isrtrip13

Israel Trip Report

Trip Report: Israel, November 17-24, 1997

Richard Eden

I visited Israel with Brian Fletcher (London and Sydney). We stayed at Hotel Vista, Eilat all week — a Thomson's Winter Sun package holiday booked through Lunn Poly travel agency. Our car was a Citroen Saxo from Thrifty car rental (in the Shalom Plaza across the road from Eilat airport). It was booked in advance with the holiday package.

I will say that this Autumn is considered to have been one of the worst ever for birds: very few rarities, no White-tailed or Sociable Plovers, no Marbled Teal, fewer raptors, etc. There were only a few other birders around during our stay, mainly British but also three Finns. We rarely bumped into anyone while birding during the day except at the North Beach at sunset. This proved to be a good place to swap information on sightings and locations.

The weather was unseasonably hot during our visit. It was quite cool at first light (5.45am) and a sweatshirt was required. From 7.30 or so, when the sun peeped over the Jordanian mountains into the Arava Valley, it rapidly warmed up to the mid to high 30 degrees Celsius. Between 9.30 and 2.30 p.m. it was a case of walking from Acacia tree to tree to keep from getting sunstroke! Sunscreen, a hat and drinking plenty of water were all essential. The birding activity, especially passerines, was very quiet during this time but did increase in the late afternoon.

Anyone planning a visit should get Gosney's Guide to Finding Birds in Israel. We found it accurate, pretty well up to date and very useful.

Itinerary:

17.11. Arrived at Ovda Airport late afternoon — no birding

18.11. Eilat: North Beach, Sewage Canal, Salt Pans, North Fields, North Reservoirs, Owl Wadi, Pumping Station

19.11. KM33, Shizzafon Sewage Ponds, Yotvata Rubbish Tip & Sewage Ponds, Amram's Pillars, North Reservoirs

20.11. Ein Gedi, Nahal Arugot, Nahal David

21.11. Amram's Pillars, Ein Netafim (and Wadi), Wadi Shlomo & Zefahot, Amram's Pillars, North Beach

22.11. Nizzana, Urim, Ein Avdat Gorge

23.11. Amram's Pillars, Shizzafon Sewage Ponds, KM50, Yotvata Rubbish Tip & Sewage Ponds, North Beach

24.11. Eilat Park, Pumping Station, Cemetery then took the afternoon flight home

Notes on Sites, Birds, etc.

Striated Scops Owl Site

Described accurately in Gosney, but the bird is not always in the same tree. Leave Eilat on the Ovda road and turn up the first Wadi on the right at the end of town (across the road from the three huge yellow and white tower blocks). Turn left up the next Wadi, which has a row of power lines running up it and then check the acacia trees. It was in a tree on the right side of the Wadi; close to pylon number 7EN. It does, however, move around and had been in a tree in the middle of the Wadi the previous day.

Shizzafon Sewage Ponds

James Smith saw a Buff-bellied Pipit and four Syrian Serins at this site on 18th from Kibbutz Lotan. When going north on the Arava Valley road, take the left turn at about KM62, north of Kibbutz Lotan. This road winds up through the mountains and passes a large telecom relay station at the top. Only about 2 km after the road flattens, you see Shizzafon village appear in the distance and the chain-link fences of the sewage ponds much closer, on the right of the road. Crowned Sandgrouse arrived to drink at the far-left Sewage Pond at 8 am. Several crews had looked and failed to see these on other days that week (James Smith looked for three consecutive days without success). Desert Finch also comes in to drink here in the morning, but they don't hang around for very long. The Stream out of the ponds runs off down the valley and has several bushes and cover with Bluethroats, pipits, snipe, etc. The dry, scrubby area behind the ponds had Tawny Pipit, Corn Bunting and a minefield.

Wadi Shlomo and Wadi Zefahot

We visited the southern, low end of Wadi Shlomo. Go south from the centre of Eilat, past the port and the Coral Beach. Turn right following the signs for the Camel Ranch. The Camel Ranch is about 1 km up the Wadi and is now reputed to be the best site for House Bunting in Eilat (none have been seen at the Cemetery since March). Check the large hay bales on the right for Buntings. Wadi Zefahot branches to the left less than 1 km beyond the Camel Ranch and held a Rock Thrush for several days.

Kilometre 33 (KM33)

The fields between the road and the pumping house, north of the track are now being irrigated and planted with small palm trees. There were no Dunn's or Thick-billed Larks reported during our stay. In fact, people were struggling with Hoopoe and Bar-tailed Desert Larks too. We found these, Desert Wheatears and Desert Warblers east and south east of the pumping house.

