Images from the trip can be seen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/neiljulianthomas/albums/72157680835169840
For me this was a return trip after a long absence, having visited twice in 1989 and 1990. Several sites visited on these trips were re-visited in 2017 and it was reassuring in many cases to find the same species in the same locations after so many years. We booked a fly drive holiday through Crusader travel www.crusadertravel.com at a cost of £3,839 for 3 people. The package included flights with Monarch from Luton to Tel Aviv, with a return from Ovda, car hire with Eldanjack for 12 days, 11 nights accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis, except for the four nights in Eilat where we self catered in a self contained flat, and transfer from Eilat to Ovda. Extra expenses were renting an i-pad with internet access from the car rental company at a cost of IS80 per day, which was probably well worthwhile, not just because of the help with navigation and finding sites, but also because it allowed several devices to access the internet, far more rapidly than the rather creaking free wi-fi in the hotels. Israeli breakfasts are rather lavish so we usually only needed to buy meals in the evening. This was just as well, as thanks in part to Brexit and the devaluation of our currency eating out in Israel, or indeed buying food in a supermarket was very expensive – from Macdonalds upwards expect to pay at least twice what the same meal would cost in the UK.
We found some trip reports extremely useful, particularly those by Steve Arlow http://www.birdersplayground.co.uk/files/ISRAEL%20March%202016.pdf, which are packed with detailed and useful information. Gordon had obtained ‘A guide to the birding hotspots of Northern Israel’ by Shirihai et al, which was less useful than I expected, being a little out of date and the maps were really somewhat unclear. The staff at the Bird-watching Centre in Eilat were extremely helpful, and sold me a very useful ‘Negev birding sites map and guide’. On my previous trip there was, of course, no internet and no portal for trip reports, and so any bird news was spread by a verbal grapevine, but there were vastly more overseas birders visiting Israel then. We were really surprised to only meet 6 overseas birders during the trip, apart for the final morning when we met a group from Spain.
It was interesting to see the changes in the country after 27 years. There had been considerable road, urban and agricultural development but not all changes were for the worse, with for example the creation of the new wetland reserve at Agamon Hula. There had been losses, for example Lappet-faced Vulture but White-tailed Eagle had been extirpated as a breeding bird but is now nesting in the Hula Valley. There has been a dramatic spread of introduced species such as Common Myna, but also some natural colonists like Pygmy Cormorant and Black-winged Kite. It was reassuring to find species like Eagle Owl and Bonelli’s Eagle at exactly the same sites occupied in 1989. Because of the day to day fluctuations related to weather conditions it is hard to assess if changes in migrant numbers reflect any real population changes, but I was surprised not to see any Rollers, Red-throated Pipits or Ortolan and Cretzschmar’s Buntings, all of which were seen in large numbers on my previous visits.
3rd April. Agamon Hula 33o6’43.56’’N 35o35’5.27’’E
Fish ponds along route 977, 33o10’13.34’’N 35o34’29.17’’E
4th April. Gamla Gorge 32o54’22.16’’N 35o44’49.53’’E
Wadi Ammud 32o52’7.81’’N 35o30’9.58’’E
5th April Hula Reserve 33o4’2.75’’N 35o36’10.30’’E
Wadi Ammud 32o52’7.81’’N 35o30’9.58’’E
6th April Neve Eitan Fish Ponds 32o29’45.55’’N 35o32’00.65’’E
Tirat Zevi fish ponds 32o25’57.56’’N 35o32’42.08’’E
Bet Shean 32o30’5.36’’N 35o30’5.56’’E
7th April Qumran
Nahal Dragot 31o35’24.52’’N 35o22’51.93’’E
8th April Masada
Wadi Mishmar 31o22’48.32’’N 35o22’57.71’’E
Wadi En Salvadori 31o31’02.90’’N 35o23’34.49’’E
9th April Idan Ponds 30o48’10.99’’N 35o18’38.81’’E
Acacia Wadi, between km 161 and 162 on route 90
Yotvata 29o53’39.55’’N 35o3’57.14’’E Since 2016 slip roads have been constructed allowing access from both north and south.
International Birding and Research Centre and saltpans, Eilat 29o34’20.99’’N 34o55’22.22’’E
10th April International Birding and Research Centre and saltpans, Eilat 29o34’20.99’’N 34o55’22.22’’E
Holland Park 29o34’17.28’’N 34o57’39.31’’E
11th April Ezuz Road, Nizzana 30o49’30.31’’N 34o28’11.39’’E
Nizzana sewage ponds 30o53’29.49’’N 34o26’11.19’’E
Ben Gurion Memorial Park 30o50’56.12’’N 34o46’45.68’’E
En Advat 30o49’23.36’’N 34o45’42.82’’E
Route 171 west of Mizpe Ramon.
12th April Eilat Mountain, Se’fim Plains 29o41’37.90’’N 34o51’30.00’’E ? It is well signposted after ‘Red Canyon’
Yotvata and Hai Bar 29o53’39.55’’N 35o3’57.14’’E
13th April International Birding and Research Centre and saltpans, Eilat 29o34’20.99’’N 34o55’22.22’’E
2nd April. After a trouble free journey with great views of the Alps and the Adriatic islands we cleared the airport at 5.40 pm and picked up our all singing, all dancing brand new hire car and set off for Vered Hagalil. Unfortunately the sexy and authoritative voice on the navigation system we had hired had been muted so by one missed junction the journey became a bit of a nightmare until we re-orientated, and we arrived late at the hotel at 9.00 pm. The bird list was predictably short, with the first bird not the Bulbul, but the Common Myna, a species I had never previously seen in Israel. Other birds were hundreds of Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Ring-necked Parakeets, Kestrel, Swift, Hooded Crow and Laughing Dove.
3rd April. It was overcast with low cloud after a night with rain, and we made a brief pre-breakfast exploration of the area around the hotel seeing smart Sardinian Warblers, Palestine Sunbirds, the distinctive sub-species of Jay, Syrian Woodpecker, leisurely cruising Red-rumped Swallows, Yellow-vented Bulbuls, and Graceful Prinia, before we headed for the Hula Valley. Normally when one revisits an area after an absence of 27 years one would expect all habitat changes to be for the worse, but we were able to visit a magically re-created wetland at Agamon Hula. The circuit around the reedbeds, wet grassland, and lagoons was a 5 mile walk, and we appeared to be not only the only birders, but also the only hikers on site, but the reserve was fantastically busy, with all other visitors travelling round in golf buggies, pedal powered carts, or bicycles. Crested larks were very common along the edge of tracks, or in ploughed fields, while other characteristic species of farmland were Black-winged Kites, a species absent from Israel on my last visit, and a smart Black Francolin, that skimmed low over a wheat field after being flushed by a patrolling Marsh Harrier. As the day warmed up passage of birds using thermals got underway, with White Storks being by far the most numerous. For most of the morning birds were coming through in a continuous stream heading north, or circling in thermals, and several thousand must have gone through. There were also considerable numbers of Black Kites, plus Short-toed eagle, two Lesser Spotted Eagles, several large flocks of White Pelicans, and Common Cranes departing from the reserve. The Common Crane was a species not seen in 1989 or 1990 but now there were several hundred in fields specially prepared for them. In the evening this gathering was dwarfed by the spectacle of vast squadrons arriving from the east. The newly created lagoons teemed with wildfowl and waders – such as three Marbled Duck among Garganey, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Shelduck, with 40 Ruddy Shelduck arriving in the evening, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, Avocet, Black-winged Stilts, Spur-winged Plovers, Wood and Green Sandpipers. As with Black-winged Kite another successful recent colonist and my only lifer of the day was the Pygmy Cormorant, which was found with reasonable ease, usually perched in dead trees. Large flocks of Glossy Ibis probed the shallows, with smaller numbers of Spoonbills, while herons were relatively scarce but included 3 Squacco Herons and 2 Purple Herons as well as Little Egret. A splendid Spotted Crake foraging right in the open was the first of the species I had seen outside of the UK. Apart from the water birds the scrub and reed bed edges held a variety of sometimes elusive passerines and near passerines such as Bluethroat, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, White Wagtails, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, 2 Clamorous Reed Warblers (which refused to show, just giving their song with its guttural frog like notes for minutes on end), Cetti’s Warbler and Hoopoe. For most of the day the sky was filled with the trilling of European Bee-eaters, with small parties of the rainbow birds passing north. The three regular kingfishers of Israel were all seen, with White-breasted the most numerous, followed by Pied, and then Common. Although a range of mammals are found on the reserve the only species seen was the inevitable and obvious Coypu.
