebrew University among the slopes of the ancient olive groves.

Arrived with Rony Livne and Piki Ish-shalom on-site who informed us they’d seen it earlier… but not in the last two hours! Plenty of Chaffinches, Great Tits, Chiffchaffs, Greenfinches, the odd Brambling or two, E. Robin, Syrian Woodpeckers and E. Jays of the black-capped form (Garrulus glandarius atricapillus) but no sign of the bunting. Then if flew over calling. And then again. And then finally, with the Dome of the Rock shining in the distance there it was. Hallelujah! At last. We were pretty lucky as it was content feeding quietly on the ground around 35 metres from us. Still didn't manage a really good shot though. Never mind, coffee to celebrate.

We’d had a quick look at the reservoir immediately north of the first check point on route 90 on the way down: Ferruginous Duck was the highlight. Then it was time to enjoy the spectacular views of the Samaria Mountains before reaching the slightly less hospitable, but equally spectacular, mountains of northern Judaea and the climb up to east Jerusalem.

 

Having enjoyed the bunting it was down to the northern end of the Dead Sea and some more birding in spectacular surrounds. Highlights included: at least two Indian Silverbills, several Chiffchaffs, Chukars, Red-throated Pipits, White Wagtails, Southern Grey Shrike, soaring Black Storks and Black Kites, numerous C. Stonechats and Black Redstarts plus five gorgeous gazelles sp.

We finished off an excellent day in the Harod Valley. Highlights here included: c.90 Pallas’s Gull, adult Caspian Gull, single Baltic Gull and what appeared to be a Lesser Spotted Eagle.

Really good to bump into Yochai Zaas.

Cheers Tuvia. Great birding.

 

 
My bogey bird in Israel - Pine Bunting - HAPPY NEW YEAR
 
 

Day 17: 2nd January 2019

Weather: clear blue skies, hardly a breeze, shirt sleeves.

 

Hamadya: Had the place to myself. Gate closed so had a 4 hour wander. Similar mix of waders, egrets, herons. SIngle GSEagle, nice juv White-tailed Eagle, 14+ Night Herons out of a roost and at a particularly quiet spot in the NW corner, adjacent to the mature date plantation on its eastern edge, along a high, reed-fringed track there was a DAURIAN SHRIKE. Among the roosting Grey Herons was a striking red-morph individual. I've seen odd colour morphs in the past but this was extreme.

100+ Dead Sea Sparrows in the dry vegetated ponds. A great morning.

Spent the afternoon and Beit Alfa fish ponds. Good selection of common waders and plenty of gulls to look through. SIngle GSEagle.

A very enjoyable day.

 

 
Deep Purple - 2.1.19 Hamadia
 

 

Day 18: 3rd January 2019

Weather: heavy rain and strong winds overnight. 8/8 cloud and mist patches clearing from the south quickly. Winds dropped to little. Mild.


Took a gamble and headed to the Golan. Looked like good decision as bright weather followed me. Began on the southern Golan. Full of Corn Buntings, Goldfinches, C.Stonechats, several groups of C. Starlings, c.30 strong flock of N.Lapwing, several C.Kestrels and just for once a close Finsch’s Wheatear. Too quick for me so another photographic opportunity missed involving this species.


Called in at Daliot Forest and had a wander through the trees and along the lovely wadi there. Nice place very close to Gamla. Stacks of Great Tits, several Chaffinches, Sardinian Warblers, Chiffchaffs, at least one Blackbird, Barn Swallows, S.Woodpeckers, Greenfinches.

Thought I’d try and relocate the Yellowhammer flock up at the hideous Wind Turbines that break the beautiful horizon a little higher, heading north. Unfortunately the elevation was hanging on to the mist which was thick here and didn’t look like clearing any time soon. Turned round and checked a few likely places on way south. All very nice but nothing really to add.


Finished off in the absolutely gorgeous Yarmūk River Valley with nearby views into Jordan and Syria. Amazing place. Complicated history. The sun was shining, my bananas and oranges tasted good, and the birds were singing. A Long-legged Buzzard drifted over as it hunted, many Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, a Brambling, calling Hawfinch (not many this winter), P .Sunbirds, another Finsch’s Wheatear (no decent image again), S. Woodpeckers, Chiffs, several flocks of Jackdaws, Hooded Crows, R-r Parakeets and numerous bugling Common Cranes.

A smashing day and something a little bit different. Really enjoyed myself.

 

 
Too quick for me... Finsch’s Wheatear
 

 

Day 19: 4th January 2019

Weather: Glorious sunshine, shirt sleeves.


Headed to the eastern Mediterranean for my second visit starting at Nahsholim. Couldn’t find a Richard’s Pipit (again) but plenty of Corn Buntings, C.Stonechats, Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers. The small bay produced a surprise: a feeding frenzy. C.700 G.Cormorants and they weren’t going hungry. Several each of Black-headed and Slender-billed, a handful of Pallas’s and single adult Caspian Gull. The rocks and beach were quiet with just Little Stint, Greenshank, Spur-winged Plover and Little Egret. I sat and waited for a petrel sp. to arrive but it never did. No sign of a Magpie either! C.80 G.Flamingos on the ponds.


Coffee break and then south a few kms to Dalia Stream (The Southern Difle) NR. Wandered the reed-fringed ponds there: 76 E. Spoonbills over, Pygmy and Great Cormorants, Glossy Ibis, numerous Bluethroats, several Marsh Harriers plus all the regular egrets and herons, Clamorous Reed Warblers.


