Eilat Weekly Updates

Shachar Shalev 08/09/2019 00:00

 

 

 

 

 

14.9.19

With the election coming up this week it is a very political week in Israel… it's all Bibi this and Bibi that. But unlike Bibi's (un)dramatic announcements the arrival of a BB Roller caught everyone by surprise! More bad news for Bibi from the Gaza region. Bibi is out, BB is in! 

 

This is one hell of a mega even if we were expecting more African visitors after the heavy spring rains in the Arabian peninsula left the desert green and crawling with insects - bird delicacies. 

Thursday afternoon the news broke and Friday morning I had a Sandgrouse count to do. This was actually good, I'm already half (okay 10%) of the way there and I'll know if it's been found before we head off. 

The Sandgrouse count was amazing again: first no birds showed up, what the hell is going on? Then they started arriving but no-one wanted to drink. They all sat around doing nothing except changing spots every five minutes. By 9:15 there were hundreds all around us and they all dived in to drink at once - 500 Spotted Sandgrouse all at once! In the middle of the frenzied count 4 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew past my nose! 

 

Finished the count and got good news from Karmia - Limor and I headed up for the twitch. The bird found us before we had worked out where we were supposed to start looking! He is a stunner but after a few minutes he let out a scream and dived off ending up the top of a tall tree where he stayed for the next hour. 

 

 

We had to get back to Eilat but took a quick stop at the Meishar which looks dry, dead and dusty. To our surprise it was bouncing with regulars and migrants, the pick being a couple of Thick-billed Larks (adult and juvenile). The weirdest thing was a load of Pale Crag Martins sitting on the ground who attacked the Thick-billed Lark when he came to close. They chased him all over the Meishar for 5 minutes! 

Back in Eilat things are pretty quiet but the waders at KM20 are excellent still, not too many passerines but next week we are due for mega! Have a great week and vote BB not Bibi!

 

7.9.19

 

Like many people I really enjoyed Seinfeld (all those years ago) and could really relate to the concept of "the show about nothing". Here we have adapted the concept for birding with the annual "Pelagic without birds!" 

When you think about a pelagic you imagine a boat on a rocky sea surrounded by albatross, petrels, shearwaters and storm-petrels. Here we go out for 5 hours on a flat sea in mild temps of 35-40C in the off-chance that we'll see a vagrant Storm-Petrel in the distance for 10 seconds. 

 

Photo: Noam Weiss

 

This year we had a very busy pelagic, there were a few terns around early on and a family of Risso's dolphins cruised around all morning. The Swinhoes Storm-Petrel duly arrived for 10 seconds as everybody was nodding off. I got a really good view of it, others a bit less. We are still learning the sea here and hopefully we'll get better at it in the future. It was still really enjoyable and the Risso's dolphins were just amazing. 

 

The White-throated Bee-eater is still here and attracting regular visitors and KM20 continues to be packed with waders, terns, gulls, wagtails, shrikes, the Hoopoe Larks and even the Flamingos have tentatively returned, around 100 today. 

This morning was a regular ringing session at the park and passerine numbers and variety are gradually improving. We got the first Golden Oriole of the season, plenty of shrikes, Willow Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, a Kingfisher etc. 

Monitoring the park is my favorite part of the day and there are little corners I check… just in case. I was checking a spot the Nubian Nightjar liked when an Egyptian Nightjar flew up in my face. They are basically invisible on the ground and don't budge until you virtually step on them. I've found them like this a number of times but generally they fly just far enough to be out of sight and hard to find. 

 

 

Today he flew just a few metres and I could get some nice photos and called Noam, Gal and Karen to see him. Having a Nightjar during the day is always a great find, especially the Egyptian Nightjars which are still a bit of a mystery. Lovely morning, Km20 in the afternoon, North Beach for a swim in the evening.... life is good here! Come and enjoy a little piece of heaven ...it's going to get even better!

 

 

31.8.19

 

There are a number of reasons people in Eilat are more than happy to see the end of August. First and foremost the kids go back to school, we can breathe again, the holidaymakers go home and we can breathe again, the weather gets cooler (slightly) rather than hotter and we can breathe again and generally the birding gets better and we can breathe migration again. 

 

But this August was exceptional for birding - we had the star Bee-eater, we had the supporting cast of a Hypocolius , Terek Sandpipers and Storm-Petrel, we had excellent wader migration and a really nice start to passerine migration and plenty more to look forward to. 

