Israel: 1st-7th February 2015

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Israel: 1st-7th February 2015
Israel: 1st-7th February 2015
A bird trip report by Bob and Dora Swann
We organised the trip ourselves using the internet to book accommodation and car hire prior to our departure. We
flew out by Easyjet from Luton to Tel Aviv. As we were arriving late we spent the first night at Hotel Bat Yam just
south of Tel Aviv. We then stayed in the kibbutz at Gvulot for three nights before heading to Motel Aviv in Eilat for
the final three nights. Car hire was arranged through rentalcars.com before we left.
1st February. Hotel Bat Yam is located above the beach so we had a pre breakfast stroll along the shore. Large
flocks of Great Cormorants were heading north. The shore side scrub held Yellow-vented Bulbuls and a few
Common Stonechat. A Little Egret fed along the shoreline. After a good breakfast we packed and headed north in
to Tel Aviv along the very busy route 20. Exited at the Rokach junction and turned right along the north side of Ha
Yarkon Park. Stopped at a garage where we parked the car, giving us handy access to the park. In the open grassy
areas lots of Common Myna, Hooded Crow, Jackdaw and White Wagtail. The trees held noisy Ring-necked
Parakeets, Monk Parakeets, Collared Doves, Laughing Doves, Jays and a few Syrian Woodpeckers. In addition
to the resident Great Tits and Chaffinches there were many wintering Chiffchaffs. Got good views of some
stunning White-throated Kingfishers. Worked our way round to a small lake, where there were lots of loafing
Black-headed Gulls with a few Yellow-legged Gulls and Armenian Gulls. Waterfowl comprised Coot, Moorhen,
Mallard and some Egyptian Geese. Lurking round the edges found a Grey Heron, a Black-crowned Night Heron
and a Common Kingfisher. Continued on towards the botanic garden area where there was a nice male Black
Redstart by the entrance. A walk round revealed Blackbird, Hoopoe and a Hawfinch along with a hunting
Sparrow Hawk. Beyond the gardens a damp area held a few Cattle Egret and some Spur-winged Plovers, whilst
overhead we had an early migrating White Stork and some
Barn Swallows.
Stopped for some lunch then went for another circuit of the
park. By the river a nice Pied Kingfisher. Eventually in a
fenced grassy area between the zoo and the lake we located our
target species a flock of eleven Vinous-breasted Starlings
which proceeded to give excellent close views as they fed on the
lawns and in some adjacent bushes. Eventually headed off west
to Gvulot where the most interesting observation was a flock of
several hundred Black Kite by the dump just south of the
kibbutz.
2nd February. After breakfast as we walked out to the car park had good views of a Great-spotted Cuckoo being
chased by a Hooded Crow. Drove up to Urim, took the paved track just before the power line and headed east
towards the farm. Turned left and headed north under the power line before turning right along a good track that
took us back to the power line. Along the track were many Crested Larks, small groups of Spanish Sparrows and
some Corn Bunting. Out in the fields were many large flocks of Skylarks and a few flocks of Common Starling.
We checked the power line for raptors and were rewarded with good views of two Eastern Imperial Eagle and an
adult Peregrine. Hunting over the fields were many Common Kestrel,
Black Kite and two Marsh Harrier. Many flocks of Common Cranes
were flying about and we got good views of 60+ in an adjacent cereal
field. At 31.28211N, 3.58801E there was a very large bare field. This
held 150 Lapwing and with them were six Sociable Plovers which gave
us superb close views. They were then flushed by a Long-legged
Buzzard. We returned to
the power line track and
continued further east,
getting superb views of
two Sakers perched on
the pylons. In another
bare roadside field at
31.28920N, 34.60751E we had another group of 40 Lapwing along
with another ten Sociable Plovers. This was my number one target
species so we were delighted to find them and get such excellent
views. Continued east till we reached a landfill area. The scrub held
some Stonechat, Graceful Prinia, a pair of Lilith Little Owl (which
were a bit darker than I expected), whilst overhead were a group of 20+ Pallid Swift.
Returned west along the track to the main road then drove south. Just before the bad bend turned left along another
paved track. Tried to head south into a hilly area but it was a military zone so there was no access. Did see a nice
pair of Southern Grey Shrike. Continued further east along the main track, where we found another Peregrine and
at least three Long-legged Buzzards. A drinking pool attracted a flock of 25 Linnet, a Greenfinch, two Goldfinch
and a few Meadow Pipit, whilst along the track we encountered our first Isabelline Wheatears.
