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During our transit between the northern Negev Desert and Eilat, we made an afternoon stop at HaMeishar Plains in the central Negev. This was a phenomenal taste of desert birding, especially for the time of day, producing elegant Temminck's and subtly beautiful Bar-tailed larks, charismatic Desert Wheatears, and a rather obliging Tawny Pipit, all against the backdrop of an expansive stretch of desert rimmed by rolling desert hills. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
This tour was the inaugural Field Guides trip to Israel, at long last. Our thorough exploration of the southern half of the country featured a splendid ten days of breathtaking scenery, good company, and of course, fantastic birds. Birds weren’t the only living things we encountered either, as we had a very nice cross section of the flora and fauna one can see in this ecologically diverse sliver of the world.
We started out in Tel Aviv, and from there headed south to our first port of call in the northern Negev Desert, but not before stopping in the very southern reaches of the Judean Hills for a great introduction to the ecology of the region at Har Amasa. The birds on the ground were great, with hordes of Blue Rock Thrushes, a cooperative and close Little Owl, several still lingering Finsch’s Wheatears, Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears, Masked Shrike, Eastern Orphean and Eastern Subalpine warblers, lots of Spectacled Warblers on territory, and a Long-billed Pipit, all under the canopy of a solid migration of large birds, highlighted by White Storks, Short-toed Snake-Eagles (the powers that be have cut “snake” out of the name, but I daresay keeping it captures the essence of the species much better), and a surprise (Eastern) Imperial Eagle. We also saw one of the rare species of Royal Irises that is endemic to the region, and Eran flipped over a rock at one point to reveal a Deathstalker Scorpion. It was a smashing start to the tour, and we hadn’t even reached the Negev yet!
Our first day in the northern Negev Desert featured a trip out towards Nitzana and Ezuz, famed in birding circles as the best places in the Western Palearctic to see both MacQueen’s Bustard and Cream-colored Courser. We saw both species very well, and had a great bustard experience, with at least five individuals, including two displaying males, performing their absurd dance where they do their best impression of a bobblehead doll running on stilts while ensconced in a giant feather duster. After our morning experience there, and our picnic breakfast amid the Lesser Whitethroats at Ezuz, we worked our way back towards Mashabei Sadeh, but not before seeing another Little Owl (this one of the Lilith desert subspecies), and a productive stop at the Nitzana sewage pools where we found a crisp Ferruginous Duck and a pile of Ruffs being chased around by a pair of mildly hungry Peregrine Falcons. We finished off the day with a trip to Yeruham Lake, and then a pair of Long-eared Owls back on the grounds of the kibbutz. Our second day in the desert was a bird and travel day, as we headed south towards Eilat. Despite the amount of ground we had to cover, we still saw a pile of great birds. Sde Boker produced an incredible vulture spectacle, with both Egyptian and Eurasian Griffon present in very good numbers. The fields also produced Desert Finch, good numbers of Spotted Sandgrouse and excellent views of Black-bellied Sandgrouse. The Ovdat Gorge area was yet another incredible setting, and we had a truly special experience with the resident pair of Bonelli’s Eagles there, as they flew around in tandem, chased the nesting Griffon Vultures, and terrorized the local pigeons. Heading south we dropped down into the fantastically scenic Maktesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater), known as the Grand Canyon of Israel, and then continued to HaMeishar Plains. The Meishar produced a wonderful subset of desert birds, with the real prizes being Temminck’s Larks, Desert Wheatears, a Tawny Pipit, and finally a pair of Bar-tailed Larks. We ended up in Eilat after dark, where the star of the show was the first of our excellent dinner buffets.
