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Southern Israel - Relaxed migration short break 20-25 March 2016 (1 Viewer)


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I travelled with my brother as an "Israel virgin" to enjoy a relaxed short break in and around Eilat, right on the southern tip of Israel and a 250 mile drive from Tel Aviv, where we landed.


Excellent flights with EasyJet to Tel Aviv from London Luton made the trip possible. Costing around £230 return, the flight departed on the 20th March at around 11.30am, and departed at around 1750 on 25th from Tel Aviv.

Leg room was excellent compared to Ryan Air, and the service I found to be superior too for a budget airline. You can catch onward flights to Eilat via Arkia or Israir, though of course you need to allow for any initial flight delays and time to get through security checks. We decided to drive from Tel Aviv, which perhaps was not a great choice as it was exhausting after a 5 hour flight.

I was stressed about the security checks at Tel Aviv, though of course I fully understand them. As a first time visitor, it is a bit over-whelming, but it went relatively smoothly, I explained that I was birdwatching at the Eilat festival and they seemed fine. Do make sure you keep the little green visa they hopefully give you upon entry, as I lost mine shortly after arrival, though I actually never needed it. But it is feasible at any checkpoints that you will be asked for it.

EasyJet flights into Tel Aviv use the budget airline Terminal One, which is almost like a separate airport altogether. Finding car rental desks was not easy upon arrival, you may have to ask as there are no signs, but from memory they are up on the first floor. Most birders use Europcar, but I opted to use Hertz, who had their own desk in the terminal. The staff were helpful and although the car hire cost over £100 pounds, plus around £48 CDW excess waver, I was prepared to pay this extra fee.

Driving out of Tel Aviv Airport was also a little confusing, so do study maps so you know how to get in the right direction for Eilat (Jerusalem direction initially upon leaving airport, the opposite direction to Tel Aviv), and then the Route 6 towards Be'er Sheva, after that then follow signs for The Dead Sea, and finally onto Eilat on Route 90.

Roads in Israel are generally good, but I found signage quite limited, there are no signs every few miles like in the UK. Bare in mind that pedestrian crossings are slightly different here, if someone is already on the crossing you must give way to them, but otherwise they give way to you. So exercise caution. Israeli drivers generally go fast and are always up your backside.

Beware of the speed limits and beware of the fact that very few people bother using indicators, you are simply expected to interpret if someone is coming your way at a roundabout.

Finally, all cars in Israel have a 4-digit security code plus * that you must punch in before you start the car, this was a real nuisance when you were stopping and starting along desert tracks, but it is unavoidable. When I got the car, Hertz made me photograph the code on the card they give you, which makes sense and was a good tip, in case you forgot it. With all the stopping and starting and having to punch in the code, this became a real bind. Occasionally the system could not cope with all the stopping and starting, when there was worryingly no response to inserting the code. I found that when that happened you simply had to open your drivers door then close it immediately, and the code would then be accepted so you could re-start your engine.

We had pre-booked accommodation at Eilat via www.booking.com at Hotel Almog on the perimeter road of Eilat, and thus away fron the 'touristy' Red Sea coastal area of Eilat but in a good strategic position to get to most birding areas locally, very speedily. This road links Route 90 to Route 12 in the mountains. This hotel cost about £450 for 5 nights, which is quite cheap by Eilat standards!! It turned out that Hotel Almog was actually a University Halls of Residence based over 3-4 adjoining 6 storey blocks, but they must also operate as a hotel to self-fund. After a four-hour drive from Tel Aviv, we arrived at 1am, feeling exhausted. I have to say the rooms were fine, they had everything you might want, good air-conditioning, kitchenette/kettle/fridge, en-suite, wide screen TV and a very nice balcony overlooking the mountains (and local dump), though of course not all rooms have this view. There is a small restaurant in one of the blocks, with a small adjoining swimming pool. We did not use the pool, as we felt a little out of place amongst the younger students. But we used the small café each night to have pizza or chicken roll and chips, and cans of beer bought from the adjoining shop. Each of the blocks have secure parking through security gates, which you get used to.

With petrol, make sure you have a full tank before you venture out into desert areas, or at least a fullish tank - best to air on the side of caution. You can buy bottles of water at many places including petrol stations. With petrol, you can pay by credit card but it only allows you to use a certain amount, and even then the credit card instructions are not in English, so it is easier to pay cash. Go to the cashier and give them more than you expect to use, I simply said "I want to fill it up", and they give you back what you do not use. It is easy and you get used to it. Most people speak English anyway, but not all.

Literature used included the now 15-year old "A Guide to the Birding Hotspots of Southern Israel" by Hadoram Shirihai, James Smith, Guy Kirwan, and Dan Alon, which is still very relevant and useful to first-time visitors.

David Gosney's guides and DVD are also very useful, though the fact that the much-talked about Km33 'lark-area' on Route 90 in both publications highlighted above, is no longer. A new airport serving Eilat called "Ramon International Airport" is under construction smack on top of this once precious birding zone.

The Birding

We chose Eilat as a base, due to the fact that migration here in late March is reputed to be extraordinary. Birds are simply funnelled through the adjoining mountains and Red Sea.

