A month in Israel

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This Little Green Bee-eater came really close. Sat on the wire about 10ft away from me. Seemed very curious.

I spent 4 weeks in Israel this summer with work. On the weekends I went birding, as usual.

See pictures at https://picasaweb.google.com/greenfant/Israel12Keepers. If you want to find out more, keep reading …

 

Israel from July 21 to August 20

  1. Overview

 

Work sent to me Haifa where I spent 4 weeks working Sunday through Thursday. I stayed at the Hotel Dan Carmel in Carmel Center for the whole 4 weeks. On the weekends I spent most of my time birding. Also, at the end of my stay I had the weekend plus two more days to do a quick Eilat trip.

 

Mid summer is likely the worst time to go birding in Israel. The oppressive heat in the center and south and the humidity along the coast are a real challenge for a northerner.

 

Up-to-date resources are scarce for Israel. If you want to succeed I suggest hiring a guide.

 

  1. Resources

 

  • A guide to the birding hot-spots of Northern Israel by Shirihai, Smith, Kirwan and Alon (I did not have the southern volume)
  • Birds of Europe by Svenson, Mullarney and Zetterstrom

 

  1. Day-by day account

 

July 21: Mag’an Michael in the heat (noon – 5pm)

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Fresh from the plane I made a dash for Mag’an Michael. It was hot and there were few birds. Almost the first birds seen were Pied and White-throated Kingfisher. A great start! Otherwise lots of herons and egrets including Squacco Heron. Both redshanks, Wood and Common Sandpiper, Little Stint were the lineup among the shorebirds. A flyover Jay was unexpected.

 

July 22: Around the hotel before work

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The classic fair around the hotel early morning included several Syrian Woodpecker, Palestine Sunbird, White-spectacled Bulbul, Graceful Prinia, Sardinan Warbler and Laughing Dove. Common Swift were circling around as well. I suspect that they breed in on of the hotels in Carmel Center.

 

July 27: Jez’reel Valley, Hula Preserve and Mt. Hermon

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I started early morning before sunrise just south of Ginegar. On the drive to Tishlovet Reservoir, I heard and then saw a few Black Francolin. Also nice were several Stone Curlew. Working the reservoir I finally got on several groups of Marbled Teal.

 

The small pond just south of Ginegar (east of the Tishlovet access) had 4 more Marbled Teal and a few Little Grebes.

 

Then I made the drive over to the Hula Valley where I spent the hot hours at the Hula Reserve. I was surprised to find 3 singing and perched-up Clamorous Reed Warblers after 11am.

 

Over towards Mt Hermon mid afternoon. I stopped at Neve Atif and my heart nearly stopped when I saw 2 yellow-green finches by the roadside. They turned out to be Greenfinches. Also around were several Syrian Woodpeckers and a Sombre Tit.

 

At the ski resort further up, the key was to walk down to the ponds. There were lots of birds coming in to drink: Rock Bunting, Syrian Serin, Goldfinch and Linnet. A hovering Short-toed Eagle provided some joy for some bystanders looking through my scope.

 

A White-winged Tern was at the Gome Jct fishponds in the evening. There also was a wagtail that got away.

 

Aug 28: Mt Hermon, Hula Lake and environs

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Cruising through Rosh Pinna before sunset, I discovered a Rose-ringed Parakeet roost just before sunrise.

 

I again tried my luck at Mt. Hermon, this time early in the morning. Neve Atif was nice and cool in the morning, but the birds were just about the same as in the heat of the day before. The gate to the upper mountain opens at 8am, so I birded around the gate and found Chukar, Woodchat Shrike and 2 Rock Nuthatches. I then moved up to the ski resort where I added Cretschmar’s Bunting, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Upcher’s Warbler, Red-rumped Swallow  and Sombre Tit at the ponds. Then I took the chairlift up to the top and immediately found Black Redstart and Northern Wheatear in the bowl right outside the summit station. Also mixed in was a bird that looked very much like a Desert Finch, with a nicely colored pink secondaries and a large pale bill. It was a juvenile Crimson-winged Finch! The relaxed security near the summit allowed for further exploration, but the wind picked up and I found no more interesting birds and no Horned Lark. Oh well … A pair of Long-legged Buzzards were floating in the distance.

