1 Trip Participants: Steve Arlow & Ian Prentice / Report author: Steve Arlow Website for further images: Summary: After a gap in 2015 to go to Texas I was looking forward to returning to the desert again and this would be the first time in March since As with many repeat trips some things were the same and some things were different in this case new sites. Of the new sites visited Se ifim Plains west of the Eilat Mountains produced some great birding whilst the HaMeishar Plains to the north was less productive. Bird wise the Bet Sh ean Valley Fishponds was bird rich with Pelicans and both Storks were present in very large numbers whilst Black Kites were so numerous they became almost ran s within an hour or so of arriving. The Arava was slower for migrants but as always dawn till dusk birding worked in our favour and many good birds were seen. Of the sites visited Mt. Amsa proved to be my personal favourite with great views of Blue Rock Thrush, Ruppell s Warblers, Spectacled Warblers and so on. It was again a real pleasure to be birding in Israel.
2 Resources: A Guide to the Birding Hot-Spots of Northern Israel and A Guide to the Birding Hot-Spots of Southern Israel by Hadoram Shirihai, James P. Smith, Guy M. Kirwan and Dan Alon The two guides above are indispensable and although some sites are a little out of date, the majority of information is still valid. Referred to as Shirihai in the following text. Collins Bird Guide by Killian Mullarney, Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterstrom and Peter J. Grant. This field guide is a quality reference and one that was referred to as much as the following guide. Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East by Porter and Aspinall A good field guide with improved maps in the paperback copy, I used the hardback in 2012 which had poorer maps. The illustrations are decent enough though perhaps it could do with an increase in plumage variations, such as juveniles, whilst the text is also an improvement. It is the must have book for any trip here. For 2014 I also used the App version for my smartphone to allow for easier use in the field thus reducing the paperback to a reference for the car and accommodation. Lonely Planet Israel & the Palestinian Territories provides information on places to stay and eat as well as general touristy information. It was used for making visits to the ruins in Bet Shan and at Masada as well as taking time out from birding to go to the Aquarium in Eilat. World Mapping Project 1:250,000 Road Map The only road map used, worked well in conjunction with the birding site guides above. Websites: Israel Birding Portal is the main source birding information making many of the following sites for bird information redundant: Eilat Birding: Yoav Perlmans Blog: Midbar Birding: IsraRareBirds: The Israeli Birding Website: Kibbutz Lotan Centre for Birdwatching: Birding Israel: Israel IOC Birds and Birding Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/israel-ioc-birds-and-birding/ IBRCE - As in previous years various Trip Reports were reviewed and these are available from several websites such Surfbirds and Cloudbirders with the latter portal providing most report information. Further to this my own reports from earlier trips in 2012, 2013 and 2015 can be located on my website at Travelling: Flight As with previous trips I booked my flight directly with British Airways over Easyjet with a 23kg Checked Luggage and 23kg for Carry On bag plus a Laptop Bag allowance. This I found was extremely helpful when taking lots of optics and camera equipment, as the flight would see me getting into Tel Aviv at around 5am so I could be out birding nearby within a couple of hours or so of leaving the airport. Heathrow Terminal 5 has no real facilities outside of security for anyone picking up or dropping off save for a few coffee shops. Past security there is a fair amount more to choose from. Apparently Monarch are doing direct flights to Ovda Airport, located just to the north of Eilat, but I have no details of prices or allowances but given it s Monarch hand luggage limits are likely to be minimal. Additional the Ramon Airport being built in the Arava is slated for opening in 2017 with aim to receive direct international flights so keep an eye on that. Currently then the best option is to fly into Tel Aviv and arrange car rental there on an onward internal flight to Eilat Airport in town though luggage restrictions will differ to what you would have had with British Airways. This of course restricts your birding if you want to go up north No entry Visa is required for UK Citizens. When leaving the country allow lots of time to get through Israeli security, arrive early. Be prepared to have everything in your hand luggage removed and swabbed and X-Rayed multiple times.
3 In Country For getting around I rented a Mid-sized car, a Ford Focus 1.6 though given the size of the car looked more like a Mondeo, from Budget Car Rental at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. On arrival go to the upper level to the left as you exit into the main hall, this is where the Budget desk is. I had booked the car prior to leaving the UK and for the 11days came to including insurances. It may be worth purchasing extra insurance if you intend on driving off tarmac on a regular basis, and you will, as any damage to the underside of the vehicle will otherwise not be covered. This car was simply annoying as hell and perhaps the most irritating I ve ever rented, anywhere. There were so many beeps to tell you anything you are doing; i.e. beep to tell you when you put car into any gear and a beep to tell you ve changed gear or put into park. Seat belt beeps, beeps to tell you the door was open, beeps to tell us a brake light bulb was out (all the f**king time. Also the car security device worked half the time first or second time of trying. Put in the key code and away you go, oh no. Turn key to far or not far enough and put the key code in the it wouldn t start and get a message that car immobiliser activated resulting in taking key out and putting it back in again. Hugely frustrating. That aside the rubber door seal on the driver s side came free on day one and more than once nearly hung me as I got in or out the car and I was constantly banging it back into place. The engine had no power for a 1.6, put your foot down and it just made noise, it was okay once it got going but it seemed to take a long time to get going. It also had very low clearance so several stone that would normally not be a problem on the tracks hit the underside. I hope I don t get another one of these for future trips. For UK visitors at least an International Driving Licence is not required, just your usual standard photo licence. Also note that when filling up and paying cash the Petrol/Service Stations this is Pre-pay, which means paying at the counter the anticipated amount before you can pump. Roads in Israel are mostly well maintained, some of the minor roads may be potholed and dirt tracks should be driven with care. Road signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English and are often right on top of the junction you may be looking for. For driving directly to Eilat take Route 40 south, which will eventually join Route 90 and takes around 5 hours to drive; several birding stops on the way can be made. We however started in the North taking Route 60 north to Afula and then Route 71 TO Beit Sh ean. From there we headed south on route 90 along the Dead Sea Route detouring to Mt. Amsa and then was up and down the Arava before travelling back north on Route 40 to Tel Aviv. For estimating travelling distances I used these websites: However as a guide I have placed road distances between sites here: Tel Aviv Airport to Beit Sh ean: 105km / 65miles Tel Aviv Airport to Arad: 142km / 88miles (Mt. Amsa approx. 