Trip Report for Egypt and Jordan
In this report I intend to very shortly sum up some experiences in certain places in Egypt, Israel, West Bank, and Jordan, concerning spots which are less frequently visited by most birdwatchers. These observations are all from January 2002. I was travelling with my best friend Christian Jokinen, with whom I have shared the fascinating hobby of reconstructing certain historical expeditions. Now our target character was the Hungarian Sahara explorer, adventurer and spy, Count László de Almásy, whose dramatic adventures took place along the Sudan-Egypt road, in the Western and Libyan deserts of Egypt and Libya, and in Erwin Rommel's legendary desert war. Almásy was the "English Patient" of Michael Ondaatje's novel, and the movie later based on that novel, although both of them are fictional and do not reveal the true character or activities of Count Almásy. For those interested, there is a more truthful book available at least in German, written by Count Almásy himself: Ladislaus E. Almásy: "Schwimmer in der Wüste - Auf der Suche nach der Oase Zarzura" (Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, München, 3rd edition in 2001).
In November 2002, when I drove across Europe with Christian to attend the birthday of Arch-Duke Otto von Habsburg in Vienna, we also visited Almásy's castle in Bernstein, Burgenland. There we found out that László's father and grandfather had both been remarkable orientalists. One of them had got the title of Pasha from Istanbul, while the other had been an ornithologist and explorer of Central Asia.
Besides Almásy, we were tracing two war-time intelligence officers, Eppler and Monkaster, visiting some Biblical places in Sinai, Israel and Palestine, and remembering a ancient Roman prince who rose against an usurper together with the Nabathean army he had mobilized in Petra. When visiting places, it is inevitable that there are also birds around, and so from now on I concentrate in birds and not all the other interesting things on our way. For beginning, it is worth mentioning that two odd larks that were found on the El Alamein battlefield turned out to be Wood Larks (Lullula arborea). This trip took a month. We had Malev flights from Helsinki to Cairo and back, both ways with a day stop in Budapest.
The Oases of Siwa and Bahariyya
I cannot resist adding just some more of history. After Alexander the Great had conquered Egypt, he made the journey to the oracle of Amon in what is nowadays the oasis of Siwa. There he wished he would be recognized as the son of the god Amon Ra, and thus, the legitimate pharaoh of Egypt. This indeed happened. Before Alexander, the Persian warlord Cambyles had tried to reach Siwa in same intention, but he and his whole Persian army had vanished without trace in desert on their way. When Alexander made the same journey, he had quite a luck with him, since first there was raining first time in decades, and then it is told that Alexander got guidance from ravens, who showed him the right way, and stayed around his camp even in night. Because of this, the only road from the northern coast to Siwa is still known as the "Route of the Ravens". In some translations the ravens are called crows, but anyone following this route soon discovers that the "crows" are Brown-necked Ravens (Corvus ruficollis). They are indeed quite common here, and for long desolate desert sections they are the only visible bird species.
In the Siwa Oasis, the avifauna is very rich, but quite little known and researched. Vast palm groves and three large salt lakes in the middle of the Great Sea of Sand and Egypt's Western Desert, offer literally an oasis for various kinds of birds. The most abundant breeding species seem to be common cultural birds such as House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Feral Pigeon (Columba livia), and Palm Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis). Also Hooded Crow (Corvus corone cornix) is present. Another group of abundant birds is constituted by wintering European passerines, especially White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) and Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita). Both can also be found in every little oasis or "oaselet", i.e. place with a couple of palms, around Siwa, and often even in the places where there is some bush vegetation in the middle of otherwise seemingly lifeless desert.
Right at the outskirts of the oasis, as well as on the hills surrounding the oasis, one can find the most common local wheatear of the dry desert areas of Egypt, namely White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oënanthe leucopyga), which is black and quite large, with white rump and tail and a white crown decorating its head. Young birds of this species resemble very much the Black Wheatear (Oënanthe leucura), which is not supposed to occur in Egypt. Occasional observations have been usually assumed to be mistaken young White-crowned. However, we took photographs of a bird, which, according to the instructions of our literature, should be a Black Wheatear. I personally doubt it, because White-crowned is so abundant and we all know how variable the wheatears are. But perhaps one day some expert will tell us the truth, as the pictures are quite good.
Besides White-crowned Black Wheatear, there is another local wheatear obviously breeding at the oasis, the Mourning Wheatear (Oënanthe lugens), which is clearly less numerous than White-crowned. A third species is Desert Wheatear (Oënanthe deserti), which is (despite of its name) probably just a wintering species here.
