Early Spring - Two Ticks

Frank Moffatt 14/03/2016 00:00




Shalom. Arrived in Tel Aviv last night. Nice EasyJet flight from Manchester. Excellent price so couldn't resist. Targets: Bateleur - a new bird for me and Rough-legged Buzzard an Israel 'tick'. And anything else that comes my way.


Drove straight to Kibbutz Urim for the night arriving shortly after 2300hrs. Great to be back and good to see them all again.

Breakfast at the Kibbutz and then straight to the Kiryat Gat area to team up with Lior Kislev and his birding group.

They were already in the field when I arrived so I joined Micky Laloum and Roy Hazan who kindly offered to take me around for the morning. Many thanks to them. Got the VIP treatment: coffee, fruit and to ride in a car built to handle the tricky tracks. It really paid off big style.


Also this morning an impressive array of birds including: 2 Short-toed Eagles, adult Eastern Imperial Eagle, several Common Buzzards and Common Kestrels, E.Sparrowhawk, Hen Harrier and what appeared to be the wintering female Montagu's Harrier. Also Corn Bunts, Goldfinches, Isabelline Wheatears, Zitting Cisticolas, Common Whitethroats, C. Stonechats.


Caught up with a couple of Mourning Wheatears on the journey south and a good candidate for Siberian Stonechat. Settled into Kibbutz Lotan and looking forward to some good birding.

Plenty around based on Itai Shanni and Shachar Shalev's recent posts.


Began with a wander around Lotan's grounds. Still at least one wintering Yellow-browed Warbler calling in the superb Organic Gardens. Also Black Redstart and good numbers of Chiffs.

After a quick breakfast I headed north to KM94 to try for the Basalt Wheatear. No joy. I heard afterwards it hasn't been seen for a few days but lots of habitat there so you never know.

Bluethroats, Isabelline Wheatear, small parties of Spanish Sparrows, Scrub Warblers and other regular stuff in there plus a smart male Hen Harrier over. Although it's only Feb it's pretty hot especially in places like this!

Had a look at Lotan's wildlife ponds: Water Pipits, Little Green Bee-eaters (at least 8 today in the general area), Arabian Babblers, Laughing and numerous Collared Doves. Sardinian Warblers singing and rattling.

Had a scout round Yotvata: The south circular field was good with maybe up to 6 vocal Oriental Skylarks, at least one Richard's Pipit calling several times, c.45 Desert Finches, c.80 Water Pipits, single Hoopoe and a handful of Corn Buntings. Bits n'bobs. And that was it. Just some very nice birding.

Just read there was an excellent Steppe Eagle migration yesterday through the Eilat Mtns so I'll have to get myself up there.


Pre-breakfast check for the 'ochruros' Black Redstart near the entrance to Lotan. Saw it immediately but it led me a merry dance (and others later) as it searched for its own breakfast. Really smart looking bird but I couldn't get near it.

Next I tried KM68 where I found several Trumpeter Finches. A rather nice song turned out to be that of an Asian Desert Warbler - surprised me. Been plenty of these this winter.


I'd arranged to team up with Micky Laloum and we headed to Ne'ot Samadar. No signs of any strong migration, just some winter regulars. Even the impressive lake inside the kibbutz was quiet. Green Sandpiper, Marsh Harrier, Coot, Moorhen, Spur-winged Plovers. Loads of chiffs though and plenty of Spanish Sparrows.


After lunch we met Shlomi Levi in Nahal Grofit. He'd just relocated a Scops Owl sp. on the west side. Bear in mind both Eurasian and Pallid were present here yesterday and photographed by the Arava Birders.

There was no white spotting on the crown, just dark streaks, the braces were buff rather than white, and there was no obvious pale barring on the body. According to Collins this would suggest Pallid rather the Eurasian. What do you reckon?



On to KM76 where there were definite signs of migration: a steady stream of Barn Swallows heading north plus a handful of Cretzschmar's Buntings, single Black-eared Wheatear. Also a cracking male Pallid Harrier, male Hen Harrier, Caspian Stonechat, 3 Hooded Wheatears (inc. 2 males).

Finished off at KM68 where we managed to relocate the Kurdish Wheatear: west side of the road where the large hills start - just a little north of the KM68 sign. You probably wouldn't have seen it if you were looking from east of the road.

Many thanks to Micky and Shlomi for a thoroughly enjoyable day.

P.S. Although it was sunny all day there was a lovely cool northerly breeze which really helped.




Up and away a little to the north. Saw the Kurdish Wheatear on his favourite perch i.e. the small mound immediately east of route 90 at KM68. Quick look then it was on to KM76.


