isrtrip27

Trip Report for Israel

6th - 24th March 2002

Introduction

Although we've been birding at various locations abroad over the last few years, this is the first time we've found time to put a trip report together. We hope you find it interesting and useful.

Just in case you're reading this a few years down the line, to set the scene, Israel in March 2002 was not an obvious place to go on holiday - a hardline government cracking down on any unrest, Palestinian suicide bombers reported almost daily, the threat of airstrikes by the US against Iraq any day. Our choice of Israel as our birding/holidaying destination this year provided much amusement to our colleagues at work who kindly offered to plot dates & places of suicide bombers/missile attacks etc on a map marked with the places we were due to stay so they could see how close we came when we returned.

A number of factors made us choose Israel - we've been birding/holidaying at various locations in southern Europe for the last few years, but we wanted to expand our experience of Western Palearctic birding; Steve wanted to go somewhere special to 'celebrate' (i.e. wallow in self-pity at) hitting thirty; Israel (with its very different avifauna from Europe e.g. four new bird families for us) in March just as the spring migration was picking up seemed like the ideal place. In addition this enabled us to experience snorkelling around Eilat's coral reefs which was wonderful, to float in the Dead Sea, and for us to visit the famous historical site of Massada which had been something Steve had wanted to do since first hearing about it as a small child.

We also decided to do something a bit different this year, and rather than being based in just one location, picked a "Kibbutz Fly-Drive" package which involved travelling around staying at mainly kibbutz-based accommodation - seven stops in all. Many of Israel's kibbutzes offer accommodation to visitors - you can stay for up to four nights at any one place; the accommodation varies from 'single room plus bathroom' small block-shaped buildings, up to quite decent apartments with reasonable self-catering facilities. Given that we wanted to spend more than four nights in Eilat, and there is only one Kibbutz there, we plumped for two additional nights in the Royal Garden hotel - well worth it as our accomodation there was lovely. The package was booked through a company called Peltours who were very helpful and efficient.

Itinerary

6 March Drive from Bristol to Heathrow (just over two hours due to skilfully avoiding a five mile tailback on the M5 otherwise it would have been about 5 hours!); 4 hour flight to Tel Aviv; Drive to Dor

7 March Birding around Dor/Nasholim (a.m.) and Ma'agan Mikhael (p.m.)

8 March Birding at Kefar Baruch reservoir (a.m.) and Ma'agan Mikhael (p.m.)

9 March Birding Dor/Nasholim/Ma'agan Mikhael; afternoon drive to Kfar Giladi

10 March Birding on & around Mount Hermon

11 March Birding in the Hula Valley most of the day; evening drive to Ha'on

12 March Birding Ha'on, Golan Heights (a.m.), Arbel Cliff, Wadi Ammud (p.m.)

13 March Birding Gamla Gorge (a.m.), Kfar Ruppin (p.m.)

14 March Drive to Eilat

15 March Birding Eilat North Beach and area inland from here

16 March Birding Eilat (Ofira Park early morning, Bird Reserve lunchtime, Cemetery & Water Pumping Station in the evening), and Km19 reservoir & sewage ponds and Km20 reservoirs afternoon

17 March Birding Mount Yoash & Eilat Bird Reserve (a.m.) Km50 Acacia, woodland (afternoon), Eilat North Beach (evening)

18 March Birding Km33 Lark area (early morning) followed by Amram Pillars followed by the Km19/Km20 sites in the afternoon; unsuccessful Hume's Tawny Owl trip in the evening

19 March Birding the Km19 reservoir/sewage ponds & the Eilat saltpans (a.m.) the date palms area, Wadi Shlomo & Wadi Netafim (p.m.)

20 March Snorkelling at Coral Beach (a.m.); drive to Mizpe Ramon (p.m.)

21 March Birding at Nizzana (a.m.), Visit the Ramon Crater Visitor Centre (p.m.)

22 March Birding at Ein Avdat gorge (a.m.); Drive to Ein Gedi (p.m.)

23 March Birding in Nahal Argugot (a.m.); visiting Masada Fortress (p.m.)

24 March Floating in the Dead Sea, then drive to Tel Aviv & five hour flight back to Heathrow followed by hour and a half drive back to Bristol

Conditions

A really great trip. Travelling and accommodation arrangements all went without a hitch; the hotels/kibbutzes were quite flexible about when we checked in & out, although perhaps because we were the only foreign tourists there. Food was usually good - there were a few places where we struggled to find much and ended up with "yellow cheese" sandwiches. Our hire car (Peltours use Budget) lasted for the whole stay, although some interesting noises started coming from underneath.

The security procedures at Heathrow and Tel Aviv were extremely thorough - unless you were an Orthodox Jew in which case you just got waved through with no fuss. Definitely don't go disguised as two English birders as you'll be grilled for half an hour by the security staff. Makes you wonder whether El Al have really thought this one through. On the ground military presence in Israel was noticeable, with roadblocks on the edge of Eilat and elsewhere, but didn't get in the way at all.