10 miles further north) Tel Aviv Airport to Eilat: 349km / 270miles Kfar Ruppin to Ein Gedi: 140km / 87miles Kfar Ruppin to Eilat: 326km / 254miles Ein Gedi to Eilat: 246km / 160miles Eilat to Yotvata: 48km / 30miles Eilat to Nizzana: 195km / 112miles Nizzana to Tel Aviv: 169km / 100miles Places of interest are marked with Brown signs and usually well marked. Driving is on the right side of the road and there will always be someone wanting to overtake you no matter how fast you are going or if you are on a blind bend. Also observe speed limits, especially along Route 40 which is 90km per hour, as the Police will pull you over, I have seen this happening to others. Traffic lights will flash green just before turning to amber and then quickly to red so once they start flashing start slowing down. Many junctions where lights are positioned you will notice pink coloured Red Light that will go off should you jump the lights and there are Speeding cameras along the main highways near Tel Aviv. Pedestrian Crossing points are a little different to that in the UK. You will need to give way to pedestrians already on the crossing but pedestrians will need to give way to vehicles until there is a gap for them to cross. You don t have to give way to pedestrians waiting to cross; if you do you may end up with an Israeli driving into the back of you. However always note the current conditions and act accordingly. Special Notes: 1. When leaving the airport look for sign s for Highway 1 towards Jerusalem as this will take you to Route 40 North and South. 2. Heading south to Eilat from Yotvata you will not be able to turn left to visit the Salt Pans, KM19 Sewage Ponds, North Fields or North Date Palms due to a barrier along the central reservation. You will have to drive to and through the Security Check Point and turn around or continue to the Elot/Border Crossing roundabout and take the old road that runs parallel to Route 40. This is a nuisance, especially if there is a good bird at any of these sites. Likewise if heading north from Eilat you won t be able cross the highway to go directly to Amrams Pillars or the Hidden Valley, you will need to travel a long way up the road to be able to come back down the road. 3. At the checkpoint along Route 90 observe the rapidly reducing speed signs because you will hit a series of speed bumps if you do not.
4 4. At the Yotvata exit follow the Brown signs for Yotvata Park and not the white signs saying Yotvata as these are for the Kibbutz which you will not be able to enter. This is a new road, was under construction last year, and takes a few attempts to get right but it seems to work okay. 5. Parking in Eilat cost 5ils for 1 hour, that s about 80pence 6. It is birdable by 5.45am at this time of year with sun-up at 6.05am so if visiting the mountains for the Honey Buzzards it is advisable to be there from 6.30am onwards. Weather This year it was variable. In the north it was both warm and breezy on most days but not unbearably hot whilst in the south we generally had temperatures in the low 30 degrees but it was also rather cool, fleece wearing on occasion. For a few days the weather threatened rain and we did get a heavy deluge overnight making some of the tracks a little slippery. Winds varied from southerlies to northerly. Accommodation: Kfar Ruppin An ideal location to base yourself when in the Beit Sh ean Valley area as there is easy access to the fishponds of Neve Eitan and Tirat Zevi from here. We stayed at the International Birdwatching Centre lodging at 197 for 3 nights (Sat, Sun and Mon) for the room that included a light breakfast. The rooms are basic but clean with fridge, kettle and microwave with free good connection WIFI. There is good birding around the Kibbutz grounds and birding information and maps are available from the office so it is still a prime location and with little other areas to base yourself out of the area. Google Earth co-ordinates to the Kfar Ruppin Kibbutz: 32 27'27.17"N, 35 33'20.29"E Kibbutz Lotan Arava Valley Located in the northern Arava, about 10 minutes north of Yotvata and about 45minutes north of Eilat this Kibbutz has a lot to offer the visiting birder. There are a multitude of micro birding environments within the Kibbutz grounds. We stayed here throughout our time in the Arava at cost of 505 for 7 nights which equates to around 76 per night including a light breakfast in the fridge. Overall it is a little expensive for what you get, not much more than a room, shower, bed, fridge, kettle etc. but it is in a favourable position up the top end of the valley but accommodation options at Elifaz or Quetura might be worth future exploration. Eating Beit Sh ean Here we did the easy option in going to the MacDonald s in town as it was both convenient and cheap. There are other places to eat in town but we didn t explore those possibilities. Eilat We didn t eat out in Eilat this year as I was staying in the north of the valley so see previous reports on where to eat. Yotvata Apart from the must have Ice Cream at the Service Station/Rest Stop there is a good and varied selection of hot and cold foods available throughout the day plus lots of snacks and drinks available. It is a very good spot for a lunchtime break when up this end of the Arava Valley. The Ice cream here is about as good as you can possibly get. Note it is closed Friday nights from around 6pm/just after dark. Shizzafon Junction, Neot Samader There is a restaurant at the junction which is meant to be good but I didn t visit as Yotvata was usually closer to our end of day birding. Service/Petrol Stations Numerous service stations are scattered around the country and the main areas visited, some better than others, where you can get sandwiches, drinks and snacks. I also bought some Pot Noodle type things just in case I was out really late and Yotvata was closed, this happened once, on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Other information Shabbat Most shops, restaurants and other eating places will be closed from sundown on Friday night till sundown on Saturday night which should be taken into account when trying to find somewhere to eat away from Eilat. Petrol Stations will generally be open however you will probably have to pay extra on petrol during this time.