It was buzzing: c.30 Corn Buntings, Black-eared and Hooded Wheatear, several Isabelline Wheatears, at least 4 Cretzschmar's Buntings, numerous Bluethroats, at least one Asian Desert Warbler, Sardinian Warblers, Lesser and Common Whitethroats, single male Ruppell's Warbler, a distant Grey Shrike sp., what were probably 6 Short-toed Larks north, c.80 Spanish Sparrows plus Graceful Prinias and Crested Larks all singing.


It was a pleasantly noisy place. Somewhere among all that I heard an occasional short 'reeling' but couldn't pin it down. The whole area is alive with Painted Lady butterflies plus the one that looks like a Monarch (?). Someone will tell me what it is. Returned to Kibbutz Lotan for one of their special breakfasts in the Tea House. Superb.





It was already hot - up to 34C today apparently. I headed towards Eilat and noticed a stream of Steppe Eagles passing 'low' above the northern edge of town. Up into the Eilat Montains to see what was happening. Not much at the high counting station by 1030hrs. Met two (Dutch) of this seasons raptor counters. They're having fun. Seemed like the low mountains was the place to be so down I went with a Polish birder who is out here studying Steppe Eagles. Good choice. Nice steady stream of Steppe Eagles: c.200 in 2 hours plus bits mixed in including: Steppe Buzzrad, Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Very impressive.


KM20 pools next. Waders inc: 3 Black-tailed Godwits, low numbers of Dunlin, Little Stint, Ruff, Avocet, Redshank, Kentish Plover. Plenty of Slender-billed Gulls and Greater Flamingos. Didn't really do it justice. Decided to take a coffee break.

Finished at Yotvata Sth. Circ. Field. Heard a couple of Oriental Skylarks, several Isabelline Wheatears, what looked like a Northern Wheatear in the distance, plenty of Corn Buntings, Water Pipits, Crested Larks and a few Red-throated Pipits. Predicted to be warm tomorrow but cooling to 23C thereafter.





As KM76 was lively yesterday morning I decided to give it another try. Much less activity today, however, but still a few Cretzschmar's, several Water Pipits, Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers, C. Stonechats and Isabelline Wheatears, c.45 Corn Buntings, c.120 Spanish Sparrows, single (Southern) Great Grey Shrike, numerous Bluethroats, Crested Larks and Graceful Prinias.

Checked a nearby wadi: c.12 Lesser Whitethroats, a few Chiffs, Blackstarts and Sards. The Kurdish Wheatear was showing on his mound on my return.

Couldn't resist a quick look. Kibbutz Lotan Tea House for breakfast.


Up into the Eilat Mountains but little happening by 1000hrs so ventured onto the plains just past the Red Canyon. Pretty hot and no doubt better if I'd got there earlier but it appeared quiet: Trumpeter Finches and Isabelline Wheateras mainly but also Scrub Warblers and single Crowned Sandgrouse.


Back to the 'high' raptor count station. The 'hawk-eyed' Dutch duo of counters sprung into action around 1300hrs as Steppe Eagles began to move. Enjoyed the views before heading up to Mt Yoash. Didn't bring me any closer unfortunately but I did note a few Steppe Eagles passing further west. I'd had around c.40 before I called it a day.


Checked a couple of places on my way back to Lotan but nothing of any significance to add. Finished off with a gentle stroll round Lotan. Once again - a very pleasant days birding.

Temps due to stay high tomorrow with winds from the east. Then they veer to the south and temps drop around 8C to a manageable 24C, before a steady climb back up over the next 4-5 days or so.



The familiar sounds of Laughing Doves, Spectacled Bulbuls and 'tacking' Lesser Whitethroats as I opened my room door at Kibbutz Lotan this morning but an increase in the latter is what tells me spring is building.


Saw at least 3 Black Redstarts but the 'ochruros' avoided me. A few Barns and my first Red-rumped Swallow plus 4 Tristram's Grackles all heading north. Loads of House Sparrows, several Spanish and plenty of singing Chiffs and Bluethroats dotted around.


The Organic Gardens is still the place to hear at least one of the wintering Yellow-browed Warblers but it's much trickier to get a decent view never mind a photo. Palestine Sunbirds seem to be all over the region and they were busy nest building today.

Time for a Tea House breakfast.


Over the next three hours I checked a wadi for owls without success and then ventured up to Ne'ot Samadar Sewage area. Three Green Sands, 2 Trumpeter Finches, Chiffs but pretty quiet really. Quite hot already but seems to be haze/cloud/dust forming which provides a bit of respite.

