­Summertime birding - part 2

Barak Granit 31/05/2014 00:00




In the first part of this article I focused on southern Israel but forgot to add the North-western Negev as a place that can hold some interesting out-of-season raptors. The reminder came as the 6th national Tawny Eagle…

In the following article I will review some of the better site for Summer birding in northern and central Israel. As a rule of thumb, many places in Northern Israel are artificial wetlands, such as reservoirs, fishponds etc. Many of them holds quite similar bird diversity. In order to avoid repetition, I will focus on site specialties.



Mt Hermon


at the northernmost point in the country, but more importantly, raising a 1,000 meter higher than any other mountain in Israel, the ‘Hermon’ ridge hosts a unique range of species, of which several use the mountain as their sole breeding ground in Israel.  

Spreading on high ridges of Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, some of these “Irano-terranean species”  reach mount Hermon at their southernmost distribution range. The subalpine slopes at the highest elevation (1800m-2200m) are home for the White-throated Robin, Crimson-winged Finch, Shore Lark, Wood Lark, Rock Thrush, Spectacled Warbler, Tawny Pipit, Rock and Hill Sparrows, Northern Wheatear and ‘Middle-eastern’ Black-Redstart (Seimrufus), At the mid-to-high elevation (1200m-1800m) trees are more abundant, and diversity is greater.





Thriving here are species like Western Rock Nuthatch, Rock, Black-Headed and Chretzschmar’s Buntings, Syrian Serin, Linnet, Sombre Tit, Upcher’s Warbler, 4 Shrike Species (Great, Red-backed, Woodchat and Masked), Black-eared Wheatear, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Lesser.

The woody areas such as wadi Arar are the only places in Israel where Balkan Warblers breed, but recently, in 2013, an unknown breeding population of Chiffchaffs was discovered for the first time in Israel. At the same year 3 pairs of Finch’s Wheatears were also found breeding above the Druz village of Majdal Shams. This amazing richness is represented in the morning chorus as well - Mt Hermon provides Israel’s best repertoire of early morning bird-song.



Apart from the breeding species, June and July usually hold a surprise that many times get discovered around the snowbound pool behind the lower cable (which is the place to sit and watch whatever comes to drink). Red-fronted Serin is the ‘commonest summer rarity’ among historical and contemporary out-of-season birds such as Radde’s Accentor, Yellowhammer and even a probable escape Indigo Bunting.          


Golan Heights


At an elevations of 800 -1200m above sea level the northern part of the height offers a cooler refuge from the summer's hell of the almost Sea Level Hula Valley below.

Here, especially around 'Bacha' Valley and around Tel Hazeka and the plains around, Black-Headed Buntings and Red-Backed Shrikes are common breeding birds.

Calandra Lark is also common breeder but in small numbers. The non-active volcano hills, especially 'Mt Hermonit' used to be the only breeding home in Israel for Bimaculated Lark, but during the last 15 years or so the species has apparently vanished.


Unexpected summer birds include the Eleonara's Falcon: a few wanderers are seen here annualy, especially during June / July. South of there, at Gamla, the regular raptor community included Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Bonelli's Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard and Short-toed Eagle, though there is always a chance for Black Vulture, even at midst of summer.



Of the waterfowl, Hital reservoir, at the southern Golan, holds one of Israel’s only breeding pairs of Great Crested Grebe. Driving south from here along the main road, getting near Meytzar, one should open an eye and scan the fields along the road: the breeding colony of Common Pratincoles might sometime be escorted by a family of Cream Colored Curser. Wadi Meyzar itself is a home for many Passerines and Raptors including roaming Golden Eagle that is seen here from time to time.    



Hula Valley


the wetlands, fishponds, the Agamon and the Hula nature reserve are home for many water birds such as the Purple Heron, little Bittern, Pygmy Cormorant, and, including the more sought-after species - the  Marbled Teal.

There are plenty of Black-winged Kites around the Agamon and the rest of the Valley and White-tailed Eagles successfully bred during the last two summers. Common Pratincoles breeds in the fields around and come to hunt insects above the water surface of the Agamon.





Yet - the most interesting species which is at the top of the wish list of any foreign birder (and most of the local ones) is definitely Basra Reed Warbler that was found breeding here for the first time at 2006 with further breeding evidence in preceding  years. Lehavot Habashan fishponds and the Hula Nature reserve are the recommended places to look for it.



last documentation of Basra Reed Warbler - August 2015 - Agmon Hule-kkl

courtesy - Yaron Charka - KKL Wings


There are still some riddles here to unravel - to relocate breeding Savi's Warbler, Great Read Warbler and Mustached Warbler and to establish the first breeding evidence of Penduline Tit and European Nightjar.