Eilat is bordered by Jordan and Egypt, and border gates are in view along North Beach and a little further out past South Beach, but currently these countries are classed as being fairly moderate, and relations with Israel are reasonable. Without being political, you have to be here to really appreciate the sense of being encircled and potentially constantly under attack. The Israeli Defence Force is of course prominent and also extremely highly rated. One-third of Israel's population are non-Jewish, and any camels you may see near Be'er Sheva for example, will really belong to nearby Bedouin villagers.

Israeli birders are extremely friendly and helpful and will always try to give you advice. And for a first-timer to Israel, there are so many lifers to see that are in fact relatively easy birds to see here. I usually achieve 3 or 4 'lifers' when I travel abroad, this time I connected with 23 lifers and a total of 114 species altogether, a number that would put me last I am sure, if I had entered the bird-race which was due to take place in a few days! But you have to make allowances, we are both in our mid-50's, my brother is not even a birder and spent two days scuba diving (which is his hobby).

Additionally, I never managed to get to Nizzana to see MacQueen's Bustard as I just could not get up at 2-3am for another long drive. Birding sacrilege perhaps? And even worse, I did not go on any of the evening tours to connect with the Nightjars or Desert Tawny Owl. Cost too much for me this time, though if I visit Israel again these will undoubtedly become top targets.

Apart from our final travel day back to Tel Aviv, all birding was done within about 50 miles of Eilat, in fact nearly all of it was within 30 miles.

Route 90 birding locations include the IBRC Birdwatching Centre (IBRC stands for the International Birding and Research Centre) on the northern edge of Eilat, Km19 pool and Km20 Pools, Date Palms, Amrams Pillars, Yotvata Hai-bar Nature Reserve, Yotvata Circular Fields, and Km76 and Km82 'lark' spots, all along the Arava Valley.

Route 12 out of Eilat leads up into the Eilat Mountains past Mount Yoash, with good raptor locations being very close to Km8 and KM9 posts. It is very difficult to say where exactly the best raptor migration spots are, because they vary daily according to wind direction, so you literally have to assess as migration is happening. I undertook two raptor watching sessions during our visit, and in fact we moved lower down to a pull-off area around Km6 I believe, as kettles of raptors were occurring all around that section. What a spectacle, but in fact they also pass directly over Eilat itself, people watched raptors at IBRC, and from Km20 pools for example. But they don't occur in the same spectacular numbers as in the mountains. Also worthy of mention off Route 12 was the Se'ifim Plain around 20-30kms out of Eilat. This is clearly signposted off Route 12 (to the right), a couple of miles after the 'Red Wadi'. We were told that Se'ifim plain was currently the best 'lark' spot in the area.

Finally, there are birding hotspots in Eilat itself, around the IBRC and connecting North Beach, around South Beach just past 'Dolphin Reef', as well as in the small parks of Eilat such as at Ofira Park, or Canada Park, and best of all Holland Park situated on the same perimeter road as our hotel. Also situated off this road is Eilat cemetary, though we never visited. Finally, in central Eilat, just behind the main hotels, look for a football pitch that often attacts pipits and wagtails as it is watered.

Word-of-mouth is of course crucial to find out where good birds were, and chatting with fellow birders is of course the best means of communication, but we were not staying at Hotel Agamin in Eilat, which was holding the Eilat Bird Festival. Undoubtedly conversation over beers each evening would have been extremely useful. You can also try to check updates on www.birds.org/il/en, but we found that was not really helpful regarding the species we were after, such as rare larks. To be honest, it is crying out for a website to provide much-desired up-to-date information.

DAY ONE 21 March 2016

Having arrived at 1am in the morning (having seen just a Desert Hedgehog and Red Fox on route in the dark), I struggled to sleep at all because I was too exhausted from the long days travelling and long drive to Eilat. I guess sheer adrenalin saw me through the day, as I was up for breakfast at 7am, where I saw the first House Crows and pretty Laughing Doves, as well as a surprise Rock Martin (also called Pale-throated Crag Martin) flying between the hotel buildings. We were out firstly into the mountains along Route 12, which produced nothing but we soaked in the scenery on a glorious sunny morning.

So we called into IBRC Birdwatching Centre just out of Eilat along Route 90 (it is signposted). Here we ambled around for half an hour, noting 8 juvenile Greater Flamingo's on the pools, along with Black-winged Stilts, Slender-Billed Gulls, and Redshanks which were routinely seen here, as were Collared, Laughing Doves and Yellow-Vented Bulbuls, possibly the three species most routinely seen in this part of Israel. An adult Armenian Gull, Pied Kingfisher, Sardinian Warbler, and Little Grebe were also seen during a brief stop here, and a few Little Green Bee-eaters were seen here, or just outside the IBRC entrance, along the driveable track running alongside the reed-lined canal, that eventually winds its way to North Beach. A Black Stork and Marsh Harrier passed overhead. We obtained advice from helpful IBRC staff and chose to go back out on Route 12 through the mountains to Se'ifim Plain, which we were told was currently the best area for larks.

