Israel 27th March to 9th April 2000
A report by Keith Shepherd
Monday 27th March
Kibbutz Nahsholim , Ma’agan Michael
We had arrived at our accommodation at 02:00 after arriving in Tel Aviv late the previous day, so waking up in daylight at around 06:00 and hearing the familiar sounds of sparrows, crows and doves gave away little of what lay outside our front door!
The first bird was familiar enough, many House Sparrows could be seen, but the more African influence emerged immediately when the delightful Laughing Dove was also very visible, and what turned out to be a common sight throughout our stay in Israel. The view was onto the beach and some small rocky islands just offshore, and the next species were a stunning Spur-winged Plover and equally exotic Pied Kingfisher.
Several more species appeared in quick succession, in and around the beach; Hooded Crow, Hoopoe, a delightfully approachable individual, Grey Plover, Barn Swallow, Ringed Plover, Yellow-legged Gull and Turnstone, and then a stunning species, the Yellow-vented Bulbul, a species that became so commonplace that it was easily overlooked after the first day of our trip.
A stroll of no more than a hundred yards added yet more species, Feral Pigeon, Little Egret, a Bluethroat that flew across the beach and landed no more than six feet away on the fence; where is the camera when you need it most!; and White Wagtail. The tally continued to rise as we decided to head towards the restaurant for our first taste of Israel with Syrian Woodpecker, a flock of Slender-billed Gulls and a lone Lesser Black-back.
After breakfast, the group went their own way for an hour or so to familiarise themselves with the surroundings, and during this brief period several more species were added in the vicinity of the kibbutz, notably White-breasted Kingfisher, Graceful Warbler, Chaffinch, Glossy Ibis, Blackcap, Lesser Kestrel, the first of many varieties of Yellow Wagtail and last, but by no means least, a superb male Palestine Sunbird.
We then headed out to Ma’agam Michael, an area of fish ponds adjacent to the beach several kilometres away. En-route to which a brief stop for refreshments saw us watching several Lesser Kestrels and a pair of very vocal and active White-breasted Kingfishers, whilst close to the fish ponds we added Northern Wheatear and the first of many Collared Doves.
On arriving at the fish ponds new birds appeared immediately, many being familiar species from home; Coot, Mallard, Common Sandpiper, Marsh Harrier, Redshank, Grey Heron, Teal and Moorhen as well as a European Mongoose. There followed yet more species, some of which were not quite so familiar; Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Kite, Ortolan Bunting and summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe as well as Lesser Whitethroat, Cormorant and Greenshank.
By this time we had progressed no more than 200 yards and all the while Pied Kingfishers were hovering around us. We then made our way towards a group of smaller pools, and also viewed the beach and nearby sea and added Squacco Heron, a splendid male Citrine Wagtail, Dunlin, Little Grebe, Crested Lark, Little Tern and Kentish Plover.
We then had three stunning species in just a few minutes, the first a distant raptor that took several minutes to fully identify, but eventually it was found to be a Spotted Eagle, which was soon followed by the first of a number of Armenian Gulls, and finally a superb male Ruppell’s Warbler, a species seen by one or two of the party earlier this morning. Added to this were Sand Martin, Great Black-back Gull, a fairly scarce species in Israel during spring, Water Pipit, Ruff, Meadow Pipit, Reed Warbler and Snipe, and our list was starting to grow rapidly.
It was time for a break so we headed back to the cars, but still added Black-winged Stilt, Spotted Redshank, and Marsh Sandpiper before we reached them!
Our lunch stop was an interesting affair, but everyone enjoyed the combination of kebabs, falafel's, humus, etc.; most with chips!
We still had time to visit another part of the fish ponds so set off down a very dubious looking track, which we parked up on some 200 yards or so from the main road, deciding to walk around the rest of the area.
A Blackbird became our first new species along this track, and also Black-headed Gull and Goldfinch were also seen here.
We found an interesting set of pools on the other side of the railway tracks, and had the amazing sight of dozens of Black Storks mixed in with a flock of Little Egret, Grey Heron, Great White Egret and Spoonbill.
