Monday 25 April 2011

Israel trip with Birdfinders - Day 4 - Friday.

We picked up a breakfast box from the hotel reception and left shortly after 6 AM for what was going to be a very long day. Israel has many military firing ranges. Entry is prohibited during the week but permitted during the Israeli weekend. We drove 100 km to Hyyon plains firing range in light rain. It was cold on arrival and the wind was cool. Initial searches gave nothing apart from a couple of desert larks.

Desert lark

 A gorgeous male pallid harrier flew purposefully by.

Pallid harrier - male
When the sun came out a beautiful Temminck's lark appeared and showed well for 10-15 minutes.

Temminck's lark
A desert rat also made an appearance!

Desert rat
The greater hoopoe larks that we were apparently looking for did not appear. Brown-necked ravens did.

Brown-necked raven
We went back to the buses to eat our boxed breakfasts, before driving another 100km to small pool and reedbed where a Clamorous reed warbler responded quickly to a call. We had good though distant views before it retired back to the reeds. At a stop at the services for a drink 2 blackstarts entertained us nearby.

On again to the resort of Ein Gedi where Lynne and I decided to eschew birds for an hour or so to take a dip in the Dead Sea! Well, you've got to swim in the Dead Sea once haven't you? Swimming wasn't really possible. The water gives such buoyancy that the only comfortable position is on your back. If you turn onto your front the buoyancy is such that it feels like someone is holding your legs and lifting them up so as to push your face in the water. Very disconcerting! 10 minutes was enough and then we got out.

Me and Lynne in the Dead Sea
I photographed some Tristram's grackles but failed to get a shot of the attractive orange wing panels which are visible mainly when they are in flight.

Tristram's grackles (aka Tristram's starlings)
We went back to the carpark where a visible migration watch was in progress. We saw several raptors, vultures and cranes over the high cliffs. We decided to go higher and went to a car park in the mountains overlooking the Dead Sea where we observed some fairly large-scale migrations of common cranes, black storks, etc. with frequent views of Egyptian vultures and griffon vultures. Lynne talked to the local Bedouins who were having a picnic and they kindly gave her a cup of tea! We also saw a pair of sand partridges, black stork, kestrel, pallid swift, alpine swift and white-crowned wheatear.

Black stork
White-crowned wheatear
At sunset we went to our rendezvous with the Official Israeli guide who was to show us Hume's owl and Nubian nightjar. The first was in a steep sided gorge where we had brief views of a male Hume's owl. We then moved to a kibbutz near the Jordanian border where nightjars perched on the paths and could be picked out with torches without flushing them. We had views of several nightjars in flight and on the ground only 3-4 metres away.

Nubian nightjar
We had got the 'big five', and now came the long drive back to the hotel where we arrived, exhausted, just before midnight.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Israel trip with Birdfinders - Day 3.

Day 3. Thursday, 24 March, 2011

Next to our hotel was Shulamit Park, a magnet for migrants. On other days, several of the others had gone birdwatching even before breakfast. I decided to go as well today. The park is planted with many trees, and the lawns are watered every day. At the top of the central mound, where the winos sleep, there is a very attractive bottlebrush tree which attracted most of the migrants. Wryneck, eastern olivaceous warbler, eastern Bonelli's warbler, blackcaps, lesser whitethroats and Spanish sparrows were all in evidence. However, I was not in the park. A small heron had been seen in the marina and I got up before 6 AM to see it before it flew away. I saw it only briefly and distantly and against the light of the rising sun. It was a striated heron.

After breakfast we left at 7:45 AM as usual and drove to kilometre 33 to look for Dunn's lark. On arrival at this desert site there was a solitary car. Nearby, a photographer had set up a hide and a small battery driven water fountain to attract the birds. I wondered what he thought of 16 birdwatchers suddenly descending on his remote watchpoint! In the event, we only saw desert larks, a bar tailed lark, a woodchat shrike and a flyover short-toed eagle. We also flushed a large Cape hare, which bounded off into the distance.