Birding

The birding was really good quality - to summarise, we spent a week split between three locations in the north, six days at Eilat, two nights in the Negev desert, and two nights by the Dead Sea.

In the north, the first day was spent learning what the bread-and-butter birds would be (and very nice bread-and-butter they were, including Yellow-vented Bulbul, Laughing Dove, Graceful Warbler, Pied Kingfisher), and then we divided the rest of the week between visits to three wetland areas (Ma'agan Mikhael, Hula and the Bet Shean valley, although the latter we would have liked more time at), and seeking out the specialities of the north that are absent or more difficult in the south. Each time we left an area in the north we felt we would have liked at least an extra day there to do it full justice, but I guess it's good to leave wanting more.

Six days around Eilat was nowhere near enough - of the speciality residents, we managed to see a good selection, but left with some big gaps, some of which we filled later. We sampled the raptor migration, but again would have liked more time, likewise with the passerines (although the rarest migrant present, Pied Stonechat, was the easiest!). We will definitely be returning to Eilat some time, probably for a much longer stay. Our final four days were good too. Some good birding sites, mixed in with some other stuff to help us wind down towards the end of our stay.

Martyn was bitten by the digiscoping bug earlier this year and so used this trip as a chance to expand his digiscoping skills whilst getting some very good shots of many of the birds we saw - many of the sites offered very good digiscoping opportunities.

Altogether we saw 170 species (or 171, depending how you take your flava wagtails) but left plenty to come back for on a future trip.

The Sites

We used the 2-volume "A guide to the birding hotspots of northern/southern Israel" by Shirihai, Kirwan, Smith & Alon which was very comprehensive, and "Finding Birds in Israel" by Dave Gosney, which, although now a little out of date, was more detailed than the other books in relation to many of the sites. Hadoram Shirihai's "The Birds of Israel" (1996) was very useful for research prior to the trip.

1. Dor/Nasholim - if these were ever separate places, they now seem to have merged into one. If you're staying in the north, this is an excellent area to become familiar with the common birds you'll see in Israel, as well as the chance of some goodies (e.g. we had Great Black-headed Gull, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Syrian Woodpecker here). Dor Holiday village accommodation thoroughly recommended (go for the Superior though, Economy means you stay in a concrete igloo)

 

2. Ma'agan Mikhael - this area is well worth spending a couple of days at - the best bits we found were (a) at the northern end, west of the bridge over the motorway (a good vantage point - it was from here that we located the flock of 33 Great Black-headed Gulls) and the track leading to the beach from here, and (b) the area west of Kibbutz Ma'agan Mikhael. Very good for Armenian Gull, herons & storks, waders

3. Kefar Baruch reservoir - worth visiting as it was the only place we saw Spotted Eagle; nearby Tishlovet reservoir, where we were hoping to see White-headed Duck, was enclosed by a fence and locked gates, so unfortunately we missed this species.

4. Kfar Giladi - a good place to stay with confiding Palestine Sunbirds and easily photographable Yellow-vented Bulbuls feeding in the grounds.

5. Mount Hermon area - visited mainly with Syrian Serin in mind - we scored at Neve Ativ (directions as per the Shirihai et al guide). Not too good otherwise, although we did see our only Sombre Tit of the trip.

6. Hula Valley - another excellent wetland area, needing more than a day to really do it justice. The fishponds north of the road east of Gume junction gave us our only Marbled Ducks, although we were asked (ever so politely & apologetically) to move on, as it is a working site. Hula reserve itself was worth doing, not least because of the vast Cyperus swamp vegetation that we saw nowhere else. North of Hula reserve, the "reflooded area" mentioned in the guide books now has a hide that overlooks the main feeding area for Crane. This was an excellent site, with 500+ Crane, hunting Pallid Harriers, and lots more. Lehavot Habashan was memorable mainly for the machinery at the entrance where distinctive-smelling "waste water" flows into an open tank from a pipe high up, but which, in an easterly wind, is blown across the road to provide visitors with a delightful shower of the golden variety.

7. Ha'on holiday apartments - apart from being occupied by an army of 14 year old girls while we were there, this was a good place to stay, as a base for birding the Galilee & Golan areas, and as a good birding spot itself - the beach in front of our room had Pygmy Cormorant, Citrine Wagtail etc

8. Gamla gorge - highly recommended, with 40+ Griffon Vultures and a pair of Bonelli's Eagle

9. Arbel Cliff & Wadi Ammud - again, worth doing - the former being our only site for Long-billed Pipit, the latter for the Little Swift roost

 

10. Kfar Ruppin - needed a longer visit (this would have been a good place to stay a couple of nights, in fact) - we connected with Dead Sea Sparrows, and the variety of waterbirds here was as good as Ma'agan Mikhael (including 28 Great Black-headed Gulls)

11. Eilat North Beach - a must, for White-eyed Gull, Western Reef Egret and other stuff

12. Eilat Bird Reserve & Saltpans - this area always had some good birds, and Martin at the Birdwatching Centre is a very good source of info on what's around. The Pied Stonechat was here. Martin took us on A Hume's Tawny Owl trip one evening. Unfortunately we didn't see any - hopefully next time. We watched a Water Rail being ringed on one visit.

