Spring Migration in Israel

Douwe de boer 20/08/2015 00:00

This year (2015) my wife (Xanja Andriesse) and I were lucky enough to be able to visit Israel three successive times during spring migration. The first two weeks, started on February 8th 2015. For me it was already the 9th visit, whereas for Xanja it was the 5th.

This year, for the first time in Israel, I made use of the Dutch/Belgium on line database www.observado.org. This database is used by more and more people during their travels all over the world and is becoming a very convenient reference source for birding locations around the globe.


A few visits at Ma'agan Micha'el Fish Ponds  and the Mediterranean Coast provided lots of different wader and gull species, including Temminck’s Stint, Kentish Plovers, Heuglin’s and Baltic gulls, Armenian, Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls and relatively many Pallas’s Gulls with 22 individuals at one spot. The Tishlovet reservoirs and the Jezreel Valley contained many White-headed and Marbled Ducks, as well as a good number of Greater Spotted Eagles. A short excursion to Tel Shiqmona in Haifa produced a Northern Gannet and a Scopoli’s Shearwater flying north.





On our drive north we encountered Common Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves at Tel Qedesh NP. On the 12 and 13th February we continued birding in the Hula Valley where we experienced continuous rain and were forced to bird behind car windows. Nevertheless, birding was great with at Gume Junction Fish Ponds White-tailed Eagle , Water Rail, Jack Snipe, White- and Red-spotted Bluethroats, 10 Citrine Wagtails ,Red-throated  and Water Pipits, a Hawfinch and much more.




Other locations at Hula Valley provided a nice variety of overwintering European birds like Song Thrushes, European Serins, Bramblings, Reed Buntings, lots of Green Finches, more Hawfinches, Meadow Larks, European Stonechats and the 30.000+ Common Cranes, a Black-winged Kite and several Greater Spotted Eagles at Agamon Lake. Lots of Ferruginous Ducks, Pygmy Cormorants and heron species at Lehavot Habashan Fish Ponds together with Eurasian Penduline Tits and Common Jackals. A real treat were two European Bitterns flying by at Hula Nature Reserve.


Our next stop was supposed to be Mt Hermon and the Golan, but that whole area had turned white by 20 to 40 cm of snow, due to the weather depression that stayed with us. We decided to quickly move south through the Golan area. Nonetheless, we found some nice birds, a male Garganey, about 70 Calandra Larks, Wood Larks, two Yellowhammer’s several Corn and Rock Buntings, more Hawfinches, a male and a female Finsch’s Wheatear. Several mammal species were recorded, Common Jackal, Wild Boar, Rock Hyrax, Red Fox and Mountain Gazelle.




At Gamla NP Griffon Vultures were present as well as one Cinereous Vulture, Alpine and Little Swifts and Blue Rock Thrush. The first Common Whitethroats and Eurasian Blackcaps were singing alongside nesting Sardinian Warblers. After leaving the Golan we encountered two early Great Spotted Cuckoo’s and the aucheri subspecies of the Southern Grey Shrike.

Bet She’an Valley produced a long list of birds with at one spot 25 Pallas’s Gulls, Purple Heron, Syrian Woodpecker, Levant Jay, quite a few Greater Spotted Eagles, Osprey’s and Booted Eagles.


Noteworthy of the Dead Sea area was a Long-legged Buzzard and migration of Cyprus Warblers. On 18 February we arrived at Eilat and on our way at Kibbutz Lotan we encountered a nice male Hooded Wheatear. Apart from waders, gulls, some Isabelline Wheatears and Cyprus Warblers there was not much migration going on.


However, we saw the local Little Green Bee-eaters, Striolated Buntings, White-crowned Black Wheatears, Streaked Scrub Warblers and Spectacled Warblers and some overwintering species like Sinai Rosefinch and Pale Scops Owl. The last part of our stay in February was spend in Nizzana Desert.




On our way north, at Nahal Meishar (km60 on road 40), we found several beautiful Temminck’s Larks. Unfortunately, we came across the winter weather depression again, which forced us again to bird from behind car windows.  The rain turned the area into “lake Nizzana”. This again did not spoil birding though, with species like Siberian Stonechat, Cream Collared Courser and superb views of 4 and 2 Macqueen’s Bustards. We had a great time despite the abundance of water.




15th March we returned to Israel for 4 weeks and we more or less took the same route, skipping the Mediterranean coast at first. Jezreel Valley was now almost depleted of rare ducks. We spotted a Whiskered Tern at the Sea of Galilee and entering Hula Valley was rewarded with large flocks of Cranes and Black and White storks. A beautiful juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle flew by and there were plenty of Woodchat Shrikes and Red-rumped Swallows. Lots of Black-crowned Night Herons, Pygmy Cormorants and white egrets and a few Greater Spotted Eagles were still present at Lehavot Habashan Fish Ponds as were the Common Jackels.


