Eilat 17 - 31 Jan 2009

This was a family holiday with a with a baby and four year old so birding was never going to be first priority but I succeeded in convincing my wife that Eilat would be the perfect destination for us. Flying time from Oslo was no greater than the Canaries, the weather would be reasonable with temperatures in the low twenties and of course there is birding on the doorstep meaning I could indulge myself whilst the rest of the family enjoyed themselves at the beach or pool. After we had booked the holiday however I realised that I could clean up on a number of needed species if I were able to travel away from Eilat. I decided that if I invested in a guide then I could use my time far more effectively rather than hiring a car and collecting gen. I contacted Noam Weiss at the Eilat International Birding Centre and gave him a list of my target species. We quickly agreed that 2 whole day trips and 1 evening trip would give me a good chance of seeing the species I wanted although I was warned that there would be a lot of driving and quite intense birding. My decision to use Noam as a guide turned out to be absolutely the right one. Noam is a great birder, has fantastic knowledge of where to find species, is a really friendly and funny guy and also provides fantastic value for money. If I had tried to see the species on my own I would have had to hire a car and use much more time plus I doubt I would have succeeded in seeing what I did.

Obviously the timing of this trip was not fantastic due to the problems in Gaza and it looked like this would prevent me seeing Saker as the area for these had been shelled by Hammas. However as predicted by Noam the war ended the day we arrived so in the end we were able to visit all necessary sites.
Having been to Israel twice before (in spring at Eilat and in the autumn participating in the raptor counting in northern Israel) I had seen most of the usual species but there were a few I needed and which I knew were possible in January. In addition Noam informed me of the presence of some rarities that I needed.

 Apart from walking around the Eilat area to North Beach, the salt pans, southern date palms and the bird reserve these are the three trips I undertook with Noam:
20 January all day (0600 – 1700) the Eilat and Arava area going as far as the Meishar, near Shizzafon and Yotvata.
26 January night trip (1700 – 2200) in the Arava area
29 January all day (0400 – 2130) trip to Nizana, the Negev and the Dead Sea.

Target Species seen;
One adult seen at the regular sight at Urim

MacQueens Bustard
6 seen in the Nizana area including including 3 displaying males

Nubian Nightjar
1 – 2 seen in flight at Neot Ha’kikar  to the south of the Dead Sea. To see this area one must have a guide as the area is on the Jordanian border and land mined.
Hume’s Owl
Noam is the man to show you Hume’s owl. He is studying the birds in the Arava valley and has discovered that there is still a population although it appears that an increase in Pharoah Eagle Owls as a result of increased cultivation in the valley has pushed the Hume’s Owls deeper into the wadi’s where they can avoid predation. We succeeded in locating a pair which eventually gave themselves up to us after we had checked a couple of sites and walked a good couple of kilometres in the dark. This was an incredible experience and there was a great adrenalin rush as first the female and then the male called and we manged acceptable spotlight views of the female perched on the cliffside.

Pharoah Eagle Owl
We managed great views of one at Yotvata in the spotlight.

Striated Scops Owl
Noam was not confident with this species as he knew of no wintering site this year until the day before we went looking when one was located in the Arava. It took a time to locate but we eventually pinned it down and enjoyed fantastic views.

Sinia Rosefinch
Noam knows of a small settlement in the mountains north of Eilat where Sinia Roesfinches act like sparrows in the winter and sure enough we found a male perched on a roof top!

Eastern Imperial Eagle
3 seen in the Arava and 1 at Urim

Spotted Sandgrouse
Birds seen in the Meishar and at Nizana sewage ponds.

Oriental Skylark
2 birds located at Yotvata southern circular field

Buff Bellied Pipit
A number of birds located at Yotvata souther circular field

Finsch’s Wheatear
One seen near Shizzafon and small numbers at Nizana.

Black Scrub Robin
I dipped on the bird wintering in Eilat city with Noam but went to the site on my own and eventually located it.

Indian Silverbill
Seen at Yotvata southern cicular field.

In addition I saw a number of other good species that made the trip very worthwhile:
Pallas’s Gull
5 birds at km 19 pools

Black Bellied Sandgrouse
1 flyover at Nizana sewage ponds
A fantastic adult seen at Nizana sewage ponds.

Steppe Eagle
A small passage over Eilat had already begun.
Many hundreds at Urim
Pallid Harrier
Single males at Nizana sewage ponds and Urim
20+ Urim
Bar Tailed Desert Lark
Small numbers at Meishar and Nizana.
Desert Warbler
2 Meishar
(Desert) Little Owl
2 Nizana
Hoopoe Lark
1 Meishar

Target Species missed:
Syrian Serin
Very rare in southern Israel this winter and the only birds that Noam knew of a S’dr Boker did not show themselves

Crested Honey Buzzard
The wintering bird in the Date Palms could not be located although it was seen during my time in Eilat.

Kurdish Wheatear
We squeezed in time to visit the site of one of 5 wintering birds by the Dead Sea but could not locate it.