Returned to Gvulot and I took a stroll round the kibbutz. Lots of Common Myna, Yellow-vented Bulbul,
Blackbird, Chiffchaff, a couple of Robin and a Song Thrush. Nice views of Syrian Woodpeckers and at least
two White-throated Kingfishers. Palestinian Sunbirds were noisily chasing each other. In a field just beyond the
security fence there was a large loose flock of c95 Stone Curlew. I then walked out to the water treatment works.
On the lagoon were 12 Little Grebe, 35 Teal and 5 Shoveler. A Green Sandpiper fed along the shore where 30
Spur-winged Plover were roosting. Large numbers of White Wagtails were also arriving to roost.
Returned to the chalet for a celebratory beer and were entertained by three Long-eared Owls flying about in the half
light. Later as we headed out for a meal it was three Barn Owls calling and chasing each other that caught our
attention.
3rd February. A pre breakfast stroll revealed a Blackcap and a Wryneck in the trees near the chalet. Drove up to
Urim seeing four Chukar by the roadside. Checked out the fields north of Urim. A flooded track pool attracted 3
coutelli Water Pipit, a smart Red-throated Pipit, a few Meadow Pipit and a Green Sandpiper. Little else bar the
usual big Skylark flocks and a couple of Peregrines.
Drove east past Lehavm then turned off left on 358, then left again towards Lehav. Bypassed Lehav and stopped at
the end of the forest by the entrance track to the Lahav reserve. Walked out along the track seeing a few Black
Redstart, Stonechat, a female Finch’s Wheatear and flushed some Chukar. Took the track up to the viewpoint at
the top of the hill. Overhead a Common Buzzard and eight Black Kites, whilst in the more open areas a few
Crested Lark and a flock of nine Woodlark. Checked out the ridge on the other side of the main track. Several
Spectacled Warbler seen and a very co-operative Long-billed Pipit which sat up on a bush allowing good scope
views. This was almost the exact site where I saw this species in 2011.
4th February. We were on our way by 0800 driving down the 222 then
cut over on the 224 to Yerukham. Had a brief stop by the shore of the
lake. A few Grey Heron, a Black-crowned Night Heron and a
Squacco Heron were logged. Continued east through Yerukham along
225. This eventually cut through a large crater and we began to start
seeing desert birds such as Desert Lark, Mourning Wheatear,
Tristram’s Grackle and Brown-necked Raven. As we headed
southeast on the narrow 227 we had two Griffon Vulture soaring over
one of the hills. Then drove through a vegetated wadi with more desert
species such as Pale Rock Martin, Blackstart, Trumpeter Finch and
a Sand Partridge.
Eventually reached the Arava valley and made a brief detour to the
reservoir at Idan where a red-billed teal had been reported the previous
week. Unfortunately no sign, just a few Teal, a Common Shelduck,
some Black-winged Stilts and a Green Sandpiper. On the security
fence our first Little Green Bee-eaters. The reservoir at Hatseva was
totally dry with a pair of Sand Partridge running across it.
Continued south and had a brief stop at km76. Very arid and apart from
a few Desert Lark, Sardinian Warbler and a Southern Grey Shrike
only other bird of note was a ring tailed Hen Harrier. Final stop was by
the Bird Centre at Eilat. On the lake three Western Reef Egrets with Barn Swallow and House Martin overhead.
Eventually arrived and checked in to Motel Aviv in Eilat. As we had a cooling beer on the balcony a group of House
Crow squabbled below us.
5th February. There was a strong wind blowing and it was cold on my pre breakfast visit to Holland Park. Apart
from doves not many birds were moving. Located a few Chiffchaffs, Palestinian Sunbirds and a couple of
Arabian Babblers but little else of note.
After breakfast returned to the Bird Watching centre. A Pied Kingfisher on the lake gave good views. On the
saltpans a scattering of waders included Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Redshank, Ruff as well as a Baltic Gull.
Continued north up to the water treatment works at km19. The main lagoon held lots of birds; 500+ Great
Cormorant, a Great Crested Grebe, some Little Grebe, 150+ Coot, 50+ Shoveler, 200+ Teal, a male Pochard
and a few Egyptian Geese. On the bank lots of Great White Egret, Grey Heron, with six Spoonbill, 6 Squacco
Heron and a Little Egret. Raptors included two Marsh Harrier, a Common Buzzard, a Sparrow Hawk and two
adult Steppe Eagle.
