Spring of Birds

Frank Moffatt 07/04/2015 00:00


Mars 26


Manchester Airport. Due to board in an hour or so bound for Tel Aviv,

the southern Arava and beyond.

Hopefully the birds begin to arrive in numbers but whatever happens it's always great fun.

See you soon.


Mars 27


Myself and Brian in Urim late last night after a turbulent flight to Tel Aviv. After a wander around the area before breakfast this morning it was straight to Ashkelon National Park on the Eastern Mediterranean to see this beauty. Barak will hopefully remind us when we recorded our only other encounter.


A couple of hours this morning roaming around Urim: the area held lots of Black Kites, several Marsh Harriers and a single male Hen Harrier plus a nice group of c.200 White Storks. Close encounters with Stone Curlews.

Ashkelon National Park: female Grey Hypocolius, superb Pallid, Common, Alpine Swift, Barn and Red-rumped Swallow passage. Also good numbers of Northern Wheatears, Turtle Doves and White Storks on the move and a cracking Black-eared Wheatear. Great spot with loads of potential - my first visit. Good to see Shachar Alterman, Oz , Noam and others there.

Wadi Zin held numerous Isabelline and Northern Wheatears and what sounded like a single Lesser Short-toed Lark. Definitely worth a visit if you're passing. Thanks for the tip-off Oz.

A really enjoyable first day.






Mars 28


An early morning wander around Lotan was fruitful and included: Black-eared Wheatear, Masked Shrike and Semi-collared Flycatcher. The signs were encouraging after reports from the last two weeks suggested numbers were a little less than the norm. i.e. plenty of Lesser Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and Red-rumped Swallow passage.



Late morning and early afternoon: Ne'ot Samadar held good number of feldeggs and a few supercilliaris, flava and dombrowski wagtails. Corn Buntings were around as were Red-throated Pipits, a few Bluethroats, Common Redstart. We bumped into Lior and his team up there and reports from him of numerous sightings between Elot data plantation, km19 and other spots in the valley perked us up even more.


Yotvata Sewage held a couple of interesting Citrine Wagtails, Water Pipits more flava and alba wagtails, Bluethroats, Chiffs, several common waders, Reed Warblers, Eastern Olis, Masked and Southern Grey Shrike and quite a lot of other bits.



We finished off at kms19 and 20. Good numbers of Little Stint, Kentish Plover LRP and Ringed Plover, Marsh, Green, Wood Sandpiper, Redshank and Ruff plus a couple of Red-necked Phalaropes. The Eastern Imperial Eagle soared above the cattle sheds at



Loads of great birds today but arguably the pick was this stunner at km20. An Israel 'tick' for Brian. Understandably he was thrilled and he celebrated with a stonking meal at Yotvata.


Mars 29


RAIN!! Yes it rained in the Arava today and it was nice. The accompanying migration was strong. Excellent stuff..Morning walk in a wadi north of Lotan produced numerous Lesser Whitethroats, Ruppell's Warblers, Balkan Warbler, Woodchat Shrike. Thunder and lightning!!


The raptors, swifts and hirundines, among others, dropped low for a time. 20+ Steppe Eagles, Short-toed Eagle, Eygptian Vulture, several Marsh Harriers, a rather scarce Goshawk, E. Sparrowhawk, at least 2 Ospreys,several thousand Steppe Buzzards and similar numbers of Black Kites, Black Storks, a few White Storks, c.45 European Bee-eaters and a party of 5 Blue-cheeked whose call attracted our attention. A pretty impressive start. No time for breakfast. Brian was ecstatic and sang a verse from No Nay Never. And why not? It was all good.

Ketura sewage held Citrine Wagtail, Bluethroats, Water and Red-throated Pipits, Sedge Warblers and a few regular waders.




An attempt to reach km20 saltpans failed due to tricky conditions - water collecting - but c.36 Collared Pratincoles that passed. KM19 was nice with Caspian Terns, flava and feldeggs and the interesting heron sp. More on the latter to follow..

The north circular fields at Yotvata to finish: 9 Collared Prats, several Short-toed Larks, Red-throated and Water Pipits and a bunch of flava and feldegss and accompanying Marsh Harriers in search of a cheap meal.

A great day. .


Mars 30


Holland Park, Eilat first call: Rufous Bush Chat, a couple of Ruppell's Warblers, Balkan Warbler, numerous Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat, Masked Shrike.Then it was up to the Mountains for an expected raptor passage. Unfortunately it didn't materialise or if it did it was very high. 1600 White Storks were first to rise then a steady trickle to 1030: Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites but no more than c.100 apiece. Single Short-toed Eagle and a handful of Black Storks. Add in a sprinkling of House Martins, Hooded and White-crowned Black Wheatear and that was about it. Still very enjoyable.





Canada Park had an obliging Wryneck, a few Balkans, Lesser Whitethroats and Chiffs and a Masked Shrike.