13. Eilat Date Palms area - the area inland on North Beach east of the saltpans - excellent - the only place we saw Namaqua Dove, also our best views of Little Green Bee-eater were here.

14. Eilat Water Pumping Station - very good, as well as the Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, we had House Bunting

15. Wadis Shlomo/Roded/Netafim - worth doing for residents and migrants; Wadi Netafim was probably the best (note that you can get to this by car from the west end of Wadi Roded, although we didn't make it all the way up to the spring)

16. Ofira Park - doorstep site if you're staying in Eilat and close views of migrants including Red-throated Pipit.

17. Km19 & Km20 reservoirs/sewage ponds - highly recommended - a variety of wagtails at Km19 including three Citrine, lots of Water Pipits; Km20 gave us our own only Greater Sand Plovers. Whole area good for migrants. We didn't connect with the Red-wattled Plover though.

18. Mount Yoash area for raptor watching; had we had more time in Eilat I'm sure we would have done more.

19. Km33 lark area was disappointing - we got there for dawn and stayed for a couple of hours but didn't connect with any of the specialities.

20. Km50 acacia woodland - this was the only site in the central Arava valley that we found time to visit - we had planned to do Yotvata, Shizzafon, Lotan etc - good for migrants e.g. Ruppell's Warbler.

21. Amram Pillars - no sign of Sinai Rosefinch, but Sand Partridge and good raptor passage.

23. Nizzana sewage ponds - the northern ones were dried up, but the ones SE of Nizzana castle were productive with Spotted & Crowned Sandgrouse

24. Ein Avdat gorge - an excellent site, with Scrub Warbler, Arabian Babbler, both vultures, Bonelli's Eagle etc

25. Ein Gedi area - Nahal Arugot & Massada Fortress both good for Tristram's Starling & Fan-tailed Raven

 

Finally, of the non-birding sites, Coral Beach stands out - snorkelling here was a fantastic experience, and one of the best bits of our holiday. We hired wetsuit, snorkel, mask & flippers from the 'Snuba' centre for a modest fee and off we went. The reefs are only just offshore and the variety of fish is amazing.

Systematic List

Little Grebe
One at Dor/Nasholim on 9/3; 1 at Hula reserve on 11/3.

Great Crested Grebe
One at Dor/Nasholim on 7/3 & 9/3 on same pool as the Litlle Grebe.

Black-necked Grebe
Three breeding-plumaged birds offshore at Ha'on on 12/3.

Cormorant (race sinensis)
Common at wetland sites throughout

Pygmy Cormorant
One bird seen very well feeding close inshore and perching on a raft at Ha'on on 12/3; one in flight at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3.

White Pelican
Unexpectedly low numbers - two adults at Hula reserve pelican pool on 11/3 and one adult at Eilat Km19 reservoir on 16/3.

Night Heron
Twenty, leaving roosts in the evening at Ma'agan Mikhael, on 7/3 and 4+ there on the evening of 8/3, 47 flying south in several small groups over Dor/Nasholim, returning to roosts on morning of 9/3; 21 roosting at Ma'agan Mikhael on 9/3; 17+ roosting at Lehavot Habashan on 11/3; 21 over at dusk at the Hula Valley Crane hide on 11/3

Squacco Heron
One flying over at dusk with Night Herons at the Hula Valley Crane hide on 11/3 was the only sighting.

Cattle Egret
Frequent in the north. In the south, only two sightings - 2 at Eilat New Lagoon on 15/3, 1 at Ofira Park on 16/3.

Western Reef Egret (race schistacea)
An intermediate morph bird seen in flight heading inland over North Beach on the evenings of 15/3 and 17/3 and presumably the same bird then seen reasonably well on the deck at Eilat Saltpans on 19/3. Also two white morphs viewable distantly on the floating nets off North Beach on 17/3.

Little Egret
Common at wetland sites throughout. Many groups of 50 or more in the north but the highest count was 81 at Eilat New Lagoon on 15/3.

Great White Egret
Common around Dor/Nasholim, Ma'agan Mikhael, Hula valley and Kfar Ruppin. Often in groups of thirty or more.

Grey Heron
Common at wetland sites throughout - often in very large numbers e.g. c.100 at Eilat Km19 reservoir on 16/3, and a few groups of fifty or more at Ma'agan Mikhael.

Purple Heron
Two in the reedbed viewed from the observation tower at Hula reserve on 11/3 were the only ones seen.

Black Stork
Common (groups of 20 or more) around Dor/Nasholim and Ma'agan Mikhael. A total of 41 heading north over Mount Yoash on 17/3. Otherwise ones and twos seen in the Hula Valley, Kfar Ruppin, Eilat Km19 & Km20 reservoirs.