During the day we made a brief visit to fish ponds further north, where access seemed tolerated, here larger numbers of Pygmy Cormorants and Black Kites were on view, with c40 Great Egrets and fewer Grey Herons lining the pools, and small parties of White Pelicans circling round.
4th April. Generally clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid twenties, as we drove to Gamla Gorge on the southern edge of the Golan Heights. Stopping along the approach road to the reserve was somewhat fraught as vast numbers of coaches thundered past, but the boulder strewn grasslands gave photo opportunities for Chukar, Southern Grey Shrike, Corn Bunting and Short-toed Eagle, and views of Northern and Black-eared Wheatears. From the paths circling the deep and wide gorge we had the views of a range of raptor species, with 20 Griffon Vultures obviously expected, but down the valley, circling with them was a massive Black Vulture. Egyptian Vultures gave eyeball to eyeball views with 8 seen, and Short-toed eagles were ever present. One was seen diving, initially descending from the hover in a fast vertical stoop, but levelling out and descending slowly for the last few metres. At the waterfall viewpoint I had seen Bonelli’s Eagle 27 years previously so it was excellent to find the site was still occupied by that impressive species, and we had views of 2 Bonelli’s Eagles circling below us, and flying into a tree to break off branches, and flying to their nest site with greenery trailing from their talons. A Pallid/Montagu’s Harrier was seen briefly, and White Storks headed north in relatively small numbers.
From the trails around the gorge, and down to the archaeological site other birds seen included Tawny Pipit, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Corn Buntings, Red-rumped Swallows, many Little and Common Swift, Crag Martins, very obliging Woodchat shrikes and Blue Rock Thrushes.
In the afternoon we re-visited another site for the first time in 27 years, the impressive canyon of Wadi Ammud on the west side of Lake Tiberias. As soon as we left the car two Long-legged Buzzards were seen circling overhead, and another was seen as we ventured up the canyon. Blue rock Thrushes were quite common, with several hundred Little Swifts in the airspace above. Along the valley floor we found Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Turtle Dove and Sardinian Warblers. Towards evening the walls echoed to the cries of Hyrax from the cliffs and rubble piles, while yowling Jackals from the grasslands above added to the sound picture. As the light faded further the sound picture was enhanced by the deep double boom of Eurasian Eagle Owl. After much effort to locate the calling bird we were twice rewarded with the sight of a massive silhouette passing right over us, amongst the hordes of bats that emerged at the same time the owl became active.
5th April. Clear and sunny all day with the temperature rising to 33’C, although a cooling breeze and low humidity made it bearable at all times. In the morning we went to the original Hula Reserve. The visit started quietly at first, with an almost complete absence of soaring birds, but it soon improved as the sky filled with hawking European Bee-eaters and large numbers of supremely elegant Collared Pratincoles, and in the distance the inevitable White Storks, Black Kites and Cranes could be seen in numbers. The path leads to an observation tower, and a covered board walk/hide overlooking the main lake. From here rather elusive species such as singing Clamorous Reed Warbler, several Purple Herons and a Little Bittern flying across open water could be observed. Birds on the lake were in general distant, but among the White Pelicans, Pygmy Cormorants, Coots and duck a raft of summer plumaged Black-necked Grebes made a fine sight.
A field covered with a partial shallow flood was attractive to waders, which included many Ruff, 12 Marsh Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints, Little Ringed Plovers, Spotted Redshank, Common Snipe, and while we were watching these J discovered two Little Crakes creeping around on floating vegetation. They had been in the open, but retreated to cover and were very un-cooperative, although I managed one decent image. On the other side of the canal a Spoonbill and a furtive Squacco Heron gave further photo opportunities, as did a magnificent White-tailed Eagle circling right overhead. There was, in fact, an eyrie of this species viewable in a eucalyptus with one adult and at least one well grown chick viewable on the enormous construction of sticks.
In the late afternoon we made a return visit with J to Wadi Ammud, although we did not stay late enough to view the Eagle Owls. As we left the car a Short-toed eagle gave good photo opportunities as it circled overhead. There were, in fact more raptors on view than yesterday, with 6 Long-legged Buzzards in the area, and some passage raptors, with a Steppe Eagle, several Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites as well as White Storks. Once again Blue Rock Thrushes were numerous, but another target species was found, with a Long-billed Pipit giving excellent scope views as it perched on a bush on the rim of the canyon, and a calling Cuckoo flew past. The Hyrax gave much better views than yesterday, with one individual browsing in a tree.
6th April. Clear skies and sunny all day, before departing Vered Hagalil a Turtle Dove purring above our chalet was a reminder of past times in the UK. We then drove to the fish ponds at Neve Eitan in the bet Sh’ean valley. Never the most scenic of sites, with rock lined rectangular ponds and a strange paraphernalia of equipment for feeding the fish (Tilapia), and bird scaring explosions at regular intervals, but it was still a great site for birds. On the bunds were large numbers of Armenian Gulls, the vast majority 2nd or 3rd winter birds, Spoonbills, Little and Great Egrets, a few White Pelicans, Great and Pygmy Cormorants, Gull-billed Terns (with small flocks flying over with distinctive calls), and Grey Herons, with a few Purple Herons flying up from the few patches of reed. There were no drying pools to attract waders, but Common and Green Sandpipers, and Ringed Plover were seen, together with White and probably Citrine Wagtail. More White Pelicans soared overhead, as well as many Black Kites, and a single Spotted Eagle. Most impressively there were big flocks of Black Storks, far outnumbering the White Storks, with c150 seen. Leaving the fish ponds we made our way to the Kfar Ruppin kibbutz and Birdwatching centre, which was sadly closed and possibly derelict, but on the approach road parallel to the Jordanian border we saw Bee-eaters, White-breasted Kingfishers, a pair of Namaqua Doves on the road, Chukar, and an Egyptian Mongoose trundling over the ground, with its curiously reptilian gait. We then went to the fish ponds at Tirat Zevi, which took some finding, but proved a grievous disappointment with just 2 Ospreys, and another Mongoose being mobbed by Spur-winged Plovers, so cutting our losses we went to the immensely impressive Roman ruins at bet Sh’ean. European Bee-eaters were nesting in cliffs and were joined on the wires by the first Little Green Bee-eaters of the trip, while in the surrounding olive groves there were Hoopoe and Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler proving it was not just a cultural site!
7th April. Stayed overnight at Shoresh Green Hills to the west of Jerusalem. Fine views over scrubby hillsides with a few birds seen such as Red-rumped Swallow, Chukar, Sardinian Warbler and a singing Eastern Orphean Warbler were noted before we headed off for the Dead Sea. It was amazing how quickly the landscape turned arid east of Jerusalem as we entered the bare rolling hills of the Judean Desert. We visited the Qumran site which was moderately busy with the somewhat surreal experience of obviously deeply religious coach loads of Japanese tourists singing Amazing Grace. Wandering around the ruins introduced Gordon to a range of desert species – Pale Crag Martins, which were building their untidy sparrow like nest in an awning to shelter tourists, bold Tristram’s Starlings, Blackstarts, Desert Lark, Brown-necked Ravens, and the always smart White-crowned Black Wheatear. There was some raptor passage along the rim of the rift valley while we were here, with several Buzzards, and probable Steppe Eagle drifting north, but views were at extreme range. There was also a presumably resident Short-toed eagle hovering over the desert here. The crowds at En Gedi, where we had lunch, disabused us of any idea of walking the trails here, so after quick visit to the shores of the Dead Sea we drove up through the hairpins to climb to the rim of the rift valley at Metzoke Dragot. Nubian Ibex were seen in good numbers both on the drives up and down, with c25 seen. Most were females with kids but two of the magnificent mature males were seen. It is always an awesome sight to see them confidently negotiating narrow ledges of vertical cliffs, but it always seems amazing they can eke out a living from such sparse and thorny vegetation. As we walked the track to the viewpoint into the canyon a pair of the hoped for Bonelli’s Eagles were seen flying around the rim of the canyon, before one bird headed off, presumably to hunt. The canyon itself was on a vast scale and quite awesome, the lower cliffs thronged by seemingly pure Rock Doves, while above were wheeling flocks of Pallid Swifts, their calls quite distinct from the screaming of Apus apus. Few birds were seen on the walk to the canyon – Desert larks, White-crowned Wheatears and 2 Little Green Bee-eaters, with the strange bat-like silhouettes of Fan-tailed Ravens flying over.