Next stop was the reservoirs at km20. Highlight here was a nice Lesser
Flamingo feeding actively amongst the Greater Flamingos. There were
lots of waders including 100+ Dunlin, 100+ Little Stint, 30 Redshank,
8 Marsh Sandpipers, a Greenshank, two Avocet, some Kentish
Plovers and lots of Black-winged Stilts. There were good numbers of
Black-headed Gulls with a few Slender-billed Gulls. On the water
were large numbers of duck; 120+Common Shelduck, c300 Shoveler,
c50 Pintail, c50 Teal and 3 Wigeon. It was now a bit warmer, but still
with a nagging strong north wind.
Continued north to Yotvata. The circular pivot field revealed a flock of 60 Skylark and another of 30 Crested
Lark. On the irrigation rig found six Water Pipits. Lots of Pale Rock Martin, Barn Swallow and a few House
Martin fed over the fields. Drove over to the sewage pools seeing a few Black Redstarts en route. The pools held 3
Green Sandpiper, a Common Snipe and a Bluethroat. Then went for the traditional ice cream and a sit in the sun.
On way back south at km25 turned off west to the Hidden Valley. On the flat plain good views of a male Hooded
Wheatear. Drove up to the wadi and then walked up it finding a pair of Blackstarts, a pair of Scrub Warbler and a
White-crowned Black Wheatear. It was then back to Eilat for a nice beer.
6th February. Prior to breakfast made a quick visit down to North Beach, where there were a few White-eyed
Gulls offshore but little else. In the creek leading to the shore 3 Common Sandpiper, a Ringed Plover and a
Western Reef Egret. Drove up to the Bird Watching Centre. Much as the previous day with the exception of an
early Common Swift over the lake, a singing Cetti’s Warbler and four Caspian Tern at the saltpans.
After breakfast headed up into the Eilat Mountains. The wind had dropped so there were not many raptors moving –
only five adult Steppe Eagles. Decided to give up on the mountains and returned to the Arava Valley. Drove north
and took the track to Amram’s Pillars. As we crossed the desert had a few groups of Desert Lark, a Mourning
Wheatear, a Southern Grey Shrike and a small warbler that was almost certainly a Desert Warbler, which
disappeared into a bush never to be seen again. Up by the pillars another pair of Scrub Warbler, more Desert larks
and White-crowned Wheatears but no rosefinches.
Returned to Eilat so that Dora could do some shopping. In late afternoon I went back out. First checked the fields
north of Eilat but apart from a pair of Little Green Bee-eater, a Water Pipit and some Greenfinch not much else
was seen. Returned to the km19 water treatment works. In the bushes in the surrounding ditches a large group of
sparrows comprised c60 Dead Sea Sparrows, along with some House and Spanish Sparrows. There were also
over 35 Yellow-vented Bulbuls, many of them fly catching, and a White-throated Kingfisher. Birds on the main
lagoon were much as the previous day with the addition of a Purple Heron and some Cattle Egrets. At one stage
the large Feral Pigeon flock was disturbed by a Barbary Falcon. No sign of any sandgrouse coming to drink so
returned to Eilat.
7th February. Our final day. Were packed and on our way north by 0730. First stop was the Ha Meishar plain
where winter rains had resulted in a good growth of vegetation – especially in the area by the monument. Lots of
wheatears including Desert Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear and Mourning Wheatear. Being a Saturday it was
OK to walk out on to the plain where I located a nice Cream-coloured Courser, then got superb views of four
feeding Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. There was a big flock of feeding Trumpeter Finch and Skylark. In the distance I
scoped two Temminck’s Larks. Finally as I returned to the roadside I joined some Israeli birders watching an
Asian Desert Warbler in a roadside bush. This had been a very productive stop.
Continued on to Mitze Ramon and checked out the football ground. No serins, lots of White Wagtails, a Yellow
Wagtail, a Hoopoe and a few Black Redstarts including a nice ochrurous male. Next stop was the Ben Gurion
monument, but again no serins. Continued on to Tel Aviv and then east to Jerusalem. Tried to find a site where pine
bunting had been reported but the roads were not well marked and scared of getting lost we abandoned our search
and returned back towards Tel Aviv. A brief stop in an open forested area revealed little bar some Meadow Pipits,
Chiffchaffs and our final Palestinian Sunbirds.
Returned to the airport, returned the car having done 2506 km and started the process of checking in for our 1940
Easyjet flight back to Luton. It had been another good trip. Saw 143 different species including two Western
Palearctic lifers.

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