To continue with the list of wintering insectivorous passerines, two abundant species to be found at Siwa's many wells and palm grove edges, were Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) and Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros). There are also many warblers, at least Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) and Mediterranean Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) were present. Clamorous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus) was very abundant at all the reedbeds and even minor ponds of the oasis, obviously a local and breeding species. Among them, there was at least one smaller Acrocephalus present, probably Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris), which is odd since it should not winter this north. Also the Streaked Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta) was present at the oasis, although our maps did not indicate that this species should occur so far west in the Western Desert. According to some other literature, however, this species indeed is quite common in some parts of the Western Desert. Blackbird (Turdus merula) is breeding at the oasis, although it is not a common bird in Egypt. Wonder how they have ended up here in the middle of desert.
On the salt lakes there are many heron-related birds, among whom the two absolutely most abundant species are Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis). These both can also be found in any of the smallest oases of the desert, if only there is a pond of water somewhere. There are also Great Egret (Egretta alba) and Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) present, but in much smaller numbers. Seen from far away, it seemed that there were groups of Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) and Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber) on the lakes. At evenings, the Little and Cattle Egrets were arriving in large flocks to the palm groves, accompanied by single Great Egrets. Descending sun colored them pinkish, as we wandered at the limits of the oasis, where palms suddenly end and endless sand starts. In the suddenly darkening night of the desert we also discovered that some relatively large species of owl is present at the oasis, but we could not see it well enough to conclude, which one. But later on I got a perfect sight of a Desert Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) in desert bush some dozens of kilometers south of Siwa, so that maybe it was that species also inside the oasis.
There are also surprisingly many raptors in Siwa. The two most abundant and obviously local species seemed to be Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and Black Kite (Milvus migrans). Both were seen in numbers. At least two species of harriers were found there, probably wintering: Marsh Harrier (Circus aëruginosus), and Pale Harrier (Circus macrourus). One female observed could have been Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus).
On the deserts surrounding Siwa, one observes surprisingly few actual desert birds, which is partly due to the extreme aridity of these deserts, but partly due to the quiet winter time, when local birds keep invisible. The best way to find birds is to stop by places with isolated groups of bush, and approach every bush, although such disturbance into the birds' hard life is probably not very nice for them. When they change place, they also use some of the important energy to keep them alive in the harsh living conditions of the desert. The most commonly seen living creature is a small bluish beetle of the Tenebrionidae family. Probably it is somehow bad-tasting, since if birds would eat them, they could easily survive.
The bird one sees most (although partly due to its large size and open showing-up, compared with many "invisible" larks and alike) is Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis), which is quite common everywhere, even in the chalk White Desert. However, at least one other species lives even in the most hostile parts of the desert, namely Bar-tailed Desert Lark (Ammomanes cincturus), which can be seen sometimes by the jeep track. Another species, Temminck's Lark (Eremophila bilopha) was only found relatively close to the oasis.
On a stop to an isolated bushy area in mid-way from Siwa to Bahariyya produced the previously mentioned breathtaking observation of the Desert Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus), which is the smaller and cream-colored desert relative of the Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo), which in Egypt occurs for example in the vicinity of human habitation. Since these two forms exist geographically mixed, but clearly separated by their appearance and habitat, I find it totally justified (as an amateur) to believe that they are rather two separate species than subspecies of one species. In the same place (and others of same type) the "approach the bush" method produced many individuals of mainly Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) and Mediterranean Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala). After these, the most common species found in such places was Crested Lark (Galerida cristata). Occasionally you will find other birds as well, for instance Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana), or even Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros).
In the Bahariyya oasis you can find the absurdly named Hotel Alpenblick - it reminds me of Hotel Greenland on the outskirts of Rawalpindi in hottest Pakistan. Anyway, when approaching Bahariyya, you first notice the increase in the numbers of White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oënanthe leucopyga) along the track. The avifauna of Bahariyya oasis is largely similar to Siwa, but instead of Bar-tailed Desert Lark, here you find the more common Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti), which is less desert-bound than the Bar-tailed. There are less heron birds here, and they are mainly only Little and Cattle Egrets. However, here we found a new wintering wheatear species, Pied Wheatear (Oënanthe pleschanka).
All the way from Siwa to Bahariyya the almost only bird species observed outside of oasis and bush concentrations was Brown-necked Raven, while single observations were made mostly on Bar-tailed Desert Lark and White-crowned Black Wheatear. However, in any little "oaselet" with a group of palms, or some bush around a military post, you could find a variety of birds. The birds found everywhere were White-crowned Black Wheatear, White Wagtail, and Chiffchaff. Regularly also Mediterranean Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat were found, as well as Cattle Egret, Little Egret and Palm Dove.