 

Back down to Hula Lake where I again rented a golf cart and took my time in the heat. Many Ruffs, Black-tailed Godwit, both redshanks, Wood, Green Sandpiper, Little Stint and Little Ringed Plover. I tried hard to find a Citrine Wagtail as there was a breeding pair near the NE shelter, but did not succeed. A Stone Curlew flew by also and there were 10+ more Marbled Teal.

 

The Gome Jct fishponds had a juvenile Purple Heron.

 

I quickly checked out the Lehavot Habashan fishponds in the evening, but didn’t add any new birds. The extensive reed beds held several sightings of Basra Reed Warbler the last several years and are surely interesting in migration.

 

Aug 3: The Dead Sea

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I left Haifa at 2:55am to meet up with Carmel Zitronblat from http://www.carmelbirding.com at 4:45am in Jerusalem. We started the day before sunrise at Ein Salvadora, a tiny desert oasis about 20min uphill from 90 (on foot). The big attraction here is a slow drip underneath a Salvadora tree. Scrub Warbler, Tristram’s Starling, Little Green Bee-eater, Blackstart, Desert Lark, Sinai Rosefinch, Stiolated Bunting and Trumpeter Finch were all easy. A Sand Partridge was perched up in the distance and several Rock Martins were overhead. This is a breeding location for Barbary Falcon, but we missed it. But an Egyptian Vulture and a Short-toed Eagle were cruising by.

 

Before 9am we entered the reserve Einat Zukin. Carmel had gotten access to the area that’s normally closed to the public. The main birds here Dead Sea Sparrow (this is the best breeding location for them and there were many now deserted nests showing) and Rufous Bush Robin. A Clamourous Reed Warbler was singing at the pond, another Sand Partridge was shuffling away from us at an opening near the pond. It was starting to heat up and bird activity thus dropped sharply.

 

It was unbearably hot when we drove up Mt Darga. No activity at the top, yet on the way down we found 2 White-crowned Wheatears and a Blackstart.

 

At Ein Gedi, we took the road between the two wadis (Wadi David and Wadi Arugot) which is closed at night. Hume’s Owl can be found in Wadi Arugot, but Carmel was not able to get a permit. We searched twice for Arabian Babbler which is usually present, but were unsuccessful. Tristram’s Starling, Little Green Bee-eater and Fan-tailed Raven were common. Nubian Ibex were everywhere.

 

After a few hours of rest in our AC’ed hostel room in Ein Gedi, we drove 50 or so kilometers south to Wadi Tamar (just uphill for Ein Tamar) where a pair of Sooty Falcon had been breeding. They must have moved, because we did not find them.

 

On the way back we hit Homar Reservoir which had lots of shrikes including several Great Gray Shrikes. Yes, Great Gray; this was news for me. A Little Green Bee-eater was perched up superclose. We also had another Sand Partridge. 3 Little Stints were near the less salty ponds down from the dike.

 

Aug 4: Nizzana

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We left Ein Gedi at 3am and made it to Nizzana with time to spare before sunrise. We looked hard for McQueen’s Bustard and Cream-colored Courser along the road form Nizzana to Ezuz, but neither was showing. A flock of Arabian Babblers was unusual. A flyby Spotted Sandgrouse was identified by call. Also present early was a Little Owl and a couple of Mourning Wheatear.

 

The sewage ponds 1km east of Nizzana were a great spot between 8 and 10am (take the dirt road south from the Milka intersection for about 0.5mi, then turn west for 300m). It was much cooler than at the Dead Sea. A Namaqua Dove on the fence was a plesant welcome to the site. Crowned, Spotted and Black-bellied Sandgrouse all came in to drink and were seen several times in flight and down. Spotted is the skittiest one of them. Crowned and Spotted are easily told apart by call and the primaries from above (Spotted is all brown, Crowned has blackish primaries). A few Green Sandpipers, Little Stints and Little Ringed Plover adorned the scores of Black-winged Stilt and Ruff. A good number of Garganey surprised us, as well as an unusual Sooty Falcon looking for a quick snack. A few Ferruginous Duck were also there. 3-4 jackals had their eyes on the ducks, but withdrew when they saw us.