Eurasian Scops Owl could be heard and Eastern Oliveceous Warblers were returned. Little Crakes replaced the Bitterns at Hula Nature Reserve and there were many more Garganey’s and Eurasian Reed Warblers. Black Francolins and Clamorous Reed Warblers called abundantly and we found 3 Rooks at Gome Junction Fish Ponds.





At Golan Heights the Short-toed Eagles and Steppe Buzzards started to pass by as were the first Rüppell’s, Eastern Orphean Warblers and Common Quails. The Finch Wheatears were exchanged by migrating Northern Wheatears and at Gamla we found amongst other species, Zitting Cisticola, Chukars, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures as well as Bonelli’s Eagles. Eurasian Crimson Finches and Northern Ravens were present at Mt Hermon and at Neve Ativ we saw a late Hawfinch.


18th March we arrived at Kfar Ruppin in the Bet She’an Valley. Most ducks and gulls were gone, but still plenty of waders and several Stone Curlews. Dead Sea Sparrows were starting to breed in the Tamarisk around the fish ponds, White-throated Kingfishers were present and there was migration of Steppe Eagles, Black Kites and Steppe Buzzards.




21st and 22nd of March were spend in the Dead Sea area and apart from the usual local species like Sand Partridge and Pallid Swifts we spotted a Nubian Nightjar and a Hume’s Owl.  Although song bird migration was limited, there were migrating Pied, Isabelline, Eastern Black-eared , Finsch’s and Northern Wheatears, Eastern Orphean and Bonelli’s Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Common Chiffchaff’s, Sedge Warblers and  Crezschmar’s and Ortolan, and Corn Buntings.


Later we found out that migration of song birds was much dispersed this year as the desert had turned green due to the excessive rainfall of February. Blue Rock-Thrush, Little as well as Short-eared Owls were found to be local. In the Negev there was quite some migration of Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, Lesser Spotted, Short-toed and Steppe Eagles and Steppe Buzzards.





At An Avdat a pair of Bonelli’s Eagles was observed breeding and at Sde Boker quite a few Desert Finches were present. On 26th of March we drove to Uvda Valley (near Eilat) over there and on our way through the Negev we were able to see Spotted Sandgrouse, Cream Collared Courser, Temminck’s and Desert Larks, Mourning, Hooded, , Desert, Isabelline, Northern and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears. 29th of March we decided to drive to Ashkelon as a female Grey Hypocolius was spotted in the local park. Immediately upon arrival we found the bird, but obtaining good pictures was harder.


European Turtle Doves, Syrian Woodpeckers, Northern Wheatears and Rüppell’s Warblers were also present, to name a few.

Afterwards we drove to Tel Shiqmona in Haifa were we observed 4 Gull-billed Terns flying north along the coast and on our way back we stopped at Ma'agan Mikha'el Fish Ponds. Apart from Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls, most gulls had left, but there was still a nice collection of waders, a White-winged Tern, a Citrine Wagtail, Purple and other Herons and lots of Western Yellow Wagtails, mainly of the subspecies Beema and Feldegg and a hybrid between the two feldegg X beema “superciliaris”.



On 30th March we arrived in Eilat and on our way in Yotvata we found some Arabian Babblers, Red-throated Pipits and again lots of Western Yellow Wagtails. At the Southern Circular Field a European Nightjar flew by. At Eilat both songbird and raptor migration was a bit disappointing during the first week of April, with only very few bird of limited variation, although Steppe Eagle, Booted Eagles, Steppe Buzzard, Rough-legged Buzzards, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and all Harrier species, Montagu’s, Hen, Western Marsh and Pallid could be observed.


Still there was enough birding to do with Garganey, Striated, Purple and Western Reef Herons, lots of Squacco Herons and one possible Indian Pond Heron at K20 Sewage Ponds, a female Caspian plover at Yotvata, Greater Sand Plovers, Broad-billed and Marsh Sandpipers, Red-necked Phalaropes and Collared  Pratincoles at K20 salt ponds,  a second calendar year  White-cheeked, Common, Little and Sandwich Terns at North Beach, Liechtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove,  Citrine Wagtail, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, Common Redstart, Semi-collared Flycatcher, White-throated Munia, Trumpeter Finch, Desert Grey Shrike and much more.





As on April 5th a Black-crowned Finch Lark was spotted at Se’ifim Plains north-west of Eilat we shifted our attention to larks. Apart from the Finch Lark we identified Greater Short-toed, 3 Bimaculated, Greater Hoopoe-, Bar-tailed and Desert Larks, along with Tawny Pipit, a nice variety of Wheatears, including Desert Wheatear, Mourning, Eastern Black-eared and Hooded Wheatear and lots of Trumpeter Finches. The 12th we went home to be back in Israel by 30th of April.





We started amongst others with a female Oriole and an Osprey flying over, two local Striolated Buntings, Indian Silverbill, Eastern Orphan Warbler, Streaked Scrub Warbler and Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin at Qumran (Dead Sea). A nice collection of migrating raptors at Metsoke Dragot included second calendar Eastern Imperial Eagle, Egyptian Vultures, Steppe Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Steppe Buzzards, Honey Buzzards and Black Kites.