A small bird caught our eye whilst we were watching this gathering and it showed very well so could easily be identified as a Cretzschmar’s Bunting, a little gem, whilst nearby we saw Shelduck and our final species of the day was a lone Cattle Egret.
So ended our first day in Israel with over 70 species identified, and a very satisfied group returned to the Kibbutz to enjoy our first evening meal in the country.
Overnight: Kibbutz Nahsholim
Tuesday 28th March
Kibbutz Nahsholim , Nahsholim Tiberius , Mount Arbel , Wadi Ammud , Kibbutz Gadot
Our second day started much as the first, but this time with the majority of the group together in a pre-breakfast walk around the kibbutz and the nearby locality.
Now familiar species like Laughing Dove, Syrian Woodpecker and Yellow-vented Bulbul were soon seen, along with one or two new species, Swift being soon followed by Black-eared Wheatear, House Martin, Chiffchaff, Starling and Jay.
Stunning views of White-breasted Kingfisher, a species you just cannot see enough of brought us to the edge of the local fish ponds and the edge of the kibbutz where several Spanish Sparrows were showing, albeit with some difficulty, and then a very dull tit was located flying back and forth across a scrubby area which, on closer examination, turned out to be a Sombre Tit, a species more usually found at somewhat higher altitudes! Ironically, this was soon followed by the more familiar Great Tit, clearly showing the differences between the two species.
We then had something of a ‘purple’ patch with some excellent sightings which started when a Quail was flushed just after we had seen a Whitethroat. Then, in very quick succession a ‘strange looking’ female Blackbird was correctly identified as a female Blue Rock Thrush, Stone Curlew, Wryneck, Serin and Greenfinch were all added to our list.
Our destination today was the Kibbutz Gadot on the edge of the Hula Valley, but we hoped to stop at several sights en-route which could provide excellent sightings, but first we had to get to them!
It started all right, but a wrong turn found us on the outskirts of Nazareth, and another found us well inside the town, full of traffic, most of which seemed to be heading in the same direction as us, the wrong one! However, a fortuitous left turn found us back at the right junction and we continued on our way, until we did the same thing when we reached Tiberius!
I think we went through Tiberius five times in all; three from north to south and twice from south to north, but in any case, we ended up back on the road towards our departure point, and we decided to pull off and have a break on the lower slopes of Mount Arbel.
As soon as we stopped birds started to appear, Olivaceous Warbler and Turtle Dove were soon forgotten as dozens of eagles started to appear over the nearby hills. After much debate, deliberation and reference to guide books, we concluded that they were all the same species, Steppe Eagle! and we had seen somewhere in the region of 150 of them, along with one more distinctive Short-toed Eagle.
Mixed in with the eagles were Black Storks and nearby were several Red-rumped Swallows. We decided that our detour had been worthwhile, especially as Steppe Eagle was rarely seen again.
We headed back through Tiberius, this time managing, just, to find the right road out of the town, and we started looking for as lunch stop alongside the Sea of Galilee where, as we were passing, a couple of the group managed to get fleeting glimpses of Pygmy Cormorants on the rocks below.
Our lunch stop was fairly uneventful, and as we had already been delayed, we decided to leave the main area of Mount Arbel and head on to Wadi Ammud.
On arrival, we didn’t have to move more than a few yards from the car, and all our birding was done from the roadside. Alpine Swifts were flying around nearby, Cetti’s Warbler, so far only heard, was glimpsed, and we finally saw our first White Stork of the trip, after seeing probably hundreds of Black, but it was definitely not our last!
A number of Rock Hyrax could be seen basking on the rocks in the sunshine, and beyond them Little Swifts could be seen, whilst nearby Corn Bunting were singing and a pair of Linnets flew in, which was to be our only sighting of this species during the trip.
Suddenly, the Hyrax all vanished and on looking skyward we found the reason, as a Long-legged Buzzard and a Short-toed Eagle were surveying the area, along with both Kestrel and Sparrowhawk.
Just as we were about to leave the Wadi, a flock of high flying White Pelicans were seen spiralling on the thermals.
It was still a way to our overnight accommodation, so we decided to head there before dark.