 

Brunch was consumed at a nice picnic area near Ezuz with lots of Rufous Bush Robins. Rock Martins were nearby as well.

 

En route back we made 3 stops. The first one was Sde Boqer where we walked around the vista point of the Ben Gurion Memorial. Blackstart, lots of Ibex, Mourning Wheatear, Tristram’s Starling and 2 unid’ed raptors in the distance rounded out the tally here. The views down into the wadis and over to the buttes on the other side were spectacular.

 

Hulda pond was a neat location with lots of birds, but access was very hard. The heat shimmer made it really difficult to id the ducks and shorebirds in the distance. Nevertheless, we pulled out Ferruginous Duck, Wood Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, a breeding-plumaged Spotted Redshank and a few White-winged Terns.

 

At the final stop, a couple of sewage ponds just outside Jerusalem, we added Cetti’s Warbler, a flock of Jackdaws and few more Green Sandpipers.

 

Just before sunset I saw a Greater Flamingo and some White-winged Terns at the publicly accessible ponds just north of Mag’an Michael.

 

Aug 6: Atlit after work

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Stopped by the salt pans in Atlit today. Not many birds, but a few Common Redshank, Common Ringed Plover and a Greenshank were nice to see. Least and Common Terns were patrolling the ponds and an angry Black-winged Stilt was circling me for several minutes. On the approach, a White-throated Kingfisher was on the wire and a screaming Rose-ringed Parakeet was getting ready for bed.

 

Aug 10: Beit Sha’an Valley

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I started at sunrise on the border fence side of Kfar Ruppin. Within one hour, I had a good showing of all three bee-eaters including the sought-after Blue-cheeked. A Little Owl was still snoozing on a pole. Only later I found out that my pictures were too dark since some settings had gotten messed up. Bummer!

 

I then spent a few hours looking for Desert Finch, but didn’t even have a candidate.

 

The good thing about driving up Mt. Gilboa (there were no birds) was that I was able to spy 2 possibly suitable ponds for shorebirds, Reshafim (lots of gulls) and Beit Alfa (White-winged Tern, Ruff, Greenshank and Eurasian Spoonbill; a likely juvie Masked Shrike).

 

I quit just before 1pm as the oppressive heat was getting to me.

 

Aug 11: Beit Sha’an Valley

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A fly-over Spoonbill before sunrise en route …

 

Only 2.5 hours with Sunny in the morning today. The bee-eater extravaganza from the day before did not materialize and I got no pictures. We did get Little Green and Blue-cheeked though. 2 Little Owls and a snoozing Barn Owl were out in the early sun light. About 3 Common Kingfishers were the first ones for the season for me. A Roller flushed on a dirt road NW of Kfar Ruppin.

 

A large covey of Chukar was hiding the shade east of 90 south of Gesher.

 

A big reservoir east of Gesher had gazillions of Pygmy Cormorants and herons/egrets.

 

Aug 17: Nizzana

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Leaving Haifa at 3am, I got to Nizzana around sunrise to try again for McQueens’s Bustard and Cream-colored Courser. I bombed again. Nice were a pair of Hobby and several Desert Wheatear, both missed 3 weeks ago. Also a pair of Dorcas Gazelle near the picnic area.

 

3 species of sandgrouse were again at the Nizzana ponds. A few terns including 2 White-winged and 1 Gull-billed and a Dunlin were also new for the location.

 

In Mitzpe Ramon, White-crowned Wheatear and Desert Lark were at the parking lot overlooking the crater just south of town. No other larks were seen in a brief exploratory trip south of town. I hit the bed early.

 

Aug 18: To and around Eilat

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I woke up sick, so this day was a tough one. Early in the dark, in the Ramon Crater, a group of Wild Ass were by the road.

 

My first stop was around k30 of 40 which was mentioned in a report I read, but there was not much there. My second stop was Neot Smodar where the gate was still closed, so I couldn’t check out the praised pond. A Hooded Wheatear was on the desert side of 40 between the junction and the kibbutz entrance. The third stop was the ruins south of Yotvata where I looked unsuccessfully for Arabian Warbler. Several Little Green Bee-eater were perched up nicely though.

