Israel, March 12-24 2013

Hi folks.

There are a couple of really good blogs out there at the moment with much better photos than me from Israel this spring, so please check out and for some great images of this springs birds from Josh and Yoav. But while you’re here, you might as read on… 😉

I was lucky enough to be leading the recent Sunbird tour to Israel, and went out a few days early to scout a few new sites. My time spent in the Nizzana area proved very fruitful, and then on the tour itself we managed to see some cracking birds. Hope you like the photos, some of which are more atmospheric than anything!

Pallid-Harrier-2A lovely male Pallid Harrier was the first bird I saw on my first morning in Israel. I didn’t see another in 2 weeks, but did manage to see 2 Hen Harriers. Go figure

Crowned-SandgrouseA flock of 9 Crowned Sandgrouse flew over Ezuz heading for Sinai. I also had a few hundred Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and a couple of Spotted Sandgrouse here, just none when the group arrived! The classic case of “you should have been here yesterday!!”

White-storks-4 White-storks-3 White-storks-1 White-storks-2A distant cloud over Sinai turned into a large flock of White Storks, rising up out of the desert, before heading north low over me and providing a proper migration spectacle.


There’s a bustard in here somewhere..



And eventually it showed quite well. This Macqueen’s Bustard is one of several in the area, and are probably the most well watched Macqueen’s in the World.


A feature of the first few days were the numbers of Short-toed Eagles going north. I’ve never seen flocks of this species before, but there were almost enough in one view to be called a flock at one point.


Cattle Egret. Lets hope he doesn’t find any blood-sucking ticks down there!


Arabian Babblers are a great species to spend some time watching. They bounce around in family parties and provide great entertainment.


I’ve never understood the difficulty in identifying Brown-necked Ravens. The brown neck is not always as obvious as it is here, but the thin wings and distinctly angled down head and bill in flight always draw attention. Plus they often seem to hold their bills slightly open, as if they’re regretting their decision to live in the desert and are panting in the heat! This one actually has a broken bill tip.

Pale-Rock-Sparrow-2 Pale-Rock-Sparrow-4

A major invasion of Pale Rock Sparrows was underway in southern Israel. We had about 3 singing males with no effort near Nizzana, then another 2 singing males in the hills NE of Jerusalem. They’re one of those birds that are just better in flight, with those white tail tips and their unusual bee-eater like flight call. I had flocks flying north over Ezuz, so guess that the invasion is still underway.


White-tailed Plover at km20 pools. This was the wader highlight of the trip for us, and showed better than this crappy shot suggests.


Sand Partridge. Pretty common in the wadis around Eilat,


Interesting eagle. The pale chin and remnants of a pale underwing covert bar point to Steppe Eagle, but there seems to be a lack of/very faint bars on the primaries and I can’t see a dark trailing edge forming either, but this could be age related.

Scrub-Warbler-1Scrub Warbler. Small and spunky!

Little-Green-Bee-eaterLittle Green Bee-eater. I really like the isolated splash of colour that the bee-eater gives in this image.

Nubian-Nightjar-4Nubian Nightjar. The joint headline act of our nocturnal excursion to the southern Dead Sea area, with this nightjar performing admirably for us at Neot Hakikkar. This is the highly localised and Arava Valley endemic race of tamaricis, that if split as a new species will immediately become one of the World’s rarest and most threatened birds. My advice would be to go and see it soon! The Hume’s Owls also performed very well, and we saw a pair interacting that gave excellent scope views in the torchlight. Unfortunately my pictures just show a dark grainy blob that might also be a small, distant monkey, so I have elected to link to Yoav’s blog again . Because of the strict restrictions in place for entering Israeli nature reserves at night (ie, you are not allowed, with fines and subsequently being ostracized from birding in place for those stupid enough to attempt to break the rules), the only way to see Hume’s Owl in Israel is as part of an organised tour with one of the lads from the Israel Ornithological Centre. The only time of year they do it is to coincide with the Eilat festival. So if you want to see these two Western Palearctic megas, then you simply have to go then. And if anyone says they can do it by wandering off into the desert with a torch, they can’t. And its illegal. Israel is not a country to start doing illegal stuff in!


Collared Pratincole, showed rather well!


Desert Lark


Common Redstart. This female is rather grey and is presumably of the race samamisicus.

Black-&-white-storksBlack Storks migrating past Mt Yorash. A tiny part of the 260 that flew past us in an hour, and with a White Stork tagging along.


Black Stork with 3 Steppe Buzzards.

Black-KitesBlack Kites


Desert Wheatear

BlackstartBlackstart. Its got a black start.


Mountain Gazelle. A very range restricted species, with populations in and immediately around Israel.


The Hula Valley. Jungle Cat stalked just out of shot to the left!

Cranes Cranes-2 Cranes-and-Short-toed-Eagle

Common Cranes over the Hula Valley. A magical sight as they come into roost.

Griffon-VultureGriffon Vulture

Egyptian-Vulture-4 Egyptian-Vulture-3Egyptian Vulture. Really close flyby’s at Gamla.

White Storks piling back into the Hula Valley

For next years Sunbird trip, keep an eye on