Thursday, 22 April 2010

April 8th to 12th 2010 Israel Part 1

April 8th 2010
The four of us (Dave, Colin, Terry and little old me) arrived in Israel to clear sky’s and soaring temperatures and while our luggage was loaded on to our coach for the transfer from Uvda Airport to Eilat we had already started birding with Laughing Dove, White-eyed Bulbul and Red-rumped Swallow seen around the airport parking area. This was my third trip to Israel so found a window seat and though most of the hour journey was through a military zone as we were in spitting distance of Egypt we managed Brown-necked Raven, Black Kite, Tristram’s Starling, and House Crow as I gave Dave the low down on the habitat we were passing.
Our Hotel allocated us rooms on the 9th floor which gave us stunning views of the mountains above Aquaba, Jordon, New Marina, Palm Plantation and Salt Ponds and views up the valley to K20 and partial veiwes of the sea though we had no intention of staying in our rooms in hindsight we were lucky as later the balcony became our savior in more ways than we would have expected.

View from our Hotel looking towards Jordon by DC

We had two hours of daylight left so headed for Eilat North Beach where we met up with a French crew who despite the language barrier gave us the latest information with Black Bush Robin still in Ofira Park, plenty of larks nesting on military property, up to 4 Lichtenstien’s Sandgrouse coming to drink in the evenings at K19 and passerine migration in general was only trickling through. While chatting we had 50+ Steppe Buzzard, 3 Black Stork, Lesser-spotted Eagle and 15 Whiskered Tern heading north, a male Lesser Kestrel hunting around a nearby hotel while offshore we had 2 White-eyed Gull, Caspian and Gull-billed Tern and 2 Pied Kingfisher

April 9th 2010
Ofira Park found us searching for the Black Bush Robin just after day break with a couple of locals and while waiting for it to appear we enjoyed Spanish Sparrow, Wryneck, Hoopoe, Olivacious Warbler and a mixture of Black, Blue and Grey-headed Wagtails before one of the locals found the Robin and I managed brief views before it became elusive again though we did find the Sykes Warbler that had been present for a couple of days. Rock Martins were over the marina.

Eastern Olivacious Warbler by Me

While the others collected the hire cars Terry and I tried Ofria Park again adding Nightingale, Pallid Swift, Richards Pipit and Red-throated Pipit to our growing list.
Once mobile we went to the Ringing Station where among a lot of species we saw Black Stork, Olivacious Warbler, Slender-billed Gull, Graceful Warbler, Little Green Bee-eater, Red-rumped Swallow and 5 European Bee-Eater while overhead we had at least 80 Stepped Buzzard, 10 Booted Eagle and Marsh Harrier going north east in to Jordon. Among the many wader species present were Kentish Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Temminick’s Stint, Black-winged Stilt and Spur-winged Plover.

Slender-billed Gull by TS

A drive around the K20 Saltpans produced more wader species than the previous site and in large numbers including breeding Kentish Plover, along with 200 Greater Flamingo, 2 Glossy Ibis. Overhead more Steppe Buzzard, Black Kite and Booted Eagles went through. Hundreds of wagtail and pipits were seen around the perimeter of the saltpans with 6 Red-throated Pipit and a few Tree Pipits the best. The scrubby bushes near the poly tunnels had 2 Namaqua Dove.

Greater Flamingo by me

Black-winged Stilt by me

Kentish Plover by TS

Kentish Plover chick by TS

Bee-Eater by Me

The first 30k of Route 90 out of Eilat is now a duel carriage way so we could not nip straight across to Amram Pillars having to travel a few kilometers before we could return south. Once there it was pretty desolate being so late in the afternoon and very hot but we managed 2 White Crowned Black Wheatears, Egyptian Vulture and Booted Eagle as well as admiring the amazing rock formations and the various colours of sand. The final hour on Eilat North beach produced 4 White-eyed Gull and 2 Kingfisher.

April 10th 2010
Bingo – we have all seen the Black Bush Robin which was a lifer for the other three so they are happy bunnies but most of yesterdays supporting cast had left apart from the Sykes Warbler.
K33 was hard work as we eventually tracked down a Bar-tailed Desert Lark but the Dorcas Gazelle on the Jordon side of the Border was distant, Brown-necked Raven and lots of Spanish Sparrows heading north.
As we were leaving we noticed a large raptor movement heading north west over the Eilat mountains so decided to get closer and ended up at K37 where they flew over our heads up the valley. Stunning sight and in the next hour we had at least 2000 Steppe Buzzard, 5 Steppe Eagle, 2 Egyptian Vulture, 150 Black Kite, Lesser-spotted Eagle and Booted Eagle going over with some of them very low, also a small movement of Swallow and Red-rumped Swallows and the odd Sand Martin.

Booted Eagle by TS
Moving on to Yotvata we worked the scrub, fields and palm Plantations with the most interesting sightings being Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, 2m & 1f Masked Shrike, 2 Eastern Bonellis Warbler, 5 Crested Lark and 2 Little Green Bee-Eater. Surprisingly considering the direction the raptors were taking we only had 100 Steppe Buzzard and a single Steppe Eagle so the must have gone in to Jordon crossing the border further south.