 

Down to Eilat … The Birdwatching Park and Ringing Center were very quiet, but there were lots of shorebirds and Slender-billed Gulls. 3 flushed Namaqua Doves unfortunately did not land again for a better look in the date palms. It started getting real hot.

 

I then scouted out k19 for the evening and drove the perimeter of the k20 ponds. Several Yellow Wagtail were new, as well as 2 Marsh Sandpiper and ~35 Kentish Plover. The Greater Flamingos are always nice to see. Lots of Slender-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns.

 

After sleeping in the hotel for several hours, I ran out in the evening for my Lichtenstein experience. I had my best looks ever at a beautiful Masked Shrike while the sun was still up. Then I got myself into position watching the north side of the pond. The directions from Carmel were spot-on. Six birds came in way after sunset. Their features were barely discernible in the dark and I didn’t see them come it.

 

Aug 19: More Eilat

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I started at North Beach at sunrise with many House Crows. Within minutes there was some tern action: Several Commons and White-cheeked and 1 Lesser Crested (this one was a surprise). Nice! Good looks at several White-eyed Gulls including a breeding-plumaged adult.

 

After trolling though the date palms where there were lots of Indian Silverbill, I headed back up to k20 ponds.The Marsh Sandpipers and the Masked Shrike were still around, otherwise nothing new except for 4 Dorcas Gazelles.

 

Looking for a second time for Reef Egret and Striated Heron at North Beach, I unsuccessfully combed the beach, canal, laguna and marina. Zip! A Brown Booby was perched on a buoy not far out though. 2 more Lesser Crested Terns showed up, but disappeared as quickly as they had come.

 

Aug 20:

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k33 at sunrise at pretty much zero birds. 2 Bar-tailed Larks moving silently were the exception.

 

The area behind the Yotvata restaurant had been mentioned as a spot for Arabian Warbler. I briefly saw an orphean-type warbler, but could not refind it. Orphan migration is in its peak right now, so who knows what I saw …

 

Another swing through the k20 ponds brought the Marsh Sandpiper total to 8. Another check at the North Beach didn’t get me anything new. I then rested briefly at the bird ringing station.

 

At 6:30pm I met up with Yoav Perlman at Ha’arava Junction. We went through a gate near En Tamar into the last remaining strand of salt marshes in the valley. We saw out the last few minutes of sunlight at a nice marshy spot where we had several Namaqua Doves and a Little Bittern. Then we cruised the canal road and ag fields for Nubian Nightjar, but could only find a single bird not well seen. A second bird responded to our calls, but wouldn’t show. A well-seen Pharaoh Eagle Owl was a nice consolation price.

 

Then I was off back to TLV airport for the trip back from hell.