Yet again, a missed turning had us 30 or so miles out of our way, and rapidly approaching Kiryat Shemona, very close to the Lebanese border and a town I had been desperate to avoid due to recent incidents. We managed to turn off inland, away from the border, just before the town and took minor roads to the kibbutz by closely following the map.
As we arrived at the kibbutz, and it was still light, several coaches of schoolchildren also descended on the place, but we got distracted from them by the flight of Common Cranes overhead, and our accommodation had been allocated to us well away from the children.
Our final bird of the day was in the area right outside our accommodation and was a Song Thrush!
After two days our total had increased to over 100 species, and whilst calling the log during the evening, after a very pleasant meal at a South African Steak House, we saw the largest moth I had ever seen, which landed on the path by our rooms and was photographed by many of us.
Overnight: Kibbutz Gadot
Wednesday 29th March
Kibbutz Gadot , Hula Reserve , Hula Fish Ponds , Mount Hermon area
The day started off with a Great Spotted Cuckoo right outside the rooms, but unfortunately only a few of the group saw it, most were still getting dressed! Our pre-breakfast walk around some of the perimeter of the Kibbutz provided no further new species, although we did get excellent views of some species, including Palestine Sunbird and Red-rumped Swallow.
After breakfast we headed to the Hula Reserve, and after paying the 18NIS per head entrance we parked in the very quiet wooded car park and walked towards the reedbed and pools.
The first species seen was a Garden Warbler followed by a number of species we had already seen including Cetti’s Warbler, White-breasted Kingfisher and Marsh Harrier. Although a ringtail Hen Harrier was a new bird for the trip.
We then heard from another group of birdwatchers that a Basra Reed Warbler was present at the reserve, but we did not locate this bird, although we did get excellent views of the more expected Clamorous Reed Warbler at several locations in the reserve.
There is one particularly large hide overlooking one of the pools which had a close pair of White Pelicans resting on a small island, as well as exceptionally large catfish and terrapins swimming underneath it. In addition, several species of duck were seen, Gadwall, Shoveler and Tufted Duck, as well as a flock of Common Cranes.
Before we left the reserve, we saw yet more Clamorous Reed Warbler’s, a Short-toed Eagle and three Jackdaws, but this latter species was only seen by a couple of the group; the rest had to wait until the very last day to get this species!
Our next stop was at the Hula fish ponds just a few kilometres down the road.
The weather had become rather warm now, so we started easy, although a fleeting glimpse of an Osprey as it disappeared over the main reservoir quickened our pace somewhat. This was soon followed by a Booted Eagle, and then the Osprey was relocated on one of the telegraph poles so everyone had the opportunity to see it.
We arrived at the fish ponds after about twenty minutes walk, first seeing several obliging Water Pipits, and then, on hearing about a Great Snipe in one of the pools, scanned them all very closely. we didn’t get the Great Snipe, anywhere on the trip, but we did see a Little Crake, and then about a dozen Marbled Duck.
Before we returned to the cars we added a very obliging Long-legged Buzzard to our list for the day.
Stopping off on the outskirts of Kiryat Shemona for lunch, we then headed up to Mount Hermon, only to be turned back by the army patrols as it had closed for the day. This effectively ruled out several species for us, but en-route to the mountain we had added Chukar, and then a final stop in the descending gloom saw our first shrike of the trip in the form of a Woodchat.
It had been a somewhat disappointing day, particularly as we had all been looking forward to the mountain area, but tomorrow would be another day, with more excitement to come!
Overnight: Kibbutz Gadot
Thursday 30th March
Kibbutz Gadot , Gamla , Kfar Ruppin
Another morning, and another pre-breakfast walk around the kibbutz. A tantalising glimpse of a small passerine did not give itself up, so we were left wondering just what it could have been!
Then, as we were heading to breakfast, a much more active species was encountered, with a Wood Warbler feeding in the trees just outside the restaurant.
After breakfast, we packed the cars for our trip down to Kfar Ruppin, which would be our base for the next two nights, and headed towards the reserve at Gamla.