Crested Lark by Me

Colin, Dave and Terry browsing the menu

Heading back to Eilat we called in on the cemetery where it was very warm so once the Sand Partridge had been seen we returned to the hotel for a couple of hours.
With the evening a little cooler we arrived early at K19 sewage pool and settled down to wait for the Lichtenstien’s Sandgrouse to arrive meeting up with German and Finnish birders but unfortunately we dipped. Plenty of birding activity and we added 11 Purple Heron, 3 Great White Egret, Cattle Egret, 4 Night Heron, Cormorant, Moorhen, Coot, Grey Wagtail, 3 Garganey and Hobby to the list. Also present were 400 Spanish Sparrow, Richards, Water, and Tree Pipit, various wagtails and a few waders. Wind had decreased and moved round to the south having been a moderate northerly since we arrived.

April 11th 2010
Woke to hazy condition after a very warm night with the wind still in the south. Dave and I did a quick check on Eilat North Beach at 6:30am before working the Date Palm Plantation finding a male Pied Wheatear feeding in a ditch and plenty of Cattle Egret before moving on to the Ringing Station where we located a male Greater Sand Plover roosting with a group of Ringed and Kentish Plovers. Dave was on a roll with 2 new birds so before heading back for breakfast we called in at Holland Park adding Arabian Babbler to his already growing life list.
After breakfast we all visited Mount Yoash but there was no raptor movement so we enjoyed the scenery as well as catching up with bird news before moving on to K20 where a pair Cretzschmar’s Bunting, 5 Marsh Sandpiper, Tawny Pipit, 2 Collared Pratincole were seen along with good numbers of Bee-Eater, a Masked Shrike plus similar species to our last visit.
The key news we learnt this morning from Mount Yoash was that a Brown Booby had been seen briefly this morning off Eilat North Beach at 8am so Dave and I did another check on the beach at 3pm with the wind coming from the north again finding a Pomarine Skua offshore on the Jordon side before returning at 5pm with Colin and Terry.
We had just pulled in to the car park and getting out of the car when the Brown Booby appeared flying up and down the beach about 300 meters out, you have never seen so many fat birders move so fast. A Lifer for me at last – magic. The rest of the evening spent enjoying the booby plus Sooty Shearwater, Common, Caspian and Gull-billed Tern, Pomarine Skua, Pied Kingfisher and Western Reef Heron on the fishing platform.

Record shot of the Brown Booby by Me

After dinner a hazy mist descended over Eilat so that did not bode well for our early start tomorrow.

April 12th 2010
Up at 2:30am and luckily the mist had disappeared by 3am as Dave put the hire car in to warp drive and we arrived after a long journey at Nizzana near the Egyptian border to perfect viewing conditions and were soon shivering in the cool morning temperatures and we soon had 3 male McQueen’s Bustards with the one Terry found performing the best. The git was certainly cooking on gas as he also found 2 of the 3 Cream-coloured Coursers we had. In the two hours we were there we managed 2 male Pallid Harrier, Marsh Harrier, 10 White Stork, Black Stork, Common Crane, 6 Arabian Babbler, Black-eared Wheatear, 2 Isabelline Wheatear, male Spectacle Warbler, 4 Great Grey Shrike, buckets of Crested Lark, Brown-necked Raven, Raven and numerous Steppe Buzzards loafing around on the deck.
Once a goat herder appeared with his flock and the heat haze set in we moved on to a small wood near Ezuz where there were plenty of birds with 2m & 1f Palestine Sunbird, 3 male Pied Flycatcher, male Semi-collared Flycatcher, Orphean Warbler, numerous Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Red-rumped Swallow, 2 Woodchat, 2 Masked and 2 Great Grey Shrike plus Brown-necked Raven, 2 Hoopoe amongst the usual commoner birds and a Marsh Harrier hunting. The highlight was the White Stork passage as they were just starting to kettle along side Steppe Buzzards when we arrived and we had at least 800 heading north towards the Med while the 200 Steppes were taking a different route heading back inland. One light phase Booted Eagle went over.

White Stork by TS

As we were leaving we spotted a roadside Wryneck, a few Black Kite and 4 Sandgrouse flew over calling, retrospectively they sounded like Crowned. The Nizzana pools had Little Grebe, Bee-Eater, Spur-winged Plover and Pallid Harrier.
We stopped for food at a service station near Sede Boqer sharing our grub with the Hooded Crows while over the road a scrubby patch held 2 Masked Shrike, m & f Palestine Sunbird, White Wagtail and overhead we a majestic Griffon Vulture fly over followed by a hunting Barbary Falcon catching some unfortunate in front of us.
Next Stop was Ben Gurions Gorge where there was plenty of water in the river which certainly accounted for the Green and Common Sandpiper as well as cracking views of Tristram’s Starling bathing by the bridge. We added a few more to the list here with 4 Mourning Wheatear, Rufous Bush Robin, Icterine Warbler, Scrub Warbler, Blackstart, Blue Rock Thrush, Turtle Dove (nesting), Crag Martin, Stonechat sp seen briefly, Alpine Swift and Little Swift while Dave put us on to 2 Bonelli’s Eagle mobbing a Egyptian Vulture. Also seen were Spectacle Warbler, 5 Palestine Sunbird, Greenfinch, Crested Lark, Pallid Swift and Woodchat Shrike.

Ben Gurions Gorge by TS

A stop at the Ramon Crater produced 6 Tawny Pipit, 2 Wheatear, 2 Whinchat, Steppe Buzzard, Pallid Harrier, Orphean Warbler, 8 Kestrel and Crested Lark.

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