8th April. In the early morning at Shoresh Chukar and Syrian Woodpecker were seen, as well as a Wryneck sunning itself on top of a bush. This was a day given over largely to culture as we climbed up the snake path to the top of Masada’s extraordinary fortress and spent some hours wandering around the extensive ruins. On Masada itself Fan-tailed Ravens and Tristram’s Starlings were common, and on the climb up we found several White-crowned black Wheatears, Blackstarts and Desert Larks, with numerous Pale Crag Martins flying around the precipitous rock faces. Leaving Masada in mid-afternoon we stopped first at Wadi Mishmar and searched the low scrub and scattered acacias on the flat plain below the wadi proper, unfortunately missing 3 Dorcas Gazelle that J saw crossing the road close to the campsite. The first impression was that the area was bird-less, but with a little searching several migrants were discovered, the most numerous being Lesser Whitethroats, but there were also 2 Eastern Orphean Warblers, Blackcap, a typically smart Masked Shrike, as well as presumably resident Arabian Babblers, Blackstarts and Desert Larks. A Long-legged Buzzard flew south, so presumably was not a migrant! This was in the heat of early afternoon, so the site should have turned up a lot more in the early morning. Just north of En Gedi we stopped at Wadi En Salvadori where a rough track took us up a boulder strewn landscape just below the rift valley cliffs. Close to the parking area J quickly found a Trumpeter Finch, but perhaps even better a cute Golden Spiny Mouse gave excellent views as it scuttled among boulders, as times even perching on top of the rocks. In the boulder fields 2 pairs of Striolated Bunting showed well and allowed quite a close approach, while J saw a pair on Sand Partridge making their way up the slope before we departed.
9th April. Hot and sunny, predictably, as we left Shoresh in the early morning and headed for the Idan Pools, close to the Jordanian border in the north of the Avara, a site that would have been difficult to find without the Satnav. We arrived at 08.40 and I had a horrible suspicion we might be too late, but within minutes we heard the quacking calls of Spotted Sandgrouse, and the harder calls of Crowned Sandgrouse as birds flew in to drink, settling on the bunds before trundling down to the water to drink. We saw just 2 Crowned Sandgrouse with Spotted more numerous with 14 Spotted Sandgrouse putting in an appearance. Other birds at this somewhat insalubrious site were 3 Trumpeter Finches, 2 Short-toed Larks, Black-eared Wheatear, several Black Kites, Pale Crag Martins, Pallid Swifts, Black-winged Stilts, Spur-winged Plovers, and a Collared Pratincole. A brief stop further down the road at Acacia Wadi gave views of Woodchat Shrike and Eastern Orphean Warbler, but it was by now very hot and we were disinclined to explore further. Little was seen on the journey to Eilat, apart from a roadside Mourning Wheatear. One site I thought I knew well from previous trips was Yotvata, but the place had changed out of all recognition. The ice cream shop was certainly a welcome addition to the facilities but otherwise I felt disorientated in a brief exploration in which nothing was seen except for a handful of Steppe Buzzards heading north.
After settling into our tourist hotel we went and spent a very pleasant 3 hours or so at the Eilat Bird-watching centre, which gave views from hides over the saltpans and a productive freshwater pool, as well as paths accessing scrub and tamarisk groves. The saltpans supported a range of waders, but they were mostly distant, including many Black-winged Stilts, Red-necked Phalarope, 2 Temminck’s Stints, Ruff, Dunlin, Grey Plovers, Little ringed and Ringed Plovers, as well as stately Greater Flamingos. There were a few Gull-billed Terns and Slender-billed Gulls on the bunds, but towards evening large numbers of gulls and terns appeared, with the immature birds providing an identification challenge of a high level. The most numerous were Slender-billed Gulls,but there were also some sleek Baltic Gulls, as well as Heuglin’s and Caspian Gulls, with Caspian Terns, Sandwich Terms and Little Terns joining the throng. The freshwater pool gave some excellent sightings, with 5 Little Crakes actually feeding in the open, Pied Kingfishers and Caspian Terns hovering over the shallow water, Purple Herons stalking the reed margins and a throng of waders, some of which (Little ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper) were viewed from just a few metres. Other wader included Ruff, Curlew sandpipers, and Spotted redshank. A few raptors slipped through, but only Steppe Buzzards, a Sparrowhawk sp, Black Kite and Osprey, as well as a small passage of White storks and Grey Herons. We waited at the gull roost hoping to see Pallas’s Gull but were defeated by the onset of darkness.
10th April. A strong wind blew from the north for most of the day, which kept down temperatures in Eilat. We started off the day with another visit to the bird-watching centre. Once again there was a nice selection of waders on the freshwater pool, with 5 Marsh Sandpipers the pick of the bunch, amongst Little Stints, Ruff, Little-ringed Plovers and Greenshank, with Little Crakes creeping through the reed fringes, and a Bluethroat putting in a brief appearance. Three Purple Herons were roosting in a tree, and a Namaqua Dove, one of two seen during the day sped through. It was not easy to observe passerine migrants in the strong wind, but there were many Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps around. After breakfast we walked through Holland Park, on the northern outskirts of Eilat, walking up a wadi with scattered tamarisks, acacias and other arid adapted shrubs. A few raptors came through, and amongst the scattering of Steppe Buzzards and Marsh Harriers was a beautiful dove grey male Levant Sparrowhawk. There were some migrants to discover; Masked Shrike, Bonelli’s Warblers, Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats, but it was surprisingly hard work. The visit was enlivened by European Bee-eaters overhead, a pair of Sand Partridges scuttling away, and the discovery of a spectacular large lizard, the Egyptian Mastigore, with the head of a Giant Tortoise, and weaponry in the form of a spiny tail. In spite of its armoury this lizard has a conservation status of vulnerable.
The next intention was snorkelling at Coral Beach, but we were denied the spectacle of a Red Sea reef, as the beach was closed, so somewhat disgruntled we retreated to North Beach, where a Western Reef Heron fished with success in the effluent outfall, as did Sandwich and Little Terns, while along the beach were hundreds of very obliging Slender-billed Gulls, and a few Baltic Gulls.
In the late afternoon we returned to the bird-watching centre, where the wader collection was enhanced by a Kentish Plover, typically very active, and a Broad-billed Sandpiper poddling around in its own unique style. A female Levant Sparrowhawk showed off its rather falcon like silhouette as it passed by overhead, there was a Cattle Egret on the pool, but my careful entry into the reed hide was not careful enough to avoid flushing a Bluethroat at point blank range.
With an hour or so before darkness we made tracks to the effluent pond at km 19, stopping on the way to view c100 Spanish Sparrows in a thorn tree, and watch a Namaqua Dove fly past. The pond gave long overdue sighting of numbers of Black-headed Wagtails,as well as Sykes’s Wagtails adorning the embankment, while on the lagoon were 4 Garganey, and a stunning White-winged Black Tern hawking with hirundines and a Collared Pratincole. Around the margins were expected waders such as Ruff, Little Stints, and Common and Green Sandpipers, as well as three Squacco Herons. It was not until the light was fading fast at 7.30 when an intricately marked male Lichenstein’s Sandgrouse landed just feet from us. He took off again to join 2 other Sandgrouse which went to drink at the only other section of the bank available, but which was screened by reeds from us. Nevertheless still a splendid end to the day.