Our first day in the Eilat area took us to Ofira Park at dawn, where the continuing male Cyprus Warbler eventually came good for the entire group- what a great bonus bird for the area! After a great breakfast we wended our way up into the Eilat Mountains, with the goal of witnessing a good raptor migration. Our goal was met and then some, as the Steppe Buzzards had just started flowing over the count site less than twenty minutes prior to our arrival. We watched, enthralled by the seemingly endless passage of Steppe Buzzards, Steppe Eagles, Eurasian Marsh Harriers and more as they piled through the mountains heading north to their breeding grounds scattered across Eurasia. We were eventually able to pry ourselves away from this spectacle and head down to the lower mountains, where Wadi Shlomo had another set of great fauna awaiting us, in the form of Ornate Mastiguire, Sand Partridge, White-crowned Wheatear, and a wonderful family of Nubian Ibex. After the rousing success of the morning, and a fantastic and borderline gratuitous lunch, our afternoon had a lot to live up to. It delivered most of the goods. Our visit to the honeypot that is the K20 salt pans was great as expected, with the continuing Lesser Flamingo (only the 2nd ever record for Israel) on site among the several hundred Greater Flamingoes, a rare-for-the-region Eurasian Curlew, Red-necked Phalarope, Common Crane, and much more. At the sewage pool at K19, we were in the good company of one hundred other birders in missing the Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse which usually come to drink at dusk. The consolation prize was much more than a consolation however, with not one, not two, but THREE Great Bitterns taking flight from the reeds half an hour before dark and then circling around and around vocalizing, eventually becoming part of a symphony of several heron species that were circling and calling as they tried to muster up the courage to migrate over the imposing stretch of desert to the north.
The next three full days were all spent in the Eilat Region, largely in the Arava Valley. We went to Yotvata and the International Bird Research Center in Eilat (IBRCE), known locally simply as the Bird Park or Bird Sanctuary, multiple times, and each time found new things. Highlights at Yotvata were Bimaculated Lark, Caspian Stonechat, larks and pipits galore, Egyptian Nightjar, a shocker of a Nubian Nightjar, an elegant male Pallid Harrier, a sea of migrant Black Kites coming in to roost, and a Black-eared Wheatear annihilating a grasshopper without concern for our close proximity. The IBRCE contributed Citrine Wagtail, Water Rail, Little Crake, Sedge Warbler and Red-necked Phalarope. Other highlights from the south were multiple Hooded Wheatears, Rüppell’s Warbler, three Semicollared Flycatchers, Crowned Sandgrouse, a big surprise vagrant Turkestan (Red-tailed) Shrike, Greater Sand-Plover, Lesser Kestrels (including a great foraging group at Yotvata), some very friendly (Arabian) Green Bee-eaters and a dizzying array of Western Yellow Wagtail taxa.
Our departure morning from Eilat started with a productive stroll through Holland Park which gave us a very memorable encounter with a low flying dark-morph Booted Eagle. After breakfast and check-out we worked our way north with a farewell visit to the flamingoes at K20, and then blasted north to the Shezaf Nature Reserve, where despite the midday heat, we triumphed by getting preposterously good walkaway views of our main target: Arabian Warbler. In addition to that we came away with Scrub Warbler and our second Cyprus Warbler of the trip, as well as getting close up views of the massive Egyptian Mastiguire for the whole group. We continued to make our way north via yet another good Aroma lunch stop, and ended up at the Navit Pools for the golden hours of the late afternoon. Navit was great, with a plethora of waterfowl, including our only Pochards and quite a few of the regionally threatened Ferruginous Ducks. Dead Sea Sparrows and both Eurasian and Clamorous Reed-Warblers were on site, as was a great male Citrine Wagtail, and the climax: a great performance from the cryptically plumaged and bizarre Eurasian Wryneck! We made our way up to Almog where yet another delicious dinner awaited us.
