15th March 2013
Our flight left Luton Airport on time mid-morning but due to the two hour time difference we didn't land in Tel Aviv till late afternoon. The expected questioning/interrogation ensued shortly after arrival, thankfully nothing too major and we were all let into the country. Once we had collected our luggage and hire car it was already dusk so no time to visit any sites. However we did manage the first of many Spur-winged Plovers of the trip, Yellow-vented Bulbul and Cat. C Common Mynas from the airport.
Our immediate priority was food. We eventually found somewhere suitable and pulled up alongside a car park. Here we found the first mammals of the trip; a few Egyptian Fruit Bats flying around the car park. We had our meal and returned to the car park and was surprised to find the Bats still frequenting this area. Dan got his torch out and we started to mess around photographing them. They were very good value and sometimes allowed us to get very close.
|Egyptian Fruit Bat|
|Egyptian Fruit Bat|
Our first morning began targeting Category C Birds around Tel Aviv for the big Western Palearctic lister in our group (Josh). Unfortunately our trip didn't start as successfully as we had hoped as we couldn't locate any Nanday Parakeets around Pardes Khana Karkur. Although we did find a likely contender for a hybrid Nanday x Ring-necked Parakeet; we wondered whether this was all that remained of the population? It was nonetheless a nice gentle introduction for me as I got to grips with the calls and songs of many common Israeli birds such as Palestine Sunbirds, Graceful Prinias and White-throated Kingfishers. An adult Great Spotted Cuckoo in a garden was notable and this was also the only place we recorded Syrian Woodpecker on the trip.
More Cat. C action was next with a short visit to Hayakon Park. Our main target here was Vinous-breasted Starling. Fortunately these were much easier to find than expected and allowed great close views albeit through a fence. We pretty much cleared up here with Monk Parakeet and the first Masked Shrike of the trip.
17th March 2013
We travelled south over night, our first Golden Jackal and Desert Red Foxes were seen enroute and then we slept in the car. We woke to perfectly blue skies at Shizafon sewage works. Despite the smell, it was genuinely pleasant. Dan very promptly located our query; a 1st summer male Black Bush Robin. One of our main targets for the week. It offered superb views in the early morning light as it fed around the small plantations around the works. Little Green Bee-eaters and Blackstarts also performed well in near perfect light.
|Black Bush Robin|
|Black Bush Robin|
|Little Green Bee-eater|
Three more of our target species were seen relatively quickly at Shazef Nature Reserve at lunchtime as the midday sun started to take affect. A fine male Arabian Warbler frequented Acacias allowing fantastic views but very frustratingly mobile in terms of photography. Scrub Warblers were common and an active family group of Arabian Babblers were good value.
18th March 2013
We started the day off early on the Egyptian border. A Long-eared Owl was outside our hotel and from a road near Nizzana we found no less than six displaying male MacQueen's Bustards strutting their stuff. A single Cream-coloured Courser flew over head, as did 12 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and 6 Pallid Harriers. Another impressive count of Pale Rock Sparrows were recorded with 47 birds. 10+ Arabian Babblers, 3 Southern Grey Shrikes, 2 Wrynecks, 2 Masked Shrike, a singing Savi's Warbler, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, 12 Cretzschmar's Buntings and 2 Eastern Orphean Warblers made for a productive morning.
Back at KM76-77 we continued to rack up the species into mid-afternoon with two Temminck's Horned Larks and six Spotted Sandgrouse amongst the numerous migrants we also saw here last time. Dusk was spent at Yotvata, paying particular attention to the field by the north circular. Here we had a very enjoyable evening trying to find Egyptian Nightjar; on arrival we had a Collared Pratincole hawking the fields at dusk before we began torching. We found a single Quail that showed ridiculously well, two Stone Curlews over and a Desert Red Fox was in the pumpkin fields before we eventually found our target. We watched an Egyptian Nightjar for at least 45 minutes as it returned to the same general area to hunt. Unfortunately we were unable to photograph the bird but nonetheless this was probably one of the most memorable aspects of the trip!
