Trip Report for Israel February 17th– 24th 2008
Dave Horton Participants: Dave Horton and Bob Hurst Introduction and general comments
The purpose of the trip was to see as many of the resident and wintering species as possible so that any future visits could concentrate on migratory species. As such it was fairly successful with only Oriental Skylark departing a week or so before we arrived. Sandgrouse were difficult to locate due to the rains in Nizzana which meant there was no dependence on regular water sources. It was however, dry in the south and although we did watch at Km 19, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse does not regularly drink in the evenings during the winter months. We tried to locate Egyptian Nightjar and Desert Eagle Owl on a night tour but it was considered to be too early in the season to be successful as very few mammals were seen. Larks were hard to locate as there had been little rain in the south of the country to create ideal conditions. Km 76.5 was the best location. It know seems that House Bunting is no longer found in South of the country and En Gedi is the prime locality.Logistics
We flew with Thompson from Luton for £175 return and stayed 5 nights in Eliat at the Club Hotel on a time share exchange. One night was spent in Bed and Breakfast at Neot Hakkikar and one at the Arbel Hotel in Tiberius. One day was spent on a tourist trip to Petra in Jordan and half a day at Coral Beach Reef in Eliat. Car hire was with Avis for £199 for a compact automatic with air con and unlimited mileage for the week. This was fortunate as we covered some 2500km in that time.
We were advised to take American Dollars as well as shekels, but this was a mistake as many places particularly in rural areas will only take shekels. Where we did use them we got a poor exchange rate back into shekels. Credit cards are usable in petrol stations and major shops and hotels but they do not use chip and pin and usually only swipe the card which caused me problems as the magnetic strip was very worn.
Sunday 17th February
Arrived at Tel Aviv airport at 5.15 and got through passport control and customs with minimal delay, contrary to what we had been told to expect. Collected hire car and drove to Club hotel Eilat arriving at 10 p.m.Monday 18th February
We birded North Beach seeing our first Laughing Doves, Spur-winged Plovers, c 30 White-eyed Gulls, c20 House Crows, Pied Kingfisher, a Greater Flamingo, and the first of many Graceful Prina, Yellow-vented Bulbuls, African Rock Martin and numerous Heron species. The light was not good looking towards the fish cages so we decided to come back later.
We then went to the IBRC where we added numerous hirundines, a flock of c30 Dead Sea Sparrows, 3 Arabian Babblers. We then headed for the mountains and despite there being numerous noisy tourists at En Netafin spring we saw a pair of Desert Larks, a small flock of Sinai Rosefinches including one splendid male, a White-crowned Black Wheatear, Blackstart and a pair of Brown-necked Ravens overhead. At upper Wadi Shlomo we saw the wintering Striated Scops Owl and a male Cyprus Warbler and another White-crowned Black Wheatear. Returning to north beach we added a dark phase and a light phase Western Reef Heron and 3 Greater Black-headed Gulls including 2 adults. Next stop was the Salt pans at km20 where there were 100’s of Greater Flamingo’s and a couple of Slender-billed Gulls. A Southern Grey Shrike was seen at Km 33 and little else of note as the wind was getting strong and generating a dust storm.
Today we headed north stopping just south of Hazeva to search the Wadi for the declining Arabian Warbler which we eventually saw. We also had 2 very tame Desert Larks, Scrub Warblers, 2 Sand Partridges, Blackstart and Cyprus Warbler, and numerous Palestinian Sunbirds. We then went on to the Dead Sea area seeing
the expected Tristram’s Grackle and Fan-tailed Raven in the En Gehdi car park areas. The reserve car park was the better of the three which also had Nubian Ibex and Rock Hyrax. We drove into the west bank to the north end of the Dead Sea to search the date palm area for doves but only managed to see Chukar. Whilst we were birding from the road Yoav Perlman stopped to introduce himself as he was to be our guide later that evening. He quickly showed us at 5 Namaqua Doves, a Sardinian Warbler and c30 Desert Finches and c30 Indian Silverbills in the fields north of the Date Plantation. We stopped off at the now dry fish pond at Neot Hakkikar and saw White-breasted Kingfisher before heading to the nightjar area.
With a little patience and much effort by Yoav we managed to see 3 Nubian Nightjars one of which was feeding with their characteristic flycatcher feeding action. Also seen were more Sand Partridges a Night Heron and 2 Asian Hare. It must be remembered that this sensitive area can only be accessed with a guide and military consent.
Over night at Bed and Breakfast in Neot Hakkikar organised by Yoav to try to make the locals see that conservation can have benefits. Wednesday 20th February
An early start to Nizzana seeing Golden Jackal on route.