Ein Gedi

The Hume's Tawny Owl has not been seen visiting the lights and fence of the Amphitheatre for about six years. They are supposed to still be in the area but it needs someone to stay at the campsite for a few nights or get good information from local birders to pin it down.

Nizzana

The "new" sewage pools just south of the main road were almost totally dry and no Sandgrouse were drinking there. The raised bank around the ponds did give us a clear 360-degree view for scanning and listening for flocks in flight. Spotted and Black-bellied Sandgrouse arrived from the north at about 8 am and landed on a rocky area 0.5 - 1 km south of the pools. More Black-bellies were seen just south of the road east from the Fort. We saw 2 female Finsch's Wheatears about 6km south of Nizzana, just beyond the end of the long fence beside the Military camp and airstrip, where the road kinks right. Other crews reported Finsch's Wheatears further south along the road but Houbara's and Coursers proofed elusive.

Urim

A good selection of raptors was seen at Urim during our stay. We missed Pallid Harrier, Barbary Falcon, Merlin, etc. because we only spent about 2.5 hours there in the afternoon. Cream-coloured Courser had been seen there two days earlier. It was in the field under the power lines north of the raised ground. Incidentally, the best raptors we saw (Imperial Eagle, Saker, etc.) were mainly some distance further east than the raised ground, a long way from the main road.

Ein Avdat Gorge

This is a desert tourist attraction a few kilometres south of Sede Boquer and can be visited when returning from Urim or Nizzana. The main birding attraction is Eagle Owl. I am now pretty sure that we were in the wrong place to see it, so I will try to explain where we should have been!

There are two ends to the Gorge. Both have car parks signed to the east of the road from Sede Boquer to Mizpe Ramon. We went to the top (south) end which is about 4 km north of the En Avdat patrol station (open 24 hours including Saturdays — a useful thing to know because it is more or less the only one between Eilat and Nizzana that is!). There was a nice viewpoint into the gorge from the rim but no Eagle Owls. We should have gone to the bottom (north) end of the gorge. The turning is the first one south of the Ben Gurion Desert Resting Place. There is a ticket office where you pay to walk up the gorge. After walking 300 — 500 m up the gorge, look for an obvious large, overhanging rock on the right with a large hole underneath. Next to it are two smaller cavities and the Owl stands in either of these.

Eilat Park

I don't know its correct name but it is the small park around Teddy's Bar between the hotel area and the road parallel to the domestic airport runway. Masked Shrike, Isabelline Shrike and Rufous Bushchat were present during our stay as well as lots of Blackcaps and other warblers. It looks like the sort of place when anything could turn up and I wish we had visited it more frequently.

Sinai Rosefinch

We finally saw a single bright red male Sinai Rosefinch at Amram's Pillars car park at the fourth attempt. This bird took about 6 hours of effort before we saw one! Most other crews saw them here and the consensus was that 10 — 12 a.m. was probably the best time to look. They are also attracted to orange peel in the car park (allegedly). Two birds were seen at Ein Netafim once during our stay. This site is well signed on the right of the Ovda road just after Mount Yoash on the left. They were feeding in the crack in the cliff that the steep path left of the car park descends through. Taking a two-wheel drive saloon car down to this car park from the road should not be attempted. This means you have about a mile walk down the track from the road to the car park before your climb down in to the gorge to the spring. Fine going down but a long, hot, dusty slog back up! Amram's Pillars is the best place.

Systematic list of birds seen:

 

