Freeway to Eilat

Barak Granit 23/08/2015 00:00



I can't recall ever birding in EIlat in August, but recent bird sightings by Shachar Shalev, which included too hasty identification of 1st summer Kittiwake that must have been the 4th Sabine's Gull for Israel, 10 Lesser Crested Terns on the evening of the 16th and an adult far off, Gannet or Masked Booby (or Cape Gannet…) on the 17th morning, has brought things over a bearable degree of critical mass, so I had no choice but get myself on the freeway south for four hour drive.


Somehow, I knew I was going to enjoy the whole thing, especially the driving, no matter what birds I was going to dip. Long driving, alone, brought a sense of freedom I haven't felt for a long time. Hard to describe this, but the feeling was that everything was possible and life reopened again, a feeling that somewhat remained till this very moment.

I put my all-time favorite PJ Harvery's 1998 album "Is this desire?" The summer meadows were brown, the noontime desert was even browner, and the Neot Smadar Alfalfa fields were evermore greener, but I aimed directly at the North Beach.       


At 17:30 afternoon I arrived. The thermometer said that it was 47c outside the air conditioned car! I can't recall ever experiencing 47 degrees in my life. When I went out of the car I felt that within a minute I could be served in perfectly medium degree, and if I waited another more minute I was well done, dead dry, tough meat. That how it felt. It was the air itself that scorched the skin, not the sun.





The sea itself was alive with 9 Lesser Crested Terns and 30-35 White-cheeked Terns, some Common and Caspian Terns and tens of White-eyed Gulls. The sea was also packed with large and crowded fish flocks that from some reason were agitated, half jumping, continuously, backed exposed above the surface. I think they were Tunas, too large for the Terns and Gulls but attracted their attention into tantalizing wishful feeding frenzy. Frenzy only, without the feeding part.



Shachar joined me quite afterwards and at 18:30 or so, we finally felt some relief: the temperature dropped down to 44 degrees! Later on it really became cooler when it came down into 42c.

I've never believed I'd say something like that but that was the feeling.

Anyway there was no Gannet or Booby or Sabine's Gull but that was expected for the afternoon.

I spend the night at Shachr's place with a delicious supper made by his lovely wife. At 05:45 in the morning we were at the beach again.   


Again there was no Booby but I was ready for that. On the Jordanian side I noticed a juvenile Little Tern type bird which had 4-5 black outer primaries and all in all looked quite dark from above, or in other words was a good candidate to be a Saunders's Tern - a species with only 3 official Israeli records up to date.

Since it was far on the Jordanian side and therefor against the sun, we couldn't do much about it.


Then Noam Weiss joined us, and again we saw the Tern and while watching it, I noticed a 1st summer arctic Tern joining the frenzy. Not bad. Than we lost the small Tern, but half an hour later it appeared right in-front of us, passing to our west with perfect back light. It continuous grey rump and upper tail which is known to be good for Saunders's. The upperwing as a whole was grey and relatively darkish.



So Saunders's or Little? Hard to say. I just don't have the knowledge. According to Yosef Kiat, the guy who has ringed more Little Terns than anyone else on the planet, the bird in the photo is Juv, not 1st summer, since it hadn't moulted the inner primaries yet. At juv plumage it is far harder to distinguish the two species. Anyway, Saunders's or not, it was great birding, learning experience and great joy





land marks