Headed back to the Harod Valley and then to Hamadya in the Beit Shean where I met with good friend and top Israeli birder Barak Granit for the last 1.5hrs birding to dusk. Highlights included: tens of thousands of Black-headed Gulls heading north to their roost on the Galilee plus single Common Gull. Four GSEagles feeding on a Golden Jackal carcass, Moustached Warblers calling, numerous Bluethroats, Penduline Tits, E.Sparrowhawk, hundreds of waders (see earlier posts from here for species and numbers), 2+ Citrine Wagtails, Reed Bunting, many Corn Buntings, C.Buzzard, Night Herons, Little Bittern, single Black-winged Kite, Water Pipits and a lone Buff-bellied Pipit on the north end of the main pool that's holding the waders. Two Little Owls were together on the cliffs just before the entrance gate (which was locked so we enjoyed things on foot). Very, very nice birding. A great spectacle.


After a lovely evening meal with Tuvia Kahn, Jordan Valley Birding Center and Renana and family it was north to try for Tawny Owl. It was a lovely evening but no owl. A mammal search on the return journey produce 16 Gazelles, Red Fox and an unfortunate Porcupine road kill.

Apart from the latter it was another thoroughly enjoyable day. Thanks for trying for the owl Tuvia and many thanks for a smashing meal Renana.

 

 
Glorious sunshine, shirt sleeves
 

 

Day 20: 5th January 2019

Weather: Bright, clear blue skies 1/8, shirt sleeves again. Champion.


Began with a walk around Kibbutz Ein Harod first thing. Really lovely setting on the hills on the north side of the Harod Valley, Lower Galilee region, with great views of the picturesque Gilboa Mountains to the south (Google Mount Gilboa). The Kibbutz grounds themselves are beautiful with many mature trees, shrubs, plants. Just a very, very nice place to base yourself and a very enjoyable place to go for a wander.


After a healthy and very tasty breakfast it was a return to the Beit Shean, Kfar Ruppin area. Searched the same alfalfa fields but managed just two Oriental Skylarks this time among the many E.Skylarks, Red-throated and Water Pipits. 80+N.Lapwing, single Golden Plover, 2 GSEagles. Plenty of White Pelicans moving including a single flock of c.200. Checked a few areas inside the Kibbutz and a couple of fishponds but nothing new to add. C.80 E.Spoonbills feeding together was nice.


Coffee break and a bite to eat late afternoon and then after a phone call to Giora Leitner (many thanks) I headed to Ram-On, a moshav ovdim in northern Israel, located in the Ta'anakh region, south of the Jezreel Valley. A few days back Giora found a Demoiselle Crane among the Common Crane flock that frequents the area. Still there apparently.

Eventually found the Dem among the Commons but they were all pretty distant and pretty close to the Green Line. At dusk, however, they decided to head N or NW and performed a relatively close fly-by which was good of them.

A nice end to a grand day.

 

 
Ram On - Jezra'el valley
 

 

Day 21: 6th January 2019

Weather: News of a storm approaching seemed accurate with the highest winds of the trip so far F4 S, 5/8 cloud, showers nearby, but temps remained mild. By early afternoon the wind had really whipped up and brought with it occasional heavy showers. Snow forecast for the high grounds to the north.


To Hamadya. Spent several hours here and enjoyed some great birding. Tuvia Kahn, Jordan Valley Birding Center arrived a little after me so we spent time together and Giora Leitner arrived a little later still. Highlights: 4-6 GSEagles, the Daurian Shrike still present. The species mix remained pretty much similar (refer to earlier posts) but 3 adult wintering White-winged Terns were new. Loved it.

 

 
Hamadia fishponds - January 2019
 
 

Day 22: 7th January 2019

A very pleasant morning birding the lovely grounds of Kibbutz Ein Harod. Then after another lovely, healthy breakfast it was time to pack and head to Tel Aviv for my early evening flight back to the UK. A very gentle drive, a coffee stop and a tasty meal at the airport. EasyJet flight was fine. Having earned the nickname the Bird Man of Hamadia I had to laugh when I found out the man sitting next to me on the flight used to live at Kibbutz Hamadia and worked at the fishponds!

 

Well I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing trips I’ve made to Israel. Fantastic winter birding as always, often set in magnificent scenic environments, almost entirely shirt-sleeved weather (despite the rains which thankfully fell overnight for 95% of the time), superb food and great people. I must start by saying a huge thanks to my very good friends Tuvia Kahn, Jordan Valley Birding Center ,and Renana for the lovely meals and hospitality and time spent together in the field with Tuvia. Really, really enjoyed it.

 

I only met six other birders in the field during my three weeks: Rony Livne, Piki Ish-shalom and Yeuda Shvarz at the Pine Bunting – many thanks for the updates and assistance, Giora Leitner at Hamadia and the Demoiselle Crane -again many thanks for directions, Galit Moshe in a misty Golan, hopefully for a bit longer next time and Barak Granit for a great couple of hours at Hamadia .Thanks to each for your help and it was great to see you all again. Also my thanks to Yosef Kiat for his invaluable input on several identification matters. Still much to learn.

And finally I’d like to say a massive thank you to Meir Doron and the staff at Kibbutz Ein Harod who made my stay so special and went out of their way to help me. Superb.

 

I would have loved to have stayed longer but hopefully it won’t be too long before I see you all again.

 
 
land marks