IBOC 2019 - in Eilat

Noam Weiss 13/05/2019 00:00



The International Bird Observatories Conference - in Eilat!



Bird observatories are one of the most advanced tools for contemporary nature conservation in birds. Bird observatories are located in strategic places, important for birds and their migration, but at the same time serve as a "meeting point" of people and the public with the birds. This is where people get to see the birds up-close, learn about their needs, discover their epic journeys, appreciate, love and protect birds. It is a magical place where the world of people meets nature and conservation first hand.



A Night in the Birding center - IBOC 2019     Photo: Mark James Pearson


It is not often that the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the International Birding & Research Center in Eilat (IBRCE) host most of their respected colleagues from around the world. The inspiring attendees who arrived included the founders of the idea of a bird observatory, along with people who currently run them and people who have it on their wish list; 150 participants from 32 countries, 60 bird observatories and organizations, 11 keynote speakers, 71 lectures, 16 posters, 7 field trips, 24 volunteers, 5 days, 1 plastic pollution awareness event, many birds, 876 emails addresses of potential participants, 91 submitted abstracts on time (plus a few late!), 1 astronaut, 21 scholarships for small and developing observatories and 8 steering committee members.


On the Speaker Stand - Lusine Aghajanyan from Armenia

Photo: Mark James Pearson


We have shared exciting research with innovative technologies. We have heard about community-based nature conservation projects - what to pursue and how to make it appealing to our communities. We have learned who are the future birders and nature conservationists and how "to grow" them. We have seen how different bird observatories operate, fund and sustain their activities, and reach out for decision makers and general public opinion. We have heard about setbacks and a cry for international help and some good examples of cooperation.


However, mostly we have met each other, shared experiences, ideas, created collaborations for the future and encouraged each other to continue the good and important job we do. We have closed the conference with a joint Israeli-Palestinian led workshop about the know-how of recruiting communities to nature conservation, a festive dinner and a game, while the volunteers of the IBRCE surprised us with a "flash mob" dance that demonstrated to us all the dedication and positive energy of volunteers as our cutting edge of communal work.



It has been Awesome!     Photo: Mark James Pearson


Nature conservation changes its face and ways of conduct. In the reality we live in, nature conservation of birds' means working with people, connecting to our communities and slowly leaving the "bubble" of research or remote sites monitoring. Nothing is remote from the people's influence anymore. Therefore, bird observatories will be growing in importance as a tool for nature conservation and will change forms and methods according to the ever-changing reality.

We would like to heartily thank the participants that made it to our desert from afar, to our dear sponsors and partners, Cellular Tracking, The Hoopoe Foundation, KKL Wings, Lotek, Ecotone, QLF, Eilat municipal tourism corporation, to the IBOC steering committee, organizers,  partners, volunteers and staff from Eilat, the rest of Israel and many friends. It has been awesome!


Dan Alon and Noam Weiss

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel

The International Birding & Research Center, Eilat



The story of the Steppe Eagles




Today is the peak migration day of the Steppe Eagles in Eilat. Thousands of Eagles will peacefully cross our skies. No sound and no rush will be heard and most people would probably not notice them, but they have a story to be told.




Steppe Eagle in Lake Anita - IBRCE spring 2019   Photo: Noam Weiss


Being a Steppe Eagle has its dangers attached. A very large and vulnerable bird, desired by its predators - falconers, who breeds on the open Asian steppe, on the ground, where dogs search for easy prey, perched on the endless electric power lines, where any wrong movement will end it up fried, might survive. However, the extremely long migration routes, between central and eastern Asia, all the way to South Africa and India, are probably the added risk that leaves very little space to luck. Long migration routes have been a great strategy when nature was there, in its glory. However, we live in a time of changes, too many changes, and nothing is perfect anymore.



Steppe Eagles preparing for take off  - Eilat mountains      Photo: Thomas Krumenacker


Last September, all the people who deeply care for these eagles and know most about them, gathered in Altai (Siberia). It was astonishing to see the Russian speaking community of eagle researchers and nature conservationists, who live in a parallel scientific world to ours, share the same love and concern. I felt at home. The Russian style parties at night, which involved a lot of vodka, dancing and the community's most highly respected professors making fun of themselves with their students, gave their way to bad news from the field during the day. Kazakhstan, which holds most of the breeding eagles, is losing 10% of them every year. The same is true for European Russia, eastern Siberia and Mongolia. Only in Altai and Sayan regions, some stability is maintained. The numbers of eagles counted going south to Southern Asia are dropping and hundreds are being victims of the same veterinary medicine used in cows in India, which killed the vultures there.


The natural habitats that used to feed the eagles during winter are slowly being replaced by rubbish dumps in India, Arabia and even in the Asian Steppe. Another worry comes from the Eastern Imperial Eagle who is actually doing great and grow in numbers and distribution all along its Steppe Eagle's parallel range. The new "imperialists", who use trees for nests, migrate much shorter distances and adapt to feed in winter in fields, might take this empire down to dust.

Down here in Eilat, a small spark of hope. The numbers of Steppe Eagle's we count every year in our yearly raptor count probably declines but not as fast as the general population. If at all (not statistically significant), the eagle's numbers have dropped 20% in 30 years. GPS transmitter's data showed that Kazakh eagles could go to either India or Africa, even if they originate from the same breeding region. They are flexible. Our flyway and probably Africa, is still a safe haven for the eagles, but I wonder for how much




Steppe Eagle global population is less then 37,000 breeiding Pairs. A young Steppe Eagle passing over Eilat.

