Posts of 2014

Noam Wiess 31/12/2014 00:00




Eilat - The Birding Home




This is going to be kind of personal. My name is Noam Weiss and I am back to my birding homeland, Eilat, this time as the director of the international birding and research center of Eilat. I have returned to the "thing" that was always about the most professional birding for me. I call Eilat a "thing" as it is far more than a place for me.


Eilat is where 30 years ago I had learnt that there is a lot more about birding than what is in the identification guide. That there is so much more to learn than just compare the bird you see and the illustration in a book. It is where we learnt about birds and birding by researching in an unknown territory of knowledge and there was so much more to discover.





Hadoram Shirihai was our mentor. Showing us birds that nobody knew how to identify or expect them anywhere near Eilat. It was the days of the discovery of the Buff – bellied Pipits Japonicus that were totally unknown around Europe and the Middle East, the days we had learnt the difficult plumages of some Sylvia warblers, the first Crested Honey Buzzards and the exiting raptors surveys. Eilat was magical, with the numbers of migrants, the fantastic diversity and the discoveries that were beyond any possible birder's imagination.


After some years back in Jerusalem as a business man (the worst kind - securities underwriter) I was back to my dream land for 5 years of bird ringing, guiding and research, surveying Hume's Owls in the desert nights and falling in love with the barren mountains and  colorful canyons. And now I'm back to be the one to continue the learning, to be your ears and eyes and to share with you the wonders of this place. And if you come along, you'll get a coffee too.


I'm back here after Yael Lenhardt did a great job solidifying the research, connecting the community of Eilat to the birding park and a lot of guiding. Tzadok made the birding park an exciting place to visit and a very comfortable one too.

My dreams are to open it up to the public and birders by moving the ringing station to be accessible and open to you birders, and to become the information center for the birders visiting Eilat. I will try to resume the intensive bird monitoring in Eilat like in the good old days, discover new birds, find new challenges that birds face here and remove them, and safeguard the birds of Eilat.





The past 3 weeks I've been here have already been exciting. Autumn comes late to Eilat but it's already full of good birds and activities. The ringing station catches up to 150 birds per day and the diversity is very high. The best birds until now have been a young Rosy Starling and 3 Scarlet Rosefinches.

Barred Warblers are caught every other day and a Little Bittern, Wood Warbler, Curlew Sandpiper, Levant Sparrowhawk, some Lesser Grey Shrikes, many Namaqua Doves, and a few Scops Owls have joined the party here.


Interesting to note it has been a good year for the Red-backed and Masked Shrikes (up to 23 caught per day). Another surprise has been the Blackstarts, that find refuge in the irrigated areas of the bird sanctuary from the difficult and dry conditions in the desert wadis. Up to 4 of them were observed and a few got marked.


In the Field the most impressive is the daily take off of Levant Sparrowhawks in the early mornings. We have them now almost every day with numbers moving between 50 and 1,000. The peak was on the 29/9 morning with 4,000 of them swarming above the bird sanctuary.





These Hawks are probably missed by the main Raptor survey in Kfar Kasem. The survey's crew speculated that these Hawks end up passing in Eilat on days with strong westerly wind. I'm not so sure this is actually the case as their usual route is passing about 150 KM west of us, very few are reported between Eilat and the main route and these Hawks are seen here year after year.

I would like to believe that the Hawks that are seen as if they come from the east, belong to an easterly population, maybe from the Caucasus mountains. This is still to be checked one day. It's on the list with talking to some Jordanian birdwatchers and may be tracking some of these Hawks with GPS transmitters.



In the field here Shachar Shalev reported a Crested Tern (very rare) and a Lesser Crested Tern on the 22/09 at the north beach. They were not relocated but that's how the north beach works - it is very dynamic. A Spotted Crake was noted in the bird sanctuary and a new Sooty Falcons nest was found in the mountains. The first Rollers and some Lesser Kestrels have been reported from a few sites. Common Cranes travelling towards Africa started passing above us too.