This week the Hypocolius has disappeared but the White-throated Bee-eater continues to move around the same area and plenty of birders are still arriving to enjoy this mega rarity. Excellent wader migration continued all week with a full range of waders plus plenty of terns, big gulls, Yellow Wagtails etc crowding into KM20

 

 

 

Passerine migration was much slower so this morning Noam Weiss and I took the opportunity to check a few spots in the desert. While it is far from peak season for desert birding there were still plenty of regulars and some migration to enjoy. Shizzafon had big numbers of Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse, waders, Trumpeter Finch and a Fat Desert Rat enjoying the greenery. Ovda was pretty quiet but there were Isabelline, Hooded, Mourning and White-crowned Wheatears. Sitting at a little water hole at Hiyyun which attracted mainly Crested Larks and Sand Partridge, we had a visit from two Black-headed Buntings, Desert Larks, Trumpeter Finch and Wheatears - a promising spot for the winter. Neot Smadar had a couple of Rollers, plenty of Shrikes and not much else.... another month and all this will change. 

Next weekend we have the annual pelagic searching for Storm Petrels and I have a good feeling about it. Those wishing to see 4 species of bee-eater in the quickest possible time could also do that here next weekend… I'm going to give it a try! Have a cool and peaceful week! 

 

 

 

24.8.19

 

You know that really bad feeling when you make the mega twitch really easy and your friends really struggle? Me neither. Fortunately almost everyone arriving this week got their bird and could return home relieved or even smiling. Even Le'a (my daughter) got both the White-throated Bee-eater and the Hypocolius in a quick visit after work - no more excuses, anyone who hasn't seen them must come now! 

 

 

The first ever Eilat August Bird Festival continued this week with many twitchers, I mean birders… enjoying an exceptional August here. Apart from the two megas which drove people nuts and had them running in circles, the Hoopoe Larks are showing off, Sooty and Barbary Falcons, Lesser Crested, Bridled and White-cheeked Terns, a couple of Olive-tree Warblers today and the first sightings of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse for this area! 

 

 

There has been really good migration and local species also showing well. Km20 has the best numbers of waders in a long time, hundreds of waders enjoying the algae covering on a number of pools. With them the Yellow Wagtails are pouring in, the White-winged Terns arrived in numbers this evening plus Gull-billed, Caspian, Whiskered and Sandwich Terns, clouds of White Storks and even a couple of raptors. 

Passerines are also pouring in around the IBRCE and KM20. Especially obvious are the many Masked, Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes. Eastern Orphean Warblers are here in the biggest numbers I can remember, over 30 counted at the IBRCE in a morning. With them are growing numbers of Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, the first Willow Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers etc . The flamingo have moved their base to the IBRCE ponds and Km19 is starting to fill up too. 

Plenty to do in the coming weeks, come and enjoy a special time here!

 

 

17.8.19

We are back after a summer break - a wonderful visit in Sweden and Finland - nothing happened while I was gone right?? I mean what are you going to see here in August....a couple of Terek Sandpipers and maybe a Caspian Plover… nothing to get excited about right. I was in Helsinki on Tuesday when my theory fell apart spectacularly! 

 

First came Swinhoe's Storm Petrel spotted by Gal Marinov during deep sea monitoring, sigh of relief, I've seen them a few times. A couple of hours later shock and horror - a White-throated Bee-eater??!!! A 3rd WP sighting a long long way from the first two sightings… I doubt anyone saw that one coming! Shimon Shiff and Sara Deutch photographed it thinking it was an abberant Little Green Bee-eater. Fortunately Sara was suspicious enough to post the photo here and it was instantly IDed. Facebook pages like Eilat and Arava Birders have turned up plenty of treasures and everyone visiting is more than welcome to post photos here, ask ID questions etc it helps everyone to learn and just occasionally we get a real mega surprise… well done Sara! 

 

The next day the many twitchers found no trace of the Bee-eater but Tuvia Kahn found a Gray Hypocolius, another mega from the south which I had never seen. Neither bird was seen Thursday despite many birders scouring the area. I was having a nightmare return from Finland when my wife broke her hip in the Helsinki Airport and I had lost all hope of seeing these two birds. I finally arrived Thursday night and with my wife hospitalized finally got some sleep after 48 hours. 

And still Lea and I turned up at 6am for ringing at the park, a new season has started! While ringing the first round we got a message the Bee-eater had been found by Shachar Alterman. Within five minutes I was there and the bird was sitting quietly right in front of me. The bird that had driven dozens of birders crazy and would continue to torture them was behaving like a regular bee-eater - eating a little, changing perches occasionally and looking bored most of the time. 

 

 

 

 

It's a really cool bird, well worth a 5 minute twitch! This morning I started at North Beach with Shachar Alterman while the army of twitchers were scouring thin air. Nice hour early - 7 Bridled Terns, 1 Lesser Crested Tern, 1 Cory's Shearwater and an army of White-cheeked Terns. The 300 Flamingos added a nice touch flying across the face of the moon as they headed out to sea. 