We finally made it to Eilat where we planned to spend four nights simply chilling and taking a more leisurely approach to the birding now most of our target species were out the way. We began at North Beach, although this was my first visit here, the general impression received from others seemed to suggest this site was no longer as productive as it once was. Despite this I still managed two new birds here, with four White-eyed Gulls offshore and 4 Greater Flamingos in-off the Red Sea. Singles of Gull-billed, Caspian and Common Tern were also seen amongst the numerous Slender-billed Gulls. 41 Black Storks migrated north as did an Osprey and Pallid Harrier.
20th March 2013
Back down in Eilat we once again started the day at North Beach with pretty much the same cast of species as before. The bird observatory was quiet with that northerly wind still blowing quite predominantly. Holland Park held a few more migrants; Eastern Bonelli's, Eastern Orphean, and Ruppell's Warblers. A small party of 5 Arabian Babblers and two pairs of Sand Partridge also showed well.
|Indian House Crow|
|Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse (phonescoped)|
21st March 2013
Another visit to the fields at Yotvata; they were relatively quiet with just a pair of Eastern Subalpine Warblers, a female Namaqua Dove and 2-3 Bluethroat. KM76-77 was once again the most productive site for passerines with a nice 1st summer male Cyprus Wheatear and a singing male Rufous Bush Chat. Amongst the usual birds noted here were five Pale Rock Sparrows, 12 Spotted Sandgrouse overhead, 2 Cream-coloured Coursers and singles of Nightingale, Eastern Orphean Warbler and Asian Desert Warbler.
The first few hours of the day were allocated to finding the Oriental Skylarks found the previous evening at Yotvata by Chris Bell and co. Unfortunately Dan and myself managed to miss them but Will and Josh managed brief but good flight views. Today was a noticeably warmer day and the wind had switched to a southerly breeze. Red-throated Pipits, Short-toed Larks and Yellow Wagtails were all migrating northwards in numbers and it wasn't long before the raptors started to rise too. Steppe, Short-toed and Booted Eagles all passed low overhead in quick succession.
We reserved the remainder of the afternoon to finding Sinai Rosefinch. This species has been very hard to come by this year with many groups failing to see them, we were tipped off to visit a small spring at the top of Wadi Salvadori and just sit and wait. We waited 90 minutes whilst at least 10 Mountain Buntings, several Tristram's Grackles, Sunbirds and Bulbuls came in to drink before a female-type Sinai Rosefinch finally dropped in briefly. Again it was a relief more than anything to have seen this bird but we were still quite disappointed we hadn't seen a male. From the limited view inside the wadi we could still see raptors passing overhead, much as the same before with the addition of a Lanner Falcon passing through. We descended back to the car for another session of evening raptor watching when Will came running back down after us. He had just found a pair of Rosefinches feeding in a bush, we raced back up there to find the pair feeding on a rocky scree giving fantastic views. But because of the unstable environment photography was very hard!
|Mountain Bunting (phonescoped)|
23rd March 2013
Very frustratingly we drove back south to Eilat where an adult male Caspian Plover had been the previous evening. Unfortunately, at dawn there was no sign of the bird in the vicinity of where it was last seen. Two Pallas's Gulls headed north, whilst around the northern bushes was Desert Wheatear, Masked Shrike, Eastern Oliveaceous Warbler, Ruppell's Warbler, Desert Finch and Namaqua Dove. We also saw about 10 Dorcas Gazelles in the area.
|Black-headed Wagtail (possible hybrid perhaps?)|
|Josh photographing an Isabelline Wheatear|
24th March 2013
We had reserved our final morning to visit a vulture feeding station at En Avdat gorge near Sde Boker as we had heard this site was also good for large mammals. We were in position before dawn and watched the sun rise. A few old carcasses were in view but there must have been others beyond the ridge that we couldn't see. The Egyptian Vultures appeared unsettled but we didn't know why. A Desert Red Fox surely wasn't the culprit. Perhaps something else was lurking over there. Then, still in the half-light Dan spotted a STRIPED HYENA slowly lumbering over the ridge. It was huge, absolutely dwarfing the Fox that ran past it! With probably fewer than a hundred of these beasts left in Israel we were incredibly privileged to have seen one on our first time attempt.
|Rough-tailed Rock Agama|
Many thanks must go to Josh, Dan and Will for the great company and planning, but also to Yoav Perlman and Jonathan Meyrav for being so helpful and providing us with news and sites during our stay. I thoroughly look forward to my next overseas jaunt!