White Stork
Two spectacular sights in northern Israel - first, a group of over 200 roosting in a single roadside tree, over 300 others roosting in a nearby wood at Ma'agan Mikhael on the evening of 7/3 (but none there the following evening); second, a flock of 1000+ heading north over Arbel Cliff on 12/3. Elsewhere, several small groups (max. 21 over Hula reserve) at various scattered places

Glossy Ibis
Seen in the north only: highest count 60 at the Hula Valley Crane hide on the evening of 11/3. Also 10 at Dor/Nasholim on 7/3, 13 at Ma'agan Mikhael on 7/3 and 3 there on 9/3; 6 at Hula reserve on 11/3

Spoonbill
Seen in the north only: highest count ; 79 at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3. Also 30 at Dor/Nasholim on 7/3, 3 at Kefar Baruch on 8/3, 10 at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3, 1 over Hula Valley on 9/3.

Greater Flamingo
Seen only at the Eilat Km20 Reservoirs - at least 200 present on 16/3, 292 counted on 18/3.

Mute Swan
Three at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3

Shelduck
Common at wetland sites throughout.

Wigeon
Over 50 at Kefar Baruch on 8/3; present at Eilat Km19 reservoir 16/3.

Gadwall
Seventeen at Hula reserve on 11/3; a pair at Km19 reservoir on 19/3

Teal
Common at wetland sites throughout.

Mallard
Common at wetland sites in the north

Pintail
Common at wetland sites in the north

Garganey
One at Eilat Km19 reservoir on 16/3; 7 at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3. Two flocks of small duck, comprising c.100 birds, seen far out to sea off North Beach on the evening of 15/3 may have been Garganey.

Shoveler
Common at wetland sites throughout, Kefar Baruch holding particularly large numbers.

Marbled Duck Seen only at one site in the Hula valley - Gume junction fishponds - a flock of eleven on 11/3.

Pochard
Five at Kefar Baruch on 8/3; four at Hula reserve on 11/3

Tufted Duck
Sixty at Kefar Baruch on 8/3 and a few offshore at Ha'on on 12/3

Black Kite
Five over Gume Junction fishponds and 3 over Hula reserve on 11/3. Many were present at the Kfar Blum roost that evening. In the south, 40 headed north with Steppe Buzzards at Amram Pillars on 17/3, ones & twos seen at other locations. Two seen on our drive back to Tel Aviv on our last day. All birds seen well had features accoring with the familiar European race milvus but a couple of birds were seen briefly or distantly that appeared more rufous with white in the primaries (and so closer to Red Kite in appearance) - these were presumably lineatus or aegyptius.

Egyptian Vulture
In the Golan Heights, two near Bnei Israel reservoir, 12/3; one sat in the road (!) just to the south of Gamla gorge 13/3, and two over the gorge itself. In the south, two at Amram Pillars on 18/3; one over Eilat bird reserve on 18/3; two in Ein Avdat gorge 22/3

Griffon Vulture
A total of 46 (including a group of 20 in the air together) at Gamla gorge on 13/3 was memorable. Four in Ein Avdat gorge, including three sat on nesting ledges on on 22/3. One over Nahal Arugot 23/3, one near Ein Gev 12/3.

Short-toed Eagle
A good scattering. One east of Zikron Yaqov, 8/3. In the Golan heights: one between Ein Gev and Ha'on on 12/3, one over Gamla gorge 13/3, and two at the south end of the Heights 13/3. One over Arbel Cliff and one at Wadi Ammud on 12/3. One over Mount Yoash 17/3; one at Amram Pillars on 18/3.

Marsh Harrier
Sightings (usually just singles) at Kefar Baruch, Ma'agan Mikhael, several sites in the Hula valley, Bnei Israel reservoir, Eilat Km19 reservoir, Km33 and Eilat Saltpans & bird reserve

Hen Harrier
One ringtail at Lehavot Habashan on 11/3.

Pallid Harrier
An adult male and a ringtail giving excellent close views hunting together in the evening at the Hula Valley Crane hide on 11/3. One male at Nizzana Sewage Ponds on 21/3 and one male to the north over Ein Avdat gorge on 22/3

Sparrowhawk
One female, Wadi Ammud, 12/3.

Steppe Buzzard
Several birds around Neve Ativ & Mount Hermon on 10/3 were either Steppe Buzzards or nominate Common Buzzards. In the Eilat area, c.70 north over Mount Yoash/High Mountain/Low Mountain on 17/3, 45 north over Amram Pillars on 18/3 and ones & twos elsewhere.

Long-legged Buzzard
In the north, two near Bnei Israel reservoir on 12/3; two between Ein Gev and Ha'on on 12/3 and one at Wadi Ammud on 12/3. In the south, just one, between Mizpe Ramon and Sede Boqer on 22/3.

Spotted Eagle
A first-winter at Kefar Baruch on 8/3 took off from bushes at the reservoir edge and showed very well flying around for several minutes before flying off west. One, either this species or Lesser Spotted, briefly at Eilat Km19 reservoir on 16/3.

