5–12 November 2017
Late autumn is an exciting time to visit Israel, with Imperial Eagle, Sociable Lapwing, Macqueen’s Bustard, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Striated Scops-owl, Saker Falcon, Oriental Skylark, Asian Desert and Cyprus Warblers, Hooded and Finsch’s Wheatears, American (Buff-bellied) Pipit, Sinai Rosefinch and Syrian Serin prominent on a long list of target species. Also, rarities have been seen on most previous tours.
Day 1 Following an early-morning flight from Luton (or, if desired, from Manchester) to Tel Aviv, we will collect our vehicles and undertake the easy drive south to Kibbutz Gevulot, where we will be based in comfortable guest rooms for the next two nights. Barn and Long-eared Owls could well greet our arrival at the Kibbutz.
Day 2 On our pre-breakfast stroll we will explore the mature wooded grounds of the Kibbutz, where Eurasian Thick-knee, Long-eared Owl, Syrian Woodpecker and (occasionally) White-throated Kingfisher can be seen. Other species present that we will not find in the southern desert include Eurasian Blackbird, Great Tit, European Greenfinch and European Goldfinch. Graceful Prinia is abundant here and, in recent years, Common Myna has become an established (countable) exotic. The grounds may hold ‘winter’ finches including Common Chaffinch, Brambling and Hawfinch. Recently-arrived wintering Sardinian Warblers and Bluethroats will be lurking in the gardens and rarities, such as the Yellow-browed Warbler we discovered in November 2010, are possible. After a substantial Kibbutz breakfast we will begin to explore the huge fields west of Ofaquim. Target birds will include White Pelican, Imperial Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Saker, Peregrine (Barbary) Falcon and Lanner Falcon, Pallid Harrier, Common Crane, Cream-coloured Courser, Sociable Lapwing, Eurasian Dotterel and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Huge flocks of Eurasian Skylarks and some Calandra Larks should be present and there may be an outside chance of a Bimaculated Lark or Oriental Skylark. The real spectacle, however, will be the raptors, with hundreds of birds constantly on view including spectacular gatherings of up to 2000 Black Kites. We will close the day by visiting a nearby wadi where wetland species may include rails, crakes, Clamorous Reed-warbler, Moustached Warbler, Eurasian Penduline-tit and the possibility of all three kingfishers.
Day 3 We will leave early this morning with a packed breakfast to visit Nizzana. Macqueen’s Bustard will be very much in mind, as they are often present in small flocks at this time of year, along with Black-bellied, Spotted, Pin-tailed and Crowned Sandgrouse which may be seen at a favoured drinking area. Pallid Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard, Cream-coloured Courser, Chukar and ‘Desert’ Little Owl may be present while an interesting selection of passerines could include Southern Grey Shrike, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Scrub, Spectacled and Asian Desert Warblers and Isabelline, Desert and Finsch’s Wheatears. Around mid-morning we will embark on the long journey south towards Eilat with a number of planned birding stops en route including Ha’Meishar, Sde Boker and Mitzpe Ramon. Larks, including the unpredictable Thick-billed and Temminck’s Larks. Desert and Trumpeter Finches and Syrian Serin may feature and both Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse can be found with patience. Mourning Wheatears may be present in numbers and we should see our first White-tailed Wheatears. Interesting mammals could include Asian Wild Ass, Dorcas Gazelle, Wolf or Golden Jackal. We plan to arrive in Eilat with plenty of time to check in to our hotel and enjoy the impressive dinner buffet!