KM20: another five Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters over were supereb value. Broad-billed Sand again, 4 Caspian and 3 Gull-billed Terns, small numbers of Marsh and Wood Sands and 2 Common Sands. Ruff and Greenshank, single Avocet, a few redshank and Kentish, Little Stints and Curlew Sand plus other bits.46 Collared Prats were nice.




Another Rufous Bush Chat at km40 plus Orphean Warbler and a party of European Bee-eaters over.

Yotvata Fields to finish: 6+ Marsh Harriers, E. Sparrowhawk, 2 Collared Prats, several Greater Short-toed Larks, Red-throated and Water Pipits, big numbers of feldeggs and flava wagtails that lay hidden for the most part but were occasionally revealed when escaping a chasing harrier, LRPs 6+ Isabelline and 2 Northern Wheatears.

General feeling was that a lot of birds had moved on overnight but still great fun. I've added a few of todays birds.

More tomorrow.


Mars 31


Pre-breakfast brought good numbers of Lesser Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs, female Sub-alpine Warbler, Balkan Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, several European Bee-eaters and Blackcaps. There was then a big lift-off of White Storks c.2500 mainly from in and around Kibbutz Lotan but also from immediately across the border with Jordan and also further north as far as km76. Spectacular. They rose high on the thermals and drifted NW. Althoiugh not obvious above Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites kept dropping into the Arava to drink.



Late morning brought tricky views of the Caspian Plover at Yotvata, thanks to NGB (New Generation Birders) for the relocation, followed by a refreshing coffee at the cafe. We continued to Samar Sewage and after a hard slog we'd found Orphean Warbler and singing Rufous Bush Chat. At that point we bumped into Avi and Ron, friends of Barak and after another shot at it Ron found the Black Bush Robin, a lifer for him. Great bird. That tail is crazy!!


Returned to Yotvata late on and had a Collared Pratincole. Took a while but we eventually relocated the Caspian Plover. Another great day. We worked hard but it was well worth the effort.


April 1


Interesting day in that many of yesterdays migrants had moved on but the good news was that 'new' species had begun to filter in.

Started at a very quiet km76: Isabelline Wheatear, Southern Grey Shrike, 6+ Short-toed Larks, Balkan Warbler, Chiffs and Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps but all in small numbers. Two Golden Jackals galloped away from us. Little sign of any migration overhead.



The Ovda Valley section that we covered was also quiet but we had our first Willow Warblers (2), Reed Warbler, Northern Wheatear,Common Nightingale and 6+ Short-toed Larks. At a small wood nearby we had at least 12 Ortolans, single Cretzschmar's, at least 3 C. Nightingales, Orphean Warblers and a bunch of Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats. The next copse we tried held a superb Wood Warbler - surely one of the best phylloscs.



Ne'ot Samadar had a few more Orlolans, E.Bee-eaters, Black-eared Wheatear, Bluethroats, feldeggs, Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats. A Black Kite and Steppe Buzzard passed overhead and a Masked Shrike was nearby. Another Jackal dashed through.

KM20 pools were quieter than of late with nothing new to add.

Finished off at Yotvata North where we had a cracking male Monties, female Marsh Harrier, a possible fem Pallid, Red-throated Pipits.

Looking forward to tomorrow. Added a few shots from the last 2-3 days.


April 2


Could hear European Bee-eaters in the grounds of Kibbutz Lotan as we set off for Holland Park first call. Three main species were Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat and Balkan Warbler - all in reasonable numbers. A nice early Booted Eagle followed by Steppe Buzzard and Black Kite. It looked good for raptor passage. Up we went to the mountains, up to Mount Yoash, as there was little sign on the lower watches.


False alarm. Very quiet, And then a flurry of activity between 0830 and 1030: approx. c.1500 Steppe Buzzards and c.500 Black Kites; 2 Short-toed Eagles, another Booted Eagle, single Long-legged Buzzard and E. Sparrowhawk. Common Swift passage.



Down into the Arava but not a lot for our efforts in the heat of the day: single Booted Eagle and 3-4 Marsh Harriers, E. Sparrowhawk, couple of Bluethroats, Barn, Red-rumped and House Martin passage. The heron sp. was still at km19 along with Purple Heron and plenty of Greys, 12+ Squaccos, plus several Little and Great Egrets.


We relocated the Caspian Plover at Yotvata north fields around 1600hrs. No wonder it was hard to find at times - crouched in those furrows. Stayed there or thereabouts to dusk: male Ruppell's Warbler, 3+ Lesser Kestrels, 2 Common Cranes, 4-5 White Storks, several Steppe Buzzards, Black Kites, couple of Marsh Harriers, another Booted Eagle, c.300 feldegg/flava wagtails, a good sprinkling of Red-throated Pipits and White Wagtails, 2 Northern Wheatears and 10+ Isabelline.

Beautiful finish to the day. All still to play for.

Cheers for now.


April 3


Holland Park Eilat: still plenty of Lesser Whitethroats and Balkan Warblers but much of the rest had moved on. Up to the Eilat Mountains.