A small copse on route 12 was packed with Spanish Sparrows.


Coffee break. It was hot and humid so it turned into a relatively long coffee break. Needed it.


Chose to go up to KM 68 to see if Yael’s (Birder Yael Shiff) Striolated Bunting reappeared. No sign, but plenty of Trumpeter Finches, singing Bluethroat and the good old Kurdish Wheatear was showing pretty well.

Finished off at Yotvata circular fields. Met a team from the Eilat Ringing Station including two Danish volunteers. Welcome aboard. They'd seen 4 Oriental Skylarks and I managed 2. Also c.45 Desert Finches, E. Sparrowhawk and C. Kestrel and 4 White Storks up against the backdrop of the Jordanian Mountains at dusk. A nice sight. As I was walking to my room at Lotan c.50 screeching Swifts sp. just overhead was surely a good sign.




The weather did change with haze and dust all afternoon and a freshening breeze by evening although that's died off as I write this. Let's see what tomorrow brings. Just had a lovely evening meal at Lotan's Tea House among the participants of an eco tourism conference. Great stuff. Roaming around in shorts listening to Stone Curlews. Can't be bad.




Woken up 0245hrs this morning by the sound of thunder. Looked outside and it was RAINING. Had to give KM76 another try as a result. Unfortunately it hadn't happened. Pretty similar assortment of birds. No real change noted. Note the ringed Bluethroat. Tea House Breakfast at Kibbutz Lotan.


Up to high raptor count station Eilat Mountains. Quiet again. Just the occasional Steppe Buzzard. Much cooler 26C with a west wind initially that swung to the north mid-morning.

To the plains beyond the Red Canyon. Several Northern, Isabelline and Desert Wheatears plus an odd Mourning here and there. Decent numbers of Trumpeter Finches and Desert Larks but despite being pointed in the right direction by Joachin (Belgian counter) I didn't relocate the Temminck's Horned Larks. I did get a calling fly-over Cream-coloured Courser, however, which was a pleasant surprise.


Returned to the Eilat Mtns and had small numbers of very high Steppe Eagles and a few Steppe Buzzards and that was it. Down to Eilat for a coffee break. Let’s see what the remainder of the afternoon brings.


North Circular Field Yotvata 1600-1800hrs

This was much more like it: Barn Swallow c.125, A few Sand Martins and Red-rumped Swallows mixed in. Red-throated Pipit c.50, White Wagtail c.40, Water Pipit c.10, G. Short-toed Lark, C. Kestrel, Hen Harrier - male, Marsh Harrier - 2 males.

A good arrival. Great fun. It's all on for tomorrow morning. Big group of Pale Rock Sparrows found in the Ovda Valley this afternoon so I'll have a look for those.




As Yotvata was in good form late afternoon yesterday (to dusk) it seemed like an obvious place to start. Unfortunately it had emptied by and large. Oh well. So nothing new to report from here. Yotvata sewage ponds held a couple of Garganey and at least 6+ Green Sands. Very enjoyable walk all the same.


Tried Ketura Sewage but quiet there also except 4+ Green Sands. Finally bumped into Itai Shanni and we chatted for a while. Always good to see him. He reported no change at KM76. All the 'regulars' still present plus he confirmed the Kurdish was still showing at KM68. To Lotan Tea House for brekky.


Up to the Ovda Valley. I'd visited a few weeks back and it was very quiet and until yesterday, when an impressive flock of c.240 Pale Rock Sparrows was discovered, it seems it stayed pretty much that way throughout winter and early spring. Drove to the southern end and headed west towards the (landmark) black hills.


Wow! The place was packed with birds: including 100s of White Wagtails and a few feldegg/melanogrisea, a few G. Short-toed Larks plus Meadow and Red-throated Pipits, Corn Buntings, Trumpeter Finches, Isabelline Wheatears all in small numbers.





I had to circle the area before I bumped into the mass of buzzing P. Rock Sparrows. Sound like Corn Buntings on helium. Nice. The area is a carpet of grasses and flowers which are hosting zillions of Painted Lady butterflies and others. Also lots of dragonflies. It really is quite a spectacle.

I checked the valley north of the route 12 bridge and it was devoid of birds so maybe the signs are looking good for spring in the Ovda Valley in and around the Black Hills area.

Finished off at a very quiet Yotvata Circular Fields although c.50 Barn Swallows were around.




Began up at Ne'ot Samadar Sewage area. Once again pretty quiet and nothing to suggest an arrival. Chiffs, a reeling Savi's Warbler, 2 Hoopoe, a few Barn Swallows, 2-3 Green Sands and single Black-winged Stilt. Plenty of House and Spanish Sparrows. Breakfast Lotan.