Se'ifim Plain is clearly signposted (once only) off Route 12. A rough but driveable track takes you over a few rolling hills until after less than one km a large scrubby plain appears in front of you, with a driveable track along side it. We slowly drove along the track over a mile long, and over an hour or so connected with 4 Desert Larks, 2 Sand Partidges, 2 Mourning Wheatear's, male Desert Wheatear, 6 Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, Tawny Pipit, 20 Trumpeter Finches, as well as probable Bimaculated Lark and 2 distant Bar-Tailed Desert Larks in flight. 30 Black Storks passed overhead. This had been a productive visit and one we enjoyed in a surprisingly pleasant late morning temperature.

Nearby, Red Wadi produced nothing of note, but back in the Eilat Mountains, we stopped to look at a handsome White-crowned Black Wheatear on overhead road-side telegraph wires near Km9.

It was about 1pm and I was nearly exhausted in the increasing heat, having had no sleep. But my brother encouraged me to go to Holland Park, near the hotel. In temperatures of around 25C, we ambled around this lovely watered gulley, noting 3 Ruppell's Warblers, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, a few Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Sand Partridge's, 18 Spanish Sparrows, Blackstart, a pair of circling, pale-looking Sparrowhawks, as well as many Yellow-vented Bulbuls, and of course Collared and Laughing Doves. We didn't quite get to the end of the wadi, but it would be the only time we spent any length of time here. Holland Park undoubtedly holds a lot of birds, and a morning visit would have been more productive still.

Birding for the day for us finished early at 2.30pm, when a couple of Tristram's Starlings were noted on the hotel roof. 80 (Indian)House Crows were seen from my balcony by the adjacent tip, a sign of how widely spread and well-established they are now.

I collapsed into bed and simply rested with the air-conditioning on, though I managed to get down for pizza and beer at 6pm, before retiring to bed early.

DAY TWO - 22 March 2016

I certainly felt more alive this morning after sleeping quite well, but I was up and back out at Se'ifim Plain by 7am. A few cars were already parked up, and just as I was watching a probable Bar-tailed Desert Lark, two cars pulled up behind me so I had to move to one side (serves me right for not pulling over properly). They contained Lee Evans, Gary, and a few other birders who were all very helpful and friendly, and I sort of 'coat-tailed' behind them, as 'more eyes the better'. They did not seem to mind.

We walked around the extensive plain, noting the Trumpeter Finches, 2 Mourning Wheatears, 3 Isabelline Wheatears, 4 Northern Wheatears, 2 Tawny Pipits, and thanks to the group and some Finnish birders, a stunning male Hooded Wheatear. It was quite distant initially, but decided to fly to the top of a bush directly in the middle of the slightly scattered group of birders, offering crippling views for all. What a beast of a bird! The bill was characteristically big for a wheatear species. After an hour I left the group (who would eventually go on to find a pair of Dunn's Lark - ouch!!), to walk back to the car. But I did at last obtain crippling views of a singing Bar-Tailed Desert Lark that alighted on a bush and then the ground just a few metres away. When it issued its 'creaking gate' call in low flight, it seemed to drop a foot or two as it called. A wonderful little bird.

I drove the short distance back into the Eilat Mountains, stopping at the pull-off area by Km9 at 8.45am. A group were watching raptor migration that was clearly evident, so I stopped and joined them for around 45 minutes. Hundreds of Steppe Buzzards were passing overhead, albeit quite high, along with several Black Kites. An Egyptian Vulture was easy to pick out, and I was pleased to watch a couple of Steppe Eagles too, including a juvenile which was aggressively tussling with a Steppe Buzzard.

I then continued out on Route 12 towards Uvda and Shizzafon (Ne'ot Smadar) and its Kibbutz. I only briefly stopped to watch a Lesser Kestrel on route, and a Sand Martin and 3 Black Kites near the watered grounds at the kibbutz, though I did not seek permission to go past the barrier into the Kibbutz itself.

My circular route allowed me to reconnect with Route 90., where I motored northward to Km82. Parking up, I met two lads who had birded the wadi on the western side of the road all morning, along with the adjacent scrubby hillside, but who had failed to find any of the few Thick-Billed Larks seen here over the past few days. And unfortunately, despite looking for over an hour, these nomadic-larks had clearly moved on. Birds located here included the usual Lesser Whitethroats, Blackstart, 2 Blackcaps, and a Woodchat Shrike. A Dorca's Gazelle leapt in the heat-haze distantly.

I undertook the short journey south back to Yotvata Circular Fields, but there had been no sign of the two Oriental Skylarks seen here a few days earlier, and all I located other than hundreds of doves, was a Sardinian Warbler, a few Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats, and a juvenile Egyptian Vulture that passed high overhead. Arabian Warblers still exist here, but they are very tough to find without precise knowledge. I enjoyed a fantastic sandwich at the adjacent Service station run by the local Kibbutz, and their ice cream is legendary!

On my drive back to Eilat, I checked out Lotan Kibbutz, though it is unclear how to access the barrier at the entrance, as the phone was dead. I was not that bothered about access anyway, as I have heard varying views about the birds here. So I turned round, and pleasingly enjoyed stunning views of another Little Green Bee-eater on the entrance track.