Our full day in the Dead Sea featured an early morning jaunt, for most of the group, down to Wadi Salvadora. While we were hiking in towards the impressive sheer wall at the head of the canyon, raptors began heading north in a slow trickle, a prelude for what the rest of the day would offer. When we arrived at the spring, we were treated to a very intimate experience with Sinai Rosefinches, Striolated Bunting, and Trumpeter Finch. The rest of the day brought us to Enot Tzukim Nature Reserve (also known as En Fashkha), the lowest Nature Reserve on the planet, at 417 feet below sea level. Here we watched the continuing stream of raptors and storks moving north through the mountains, and also had excellent looks at Clamorous Reed-Warbler. Our lunch at The Last Chance was a delightful affair, and one that was intermittently punctuated by people leaving the table to go outside and watch the raptor migration overhead, which had turned from a stream of birds to a roaring river of raptors overhead, with several thousand coming over just while we were eating lunch. It was truly incredible!
The final leg of the tour saw us heading back to Tel Aviv via the urban nature jewel that is the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, right in the heart of the city, right across the street from the Knesset. It was a brilliant ending, with a great juxtaposition of nature and urbanity to ease us back from the desert into the city. Finches showed very well here, with a couple of awesome Hawfinches, with their big honkin’ bills and beautiful patterning, as well as some Eurasian Siskins and a Brambling. The Water Rail that had wintered there also put on a fantastic show just hanging out in the open for most of our time there, in very un-rail-like fashion. We wrapped up the day with an overwhelming culinary experience at Abu Ghosh, followed by the last couple of additions to the checklist in the form of Sardinian Warbler and Eurasian Jay before we said goodbye to Eran and headed into Tel Aviv where we parted with our driver Shibli.
Thanks for joining me and Eran on this adventure through the Holy Land. It was a blast to share this experience with such a knowledgeable and attentive group, and your enthusiasm for and interest in all things relating to the natural history and culture of the region really added to the richness of the tour. Here’s to meeting you all again in the field somewhere in this great big birding-verse!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Little Green Bee-eaters (the "little" moniker has been dropped by Clements, but it is still widely known this way) can be exceptionally confiding, and this pair at Holland Park were especially friendly. The Arabian endemic taxon here (M.o.cyanophrys) is much different than the Russet-crowned forms seen in Asia, and is a very good canditate to be split off into its own regionally endemic species. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
EGYPTIAN GOOSE (Alopochen aegyptiaca) [I]
COMMON SHELDUCK (Tadorna tadorna)
GARGANEY (Spatula querquedula)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
Nubian Ibex is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN, with somewhere in the realm of 2,500 mature individuals (perhaps fewer than 4,000 total individuals including younger ones) in the world. We saw these large goats in several places, often very well. Our best experiences with them came in the Eilat Mountains, where this younger male was trying to practice being the boss. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca crecca)
COMMON POCHARD (Aythya ferina)
FERRUGINOUS DUCK (Aythya nyroca)
This isn't necessarily a region that people associate with waterfowl, but we visit a few places which are excellent for finding the scarce and declining Ferruginous Duck. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
SAND PARTRIDGE (Ammoperdix heyi heyi) [E]
COMMON QUAIL (Coturnix coturnix)
CHUKAR (Alectoris chukar)
LITTLE GREBE (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
GREAT CRESTED GREBE (Podiceps cristatus)
Greater Flamingoes were a staple of some of the wetlands we visited during our time Eilat, with an aggregation of over 500 birds in one spot. Photo by participant Seth Ausubel.
GREATER FLAMINGO (Phoenicopterus roseus)
LESSER FLAMINGO (Phoeniconaias minor)
BLACK STORK (Ciconia nigra)
WHITE STORK (Ciconia ciconia)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
GREAT CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax carbo)
We got to see a nice movement of White Storks through and over the Judean Hills during our very first morning birding the country. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GREAT BITTERN (Botaurus stellaris)
GRAY HERON (Ardea cinerea)
PURPLE HERON (Ardea purpurea)
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
LITTLE EGRET (Egretta garzetta)
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
SQUACCO HERON (Ardeola ralloides)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
EURASIAN SPOONBILL (Platalea leucorodia)
This gorgeous male Bluethroat had lost its tail at some point over the winter, but it had also become fairly acclimated to humans by the time we arrived. The band on its right leg was put on earlier in the season by the banding operation at the IBRCE bird park. Photo by participants Len and Mae Sander.