5 Birding Areas: Beit Sh ean Valley Shirihai Northern Guide Page 79 Kfar Ruppin has excellent birding within the Kibbutz grounds, Fish Ponds and around the Birdwatching Centre Office. David Glasner is able to provide information on where target birds are and the current best pools. The road up to the Kibbutz has a huge number of Black Kites roosting in the Date Palms and surrounding fields, at least 500 were seen in one field alone, impressive stuff. Bird around the shaded and vegetated areas near the office of the Kibbutz as this will result in Syrian Woodpeckers, Hoopoes and Great Spotted Cuckoos whilst the evenings there are a fair few Scops Owls present, 1-2 were seen close to the room and at the same large tree near the Swimming Pool. The Fish Ponds at the southerly point of the Kibbutz grounds held the only Temminck s Stints of the trip on a nicely drained pool as well as a good selection of other waders along with a stunning male Citrine Wagtail. A windy evening resulted in a flock of swifts being brought down low over the ponds that contained Common, Pallid, Alpine and Little Swifts. The Tamarisks had a flock of Spanish Sparrows that had a tag along smaller flock of Dead Sea Sparrows. These were some of the better fish ponds of the trip. To look for Black Francolin leave the Kibbutz and travel along the road for several hundred metres to you come to an obvious track on the right which cuts back around the date palms. Early morning along here resulted in numerous Black Francolins including a very close individual to the car. Google Earth co-ordinates to the Kfar Ruppin Kibbutz: 32 27'27.17"N, 35 33'20.29"E Neve Eitan Fishponds Shirihai Northern Guide Page 80 Located along Road 71 about 10minutes from Kfar Ruppin has three access points with the ones closer to Beit Sh ean giving access to ponds that can only be accessed here, the other entrances will lead to pools that are not connected to these ponds. The Beit Sh ean side ponds had the best wader ponds and some very confiding Little Crakes as well a large number of Armenian Gulls to which careful checking resulted in a Heuglin s Gull and numerous Pallas s Gulls. Huge numbers of storks, pelicans and Kites were present in the area as well as good numbers of passage Cranes, Spoonbills and both of the spotted eagles. To access the best ponds that we birding take the dirt track directly opposite the road to Neve Eitan Kibbutz at Google Earth co-ordinates: 32 29'45.55"N, 35 32'00.65"E There is a gate so make sure you don t get locked in, in the evening. The other ponds, which I now believe to be the Kibbutz Maoz Haim Fish Ponds can be accessed at Google Earth coordinates: 32 29'47.13"N, 35 32'36.84"E and at Google Earth co-ordinates: 32 29'46.34"N, 35 32'25.22"E. The first of these has what appears to be an automatic gate which will close at a predefined time whilst the other is a manual gate relying on someone to physically get out and close and lock it. As before make sure you do not get locked in, especially at Shabbat. These second ponds were not as productive as the Neve Eitan Ponds but still worthy of investigation. The only annoying thing here was the bird scarer, a guy whose job it is to drive around and around the ponds with a siren blasting anytime Pelicans drop in. He must go home with a headache every day. It wasn t a huge problem as it did let us know when Pelicans were in the air. Ganne Huga Not listed in Shirihai Northern Guide On the northern end of the Neve Eitan Fish Ponds is Ganne Huga, a nice little turn out from the main road between Beit Sh ean and Kfar Ruppin, turn out clearly sign-posted at Google Earth co-ordinates: 32 30'18.15"N, 32 30'18.15"E Follow the track and there is an obvious covered shelter on the right where we stopped and watched raptors, mostly many hundreds of Black Kites and dozens of both spotted eagle species, along with Cranes, Stork and so on. The scrub along the roadside held Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, a stunning male samamisicus Redstart and other common species. Driving further along the track will take you through rolling hillside. Tirat Zevi Fish Ponds Shirihai Northern Guide Page 95 These Fish Ponds are located south of Kfar Ruppin and were amongst the best. There are two access points: First access point: From Kfar Ruppin turn left immediately after leaving the gate and follow the tarmac track to the Ringing Station. Turn left and follow the track to the end where there is an obvious T-junction. This track passes through an interesting area of crops and Date Palms. At the T-junction Google Earth co-ordinates N, E turn right and then turn left after roughly 150 metres and this takes to you to the Fish Ponds. Second access point: is from Tirat Zevi Kibbutz. Just before the entrance to the Kibbutz is the track to the Tirat Zevi Reservoir. This will take you to the Sewage Works and Fish Ponds. Excellent birding here with variety of waders, gulls and herons. The reed beds here have Clamorous Reed Warblers and smaller reedy pools can host Crakes. There are no gates so getting locked in is not an issue. The road that runs parallel to the border fence was good for species such as Chukar and seeing roosting Great Spotted Eagles.