When leaving Siwa, the first stop we made on a hot spring on the other side of Lake Zeytan. This place is still at the outskirts of the oasis. There were plenty of Brown-necked Raven, White Wagtail, Chiffchaff and Clamorous Reed Warbler. Also Streaked Scrub Warbler, Stonechat, Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis) and Kestrel were seen.
Some way over the desert, there is a very small "oaselet" called El Bahrin, where there is a military post. Here, the bird species present were White Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Palm Dove, White-crowned Black Wheatear, and Brown-necked Raven. From El Bahrin we continued to the middle of desert to a place known as Es Safina, where the only bird species was Brown-necked Raven. This is an extremely dry area. Almásy tells in his notes that in such places birds suddenly landed on him, thinking that he was a tree. This shows the value of every single plant (or shadow) in the desert's emptiness.
In a place called Nuwei Misa, there is suddenly a little pond in the middle of desert, surrounded by palms and bush. There were large flocks of Cattle Egrets and Little Egrets present, which was really odd, since the place is really on quite a distance from any nearest permanent wetland. These birds must be quite mobile, since they so firmly find even the most isolated places with water. It suggests that the egrets every now and then fly over the driest desert regions, and if they notice water under them, they just drop there. That doesn't surprise me, but it indeed surprises me that they at all start flying over mere desert. This brings to my mind an experience years ago in the Tunisian parts of Sahara. In the middle of mere stony desert, I suddenly observed a strange-looking bird approaching, heading purposefully towards west, where there were no wetlands and very few oases, and just desert up until Atlantic. The bird turned out to be a Western Curlew (Numenius arquata).
After Nuwei Misa, the next military checkpoint was called Sutra. Even there, White Wagtail and White-crowned Black Wheatear were present. Then we started to approach Bahariyya, and the wheatear became ever more abundant. There were Little and Great Egrets at the oasis. Bush were full of House Sparrow and Chiffchaff. More observations included Pied Wheatear, Mediterranean Warbler, Kestrel, and a Common Fox (Vulpes vulpes).
On the way from the Bahariyya oasis south towards Farafra, there is a small oasis called El Heis, where there are some palms and bush, besides of a military post. There were plenty of birds, too, and the short stop produced at least the following observations: Brown-necked Raven, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, White-crowned Black Wheatear, White Wagtail, House Sparrow, and Palm Dove.
Continuing south from El Heis, to the direction of White Desert, there is one particularly good spot, with beautiful sand dunes, some bush and long needle grass. Here I was hoping to find even Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata), but it seems they have indeed all been shot. However, there was Desert Eagle Owl, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat, Crested Lark, and an unidentified middle-sized lark. From here onwards to the White Desert, again Brown-necked Raven was almost the only observed bird. However, in the night search with torches showed a lot of hidden life - jumping rats. In the morning there were lots of traces of jumping rats and fennecs. On the road from Bahariyya to Cairo there are much more birds to be found, for example Pigeons (Columba livia), Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti), and Hoopoe Lark (Alaëmon alaudipes).
Shores of the Nile
When sailing north from Aswan, our journey was cut some kilometers north from Aswan by heavy wind, which made the river police to estimate the weather conditions too dangerous for our little boat. A couple of days in the middle of nowhere north of Aswan was an ornithological blessing, since the shores of the Nile there were absolutely full of waders. We also visited a couple of Nubian villages, where you find out that you are not in the Middle East, but in true Africa.
The shores were full of waders and other birds, all mixed up, and the bush covering the shores were full of warblers and other insectivorous passerines. Wherever you watched, there was always something. To start with the bigger birds, there were hundreds of herons, the most numerous species being again Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) and Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), but almost equally common were the Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides), Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), and Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea). Individuals of Great Egret (Egretta alba), Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), Little Heron (Butorides striatus), Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), and Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) were also seen. The most numerous waders were Spur-winged Plover (Hoplopterus spinosus), Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), Little Stint (Calidris minuta), Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis), and Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). In smaller numbers, present were also Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus), Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii), Sanderling (Calidris alba), Great Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), White-tailed Plover (Chettusia leucura), and a really nice species for me, Kittlitz's Plover (Charadrius pecuarius). This kind of plenty of waders you would not expect in inland!