Steppe Eagle
Two large dark eagles over Amram Pillars on 18/3 were probably adult Steppe Eagles - this species inked in on the list with one well-marked paler immature bird at Wadi Netafim on 19/3.

Bonelli's Eagle
A highlight (especially after failing to see this species in Lesvos & Cyprus) - first, two in Gamla gorge flying around on 13/3; and then the pair in Ein Avdat Gorge giving even better views (and seeing off a Griffon Vulture) on 22/3.

Osprey
Two at Kfar Ruppin on13/3; one at Eilat Bird Reserve on 17/3; one over Km19 reservoir on 19/3

Kestrel
Frequent throughout.

Sand Partridge
(race heyi) A pair at Amram Pillars on 18/3 were seen very well for a while, then flew behind a rock and vanished!

Black Francolin
One male (heard only) at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3 - after seeing several last year on Cyprus we didn't bother to follow it up.

Quail
Views of Quail (at last!). One flushed at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3 and one flushed at Arbel Cliff on 12/3. Best of all (for us, but not for the bird) was an injured bird stumbling around on the track near Km19 sewage ponds on 16/3.

Moorhen
Common at wetland sites in the north

Coot
Common at wetland sites throughout

Common Crane
In the Hula Valley on 11/3 - 38 to the north calling high over Gume junction fishponds and the spectacular sight of at least 500 feeding at the Crane hide in the evening. One at Nizzana Sewage Ponds 21/3.

Oystercatcher
Four off North Beach on 16/3

Black-winged Stilt
Common at wetland sites in the north

Avocet
Twenty-five at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3; 7 at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3

Little Ringed Plover
A scattering - ones and twos at Ma'agan Mikhael and in the Hula Valley, 5 at Eilat Km19 sewage ponds on 16/3 and one there on 18/3, and c.10 at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3.

Ringed Plover
Two at Dor/Nasholim on 7/3; present at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3; 4 at Eilat New Lagoon on 15/3; c.10 at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3

Kentish Plover
About twenty-five at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3; 100+ at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3

Greater Sand Plover
Near the end of our Eilat stay, four breeding plumaged adults (one male, three females) with the Kentish Plover flock at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3 were a surprise - we thought we had missed this species after not really trying for it at Ma'agan Mikhael and the lack of birds at North Beach.

Spur-winged Plover
Very common in most areas - numerous double-figure counts.

Little Stint
Common at wetland sites throughout

Temminck's Stint
Three at Ma'agan Mikhael on 9/3 and one at Km19 sewage ponds on 18/3

Ruff
Common at wetland sites throughout - a flock of c.100 at the Hula Valley Crane hide on 11/3 was a high count

Snipe
Two at Ma'agan Mikhael on 7/3 and 8/3; present at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3

Black-tailed Godwit
Ten at Hula reserve on 11/3; present at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3; 5 at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3

Spotted Redshank
Four at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3

Redshank
Common at wetland sites throughout (the longer bills on these eastern race birds were quite striking)

Marsh Sandpiper
Seven at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3; two at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3; one at Eilat Bird Reserve on 17/3 and two at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3

Greenshank
One at Kefar Baruch on 8/3; two at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3 and one at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3

Green Sandpiper
One at Ma'agan Mikhael on 7/3 and two there on 8/3; one at Dor/Nasholim on 9/3; one at Eilat Km19 reservoir, 16/3; one in the unlikely spot of Ein Avdat gorge on 22/3

Wood Sandpiper
One at Eilat Km19 sewage ponds on 16/3 and one there on 18/3; one at Nizzana Sewage Ponds on 21/3

Common Sandpiper
Singles at Dor/Nasholim on 7/3 & 9/3, Ma'agan Mikhael on 7/3 & 8/3 and Kfar Ruppin on 13/3

White-eyed Gull
Eilat North Beach in the evening is the place to be to see this species, when several join the loafing Black-headed Gulls just offshore (with others more distantly on the floating nets). At least 30 were present on the evening of 15/3 and at least 28 on 17/3, in a variety of plumages

Great Black-headed Gull
A good series of sightings of this fabulous bird:
(i) 3 at Dor/Nasholim on 7/3 and 2 there on 9/3;
(ii) 34 at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3 (a flock of 33 on one pool included 3 adults in full breeding plumage)
(iii) a flock of 28 (including 3 adults in full breeding plumage) at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3
(iv) a breeding-plumaged adult flying inland, seen from our hotel balcony in Eilat two hours after dark on 15/3, lit up by the lights of the hotel complex!
(v) three at Eilat Km19 reservoirs on 16/3
(vi) one adult at North Beach on 17/3

Little Gull
An adult and a first-winter, Ma'agan Mikhael, 8/3

Black-headed Gull
Common at wetland sites throughout.