Great Cormorant Up to 20 at North Beach.
Cattle Egret A few south of Urim.
Little Egret 1 or 2 at Eilat Saltpans and Reservoirs.
Western Reef Heron A few light phase and one dark phase present at North Beach in Eilat.
Grey Heron Common at the Sewage ponds, saltpans and Reservoirs, e.g. about 80 at Eilat saltpans on 19th.
White Stork 4 south of Urim.
Greater Flamingo c.30 at Eilat Saltpans and c.80 at the Reservoirs every visit.
Shelduck c.35 at North Reservoirs both visits.
Wigeon c.20 at the Reservoirs every visit.
Common Teal A few around the Reservoirs each visit.
Pintail Quite numerous at the saltpans and Reservoirs.
Shoveler c.20 at the Reservoirs on 18th
Black Kite Several tens around Urim.
Griffon Vulture Up to 30 at En Gedi.
Marsh Harrier Single birds here and there at Sewage Ponds and the Reservoirs.
Hen Harrier A male at Shizzafon Sewage ponds both visits and a few at Urim.
Sparrowhawk Singles here and there but 3 over Yotvata on 23rd.
Buzzard Small numbers at Nizzana and Urim.
Long-legged Buzzard 1 over En Netafim and several at Urim.
Imperial Eagle 1 subadult watched sitting on a pylon and 1 other juv. at Urim.
Bonelli's Eagle 1adultat Wadi Zefahot.
Osprey 1 at North Beach on 21st
Kestrel Quite common.
Saker 1 juvenile on a pylon at Urim and possibly another in flight.
Peregrine 1 on a pylon at Urim.
Barbary Falcon 1 unidentified falcon over Eilat Park on 24th may have been this species.
Chukar 3 by the road side at Nizzana.
Sand Partridge A few in Ein Gedi car park, Amram's Pillars and KM50.
Water Rail Heard along the Sewage Canal.
Little Crake 1 at Yotvata Sewage Ponds (round to the right of the gate) on 23rd.
Moorhen Several tens in the ponds and reeds of Arava.
Coot In the same places where we saw Moorhens (no counts).
Black-winged Stilt c.50 at saltpans in Eilat on 19th.
Greater Sand Plover 1 at North Beach on 18th.
Ringed Plover Common at the Reservoirs and saltpans.
Spur-winged Plover 2 at Shizzafon both visits and a flock of several dozen at Urim.
Lapwing Large flocks at Urim.
Grey Plover 1 at Eilat saltpans on 19th.
Golden Plover 1 at Urim with the Lapwing flock.
Little Stint Hundreds at pools in Eilat and Arava valley each visit.
Dunlin Increasing numbers at pools in Eilat and Arava valley each visit.
Curlew Sandpiper Few among the Dunlin and Stints in Eilat but beware long-billed Dunlins.
Ruff 2 at Eilat saltpans on 19th.
Common Snipe 1 flushed from the smelly stream out of Shizzafon Sewage Ponds on 23rd.
Redshank Singles or small groups at almost every pool visited.
Greenshank Small numbers at the reservoirs and saltpans.
Green Sandpiper 1 at Shizzafon Sewage Ponds on 23rd.
Wood Sandpiper 1 the North Reservoirs on 23rd.
Marsh Sandpiper 2 at Eilat saltpans on 19th.
Black-tailed Godwit 3 at North Reservoirs on 23rd had been at the Saltpans earlier in the afternoon.
White-eyed Gull Several tens always at North Beach in Eilat.
Black-headed Gull Small numbers at the North Beach in Eilat.
Slender-billed Gull A few around the North Beach and 1 at Eilat Saltpans on 19th.
Yellow-legged Gull A few individuals of several ages at North Beach.
Siberian Gull 1 subadult gull with pinkish legs at North Beach on 21st was considered to be this species.
Caspian Tern 2 or 3 patrolling North Beach on 21st and 23rd.
Gull-billed Tern, 1 at North Beach on 21st.
Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse About 15 at dusk (quarter past 5) at pumping station in Eilat on 18th.
Crowned Sandgrouse A flock of 5 (3 males, 2 females) arrived at Shizzafon Sewage Pond at 8 am and stayed for 20 minutes on 23rd.
Spotted Sandgrouse About 50 at Nizzana.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Several small flocks (up to 20 birds) at Nizzana.
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Numerous everywhere
Collared Dove Common
Laughing Dove As previous
Namaqua Dove 1 male and 3 females in the Acacia tree by the Reservoirs on 19th. If you are driving down from the Arava valley road across from the Amram's Pillars turning, the tree is the last big round one on the left after you pass the greenhouses and just before you go up the Reservoir bank. They roost in the back of the tree and feed in the field. Up to about 10 were in the area.
Striated Scops Owl 1 at 18th at traditional place in Eilat.
Little Owl 1 at Nizzana. They can apparently always be found in a hole under the bridge over the Wadi east of the Fort.
White-breasted Kingfisher 1 at Yotvata Sewage Ponds on 23rd and 1 in Eilat Park on 24th.
Kingfisher 1 at North Beach on 18th.
Pied Kingfisher 2 at North Beach on 18th.
Little Green Bee-eater Small groups seen everywhere.
Hoopoe Singles at Nizzana, Urim and at Yotvata Rubbish Tip on 23rd.
Bar-tailed Desert Lark 1 seen briefly at KM33.
Desert Lark Small numbers at most desert areas. Peak count about 25 at KM33.
Hoopoe Lark 2 at KM33 beyond (i.e. east of) the pumping house.
Lesser Short-toed Lark 4 at Nizzana.
Crested Lark Widespread in small numbers.
Skylark Hundreds in the fields at Urim.
Pale Crag Martin Several tens each day.
Sand Martin 1 over the sewage canal north of North Fields on 18th.
Swallow 4 — 5 at Ein Gedi.
Tawny Pipit 2 at Shizzafon Sewage Ponds on 19th.
Tree Pipit 1 at the Saltpans on 19th and 1 south of Urim.
Meadow Pipit A few most days.
Red-throated Pipit Ones and twos at wet sites around Eilat, e.g. the Sewage Canal.
Water Pipit 1 at Shizzafon sewage pond on 23rd probably represents an underestimate.
Grey Wagtail 2 at Ein Gedi and 1 at Eilat Park.
White Wagtail Common near water.
Yellow-vented Bulbul Common near trees.
Rufous Bushchat 1 at Eilat Park.
Robin Quite common at Ein Gedi. Singles around Yotvata and Eilat Park.
Bluethroat Surprisingly common, found at almost all places having reeds.
Black Redstart Seen most days in almost any habitat.
Blackstart Quite common in desert areas.
Stonechat Common.
Wheatear 1 on the road to Amram's Pillars on 21st.
Isabelline Wheatear 3 or 4 at Nizzana.
Desert Wheatear 2 at KM33 and 5 or 6 at Nizzana.
Finsch's Wheatear 2 females at Nizzana.
Mourning Wheatear A few seen most days.
Hooded Wheatear 1 at Eilat Pumping Station on 18th, 1 at Shizzafon Sewage Ponds on 19th and 1 at Ein Gedi.
White-crowned Black Wheatear The commonest Wheatear, seen daily.
Rock Thrush A female in Wadi Zefahot.
Blackbird 1 male at Ein Gedi Nahal David.
Song Thrush 1 at Eilat Pumping Station on 18th was drinking in the Sandgrouse water trough.
Graceful Warbler A few at Eilat Sewage Canal on 18th, Yotvata Sewage Ponds and Nizzana Sewage Ponds.
Scrub Warbler 1 at Ein Gedi in Nahal Arugot.
 