A stop en-route to find a post office provided good views of Great Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike and Chukar.
On the entrance road to the reserve, we were held up firstly by many singing Corn Buntings, plus more excitingly, Cretzschmar’s Bunting, Short-toed Eagle and the first of many Griffon Vultures.
The reserve was overrun with coach parties, mainly of children, but despite this we started adding more species before we had even left the car park, starting with Egyptian Vulture. Over the next hour we walked along the reserve paths and added Redstart, Orphean Warbler, Tree Pipit, a stunning male Blue Rock Thrush and nesting Bonelli’s Eagle, as well as both Little and Alpine Swift and more Griffon and Egyptian Vultures.
Finally, whilst enjoying ice creams in the car park, we added Willow Warbler to our trip total.
We then continued onto Kfar Ruppin with no further stops until we arrived.
After sorting out some accommodation problems; they had us booked in for one night rather than two; we settled into our accommodation, three of us in the hostel before having a final stroll round the area before it got dark.
As well as local Jays, we also saw Ring-necked Parrakeet, and many Black-crowned Night Herons were coming in to roost, along with Great White, Little and Cattle Egrets and on the lake below the kibbutz were a mixed flock of Cormorants, including several Pygmy.
Just before we headed for our evening meal, we stopped by the water tower and saw the two resident Barn Owls head out for their nightly feeding trip.
So today had more than made up for yesterdays frustration, and we settled in to a very nice meal at a restaurant right on the Jordanian border with high hopes for tomorrow.
On returning to the kibbutz we could hear a Scops Owl, and we located the tree it was in, but could not see the bird.
Overnight Kfar Ruppin
Friday 31st March
Kfar Ruppin , Mount Gilboa , Tirat Zevi
On the edge of the kibbutz is a well known area of fish ponds, and we decided to spend our pre-breakfast jaunt here.
The ponds were full of birds, with such delights as Armenian Gull, Pygmy Cormorant, Spoonbill, both White and Black Stork and Black-crowned Night Heron being evident, some in quite large numbers. Alongside these species were a number of other waders and smaller species.
A short walk around one of the more interesting pools, which had scrub and reedbed present provided several more species, for the more fortunate in the group a brief glimpse of a male Penduline Tit was an excellent find, whilst an elusive Sardinian Warbler was finally added by most of the group, after an earlier one had been seen on the first morning.
After returning for breakfast our plans for the day changed as it was evident that the whole of this area local to the kibbutz was worth exploring, so we decided to spend the morning locally.
The ringing station was our first stop, and en-route we added Hoopoe and two Ospreys sitting in a field nearby. A fast moving dark falcon was seen very briefly but could not be relocated, so the possible local Red-footed Falcon could not be confirmed.
A stroll around the ringing station provided Orphean Warbler and several Ortolan Buntings drinking in a pool, but an odd bird took flight and was relocated on the nearby telegraph wires, along with another bird, and they turned out to be Desert Finches, a species we thought we may have missed.
Several raptors then appeared in the air in quick succession, namely, Red Kite, Long-legged Buzzard and Short-toed Eagle.
We headed back towards the kibbutz for a break, but stopped for a look around another fish pond and here we saw several Dead Sea Sparrows, plus Clamorous Reed Warbler, Little Ringed Plover, and for one of the group a small party of Garganey.
On arriving back at the kibbutz, a local birder was scanning the skies, and we saw ourselves watching an impressive migration of Lesser Spotted Eagles, hundreds going over in the space of a few minutes. Unfortunately we had missed a male Pallid Harrier by a couple of minutes, but fortunately we saw the first of the summers Bee-eaters arrive just a few minutes later.
Next destination was Mount Gilboa, which we eventually found, via a mandatory petrol stop, but our main objective here couldn’t be located, namely the quarry which was a fairly reliable site for Long-billed Pipit.
Nevertheless, we made the most of the area, and watched very close Marsh, Wood and Green Sandpipers in a small dyke close to the hillside, but our walk up the hill only produced Chukar.
Our final stop for the day was the fish ponds at Tirat Zevi, which had been visited by some other birdwatchers the previous day with somewhat exciting results.