 

Exactly on time Roni Livne relocated the Hypocolius and 10 minutes later I was standing at the same spot as yesterday with Lior Kislev and a Hypocolius sitting on the arches the Bee-eater had sat on yesterday, another very satisfying 5 minute twitch. 

 

The Bee-eater was friendlier this afternoon and most of the visitors saw him well and he may be here for a while - Eilat is on fire! 

On the more prosaic side migration is good, plenty of passerines now coming through, waders are in good numbers, the sea is humming with quality birds...there are plenty of happy times ahead! If you weren't here now make sure you come soon!

 

 

31.7.19

Mini Update: Tomorrow I'm off to the big world and hopefully some rest in a cooler climate. Not much change here, my world is waders, terns and Hoopoe Larks. One pleasant evening at North Beach with a nice variety of birds and a cool southerly breeze (sub-40C). This evening there was an even better southerly breeze but very few birds...who knows where they were??? At KM20 I sat on the bank to see if they Hoopoe Larks would approach someone outside the car. It took almost a minute but one came for a sniff around. Good numbers of waders, Red Phalarope seen yesterday still and little else of interest. Back in two weeks!

 

 

27.7.19

In the centre of Eilat there is a hairdresser who proudly writes under the name of the business Paris-London-Eilat… until this week I had no idea what this was supposed to convey. This week all three places had the same temperature - our hairdresser wasn't proposing a migration route, he was predicting global warming! But there is a small difference, we can escape the heat with a quick trip up to Ovda Cliffs to count Sandgrouse where it is a cool 23C... at 6am. 

 

So that's what we did this morning. I got the short straw, Ovda cliffs had the smallest number of Sandgrouse with 170+ Spotted Sandgrouse and 14 Crowned Sandgrouse while Magen Sayerim had over 1100 Spotted Sandgrouse again. But it was a very pleasant morning, hundreds of Sand Partridge were wandering around like lost chickens, plenty of Trumpeter Finch were coming in to drink, a small group of Sinai Rosefinch dropped in early, Babblers were babbling away, Pale Crag Martins were patrolling, Brown-necked Ravens were being annoying - chasing Sandgrouse for no reason whatsoever. a fox came in to drink and a wolf slinked past a couple of times. It's not a bad way to pass a July morning especially when you have a good seat, coffee and cake all provided by your partner! 

 

Wader numbers have risen sharply in the last couple of days at KM20, nice groups of Wood Sandpipers, plenty of Common and Marsh Sandpipers, Greenshanks, Redshanks, Little Stints pouring in, Curlew Sandpipers in small numbers, a couple of Broad-billed Sandpipers, Kentish, Common and Little Ringed Plovers. The Red Phalaropes were around most of the week but seem to have left now while the Hoopoe Larks are getting more numerous and active! 

 

Autumn migration - It's ON!

 

The Flamingos are still in town and after taking a couple of random photos today I believe I have found the reason they moved. Look at the photos and see if you see what I saw... 

North Beach has been more miserable by the day with fewer and fewer terns, we need a change in the prevailing winds to remedy that. Next week I am off on holiday so the coast is clear for anyone looking for good birds here! Have a great time if you're on holiday!

 

 

20.7.19

 

Who? Ho...Hoo...Hoopoe.... Hoopoe Lark invasion! Hoopoe Larks now massively outnumber Flamingos at KM20! True it is mainly because there are no Flamingos at KM20, they have taken up residence at the southern salt ponds near the hotel district. The water and water organisms at KM 20 have been checked and found normal so we don't know why they left en masse but I have a fair idea why the Hoopoe Larks have arrived. 

A couple of years ago a pair of juvenile Hoopoe Larks started frequenting the old fence where masses of spiders made an easy meal. They were fed worms by photographers and became very friendly to visitors. Now one of them has returned, an adult bird with 3 juveniles to feed. He is approaching cars looking for donations and the juveniles are running around with him. 

Fortunately they seem to have plenty to eat there without help. 

 

Hoopoe Larks - An adult (left) and a juvenile - K20

 

There are increasing numbers of waders at KM20 and a second Red Phalarope has joined the first, yesterday he was walking round the algae feeding like a wader...identity crisis? 

North Beach has a respectable variety of birds, an Arctic Tern joined the Common Terns this morning, plenty of White-cheeked Terns, Caspian Terns, Lesser Crested Terns most days - 4 yesterday - and occasionally Bridled Terns, two Cory's Shearwaters have been close all week and I expect some Storm-Petrels shortly, hopefully. 