There were large numbers of migrating Sand Martins.

As we were not successful in April, we again drove road 80 North of Arad, as we hoped to see some Pale Rock Sparrows, but apart from a Little Owl, Lesser Kestrels and Booted Eagles we only encountered the regular local birds like Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and Eastern Black-eared Wheatear.


On our way to Eilat we encountered a Long-legged Buzzard and a Griffon Vulture at Mitzpe Ramon flying over a male Nubian Ibex with huge horns and Honey Buzzard, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and the first Spotted Flycatcher more to the south.

Saturday, May 2nd we started birding North of Eilat and soon discovered that there was a large migration of Levant Sparrowhawks  and Honey Buzzards starting up, together with several species of swifts and martins. As the birds were flying low and apparently were thirsty we decided to watch migration at the K20 Sewage Pond instead of Eilat Mountains. Migration was fabulous with excellent views and as later turned out about 250.000 Honey Buzzards and some 10.000 Levant Sparrowhawks. We identified at least one Crested Honey Buzzard and a few Barbary Falcons.





In between the flocks we also photographed a few, some White-winged, some Gull-billed Terns and Spotted Flycatchers.

This great day was finalized at the North Beach with 11 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Parasitic Jaeger. The next morning the North Beach again produced special birds, like three Sooty Shearwaters, a Striated Heron, two immature Red-sea Reef Herons, two Parasitic Jaegers and Little Terns and one real blocker for Israel, a Red-necked Grebe in summer plumage.



I immediately realized that this bird was very rare and tried to worn local birders. However, this was not an easy task. The first local birder was ringing at the Birdwatching Centre and his response was “I have not seen this bird yet, so it is not really common, but when I am ready I will ask others”. One hour later I met another birder and I told him I spotted a Red-necked Grebe at the North Beach. His response was that he regularly saw these birds in winter and was not at all excited.


We therefore discussed other things and later I showed him the photograph of the grebe. At that point he suddenly became eager and asked me whether I took that picture in the Netherlands. It turned out that he initially was under the impression that I referred to a Black-necked Grebe.

From that point on news spread quickly and birders poured in, even arriving by plane. The bird was the fifth record for Israel and showed very well afterwards being twitched by most Israeli birders. The birds stayed long after I had already left for the Netherlands.



Migration of Honey Buzzards and Levant’s Sparrowhawks was again great that day, although numbers were lower than the day before. At the birdpark and the K20 Salt Ponds there were large numbers of Red-necked Phalarope. At the North Beach again migration of Parasitic Jaegers and one Bar-tailed Godwit stayed for several days in a row.

May 4th started with a Heuglin’s Gull, limited migration of Lesser Spotted Eagle and Honey Buzzard and we found an Olive-tree Warbler, a female of the samamisicus subspecies of Common Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher at Hai Bar.

Later that day I discovered a Black Scrub Robin in the zoo at Hai Bar, but the exciting thing was that at the same time my wife also spotted a Black Scrub Robin at the other site of the zoo. Comparing the photographs showed different wear patterns especially in the tails of the two birds. We postulated that these birds apparently were breeding as at least one was singing several times and they both frequently disappeared in a dense part of the scrub.

We reported the presumed birding to local birders, but asked not to bring the observation in the open as we were afraid for disturbance. Later, after we already had returned to the Netherlands breeding was confirmed by local birders through a photograph of a fledgling.





Later that week we were able to observe more Sooty Shearwaters and Parasitic Jaegers, a Pomarine Skua, a Long-tailed Jaeger and four Rosy Starlings at the North Beach. We found Black-necked Grebe, Osprey, Caspian Tern and Broad-billed and Curlew Sandpipers at the K20 sewage and salt ponds and a Temminck’s Lark in the Arava Desert together with plenty European Bee-eaters. Bar-tailed Larks, a female Desert Wheatear and Hooded Wheatears were present at the Se’ifim Plains, but we were unable to find Dunn’s and Thick-billed Larks. Near Ne'ot Samadar Kibbutz there were several Rufous-tailed Scrub Robins and Red-back Shrikes.

The last few days in Israel we drove north and fond many European Rollers in the Jordan and Bet She’an Valley. At Mt Hermon we concluded our trip with nice views of Syrian Serin and Sombre Tit.






All in all we witnessed a very productive spring migration in Israel with 285 species and lots of nice photographs. Nevertheless, we still had missed several feasible species, like several Sandgrouses, Little and Mediterranean Gull, Black Tern, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Little Bittern, Common Cuckoo, European Crag Martin, Lesser Grey Shrike and Menétries, Garden, Arabian, Wood, Barred and Asian Desert Warblers that I was able to record in previous years.

Therefore 300 species should have been feasible.


Douwe de Boer



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