Slender-billed Gull
Two adults at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3; one very pink-flushed adult on the shore of the Sea of Galilee at Ha'on on 12/3; five at the Eilat bird reserve on 16/3 and 36 there on 17/3; 40 at North Beach 17/3; 2 at Km20 reservoirs 18/3

Lesser Black-backed Gull
One at Ma'agan Mikhael on 7/3; two at Eilat New Lagoon on 15/3 with several offshore from North Beach that evening. 27 over Eilat Marina on morning of 16/3; several at Eilat Km19 reservoir on 16/3. All were very dark-backed, long-winged birds, so presumably fuscus.

Armenian Gull
Common around Dor/Nasholim, Ma'agan Mikhael, Hula valley, Kfar Ruppin. The first two sites allowed particularly good opportunities for study. Large gulls around Eilat probably included this species and others but we didn't get enough time to study them properly.

Caspian Tern
Two at North Beach on 17/3; five at Eilat Saltpans on 19/3

Sandwich Tern
One at North Beach 17/3

Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse
Our first full day in Eilat had to end with a visit to the most-visited Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse site in the world. Thirteen came in to drink at Eilat Water Pumping Station at dusk on the evening of 16/3 - our first ever sandgrouse - new bird family number 3!

Crowned Sandgrouse
A group of 12 visited Nizzana Sewage Ponds on the morning of 21/3, after the Spotted Sandgrouse had left - apparently this is the trickiest of Israel's sandgrouse species so we were fortunate to see these.

Spotted Sandgrouse
A total of 94, in several small to medium sized flocks, visited Nizzana Sewage Ponds to drink on the morning of 21/3.

Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon
Very common throughout

Collared Dove
Very common throughout

Laughing Dove
Very common throughout, particularly around habitation

Namaqua Dove
We connected with this Eilat speciality on our first day there - two males in the Eilat Date Palms area on 15/3; also one there on 19/3

Ring-necked Parakeet
Two at Jizr-e-Zarqa (a town south of Ma'agan Mikhael) on 9/3; one at Hula reserve on 11/3; and one at Eilat Date Palms area on 15/3

Great Spotted Cuckoo
One first-summer seen in the scrubby valley below Kefar Baruch reservoir dam on 8/3.

Cuckoo
One heard at Gamla gorge, 13/3

Swift
Occasional sightings in a variety of locations

Alpine Swift
Two at Wadi Ammud on 12/3; two at Gamla gorge on 13/3 and two at Ein Avdat gorge on 22/3

Little Swift
Four at Arbel Cliff on 12/3; over 100 gathering to roost at Wadi Ammud on 12/3; several at Gamla gorge on 13/3

White-breasted Kingfisher
Frequently seen in the north - seen at Ma'agan Mikhael, Kefar Baruch, various places in the Hula valley, fishponds near Bet Shean, Kfar Ruppin and on various roadside wires.

Kingfisher
Singles at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3, Dor/Nasholim on 9/3 and Hula reserve on 11/3.

Pied Kingfisher
Common around Dor/Nasholim, Ma'agan Mikhael (where 9 seen together on 8/3), Kfar Ruppin, sites in the Hula Valley and Eilat (their abundance, particularly in the north, made our twitch for one on Cyprus last spring seem a bit silly!)

Little Green Bee-eater (race cyanophrys)
One just inland from Eilat North Beach on 15/3, followed by two in the Date Palms area later that day, and two in the same area on 19/3. Three in Wadi Netafim 19/3. Two in Nahal Arugot 23/3

Hoopoe
Regularly seen around our accommodation at Dor/Nasholim and Kibbutz Eilot; also singles at Ma'agan Mikhael, Neve Ativ, Wadi Ammud, Eilat Date Palms area, Ofira Park, Km50 Acacia woodland and Ein Gedi guest house

Syrian Woodpecker
A pair at Dor/Nasholim on 9/3; another pair at Neve Ativ on 10/3; a pair at Hula reserve on 11/3

Desert Lark (race deserti)
Three around Mount Yoash summit on 17/3 and two in Wadi Shlomo on 19/3.

Crested Lark
Common throughout.

Sand Martin
One, Eilat North Beach, 15/3

Pale Crag Martin
Two feeding in front of Herods Palace, North Beach, Eilat, on 15/3, showing very well, kicked off a run of sightings from the southern half of the country - other sites included Eilat Km19 reservoir, Mizpe Ramon, Ein Avdat gorge, Nahal Arugot

Swallow
Common throughout

Red-rumped Swallow
Many sightings of up to six birds at Dor/Nasholim, Hula reserve, Ha'on, Eilat Km19 reservoir, Km50 Acacia woodland, Eilat Bird Reserve, North Beach area, Ein Avdat gorge. However a higher count of 25 at Ein Gedi Beach on 22/3.

House Martin
Singles seen at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3, Eilat North Beach on 15/3, Eilat Bird Reserve on 18/3 and Ein Gedi beach on 22/3

Tawny Pipit
One at Eilat North Beach 15/3.

Long-billed Pipit
One very confiding bird at Arbel Cliff on 12/3, sat on a rock just to the west of the highest point of the cliff, calling and preening.