6 Mount Gilboa Shirihai Northern Guide Page 97 From Road 669, at the Petrol Station, take the road that heads up the mountain; look for a track on the left side of the road as detailed in Shirihai. We parked at the cross roads along this dirt track by the barns and walked up the track towards the cliffs and then took the track to the left where we found one singing Long-billed Pipit and raptor migration was occurring overhead with several Short-toed Eagles and Long-legged Buzzards. Google Earth co-ordinates to the turn off for Mt. Gilboa: 32 30'41.98"N, 35 26'32.26"E Google Earth co-ordinates to the dirt track to Long-billed Pipit site: 32 29'46.64"N, 35 26' 02.91"E Google Earth co-ordinates to the Long-billed Pipit site: 32 29' 16.60"N, 35 25' 51.40"E Dead Sea area Nahal Dragot Shirihai Southern Guide page 114 Site of one of the few Bonelli s Eagle pairs to be nesting in Israel. Heading south along Highway 90 turn right immediately before the Military checkpoint head up the hill, many switchbacks, to where the tarmac runs out. You can either park here and walk or take your car further along the very bumpy and dusty road, you run the risk of car damaged, to the viewpoint. We parked a ways back down along the dusty track just before it becomes impassable to all by 4x4 s and walked. The Bonelli s Eagle site didn t disappoint with two birds seen as well as several Mountain/Striolated Buntings and an awesome view. The Raptor watch point is opposite the Kibbutz further back along the tarmac section but we had better views of the raptors from a layby on a switchback further back down the road. Google Earth co-ordinates to the dirt track to the Bonelli s Eagle Viewpoint: 31 35'24.52"N, 35 22' 51.93"E Google Earth co-ordinates to the Bonelli s Eagle Viewpoint: 31 35' 07.02"N, 35 22'45.22"E Wadi En Salvadori - Not listed in Shirihai Northern Guide If travelling north from the Ein Gedi Rest stop looks out for a small layby on the left between km250 and km251. There is a fairly large layby followed by a smaller one just before a left hand bend indicated by the upright and a horizontal >>>> signs. There is a small blue signpost which will let you know you are in the right place. Take the track up the hill for a couple hundred metres to where the Wadi appears and the path starts to go up through boulders. The curvature of the lower Wadi is where we looked for Sinai Rosefinch and Mountain/Striolated Bunting. We had the buntings at the lower end and the Rosefinch further up the boulder Wadi. Google Earth co-ordinates to Parking area: 31 31' 02.90"N, 35 23'34.49"E and following blue trail signs. Wadi Mishmar Shirihai Southern Guide page 121 Clearly sign-posted on the right when heading south which was a good location in 2012 for Cyprus Warbler. We were here in the heat of the day but Ian had a male Subalpine Warbler and several Orphean Warblers before we retreated to the car. Mt. Amsa Not listed in Shirihai Northern Guide We arrived from Wadi Mishmar at around 2pm and stayed still it was getting dark. The temperature was cool, even cold in the shade and the wind got up. We explored the area to the east of the highway which is open habitat with scattered scrub and ruins. The low bushes on the small hillside to the east had numerous Spectacled Warblers nesting as well as Ruppell s Warblers and display flight Isabelline Wheatears. Corn Buntings were everywhere here and Short-toed Eagles seen and Quails heard and seen in the meadows. Another good spot is on the north side below the main mountain face where the extensive ruins here held singing Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatears and looks likely to hold Rock Sparrows later in the season. Worthy of exploration here alone. The main scree up along the road is I believe the main site for Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and probably Finch s Wheatears in winter. Google Earth co-ordinates for Access point: 31 20'42.41"N, 35 07'17.30"E Google Earth co-ordinates for Rock Sparrows: 31 20'37.46"N, 35 07'25.15"E Google Earth co-ordinates for Spectacled Warblers: 31 20'29.55"N, 35 07'34.96"E Google Earth co-ordinates for ruins and Blue Rock Thrush (possibly Rock Sparrows): 31 20'51.23"N, 35 07'28.11"E
7 LaHav Reserve - Not listed in Shirihai Northern Guide A stop off on the way the airport in actually rather cool and rainy conditions didn t result in a lot but it is often worth a stop here as some of the birding can be great. This reserve has a semi alpine feel to it. In previous trips I have stopped here to look for Spectacled Warbler, which this time around was completely silent. Weblink to the site map: Google Earth co-ordinates for Access point: 31 23'17.22"N, 34 51'25.53"E Google Earth co-ordinates for spot where found the singing males in 2013: 31 23'29.99"N, 34 51'45.03"E Eilat and Lower Arava Valley Ofira Park Shirihai Southern Guide page 33 Only visited once and found that more of this once great park has been developed with two new buildings on it, one a clothes shop. One has to wonder why given the sparcity of green spaces in Eilat. A few birds were seen of note with Eastern Bonelli s Warbler and Wryneck being the pick that seen here. Central/IMAX Park - Not listed in Shirihai Northern Guide The other side of the airport near the IMAX this park was again, like previous years, better than Ofira being more bird rich and worth an hour or so exploration. We gave it good walk around and found the usual suspects with Tree Pipits, Wrynecks, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and so on by the larger trees at the far end of the park looked like they could hold a good flycatcher. A team found a Black Bush Robin here a week after our return to the UK. Parking can be found at Google Earth co-ordinates for Access point: 29 33'08.35"N, 34 05'07.79"E Holland Park - Not listed in Shirihai Northern Guide Located on the north side of town there are a couple of ways to reach it. Coming from Ofira Park: Continue along the minor road north, past the saltpans, to join Route 40 at a roundabout after a looping switchback. Go straight over here and head up the hill. Holland Park is located on the right with an entrance indicated by a lay-by and wall. Coming from Eilat: After passing the end of the airport runway turn left at the roundabout and follow the above instructions. This park is arid with Acacia and scrubland bushes can be good for Sylvia warblers and other dry country species and is certainly best worked earlier in the morning rather than late. We had some good birding here with many Sylvia Warblers, Redstarts, Wrynecks, Nightingale, Eastern Olivaceous and Eastern Bonelli s Warblers. We also had a superb flock of Bluecheeked Bee-eaters overhead. Walk up the Wadi as far as you can go, taking in the spur s on the sides as many of the birds preferred these areas. Parking is limited Google Earth co-ordinates for Access point: 29 34'18.80"N, 34 57'35.29"E North Beach Shirihai Southern Guide page 25 Only one visit made to collect Brown Booby for the trip, of which two frequented the distant buoys out towards Jordan and Saudi Arabia. There was a Western Reef Heron in the canal on the landward side of the beach. Google Earth co-ordinates for viewing the sea and meeting other birders in morning and evenings: 29 32'44.76"N, 34 58'14.71"E South Beach Not listed in Shirihai Southern Guide A regular site in the morning for the increasingly difficult to come by Striated Heron is the pontoon at Dolphin Reef. There is a car park for the centre but be here early to ensure seeing the birds. Parking at Google Earth co-ordinates for parking: 29 31'33.24"N, 34 56'05.66"E International Birding & Research Centre (IRBC) and Saltpans Shirihai Southern Guide page 37 & 34 This can be reached from North Beach by following signs along the canal and past the southern Elot Date Palms and from Route 40 down towards to the Jordanian Border Crossing, turn right before the checkpoint and follow signs to the reserve. This small reserve is probably best visited early morning, it opens at 7am, and has scrubland and saltpans nearby which can be driven around thus providing a variety of species. There is also a hide overlooking one of the pans and a ringing station. It can easily be combined with the often excellent south Elot Date Palms as a walking route, which should produce many more birds around the greenhouses.