We saw a number of Little Crakes here, but more importantly also added a very secretive Moustached Warbler and even more secretive Baillon’s Crake. In fact, in one dyke we could see Moustached Warbler, Baillon’s Crake and Water Pipit within a few metres of each other!
It had been a very warm day, so our evening meal back at the kibbutz was being relished, and so it was, but not before revisiting the Barn Owl site.
On returning from dinner, we again heard, and this time even glimpsed a Scops Owl as it flew from its perch.
Further hunting around the kibbutz with a very strong torch provided one more glimpse!
Overnight: Kfar Ruppin
Saturday 1st April
Kfar Ruppin , Mount Gilboa , Ein Gedi
Today we would be heading for the Dead Sea, but there was some birdwatching to be done before then, and we decided to return to the ringing station, this time before breakfast and whilst it was still cool.
We did not stop until we got there, but several now expected species were seen en-route including White-breasted Kingfisher, Red-rumped Swallow, Spur-winged Plover, Ortolan Bunting, Woodchat Shrike and Pygmy Cormorant.
But our main quarry this morning was a species we heard on occasions since our arrival at Kfar Ruppin, but had so far not seen it. So, as this species was a major target for some of the group, when we finally saw a male and two female Black Francolins they were naturally delighted.
We had been given a better route up Mount Gilboa, so as it was on our way, we decided to try it, and had good views first of Cretzschmar’s Bunting, but next of an excellent displaying Long-billed Pipit.
Somewhere between Mount Gilboa and Ein Gedi we also added Isabelline Wheatear, but the somewhere was in the desert nowhere near anywhere, so I cannot be more specific about it!
Arriving at the resort of Ein Gedi just after midday; the heat was intense; we first stopped at the Youth Hostel which was where we thought we were staying, but they were closed until 3pm, so we parked and saw in the car park, or over the Dead Sea just across the road several species which were specialities of the area from here south; Tristram’s Grackle, Black-eared Wheatear, Blackstart, Fan-tailed and Common Raven.
Then we realised this was not our accommodation, so we headed up the road to the field school and settled in.
The area around the field school was a haven for species, Spanish Sparrow and Ortolan Bunting were in flocks on the grass, Masked Shrike, Rock Martin and also Little Green Bee-eaters were either in the gardens or flying around the amphitheatre, and in addition we had several ibex feeding in the grounds and a very large tree snake was also seen, and photographed!
One of the local reserves was then visited, and several excellent species were added on the road to and from the reserve. First a pair of Sand Partridge, then our first White-crowned Black Wheatear of the trip, one of my target species, then a Bonelli’s Warbler as well as several Rock Hyrax, and finally a pair of Arabian Babblers.
We had our evening meal at the local kibbutz, which we had booked into en-route to the reserve, and we all settled down for the night after another excellent day with our total now rapidly approaching 160 species. With less than a week gone, my original estimate of 170 species was clearly going to fall some way short of the final list.
Overnight: Ein Gedi Field School
Sunday 2nd April
Ein Gedi - Eilat , KM 33
We awoke and decided to stay in the vicinity of the Field School until breakfast, and we spent most of the time in the amphitheatre area seeing common species here including Tristram’s Grackle, Blackstart, Ortolan Bunting and Rock Martin, but also seeing a small pale grey bird which none of us could identify. Slides taken at the time have not been conclusive, but the bird was most likely to have been a Desert Warbler, hopping around on the lawn!
A single Pallid Swift was seen by only one of the group, me! But all the group who were present saw the superb male Semi-collared Flycatcher soon afterwards.
After an early breakfast we headed back to the reserve we visited yesterday evening and in the car park saw both Common and Fan-tailed Raven, our first Steppe Buzzard of the trip, and also a Barbary Falcon, whilst on the way back had a very close Egyptian Vulture.
Before leaving the Ein Gedi area, several of the group took the plunge into the Dead Sea, but then it was off towards Eilat!
The drive saw the habitat change further, becoming more and more dramatic and desert like the further south we went and the birds seen en-route were few and far between, although brief stops provided Isabelline Wheatear and Brown-necked Raven, another southern Israel speciality.