4. Species list:

Total: 142    
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis  
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus Hula and Bet Sha’an Valley
White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus 1 at Hula Lake
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus 1 at Nubian Nightjar site
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax  
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis  
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides  
Little Egret Egretta garzetta  
Great Egret Casmerodius albus  
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea  
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea  
White Stork Ciconia ciconia  
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus  
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia Bet Sha’an Valley
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber many at k20, Eilat
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos  
Garganey Anas querquedula several at Nizzana
Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris 10 at Tishlovet Reservoir, 4 at Ganegar pond, 12 at Hula Lake
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca Nizzana, Hula Lake
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus 1 at En Salvadora
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus  
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus 2 at Mt Hermon
Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1 at Kfar Ruppin
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus  
Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo 2 near Ezuz (Nizzana)
Sooty Falcon Falco concolor 1 at Nizzana
Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus 2 pairs near Tishlovet Reservoir
Chukar Alectoris chukar  
Sand Partridge Ammoperdix heyi Judaean Desert
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus  
Common Coot Fulica atra  
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus  
Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus 4 at Tishlovet Reservoir, 1 at Dead Sea
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius  
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula  
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus  
Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus  
Dunlin Calidris alpina only a few
Little Stint Calidris minuta  
Ruff Philomachus pugnax  
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Hula Lake
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola  
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus  
Common Redshank Tringa totanus  
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus  
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia  
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis up to 8 at k20, Eilat
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos  
Slender-billed Gull Larus genei many in bird park in Eilat
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis  
White-eyed Gull Larus leucophthalmus 6 at North Beach, Eilat
Little Tern Sterna albifrons  
Gull-Billed Tern Sterna nilotica  
Common Tern Sterna hirundo  
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia  
Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis 2 at North Beach, Eilat
White-cheeked Tern Sterna repressa 2 at North Beach, Eilat
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus  
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis Nizzana
Spotted Sandgrouse Pterocles senegallus Nizzana
Crowned Sandgrouse Pterocles coronatus Nizzana
Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse Pterocles lichtensteinii 6 at dusk at k19 pond, Eilat
Rock Dove Columba livia  
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto  
European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur  
Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis  
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis 1 at Nizzana, 4 at palms in Eilat, 8 at south end of Dead Sea
Barn Owl Tyto alba  
Pharaoh Eagle Owl Bubu ascalaphus 1 at Nubian Nightjar site
Little Owl Athene noctua 2 at Kfar Ruppin
Nubian Nightjar Caprimulgus nubicus 2 near Neot Hakikar at south end of Dead Sea
Common Swift Apus apus  
Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba  
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis  
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis  
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis  
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus 6-8 near Kfar Ruppin
Little Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis  
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri  
European Roller Coracias garrulus  
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops  
Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus  
Crested Lark Galerida cristata  
Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti  
Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cincturus 2 at k33, north of Eilat
Sand Martin Riparia riparia  
Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula En Salvadora, Eilat and other locations
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica  
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica  
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava  
Spectacled Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthopygos  
Rufous Bush Robin Cercotrichas galactotes common in desert oases
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros Mt Hermon
Blackstart Cercomela melanura  
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe  
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti 3 along road to Ezuz (Nizzana)
Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica  
Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens many at Nizzana
Hooded Wheatear Oenanthe monacha 1 at Neot Smodar
White-crowned Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga Judaean Desert and Mitzpe Ramon crater overlook
Common Blackbird Turdus merula  
Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti  
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis  
Graceful Prinia Prinia gracilis  
Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta 1 at En Salvadora
Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus 3 at Hula Reserve, 1 at Hula Lake
Upcher’s Warbler Hippolais languida 1 at Mt Hermon
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida  
Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis 1 migrant at Nizzana, 1 at Mt Hermon
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala  
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata  
Arabian Babbler Turdoides squamiceps flock at Nizzana
Great Tit Parus major  
Sombre Tit Parus lugubris 3 at Mt Hermon
Western Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer 2 at Mt. Hermon gate
Palestine Sunbird Nectarinia osea  
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio  
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator  
Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus 1-2 at k20, Eilat
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor Amazingly common in Negev and Judaean Desert
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius  
Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula  
Hooded Crow Corvus corone cornix  
Common Raven Corvus corax 2 at Wadi Tamar
Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis Nizzana
Fan-tailed Raven Corvus ruficollis many in En Gedi
House Crow Corvus splendens many in Eilat
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis  
Tristram’s Starling Onychognathus tristramii  
House Sparrow Passer domesticus  
Dead Sea Sparrow Passer moabiticus several at Einat Zukin
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina  
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis  
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris  
Syrian Serin Serinus syriacus several at Mt Hermon
Sinai Rosefinch Carpodacus synoicus 4 at En Salvadora
Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus 2 at En Salvadora
Crimson-winged Finch Rhodopechys sanguinea 1 at top of lift at Mt Hermon
Cretzschmar’s Bunting Emberiza caesia 1 at Mt Hermon
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia several at Mt Hermon
Striolated Bunting Emberiza striolata 4 at En Salvadora

5. Other wildlife

  • Nubian Ibex (Judaean desert)
  • Dorcas Gazelle (Nizzana, k20)
  • Wild Ass (Mitzpe Ramon crater
  • Asian Hare (a few south end of Dea Sea)
  • Golden Jackal (Nizzana)

 

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