The waders were accompanied by numerous Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), and Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), which were stepping near to the edges of reedbeds, and the waterfowl swimming in the shore waters, including most of the European duck species. Most common here were Shoveller (Anas clypeata), Garganey (Anas querquedula), and Common Teal (Anas crecca). There were tens and even hundreds of Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis), which appeared to be very abundant everywhere along the Nile. Most of the gulls there were Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus), but also Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei) and Great Black-headed Gull (Larus ichthyaëtus) were seen. The most numerous tern was Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus), but both the other Chlidonias terns were also found: White-winged Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus) and Black Tern (Chlidonias niger). Also Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) was common. On the reefs of sand in the middle of the river, there were dozens of Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus). There were also lots of Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), which have increased a lot also here.
There were also plenty of birds of prey. On the river, there were Black Kites (Milvus migrans) and Ospreys (Pandion haliaëtus). On the shores there were for instance Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus), Marsh Harrier (Circus aëruginosus), Kestrel, and surprisingly so south, Northern Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus). Large flocks of hirundines were hunting for insects on the river. Majority of them were the Nile Valley subspecies of Barn Swallow, which has dark red stomach, Savigny's Swallow (Hirundo rustica savignii), and Pale Rock Martin (Ptyonoprogne obsoleta). In lesser numbers, there were also common Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), and Sand Martin (Riparia riparia). Observing the reed and bush covered banks of the river, one can find White-bellied Coucal (Centropus senegalensis) here in south, but the other specialty, Painted Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis) we did not see, as it can be easier seen in the Nile Delta wetlands.
On the marsh meadows, there were lots of feeding birds, which included, besides of the waders, also lots of passerines. The most abundant of them were White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) and Red-breasted Pipit (Anthus cervinus). In addition, also Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis), and Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava), various subspecies, were common. There were also lots of Hoopoes (Upupa epops) feeding on large shit-beetles, and Palm Doves (Streptopelia senegalensis) and other birds coming to drink. Near the shore in bush, there were lots of Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) and Graceful Prinia (Prinia gracilis), as well as wintering Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) and Mediterranean Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala). Here it is also easy to find the Nile Valley Sunbird (Anthreptes metallica). Bluethroat was significantly abundant. Also Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) and Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) were found almost on every spot. Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus) was common everywhere.
To finish up this chapter, a couple of words of the well-known birdwatcher paradise, the Abu Simbel area. I'm adding this on my memory, since my Abu Simbel notes are somewhere else, and so more exact details are missing. (The rest of the report is direct translation of the one I wrote in Finnish in February 2002.) That's the place to get all kinds of African species to one's Western Palearctic checklist. And indeed, the surroundings of Abu Simbel are just as wonderful a place for birdwatching as they have been praised in many books and websites. Besides all the heron species mentioned previously, we also found there Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), and two Yellow-billed Storks (Mycteria ibis). The last-mentioned were not even hard to find. They just came exactly where we were, which was just a place by the road out of the Abu Simbel temple.
White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) were everywhere, and they were so splendid. With some better time, one could have found among them some African Pelicans (Pelecanus rufescens), which is found here. Besides herons and pelicans, there were lots of Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus), Spur-winged Plovers (Hoplopterus spinosus), and Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), let alone numerous smaller waders. Besides most of the wader species mentioned already at the place north of Aswan, here there were more of White-tailed Plovers (Chettusia leucura), and Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta). However, we did not find African Pied Wagtail (Motacilla aguimp) and some of the other more irregular specialties of this area.
At the famous temple of Abu Simbel, we found, besides Prinias and Mediterranean Warblers, also wintering wheatears, which included the Cyprus Wheatear (Oënanthe cypriaca), although it was recognized only afterwards from the photos, since the species is very close to Pied Wheatear (Oënanthe pleschanka), which also winters here. The road between Aswan and Abu Simbel goes through desert areas, where there are a couple of incredible spots for birdwatchers. One is a pond near a caravan serai, where hundreds (or maybe I don't lie if I claim they were thousands) of Sandgrouse come and go at early morning and at dusk. As far as I see, two species (at least) were present here: Crowned Sandgrouse (Pterocles coronatus) and Spotted Sandgrouse (Pterocles senegallus), so that one visits the site at dawn, and the other one at dusk. The other place is a site where you can see flocks of vultures, where the huge Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) is the dominant species, although you also find here the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus). We were unfortunately not able to visit the vulture place this time.
Sinai (Egypt) and Petra (Jordan)
There is an excellent place to visit on the Sinai Peninsula, where you can combine culture, spiritual interests, and birdwatching in an incredible surroundings. It is the Monastery of St. Catherine. In the monastery itself, there is even "the" burning bush of Moses, and next to the monastery, there is the famous Mt. Sinai or Mt. Moses (Gebel el Musa) where Moses is believed to have received the ten commandments. The only trouble is that there are nowadays so many tourists wanting to climb to the mountain top to receive dawn. Still you can avoid the groups by taking some alternative routes. "There is only one God but many paths lead to Him."