Bar-tailed lark
Cape hare

We moved on to Yot Vata. On a nearby site of acacia forest we hoped to find Arabian warbler, one of the "big five" most wanted birds. Arabian warbler is a very localised bird, but it is resident and sedentary. At first we saw eastern Bonelli's warbler, hoopoe, a couple of very nice blackstarts, etc before the Arabian warbler eventually appeared and showed well for several minutes. We also saw a scrub warbler and a gecko, and some people saw a couple of sand partridges in the distance. Flyovers included a black stork and booted Eagle.

Arabian warbler
Geckoey thing
Next stop was the Yot Vata sewage ponds where we found our first cattle egrets, reed warbler, squacco heron, woodchat shrike and, further on, citrine wagtail and Dead Sea Sparrows. A little further on we heard our first turtle dove and a masked shrike performed for several minutes nearby. On the way back an amazingly confiding wryneck performed on the path in front of us.

Masked shrike

Black-eared wheatear


It was only a short hop to the cafe at Yot Vata where we had lunch, followed, for me, by the now traditional large ice cream! As it was fairly warm, we went up into the mountains to the Shizzafon sewage ponds. These were sewage ponds with a difference! There wasn't much water and the ponds were landscaped with attractive vegetation, bushes, reeds, etc. Here we enjoyed squacco herons, linnet, bluethroat, citrine wagtail, Northern wheatear and a solitary white stork.

Citrine wagtail
Black-winged stilt
Northern wheatear
White stork
Having found no hooded wheatears we made our way back to the fields at Yot Vata. This yielded several firsts for me including a small number of Cretzschmar's bunting, an ortolan bunting, large numbers of white wagtails, greater short-toed larks, bimaculated larks, desert wheatears and yellow wagtails. There were also smaller numbers of red-throated pipits, water pipits, Siberian stonechat, woodchat shrike, masked shrike, and kestrel. One kestrel caught a quail and proceeded to eat it on a roll of straw in full view! Finally, a couple of tawny pipits were another first for me. A fitting end to another good day!

Cretzschmar's bunting
Desert wheatear
Ortolan bunting
Tawney pipit
Kestrel with quail (alive when we first saw it)!!

Sunday 17 April 2011

Israel trip with Birdfinders - Day 2.

Day 2 Wednesday 23 March 2011

After a fantastic first day, with over 30 lifers, the 2nd day was bound to be harder. After an abundant breakfast we made a brief trip to Holland Park in Western Eilat. This relatively green area on stony ground yielded a couple of eastern Bonelli's warblers, Arabian babbler and eastern olivaceous warbler.

Arabian babbler
Eastern olivaceous warbler
Yellow-vented (spectacled) bulbul
As there were not many migrants here, we moved to the Eilat Birdwatching Centre. This was really quite lush but, apart from a nice pair of laughing doves, a purple heron, a squacco heron, another eastern Bonelli's warbler, a distant Kentish plover and a graceful prinia, there was little else of note.

Eastern Bonelli's warbler
 we saw large flocks of slender-billed gulls, greater flamingos, black-winged stilts, avocets, Garganey and shelduck, as well as reasonable numbers of much closer Kentish plover, little stint and a single white pelican.
Laughing doves
On again to the salt pans at kilometre 20. At the entrance we saw a marvellous little green bee-eater on the fence. On the water we saw large flocks of slender-billed gulls, greater flamingos, black-winged stilts, avocets, Garganey and shelduck, as well as reasonable numbers of much closer Kentish plover, little stint and a single white pelican.

Little green bee-eater
Slender-billed gull
Little stints
Kentish plover

About 50 km north of Eilat lies Yot Vata, a cultivated area with recently cut hay fields. It also has a very nice cafe with an ice cream parlour and picnic tables in the shade. We enjoyed a lazy lunch and an enormous ice cream here before starting the serious business of scanning the fields for larks and other small birds. We spread out across the field, flushing several quails as we went. Apart from several hoopoe we saw large numbers of greater short-toed lark, bimaculated lark, crested lark, yellow wagtail (black headed), Northern wheatear and water pipit.