Photo: Noam Weiss 


Hovering over the world's worst war, hunger and famine zones, they keep hopeful and continue, try new ways to survive and adapt. Biologists will argue that we can still save them and they will find the way, but any historian will tell you, this empire has fallen.




Birding site's booklet, Eilat & Arava


How can we help you find birds in Eilat and stay safe?





The life of a birder in a foreign country is not easy. We are often misunderstood for what we do in someone's backyard or in a military zone with camouflaged clothes and state of the art optics (preferably Zeiss).

This is why we have produced for you the ultimate booklet of "where to watch birds in Eilat and southern Arava" you can show any security muscleman or an angry husband. Their place is now a "kind of official" birding site.


The booklet is great also for birders who actually want to find birds in our region. We have gathered our experience and knowledge of the birding sites in Eilat and Southern Arava and created a booklet with updated maps of the best birding hotspots of our region, some information about what interesting birds are expected there and some logistics and red tape. The booklet will be a sufficient tool to plan your way around here and take better use of your time, but our best advice is to come with it, or just buy it at the bird sanctuary and ask us to mark on it the latest up-to-date localities of the birds on your wish list.


Click on the Map to enlarge


We will also advice you about the best strategy to find your bird and a "plan B" for the chronically unlucky birders. Our information center is located at the Eilat Bird Sanctuary and it's open when the office is open, Sunday to Thursday 08:00 to 15:30 and Friday until 12:00 or if we over work (happens often).


Click on the Info page for better view


Creating such a booklet for the use of the independent birder was our dream for many years. We used to draw some "not very understandable" sketches of maps on paper and point people to good birding spots. However, we knew we could give a better service.

However, we had no funds to make it happen. It all changed when I described the idea to Itai Shanni, the ecologist of the regional council of Southern Arava and a fantastic birder and guide and former IBRCE director. He immediately said: “we don't need money, just partners!”


Therefore, we called our partners of the bird sanctuary and they all said YES! The tourism corporation of the regional council of southern Arava (Hevel Eilat in Hebrew), the environmental unit of Eilat and Eilot, The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, KKL (Jewish national fund), National parks authority and the tourism corporation of Eilat all gave their share and now we have it ready for you.

We have decided to sell it cheap for only 20 ILS (5 Euros) so you will not think twice if to take it or not. You can get it at nature reserves, tourism sites of the area and at the bird sanctuary.

We are sure you will like it, just please ignore the terrible spelling mistake on the first word of the booklet and don't trust Google's automatic correction…


See you in Eilat, birding is already great, before spring have even began.

Noam Weiss, Itai Shanni and Re'a Shaish




A Blackstart is a Great start! 



A sweet story from Eilat




Birders remember Eilat as warm and welcoming, but January mornings can be bitterly cold (10°C). So, here is a sweet story from Eilat - just what we needed here to make our lives better.



Oriental Honey Buzzard - Adult male 5.1.19 North beach of Eilat    Photo: Shuki Cheled


Oriental beauty was always one of the main attractions here in Eilat. However, this year is overwhelming. No less than 6 Oriental Honey Buzzards drive the birders crazy. Two adult males, two adult females and two second calendar year beasts are roaming the skies of the bird sanctuary on a daily base, sitting on the trees or hiding in the adjacent date plantation.

Oriental Honey Buzzards made history in Eilat. The first record for the Western Palearctic region was found here in May 1994 during migration. No one was aware back then, of a population of this special raptor, that does not winter in Southern Asia, so their appearance year after year every spring in Eilat and later on in autumns in the rest of Israel, was a sign of change. May and September were their times to show up between the endless streams of hundreds of thousands of European Honey Buzzards. Since these records, Oriental Honey Buzzards showed up also in Batumi, Georgia, Greece and many other places in Europe and Arabia.



Oriental Honey Buzzard - Adult male  12.1.19    Photo: Lior Kislev

Visit Lior's website - "Tatzpit"


The first winter record here came in a shape of a young female who was mostly enjoying the date plantation in 2008. This dark female has returned winter after winter, growing into an adult's plumage as the years went by. However, something unusual happened in 2018. Oriental Honeys' started showing up in numbers from March into the spring and the following summer. This winter will probably be written in the Honey Buzzard's history as the year when the species has really settled in Eilat. It started with a suspiciously moving tree during the daily monitoring at the bird sanctuary. Foxes do not climb trees here, so when a tree was wildly shaking last November we could only think of an escape monkey. It took a few seconds before a giant raptor had burst into the sky leaving the tree and myself in shock.


A close look inside the tree reviled a completely shattered Oriental Pygmy Bee hive. Since that day, the IBRCE team documented no less than six different individuals at the bird sanctuary. Most of the time they stick together as a pack. We see them feeding on the beehives, digging holes in the ground for all kinds of larvae but they might also feed on dates and even raisins.   



Oriental Honey Buzzard - Juvenile 21.1.19   Photo: Rei Segali


Oriental Honey Buzzards are known now to over winter also in the rest of Arabia. Our own explanation for the change of status in Eilat is the massive invasion of the Oriental Pygmy Bee (Apis florea). Since 2007 it is here and spreading in numbers, but just 20 KM north of Eilat (Beer Ora). And yes, you got it right - this is where and when we started having these Oriental beauties in winter here.

The land of milk and honey.



Oriental Pygmy Bee in Southrn Arava valley Photo: Ilan Biel







See you in Eilat


Spring is just around the corner















Little Green Bee-eater. Photo - Shlomi Bachar


Eilat - birders HOTSPOT

land marks