I next visited Amram's Pillars which can only be accessed as you drive back in the direction of Eilat, due to the presence of a central reservation on the dual carriageway. It is clearly sign-posted. A rough track about 4-5kms long goes all the way to a small car park, then you can walk on to the final spot. No Sinai Rosefinches were being reported, and indeed none were present. But driving slowly along the track revealed a few good birds including my only Scrub Warbler, Pale Crag Martin/ Rock Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, 2 White-Crowned Black Wheatear's, and a Southern Grey Shrike.

I briefly visited Eilat's North Beach, and found Western Reef Egret/Heron, and a lovely Greater Sand Plover that instantly flew as I got onto it frustratingly, as well as 2 Pied Kingfishers. IBRC produced 2 White-Spotted Bluethroat's, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, and around 100 Red-rumped Swallows passing through.

The Km20 and Km19 pools off to the east of the Route 90 dual carriageway were my final destinations of the day. I am not entirely sure if you can access them directly off Route 90, the best way I found was to take the turn-off at the sign-posted Eilat Birdwatching Centre (IBRC) on the northern edge of Eilat (which is actually at Km15). The road down towards IBRC takes a few turns, then bends sharp right in front of obvious large Date Palms towards the centre. But at this point, directly in front of the Date Palms, take the rough tarmac road to the left. This is badly rutted in parts, but takes you straight to the Km20 Pools and Km19 pools.

Km20 Pools are accessed by taking a right turn off this road after 4 km's approximately, where a large group of Date Palms terminate, in fact if you drive straight ahead at this point the road only continues a further 50 metres or so onto a small Water Works, and associated pipes. So in effect, take the 'final right turn' you can take off this road. The track then progresses for about a further km through Date Palms, and up onto the driveable banks that lead all around the several large pools, that on one side run alongside King Hussein International Airport in Jordan. But there are very few aircraft that use this airport.

Bird-wise, this site can be superb, it certainly was full of birds on this visit, but a bit quieter on two subsequent visits. Today, it produced 3 'surprise' Greater Black-Headed Gulls (or Pallas's Gulls) including a superb adult, hundreds of Slender-Billed Gulls, a few hundred Greater Flamingo's, 15 Spur-Winged Plover's, 300 Black-Winged Stilts, 20 Redshank, 3 Greenshank, several Temminck's Stints, many more Little Stints, 2 Marsh Sandpipers, Wood Sandpiper, 2 Ruff, 2 Black-Tailed Godwits, 2 Little Egrets, a few wagtails and 20 Grey Heron's. Views of the birds here, at 5pm, were quite superb.

Of course I was timing everything today, so that I could be at KM19 Pool just before 6pm as Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse still come to drink at this legendary spot at exactly 6.10-6.20pm during late March. This spot is also accessed from the same track as you use from IBRC to Km20, but are of course a little back in the direction of Eilat. As you come from Eilat direction, look for some large black cattle sheds on your right, and if you are coming back towards Eilat from Km20 pools, look for them on your left. A driveable track leads alongside one side of the cattle sheds only (the southerly side). Park at the end, where the track terminates, and walk through the obvious broken down section of fence on your right hand side, onto the raised bank in front of you, and sit quietly just to the left of the obvious outflow. Sit down and remain quiet, if you do, you will be rewarded with views down to a few metres of a few Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse. Sadly its just too dark for photography when they arrive. Up to 12 birds came in, including 3 fine males. And before they arrived, a few Night Herons, Purple Heron, Coots, and Moorhen's provided some action, and there was a mini-Swallow and Black-headed Wagtail roost here. Also do check out the canal and pools at the end of the track before you walk up the raised bank to watch the sandgrouse. These areas are productive, and I found Bluethroat, and 2 Egyptian Geese which actually settled on the main Pool. Citrine Wagtail had been seen, though I failed to find it.

Having seen these enigmatic Sangdrouse, I retired to the hotel for another pizza and beers, having enjoyed views of a number of lifers and enjoyed great birdwatching in general.

DAY THREE - 23 March 2016

The temperature was certainly edging up each day, to around 28C today.

I first went to Eilat's North Beach to attempt to locate the reported rarer gulls, but just Slender-Billed Gulls were loafing. A pair of Ringed Necked Parakeets flew overhead and a Wryneck was seen in nearby Ofira Park.

Today, my key destination was around 30kms north along Route 90, to the signposted Hai-bar nature reserve near Yotvata, which has a small zoo containing Israeli mammals including Leopard, Striped Hyena, Caracul, Porcupine, Jackal, Red Fox, Fat Sand Rats etc, as well as birds of prey including Vultures, Eagles and a Sooty Falcon. It also has a drive-through reserve where deer and breeding Ostriches are present. But the reason bird-watchers come here is for ridiculously easy Black Bush Robins (or Black Scrub Robins). 2 pairs are currently present. This species is a sought-after annual Israeli vagrant, one which usually gives people the run-around.