That's all for now.


Stay posted.












Black flags from the East




History repeats itself, historians say.

We birders know it of course and wait with anticipation for the "eastern 2 weeks" of the second half of October, bringing with it birds from the Asian steppes.

But even though it never fails to come, it always catches us by surprise. Although we know it's coming for us birders the greatest enjoyment for is to rediscover it all over again, year after year. That's what we live for - rediscovering the cycle of nature, as if it has never happened before.


And they are here.

The Steppe Eagles have started passing in better numbers (not more than ten's per morning yet, but larger numbers should follow in the next few weeks), a nice young Daurian Shrike was ringed, 4 Common Rosefinches ,a Vociferus type Black winged Kite and our Willow Warblers now look much greyer and longer winged now.





Red-breasted Flycatchers have been reported from Eilot, Neot Smadar and the ringing station and 4 Blue cheeked Bee eaters spent an afternoon in Holland Park (Lars Andersen). Barred Warblers are still around too.

We got a bit puzzled with a "strange" wave of unusual looking Black-eared / Pied Wheatears that looked very much like Pied but made us wonder at the ringing station.


Black-eared Wheatears usually pass in early September and are not seen most of October, whilst Pied do come in mid-October. Suddenly a wave of rather grayish looking young Wheatears showed up, all with pale fringes to the mantle feathers - all good signs of the Pied Wheatears, and our hopes were raised for something good.

The first to be caught in the ringing station was not much of a help as all the measurements and the wing formula were in the overlap zone of the two species. Its white mantle fringes were obvious but the color tone was "not cold enough" for a Pied. It had some warmer brown buffy tones at the sides of the neck and flanks which made the mantle appear not pure grey.


The mantle was maybe 80% grey, 20% brown. We released the first one as a Black-eared because of these slightly warmer tones that made it up to the mantle, but frankly, I wasn't sure at all. In the following days we saw some more of these Wheatears in the field and one more was caught. It seems like they all had some brown tones. Not like the Wheatears we have seen in September in the past but also not like a text book Pied. We resolved the issue as "Eastern" Black eared Whetears, but who knows…


On the local birds front we had some good findings too. No less than 6 Hoopoe Larks were seen and photographed by our crew during their usual monitoring activity, on the main way to Evrona Well last week (3 KM north of the KM20 saltpans). A report of 2 from the same location came from the local ranger 3 days later.

It might be a winter gathering but maybe it's the first sing of damage from the construction of the new Eilat international airport at the Hoopoe Larks old stronghold of KM 32. At the same area were Hooded and Desert Wheatears.





The most exciting observation that brought a hint of a tear to my eyes happened on my day off (I visited the ringing station anyway… just to say hi…) when I took my lovely wife to hike in Shchoret Canyon, deep in the Eilat mountains.


Between the colorful sandstone and Granite Mountains I had an encounter with an old friend. It was "Yoggi", my Yellow Green tagged White-crowned Black Wheatear. It lost its green plastic ring but was sitting on its usual rock just like in old times when I was researching these Wheatears and placed some color rings on their legs.


Only that this bird has now been at the same spot at least from the 02/03/2008 when I first caught it. It was already an adult then, making it at least 7 years old now.

One of the most interesting results of the research was that these amazing birds can survive the driest and harsher years in this extreme desert (sometimes 4 years without any rain) without changing locations.

They had learnt to use the shadowed corners of their habitats to find food (this is how they choose their habitat - shadow percentage) and had also learnt to rely on human travelers camp sites as a preferred foraging areas and to drink from the water dripping off cars that had their air-condition on and stopped.





We also had an interesting visit by Ikram Zuheir from the Palestine Wildlife Society and a great communal event that gathered some 2,000 participants to hear bird tales and observe them in the bird sanctuary, so it was a very busy week.


Our black flags from the east - the adult Steppe Eagles, passing just now above my head is a reminder of what is happening east of us now. The black flags of the Islamic State (ISIS) are raised and with the name of God in their mouth, slaughter people who fail to answer a questionnaire they had made to check who is a true Muslim.