It looked like it could be good and it was. 2.5 hrs brought c.5000 Steppe Buzzards and c.2000 Black Kites (probably more of each in reality). Pretty good eagle morning: 4 Eastern Imperial, 20+ Steppe. one possible Lesser Spotted and 4 Booted. Short-toed was also recorded. E. Sparrowhawk, C. Kestrel, Marsh Harrier ans Osprey noted. A few Black Storks. Good Alpine and C. Swift movement. The raptor movement was still going strong when we left around midday but it was incredibly high.


KM20 saltpans: general numbers seemed up mainly thanks to Kentish Plovers and Ruff. Two Greater Sand Plovers and the Broad-billed Sand (again). Another Booted Eagle over. Checked a nearby date plantation and had Rufous Bush Chat, Masked Shrike, Orphean Warbler, Reed Warbler and 6 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters over. Turning out to be my best ever spring for the latter.




Ventured back up to the mountains until dusk. Raptors were still pouring through but at an incredible height. Managed another Steppe Eagle and a Booted and that was it for the day. Amazing stuff. I consider it a real privilege to be able to witness one of the Birding Wonders of the World.

Despite the numbers of birds today it was tough to get close to photograph and do the spectacle justice.


april 4


For whatever reason most springs I seem struggle to see more than one or two Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. Usually the views are distant and brief with just the occasional good performance. This spring, however, has been quite different with six separate sightings involving around 30 birds. This morning at Kibbutz Lotan we were treated to a superb performance by a group of six birds. Brilliant stuff.


Booted Eagle, numerous Black Kites and Steppe Buzzards, at least 4 Sparrowhawks, several C. Kestrels, single Goshawk (Yotvata) all in the centre of the Arava today.

In 25 years to 2014 I'd seen just one Goshawk in Israel - quite a few years back in the Meishar. So far in spring 2015 I've had 5 more sightings: 2 singles on active migration above Mount Yoash in the Eilat Mountains, one on active migration past km76 (big raptor day) and 2 more at Yotvata. A big Goshawk year perhaps.


Visited Ketura and Yotvata Sewage this morning. Obvious increase in Sedge and Reed Warbler, still several Bluethroats, male C. Redstart. Ne'ot Samadar produced 20+ Balkan Warblers in a small area and good numbers of L. Whitethroats and Blackcaps, Masked and Woodchat Shrike, a few Ortolans,2 Wrynecks, Northern, Isabelline and Black-eared Wheatear and several E. Bee-eaters. Black Redstart in Lotan grounds.



A couple of copses on route 12 held C. Redstart, Blackcaps and L. Whitethroats.

Date plantation north of Lotan brought more Blackcaps and L. Whitethroats. Finished off at Yotvata: at least 6 Marsh Harriers, 3 White Storks, 8 Black Storks over, Barn Swallow passage,Sand Martin, E. Sparrowhawk, a few Ortolans and G. Short-toed Larks. LRP and Green Sand.

Just a small snapshot of a very enjoyable day. Last full day tomorrow so we'll have to pull out all the stops. More tomorrow.




April 5


BINGO: We'd been having a thoroughly good days birding. Mid-afternoon, however, someone turned up the heat. First was this superb BLACK-CROWNED FINCH LARK. An Israeli tick.



DUNN'S LARK: Still revelling at the Finch Lark with Shachar and Brian we got the call from Itai that he'd just found a Dunn's Lark at KM20. Off we went. Corking bird. Close views in fading light. Only my third in 25 years. Wow! Nice finish to an exciting day. Thanks to Tuvia, Shachar Alterman, Shachar Shalev and Itai Shanni for the updates.



And the rest of todays news (selected highlights): Orphean Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, 4 Bimaculated Larks, Isabelline and Northern Wheatears, G. Short-toed Larks, 2 Greater Sand Plovers and single broad-billed Sandpiper, a nightingale sp. that appeared to be Thrush (brief and well hidden). Stacks more I could list. Amazing place.


April 7


Shalom. Back in Blighty early hours this morning and back to work tomorrow after yet another superb trip to the birding Mecca that is Israel. But I actually began to take stock of things at my regular route 6 stop off a little south of Tel Aviv en-route to Ben Gurion airport. Brilliant.


While I'm actually 'in the moment', in this case birding the Arava Valley or the nearby wadis, it's easy to appreciate things as they happen but to fully appreciate the totality of events is difficult. Only when I have the time to take stock does it fully sink in and become clear.

Wading through my posts on FB I thought: WOW! Grey Hypocolius, Black-crowned Finch Lark, Dunn's Lark, Caspian Plover, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Black Bush Robin, the incredible raptor migration extravaganza that sometimes involved tens of thousands of birds in just a couple of hours, the spectacle of 2500 White Storks lifting off mid-morning, Black Storks drifting close overhead ...


I could go on and on listing things. Incredible stuff. And then there's the magnificent scenery, the beautiful weather, great food and great people. It really is hard to beat.

Toda raba to all my friends for making it so memorable especially the Eilat and Arava Birders, Shachar , Itai, Shachar Alterman, Barak and Tuvia, all the people at Kibbutz Lotan and at Yotvata. See you all again soon please God.


land marks