As you drive into the zoo, the obvious parking lot in front of the main building is to your right. It costs 29 Shekels to go in, and they will show you the best spots, but if you are really tight you can view the bushes through a metal mesh fence to the to the right, though I think the staff are getting a bit weary of people doing this. I paid to go in, and within ten minutes I had enjoyed great views of a male Black Bush Robin, and a glimpse of a female. I also enjoyed my only view of a stunning male Palestine Sunbird that briefly alighted in a tree just above my head. An Arabian Babbler was also seen in the bush in the centre of the car park. Both these species are classed as easy and routine around these parts, but I did not find this to be the case. You may just come across them given time, but its not easy to plan to find them.

Back on the Route 90 to Eilat, I revisited Amrams Pillars picking up Desert Lark, Woodchat Shrike, adult and juvenile White-Crowned Black Wheatear, Blackstart, and 4 Ruppell's Warblers. Another Dorca's Gazelle was seen briefly.

KM20 Pools were quieter today, most of yesterdays wader species were present in smaller number, along with 11 Glossy Ibis and a large group of Shoveler. Some Steppe Buzzards were migrating overhead.

I then drove the short distance to IBRC Birdwatching Centre, which was productive late afternoon. Pleasingly I located up to 10 Dead Sea Sparrows, which quickly flew off. Spotted Crake, 4 Little Green Bee-eaters, Cetti's Warbler, 2 Graceful Warblers, 15 Spanish Sparrows, and 3 'fishing' Caspian Terns were seen as well as the usual gulls, doves, and bulbuls.

Eilat North Beach between 4-5pm was more productive at last, as one of the wintering Brown Booby's flew in and landed on a buoy, and at least 1 Western Reef Egret was showing well.
The second wintering Brown Booby was then located on an adjacent buoy to its companion, and a juvenile White-Eyed Gull flew past. Additionally, a splendid adult White-Eyed Gull was then seen perched on another buoy not too far out. All good birds. At the nearby watered football pitch, 3 Red-throated Pipits were feeding along with many White Wagtails. 2 Common Myna's and 2 Tristram's Starlings were also present.

I darted through Eilat to South Beach where I was told a Striated Heron was present, though I only found a roost containing 40-50 Ringed Plovers and Little Stints on the stoney beach immediately to the right of Dolpin Reef.

As darkness fell, I returned to the hotel to join my brother who had finished his second day of scuba diving.

DAY FOUR - 24 March 2016

My brother was with me for my final full day, but before he was up I paid an early visit to Eilat South Beach again. By 'Dolphin Reef' I found 2 White-Eyed Gulls, but no Striated Heron. Thankfully Lee Evans and his crew arrived and pointed me to the exact spot about a few hundred metres further to the right, where the heron was roosting on a fenced-off jetty containing oil pipes. I eventually found the heron, but only in flight quite distantly, and I did not linger as I was attracting the attention of a security guard who was eyeing me through his binoculars.

I picked up my brother and we drove up into the nearby Eilat Mountains on Route 12.
We parked up at Km8 and joined a few others, but it was clear that most raptor activity today was back down the road towards Eilat, so we parked up somewhere around Km6 and for an hour enjoyed fantastic raptor passage in kettles each containing 300 birds on several sides. Steppe Buzzards made up 99% of these birds, but a few Black Kites and 8 Steppe Eagles were seen, clearly bigger than the other birds. One Steppe Eagle even rested on the nearby cliff edge for half an hour, offering good scope views.

We had enjoyed the raptor migration spectacle so moved on to Route 90 again, coming off a few metres before post KM26, as we were told a Desert Warbler was a few km's along this track. With no other birders present, it quickly became evident that finding this bird in such a wide landscape would be futile, though we saw 2 Masked Shrikes, 2 Little Green Bee-eaters, and 4 Dorca's Gazelle's. 2 more Steppe Eagles passed overhead, offering good views.

We travelled the short journey north up Route 90 to Hai-bar Nature Reserve as my brother wanted to see the Black Bush Robins. And after paying the entrance fee, we saw 2 males in a goat pen, feeding close to each other. It was almost surreal. An Egyptian Vulture swooped low overhead and another Masked Shrike was present here.

I then showed him the Western Reef Egret at North Beach, before driving back out to KM20 Pools where 3 White Pelicans flew in to join the Flamingo's, waders, and gulls seen the previous days. Km19 Pool only produced 3 Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse this time, along with 3 Squacco Herons and 3 Night Herons, as well as 5 Cattle Egrets and the pair of Egyptian Geese.

Darkness fell and it was time for beers and food, yet again - but for the final time.

DAY FIVE - 25 March 2016

We were up for breakfast after a good nights sleep, aiming for a leisurely drive through the Negev Desert on Route 40 on route back to Tel Aviv Airport. We had not seen much of the landscape and terrain on our arrival day as it was dark, so we were looking forward to this. After an hour driving through the Negev we saw a roadside Mourning Wheatear which we stopped to watch, and then we spent time watching birds between Km58-km69 which produced a Short-toed Eagle, Kestrel on a pylon (hoped for a Lanner), 4-5 Brown-Necked Ravens, and a few Crested Larks. A gulley before Km69 held a few White-Crowned Black Wheatears, Blackstart, and Rock Martin. Once we passed the elevated Mitze Ramon on Route 40, the land became slightly but noticeably more fertile in the upper Negev. A ringtail harrier species passed by, and by Sde Boker an Arabian Babbler was seen close to the Ben Curion Memorial.