As a scholar of Islam myself I can't avoid the symbolism used by ISIS lifting the same flags that were raised by the Abbasid revolution that was "clearing" Islam from the "wrong paths" it took, bringing it back to what Islam was "supposed" to be. Only it got equally corrupted and cruel.


We birders know that history repeats itself. These Steppe Eagles passing so silently overhead now just came from Iraq, flying above these horrors. The British Air force is taking off from the nearby Aqaba airport, right next to our ringing station to try and stop it. But would it change a twisted mind?  


Waiting for some good news from the east.







The next generation




This week was all about preparations for the future.

Me, preparing a new generation of birding guides in Eilat and preparing for winter and spring tasks in the bird sanctuary, and the migratory birds, continuing to collect food, fat and courage in preparation for crossing the vast Saharan desert on the way to Africa.


The most dominant event was the birding guide's course that we conducted for the new fresh guides arriving to Eilat for the next year or two. The course was nothing less than cool and exciting, with 15 young people who had no idea that they liked birds that soon became bird lovers. Out of my "birders arrogance" I was thought for quite long that it is impossible to teach birding, bird identification and how to guide a bird watching trip without being a birder.


You never know what you're going to see with a group so you can't really prepare. You have to identify the bird perfectly without the time for a really good view, you have to understand the movement of the bird to assess if the group will actually be able to see it, wait for a specific behavior and be able to explain why it didn't work this time but usually works perfectly…





but these young guys proved me wrong. After 5 days of hard work they could identify almost every bird I showed them, look it up in the Bird Encyclopedia ,find the juicy details,  and make a story out of it to guide on.

They also learned how to extract birds from the mist nets, love every bird they had touched and appreciate their ability to migrate so far. It was great fun to spend some time in the field. One particular morning started with 3,000 Cranes passing over-head along with tens of Steppe Eagles, some Steppe buzzards, Black Kites and Booted Eagles.


Later on at the KM 19 ponds we had the show of a lifetime with an Osprey catching fish just in front of us, Squacco Herons sneaking after fat dragonflies and catching every single one in the area, Caspian Terns diving for fish, and a Barbary Falcon playing with the pigeons. But mostly I enjoyed their company.





Some good birds showed up too this week with 6 Thick-billed Larks and tens of Bar-tailed Larks in Uvda valley (Itai Shani and Shachar Shalev), 3 Oriental Skylarks and some Richard's Pipits in Yotvata fields (Itai Shani) and a Bailon's Crake along with a Little Crake shared a pool with a Sacred Ibis that looked young but will still be marked as a possible escape in Yotvata sewage pools (Itai and the IBRCE crew).


In Eilat 2 Hawfinches were seen in the bird sanctuary (rare so deep in the desert) and tens of Bluethroats everywhere. The ringing station is quite busy with lots of Bluethroats, Chiffchaffs and Common Redstarts. Red-backed Shrikes are still around with some more Reed and Savi's Warblers. Several Cetti's Warblers, a rare winterer and 2 different White breasted Kingfishers were ringed too.




We are also starting to build the monitoring plan for the next spring. Our main focus will be on a raptor migration survey that we haven't done for many years. Past data has shown passage of almost 1 million birds of prey with the main species being Steppe Buzzards, Honey Buzzards and Levant's Sparrowhawks.


These magnificent birds alongside with 20 more species of raptors pass in a relatively narrow corridor between the slopes of the Eilat Mountains and the red sea. Our main focus this time will be on the rare and probably declining Steppe Eagles who pass here in late autumn (peaking in November but can be seen going south until the middle of December) just to come back in early March (some are already seen going northeast in January).





We feel that there is a big gap of knowledge regarding this species. It is suggested in the literature that the Asian population from Mongolia and Kazakhstan migrates to India and the European ones move to Africa, but clearly our birds in autumn come from the east and very few follow the rest of the eagle species route from the north. It is also suggested that the young eagles stay in Africa for a few years but we see lots of 2nd calendar eagles going east in spring.


