At the end of February, I made the impromptu decision to go out to Israel for two weeks at the beginning of March for birding, but to also experience the Champions of the Flyway event, and to also see Dan. I left at 12 on the 17th and made the long coach journey to London Heathrow to catch my 8pm flight to Tel Aviv.
Having landed at 3am and had issues with picking up the car, myself and Sophie finally made the 3 hour drive down to Eilat. We checked into our hotel and headed straight over to the IBRCE to meet up with Dan to get to grips with some of the sites around Eilat and the common bird species. It started out well with seeing a couple of my targets including Bubul, Steppe Buzzard, Spur Winged Plover and it’s always great to see Greater Flamingos in the wild! After walking around for a bit, we spotted a group of buzzard overhead where Dan pulled out a Crested Honey Buzzard.. and then another! A species which I didn’t think I would see on this trip! After the buzz had died and we met up with other birders on the park, myself and Dan then headed to the next site, to Holland Park. It was a case of getting to see some more common species like Palestine Sunbird, Sand Partridge, Blackstart but a nice surprise to stumble on 8 Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse. To finish the day off, we headed down to North Beach to witness some gulls coming in to roost, it was a decent time with White Eyed Gulls and Sandwich Terns feeding offshore.
After deciding to have a bit of a sleep in to recover from the travelling the day before, we headed down to Holland Park. Not much was present but it was good to see Little Green BeeEaters in the park. The next stop was to the ditches around the IBRCE where we saw more Little Greens and a number of wader species including some favourites; Black Winged Stilts, Spur Winged Plover and Greenshanks. A nice addition was a Western Reef Egret! We ventured further round the road and headed on down to K20, a new site was us to visit and it was outstanding! Highlights included Kentish Plover, Slender Billed Gulls, Red Necked Phalarope, the best bird of the day was by far the Lesser Flamingo who has been in with the Greater Flamingo flock.
Another new site for us; Yotvata. After reading all the hype about the place and seeing the records coming from the place on the Champions of the Flyway whatsapp group, it was definitely a site that would become regular. Highlights from the visit were Male Pallid Harrier, Bimaculated larks, Lesser Kestrels and Spanish Sparrows. Our day then took us up to High Mountain where Dan was doing a raptor count. It was good to see some migration, if not an amazing spectacle. As it was fairly slow, we moved onto Sei’fim to see some wheatears – it did not disappoint with Mourning, Hooded, Isabelline, and Northern all being seen. To finish off the day we headed down to K20 where the usual wader species were present before moving on to K19 to watch the Lichtestein’s Sandgrouse coming in to drink.
The day started off at the IBRCE where I managed to see one of my most wanted Wildfowl to see; Lesser White Fronted Goose! But we quickly moved on to Uvta. We attempted to see the Turkestan Shrike, but failed in that matter but the place did not disappoint with the species we saw. Temmincks Larks were in abundance, Tawny Pipits, Crowned Sandgrouse, Desert Lark and a personal favourite of mine; Jack Snipe. After spending some time in Uvta and the heat starting to take its toll a little, we moved down to the usual site of Holland Park where the highlights were definitely the reptiles. We also had an Owl and Nightjar trip in the evening near the Dead Sea, we were unfortunate that the wind was bad and perhaps paid a part in us not seeing any nightjars nor the owl.
A fairly quiet day with re-visiting Sei’fim to catch up with the wheatears and scrub warblers again, but quickly moved down to K20 to try and get some better shots of the usual wader species and flamingos. In the evening we headed down to Yotvata for the raptor roost, in total there was 2 Females, 1 Male Hen Harriers, 38 Black Kites, 8 Lesser Kestrels, 3 Common Kestrels, 6 Marsh Harriers, 2 Males, 1 Female Pallid Harriers.