8 KM19 Sewage Ponds Shirihai Southern Guide page 53 Located near the large cowsheds only one pool had water in it. The fence has been pushed down in several places so access is possible. The northeast pool has water in it and is where the Lichtenstein s Sandgrouse come into drink at dusk. Sit down about at the corner by the obvious sluice, where currently you can also gain access over/through the fence. Google Earth co-ordinates for parking: 29 36'33.07"N, 34 59'34.19"E and wait for the birds to fly in, it will be very close to fully dark when they appear so make sure you get here at least half an hour early to avoid disturbance. We had two parties of 3 birds in total. Birding here at other times of day resulted in other birds and always worth a visit though the reedbed around the edges are now making it difficult for smaller waders. Wildfowl wise we had a Ferruginous Duck, Egyptian Geese and Garganey amounts the Teal. KM19 Canal An often extremely productive water filled area between the sewage ponds and the southern end of the Saltpans. The muddy fringes held several waders but passerines were scarce this year. There is still a bumpy dirt/mud track that runs from the east and west corners of the southern salt pan to the main track south of the cow sheds. KM20 Salt Pans / Northern Reservoirs Shirihai Southern Guide page 49 These large salt pans can be driven around and can produce some good birding. Each year the water levels vary and this year they seemed to be a little high and with fewer than usual number of waders. Usually see countless Little Stints on each pan but fewer seen this time around. Highlight was a very fine flock of 70+ Collared Pratincoles, Our one and only Shelduck also can from the pans this year. The scrub behind the raised shade / Flamingo watch-point is also a good spot to bird early morning when migrants are in town. KM20 Date Palms Shirihai Southern Guide page 49 & 51 Though not really birded this year the date palms here can be productive for Silverbills. If travelling north from Eilat on the old tarmac road take a right just past the first date palms on the right. Park near the junction here and bird these palm groves. The plantations are private but the northern ones can be readily birded from the tracks whilst those to the south of the Saltpans track have been screened off so you can t see in there. On the left side of the track to the Saltpans by the junction are more date palms and by walking north along the west fence along the dirt track the fence disappears, either broken down, fallen into disrepair or removed, which means you can walk into the palm grove here. However still be mindful that they are private and you may be asked to leave by any workers present. On the other side of the tarmac track, towards Route 40, is a small clump of scrub and can also be productive and should be checked whilst here. Highway 90 roadside copses There a several small isolated stands of small trees and bushes along the roadside, northbound, that are worthy of investigation. KM20 By the Saltpans turn off Co-ordinates 29 37'37.91"N, 34 59'17.74"E KM23 By the Doum Palms turn off Co-ordinates 29 39'01.39"N, 34 59'28.06"E KM26 Before the En Avrona turn off, by the two red and white masts. Co-ordinates 29 40'33.93"N, 34 59'26.66"E Eilat Mountains / Raptor Viewpoints Shirihai Southern Guide page 40 Raptor passage can be variable through the mountains though we did strike it lucky on one morning, at around 9am onwards, from the main parking/viewpoint area when many thousands of Steppe Buzzards passed overhead along with probably around 100 or so Steppe Eagles, flocks of Black Storks and Black Kites. There are various viewpoints in which to take in the raptor watching spectacle. Google Earth co-ordinates for upper viewpoint: 29 35'08.37"N, 34 53'15.16"E Google Earth co-ordinates for middle viewpoint: 29 34'40.16"N, 34 53'18.44"E / 29 34'55.17"N, 34 53'11.07"E Google Earth co-ordinates for middle roadside viewpoint: 29 34'35.90"N, 34 53'11.47"E Google Earth co-ordinates for lower roadside viewpoint: 29 34'14.13"N, 34 53'31.24"E
9 Se ifim Plain Not listed in Shirihai Southern Guide Despite being close to Eilat this location has only recently come onto birders radars. It s about 10km or so past the Eilat Mountain raptor watch point along route 12 heading north along the Egyptian Boarder. Shortly after passing the sign on the right to Red Canyon there will be a sing, also on the right, to Se ifim plain. Take the dirt track all the way to the end and either park under the solitary tree and walk out across the plain birding the low shrubby habitat or take the dusty track to the left for a further kilometre or so and bird out from there. This area is extensive and best first thing in the morning, take plenty of water and be aware of the sun and wind. Winter and early spring is likely to be the best time for here as it s a prime location for larks with Bimaculated, Bar-tailed Desert, Desert, Crested and Short-toed Larks being seen by ourselves whilst my main target here was seen by others, just not me, Temminck s Horned Lark. Others also had Dunn s Lark and Thick-billed Larks here. Other species seen by us here and others were Cream-coloured Coursers, Rock Thrush, Hooded, Mourning, Isabelline, Black-eared, Northern and Desert Wheatears, Wryneck and so on. A great place. Also the site of the 2015 Black-crowned Finch Lark. Upper Arava Valley & Southern Negev Plateau Yotvata Shirihai Southern Guide page 57 Located 30minutes north of Eilat the fields around this site are a Lark, Pipit, Wheatear and raptor haven. The northern circular field was bare whilst the southern circular field was being harvested which was attracting some good birds including a stunning male Pallid Harrier in the evening. These fields are not actually in the Kibbutz itself but on the east side of the road with access from the rest stop. The Melon/Marrow fields to the north of the circular fields were pretty good; especially the most southerly and easterly one which had a fine flock of Lesser Kestrels for a number of days as well as passerines of interest, such as Siberian Stonechat. We learnt as we were leaving Israel that an Egyptian Nightjar was being seen around the circular fields at night. Care should be taken around the fields as it is possible to get stuck in the sand, when in doubt don t attempt to drive it. We spent much time around here at the Sewage Ponds. The sewage ponds were not as birdy as in previous years but still a good place to visit and with constant checks to see what had dropped in. A large fall of wagtails occurred during rain. The reed-bed though from previous years was all but removed. These ponds are either drivable or walk aroundable whilst a track to the right of the gate will take you to a fringed pond which was water filled this year but oddly lacked a singing reed dwellers but we did find a Siberian Chiffchaff here and if it stays water filled it could be good for future years. Kibbutz Lotan Shirihai Southern Guide page 71 It s a green oasis in the northern Arava however it was, like the rest of the valley, not particularly birdy this year though the area around the Organic Garden was particularly entertaining with a Black Bush Robin and a stunning male Collared Flycatcher. It is always worth investigation when in the area as there are a number of habitats to explore and should it be another good migrant year some time should be spent here. Just to the north of Lotan are the Lotan Fields. Take the right off Route 90 at Google Earth co-ordinates: 30 00'20.59"N, 35 05'11.14"E and take the tarmac track towards the Jordan border. There are some tanks, probably for irrigation at Google Earth co-ordinates: 30 00'00.91"N, 35 06'26.94"E which could be a good place to park up and walk around the fields. The area looks good for Lark, Pipits, Wagtails and could possibly hold Caspian Plover. Careful beyond these tanks as it rapidly becomes soft sand and a car may get stuck. Also could be a good place to reach out to the sand dunes along the border to search for Hoopoe Lark.