We are also interested in the correlation between wind conditions here and in crucial passage points south of us, on the way to Eilat, and how this affects eagle migration. We are creating a team to count these raptors between February and May and we will probably do some trapping too.

For the ringing station we are looking for trained ringers that are willing to come for at least 2 months. I can promise a ringing adventure of a lifetime and hard work. If you are up to it please contact me.

That is all for now. November is on the door step bringing the rare wintering species and eastern migrants, so stay posted.










Eilat's kind of winter




In Eilat you can tell it is winter only by the changing diversity of birds.

With early November temperatures reaching above 30 Celsius almost daily, only the birds tell us that something is changing to the north of us. Rare shadows of clouds sometimes indicate that Jerusalem is under heavy rain, but the birds never fail to signal the change of weather, it's just a change that happens elsewhere…





Winter marked itself this week with new arrivals that included some more Hawfinches (up to 4), Song Thrushes, Dead Sea Sparrows, Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles and some more Oriental Skylarks (up to 4).

Water, Red-Throated and Meadow Pipits are growing in numbers too and the usual end of October Stonechat blend of Common, Siberian, Caspian and Armenian are all present in good numbers.





The best bird of the week was the female Black crowned Sparrow Lark that was found by Yael Schiff in Yotvata northern circular field.

Yael realized that the lark is "not what she is used to seeing" and had sent pictures to Itai Shani who identified it, unfortunately too late to allow relocation of the bird.

The grounds of the circular field were full of other great birds. 2 Bimaculated larks, 1 eastern type Lesser Short toed Lark, 4 Oriental Skylarks and a Richard's Pipit.


In the air worth noting was a Crag Martin, a Little Swift and a second Black-winged Kite to the one seen the same day in Eilat. At the sewage ponds Itai and the southern Arava birding club found the first Yellow-Browed Warbler for the season and the Sacred Ibis was still present.





Uvda valley looked good too with new arrivals of wintering larks. The best were 9 Temminck's Horned Larks that joined the usual Bar-tailed and Desert Larks. There was no sign of last week's Thick-billed Larks but the area is large (Itai Shani).

I decided to break my weekly long drive to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for meetings at the Heimar reservoir, next to the southern part of the Dead Sea.


This reservoir is a dam built to catch the flood waters and prevent them from polluting the Dead Sea ponds that harvest potassium and magnesium. The place is a vast reed and tamarisk grove with some water and it swarms with birds. The best this week were 200 Dead Sea Sparrows that breed here and gather in winter, and all 4 Crakes of Israel - Water Rails (5), Spotted Crake, Little Crake and also the rare Baillon's Crake, were seen on the mud, along with Jack Snipe, 5 Kingfishers and tens of Bluethroats. 5 Clamorous Reed Warblers that breed here and are seen year round were sighted and heard too. It's a great spot and it is only a matter of time until something mega will show up there.


During a family picnic in the huge sand-stone cliffs of Nimra we heard a Pharaoh Eagle Owl, not for the first time, and during a day trip a Mangrove Heron surprised me in the small man-made lake of Timna park, fishing in the smog of barbeque clouds. As a result of a vegetarian wife I only got to smell it (the barbeque of course). The Wheatear's status in Timna park was interesting with 8 different White Crowned, 5 of them first years, no less than 12 Blackstarts and 1 young male Hooded.





The concentration of them and the number of young birds is exceptional. I have done a long term survey of these amazing desert birds and it is very interesting to see how in long drought years (4 years without any substantial rain) the numbers of Wheatears drop sharply and young birds are absent, whilst in good years with some rain you get much more young birds. Also the correlation of these Wheatears to irrigate and/or dense human activity is very interesting. This research is yet to be published, perhaps after the next breeding season.