The land became increasingly lush as we pressed northwards, passing roadside camels belonging to Bedouin's who camp near the city of Be'er Sheva, and accordingly new species began to emerge, notably Hooded Crows, but we also saw 3 Hoopoes and 20 White Storks.

Finally, before hitting Tel Aviv, I wondered about checking out the area next to Route 6 by Kiryat Gat, where a Bateleur had over-wintered, but as it had not been reported for a week or so I thought it had gone, though I tried to look up at a strange-looking Buzzard sized raptor as I motored along, it may have been the bird but there is no way I can claim it now. It has since again been reported again so is still present after all!

Handing the hire car in was quite straightforward thankfully, as were security checks. I got home by 11pm, having thoroughly enjoyed birding in Israel even though I had only scatched the surface of what the area has to offer, but all along I had really just wanted to see around 20 target birds that are routine in Israel but hard elsewhere in the Western Palearctic. If I return I will certainly expect more. The larks available was perhaps the only disappointment, though no doubt they are out there and will be reported over coming days.

SPECIES LIST (Lifers in bold)

Little Grebe - 1 at IBRC most days
Brown Booby - 2 at Eilat North Beach
Great Cormorant - 3 at Km19 pool
Great White Pelican - 3 at Km20 pools
Night Heron - 3 at Km19 pool
Striated Heron - just a single bird in flight at Eilat South Beach, by Dolphin Reef
Squacco Heron - 3 at Km19 pool
Cattle Egret - 5 at Km19 pool and 2 at Tel Aviv Ben Curion Airport
Little Egret - at least 2 around North Beach
Grey Heron - around 20 at Km20 pools
Purple Heron - 1 at Km19 pool
Black Stork - around 40 over Se'ifim Plain.
White Stork - around 20 in fields close to Be'er Sheva
Glossy Ibis - 11 at Km20 pools
Greater Flamingo - around 300 at Km20 pools, and 8 non-breeding birds at IBRC
Egyptian Goose - 2 at Km19 pool and adjacent canal
Mallard - just 2 seen around IBRC
Shoveler - around 200 at Km20 pools
Black Kite - around 50 seen, over Eilat Mountains and along Route 90 at various locations.
Egyptian Vulture - 3 in total - 1 at Eilat Mountains, a juvenile over Yotvata, and adult at Hai-bar NR
Short-toed Eagle - superb adult over Route 40 Negev desert
Marsh Harrier - 2-3 birds hunting over IBRC and Km20
Hen Harrier - ringtail probably this species over upper Negev
Sparrowhawk - 5 birds seen, including 2 over Holland Park, 1 at Hai-bar NR
Steppe Eagle - 12 birds seen, 10 over Eilat Mountains, 2 over Km26 of Route 90
Lesser Kestrel - 2-3 birds seen mainly towards Uvda on Route 12
Kestrel - at least 10 birds seen at various locations
Sand Partridge - 2 at Se'ifim Plain, 2 at Holland Park
Common Quail - 1 at Holland Park
Spotted Crake - 1 at IBRC
Moorhen - up to 8 at Km19 pool
Coot - around 8 at Km19 pool
Black-winged Stilt - at least 500 seen, mainly at Km20 pools but also IBRC
Ringed Plover - around 30 at Eilat North Beach and 20 at Km20 pools
Greater Sand Plover - superb adult briefly at Eilat North Beach
Spur-winged Plover - over 100 seen, especially at Km20 pools and canal close to IRBC
Little Stint - up to 300 seen, mainly at Km20 pools
Temminck's Stint - at least several seen at Km20 pools
Ruff - several at Km20 pools
Black-tailed Godwit - 4 at Km20 pools
Redshank - around 40 seen, at Km20 pools and IRBC
Marsh Sandpiper - at least 4 at Km20 pools
Greenshank - 3 at Km20 pools
Green Sandpiper - just 1 in canal by Eilat North Beach
Wood Sandpiper - just 1 at Km20 pools
Common Sandpiper - just 1 near IBRC
White-Eyed Gull - juvenile & adult at Eilat North Beach, 2 at Dolphin Reef, South Beach
Greater Black-Headed Gull (Pallas's) - 3 at Km20 pools, 2 juvs and a cracking adult
Black-Headed Gull - up to 20 at IBRC