Days 4–5 During our stay in Eilat some participants may wish to take a pre-breakfast walk in the local park. White-throated Kingfisher, White-spectacled Bulbul, Laughing Dove, House Crow, White Wagtail, Red-backed and Masked Shrikes, Common Chiffchaff, Bluethroat and many other species are possible here at this time of year. A flexible itinerary is desirable as we explore Eilat and the Southern Arava Valley. Well-known locations including the north beach, Eilot fields, Date Palms, salt pools and the Eilat Mountains will all be visited. Further north, first-rate birding opportunities exist at less well-known sites and we will try to visit as many of them as possible. Amongst our most sought-after species will be Pallid Scops-owl, Namaqua Dove, Greater Hoopoe-lark, Bar-tailed Lark and Oriental Skylark, Cyprus Warbler, Hooded Wheatear and American (Asian Buff-bellied) Pipit. Residents could include Striated Heron (rare), Western Reef-heron, Barbary Falcon, White-eyed Gull, Pied Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Rock Martin, Blackstart, Mourning, White-tailed and Desert Wheatears, Arabian Babbler, Palestine Sunbird, Brown-necked Raven, Indian Silverbill, Dead Sea Sparrow and Desert Finch. The latter sometimes appear in large mixed flocks often with European Greenfinches, Common Chaffinches and, in an irruption year, a few Bramblings and Eurasian Siskins. In recent years Imperial, Steppe, Greater Spotted and Bonelli’s Eagles have featured at Eilat’s sewage pools. At least one evening will be dedicated to searching for Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse at a regular drinking site. Migrants could include Common Crane, Common Redstart, Sardinian Warbler and Common Chiffchaff in good numbers, whilst the stony ‘fields’ could support many larks including Thick-billed, Temminck’s and Lesser Short-toed Larks, and possibly a rarity or two, such as the male Black-crowned Sparrow-lark we saw in November 2010 and the Dunn’s Lark we chased in November 2012.
Day 6 Armed with a packed breakfast we will head north towards the Dead Sea, birding along the Arava Valley as we go. We may see Eurasian Griffon, Short-toed Snake-eagle and Lanner Falcon along the way while desert residents may include Sand Partridge, Desert Lark and Arabian Babbler. A special stop will be made to look for the rare Arabian Warbler. By midday we should have reached Ein Gedi, famed for its natural springs, therapeutic minerals and bathing beach as well as the numerous spectacular gorges in the area. For swimmers there should be time for an optional dip in the Dead Sea! The distinctive Fan-tailed Raven is common here and one can also find Brown-necked Raven and the rare Common Raven. The steep sided wadis will be worth walking and may produce Golden Eagle, Cyprus Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Sinai Rosefinch and Striolated Bunting. We once saw two Cinereous Vultures coming to roost at a major gorge north of Ein Gedi so we will remain vigilant for any unexpected species. The evening meal will be taken on the way back to Eilat as we would probably arrive at the hotel far too late for dinner.
Day 7 This will be a flexible day for revisiting any sites for species we may have missed or, alternatively, for following up reports from the local hotlines of new birds found. November is renowned for producing top-draw rarities we should be prepared to chase anything from Red-wattled Lapwing to Oriental Turtle-dove, Hypocolius, Olive-backed Pipit, Hume’s Warbler and Dunn’s Lark. A repeat visit to the north beach could also be worthwhile, especially on a southerly wind: in November 2010 such conditions produced a Brown Booby.
Day 8 Leaving Eilat we will head steadily north to Tel Aviv to board our evening flight back to Luton/Manchester. We will have most of the day to get there and opportunistic birding stops will be made along the way.
General Information Though afternoons can be hot, as much as 30°C or higher, early-mornings can be chilly. Rain is a possibility in November and mornings in the Negev can be cold at times. There are no compulsory health requirements and most of the area is usually insect-free. Walking is generally easy, although in the heat of the day it can sometimes be tiring. Some walks along desert wadis could be difficult underfoot and may need some extra effort. Visas are not required. The areas we will be visiting are entirely safe but do be prepared for extra security measures at the airport, which is perfectly normal for travel in and out of Israel. The itinerary is designed to be flexible in order to accommodate changes in weather patterns, local bird news and changes in habitat.
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 7 maximum group size: 7 with 1 leader, 14 with 2 leaders.