At the ringing station the numbers of Chiffchaffs grows constantly and during a wader ringing evening a Whiskered Tern was ringed along with the usual Little Stints, Dunlins, Curlew Sandpiper, Redshank, Ruffs and Ringed Plovers (altogether 40 birds). A Barn Swallow that was ringed at the north Dead Sea site of Ein Fescha was caught in Eilat 5 days later.


Birding stuff down here gets warmer and exciting, so stay posted.









The Oriental Club




Stormy weather north of us resulted with a fall of migrants in Eilat.

The ringing station was kept busy with tens of Bluethroats and Chiffchaffs and exciting reports from the field. The bird of the week was a young Oriental Turtle Dove that was first found by the IBRCE team in Yotvata southern circular field, but lack of a photo and the speed of the observation left it out of the official list until the Dove was relocated by Itai Shani 3 days later at the same spot.


In the same field it was joined by a locally rare bird, a Stock Dove, and the usual gatherings of Desert Finches (30) plus hundreds of Red throated pipits. 3 Cream colored Coursers were an additional nice decoration for the site.


Closer to Eilat a shiny adult Imperial Eagle showed well in Km 19 alongside the usual Osprey and Marsh Harriers. In the Bird Sanctuary in Eilat a Mangrove Heron surprised us in the lake making it 2 individuals in odd places in a week (I saw 1 in Timna Park lake last week). This cannot be a coincidence.


The nice story of the week started with a phone call from the lifeguard in the north beach (and yes, people still swim here in the sea in November, it's 33 Celsius down here) reporting a drowning Heron. Our team (Nesia, Juan and Euan) arrived at the scene and located a Great Egret that couldn't fly. Nesia jumped in and rescued it. It was entangled with fishing lines attached to a giant shark hook threatening to do serious damage.


The bird was swiftly released from the lines and after warming its body temperature and drying it we released it in our lake. In the first 2 days it was catching fish like crazy, then started to fly and will probably leave very soon. The local media showed some interest in the story and Nesia will undoubtedly become a local hero in a few days when it is published.





The sad side of the week belongs to our neighbors the Jordanians and Palestinians. This Monday is the 20th anniversary of the Israeli - Jordanian peace agreement.  

It was due to be celebrated in a nice event in Jerusalem and I was invited to present a project I was in charge of - a cross border cooperation project using Barn owls as pest controllers in the fields.

It was very successful as farmers in Israel, Palestine and Jordan dramatically reduced the amount of rodenticides implemented just by putting Owl nest boxes in their fields.


The project also resulted in a network of experts and farmers from all 3 countries starting talking and cooperating in other areas of environmental protection and agriculture. I'm also involved now with a nice project that is giving Palestinians the ability to survey nature, build and maintain nature reserves and guide wildlife watching tourism.


I had great hopes to be able to use the event not only to meet good friends from the other side of the border, but also to promote a new project that will unite Eilat and Aqaba (Jordan) to work together and to raise awareness of the environment on both sides of the border, and to cooperate solving problems that our shared coral reef, deserts and migratory birds face.





But it was cancelled.

A sequence of incidents in Jerusalem that included Palestinian extremists driving into crowds of people, the subsequent manhunts and the usual inciting claims that the mosques in the Temple Mount are in danger, raised the tension to unbearable levels and the celebration was cancelled.  


Also our Jordanian partners in Aqaba have backed off for now.

So sad that in a place where peace creating projects are so desperately needed, they are cancelled because of the lack of peace and tension. If we had peace and everything was fine we wouldn't have the need for projects like these.


It's days like these we need to show the light of hope and highlight our peace making projects, not follow an agenda that is dictated by extremists that have no plan of a better life for anybody. We birders and environmentalists in this troubled area know we have to wait for the wave to pass and continue working together, but a good opportunity has been lost because of the wrong reasons.


So the birds of Eilat and Aqaba, as well as the great coral reef we share with Jordan and Egypt, will have to wait before we safeguard them in a united regional action that is needed here so very much.




The Wheatears valley







The Uvda valley is just a great place to be.