10 K67 Not listing in the Shirihai Southern Guide Only a few KM s north of Lotan and just past the KM67 sign-post is a track off Route 90. Come off here and park up. We tried driving along the track a ways and got stuck in the sand for a few hours. Walk out towards the Jordan border taking in the Wadi bushes en-route which was good for migrants. At the border road/track locate the obvious largish white water treatment tanks and you are in the area of Hoopoe Larks. Apparently there are at least 6 pairs in the area within a few KM s in either direction (north/south) with 4 on the Jordan side and 2 on the Israeli side. We saw two birds, both on the Jordan side. The closest bird was north of the tanks around the obvious marker numbered 589. Around the tanks there is a small reed-bed as a result of a leak at some point and it held a Great Reed Warbler or two. The whole area was covered in roosting raptors early morning and it is recommended being here early and perhaps earlier in the season when the Hoopoe Larks will be more vocal and displaying. Google Earth co-ordinates for the Pull-off: 30 01'28.56"N, 35 05'41.27"E Google Earth co-ordinates for the Water Tanks: 35 01'27.40"N, 35 06'17.06"E K82 Not listing in the Shirihai Southern Guide The well vegetated Wadi north of Lotan on Route 90 at KM82 was loaded with birds. We visited the site a couple of times looking for the breeding Thick-billed Larks which we initially failed to find. The area to the west, left side as you head north) is the best side with numerous buntings (including a Striolated) and Sylvia warblers. Parking is at Google Earth coordinates for the pools: 30 08'38.57"N, 35 07'54.90"E down the embankment away from the main road (care in the sand) and walk out along the Wadi. The Thick-billed Larks were actually located well away from the main Wadi to the South West in extremely sparse vegetation. A bird was located by other birders and Ian went over to see it though given the distance across the open plain decided to stay in the main Wadi. Also note that this is a Military Firing Zone so if visiting outside of Friday and Saturday probably best to stay within the main vegetated Wadi only. Quetura Sewage Ponds Shirihai Southern Guide page 83 Accessed from the track opposite the southern end of the Quetura Kibbutz these small set of sewage ponds are only 5 minutes south of Lotan and less than 10minutes north of Yotvata. The ponds varied in water levels with at least one fairly shallow with areas for pipits, wagtails and waders to feed. The bushes to the southeast can hold numerous migrants. Google Earth co-ordinates for the pools: 29 57'50.46"N, 35 03'52.34"E Kibbutz Samar Not visited this trip but has been in previous year. At this kibbutz it is possible to bird the area, especially around the Olive Grove where migrants can be found readily and was this spring home to a lingering Black Bush Robin in Go through the kibbutz gate and turn immediately left and after about 100metres park on the right and explore the Grove. Google Earth co-ordinates for the Olive Grove: 29 49'54.43"N, 35 01'22.71"E Neot Semadar Shirihai Southern Guide page 87 In 2012 this was a personal favourite Kibbutz which was simply heaving with birds however the kibbutz has new gates and doesn t seem as accommodating to visiting birders so no visit was made within the boundary. This site really could be the under-estimated birding destination in the area if access is made possible. Google Earth co-ordinates 30 02'57.17"N, 35 01'40.28" E Shizzafon Sewage Works Shirihai Southern Guide page 87 About half mile to the east of Neat Semadar Kibbutz are the sewage ponds. This is a great little place and you can walk around. The pools were of varying water levels but generally had a few waders and wagtails present whilst the southern border where there are shrubs and bamboo plus a large Acacia held most of the passerine migrants. I came across Wolf prints in the recently damp sand here. Google Earth co-ordinates: 30 02'34.47"N, 35 02'34.88"E Uvda Valley Road Shirihai Southern Guide page 88 Turn left off route 12 after about 1.5KMs from Shizzafon Junction onto the Shaharut road and then about 1km from the Army base take the dust track to the Shaharut Cliffs Nature Reserve Google Earth co-ordinates for approximate turn off 29 57'35.91"N, 34 58'22.30"E. It s a little obscure to find but is sign-posted. There are stretches of sand along the track but a bit of acceleration will see you through. Along the main tarmac road explore the area to the south about 1km from the Highway 12 junction, just after the second metalled bridge, where there is an obvious clump of vegetation. The Wadi to the south here is ideal for Larks and Wheatears and is the site for the Basalt Wheatear in March Further along the tarmac road there is an obvious dirt track (between the two closest pylons to the tarmac road and just after the metalled bridge) that leads off to the right/south towards a small fenced compound, around some pipes, and towards two dark, blackish hills. Very soon after heading down this track take the track to the left which runs parallel to the main tarmac road. It was along here that the Thick-billed Larks favoured in You may get a visit from the Army here as further along the valley is an Airbase. Along the northern end of Route 20 near the Uvda Valley turn off, including one pretty much opposite by the bus stop, are several largish copses and these were actually pretty productive for birds despite the windy conditions at the time. Given the sparcity of the vegetation in the area these patches of scrub are migrant magnets