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
EGYPTIAN VULTURE (Neophron percnopterus)
EURASIAN GRIFFON (Gyps fulvus)
SHORT-TOED SNAKE-EAGLE (Circaetus gallicus)
LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE (Clanga pomarina)
GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (Clanga clanga)
This dark-morph Booted Eagle gave us a spectacular show on our final morning in the Eilat area, swooping around low over us at Holland Park, flashing those conspicuous white "headlights" at the leading edge of the base of the wing. The quality of this very memorable experience pushed Booted Eagle onto several folks' best three birds of the trip list. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
BOOTED EAGLE (Hieraaetus pennatus)
STEPPE EAGLE (Aquila nipalensis)
IMPERIAL EAGLE (Aquila heliaca)
BONELLI'S EAGLE (Aquila fasciata)
EURASIAN MARSH-HARRIER (Circus aeruginosus)
HEN HARRIER (Circus cyaneus)
The Bonelli's Eagles were aggressively defending their territory in the Ovdat Gorge, even from the Griffon Vultures with whom they share that very territory! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
PALLID HARRIER (Circus macrourus)
EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK (Accipiter nisus)
BLACK KITE (Milvus migrans)
COMMON BUZZARD (WESTERN) (Buteo buteo buteo)
COMMON BUZZARD (STEPPE) (Buteo buteo vulpinus)
LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD (Buteo rufinus)
MACQUEEN'S BUSTARD (Chlamydotis macqueenii)
The Negev Desert of southern Israel provides some of the most starkly beautiful landscapes in the region, as this view from near the Ovdat Gorge hints at. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
WATER RAIL (Rallus aquaticus)
LITTLE CRAKE (Zapornia parva)
AFRICAN SWAMPHEN (Porphyrio madagascariensis)
EURASIAN MOORHEN (Gallinula chloropus)
EURASIAN COOT (Fulica atra)
COMMON CRANE (Grus grus)
EURASIAN THICK-KNEE (Burhinus oedicnemus)
Carla found this Stone Curlew (aka Eurasian Thick-knee) during our lunch in the northern Negev, and afterwards we were all able to get over there and see these bizarre shorebirds. Despite their not-insubstatial size they can be very difficult to see in the day due to their excellent camoflauge and crepuscular habits. Photo by participant Carla Bregman.
Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
BLACK-WINGED STILT (Himantopus himantopus)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
SPUR-WINGED LAPWING (Vanellus spinosus)
GREATER SAND-PLOVER (Charadrius leschenaultii)
KENTISH PLOVER (KENTISH) (Charadrius alexandrinus alexandrinus)
COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula)
LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (CURONICUS) (Charadrius dubius curonicus)
Eurasian Curlew was a nice surprise during our late afternoon at K20. A while after our initial observation it became an even more exciting surprise when Bernie pointed out that it had flown in and was standing on the dike not 25 yards away. It then took off and flew right at us, giving this unforgettable look before continuing south. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
EURASIAN CURLEW (Numenius arquata)
RUFF (Calidris pugnax)
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
LITTLE STINT (Calidris minuta)
COMMON SNIPE (Gallinago gallinago)
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)
Here's a video compilation of our time in Israel. From backflipping wagtails, to hordes of kites, and all the wheatears in between, it was truly a blast. Videos by guide Doug Gochfeld.
COMMON SANDPIPER (Actitis hypoleucos)
GREEN SANDPIPER (Tringa ochropus)
COMMON GREENSHANK (Tringa nebularia)
MARSH SANDPIPER (Tringa stagnatilis)
WOOD SANDPIPER (Tringa glareola)
COMMON REDSHANK (Tringa totanus)
Glareolidae (Pratincoles and Coursers)
CREAM-COLORED COURSER (Cursorius cursor)
Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)
Sunset at K19 was a wonderful experience. The mass of wagtails running around the dike, the Great Crested Grebe, big liftoff of herons, and the three crazy Great Bitterns that did laps around the impoundment for thirty minutes all more than overshadowed the lack of sandgrouse. The fact that we shared it with dozens of bird and nature enthusiasts from all over the world made it that much more special. Photo by participant Mary Normandia.