It is cooler then Eilat and has a soft landscape of the round hills with sandy small streams, covered with the softest sands that flow into a very wide plain, with dense desert vegetation.


This is how the desert becomes alive. In the one event of flood, that comes once in a few years, the small streams fill up with water that directs them to the wide valley.

Because the wide valley rarely fills up, the water is collected there until they find the way out of the valley downstream. In the meanwhile, the water, carrying seeds collected from all over the area and percolate in the thirsty ground.  When the sun comes back, it is just a matter of time before it blooms, sometimes in beautiful colors. And then the birds come.


Local, migratory or the desert wanderers, they flood the valley, months after some water had passed here.

So following May rains 6 months ago and another short rain last month that woke up the seeds on the ground, I took the enthusiastic volunteers of the IBRCE, Euan (Scotland) and Juan (Spain) to check it up. Already on the way we could feel it will be a great day. Nubian Ibexes and a Red Fox were easy to notice by the road. Juan saw an almost adult Imperial Eagle so when I went out of the car to photograph it, it was diving into the hill next to us, crashing a pigeon to the ground and easily collected it and flew away. I managed to take one good photo in spite of the still weak light. Entering the Valley, the dominance of Wheatears was overwhelming. I don't think I ever saw so many Wheatears in one spot.





Along the valley we counted 25 White Crowned, 5 Hooded, 10 Desert and another 12 Morning Wheatears. What was also notable was that all of the 25 White crowned Wheatears were young. These Wheatears live in the most remote and dry desert areas. They had learned to use shadow that collects some moisture during the nights and creates small niche eco systems that creates their food.


This way they always prefer canyons or areas with big rocks. But the desert is harsh and the food is scarce, so the young birds, who don't have to keep a territory, find their way to the valley. The story of the morning Wheatears is different. They migrate from the Negev highlands, each time to a different location where water was flowing. The Desert and Hooded wheatears gathered here also to enjoy the ease to find food.


The valley also attracted the nomad birds. These are birds that breed in a different place every year. They wander around the deserts of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi and Israel looking for a valley like ours. Of these birds we located 25 beautiful Temminck's Horned larks, about 30 Bar-tailed Larks, 60 Desert Larks and 12 Spotted Sandgrouses. Many more local desert birds such as tens of Trumpeter Finches, A Cream Colored Coursor, Sand partridges and Brown Necked Ravens filled the valley with their calls.





In addition to that some migratory birds found the opportunity and stopped to feed. Among them were tens of Red-throated and Water pipits, some Skylarks, Blue Throats, Corn Buntings and Spanish Sparrows. A single male Hen Harrier was trying to hunt who ever came here, whatever his reason was.

The Uvda valley will stay lively all the winter.



Birds will come and move on until the seeds and insects are all eaten. If we will be lucky, and another rain, even slight, will hit our valley, some will stay to nest, hoping for the migratory painted lady butterflies that will arrive in early next spring, to lay here eggs and produce the caterpillars needed for feeding their chick's.



If you come to Eilat this year or next spring, don't miss the valley. It is outstanding, and so interesting.






The oil leak disaster





The 3rd of December will be remembered as one of the worst days the Eilat area has ever known. A giant oil spill hit one of our most beautiful and important nature reserve, The Evrona Acacia forest.


I live in Beer Ora. It's a small and good looking settlement, 20 km north of Eilat. Every day over the past few months I passed next to a huge hole in the ground at the settlement's entrance.

Workers, experts and heavy machinery were working together on fixing two giant oil hoses. It didn't look like they were making much progress as the number of experts and sophisticated devices kept increasingly congregating around the hole. It seemed as if the work would never be completed. It just wouldn't connect.



Eventually it probably did connect and they let the oil flow into the hose. I'm not sure what happened, but where they were working for all these long months just didn't hold and 3 million liters of oil erupted.

The radio said that it took 2 hours to close the taps and all the fail-safe systems had failed. My phone got a short text saying that exiting the settlement was not possible and the wildlife ranger's cars were rushing out. The rest of the settlement was sound asleep, about to wake up to a black morning.