Tree Pipit
One flew in to Ofira Park calling, and joined the Black-headed Wagtail flock, on the morning of 16/3.

Meadow Pipit
Frequently encountered throughout

Red-throated Pipit
Two in Ofira Park on the morning of 16/3, showing some red coloration coming through. They were quite wary and stayed away from the wagtail flock.

Water Pipit
In the north, one at the Hula Valley Crane hide on 11/3 and one at Ha'on on 12/3. In the south, the site for this species proved to be the Km19 sewage ponds, where c.5 were present on 16/3, 11 on 18/3 and 3 on 19/3

Black-headed Wagtail
Five males and a female were in Ofira Park on the morning of 16/3; one male at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3; 11 at Km19 sewage ponds on 19/3 together with a Black-headed x Blue-headed hybrid of the 'dombrowskii' type

Blue-headed Wagtail
A male was at Km19 sewage ponds on 16/3 and one there on 19/3.

Citrine Wagtail
In the north, one male at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3 and one male at Ha'on on 12/3; in the south, Km19 sewage ponds held three males on 16/3 and one male on 18/3

White Wagtail
Very common throughout

Yellow-vented Bulbul
Very common throughout - one of the first birds seen on our trip, and our first new bird family.

Robin
Three at Dor/Nasholim on 9/3; 1 at Eilat Bird Reserve on 18/3

Red-spotted Bluethroat
One male at Ha'on on 12/3; one male at Km19 sewage ponds on 18/3. Unidentified Bluethroats also seen at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3, Dor/Nasholim on 9/3, Kfar Ruppin on 13/3, and Km19 sewage ponds on 18/3.

Redstart
One female at Gamla gorge on 13/3; one female in Ofira park on 16/3 and one samamisicus-type male at Kibbutz Eilot on 16/3

Blackstart
A common bird as soon as we got to the southern half of the country - one at Ein Gedi Spa on 14/3 kicked off a run of many sightings - seen at Eilat Water pumping station, Km50 Acacia woodland, Wadi Shlomo, Wadi Netafim, Nahal Arugot and Massada fortress.

Stonechat
A male was at Eilat Bird Reserve on 16/3 and 17/3.

Pied Stonechat
The wintering female was seen in the car park at the Eilat bird reserve on 16/3 - not exactly the most stunning bird to look at - like a Black Redstart without any red in the tail, but a gingery rump to compensate - but very photogenic, and a major Western Palearctic rarity, with less than a dozen records; this was Israel's sixth.

Isabelline Wheatear
One at Eilat Date Palms area on 15/3; one in Eilat Km19 reservoir area on 16/3; one at Km20 reservoirs on 18/3. Also, a pale wheatear at Dor/Nasholim on 9/3 may have been this species

Northern Wheatear
One male at the Hula Valley Crane hide on 11/3, a male at Arbel Cliff on 12/3, a female at Km19 sewage ponds on 19/3. Numerous wheatears were present at the roadside around Mizpe Ramon and Sede Boqer on 22/3 and the majority seemed to be Northern.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
One male at Km19 sewage ponds on 19/3; one male at Wadi Netafim on 19/3, one male between Mizpe Ramon and Sede Boqer on 22/3

White-crowned Black Wheatear
One at Eilat Water Pumping Station on 16/3; one at 'Low Mountain' on 17/3, 2 at Amram Pillars on 18/3; 1 at Wadi Netafim on 19/3

Blue Rock Thrush
One male at Arbel Cliff on 12/3; one male at Wadi Ammud on 12/3; two males at Gamla gorge on 13/3; a female at Eilat Cemetery 16/3

Blackbird
One male at Dor/Nasholim on 9/3; a pair at Kfar Giladi on10/3; one at Wadi Ammud on 12/3

Song Thrush
One at Wadi Ammud on 12/3

Cetti's Warbler
Frequent around wetland sites in the north

Fan-tailed Warbler
One zitting at Lehavot Habashan fishponds on 11/3 and one zitting at Arbel Cliff on 12/3.

Graceful Warbler
Common throughout

Scrub Warbler (race inquieta) After failing to connect with this species around Eilat, two were seen very well towards the end of the trip: one at Ein Evdat gorge on 22/3 and one below the cliffs at Mizpe Ramon later the same day.

Reed Warbler
One seen at Hula reserve on 11/3 (this bird appeared to be too warm for fuscus and more typical of scirpaceus).

Clamorous Reed Warbler
Present at several sites in the north. Two singing (one seen well) at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3; one seen well at Dor/Nasholim on 9/3; one heard at Gume junction fishponds on 11/3; several singing & at least two showing well at Hula reserve on 11/3.

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
One at the Km50 Acacia woodland on 17/3

Eastern Subalpine Warbler
One female in Wadi Netafim 19/3

Ruppell's Warbler
One male at the Km50 Acacia woodland on 17/3

Lesser Whitethroat
A commonly encountered migrant in the south - as expected, all were fairly typical of European birds, with no birds seen that suggested any of the eastern forms.

