Summertime Birding - part 1

Barak Granit 01/06/2014 00:00

Birding Hot spots in June-July part 1: Southern Israel

 

Summer birding in Israel is not known for any good in particular. Hot temperatures, reaching over 40°c at Eilat and the entire rift valley lead to a very short effective birding time, normally 2-3 morning hours at the most.

Further, the fact that spring migration is virtually over, and autumn migration, although initiated, is hardly felt, are enough to keep the local birders indoors, whereas foreign birders are likely to stay at home or to choose different birding destination).

 

This is the known notion. Known notions has their own effect in the way they act as a prophecy that fulfill itself. Make a long buzzing mumbling slightly shorter and slightly less buzzing, here is an overview of some of the birding activities and hotspots that are available during the hot summer months. It's June now and anyway we have nothing better to do…

 

From south to North:

 

Eilat - the North Beach

 

There is really not much going on in Eilat during June-July except for the North Beach. Even k20 saltpans is usually dead boring. However, it is often that the North Beach comes to life with chances of the rarest birds in Israeli or even WP standards showing up. Out of the two month, June is the dynamic month with still migrating Skuas (3 Species), flocks of Common and Little Terns, Sooty Shearwaters but is weaker for the Red Sea Terns such as Bridled, Lesser Crested and White-cheeked, all of which tending to peak after mid July.

 

 

Historically, June appears better for rarities, functioning more as a continuation of spring. Israel's first Willson's Storm-Petrel, Maderian Storm-Petrel, Manx's Shearwater, Tropical Shearwater (Puffinus bailloni), Streaked Shearwater, South Polar Skua, Sooty Gull, Sabine's Gull, Franklin's Gull have all been found during June or the very first days of July. The more frequently visitor Red-billed Tropicbird which is almost annual, is also a more realistic prize to those who strive for several mornings.

 

 

 

Contrary to the habit of birders who visit Eilat in March and choose to end their day at the Beach, during summer, the morning hours are usually far better than the afternoons, and the far better visibility makes a big difference. During June, Eilat's North Beach is almost the only place in Israel that real dynamic, sometimes exciting birding occurs.

 

Breeding Raptors at Sede boker

 

The Zin Cliffs in front of Sede Boker including Wadi Akev and En Ovdat, host a fairly dense and diverse population of breeding raptors thus well worth a visit. Sadly acknowledging, the once largest Griffon Vultures colony in Israel nowdays include 15 pairs only. Egyptian Vultures are still common here too and during late summer, a large gathering of them, reaching up to 90 birds can be seen, including many immature birds that have probably hatched here a few years earlier. An impressive site.

 

 

 

Other than that the En Ovdat canyon hosts the Negev’s only Bonelli's Eagle pair. A pair of Golden Eagles is usually roaming the upper wadi Akev, with several Long-Legged Buzzards Short-toed Eagles and on top of that - two pairs of Lanners and sometimes a Barbary Falcons. Yet, the foreign visitor wish list will be probably focused on Sooty Falcons that are easy to see here, especially around En Akev spring at the lower wadi. The spring itself is a very good spot for Sinai Rosefinch, Trumpeter Finch, sometimes Stirolated Bunting and many other Desert species. Recommended.  

 

 

 

Sandgrouses at Nizzana

 

At the Northwestern Negev, Nizanna Loess plains are a well known spot for desert plain species. The Macqueen's Bustard are usually scarce here during June-July. However The Sandgrouse drinking spot can be rewarding with all 4 local species including nice numbers of Crowned (may reach 100 birds in both months).

 

July is better than June with greater numbers as the freshly fledged birds join the adults. Cream-colored Coursers are usually far easier to find in summer than during February-March.

 

 

 

 

Night and Day birding at the Dead Sea

 

The last week's find of 2 Egyptian Nightjars at northern Dead Sea, and the mega June 2015 find of the breeding population of Pallid Scops Owl at the same region, are two examples that 19th century style finds are still possible.

The southern Dead Sea holds the largest population of the 'tamarisk' Nubian Nightjar with some 60 pairs at Neot Hakikar alone and a great news was the recent discovery of some birds at the Northern Dead Sea as well.

 

The canyons of the Dead Sea hold the largest population of Desert Tawny Owl in Israel with over 40 pairs. Chances of seeing last two species through a guided tour is actually higher than during Spring!

But although the summer nights around the Dead Sea are somewhat bearable compare to the burning hell of day time, some morning birding can be done. The lovely tiny spring of En Salvadora, just 5 km north to En-Gedi produce a great site for both Striolated Bunting and Sinai Rosefinch that come to drink here on a daily basis and sometimes in nice numbers.

 

 

 

A pair of Barbary Falcon breeds in the top of the dry waterfall. It is important to be aware of dehydration, and to climb up early enough to avoid any chance of a hit stroke.

 

Back to the southern Dead Sea, not for from the Hotels complex, a visit to the Lot reservoir is worthy on both morning and evening. Clamorous Reed Warbler is common here as well as the many Dead Sea Sparrows as well as small parties of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. The small pools on this or on the opposite side of route 90 are home for Ferruginous Duck and Purple Swamp-hen is also possible. At dusk, Sooty Falcons gather here to hunt bats, up to 5-6 birds at times. An impressive sight.

 

 

 

Hatzerim and the Judean Plains

 

Foreign birders Hardly explore the Beer Sheva valley. Yet, birding the western side of town on the way to Kibuutz Hatzerim can produce nice numbers of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Over a 100 birds) and tens of Black-bellied Sandgrouses which drink at the Be’er Sheva river between the town and Hatzerim.

The military fire-zone between Be’er Sheva, Hatzerim and Sede Teiman, that is non-active during weekends (Friday-Saturday) can produce CC Coursers and even Macqueen's Bustards, saving 80 km further drive to Nizzana.

 

 

During some summers the Judean plains, which are located some 30-40 km further north to Beer Sheva can hold great number of raptors including tens of Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards, sometimes tens or hundreds of Steppe Buzzards, an odd Montague's Harrier among some Marsh, late returning Lesser Spotted Eagles, Lesser Kestrels, Hobbys and in recent years growing numbers of Black-winged Kites which breed all around this area.

 

 

 

Of course the very long staying Bateleur (if still around…) became the iconic advertising bird-of-the-place, but even without, the fields can be surprisingly and amazingly reach for that time of year.

 

 
land marks