The Evrona Acacia reserve is so fragile and sensitive with its centuries old trees and unique biodiversity. Every time the staff of Eilat's birding center passes by on its weekly monitoring mission we slightly pat the bushes as we pass, and make sure we don't leave too much footprints on the soil.


The birds here and the herd of Gazelles always look cheerful and everything is so clean. All this beauty is now contaminated with the black filth flowing in all the small streams and the stench is terrible.


The next morning the reserve was chaotic. Vehicles of the oil pipeline company, police, wildlife rangers, oil container trucks and tens of tractors of every possible kind were moving around in all directions.

During the night they managed to build dams and collect a lot of oil in small black lakes. Many of the trucks were stuck deep in the sand.

Only later on they realized that first they would have to pull everyone from the roads, build them new and continue.  Now the movement of trucks and tractors started to make sense and work was more efficient.





At the same time the Jordanians that had no clue of what was happening, and reported more than 80 people had been hospitalized. The smell gave them breathing difficulties and rumors said that there had been some kind of explosion in Israel, as the word for leak and explosion in Hebrew is the same. They just translated the Israeli websites headlines incorrectly (I guess google translate did it again...).

Airplanes were already in the sky by 08:30 to learn the true picture of the disaster, and things started to get into an efficient routine. The fatigue of the people working was hidden behind mountains of adrenalin and only the Eilati sense of humor kept us all going.


The Evrona reserve is a very special one. Along with hundreds of old and giant Acacia trees live more than 200 charming Dorcas Gazelles.

The bird population here is unique and very healthy. Desert Larks, Blackstarts, Scrub Warblers, Little Green Bee-eaters and Arabian Babblers are the common species. Hooded, Desert and Morning Wheatears and the Southern Grey Shrike are also common visitors in winter along with the rare Asian Desert Warbler.


Recently 6 Hoopoe Larks were seen there in the making 3 new territories in the reserve after years of scattered observations. These Larks are very rare in Israel and the population is probably no more than 10 pairs.






Also the Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse breeds here sometimes (the population of this rare bird is probably under 30 individuals).  

The Arabian Warbler was also seen here until a decade ago. Along with the birds and the Gazelles a healthy population of mammals such as Porcupine, Red Fox, Wolf and Hyena and some unique species of rodents live here.What makes this habitat so rich and important are the flourishing Acacia trees and everything that lives of them.


This morning, also the birds and Gazelles were moving in the same chaotic way as the people. The Gazelles were observed far from their usual places but the birds remained in their usual spots. We did not find any contaminated birds.

The gazelles were clean and untouched too. Even the proud Acacia trees were in bloom and green. The bushes were more directly damaged, drowning in the black gold. These will die for sure.


It is all about the main natural resource of the reserve, the Acacia trees. If they will die, the whole eco-system will follow. We are all hoping for a miracle, but deep inside us we know the blow is hard, and probably fatal for the trees. The oil is highly toxic for them and even a touch of it is enough to destroy a tree, hundreds of years old. The closest thing to a forest in the Eilat area is dying and with it everything that lives there.





Looking for a miracle we hang to every spark of optimism. The oil did not percolate into the soil more than 3 cm in the clayish areas and 20 cm in stony spots, so if all of it would be pumped and the contaminated soil removed carefully, we could limit the negative impact and the reserve will renew itself with the time.

We also appreciate the joint efforts of everybody here – the pipe-line personnel, wildlife rangers, society for the protection of nature staff,  Eilat's birding center, police, ministry for the protection of the environment, journalists and the truck and tractor drivers. Everyone has been doing there maximal efforts, regardless of whom is to blame and who could do more, exhausted, dusty and with the terrible smell around, trying to save what is left to save.


The Arava people are mourning this giant loss. Nature is a part of us. You can see people hugging trees, walking and crying between the dying plants and sadness is everywhere.