11th April. The day started very early as we drove for 3 hours north, sadly not seeing a single mammal on the way, to the plains close to the Egyptian border along the Ezuz road. We drove slowly along this road at first light, seeing numerous Chukar, Southern Grey Shrikes and Crested Larks, before, to my astonishment we arrived at a railway carriage that had been converted into a rather sumptuous hide/observation point. This seemed as good a point as any to scan from, and after 20 minutes searching the unmistakeable form of a MacQueen’s Bustard was picked out at a few hundred yards distant. As it stopped to feed on a bush a second bustard emerged as we were able to compare the differences between male and female. Although there was no display they entertained for the next half hour as they foraged from bush to bush, coming within 200m at one point. Leaving the bustards and driving back along the track a Lilith Little Owl was found perched on some derelict iron monger, as we made our way to the nearby sewage treatment ponds. Even with Google maps they would have been difficult to locate without Steve Arlow’s directions, but eventually we arrived at the less than salubrious site. Unfortunately only one sandgrouse was seen, but the slower wingbeats immediately marked it out as a Black-bellied before it landed on a bund. There was a wealth of migrants around the site, with Wryneck, Masked Shrike, Hoopoes, Black-headed Wagtails, and Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers all in evidence. Many waders, mostly Ruff and Little Stints foraged among the anthropogenic debris around the pool. One duck resting on a bund was of particular interest, being a male Ferruginous Duck. As we ate a belated breakfast at Nizzana castle ruins we could watch two Southern Grey Shrikes disputing ownership of a lizard, and overhead a few raptors came by – 15 Steppe Eagles, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk and c30 Steppe Buzzards. In some low scrubby thorns two Spectacled Warblers were located.
We then went to the pleasant green oasis of the Ben Gurion memorial park. Although there were not huge numbers of migrants here they did include a cracking male Collared Flycatcher, and I was able to get reasonable photos of this Pied Flycatcher on steroids, which was a long overdue lifer. There was also a Common Redstart, as well as the more numerous Bonelli’s, Blackcaps and Lesser whitethroats. Most surprising to me was the discovery that the consequence of years of protection for the Nubian Ibex meant they are so habituated to people that they have shamefully abandoned eking out a living on thorn bushes on cliffs and instead invaded towns, with the bizarre spectacle of an endangered wild animal in a town park, or in Mizpe Ramon on a traffic island. There are some impressive canyons just south of Mizpe Ramon, with Alpine and Pallid Swifts patrolling the canyon rim, while Steppe Buzzards passed over in relatively small numbers, c150 birds.
We then drove along the minor road west of Mizpe Ramon towards the restricted route 10. The main aim was to see Onager, which have been the subject of an extremely successful re-introduction programme. It was obvious Onager were present, from the frequent piles of droppings on the road, but I was beginning to despair until a group of 4 were found silhouetted against the skyline. Very handsome animals, even in a distant scope view, with black mane, dark side stripe and white patches, and looking amazingly fit and powerful to prove their adaptation to the desert environment. Birds seen along this road included 2 Sand partridges, a few Black Kites, 2 Egyptian Vultures, and a number of Steppe Buzzards. The few passerines included several Isabelline Wheatears, and fewer Mourning Wheatears. The direct route to Eilat is normally closed, but as it was Passover we were able to access it, but it was a strange sensation being virtually the only car driving along miles of fence and watch points through seemingly lifeless stony desert. The soldiers at the army checkpoints were invariably helpful and reassuring, otherwise I would have been tempted to retreat to Mizpe Ramon and drive the long way round.
12th April. In the early morning we drove into the Eilat Mountains, and down a track to the Se’fim Plains, the rocky and arid hills giving way to a wide expanse of sand and gravel with relatively luxuriant desert vegetation. It seemed sensible to explore the area by car, with stops to scan the area, particularly as it is strictly forbidden to leave the road, even on foot. The first birds found were a pair of Hoopoe Larks chasing each other, very conspicuous in flight, then vanishing against the sandy plains when they landed. Two other Hoopoe Larks were seen, as well as a Tawny Pipit and jaunty Trumpeter Finches, but the only other lark we could locate were Desert larks. The low bushes offered vantage points to Mourning Wheatears, and one of these offered a short cut to locating an Asian Desert Warbler, which was clearly following the Mourning Wheatear around. The only raptor seen was a ringtail harrier, which with an obvious white rump and broad wings appeared to be a Hen Harrier instead of the Pallid or Montagu’s I was expecting.
After breakfast we made our way to the Coral Beach, which with a relatively early start was far less crowded that might have been expected, while Dolphin Reef to the north, where tourists go to poke captive Bottlenose Dolphins resembled a beach in South Georgia at the height of the Sea elephant breeding season. The coral still appeared to be healthy and some of the expected range of fish were seen in a pleasant two hours snorkelling, the only casualty being my Lorus Water 100m resistant watch that was sold to me two weeks ago as being ‘suitable for skin diving’. The White-eyed Gull had been seen from here and Dolphin reef on previous days, but no birds showed during our visit. Sadly the Hooded Wheatear that frequented the tables in the visitor centre was no more.
Returning from the beach we fought our way through Eilat’s traffic chaos and headed to Yotvata. At Hai Bar a helpful member of staff directed us to a fence adjacent to the toilet block, from where we scrutinised a row of bushes. There were a pair of Black Bush Robins nesting here, and although there was no hope of getting an image we did manage several views of the rather elusive bird within the tangle of branches and thorns. Namaqua Dove was also seen here. We then went to Yotvata and searched the acacia scrub and irrigated fields. An irrigated wheat field held hundreds of Yellow Wagtails and Spanish Sparrows, only visible when flushed by patrolling Marsh Harriers or Levant Sparrowhawks. A large flock of Bee-eaters put in an appearance along with a Swallow passage, and Bonelli’s Warblers were again one of the most common migrants. We also had fly pasts from several Turtle Doves and another Namaqua Dove. As the light faded a Common Fox adult was seen playing with a cub, the adult had a black throat and chest as a variation from those seen in Britain.
13th April. A day of unexpected weather in Israel to say the least. During the night there had been torrential rain and strong winds, but it was quiet but overcast as we went to the Bird-watching Centre. The shelter at the pool gave excellent close views of several wader species, although the light was awful, but it was still excellent to view Wood Sandpipers, Temminck’s Stint, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Little Stints, and Green Sandpipers from just a few feet. Elsewhere round the pool there was a Little Crake and a fine breeding plumaged Squacco Heron. One might have expected the conditions to ground migrants, but in fact there seemed to be a complete dearth of any passerine migrants. We then went to North Beach after exchanging information with some Spanish birders, as they had seen White-eyed Gull and White-cheeked Tern there yesterday, but although we found the juvenile Reef Egret along the effluent outfall and many Little and fewer Common Terns fishing just offshore there was no sign of these species. We then suffered the most horrendous and difficult driving experience of the trip, namely driving to and locating the Eldon Office at the airport which was less than 1km away, and what should have been a 5 minute challenge took 75 minutes. This did leave time before our transfer to Ovda for me to wander back to North Beach, where a decidedly tatty and decrepit Striated Heron was found perched on a float, and just as I was about to give up and return to the hotel a skua-dark White-eyed Gull flew past, heading in the direction of South Beach.
The transfer to Ovda allowed plenty of time, which was just as well, as the traffic was chaotic, apparently because people were either trying to get their cars to high ground, or fleeing Eilat altogether because of the imminent danger of flooding and the possibility of the route 90 being closed for several days – not news I expected in southern Israel. In spite of horror stories I had heard about security at Ovda the staff were efficient but friendly and informal and formalities were completed far faster than in 1990. It was in the airport that we experienced a taste of what Eilat was about to endure with the most intense rain I had ever seen in my life, with perhaps 40mm falling in 20 minutes, preceded by a ferocious hailstorm of car roof denting proportions. We heard Eilat airport was closed because of the extreme weather, but as Ovda is a military base and equipped with guidance systems that allow operation in all weathers we departed on time.
