A Quicky in Eilat

Barak Granit 01/05/2015 00:00

In the "smelling the end" article published some days ago I wrote that the shift from April to May is often expressed in an explosion of birds, especially at Eilat. So if you follow birding news from Israel (probably you can't escape it anyway) May 2nd and 3rd brought the biggest raptor migration days ever with no less than 450,000 Honey Buzzards that passed over Eilat. They were escorted by one mega rarity for Israel - a Red Necked Grebe which appeared at the North Beach on the 3rd as well.  I guess the birds read my post too… (birders jokes).



Let's see, in the perspective of 35 years of birding, how rare such days are. Days containing about or just above 100,000 raptors, happen in Israel very rarely – once every few years.  Days exceeding 200,000 birds happened only twice in history, at Eilat in May 1983 and May 1985. Although I have spent some 15 autumn seasons conducting the Autumn Raptor Count in the Northern Valleys and did 2 Honey Buzzard seasons in Eilat, my best condensed moments involved 35,000 in 1.5 hours. On 3/5./2015, the counters had 68,000 in 1 hour. It is not the number that blow you away, it must be the spectacle. Must be a wow of a lifetime.


I should have predicted it actually. On May 2nd evening, I got a phone call from Dan Alon who was on his way with Noam Weiss to the World Series of Birding in Cape May, New Jersey. Dan wanted to share his excitement by the daily record of quarter of a million birds since he was the last person to witness similar number, 30 years ago at Eilat. I complained that now I will have to wait another 30 years but Dan suggested I should go for the next morning since he suspected it would continue just as it happened in 1985.


Well, a typical mind like I have would ask itself what are the chances it will happen again? More likely, I thought, at best I will get a 40,000 morning. But who wants 40,000 morning knowing that the previous day record is quarter of a million? Funny how the change in the standards change your decision making and reality perception. 40,000 HB in a morning – a fantastic experience almost anywhere else in the world becomes just 'leftovers' and you don't want to be tagged as a 'birder of leftovers'… Besides that, I could go and receive nothing but few thousands. So I didn't go what was evidently a big mistake. When you consider a win-win situation like that and start to waste time on calculating your chances, in the end you are left with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman saying: Big mistake. Big big Mistake. Huge.



On the next morning messages started to appear on Whatsapp informing the HB flood continued. Dan was correct of course. Later on came the RBA about the grebe. Shachar Alterman my friend who claimed to lose interest in twitching took the first airplane to Eilat and managed to see the bird just before sunset. I joined Oz Horine - the guy who witnessed the 200,000 day HBs in 1983, to an evening drive. We arrived at North Beach at midnight and since there was full moon, we tried to locate the grebe in the dark, but came up with Common and Sandwich Terns only. But…it was there at first light, just as if someone nailed it to the Red Sea floor with a long rope. An Israeli tick and a lovely bird too. Good twitch. I liked it. By the way – if it was in the UK there would be 3000 birders for such a mega. Here we were 5. It is better here being a birder in several aspects…


Besides the grebe, we could see that migration started in the mountains. It didn’t look like a 200,000 day. Perhaps 2000. The merchandise has sold out. At the shore nearby - a Bar-tailed Godwit landed. Not a big rarity but a scarce one here, we get only a few annually.

One Arctic Skua was the only seabird representative. At a distance I noticed a passerine migrating low over the sea still miles away. I don't know what I got on it but I told Shachar who was next to me that a Dunn's Lark is coming. We could see just nothing of it so my only explanation that my subconscious identified something familiar. It kept on coming so now I could see a round wing, short tail and sandy colors. Looks promising but only when it really arrived to the shoreline we could see the black tail – a real Dunn's Lark! One of those moments to be remembered.


After sunrise we went up to the mountains. When we arrived I discovered I lost my sunglasses. I just bought them so I was pissed off. I took Oz's vehicle and drove back to the north beach since I thought I had lost them there. I found nothing. I drove back to the guys in the mountains only to discover they were on me (on my T-shirt which was covered by the Jacket – it was cold in the morning)…




There we enjoyed a couple of thousands Honeys among them we found 2 Crested Honey Buzzards males and 2 additional males showing mixed characters with European Honey Buzzard. Variety was also nice in the air with both Steppe and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Black Storks and some others. At the bird park, understanding that passerine migration was awful during this late spring, we enjoyed few tens of Red-necked Phalaropes which are doing great this spring.


By 11:00 we already headed back towards Tel-aviv. To be honest – it was just enough. Quick without any dull moments and full of good birds, fine moments and an Israeli tick.

Just brilliant.






land marks