11 Wadi Yahel Not listing in the Shirihai Southern Guide Whilst very good in 2014 in May this Wadi was pretty quiet in March and we didn t linger too long. However it is likely to still produce birds at the right time of year and can be real gem. From route 90 heading north turn left into Kibbutz Yahel and then turn right in front of the main building and following this round the back and keep the Wadi on the right and the kibbutz fence on the left. I parked by the black and white arrowed sign and explored the Wadi from here. The Wadi goes a long way but is extremely productive. Take plenty of water here. There is also an isolated garden, known as the cemetery, which also has birds due to the taller tree s here. In 2014 there were lots of warblers here and great spot for Thrush Nightingales, Golden Orioles, swifts and Rock Martins, Blackstarts are common. Google Earth co-ordinates to track around building: 30 04'57.41"N, 35 07'51.28"E Google Earth co-ordinates to parking area for exploring Wadi: 30 05'11.21"N, 35 07'48.94"E The Negev and nearby areas Nizzana Shirihai Southern Guide page 127 Not visited this year, mainly due to heavy rains resulting in much lying water for the sandgrouse to use and reports seemed to echo this with only isolated groups being found rather than concentrated at the sewage ponds. However for fullness it is toughly a three hour drive from Eilat, two hours / 192km, from Lotan, meant a 3.40am departure to arrive for 5.50 arrival just as there was enough light for birding. As in the Shirihai guide book the best place for the McQueen s Bustard were at around KM7 along the road to Ezuz with a male found almost immediately but I lost this bird as I drove further along the road to get a better view. Usually there are other birds present but this morning was overcast and spots of rain so little else was noted. The sewage ponds, Shirihai Southern site guide page 128 were superb and is the current best place to look for the sandgrouse. Make sure you are here for around 9am. Co-ordinates to the entrance date to the ponds 30 53'29.49"N, 34 26'11.19"E. On passing through the gate there are a number of ponds, all worth checking for various waders etc. however currently the best pond is the one at the very far end, it is un-vegetated and this is where the sandgrouse come in. Using the car as a hide and taking careful drives you can get quite close to the birds, I managed to watch at least 70 at a range of about 15metres in It can be a little difficult to locate the ponds, especially as the road nearby has been resurfaced and the access tracks moved however follow these directions and you should have no problem. It is important to get here earlier and it s easy to waste time searching for the ponds so I have detailed the access here. Coming north along the Ezuz Road, after looking for the Bustards, turn right off the tarmac at the sharp left hand bend at 30 52'24.25"N, 34 26'07.86"E Stay on this bumpy track past the collapsed bridge and turn left onto the tarmac at 30 52'58.26"N, 34 27'10.41"E Follow the tarmac until you reach the last cow sheds on the left, if you reach the end of the tarmac you ve gone too far. Turn left after this cowshed, at co-ordinates 30 53'37.51"N, 34 26'29.78"E and then immediately right and follow the dusty track parallel to the road. At the telegraph post with the electrical transformer on it turn left and this dirt track will take you the entrance of the Sewage Ponds. This telegraph post is directly opposite sheds on the other side of the road which has 4 twin sets of silos. If you ve reached the end of the tarmac don t try taking a short cut at any obvious tracks as this quickly runs into soft sand and you run the risk of getting bogged down, as I nearly did after just 3 feet. HaMeishar Plains Shirihai Southern Guide page 85 Went here in the hope of getting Temminck s Horned Lark but failed to locate any and the site was strangely quiet for birds. It can be a top class site and can have some excellent birds in the low vegetation. Access is best on Fridays and Saturdays, early morning, as this is a Military Firing Zone and these days there is access to go birding. Park by the no so obvious monument at Google Earth co-ordinates: 30 25'33.74"N, 34 56'30.03"E and bird the low scrub and plains here for about metres out. Nearby and back down the road a turning on the right, as if heading back in the direction of Eilat, will take you another similar habitat zone at Google Earth co-ordinates: 30 24'21.43"N, 34 56'06.06"E Again weekends (Friday/Saturday) are best as you are otherwise likely to encounter a visit by the Army.