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna. Fifteen birds at Agamon Hula.
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea. About 40 birds were seen flying into the Agamon Hula reserve in the evening of 3/4.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. Up to 50 birds at Agamon Hula, but smaller numbers seen at most wetland sites.
Gadwall Anas Strepera. About 20 birds seen at Agamon Hula, and 40 at Hula Reserve.
Shoveler Anas clypeata. Some 40 birds at Agamon Hula, and 10 at the Hula Reserve.
Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris. A single and a pair of this self-effacing and scarce species were seen at Agamon Hula on ¾.
Teal Anas crecca. Fairly numerous at sites in the Hula Valley, and at the Eilat bird-watching centre.
Garganey Anas querquedula. Just 4 birds were seen on the pond at km 19 north of Eilat.
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca. We had nice views of a drake on a bund at the sewage ponds at Nizzana on 10/4.
Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus. Just one bird was seen, at Agamon Hula, skimming over a cereal field after being flushed by a patrolling Marsh Harrier.
Chukar Alectoris chukar. Quite widespread, with coveys seen at Gamla, Shoresh, along the Ezuz Road at Nizzana. Up to 20 birds seen over 6 days.
Sand Partridge Ammoperdix heyi. Typically seen in pairs scuttling away in wadis in arid areas, this species was encountered at Wadi en Salvadori, Holland Park, and along route 12 north of Eilat.
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis. A flock of 25 birds on the main lagoon at the Hula Reserve was a fine sight, although unfortunately they only gave distant scope views.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis. A few birds seen in the Hula Valley and at the Eilat bird-watching centre, with several at the sewage ponds at Nizzana.
White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus. About 120 were seen flying north over Agamon Hula on the 3/4, with a further 8 birds at the fish ponds further north, where route 977 meets route 90. Just a handful of birds were seen at the Hula Reserve, and another 40 were seen around the fish ponds at Neve Eitan
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo. Quite scarce, with just one bird at Neve Eitan fish ponds and another at Eilat.
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus. This was a species absent from Israel on previous visits, but has become quite a common bird since it colonised the north of the country, with 30 seen at Agamon Hula and the fish ponds to the north along route 977, with a handful of birds at the Hula Reserve, and another 40 at the Neve Eitan fish ponds.
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus. Just one was seen, flying across a channel to disappear in reeds at the Hula Reserve, but another uncooperative bird was calling from reeds just feet from us in one of the hides at the Eilat Birdwatching centre.
Striated Heron Butroides striata. A tatty individual, which also had a broken mandible was perched on a float at North Beach, Eilat.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis. The largest numbers, c200 were seen flying to roost near Tel Aviv on 2/4, with c20 seen daily around Lake Tiberias. Only one bird was seen at Eilat.
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides. Three birds were seen at Agamon Hula on 3/4, with 2 at the Hula reserve, one of which gave great photo opportunities. In the south 4 were seen around the pond at km 19, and a nice breeding plumaged bird at the Eilat Bird watching centre.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta. This species was seen virtually daily, with the largest numbers (c50 birds) around the fish ponds at Neve Eitan.
Western Reef Egret Egretta gularis.The same immature white morph bird (with scattered dark feathers) was seen on 2 days, fishing with great success in the effluent outfall at the North Beach, Eilat.
Great Egret Casmerodius albus. Certainly less widespread than Little Egret, but c40 birds were roosting on a bund at the fish ponds along route 977, with another 20 at the Neve Eitan fish ponds.
Grey Heron Ardea cinereal. Around 10 birds at the fish ponds along route 977 and at Neve Eitan, with scattered birds elsewhere. A flock of 40 flying north at Eilat was probably the largest flock of herons I have ever seen.
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea. Ten birds, mostly in flight, were seen at Agamon Hula, with just 2 at the Hula Reserve. Three lumbered out of the reeds as we walked round the Neve Eitan fish ponds, and finally 4 birds were seen at the Birdwatching centre, Eilat.
White Stork Ciconia ciconia. By far the largest numbers were seen on the 3/4 as we walked round Agamon Hula, with certainly three figure counts of birds heading north. Scanning with bins would reveal a stream of storks stretching over several km, with numbers circling in thermals, and this spectacular passage continued for most of the morning. Smaller numbers were seen daily in the north, but generally fewer than 100 birds, in areas like the Golan Heights. 29 were seen in the Negev at Nizzana, and a few birds around Eilat.
Black Stork Ciconia nigra. Naturally more scarce than White Stork, but a flock of 54 was seen circling over Agamon Hula on 3/4, and there were quite impressive numbers at Neve Eitan with c150 birds present.
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus. There were good numbers at Agamon Hula, with flocks totalling around 150 birds feeding in the shallow lagoons, but it was not seen at all at the Hula Reserve. About 10 were present at Neve Eitan, a few scattered birds were seen around Eilat.
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia. Some 10 birds were recorded at Agamon Hula, with just single at the Hula Reserve, although this one gave very close photo opportunities. There were around 20 birds at the Neve Eitan fish ponds.
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus. Around 15 birds, mostly immatures, were seen stalking the saltpans on each visit to the Birdwatching centre in Eilat.
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus. This species was only seen circling around the gorge at Gamla, where about 20 birds were seen. All the birds I photographed had wing tags, numbers p29 and s95. There were a few birds breeding at En Advat neat Mizpe Ramon.
Eurasian Black Vulture Aegypius monachus. It was something of a surprise to find one of these huge birds circling with Griffon Vultures above Gamla Gorge on 4/4, always a really impressive bird, even when distant.
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus. Certainly less in evidence than 27 years ago, but still, 8 birds (4 pairs) were seen at Gamla Gorge, with some giving fantastic close views, and an adult and juvenile were seen in the Negev along the minor road west of Mizpe Ramon.
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. A bird flying over Agamon Hula on 3/4 caused general panic among cranes and wildfowl. At the Hula Reserve an adult gave great views as it circled overhead, before we realised a huge ball of sticks on the edge of the reserve was an occupied eyrie, with another adult on it feeding a half grown chick.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus. Single birds were seen at Agamon Hula, and at the Bird watching centre and Eilat, with 4 birds at the fish ponds at Neve Eitan, where they could hardly have struggled to make a catch, given the abundance of Tilapia.
Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina. Just two examples of this compact eagle seen migrating north at Agamon Hula on 3/4.
Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga. One bird was seen circling around at the Neve Eitan fish ponds on 6/4.
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis. A juvenile, with the broad pale band around the wing coverts was seen at Wadi Ammud, with another 15 birds seen together with Steppe Buzzards over the castle at Nizzana.
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus. A number of birds were seen in the north of the country, with singles at Agamon Hula, Vered Hagalil and Wadi Ammud, with at least 10 seen around Gamla Gorge. One was seen diving at speed from a great height but it reduced speed to a gentle glide down at the last moment, a small ridge denying us the chance to see it dealing with a snake. One bird was seen hovering over the arid desert at Qumran.
Booted Eagle Aquila pennata. Just one pale morph bird was seen, flying north at Agamon Hula.
Bonelli’s Eagle Aquila fasciata. 27 years ago I watched a pair of Bonelli’s Eagles from the waterfall viewpoint at Gamla Gorge, and from exactly the same point on this trip we watched two Bonelli’s Eagles circling around, and ripping off leafy branches and flying with them to their eyrie. Another pair of Bonelli’s Eagles was seen circling over the gorge at Nahal Dragot, where I first saw this species 28 years ago.
Black Kite Milvus migrans. This species was most numerous in the north of Israel, with 40-200 seen daily, the largest numbers at Agamon Hula, and the fish ponds to the north along route 977. Smaller numbers (1-10 birds) were seen daily in the south.
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus. A ringtail harrier seen at the Se’ifim Plains was too broad winged to be either Montagu’s or Pallid and I concluded that, perhaps surprisingly, it was a Hen Harrier. Only one.
Pallid/Montagu’s was seen, at Gamla, and this approaching bird slipped over a ridge before it could be identified.
