ISRAEL – SPRING 2009
Birdfinders recently spent three superb weeks in Southern Israel in March. Due to high demand we ran three back-to-back tours between 9th and 30th March. Each tour produced over 190 species and included many elements of the spectacular migration for which Israel is justly renowned. Moreover, each tour connected with many of the species of most interest the visiting birder including such highlights as Western Reef-heron, Pallid Harrier, Macqueen's Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser, Greater Sandplover, White-eyed Gull, Hume's Owl, Nubian Nightjar, Syrian Woodpecker, Greater Hoopoe-lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Oriental Skylark, Bimaculated Lark, Black Bush-robin, Hooded and Eastern Mourning Wheatears, Scrub Warbler, Clamorous Reed-warbler, Arabian Warbler and Syrian Serin to mention just a few.
The first week was typified by early arriving migrants and good migrations of Steppe Buzzards and White Storks with one spectacular low overhead passage of c. 15,000 of the latter at Mizpe Ramon on March 13th. Major highlights included a Kittlitz's Plover just north of Eilat which was the first national record since 2000 and only the second individual to be recorded in full breeding plumage. Other notable species included Purple Swamphen, Pallas's Gull, Spotted Sandgrouse, Temminck's Lark, Cyprus and Asian Desert Warblers, and Desert Finch, plus a fine extended observation of a Wolf in the Central Negev.
The second week saw a new group arrive with migration gathering momentum. Species such as Glossy Ibis, European Bee-eater and Ortolan Bunting appeared for the first time and were considered quite early. There was an excellent migration of over 3,000 Steppe Buzzards with some Steppe Eagles and Black Storks through the Eilat Mountains on March 18th. Fortunately for this group, the Kittlitz's Plover and Black Bush-robin lingered well in to the week ensuring good views of both. Other exciting species seen on this tour included Purple Swamphen, Caspian Plover, Lanner Falcon, Richard's Pipit, Dead Sea Sparrow, Sinai Rosefinch and Pale Rock Sparrow.
The third week was the most diverse producing some 197 species. Three individual Caspian Plovers were seen, though the Kittlitz's Plover had moved on by the time our last group arrived. However, this group did arrive during the only southern storm of the entire three weeks bringing much needed rainfall to a drought stricken desert. True to form, the remnants of the storm produced a Brown Booby off the North beach on the very first morning of the tour! This was coupled with an obvious 'fall-out' of common migrants produced a thrilling start to the tour. Further highlights from the week included Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse (now rather difficult in Eilat), Egyptian Nightjar, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Long-billed Pipit, Rufous Bush-robin, Black Bush-robin (a new arrival), Finsch's Wheatear, Asian Desert Warbler, Dead Sea Sparrow (one flock of 38!), Desert Finch, Sinai Rosefinch, House (Striated) Bunting, and Rock Sparrow.
We really had a fabulous spell in Southern Israel this year and look forward to returning once again next spring. Our superbly appointed hotel was the most comfortable that we've had to date, and this combined with a very welcoming stay at Kibbutz Gevulot makes our spring tour unique.
Finally I should like to thank all 36 participants on this year's spring tours and gracious thanks to Pete Basterfield for co-leading in the last two weeks.
James P. Smith