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
SLENDER-BILLED GULL (Chroicocephalus genei)
BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
WHITE-EYED GULL (Ichthyaetus leucophthalmus) [E]
CASPIAN GULL (Larus cachinnans)
ARMENIAN GULL (Larus armenicus)
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (FUSCUS) (Larus fuscus fuscus)
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (HEUGLIN'S) (Larus fuscus heuglini)
Even if you're not a gull person, it's lovely to see Slender-billed Gulls in their elegant breeding plumage. Here you can even see just a hint of the pink on the breast which is often sported by adults at this time of the year. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
COMMON TERN (Sterna hirundo)
SANDWICH TERN (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
SPOTTED SANDGROUSE (Pterocles senegallus)
BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE (Pterocles orientalis)
CROWNED SANDGROUSE (Pterocles coronatus vastitas) [E]
This Black-bellied Sandgrouse gave cripplingly good views at it circled us in the northern Negev Desert. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia)
EUROPEAN TURTLE-DOVE (Streptopelia turtur)
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto)
LAUGHING DOVE (Streptopelia senegalensis)
GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO (Clamator glandarius)
We had a blast watching these Western Yellow Wagtails act like miniature dinosaurs as they stalked sand flies that were grounded by the wind. This slow motion video gives a little more of an appreciation for what they were really doing while flitting around. Video by guide Doug Gochfeld.
LITTLE OWL (LITTLE) (Athene noctua glaux)
LITTLE OWL (LILITH) (Athene noctua lilith) [E]
LONG-EARED OWL (Asio otus)
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)
EGYPTIAN NIGHTJAR (Caprimulgus aegyptius)
NUBIAN NIGHTJAR (NUBIAN) (Caprimulgus nubicus tamaricis) [E]
ALPINE SWIFT (Apus melba)
COMMON SWIFT (Apus apus apus)
PALLID SWIFT (Apus pallidus)
LITTLE SWIFT (Apus affinis)
This Little Owl was a fantastic treat at Har Amasa on our first morning of birding. Photo by participants Len and Mae Sander.
EURASIAN HOOPOE (Upupa epops)
COMMON KINGFISHER (Alcedo atthis)
WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER (Halcyon smyrnensis smyrnensis)
PIED KINGFISHER (Ceryle rudis rudis)
GREEN BEE-EATER (ARABIAN) (Merops orientalis cyanophrys) [E]
EURASIAN WRYNECK (Jynx torquilla torquilla)
SYRIAN WOODPECKER (Dendrocopos syriacus)
This Thistle Mantis (Blepharopsis mendica) was hanging out by the entrance to our lunch spot near the Ovda Valley. We had a very good trip for non-birds too (we also saw the cryptic Desert Mantis one day)! Photo by participant Seth Ausubel.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
LESSER KESTREL (Falco naumanni)
EURASIAN KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus)
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
PEREGRINE FALCON (BARBARY) (Falco peregrinus pelegrinoides)
Psittaculidae (Old World Parrots)
ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET (Psittacula krameri) [I]
Rüppell's Warbler is always one of the most wanted targets for birders visiting Israel in March. One of their favorite foods is the nectar of the flower of the endangered Retama Caper, which was thought to be extinct in the wild in Israel for over fifty years. Luckily it was discovered and has been planted in a couple of places around southern Israel. We found one of the warblers (and a sharply dressed male, no less!) just as planned, in our first visit to one of these plants. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
RED-TAILED SHRIKE (Lanius phoenicuroides)
SOUTHERN GRAY SHRIKE (SOUTHERN) (Lanius meridionalis aucheri)
MASKED SHRIKE (Lanius nubicus)
WOODCHAT SHRIKE (Lanius senator)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
EURASIAN JAY (BLACK-CAPPED) (Garrulus glandarius atricapillus)
EURASIAN JACKDAW (Corvus monedula)
HOUSE CROW (Corvus splendens) [I]
HOODED CROW (Corvus cornix)
BROWN-NECKED RAVEN (Corvus ruficollis)
FAN-TAILED RAVEN (Corvus rhipidurus)
Desert Larks survive in some of the most seemingly inhospitable conditions for an animal, but they are exceptionally resourceful, and very successful. Photo by participant Carla Bregman.