As we had made good time we decided to stop off at KM33, the world famous desert site hoping to add some desert species. It was not that easy, of course, but a small pool just a few yards from the main road did provide three new species in fairly quick succession, Trumpeter Finch, Desert Lark and last, but by no means least, was a male Cinereous Bunting.
Unfortunately, on arriving in Eilat, we had serious problems in locating our accommodation, the address and telephone number we held being completely wrong, and only because of some extremely helpful staff at the Eilat Field School were we able to locate our accommodation after two hours of phone calls, faxes and discussions.
Nevertheless, we arrived at the Youth Hostel and Guest House at around 6pm somewhat tired.
Overnight: Eilat Youth Hostel
Monday 3rd April
Eilat Cemetery , Beach , Salt Pans , KM 20
Our second week started in the heat of the Red Sea coast resort of Eilat, where we would be based for the next four days, and there are many sites in and around Eilat which must be visited.
We had decided to visit the cemetery before breakfast, but the view from the hostel which overlooked the bay warranted a brief scan, and we were soon adding new birds to our list, Crag Martin was flying around the hostel and across the road several Fish Crows were carrying nesting material. Then on the lawns of the hotel opposite were several migrant Red-throated Pipits.
On reaching the cemetery, eventually, we saw Hoopoe and a sudden explosion into the bushes showed a large hawk, which was in fact a female Sparrowhawk, and also here we saw Black-eared Wheatear and Redstart before a small bunting flew over and landed slightly hidden from us. It did not stay long, but from the brief views we had it was identified as a House Bunting, a bird we hoped might be found here.
After breakfast we headed to the beach where we rapidly started to add more species to our ever growing list.
Our first addition, were several Caspian Terns which were easy to see here, as were the Slender-billed Gulls, but further out resting on a mesh pontoon of some sort were several White-eyed Gulls, a real treat. In addition we also added both Common and White-winged Black Tern and Scrub Warbler here.
The heat, even at just after 9.00am, was starting to become intense, and the birding became much harder work, although we got excellent views of Squacco Heron, Masked Shrike Steppe Buzzard and Citrine Wagtail before most of the group headed for cover.
The few who continued saw the only Purple Heron of the entire trip before they too returned to shade to find the rest of the group surrounded by various sub-species of Yellow Wagtail, plus many Red-throated Pipits and also a Tawny Pipit. In addition, we also saw Quail and very obliging Bluethroat here before we headed back into Eilat for lunch.
On one of the lawns in the middle of Eilat we watched more Red-throated Pipits and a very obliging Wryneck before heading off to KM20 and the site of the new reservoirs.
There was no sign of the White-throated Robin, but as soon as we arrived at the reservoirs we saw a large flock of Greater Flamingos. We drove round the side of the reservoirs and had excellent views of waders like Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Marsh Sandpiper and Broad-billed Sandpiper. A large group of waders and wildfowl on one of the reservoirs was scanned and several Greater Sand Plover, Pintail, Kentish Plover and Little Stint were seen before a female Pallid Harrier drifted quickly over.
On returning to the White-throated Robin bush we did add Short-toed Lark in the increasing gloom which had descended rapidly.
Our total was now in excess of 180 species, and 200 was becoming a real possibility.
Overnight: Eilat Youth Hostel
Tuesday 4th April
KM33 , KM20 , Ringing Station , Pumping Station
We started out early today, leaving around 5.00am, the aim to get to KM33 just after dawn.
By the time we got there, dawn had already arrived, and whilst strolling to the site for Hoopoe Lark, the contingent already there were watching them. We unfortunately were five minutes too late, but were compensated by seeing Bar-tailed Desert Lark instead.
We decided to try again for the White-throated Robin at KM20, but located only Masked Shrike, Bee-eater, several flocks of Dead Sea and Spanish Sparrows, Short-toed Lark, Bonelli’s Warbler and our only Hobby of the trip.
As it was still early, we stopped off at the ringing station en-route back to the hotel and were rewarded with a juvenile Great Black-headed Gull flying over with a group of Lesser Black-backs.