Slender-Billed Gull - several hundred, mainly at Km20, also IBRC and North Beach
Armenian Gull - 3-4 adults at Eilat North Beach
Sandwich Tern - up to 10 birds at Eilat North Beach
Common Tern - single bird at Eilat North Beach
Collared Dove - hundreds at various places
Laughing Dove - a few hundred at least, seen routinely
Ringed-necked Parakeet - 2 overhead by Eilat North Beach
Common Swift - small passage of up to 20 birds at Km20 pools and over IBRC
Pied Kingfisher - 2 by Eilat North Beach and 1 at IBRC
Little Green Bee-eater - 12 birds seen including up to 4 around IBRC, 2 at Km26, 1 at Lotan
Hoopoe - 3 birds seen in flight upper Negev only
Wryneck - single bird at Ofira Park, Eilat
Bar-Tailed Desert Lark - up to 4 seen at Se'ifim Plain, but only 1 seen really well
Desert Lark - 5 seen, 4 at Se'ifim Plain and 1 at Amrams Pillars
Bimaculated Lark - 1 probable only in flight at Se'ifim Plain
Crested Lark - several seen
Sand Martin - just 1 by Ne'ot Smadar
Rock Martin/Pale-throated Crag Martin - 1 by hotel in Eilat, 1-2 at Amrams Pillars, 2 in Negev
Swallow - a few hundred, such as at IBRC and Km19 pool
Red-rumped Swallow - at least 100 over IBRC, and 1 at Amrams Pillars
Tawny Pipit - 3 birds at Se'ifim Plain
Meadow Pipit - single bird on football pitch in Eilat
Red-throated Pipit - 3 birds on football pitch in Eilat
Black-headed Wagtail - up to 30 at Km19 pool, a couple at Km20 pools
White Wagtail - a few hundred seen such as at IBRC, Km20 pools
Yellow-Vented Bulbul - a few hundred seen, routinely seen
White-Spotted Bluethroat - 3 birds seen, 2 at IBRC, 1 at Km19 canal
Blackstart - about 8 seen, such as at Amrams Pillars, Holland Park, Negev etc.
Whinchat - single bird at Se'ifim Plain
Isabelline Wheatear - 3 birds at Se'ifim Plain
Northern Wheatear - around 10 birds at Se'ifim Plain
Desert Wheatear- just a single male at Se'ifim Plain
Mourning Wheatear - 3 adults at Se'ifim Plain and 1 on Route 40 in Negev desert
Hooded Wheatear - superb male at Se'ifim Plain
White-Crowned Black Wheatear - 10 seen, 1 near Eilat Route 12, 4 Amrams Pillars, 4 Negev
Cetti's Warbler - 1 at IBRC
Fan-Tailed Warbler - 1 at IBRC
Graceful Warbler - 2 at IBRC
Scrub Warbler - single bird at Amrams Pillars
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler - 1 at Holland Park, and 1 at Hai-bar NR
Blackcap - several such as at Km82, and IBRC
Lesser Whitethroat - a number seen and more heard, such as at IBRC
Ruppell's Warbler - 7 seen - 3 at Holland Park and 4 at Amrams Pillars
Sardinian Warbler - 1 at IBRC, 1 at Yotvata
Eastern Bonelli's Warbler - 2-3 birds seen, at IRBC and Holland Park
Chiffchaff - several seen at IBRC
Arabian Babbler - just 2 seen, 1 at Hai-bar NR, 1 by Ben Curion Monument upper Negev
Palestine Sunbird - just a single superb male seen briefly at Hai-bar NR
Southern Grey Shrike - just 1 seen at Amrams Pillars
Woodchat Shrike - 1 at Km82 of Route 90, 1 at Hai-bar NR
Masked Shrike - 3 birds, 2 at Km26 of Route 90, 1 at Hai-bar NR
Hooded Crow - at least 30 seen between Sde Boker and Tel Aviv
Brown-Necked Raven - 4-5 birds seen in Negev desert on Route 40
Tristram's Starling/Grackle - 6 birds - 2 by hotel, 2 at Eilat football pitch, 2 at Hai-bar NR
House Sparrow - seen routinely
Spanish Sparrow - up to 80 birds -small flocks seen such as at Holland Park
Dead Sea Sparrow - up to 10 birds briefly at IRBC
Trumpeter Finch - at least 20 birds seen at Se'ifim Plain
Cretzschmar's Bunting - single bird at IRBC
Black Bush Robin - 2 males and a female seen at Hai-bar NR
Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse - at least 12 seen at Km19 pool
House Crow - up to 300 seen at Eilat
Common Myna - a pair at Eilat football pitch, and a pair at Tel Aviv Airport
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Some photographs from the trip: -