Whitethroat
At least one singing in the Golan heights south of Gamla gorge on 12/3

Blackcap
One male at Hula reserve on 11/3

Eastern Bonelli's Warbler
A regularly encountered migrant in the south - all displaying various plumage features typical of this species rather than Western Bonelli's, and many giving the distinctive 'jip' call. All records - two in Ofria Park on 16/3, one in Wadi Roded on 17/3, one at Km50 on 17/3, one in Wadi Netafim 19/3, one in Nahal Arugot on 23/3

Chiffchaff
A commonly encountered migrant - as expected all were within the normal range of variation for European birds - none suggesting a more eastern origin were seen

Arabian Babbler
Another bird that eluded us until late in the trip - one at Nizzana Sewage Ponds on 21/3 was our first; and then a party of four and one other bird in Ein Avdat gorge on 22/3 made up for the previous lack of them. New family number 4!

Sombre Tit
One singing male between Majdal Shams & Mount Hermon on 10/3.

Great Tit
Common in the north

Palestine Sunbird
Frequently encountered throughout the trip in small numbers, with males more conspicuous than females. In the north more a bird associated with well-established gardens; in the south, a bird of scrubby areas in deserts & wadis " new bird family number 2" seen at Ma'agan Mikhael kibbutz, Kfar Giladi (3 males and a female on 10/3); Neve Ativ, Hula reserve, Gamla gorge, Wadi Ammud (3 males and a female on 12/3), Ha'on, Km50 Acacia woodland, Wadi Netafim, Ein Avdat gorge, Nahal Arugot and Ein Gedi Spa.

Southern Grey Shrike
Three along roadsides south of Gamla gorge, 12/3 and two at Nizzana Sewage Ponds on 21/3. Those in the Golan heights were presumably of the restricted-range subspecies theresae.

Woodchat Shrike
Two at roadside south of Gamla gorge on 12/3 and one at Gamla gorge on 13/3 were our only sightings.

Jay (race atricapillus)
Common in the north

Jackdaw
A flock of 30 over Kfar Ruppin on 13/3

House Crow
One in the Date Palms area, Eilat, 15/3 was our first sighting - following this, seen regularly at Eilat North Beach/Date Palms area (max 10 on 17/3), Kibbutz Eilot, and other sites around Eilat.

Hooded Crow
Common in the north and west; absent from Negev & Arava

Brown-necked Raven
One of the most frequently encountered birds throughout the Arava valley and Negev desert.

Fan-tailed Raven
Our last new bird of the trip - two at Ein Gedi beach on 22/3; eight around Nahal Arugot on 23/3 and five around Massada fortress later that day.

Tristram's Starling
One female in Wadi Shlomo on 19/3 was the only one we saw prior to visiting the Dead Sea area, but once we arrived at Ein Gedi, this was one of the commonest birds - we had them outside our room on both mornings, we saw at least 23 in and around Nahal Arugot on the morning of 23/3 and at least 10 were around the top of Massada fortress that afternoon.

Starling
Common around Ma'agan Mikhael

House Sparrow
Very common around habitations throughout

Spanish Sparrow
A small scattering - one male at Ma'agan Mikhael on 8/3; one male at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3; two males in Ofira park on 16/3; and one male on Kibbutz Eilot at 17/3;

Dead Sea Sparrow
After kindly being given some finding tips from the people at the birdwatching centre, we located a flock of c.15 feeding on seed around the cowsheds at Kfar Ruppin on 13/3

Chaffinch
Common in the north

Serin
Three at Ma'agan Mikhael kibbutz on 9/3 were the only sightings

Syrian Serin
One male and at least one other bird at Neve Ativ on 10/3. This was one of the main target birds in the north, and initially proved a little tricky in that we saw one bird for a split second in a pine tree next to where we parked our car, which we then saw nothing more of in the next hour. We left the site and returned after visiting Mount Hermon and after another half an hour of tantalising distant flight views, the male finally settled on top of a fence and gave reasonable views for a minute or two.

Greenfinch
Common in the north; in the south only seen once, two at Ein Avdat gorge on 22/3

Goldfinch
Common in the north

Linnet
Four at Mount Hermon on 10/3; present at Arbel Cliff on 12/3

House Bunting (race striolata)
One at Eilat Water Pumping Station in the evening of 16/3, whilst waiting for the sandgrouse to appear. This form ('Striated Bunting') is a likely future split from the more rufous North African form.

Reed Bunting
One female at Ha'on on 12/3

Corn Bunting
Singing males present at Arbel Cliff and in the Golan heights south of Gamla gorge on 12/3

Mammals

Nubian Ibex was common in wadis & gorges in the south, and Rock Hyrax was present at Gamla & Wadi Ammud. We had a single Coypu in Hula reserve, and three Gazelles across the road at Km40 on Route 90.

Dragonflies

The only positively identified species was Vagrant Emperor which we encountered around Eilat.

Steve Preddy & Martyn Hall
email Steve.Preddy@blueyonder.co.uk