 

Migration has picked up with the arrival of Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, a Yellow Wagtail, Curlew,Little Ringed Plovers, a pair of Temminck's Stints, Garganey, Spoonbills, groups of Wood Sandpipers and Ruffs - it's a start! Yesterday we saw a Crested Honey Buzzard sneaking back to the Date plantation after visiting Park Holland. we ignored him, I don't want them to think we miss them. 

This weekend a few birders came to visit and seemed to enjoy their time. Don't let the 50C measured in the Arava this week put you off, Eilat is always worth the visit!

 

 

13.7.19

 

Three "first's as far as I can remember" in one week is a lot of the middle of July. Since the Sde Dov airport in Tel Aviv closed at the start of the month the number of vacationers in Eilat has dropped significantly. I don't ever remember Eilat so quiet in July. You can sit on the beach, go to a restaurant, drive down the road....it's really weird. 

 

Friday morning all the Flamingos from KM20 took off for a tour of the city, went to sit on the sea for a few hours and now they are gone… there is not a single Flamingo at KM20 or the park now. I don't ever remember not having flamingos at KM20. This morning I arrived at the IBRCE bird sanctuary after a couple of hours at North Beach. The park has ongoing construction but has always been open despite the works. 

This morning the gates were locked shut, I don't ever remember the park being closed. It's fortunate there are some things you can count on in July, it is stinking hot, that you can absolutely count on. And if you spend the month at North Beach in this stinking heat you can be absolutely sure you will start seeing mirages...  

 

The week started with what was probably a pair of Greater Crested Terns but they were high, distant and heading into the setting sun. There were good numbers of Common, Little and White-cheeked Terns all week with frequent visits from Lesser Crested Terns, Bridled Terns and Parasitic Skuas. can't complain. But Shearwaters have been very scarce probably due to declining populations. 5:30 am this morning I spot two blotches on the water way out in the murky haze. I'm pretty sure they're shearwaters but I'm going to need more light to know anything more. It would also be really helpful if they got off their butts and flew around a bit, but without a breath of wind that probably won't happen in a hurry. 40 minutes of waiting and they start looking interesting, a nice black and white plumage, thin bill, compact …..remember the mirages… I could really do with a better telescope - who can I bother at 6am??? Noam is jet-lagged, just back from Panama, perfect! Of course a minute after waking the dead and sending an "Interesting bird" update one of them flies 5 metres. the huge wings belonging to a Cory's Shearwater. such is life. 

 

KM20 may have no Flamingos but it is getting some waders now and Noam Weiss found a Red Phalarope paddling around there yesterday. Le'a and I went to twitch it for her list and there were plenty of Redshanks and Kentish Plovers, first Marsh Sandpipers, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and today a Greater Sand Plover joined them. 

 

A Grey/Red Phalarope...we'll decide on the name when he decides what colour he's going to be!

 

A Sooty Falcon was at North Beach yesterday, the date palms and the park today while three Hoopoe Larks were seen by Shimon in the centre strip of the KM20 ponds ….wandering around his vehicle. No sign of the Crested Honey Buzzards or visiting birders but I'm sure they all be back soon!

 

 

6.7.19

 

July has arrived, not a time we look forward to in Eilat. The hell of extreme heat, school holidays and no migration leads us appreciate even minor mercies. This week we were grateful that the temperature sat around a mild 39-40C and not the 45C+ that awaits us. We were also grateful that Eilat is remarkably quiet and North Beach is quiet, no trance music, screaming teenagers, tents and litter. And we were also grateful that normal service has returned to the beach with 30-40 White-cheeked Terns active most of the day, similar numbers of Common and Little Terns are fishing constantly, small numbers of Sandwich and Caspian Terns, the occasional Lesser Crested and Bridled Terns, Parasitic Skuas and to sweeten things dolphins, leaping Dolphin Fish and Eagle Rays and the ever-present Flying Fish. 

Visibility was really good in the morning and I even had the company of Rony Livne who is still waiting patiently for a Red-billed Tropicbird. Small numbers of waders are arriving regularly, Common Sandpipers, some rough looking Ruffs, Greenshanks and lots of Redshanks. 

 

A Sooty Falcon visited the park as did a young White-crowned Wheatear, lots of Pale Crag Martins now moving around, Lior Kislev had 13 Lichtensteins Sandgrouse drinking at KM19 and that is about it. So if you have the misfortune of finding yourself in Eilat in July, hit the beach and be thankful for small mercies....it can even be quite fun.

 

 

 

 

Shachar Shalev

 
 
 

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