12 Day to day itinerary: Day 1: Saturday 19 th March Gilboa Prison / Kfar Ruppin Fish Ponds / Beit Sh ean Ringing Station Tirat Zevi Fish Ponds / Ganne Huga / Neve Eitan Fish Ponds / Kfar Ruppin Kibbutz Day s highlights: 1. The flock of Pelicans in field opposite Gilboa Prison 2. The numerous Egyptian Mongoose seen at Tirat Zevi Fish Ponds 3. The spectacle at Ganne Huga of hundreds of Storks, Pelicans, kites as well as flock of cranes and both Spotted Eagles 4. The smart male samamisicus Redstart at Ganne Huga 5. Adult summer Pallas s Gull at Neve Eitan Fish Ponds 6. The vocal pair of Great Spotted Cuckoo s above the car at Kfar Ruppin Kibbutz 7. The Scopes Owl in half-light at Kfar Ruppin Kibbutz Day 2: Sunday 20 th March Kfar Ruppin Field / Neve Eitan Fish Ponds / Mt. Gilboa / Neve Eitan Fish Ponds / Kfar Ruppin Fish Ponds / Beit Sh ean Ring Station / Tirat Zevi Fish Ponds / Kfar Ruppin Kibbutz Day s highlights: 1. The flock of Spoonbills that contained a runt bird at Neve Eitan Fish Ponds 2. The large number of Armenian Gulls at Neve Eitan Fish Ponds 3. The not often seen Sardinian Warblers on Mt. Gilboa 4. The Mt. Gilboa Long-legged Buzzards 5. The 2 pairs of remarkably confiding Little Crakes in a small reed bed at Neve Eitan Fishponds 6. The large flocks of 200+ Pelicans at both Kfar Ruppin and Neve Eitan Fish Ponds 7. The stunning male Citrine Wagtail at Kfar Ruppin Fish Ponds 8. The flock of Temminck s Stints seen on the drained pool at Kfar Ruppin Fish Ponds 9. Flock of Dead Sea Sparrows at Kfar Ruppin Fish Ponds 10. The two Great Spotted Cuckoos chasing around the Kfar Ruppin Fish Ponds 11. The incredible sight of around 800 Black Kites over their roosting site Date Palms Day 3: Monday 21 st March Kfar Ruppin Date Palms / Neve Eitan Fish Ponds / Mt. Gilboa / Neve Eitan Fish Ponds / Kfar Ruppin Fish Ponds Day s highlights 1. The Black Francolin in the Kfar Ruppin Date Plantation 2. The masses of storks at Neve Eitan again 3. The showy Little Crakes again 4. The Neve Eitan Moustached Warbler 5. Citrine Wagtails at Neve Eitan and Kfar Ruppin Fish Ponds 6. The flock of Cretzschmar s Buntings at Mt. Gilboa 7. The evening Swift flock at Kfar Ruppin Fish Ponds that held four species of swift Day 4: Tuesday 22 nd March Nahal Dragot / En Salvadori / Wadi Mishmar / Mt. Amsa 1. The Bonelli s Eagles at the view point 2. Mountain Buntings at the viewpoint 3. A couple of nice showy Short-toed Eagles 4. The Mountain Buntings and Sinai Rosefinch at En Salvadori 5. A Donkey riding Camel herder that was on a Cell Phone 6. The Mt. Amsa Ruppell s and Spectacled Warblers 7. The display flight of Isabelline Wheatears 8. The male Blue Rock Thrushes 9. The sound of howling Jackals at dusk
13 Day 5: Wednesday 23 rd March Lotan / KM82 R90 / Neot Semadar Fields / Neot Semadar Sewage Ponds / Lotan / KM20 Saltpans / Yotvata Sewage Ponds / Yotvata Fields / Lotan Day s highlights 1. Selection of wheatears at KM82 R90 2. The confiding Little Green Bee-eater at Lotan 3. The Lotan Collared Pratincole 4. The Black Bush Robin in the Lotan Organic Gardens 5. The two close Collared Pratincoles at the Saltpans 6. The Lesser Kestrel feeding flock at Yotvata Fields 7. The stunning male Collared Flycatcher in the evening at Lotan Day 6: Thursday 24 th March Se ifim Plains / Eilat Mountains / Eilat South Beach / Eilat North Beach / IBRCE Eilat / KM19 Sewage Ponds / Yotvata Fields / Lotan Day s highlights 1. The Black and White Wheatears of Se ifim Plains 2. Bar-tailed Desert Lark display flight 3. The Raptor Passage through the Eilat Mountains with some Steppe Buzzards, Steppe Eagles and 3 Egyptian Vultures 4. White-eyed Gulls again at Dolphin Reef 5. The Little Bittern (possible Yellow Bittern) rush around at IBRCE 6. The Ferruginous Duck at the Km19 Sewage Pond 7. The still present Collared Flycatcher at Lotan Day 7: Friday 25 th March HaMeishar Plains / KM82 R90 / Wadi Yahel / Quetura Sewage Ponds / KM20 Saltpans / KM19 Canal / KM19 Sewage Ponds Day s highlights 1. The ghostly male Pallid Harrier at HaMeishar Plains 2. Finding a Mountain Bunting in the Wadi at KM82 R90 3. The Lichtenstein s Sandgrouse at KM19 Sewage Pond at Dusk Day 8: Saturday 26 th March Neot Semadar Sewage Ponds / Yotvata Sewage Ponds / KM20 Saltpans / Yotvata Fields Day s highlights 1. Getting stuck in the sand at KM67 and having Yaki from Lotan come and pull us out (highlight for wrong reason) 2. The rain that started when at Neot Semader Sewage Ponds heaviest rain I ve seen in the desert 3. The male Citrine Wagtail with hundreds of other wagtails at Neot Semader Sewage Ponds 4. The masses of Yellow Wagtail forms at Yotvata Sewage Ponds 5. The Bee-eaters at Yotvata Sewage Ponds that made dive-bombing splash and fly bathing runs 6. The large flock of Black-winged Stilts at Neot Semader Sewage Ponds 7. The obvious VizMig at the Saltpans of Wagtails and Pipits 8. The male Pallid Harrier at Yotvata Fields in the evening 9. The heavy overnight rain Day 9: Sunday 27 th March IBRCE Eilat / Holland Park / Eilat Mountains / Central Park / Ofira Park / IBRCE Eilat / KM20 Saltpans / Eilat North Fields / IBRCE Eilat / Yotvata Sewage Ponds / Yotvata Fields Day s highlights 1. The arrival of Wrynecks today which had largely been absent; now seen in Holland, Central and Ofira Parks 2. The Nightingale in Holland Park 3. The very nice flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters that flew over us at Holland Park with another over the Eilat Mountains a little later 4. The super female Pallid Harrier that flew low over the IBRCE 5. The flock of 74 stunning Collared Pratincoles at the Saltpans 6. The flock of hirundines and swifts at Yotvata Sewage Ponds 7. The large flocks of migrating White and Black Storks over Yotvata Sewage Ponds 8. The Eastern Imperial Eagle high over Yotvata