The Hula valley definitely holds some secrets.  



Bet Netofa Valley

one of the least birded places up to the recent years. June is the Best time for some interesting species. The hills around the valley are are inhabited with Cretzschmar's and Black Headed Buntings, Woodchat Shrike and Black-eared Wheatear.



There are good numbers of Calandra Larks in the valley itself and numbers may exceed 100 birds in a single gathering. In 2013 a Yellow-Billed Stork spent the summer in a small ditch, fishing happily its summer days.  



Jordan Valley, Harod and Jezrael Valleys


the Jordan valley is among the hottest places in the country when temperature reachs 40°c easily, makes the bearable birding time short and limited to the early morning hours. The fishponds of the Beit-Shean valley and Harod Valley host mainly Herons, Egrets, Pygmy Cormorants and their like. Driving along the Jordan river - the Jordanian border exposes the real essence of the place in the summer months: Blue-cheeked and Little Green Bee Eaters, Rollers, Little Owls, Black Francolins, Namaqua Doves, Desert Finches and Dead Sea Sparrows.



The Reed beds are home for the abundant Clamorous Reed Warbler and the much scarcer Purple Swamp-hen, while the fields are home for Collard Pratincole and from time to time - Cream Colored Cursers.

Among the Raptors, Black Winged-Kites slowly establish here as breeders, while a roamer Barabry Falcon, an occasional summer visitor from Judean Desert can be found.

The Beit-Shean and the Harod Valley reservoirs are the best place in Israel to find an over summering Yellow-billed Stork (recorded each summer since 2013) and Pink-backed Pelican.




The less covered Jezrael valley to the west is more of a mystery. Calandra Larks breed in the Chickpeas fields and more colonies of Collard Pratincoles can be found around. The reservoirs can be excellent for wader migration from early July onwards, and there are some quality breeders such as Marbled Teal and Great Crested Grebes.

One of the most enigmatic breeders of Israel, the Painted Snipe, has been found several times along the Kishon river.


Maagan Michael and Mayan Zvi


while June is the quietest month here and the place can be quite boring, July is a completely different story. During July wader migration along the coast becomes more apparent and this is the best month to see Oystercatcher - a scarce bird in Israel.


The beach hosts small parties of Greater Sand Plover, Turnstone and Sanderling among which a Terek Sandpiper and Bar-tailed Godwit may be found. The ponds, especially of Maayan Zvi, are good place for White-winged Terns and sometimes Gull-billed Terns while the Reed-beds usually hold Purple Swamp Hens which probably breed here.



Yet, Maagan Michael is the place for mega rarities in the hot summer months, with impressive list of summer vagrants from the last two decades including Crab Plover (3 records), Lesser Sand Plover (two records from recent years), the only Senegal Thick-knee record and the only European Shag for Israel as well as Yellow-billed Stork, Sabine's Gull and past records of Goliath Heron,and  Lesser Yellowlegs..




Hamaapil and En Hahoresh fishponds

The artificial wetlands of the Hefer valley are not particularly of interest, expect for one species: Painted Snipe. Since 1995 when the species was recorded to breed for the first time in Israel (although probably has bred prior to that year), it was found several times here with few more breeding indications. Why here, and not in the not too far Maagan Michael, or in the Beit Shean Valley - nobody knows. Even before 1995 most of the records of this species came from here.



By the way - this species has never occurred in Eilat. Here it is mainly over summering, with records between April-late October. The only early winter record was of a female at Maagan Michael in December 2002. And yet, in most years none are found.


Eastern Dan Region hills


in the 'Bata' - the Hebrew name for Mediterranean Scrub, June is better than July when most species are still breeding or have very fresh young. This is the home for Long-billed Pipits and in places like Beit-Arif wadi near Shoham the species is almost abundant.

several other typical species thrive here, making this landscape as unique as it is: Blue Rock Thrush, Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrike, Black-eared Wheatear, Little and Euroasian Eagle Owl, Lesser Kestrel, Long-legged Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle and more.



In the upper section of the large wadis, Upcher's Warbler can be found. This habitat is one of the most vulnerable habitats in Israel, being under continuous threat or real destruction by ongoing human development: housing and intensive fires owing to military activity.  


Northern Judean Plain reservoirs


last, the reservoirs of Ayalon, Hulda, Yesodot, Anot and others host good numbers of breeding species such as Mallard, Little Grebe, Black-winged Stilt and the near-threatened Ferruginous Duck, which in later summer gather here, forming large 'Kindergartens' of tens and even hundreds of young birds.





Raptors are always abundant in this area and in personal level, it was here where I had one of my first successful twitch - the 2nd Slovenian Grebe for Israel found by the Perlman brothers back in summer 1993.



land marks