1) Map of Eilat, Hotel Almog is situated on the perimeter road linking Route 90 to Route 12
2) Hotel Almog on the perimeter road of Eilat
3) The upmarket hotel scene next to Eilat North Beach
4) The evening meal at Almog!!
5) Route 12 through the Eilat Mountains, with the border fence between Israel and Egypt clearly visible.


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More photographs - of birds, not good ones!

1) Steppe Eagle on rock face
2) Little Green Bee-eater at Lotan Kibbutz
3) Mourning Wheatear at Se'ifim Plain
4) White-crowned Black Wheatear in Eilat mountains


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Another set of photographs :

1) Arabian Babbler at Upper Negev on Route 40
2) Brown-Necked Raven in Negev Desert from Route 40 (km 58)
3) Black-Bush Robin at Hai-bar Nature Reserve
4) Black Bush Robin again


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Now that's what I call a good report!
Plenty of nitty- gritty detail which is helpful in planning a trip.
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Cheers Bubbs, yes it took all day, but mine are a poor mans version of Jos's quality reports whose I roughly try to base them on.

But I enjoy reading other reports and find some of them extremely useful for when I visit.
Hopefully when the new airport is finished flights will fly direct to Eilat from the UK. Ovda was OK but quite a trek from Eilat.
Thanks for posting, an enjoyable read Nick, brings back memories!
Multiple Black Bush Robins is just greedy though:C

Certainly does Rich, I seem to recall seeing 229 species in 10 days during March 2011, but we did cheat by starting in the North and making our way all the way to the South, however no Black Bush Robin for me :-C

Not sure I have ever experienced quite such an intensive period of birding though !!!

Cheers Bubbs, yes it took all day, but mine are a poor mans version of Jos's quality reports whose I roughly try to base them on.

But I enjoy reading other reports and find some of them extremely useful for when I visit.


It was a very enjoyable read, as you say more in the style of Jos with a bit of commentary rather than a long list of birds. Thank you for taking me back five years and memories of some amazing birds.

I'm really pleased people enjoy the read Ian, thank you.

To be honest I would rather have seen Namaqua Dove than Black Bush Robin. Its the one I really wanted to see, as well as Temmincks and Thick-billed Larks.

Not complaining though, and I want to go back again, but trying to work out when exactly is the best time to find larks, February or March. Monarch flights for Spring 2017 to Ovda from Luton can now be booked on line. Yes Ovda is a bit of trek to Eilat, but compared to Tel Aviv its paradise!
... mine are a poor mans version of Jos's quality reports whose I roughly try to base them on...

You underrate yourself :)

But given my passport is crammed full of assorted Arab and Iranian visas and stamps, if I ever wrote a report about a trip to Israel, it would be about ten pages decrying the hassles I would get at immigration, then a further page detailing the deportation process. Might just manage to mention a Rock Martin cruising outside the terminal/detention centre window if I was lucky. :t:
Thanks for posting Nick, must go back, if only for the Black Bush Robins!

Kibbutz Lotan is (or was, at least) a good bet for Namaqua Dove, feeding on grain around the barns. We stayed there on my first visit, and the best way to get in was to climb the gate - carefully! - and press the button just inside.

Ovda seemed like a good idea when I went back with my wife, but it was the security there - far worse that Tel Aviv - that put her off the country for life, which is a shame, as otherwise it's an ideal place for a joint visit, early morning birding then loafing with the missus by the pool/beach.
Thanks Jos, and Mark.

I don't Jos, its just yours set the standard for entertainment. Hope that book's coming along! Yeah I guess you would struggle to get in mate, would be interesting to be a fly on the wall if you did ever try to get into Israel:eek!:

That's interesting what you say about your Ovda Airport security experience Mark, I was actually quite uptight about the prospect of getting into the Country, it almost put me off too.
Just returned from another trip out to Israel so paths may have crossed at some point. Lotan was okay, we stayed there, and had a Black Bush Robin and stunning male Collared Flycatcher around the organic gardens there but the sewage ponds were completely dry. Still nice to have Hoopoes on the lawn outside the room and Bee-eaters overhead.

There are several locations for birding between Tel Aviv and Eilat that can be taken in, some a slight detour but highly profitable. Mt. Amsa near Arad is a personal favourite with Spectacled and Ruppell's Warblers present, Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards, Rock Sparrows, both Rock Thrushes nesting, Bee-eaters etc. Here was the first time I've ever seen the display flight of Isabelline Wheatear.

I'm back in a few weeks time for the Honey Buzzard migration so will look for the Hai Bar Black Bush Robins if they are just inside the 'garden' of the entrance.

Still missed my main target bird, Temminks Horned Lark, so after 5 recent visits it's becoming my nemisis bird.
I heard no news about temmincks nor hoopoe lark nor Namaqua doves frustratingly Steve.

Thinking of returning in February next year to have potentially more chance of some larks plus Syrian serin and Sinai rose finch and maybe pallid scops owl.

I was generally birding by myself , quite a tall bald headed chap . You would probably have remembered me ��

On the way back to Tel Aviv I wish I had tried for the Bateleur which has now been re-reported.
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We had Namaqua Dove at several locations, most at Yotvata around the sewage ponds and bumped into them elsewhere, and Hoopoe Larks at K67 out on the border early morning. The Thick-billed Larks at K87 were a long way off beyond the wadi in very sparce vegetation, I didnt walk out to them as seen them previously but my friend did and it was a hike. I did have a Striolated Bunting in the Wadi though.

The Rosefinch can be easy at En Salvadori just north of En Gedi on the Dead Sea, also Striolated Bunting easy there. Temminck's Lark were present at Seifim Plain but again I couldnt track them done but did see photo's of the birds there, they were also just north of the saltpans in open ground by Doum Palms, lots of walking and no seeing them :C There were Bimacs at Seifim Plains.

Winter would certainly be better for larks etc with birds flocking up and winter raptors in right places,i.e. Saker at Urim.

The fish ponds at Be'it Shean Valley was jammed full of birds as well with flocks of hundreds of both storks, Cranes, pelicans and Black Kites (thousands) as well as both Spotted Eagles and species trickier than in the south such as Syrian Woodpecker, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Dead Sea Sparrow (though these were at the IRBCE reserve), Black Francolin, Long-billed Pipit.

Will be back there for the Honey Buzzard migration in 3 weeks and again next spring.
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