There is an excellent sample of arid habitat avifauna to be found here. At the summit of Mt. Sinai we found Short-tailed Ravens (Corvus rhipidurus) and flocks of Tristram's Grackles (Onychognathus tristramii). On the rocky slopes of the mountains there were plenty of beautiful Sinai Rosefinch (Carpodacus synoicus). On the cliffs surrounding a few gorgeous gorges there were large colonies of Rock Dove (Columba livia), which were hunted by a Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus). It must have been one of the most spectacular experiences of the month, in ornithological sense, to have just descended from the mountains to a gorge, and observe a large flock of Rock Doves feeding on ground, together with two separate groups of Desert Partridge (Ammoperdix heyi) and Chukar (Alectoris chukar), when suddenly a Lanner glided in, heading with incredible graciousness right into the panicking flock of doves, while on the way frightening the both flocks of different grouse species into flight. Magnificent!
There were also large flocks of Desert Larks (Ammomanes deserti), plenty of White-crowned Black Wheatears (Oënanthe leucopyga), and Tristram's Grackles. Besides, there were many other interesting Passerines, like Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius), Streaked Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta), Serin (Serinus serinus) and so on.
In Jordan's Petra, mostly same bird species are present as around the Monastery of St. Catherine, but the amounts of birds seem even larger then on Sinai. In Petra, probably the most abundant bird is Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti), but there are also large flocks of Tristram's Grackles (Onychognathus tristramii) and Sinai Rosefinch (Carpodacus synoicus). There are also lots of wheatears and chats present. Three wheatear species are common: White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oënanthe leucopyga), Mourning Wheatear (Oënanthe lugens), and Hooded Wheatear (Oënanthe monacha). Besides, Blackstart (Cercomela melanura) and Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) are quite common. Another common bird is Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius). Some of the wintering birds in Wadi Musa include, for instance, Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos), and European Robin (Erithacus rubecula). It was a surprise to find in a stony desert around Petra a single female Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) that had joined a flock of Desert Larks. Probably the same individual encountered us again the next day, again in a Desert Lark flock, a couple of kilometers farther in the desert.
Perhaps the most unforgettable bird in Petra was the Short-tailed Raven (Corvus rhipidurus), which was having a colony in the old Nabathean temples and sandstone cliffs of the Petra Siq. Lower on the deserts one can find again the Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis).
Finally, some general words about birds of human habitation in this area. One exotic pair of bird species for European (or, I suppose, for American or Australian) birdwatchers are the Bulbuls. In most of Egypt the Bulbul is Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus), which one can also find elsewhere in Northern Africa, but from Sinai onwards to east, Common Bulbul is replaced by the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos), which takes over for all Arabian Peninsula. Somewhere at the Suez one can find the ranges of these species overlapping.
Some of the truly exotic birds along the Nile Valley can be found in most suitable places for tourists - namely in the ancient sights and in hotel gardens. A couple of examples are the Nile Valley Sunbird (Anthreptes metallica) and the Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri), which is common in Cairo. But there is also a more challenging and incredible cultural bird living in the poor suburbs of Cairo - namely the Senegal Thicknee (Burhinus senegalensis), which can be found by moving at the dusk in the slums of Cairo and Giza, where this species is breeding at the roofs of the houses.
In West Bank, an ornithologically most interesting spot is the oasis of Jericho, with its microclimate. For example Dead Sea Sparrow (Passer moabiticus) can be found there. On the shores of the Dead Sea, Tristram's Grackles continue to be as common as starlings at home.
There is a place, visited by thousands of birdwatchers every year, where three states meet in walking distance from each other - in Eilat at the end of the Gulf of Aqaba. Still very few seem to bother to walk into the desert. That is, however, quite nice also in the birdwatching sense, because by walking over the border to Jordan, there are many nice places at the border zone. There were for example Green Bee-eaters (Merops orientalis), Arabian Babblers (Turdoides squamiceps), Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena), and wintering Ménétries's Warbler (Sylvia mystacea). Jordan is a peaceful and stable country, where you will find a rich avifauna, which is much less known than that of Israel (well documented all the time by all the bird tourists). On the Jordanian side, we encountered within one day for example Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) and Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus). In Aqaba, House Crow (Corvus splendens) and House Swift (Apus affinis) are abundant, but House Crow is nowadays spread as far West as to Suez.