At the Sandgrouse pools a Hoopoe and Southern Grey Shrike were seen and a large flock of Lesser Short-toed Lark. Later on at about 8.30 a flock of 25 Black-bellied Sandgrouse were seen only one of which came to drink. There had been much rain in the region and there would have been little dependence on the pools as a source of water. 2 Finsch’s Wheatears were seen south of the Drinking Pools. We headed for the Desert at Km 7 where a superb male McQueen’s Bustard was displaying, heading back north a Long-legged Buzzard showed well at Nizzana Fort. From here we headed north to Urim power lines where an Eastern Imperial Eagle was perched on a pylon. 1000’s of Cranes were south of the power lines along with 100,s of Calandra Larks. Another Long-legged Buzzard and a few Common Buzzard were also seen. We attempted to visit En Avedat for Bonelli’s Eagle but the reserve was closed due to the heavy rains. We headed south to Mitspe Ramon for the Syrian Serin roost but although small flocks of finches which were probably this species arrived to roost none was seen well enough to be positively identified. Overnight at Club Hotel EilatThursday 21st February
After the usual morning look at North Beach we headed to the IBRC to make contact with Noam Weiss who originally was going to guide us that evening but due to a very small extension to his family he had engaged the help of a driver and Mikali to guide us for Humes’s Owl. Having completed our arrangements for the evening we headed for Yotvata in search of Hooded Wheatear stopping off at km 33 where we added an Isabelline Wheatear but little else. At Yotvata 2 superb Little Green Bee-eaters eventually showed well but despite much searching there was no sign of any wheatears. In the afternoon we visited the Coral Beach Underwater Observatory in Eilat which showed the diverse life of the coral reef. We returned to North Beach but yet again there was no sign of the Striated Herons, 2 of which had been seen the previous week. At 18.00 we met up with Noam who showed us the results of his research into both Hume’s and Desert Eagle Owl which appears to be a good species.
We left Noam and headed off into the desert with Mikali and our 4x4 driver. We saw another Asian Hare before we suffered a puncture which was eventually changed and we arrived at the site. Within a few minutes a Hume’s Owl was heard and then seen well against the skyline. It moved closer giving good scope views in the flashlight. We then headed for Yotvata fields to try to see Desert Eagle Owl but despite much effort by Mikali we were not successful. We did see roosting Desert Finches and a few Quail were flushed from the edges of the fields.
We had booked a tour to Petra in Jordan for a major sightseeing expedition, but still found time to add Armenian Gull at North Beach and a migrating Steppe Eagle at the border post. A Mourning Wheatear was seen from the coach on route to Petra. The gorge and city were amazing but bird life was somewhat sparse.
Blue Rock Thrush was seen at the open area just inside the entrance and a Kurdish Wheatear showed well by the Theatre in the old city. Fan-tailed Raven was occasionally seen overhead but no Sinai Rosefinches were seen.
We tried again in vain for Striated Heron before heading North to Km 76.5 to look for Larks. On route we saw an Eastern Imperial Eagle on a small hillock to the east of the road at c km. 65. A Barbary Falcon was hunting over the hills to the left of the junction. Good views were had of Mourning and Isabelline Wheatear along with 2 Desert Larks but not the sought after species. Next stop was at Shizzafon Sewage area where we finally caught up with Hooded Wheatear, other species here were a pair of Mourning Wheatear, Bluethroat and Water Pipit. We headed North stopping at the Bahad Sewage area near Mizpe Ramon but nothing significant was added, although a Fieldfare seen here seemed completely out of place. Our second visit to En Avedat found the reserve open and a short walk from the car park half way up the canyon produced Bonelli’s Eagle.
Sunday 24th February
Left hotel at 5.30 and drove up to the summit of Mount Arbel. It took about an hour to locate the wintering Wallcreeper along with a few with Rock Hyrax.
We then drove to Hula via the Sea of Galilee on which there were many Pygmy Cormorants and a Black-necked Grebe. A Syrian Woodpecker flew across the road giving good views. Hula has changed somewhat from previous trip reports and the details given in ‘Birding Hotspots in Northern Israel’. The pools accessed from the Gume junction are of little interest. The pool to the north has been industrialised and the one to the south is dry and covered with reed. However, it could still hold a range of warblers. Access is easier however, as there are lights at the junction and the 90 road is being dualled. With only two hours birding time left we headed for the re-flooded area. This too has changed dramatically and is now a commercial enterprise, which may be a good thing if profits are ploughed back into the environment. It is no longer possible to drive around the area although you can walk the 10 km if you so wish. As time was short we hired an electric golf buggy for c£25 and drove ourselves around the site which was much dryer than we had imagined. The alternatives are to go on the hourly transport tour or to hire a bicycle. We easily saw a range of wildfowl and waders and 1000’s of Cranes with c50 White Pelicans all standing in the fields. Raptors were numerous with at least 5 Spotted Eagles showing well. We reluctantly dragged ourselves away to head for Tel Aviv airport.Details of Species recorded: Target Species in Bold
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