Marsh Warbler 1 in Eilat Park.
Olivaceous Warbler 1 at Ein Gedi in Nahal Arugot picnic area.
 
Spectacled Warbler Several around Nizzana.
Sardinian Warbler The commonest Sylvia.
Cyprus Warbler 1 (1st winter male or female) in Wadi Netafim about 0.5km down from the spring at Ein Netafim.
 
Arabian Warbler 1 at KM50 and 1 at Yotvata Rubbish Tip on 23rd.
Lesser Whitethroat 1 in Eilat Park.
Common Whitethroat 1 in Eilat Park.
Blackcap Lots in Eilat Park.
Desert Warbler 2 — 3 at Km33.
Chiffchaff Quite common. Usually one in every other acacia.
Arabian Babbler Common in En Gedi. Also seen at Ein Avdat and Yotvata.
Palestine Sunbird Common.
Southern Grey Shrike 1 or 2 most days.
Masked Shrike A 1st winter in Eilat Park.
Red-backed Shrike 1 juvenile in Eilat Park
House Crow Many around Eilat especially the North Beach.
Hooded Crow Quite common around Urim and a few at Nizzana.
Fan-tailed Raven About 50 at Ein Gedi.
Brown-necked Raven Occasional pairs in dry areas, deserts and mountains, e.g. Amram's Pillars.
Northern Raven 2 at Ein Gedi.
Tristram's Grackle A few around Eilat, common at Ein Gedi.
Starling Large flocks at Urim.
 
House Sparrow At many places with people and animals.
Spanish Sparrow Larger flocks than House Sparrow in wet areas with reeds.
Dead Sea Sparrow Several small flocks in wet areas with reeds, e.g. the Sewage Canal near the Reservoirs.
Greenfinch About 12 at En Avdat.
Goldfinch A few flocks at Urim in the fields.
Linnet Small numbers at Nizzana and Urim.
Desert Finch 3 at Shizzafon Sewage Ponds on 19th.
Sinai Rosefinch 1 red male at Amram's Pillars on 23rd — our fourth attempt!
Corn Bunting c.10 at KM33, small numbers at Nizzana and Urim.

© copyright Richard Eden 1997
31 Claystones, West Hunsbury, Northampton, NN4 9UY, UK.

If anyone requires any more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Richard Eden

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