After a well deserved breakfast we headed back out to the ringing station where we saw both Sedge Warbler and Corncrake in the mist nets, the latter looking very unhappy!
Many Marsh Sandpipers were on the pools and Red-throated Pipits were everywhere. A stroll along the area close to the ringing station to look for Namaqua Dove provided a close Rufous Bush Robin, as well as Tawny Pipit plus Tristram’s Grackle and Quail, a bird we were now seeing daily!
Strolling around the greenhouses we encountered dozens of migrating Steppe Buzzard, with the occasional Long-legged Buzzard and also a lone Imperial Eagle. In addition we saw more Little Green Bee-eater, Bluethroat and Booted Eagle.
It was now getting very hot around midday so we headed back to the hostel for a lunch break.
After our extended lunch break we headed out to the pumping station and saw several species here which had not been as common as we had hoped for, including White-crowned Black Wheatear, Trumpeter Finch and Desert Lark, but we also located an elusive warbler which eventually showed to be a Desert Warbler.
We waited until just before dusk back at the pumping station, seeing a pink striped snake, before four Liechtenstein’s Sandgrouse descended for a quick drink, and then they were off again, having provided excellent views during their brief stay.
Overnight: Eilat Youth Hostel
Wednesday 5th April
KM33 , KM40 , KM50 , Eilat Beach , Mount Yo’ash , Amram Pillars , Ringing Station
Today we started out even earlier, leaving our accommodation at 4.30am and heading straight to KM33 in time for dawn, and our first species of the day was Hoopoe Lark! A pair were calling and displaying within a few minutes of our arrival. Spectacular!
We had heard that KM40 was also worth a visit, so we headed there and just after arriving added Namaqua Dove to our list; also good views of Masked Shrike and Brown-necked Raven were also had at this site.
Then onto KM50 for Arabian Warbler, the only known site this year, but we could not locate them and there was very little else here so wee headed back to Eilat and spent a short time at the beach where several new species were located, Western Reef Heron, Sandwich Tern, Black Tern and Little Gull.
Breakfast was, by now, long overdue, so we went back to the youth hostel for a well earned break.
After a relatively short break we headed up Mount Yo’ash to the well watched migration hot spot, and had good, but distant views of migrating Steppe and Long-legged Buzzard and Black Stork, as well as close views of Desert Lark.
A long break back was then followed by a rough trip to Amram’s Pillars, but the possible Sinai Rosefinch stayed just that, possible! A single small finch flying over which might have been one! Our best species here was Sand Partridge.
We ended the day at KM20 reservoir with similar species to earlier visits, although we did see a Bluethroat here.
Unfortunately the day ended with me spending the night in hospital after collapsing in a Chinese restaurant.
Overnight: Eilat Youth Hostel
Thursday 6th April
Apart from a Semi-collared Flycatcher seen by myself and one more of the group from my hospital room window, no real birding was done until late afternoon, partly due to the oppressive heat, and partly due to the lack of sleep back at the hostel which had been descended upon by a party of noisy youths!
We spent the last couple of hours of daylight at KM20 seeing Stone Curlew, Spectacled Warbler and Black-eared Wheatear on the approach road to the reservoirs.
We saw a number of new species actually on the reservoirs, Avocet, which had been seen earlier by one of the group; Curlew, Gull-billed Tern, another species which had been seen earlier by one of the group, and last, but by no means least, were two Red-necked Phalarope, a real surprise!
The total had now exceeded 200 and we were departing tomorrow for the Negev desert.
Overnight: Eilat Youth Hostel
Friday 7th April
Ringing Station , Eilat Beach , Eilat - Sede Boqer - Mashabei Sade , Ben Gurion’s Grave
Before we could leave Eilat, we had to take a last look at the ringing station, so we headed there as our pre-breakfast venue today, although nothing like as early as our previous two mornings outings!
Birds were similar as previous visits, and although the numbers of Yellow Wagtail and Red-throated Pipit were less, the waders were more approachable, with good numbers of Marsh Sandpiper particularly evident. Just before leaving we located a small flock of Garganey, a species new for most of the group on the trip, and said a final farewell to the juvenile Great Black-headed Gull, which had put in an appearance, as well as getting our best view of Western Reef Heron, and yet more sightings of Quail.