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus. Quite widespread and seen daily, except when we visited the Dead Sea. The largest numbers (12) were seen at Agamon Hula, but several birds were quartering an irrigated field at Yotvata.
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus. This raptor was present at Wadi Ammud, with 2 birds soaring and hovering together on the 4/4, and six were seen on the 5/4. Birds were also seen in the far more arid Dead Sea area, with 5 sightings in the two days we spent there.
Steppe Buzzard Buteo buteo vulpinus. Although this species was seen daily, in various locations it was a pity we managed to miss any really significant raptor migration, with just 1-150 seen daily, the largest numbers in a brief flurry of activity at Nizzana in the Negev Desert.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. A few birds were seen at the Hula Reserve and Gamla, and also singles on two days in Eilat.
Levant Sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes. The first bird seen was a beautiful adult male in Holland Park, with 2 others seen at the Bird-watching centre, while 4 were seen in the Negev near Nizzana, and 5 at Yotvata with a few birds around Eilat on the day of departure.
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus. This elegant species is a welcome addition to Israel’s avifauna since my last visit, although it is obviously quite localised, with 5 birds seen at Agamon Hula on 3/4, but nowhere else.
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus. This was the only falcon seen, and was quite common in all areas visited, from wetlands to arid deserts.
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus. One bird was seen from the ‘reedbed’ hide at the Bird-watching Centre in Eilat.
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana. A bird was scoped foraging out in the open by the main lagoon at Agamon Hula, the first time I had seen this species outside of the UK.
Little Crake Porzana parva. We had several sightings of this excellent species, with two birds foraging like tiny jacanas on floating vegetation at the Hula Reserve, before they reverted to type and retreated to dense cover, while there were several birds at the Bird-watching Centre, Eilat, with up to 4 seen daily, and confiding birds giving great photo opportunities.
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus. Most numerous at Agamon Hula, and the Hula reserve, with c30 birds seen, but several also seen on each visit to the Bird-watching Centre, Eilat.
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra. Seen at Agamon Hula and the Hula Reserve, with c50 at the former site and c200 at the latter.
Common Crane Grus grus. The wintering population of Cranes in the Hula Valley has enormously increased, with the provision of safe feeding and resting areas. On the 3/4 squadrons of birds were heading north, while about 150 spent the day in fields at Agamon Hula, but towards evening many hundreds more flew in to join these birds, perhaps 600 in total, which is still a small fraction of the wintering population. Not seen at all in 1989 or 1990.
Macqueen’s Bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii. After a certain amount of searching a pair was located amongst the scattered bushes and sandy/stony wastes along the Ezuz Road, and at first light with no heat shimmer we had excellent scope views of them foraging and feeding on desert vegetation, even if it was perhaps a shame we did not see display. Has to be counted as bird of the trip and well worth the 03.00 departure from Eilat to see them.
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta. Only seen at Agamon Hula, where 120 birds were present on the main lagoon.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus. A fairly widespread wader, with 10 at Agamon Hula and the Hula Reserve, with up to 40 seen daily on the salt pans at Eilat, and also noted on the sewage ponds at Nizzana, and the pond at km 19 north of Eilat.
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincole. About 50 of these most elegant of birds hawked over the Hula Reserve on the 5/4, with singles seen at the fish ponds at Neve Eitan, and the pond at km 19 north of Eilat.
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius. 2 birds were seen at the Hula Reserve, and 5 at Neve Eitan, with similar numbers on the pools at the Bird-watching centre, Eilat, where they could be viewed from just a few metres.
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula. Five were seen at Neve Eitan, while it was fairly numerous on the pools and Salinas at the Eilat Bird-watching Centre, with c40 seen on each visit.
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus. Only one example found, on a bund at the salt pans in Eilat, as we searched unsuccessfully for a reported Greater Sand Plover.
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola. A single bird was seen on the salt pans at Eilat.
Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus. This wader seemed far more numerous than on my previous trips, and being very confiding it seems able to live alongside humans. It was most abundant at Agamon Hula with c250 birds present, but it was seen daily and present at virtually all fish ponds, lagoons and effluent ponds visited, as well as the Eilat salt pans. Nesting birds were seen mobbing an Egyptian Mongoose at the Tirat Zevi fish ponds.
Dunlin Calidris alpina. Two birds were seen at the salt pans in Eilat on 9/4.
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea. Two birds seen on the freshwater pool at the Bird-watching Centre, Eilat.
Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus. Always a bird with a certain character, one was seen feeding along the edge of a salt pan at the Bird-watching Centre on 10/4.
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii. Two birds seen along a bund at the Eilat salt pans on 9/4 were quite distant, but an obliging bird on the freshwater pool on the morning of 13/4 came within a few feet of the hide.
Little Stint Calidris minuta. Seven birds were seen on flooded grassland at the Hula Reserve, while it was one of the more numerous waders at the Eilat Bird-watching Centre, with most birds seen on the freshwater pool (up to 40). Numbers were also seen among the unsavoury debris at the sewage ponds at Nizzana (about 30 birds).
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola. A fairly common passage wader, with 4 seen at Agamon Hula and the Hula Reserve, and up to 6 seen on each visit to the Eilat Bird-watching Centre.A few birds were also seen at the sewage ponds at Nizzana.
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus. Seen in similar numbers and the same sites at the preceding species, with a maximum of 4 birds at the Eilat Bird-watching centre.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. This species was seen at the Neve Eitan fish ponds, and regularly at the Bird-watching Centre in Eilat, with a maximum of ten birds seen on the 10/4.
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus. Just two birds seen, with singles at the Hula Reserve and at the Eilat Bird-watching Centre.
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia. 2-5 birds seen on each visit to the Eilat Bird-watching Centre, often fishing amongst the Black-winged Stilt parties.
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnalis. This diminutive Greenshank look-alike was seen in a flooded field at the Hula Reserve, with 12 birds, and another party of 5 occupied the freshwater pool at the Eilat Bird-watching centre on the 10/4.
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa. There was a flock of 120 in the shallow main lagoon at Agamon Hula, but not seen elsewhere.
Common Snipe Gallinago media. Singles seen in various locations; Agamon Hula, Hula Reserve, and Eilat Bird-watching centre.
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus. A single (distant) bird was seen bobbing around on one of the salt pans at Eilat Bird-watching Centre on 9/4.
Ruff Philomachus pugnax. One of the most numerous passage waders, with 80 seen as Agamon Hula, 52 at the Hula Reserve, and up to 50 seen on each visit to the Eilat Bird-watching Centre. There were also numbers of birds at the sewage ponds at Nizzana.
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus. About 50 seen at the gull roost at the salt pans in Eilat on the 9/4.
Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei. The salt pans at Eilat proved a good site to view this bird, with c150 arriving in the evening at the gull roost on the 9/4. On the 10/4 similar numbers were seen on beaches in Jordan, but a very close group was found feeding on the sea at the effluent outflow at North Beach.
Armenian Gull Larus armeniscus. There were about 150 examples of this taxon at the Neve Eitan fish ponds. The vast majority were difficult 1st and 2nd winters, but there were at least 10 adults, reasonably distinctive with their stubby, banded bills. Two were also present at the salt pan gull roost in Eilat on 9/4.
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans. Some 20 examples were seen at the gull roost on the bunds of the salt pans at Eilat on 9/4.
Baltic Gull Larus fuscus fuscus. This elegant gull with its long jet black wings was seen at the gull roost at the Eilat salt pans, with 5 birds seen on the 9/4, and also a few birds along the North Beach.
Heuglin’s Gull Larus fuscus heuglini. Two adult birds were seen on the gull roost at the Eilat salt pans. The distinctions from graellsii are decidedly subtle.
White-eyed Gull Larus lecophthalamus. I had missed this species on my previous two trips, and it seemed I was destined to fail again as I prepared to abandon a sea-watch on the very last day, when one example of this smart and unusual looking gull flew past the North Beach.
Little Tern Sternula albifrons. Some 5 birds arrived at the gull roost on the Eilat Salt Pans on 9/4, and some 20 birds were fishing off the North Beach on 13/4.