Little did I know I'd almost certainly walked past a Pallid Scops Owl. Apparently one was found roosting in the large acacia inside the sewage area. I wasn't the only person that did so by all accounts.


Passed the Kurdish at KM68 and continued to KM76. Nothing here to suggest an arrival. C.300 Spanish Sparrows flushed by a male Marsh Harrier. Sardinian Warbler, Chiffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows in small numbers. 1-2 Cretzschmar's Buntings.

Pressed on to KM84 and had a wander. Several Isabelline Wheatears and single male Black-eared and Northern. A few Scrub Warblers, Sards, Lesser Whites and 2 more Hoopoes. Barns and Red-rumpers heading north in low numbers and a lone male Marsh Harier.


Had a coffee a little to the north then back to KM95. First bird was a roadside Cyprus Warbler but it played hard to get. In fact it won hands down. Nice start though. Little else of note unfortunately. Nice rodent out and about. Much larger than a UK mouse, more rat size. Any ID welcome please.

Several teams out and about this weekend so I'm hoping they find something (see Pallid Scops Owl above for starters).



Finished off at Yotvata Fields: still at least 4 Oriental Skylarks in sth although they came in from the north - perhaps flushed. Also 1-2 E. Skylarks, several Water and Red-throated Pipits, Corn Bunts and Desert Finches. Beautiful evening here.

Reports of a few more Balkan and Ruppell's Warblers around. Ovda Valley was still good today judging from reports.




My last full day. Ventured to a wadi a little north of Lotan and it was impressive.

As soon as I opened the door there was plenty of 'tchacking'. c.30 Lesser Whitethroats, at least 5 male Ruppell's Warblers, what was most likely an Orphean Warbler, my first Balkan Warbler, several Chiffs, Scrub Warblers, Blackstarts, Little Green Bee-eaters, 3 Cretzschmar's Buntings plus lots of House and Spanish Sparrows. An excellent pre breakfast wander but I really struggled to get close to anything. Everything seemed a bit skittish.




After a Lotan brekky it was up to the Ovda Valley. Covered a fair bit of ground to the west, from the Black Hills north to the KM14 mark. The Pale Rocks Sparrows had moved north and were just south of the heavilly vegetated crater. Still many White Wagtails and a small increase in Meadow Pipits, G. Short-toed Larks, Red-throated Pipits, E. Skylarks plus a few Chiffs and Lesser Throats.


I received news of a possible bustard sp. east of Elifaz that was keeping the workers in the date plantation company. Off I went. Didn't see it. The story goes: It was captured and turns out it's an escaped MacQueen's Bustard from a private collection in Saudi Arabia. In fact it turns out it's one of three to have escaped. It will be returned to its owner. Oh well.


Nothing much to report from Samar Sewage other than 2-3 Green Sands.

Finished off my day with a good wander around a pretty 'quiet' Lotan although a few Chiffs and Lesser Throats around.

Will get a few hours in tomorrow morning on my way north to Ben Gurion airport for my late afternoon flight




North to KM76. Relatively quiet. Keep saying that but what I mean is no real sign of a significant arrival or a big migration overhead. In reality there were loads of birds including: 2 Southern Great Grey Shrikes, many Bluethroats, several Chiffs and Lesser Whitethroats, a few Isabelline Wheatears and a northerly movement of Barn and Red-rumped Swallows and Sand Martins.

Big flock of Spanish Sparrows and fewer House Sparrows. Always plenty of Crested Larks, Bulbuls and Laughing Doves.


Quick look in a nearby wadi but quieter than yesterday: Chiffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Chukkar, Little Green Bee-eater, Scrub Warbler, Blackstarts and the ‘regulars’.

Shower and pack at Lotan followed by a Tea House breakfast. Sitting in a café about 50kms south of Ben Gurion Airport. Power cut. End of story… for now.

At Ben Gurion. An hour to boarding.


My visit coincided with a 'crossover' period i.e late winter birds and early spring arrivals. And that’s exactly what I observed. I was seeing many of the same 'winteringr' birds at the same sites but gradually they were filtering out e.g Asian Desert Warblers were a good example of winterers departing. Early spring Steppe Eagle migration was excellent, though often very high, and let's not forget the first birds began moving in late January.


And then there were ‘pulses’ of birds arriving late afternoon, most of which had moved on by next day. They were clearly in a hurry to get somewhere. But all the signs suggested it was just a matter of time before the southern Arava experienced a BIG fall.

Great stuff as always. And two more ticks: the Bateleur and Rough-legged Buzzard.



land marks