As time was on our side, a brief visit to the beach was required where fishing up towards the Jordanian border was a lone Kingfisher, a species most of the group had already seen!
Out at sea four distant specks came closer and were finally identified as Long-tailed Skua’s, a real surprise!
After breakfast we left the desert resort of Eilat to head for, the Negev Desert area around Mashabei Sade, planning on several scheduled stops en-route.
Our first stops were not, however, scheduled, as we were looking for Wheatears, and several stops were made, the first being when White-crowned Black Wheatear was seen. However, the second stop for what was thought to be another, was quickly revisited when it was found that two black morph forms of Mourning Wheatear had been found. Our final wheatear was a Black-eared Wheatear at our lunch stop at Sede Boker.
We spent nearly an hour looking for Ben Gurions Grave, a delightful oasis in a hostile desert area, and we had excellent views here of Sand Partridge, Blackstart and Hoopoe, plus brief views of Desert Finch and Sardinian Warbler.
Our final bird of the day was a Syrian Woodpecker just outside our accommodation, following our first Blackbird for days and a couple of Hobbies overhead.
We only had one full day left in Israel, but with nearly 210 species, it was already going to be a good final total.
Overnight: Kibbutz Mashabei Sade
Saturday 8th April
Kibbutz Mashabei Sade , Ashalim , Nizzana , Revivim , Urim
A leisurely start this morning strolling around the kibbutz revealed very little although we had excellent views of a Wryneck, and Graceful Warbler was now the resident species again.
After breakfast we headed a short drive up the road to Ashalim, and headed off road to a low scrub area which is known as a good spot for sandgrouse, and shortly we saw several small parties of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, either in flight or feeding some distance away.
As the heat increased, so did the haze, but watching more closely we managed to locate a good number of Black-bellied Sandgrouse amongst the feeding parties, the latter species appearing the more common.
A medium sized falcon was most likely a Barbary Falcon, and we also had close views of Desert Lark here.
We headed towards the Egyptian border to a large concentration of deserted military camps, a rather eerie sight, and it was near to hear where we had flight and distant views of two Cream-coloured Courser, a main target species for many of the group. As we returned towards the cars, a call stopped several of the group, and a Hoopoe Lark descended within a few feet of us.
The rest of the day was far less adventurous, and the only birds of interest at Revivim were the resident Brown-necked Ravens.
Our final destination, Urim, is obviously better in winter, although looks to be more cultivated than in the literature. Here we had a good number of Stone Curlew, our largest flock of several hundred White Storks and a small party of Common Crane, as well as the almost apologetic Quail.
We returned to the kibbutz away from the setting sun to spend our last night in Israel.
Several of the group saw a Long-eared Owl after our evening meal back at the kibbutz, species number 213!
Overnight: Kibbutz Mashabei Sade
Sunday 9th April
Ashalim , Mashabei Sade - Tel Aviv
And so it had arrived, our last day in Israel.
Our late afternoon flight allowed us time for a pre-breakfast visit back to Ashalim, with a hope for more sandgrouse.
It was cold, something we hadn’t expected, even at around 6.00am, but we stood and watched as a good number of Black-bellied Sandgrouse were seen, along with a few Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, and finally, after much searching several Spotted Sandgrouse could be seen, showing well in amongst the more common Black-bellied.
Then, after our final breakfast back at the kibbutz we made the four hour drive back to Tel Aviv for our late afternoon departure back to London Heathrow, and we all finally arrived home in the early hours of Monday morning.
The trip ended with a group total of 214 species, more than we had expected, and an experience well worth the trip despite the few minor problems we encountered whilst in Israel.
As a final note, I would like to thank all the party who got on so well throughout the trip, and were a pleasure to be with, and particular thanks to the four drivers, Ron S, Bob, Steve and Dave without whom the trip could not have been organised, as well as to Jane and Steve for their support during my hospitalisation.
I hope you all enjoyed the trip as much as I did!