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis. Three birds were seen at the gull roost on 9/4, and 5 birds were fishing off the North Beach on the 13/4.
Gull-billed Tern Gelochilidon nilotica. 8 examples of this elegant bird, with its rather languid flight were over the fish ponds at Neve Eitan on 6/4, and 5 birds came to the gull roost at Eilat on 9/4.
Common Tern Sterna hirundo. Some 5 examples were seen off the North Beach on 13/4; failed to find the White-cheeked Tern that had been reported earlier.
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia. Four birds were seen at Eilat on 9/4; three at the gull roost, and one bird which fished at the freshwater lagoon gave superb photo opportunities at it passed close in the evening light.
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus. One example of this beautiful species was hawking insects over the sewage pond at km19 as we awaited the arrival of Lichenstein’s Sandgrouse.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis. The only sandgrouse to appear at the sewage ponds at Nizzana was one of this species, flying past several times with relatively slow wingbeats before settling on a bund.
Spotted Sandgrouse Pterocles senegallus. 14 birds, in groups of 3-5 arrived at the Idan ponds between 08.40 and 09.00, usually drawing attention to their arrival with far-carrying quacking calls.
Crowned Sandgrouse Pterocles coronatus. Just two birds arrived between 08.40 and 09.00 at the Idan ponds on 9/4. In flight their calls were harder and distinct from Spotted Sandgrouse, and the black primaries were conspicuous, while on the ground the black face mark and dense spot barring could be admired.
Lichenstein’s Sandgrouse Pterocles lichtensteinii. I last saw this species at the water pumping station in Eilat in 1989, when 20-30 birds arrived at dusk. This time the venue was the sewage pond at km19, with just three birds arriving at dusk. One settled very close to us, but then flew off to join two others that had landed out of sight on the only other section of the pond that was not reed fringed. Still nice to view its intricate plumage, like all sandgrouse stunningly beautiful when seen well.
Rock Dove Columba livia. Feral pigeons were widespread. What looked like flocks of pure Rock Doves were seen in places like Nahal Dragot.
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis. This species was missed on previous visits, although I had seen many in sub-saharan Africa, but it proved fairly easy to locate this time, with 2 birds at Kfar Ruppin, and 3 at the Bird-watching Centre in Eilat, and another at Yotvata.
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto. Very common and widespread, except in the most arid desert areas.
Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis. Another common and widespread species, seen daily.
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur. 1-8 birds seen on 5 days, with most migrants at Yotvata. Certainly many fewer than in 1990 when ‘ astonishing passage of thousands of birds per hour’ was seen along route 90 in mid-April.
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. One calling bird flying through Wadi Ammud on 5/4.
Great-spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius. JC saw one in the grounds of Vered Hagalil, which had departed before I arrived on the scene.
Eurasian Eagle Owl Bubo bubo. On the 4/5 we visited Wadi Ammud, where I had seen Eagle Owl in 1989, and as light faded it was great to find birds were still present, as 1-2 began calling. The sound was far carrying, but so deep it sounded distant even when close so it took some time to track them down, but eventually we were rewarded with 2 sightings of the bird flying above our heads, quite an awesome sight at close range.
Little Owl Athene noctua lilith. One example of this pale desert variant was found perched on some derelict ironwork along the Ezuz Road at Nizzana.
Scops Owl Otus scops. A calling bird at Shoresh.
Common Swift Apus apus. Numbers were seen in the north of the country, with up to 100 seen daily in sites in the Hula valley and at Gamla, but no definite birds seen in the south.
Pallid Swift Apus unicolor. This species was first positively identified at Nahal Dragot, where a carousel of c70 birds flew around the gorge. Others were seen at the Idan ponds, and about 50 birds around the gorge at En Advat.
Alpine Swift Apus melba. About 20 examples of this ace flier cruised around the gorge at En Advat.
Little Swift Apus affinis. A few birds were seen around the gorges at Gamla, but the largest numbers were at Wadi Ammud, with swirling clouds of 500-600 birds around the gorge in the evening.
Hoopoe Upupa epops. Just a few birds seen, with 3 at Agamon Hula, one at Bet Shean, and finally one at Nizzana.
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis. Just two birds seen, at Agamon Hula on 3/4.
White-throated Kingfisher halcyon smyrnensis. This noisy and conspicuous species was seen commonly in the north, mostly around wetlands, with 12 at Agamon Hula, and fewer at the Hula Reserve. It was also common at the Neve Eitan fish ponds, with c8 seen.
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis. Probably less numerous than the preceding species, but 5 were seen at Agamon Hula, and birds were also present at the Bird-watching Centre in Eilat, where 2 birds were usually to be seen around the freshwater lagoon.
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster. Always a favourite of mine, flocks of birds moving through were a frequent sight in the north, with 110 seen at Agamon Hula, and 80 at the Hula reserve. Birds were nesting in a landslip on the tel at Bet Shean, and c20 were present in Holland Park at Eilat.
Little Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis. This bee-eater of arid areas and desert oases was seen at Bet Shean, Kfar Ruppin, Qumran, Yotvata and Eilat, with 2-4 birds seen daily in the south of the country.
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopus syriacus. This species was seen quite regularly, with 3 at Agamon Hula, and 1-2 birds daily at Vered Hagalil and at Shoresh.
Wryneck Jynx torquilla. Singles were seen at Shoresh and at the sewage ponds at Nizzana.
Crested Lark Galerida cristata. A common species of road edges, cultivations and semi-desert over most of the country, with 10-40 seen on 7 days.
Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla. Saw far fewer than expected, with just 2 birds at the Idan pools on 9/4.
Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti. A few birds were seen on the rocky slopes above the Dead Sea in locations such as Qumran, Masada, and Nahal Dragot, with c10 birds seen daily, the species was also seen at En Advat and the Se’fim Plains.
Hoopoe Lark Alaemon alaudipes. Although I had heard the ventriloquial calls of this bird it had eluded me in Israel, but with birds in display flight it was easy to locate at the Se’fim Plains. Two pairs were seen, eye-catching in flight but very well camouflaged as they ran over the sand like small coursers.
Sand Martin Riparia riparia. A few birds were seen over the sewage pond at km19, north of Eilat.
Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris. Just one bird seen around the gorge at Gamla.
Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula. This species was quite common around ruins along the Dead Sea, with c10 birds seen at Qumran and Masada, as well as Nahal Dragot. Birds were building their most un-hirundine like nests in a shelter for tourists at Qumran – it resembled an untidy sparrow nest.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. Passage birds were seen daily, with the largest numbers a modest 300 or so at Agamon Hula.
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica. Fairly common and widespread in the north of the country, with 8-30 of these languid gliders seen daily until 8/4, but just odd birds seen in the south.
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris. Two birds were seen, in the rather different habitats of the grasslands at Gamla, and in the arid Se’fim Plains close to Eilat.
Long-billed Pipit Anthus similis. The rocky slopes above Wadi Ammud are known as a site for this bird, but I felt there was little chance of locating the species without an arduous climb out of the gorge, but an obliging bird perched for several minutes on a bush on the edge of the canyon, allowing scrutiny through the scope of key features.
White Wagtail Motacilla alba. A fairly common species around wetlands and ponds, seen on 7 days with a maximum of 8 at Agamon Hula.
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava. This species proved to be unexpectedly difficult to catch up with, but c200 were roosting in the reeds around the sewage pond at km 19, and there were similar numbers in an irrigated field at Yotvata, with just odd birds seen elsewhere. There were many Blue-headed, but the majority were Black-headed, perhaps the most handsome of all the Yellow Wagtail forms.
Black Bush Robin Cercotrichas podobe. We had been told that Black Bush Robins were nesting at Hai Bar, and although the site was not open to the public we were allowed to view the site through a fence, which involved lurking by the toilet block. The bird(s) were fairly skulking but with effort we had several views of this smart species in a 30 minute period.
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica. I had hoped to improve on my best images of this species, taken in Finland, but it wasn’t to be, with just one female seen at Agamon Hula, and two brief sightings at the Eilat bird-watching centre, one of which I carelessly flushed at point blank range.