Doron Nisim, the district manager of NPA summarized the first evening describing it as an: "orange sunset on a black soil". The beautiful sunset on the Arava when the mountains are colored red, Sunbirds and Wheatears are singing and the Acacia trees are blooming all gives the impression that nothing has changed.






The heart wouldn't believe it, resting on memories of the beloved land and waiting for a miracle, but the mind knows. We got a harsh blow to our beating heart. The Evrona reserve will never be the same again. This damage is here to stay.


With tears of sadness


Noam Weiss

International Birding and Research Center - Eilat, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel




The Lesser Whitethroats of Eilat




The Lesser Whitethroat is an abundant migrant in Eilat. Their main passage occurs in September and again in March. They are tick-tacking from every bush and tree, especially ones with yellow pollen that this species is so fond of here.  


Because Eilat is a bottle-neck of migration routes for birds coming from as far as west as the UK and as east as Siberia and central Asia, we seem to get all kinds of Lesser Whitethroat, and some look very different to each other. In the main season they pretty much look the same, but in November and May, which is outside their usual passage time, we get the strange ones. In the past few years calls for different splits among this group had been raised, but as with many other species, they are not always easy to tell apart.


The knowledge and tools to identify them looks sufficient in the literature with the monumental work of Hadoram Shirihai in his Sylvia Warblers book, giving tail patterns, wing formulas, measurements, detailed plumage descriptions, drawings and pictures, and the recent chapter in Martin Garner’s "Challenge series -  Autumn" that shows some different features of wing formula, tails and descriptions.

But when you get the bird in the hand it is sometimes far from clear, with some birds having impossible combinations of mixed characteristics that make no sense within the literature.


Some yellowish pale toned Lesser Whitethroats are not uncommon, mainly late in the season. If they are adults, they usually have an all-white outer tail feather. Bills are slenderer too, all fitting the Halimodendri / Minula group.

These warblers feel very distinctively different from the others.  It's their measurements that make the confusion rise. Some are short winged approaching the Minula subspecies and some longer that might be Halimodendri.  But how can one be sure where is the clear cut border between them?


The Lesser Whitethroat in the picture was caught on the 10th of November and had a very short wing (60mm), short primary projection (40-50 % of tertials). The wing formula showed 2p. = p.7-8. It had strong yellowish sandy tones and a lot of white in the tail. All good for Halimodendri.





A most probable Mountain Lesser Whitethroat (Althaea) from May was even more striking. With such sooty dark uniform upper parts could it be anything but Althaea?  Measurements were good but not diagnostic (wing 69mm) and the young age of the bird made the tail pattern not useful. The picture shows the suspected Althaea and a European Lesser Whitethroat.


I hope to give some attention to these warblers this coming spring. I'm sure it will be fascinating.





Other than that, autumn is gone and just a few last migratory birds are still around, and it’s time to adjust to winter (20 degrees Celsius).

Our fantastic ringers, Euan from Scotland and Juan from Spain are now in the air flying back home. It's now time to discover what kind of winter birds have settled in the area. The exciting wintering species will be found one by one and every year brings its special surprises.  


Our winter specials, the Oriental Skylarks and Buff-bellied Pipits are already here in Yotvata fields and so are the Temminck's Horned and Bar tailed Larks in Uvda.

The first Desert Warblers were already recorded in Evrona salt marsh (And it looks like 2 pairs of Hoopoe Larks are forming early territories there too).


It is already obvious that it is a good year for the Imperial Eagles with at least 4 around the southern Arava and Booted Eagles, Common Buzzards and a Bonneli's Eagle are localizing themselves around us too. First reports of Sinai Rosefinches in various places in the Eilat Mountains are arriving, but sightings of the Cyprus Warblers and Pale Scops Owls are yet to come.


All these species are seen annually, and it's the real rarities such as Red-flanked Bluetail or even an Albatross or Long-tailed Duck, all of which have been reported in the past, that we’re waiting for.  



A good and warm winter is ahead of us.












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