Israel Mar 14-April 6 2023
I first visited Israel forty-five years ago. Originally I had planned to stay a few weeks before travelling overland to India. Weeks turned into months. I kept a dairy of my adventures describing the wonderful sights and "exotic" birds I saw. I had always wanted to return.
During my stay I hitch-hiked the length and breath of the country including several days in the disputed West Bank. I was shown great hospitality by both Israeli and Palestinian families.
The purpose of the second visit would be two-fold. First to re-visit and photograph places I had written about and second to attend the 2023 Eilat Bird Festival, something planned for 2019 but cancelled due to the pandemic.
"Organized by the Israel Ornithological Center (Birdlife Israel) of the SPNI, the Eilat Birds Festival brings together birders from all over the world for an unforgettable birding week during the peak of spring migration in southern Israel. Since the first festival in 2007, the Eilat Festival is now a well-established event and is known in birder's circles as the ultimate package for birding Southern Israel.
The Festival is based in Eilat and takes in all the major sites and key species of Southern Israel. Besides the Eilat area, the festival package includes excursions further afield to Nizzana and the Negev as well as the famous "Stars of the night" tour to the Dead Sea region.
After the fifteen hour flight, Sandee and I headed for the beach. We encountered the usual suspects, House Sparrows, Common Mynas, Laughing Doves and Hooded Crows.
Our walk along the promenade turned-up a solitary Yellow-legged Gull. Between the high-rises and hotel complexes Common Swifts were on a feeding frenzy. The building's ledges and crevices also make ideal roosting and nesting sites.
Mentioned in both the Old Testament and Greek literature Jaffa is one of the oldest ports in the world. It was a short walk from our hotel. Around the port and with more than a little sleuthing I eventually found a Little Egret in the harbour, a Pied Kingfisher hunting over the surf and a Graceful Prinia in the local park.
A pair of Eurasian Hoopoe, the national bird of Israel paid little notice to passersby. Five lifers was a great way to shake off the jet-lag.
|with Crest lowered|
|Greater Flamingos and Gray Herons are squeezed into a few small salt ponds.|
|Eilat has grown from a sleepy coastal town to a major resort destination.|
|Eilat Bird Sanctuary|
Eilat would be our home for ten days, seven of which I would be birding while Sandee visited the beaches, the hotel pool, sauna and stores. Isn't life good.
Slowly but surely there has been some progress. Lobbying, backed up with scientific data from SPNI has put the brakes on proposed installation of wind turbines around Eilat. Bird Life Israel is even working in conjunction with Eilat's air traffic control to make sure planes, even commercial jets are not taking off and landing during peak migration times when thousands of raptors can be found soaring on midday and afternoon thermals. Early morning and evening scheduled take-offs are less likely to encounter birds and avoid bird strikes. Normal air service returns when migration ends.
|Eurasian Spoonbills on the move.|
|Migratory shorebirds fuel-up at the sanctuary salt ponds. Common Redshank, Ruff and Little Stint.|
|Collared Pratincole winter in Africa and migrate through Eilat to southern Europe to breed.|
Along with the McQueen's Buzzard, the Black-Scrub Robin (below) were the highlights for the avid listers in the group. The McQueens's were scope views of them dancing on a Lek. One evening we birded the Dead Sea until midnight and had good looks at a Nubian Nightjar. Those were just a few of the 90 Lifers I picked upon the trip. Two-hundred plus species were seen or heard during the week. I ticked 172 that I actually saw.
The first and third videos (below) are the best example of what we saw but because of the midday haze it was impossible to video the behavoir ourselves
|Black Scrub Robin.|
|Black-eared Wheatear winters in the Sahara and breeds around the Mediterranean.|
|The Blackstart is a resident. Israel had no endemics.|
Native plants were in bloom and a few warblers were passing through and feeding on fruits and insects. One species that has benefited from development is the tiny Palestinian Sunbird. Fifty years ago the species was considered rare and only found where native plants flowered year round. These days with ornamental planting commonplace in cities and residential areas the species is now thriving.
|Common Cranes and White Storks forage in Northern Israel's Hula Valley|
|White Storks riding thermals in the Hula Valley|
Sea of Galilee
| Eurasian Kestrel with lizard.|
Mount of Beatitudes