The day before the big trek on the 24th. We opted to play it cool and just visit the local places of Holland Park, K20 and the IBRCE. The IBRCE proved to be the best site for the day, having just arrived and met up with Toni, John, Jean and James we headed to the first hide where 2 Collard Pratincoles were present, it was then mainly spending time in between the Crake hide and the Anita Lake hide. The Anita Lake hide proved to be popular as a Citrine Wagtail was showing itself very very well at the base of the hide, a fly-by male Little Bittern was also a welcomed site. After getting more than enough shots of the Wagtail, we wandered down to the Crake hide where a female Little Bittern was present and a Little Crake was also showing itself intermittently. We all made our way to Yotvata to meet up with the Welsh Kites team, after having some amazing ice-cream, myself and Sophie headed to the site where a Semi-Collared Flycatcher had been seen. After taking some time trying to work out how to get round to the garden area, we walked through and met up with the Spurn birders and found the bird pretty quickly.
After picking Dan and Anton up at 3am, the three car convoy began the long drive to Nitzana. We made a brief stop at the Vulture Feeding Station to attempt to see Striped Hyhena, which proved unsuccessful. We reached Nitzana at dawn where the Yorkshire Terriers team also joined us. With us all packed into the one hide, it wasn’t long until Creamed Coloured Coursers were found.. and then a Macqueens Bustard was found – a male strutting around displaying! We moved down to the track to a small campsite where we spent some time watching the raptor movement overhead including Lesser Spotted and Greater Spotted Eagles, it was also great to see Pintailed and Spotted Sandgrouse and Chukar Partridge. The next few sites were quick stops for sites for the race but a chance to catch up with a lot of different species including; Syrian Woodpecker, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, African Swamphen, Desert Finch, Sinai Rosefinch and Alpine Swift.
After the events of the day before and catching up on sleep after getting in late, we headed to High Mountain to witness some raptor movement. It was a nice day to just sit and watch the birds and catch up with everything that was seen the day before on the whatsapp group.
Today was race day for the Champions of the Flyway teams, as the majority of the teams were going North and making their way back, we opted to bird around the local parks to brush up on species that may not have been seen during the day. The decision turned out to be a good one; Woodchat Shrikes, Siberian Stonechat, Black Eared Wheatear and a Juv White Crowned Black Wheatear. After finally connecting to some Wifi and seeing my phone flood with missed calls and messages that the EcoTours Youth Team (Toni, John, Jean and James) had car trouble with 2 flat tyres, we threw everything in the car and after talking to James and coming up with a plan of how to help, we drove up to James to pick him and the new tyre up to take it back to the guys to atleast help them finish the race! After all that day’s events, I went to go pick Dan up to go out in the evening, on the route back we called in to try and spot the Striated Heron in the torchlight which actually proved successful!
With everyone tired after the race yesterday. I spent the day with the Youth Ecotours team and went down to K20 to try and see the White Tailed Lapwing, with the bird being flushed just as we caught up with the birders watching the bird. Instead, we continued to bird the area and added some lifers for me with Broad-Billed Sandpipers, Numaqua Doves and spotting a Barbary Falcon flying along one of the banks. In the evening, Dan and I went out as it was my last evening in the South before us making the trek the next day up to Jerusalem.
28-3-18 – 29-3-18
With the long drive up to Jerusalem on the 28th, we didn’t do any birding but the 29th more than made up for that! We started the day by visiting some fields in the Hula Valley where we were staying, the highlights from that area was definitely the number of black kites in the fields – a good couple of hundreds. Another good bird to see was a pair of Black Winged Kites mating in the same area. We moved onto a nature reserve which proved to be huge, we, therefore, opted to rent a golf cart to bird the site with! Two new mammal ticks for me were Coypu and Egyptian Mongoose. The birds were great to see in the park with a number of species showing really well; Pied and White Breasted Kingfisher were definite highlights, it was also a chance to see some migration of birds overhead with Pelicans, Storks, Ibis’ and Cranes all flying overhead! Finally, we moved onto some fishing ponds to see Pygmy Cormorants and Night Herons fairly close in. Before we finished our day back at the nature reserve to watch the Cranes come in to roost, we headed further into Palestine to find some Syrian Serins and Rock Nuthatches! The Crane roost proved to be succesful with us then seeing two Demoiselle Cranes!
It was an absolute amazing trip to somewhere I never thought I would actually visit. In total, I added 74 lifers to my world list including some great species like Lesser Flamingo, White Breasted Kingfisher and Syrian Serin.