After getting some details from Jonathan yesterday we headed up to km76 again for first light. We slowed as we approached Yotvata as Yoav had told us on last night’s trip that the big enclosure on the west side of the road holds the last 19 ‘Acacia’ Gazelles left – at present a subspecies of Mountain Gazelle but differs morphologically apparently – and saw two near the fence. On the opposite side on the way up is a huge fenced area that is the last staging post of the re-intro scheme for extirpated native animals: inside are Arabian Oryx, Onager and a few Ostriches also. All three species have been re-released but the latter unfortunately was not successful with all birds dying....
Upon our arrival, we parked by the big antenna and began to walk northwards up the very shallow vegetated wadi. The Jordanian border is only a matter of feet from here and it’s can be quite easy to walk across when chasing a good bird and not even realise it as the fence is very low – so be careful!! A smart pair of Desert Wheatears was nice but far outnumbered by Northerns. 4 Isabellines and a single female Eastern Black-eared were seen here along with a nice female Eastern Stonechat. We bumped into a couple of birders coming back from the far end and their news was negative – no interesting larks that were reported here yesterday were still present....bugger! Larks we did see included over 100 Short-toeds, 20 Crested, 20 Bar-tails and best of all, 3 Bimaculated. A fine Barbary Falcon flew in and landed up on the antenna and we saw another later on high up overhead. 8 White and 88 Black Storks drifted northwards as did a single Steppe Eagle and Steppe Buzzard. A male Marsh and a female Hen Harrier were also seen here. No sign of yesterday’s wheatear so a lot of stuff moved on overnight.
Back around the grassier area near the antenna we had a fine male red-spot Bluethroat, 4 Ortolans – 1 male and 3 females – and a stunning male Eastern Stonechat. We bumped into some more birders who’d not seen much either but one had just received a rare-bird alert telling of a Menetries’ Warbler ringed at the IBRCE and to be released soon...bollocks!! So, a little bit disappointed with the lack of larks and missing another damn good bird we headed down to Kibbutz Lotan.
As we pulled in and took the right turn towards the sewage ponds a fantastic male Ehrenberg’s Redstart flew across the road and posed nicely in the trees next to us. At the pools themselves we soon located the scruffy-looking Buff-bellied Pipit on the 3rd pool, along with some smart Red-throateds and several Waters gaining summer plumage. A couple of Black-headed Wags fed here with at least 60 White Wags also. Two male Bluethroats (one of each coloured spot!) and at least 10 hectic Chiffs nipped in and out of the reeds and a Caspian Reed Warbler showed nicely too. In the last pond, Dad found a corking Wryneck that showed down to a few feet and in the bushes beyond there was a female Spectacled Warbler and a male Woodchat. Another female Eastern Stonechat perched up on the perimeter fence as did a splendidly bright male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear. A Sparrowhawk zipped through and out up pretty much everything, including the 200 or so Feral Pigeons around the outbuildings. Waders included 2 LRPs and 8 Green Sands, a pair of which looked somewhat out of place standing on a sandy hill!
We left the kibbutz and headed off on the 40 again towards Shizzafon. We stopped at the rather impressive sewage works here too – probably the nicest I’ve ever been with planted flowerbeds and benches...! We had our only Namaqua Dove here – a female – and added Black-winged Stilt, Pale Rock Martin, Arabian Babbler, Hoopoe and Linnet to the day total. Another addition was the bizarre sight of a Ruff zooming in low over the desert and then landing in amongst the scrub.....looking all the world like something completely different! Also nearby on the crags were two promising-looking Rock Doves.
At the Shizzafon junction we bore left onto the Ovda Road and continued down until a distinctive black flint hill was visible on the left. We decamped and began a fruitless search for any larks but there was nothing here either except a reptile tick – a smart Bridled Mabuya. We drove a little further and parked up by the big bridge from which we saw nothing but as we turned around we had our first ad White-crowned Wheatear on a large rock and 2 Blackstarts and another male Woodchat close-by. We then took the Sheharut Road and parked up near one of the bridges. Again, no sign of any larks here but we did see a nice flock of 35 Spotted Sandgrouse fly over as well as a constant stream of fully-laden F-16s, Cobras, Apache’s and Black Hawks on manoeuvres – cool!!
We left, again a little disheartened at the lacklustre lark appearances, and headed back down to Yotvata. We stopped at the north circular field which had just been mown and saw at least 30 Bimaculated Larks amongst the Short-toeds. We couldn’t locate either of the Oriental Skylarks that were here but looking at the larks in the mown grass was a nightmare!! Heading back southwards we diverted up towards Amram’s Pillars and did the walk up to the pillars themselves which were quite impressive. The falling light created some excellent shadows in the valley and back lower down a photographer had set up some water to entice the birds closer for photos. A nice 1styr White-crowned Wheatear, a Desert Lark and a Blackstart took advantage of this and showed excellently. A nice Sand Partridge was also seen on a nearby rocky hillside and a Brown-necked Raven flew low up the wadi too. No sign of any rosefinches of course....but as we left and headed back down the bumpy track a fab Hooded Wheatear perched up on a dead tree and showed well before flying across the road and out of sight.
So, with the day nearly done we pitched up at the North Beach to chat with other birders. Scanning offshore we had 7 gorgeous White-eyed Gulls, 3 Sandwich Terns, 30 Slender-billed and 10 Armenian Gulls whilst a nice dark-morph Western Reef-Egret posed on the beach in front of the gathered throng. We ate at our adjacent restaurant again as the food was damn good and there’s so much of it....one thing I liked about Israeli restaurants was the speed at which your meals – and courses – turned up...definitely no time for chit-chat!