Greater short-toed lark
Crested lark

Next stop was the sewage ponds of Kibbutz Eliphaz . Here we found many white wagtails, a citrine wagtail, a squacco Heron, several bluethroat, a common snipe, more black-headed yellow wagtails, a grey wagtail and flocks of Spanish sparrows. Overhead we saw some European bee-eaters on migration.

Citrine wagtail
Bluethroat (red-spotted)

European bee-eater on migration.

At the end of the afternoon we drove back to the Eilat beach on the Red Sea where we were greeted by a friendly Western Reef Heron.

Western reef heron
Offshore we had distant views of white-eyed, Siberian, Caspian, Armenian and slender-billed gulls. A few sandwich terns fished nearby. Just before we left, a pied Kingfisher came to hover just above our heads.

As dusk came we headed to the hotel for another abundant dinner before the bird report and bed!

Sunday 10 April 2011

Israel trip with Birdfinders - Day 1. Here it is!!

Lynne and I went on this trip, the first of its kind that we had ever been on. I did a lot of twitching last year, but I came to the conclusion that it was far better to spend petrol money going abroad where I would see loads of birds instead of chasing after one here that I mightn't even see!

After the 5 hour flight from Luton to Tel Aviv we met up with our guides James Smith and Martyn Kenefick. We set off in 2 minibuses to the Guvelot Kibbutz. This was basic accommodation for the overnight stop.

Day 1 proper. Tuesday 22 March 2011.

We set off early the next morning with a packed breakfast, but not before I had found a Syrian woodpecker in a tree near our chalet. When we got on the road, almost immediately a great spotted cuckoo flew in front of the bus followed by common myna birds nearby.

The main target birds this morning were McQueen's bustard and cream-coloured courser, 2 of the big 5 birds that we would be looking for on this trip. We stopped in the middle of the desert and piled out to scan the horizon. Very soon we had located both birds in the far distance (too far for photographs but visible with the scope), along with woodchat shrike, desert lark, and various distant raptors.

We then moved on to a set of sewage ponds to look for sandgrouse. After sitting still for a while we managed to see black bellied, spotted and pin-tailed sandgrouse, as well as a black shouldered kite, pallid harrier, hen harrier, bluethroat, oriental skylark, short toed lark, crested lark, zitting cisticola, black winged stilt, lesser whitethroat, white wagtail, yellow wagtail, spur-winged plover, and several more common waders.

Zitting cisticola
 We also witnessed mass migration of several hundred white storks, common cranes, red-rumped swallows, common and pallid swifts, and various raptors including Steppe buzzard, long-legged buzzard, lesser spotted eagle, short-toed eagle, black kite, and Western marsh harrier. We were lucky in having James Smith as our guide. James has been to Israel every year for the last 21 years and has done 6 annual raptor migration surveys, so he was able to pick out the various species with consummate ease.

Migrating white storks
Short-toed eagle
Long-legged buzzard
Pallid harrier - male
Pallid harrier - female

We moved on to another reservoir area where we saw a number of relatively common waterbirds, ducks as well as 3 southern grey shrikes.

Southern grey shrike

At the next stop we saw masked shrike, Northern, Isabelline, desert, Cyprus, pied and mourning wheatears, blue rock thrush and the rare Syrian Serin (otherwise called Tristram's Serin). This was turning out to be a brilliant first day. I was ticking so fast my pen tip was on fire!

Eastern mourning wheatear
Nubian ibex
Palestine sunbird - male. The female is just too drab to put up!
Desert lark
Eastern black-eared wheatear
After lunch we set off again and stopped much further south in the Negev desert looking for larks and especially broad-billed larks. We did see short-toed, calandra, bimaculated, crested and broad-billed larks before the day was out, as well as trumpeter finch, Isabelline wheatear, etc. At dusk, another pallid harrier came into the distance but we were piling in to the buses to head for Eilat.

The Dan Panorama Hotel was really nice. A luxury hotel with lovely rooms, fabulous buffet food and friendly service. The food was too good really and we certainly put on weight after the trip! Lynne was in her element with the huge range of vegetarian food. After dinner, we had the bird report and, after one drink, we sloped off to bed, exhausted!!

Day 2 - soon!