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus. Only one bird was seen, in the Ben Gurion Memorial Gardens.
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe. One bird,a male, seen on the road to Gamla on 4/4.
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellinus. Eight birds were seen along the minor road west of Mizpe Ramon as we searched for Onager.
Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica. Only the rather tricky females were seen, with single birds at Gamla, Idan ponds and at Nizzana.
Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens. One example was seen at the Dead Sea, with at least 5 along roadsides, mainly in places where stopping was impossible in the Negev on 11/4, and 5 easier to view birds topping bushes in the Se’fim Plains on 12/4.
White-crowned Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga. Very much a desert bird, this species was fairly common on the arid slopes above the Dead Sea, with 5-8 birds seen daily in places such as the Snake Path up to Masada.
Blackstart Cercomela melanura. Another desert species which attracts attention by its wing opening and tail flaring, it was common around the Dead Sea, with 5-10 seen daily, and other birds seen in the Eilat Mountains and at Hai Bar. Now considered a Wheatear, Oenanthe.
Blackbird Turdus merula. A common species in parks and gardens in the north of Israel.
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius. This characteristic species of rocky gorges was quite common in Wadi Ammud, with c10 birds seen on each of our two visits, and 2 birds were seen at Gamla.
Graceful Prinia Prinia gracilis. A common species of scrub and cultivations with 1-5 birds seen on six days.
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla. A common migrant and seen most days, with the larges numbers in northerly winds at Eilat on the 10/4.
Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis. Fairly common as a breeding bird in the north of the country, with several birds around Vered Hagalil and at Gamla.
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca. Probably the most numerous passerine migrant in Israel, up to 30 birds seen daily in a wide variety of habitats.
Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia crassirostris. Singing birds were seen at Gamla and Shoresh, the rich song had phrases very similar to Nightingale, while presumed migrants were seen at Acacia Wadi and Wadi Mishmar in the Arava.
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala. This active and noisy warbler was common in scrub in the north of the country, with birds seen at Vered Hagalil, Shoresh, Gamla and in the Hula Valley.
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata. Two birds were seen in desert scrub at Nizzana.
Asian Desert Warbler Sylvia nana. One bird was seen at the Se’fim Plains, its location being aided by the fact it appeared to be associating with a Mourning Wheatear and was seen several times in the bush below the wheatear.
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus. A few birds were seen in reedbeds in the Hula Valley, and at the Bird-watching Centre in Eilat.
Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cettia. Three birds were seen and others heard at Agamon Hula and the Hula Reserve.
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus. Quite common at Agamon Hula, with about 20 birds seen, with others seen at the Bird-watching centre, Eilat, with 3-5 seen daily.
Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus. There were 2 singing birds at Agamon Hula which stubbornly remained in cover, but we finally had good scope views of a singing bird from the observation tower at the Hula Reserve, allowing scrutiny of features such as the long slender bill.
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler Iduna pallida. Birds were seen giving their lively chattering song from scrub at Agamon Hula, Gamla and Wadi Ammud, with 2-6 birds seen daily in the north of the country. In the south birds were seen in Holland Park.
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus. Two seen at Agamon Hula.
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus orientalis. With its greenish wings and silvery white underparts this was a common migrant throughout the country, probably the most numerous migrant after Lesser Whitethroat, particularly in the south of the country with several birds seen in acacias in wadis along the Dead Sea, at Holland Park, Yotvata and the Bird-watching Centre Eilat.
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita. Five birds were seen at Agamon Hula.
Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis. A male of this smart and striking species was seen in the Ben Gurion Memorial Park on 11/4.
Great Tit Parus major. Common in the north of the country.
Great (Southern) Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor aucheri. One bird along the approach road to Gamla, another at Neve Eitan, and 5 seen in the Negev desert at Nizzana, including one bird persistently chasing another that had caught a lizard. These shrikes are very similar to excubitor but have greyer flanks and more black on forehead.
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator. Quite common in the Golan Heights, where 6 birds were seen on 4/4, otherwise one bird was seen in Acacia Wadi along the Dead Sea.
Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus. Four examples of this neat bird were seen, with one in Wadi Mishmar, two in Holland Park and a final bird at the Nizzana sewage ponds.
White-spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthopygos. A very widespread and common species, with catholic habitat requirements so seen daily in good numbers.
Palestine Sunbird Cinnyris osea. A very common bird in the north, and seen virtually everywhere there were shrubs, but less evident around Eilat, where just a few birds seen at the Bird-watching Centre.
Arabian Babbler Turdoides squamiceps. Only two clans of this species were seen, one was encountered at Wadi Mishmar, the other in the Negev at Nizzana.
Jackdaw Corvus monedula. A flock of 8 was seen around Gamla Gorge.
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix. Common and seen at most areas visited, with a maximum of 20 birds per day.
Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis. Very much a bird of arid desert plains, a few birds were seen around the Dead Sea, but the largest numbers were seen in the Negev around Nizzana, with 20 birds, also seen at the Se’fim Plains.
Fan-tailed Raven Corvus rhipidurus. This sociable and rather characterful corvid was quite common around the cliffs above the Dead Sea, with 20 seen around Masada, for example.
House Crow Corvus splendens. This species was absent in 1990 but is now a common species in and around Eilat.
Tristram’s Starling Onychognathus tristramii. Bold and fearless this species was a common site in car parks and archaeological sites along the Dead Sea, often drawing attention with its loud whistling calls. 40-50 were seen daily at places like Qumran, En Gedi and Masada, and it was also seen at Eilat.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus. Common throughout the country near human habitation.
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis. Several tight ‘quelea like’ flocks flew through the Bird-watching Centre at Eilat on 9/4, and along the minor road to the km19 pond a noisy flock of hundreds was found in an acacia.
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis. A common species in open country and gardens in the north of he country.
Greenfinch Chloris chloris. Another common species in the north of the country.
Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus. Two seen in Wadi el Salvadori on the edge of the Dead Sea, with 3 at the Idan ponds, and 6 seen around Nizzana.
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra. Six birds were seen in the grasslands around Gamla Gorge.
Striolated Bunting Emberiza striolata. Searching of the rock strewn slopes above Wadi el Salvadori revealed 2 pairs of this species, certainly a very different environment to that favoured by House Buntings in Morocco.
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameria. I saw two birds in 1990, but there has obviously been a huge increase since then and it is now a common bird over most of the country.
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis. Not seen at all in 1989/1990, now a common bird over most of the country.
Coypu Myocastor coypu. This feral species was very numerous at both Agamon Hula and the Hula Reserve.
Rock Hyrax Procavia capensis. This species was seen at Gamla, but was more numerous and easy to see at Wadi Ammud, with animals calling noisily towards evening.
Egyptian Mongoose Herpestes ichneumon. Two were seen, typically active in broad daylight, one at Kfar Ruppin, and a second being mobbed by Spur-winged Plovers at the Tirat Zevi fish ponds.
Golden Spiny Mouse Acomys russatus. This very attractive diurnal rodent was seen scampering among boulders in Wadi el Salvadori on the shores of the Dead Sea.
Dorcas Gazelle Gazella Dorcas. Three individuals were seen by JC at Wadi Mishmar on the shores of the Dead Sea. In 1989 and 1990 Mountain Gazelle (Gazella gazelle) were easy to find in the Golan Heights, but this species has undergone a marked decline and is now endangered.
Nubian Ibex Capra nubiana. Two groups totalling 25 animals were seen on the cliffs above the Dead Sea at Nahal Dragot, firstly a group of 18 females and kids browsing on desert shrubs, and then a group of males, while another 30 or so were seen in an around Mizpe Ramon, where as a consequence of protection they have lost their fear of humans and invaded the town, preferring the luxuriant vegetation on traffic roundabouts to sparse and spiny desert vegetation.
Onager Equus hemionus. Four individuals were located after much searching along the minor road west of Mizpe Ramon. These introduced animals are Persian Onagers E.h.onager, as a replacement for the closely related but now extinct Syrian Onager that used to occupy this range.
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes. An adult and cub were seen playing together in the evening at Yotvata.