BAR-TAILED LARK (Ammomanes cinctura)
DESERT LARK (Ammomanes deserti)
TEMMINCK'S LARK (Eremophila bilopha)
GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK (Calandrella brachydactyla)
BIMACULATED LARK (Melanocorypha bimaculata)
EURASIAN SKYLARK (Alauda arvensis)
CRESTED LARK (Galerida cristata)
Ornate Mastiguire was one of our targets during a morning jaunt in the Eilat Mountains. Such a kaleidoscope of colors on an animal that lives in such a subdued landscape was quite the juxtaposition. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
ROCK MARTIN (PALE CRAG-MARTIN) (Ptyonoprogne fuligula obsoleta)
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
RED-RUMPED SWALLOW (Cecropis daurica)
COMMON HOUSE-MARTIN (Delichon urbicum)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
GREAT TIT (GREAT) (Parus major terraesanctae)
WHITE-SPECTACLED BULBUL (Pycnonotus xanthopygos) [E]
White-crowned Wheatear is one of the hallmark breeders of the most barren areas of the Negev Desert, and we had a few intimate encounters with this handsome species. It is sexually monomorphic, so the males and females looks the same, which is to say they both look unreasonably dapper. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Scotocercidae (Bush Warblers and Allies)
SCRUB WARBLER (Scotocerca inquieta)
CETTI'S WARBLER (Cettia cetti) [*]
Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)
COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (Phylloscopus collybita)
EASTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER (Phylloscopus orientalis)
Acrocephalidae (Reed Warblers and Allies)
EASTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER (Iduna pallida)
SEDGE WARBLER (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
EURASIAN REED WARBLER (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
CLAMOROUS REED WARBLER (CLAMOROUS) (Acrocephalus stentoreus levantinus)
Cisticolidae (Cisticolas and Allies)
GRACEFUL PRINIA (Prinia gracilis)
Graceful Prinia was one of our constant companions during the tour. Though loud and gregarious, they can be fairly difficult to lay eyes on, though you wouldn't think that given this one's pose. Photo by participant Carla Bregman.
Sylviidae (Sylviid Warblers)
EURASIAN BLACKCAP (Sylvia atricapilla)
LESSER WHITETHROAT (Sylvia curruca)
ARABIAN WARBLER (Sylvia leucomelaena) [E]
EASTERN ORPHEAN WARBLER (Sylvia crassirostris)
CYPRUS WARBLER (Sylvia melanothorax)
Cyprus Warbler is always a sought after bird in Israel, given its very restricted range. There is a very small temporal window of migration for them here, and this coupled with their typical choice of stopover habitat in dry desert wadis without much else make them often quite difficult to find. This male Cyprus Warbler made our lives much easier by spending several days feeding in a bottlebrush tree in the middle of Ofira Park, in the heart of downtown Eilat. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
RUEPPELL'S WARBLER (Sylvia ruppeli)
SUBALPINE WARBLER (Sylvia cantillans)
SARDINIAN WARBLER (Sylvia melanocephala)
GREATER WHITETHROAT (Sylvia communis)
SPECTACLED WARBLER (Sylvia conspicillata)
Leiothrichidae (Laughingthrushes and Allies)
ARABIAN BABBLER (Turdoides squamiceps squamiceps) [E]
Arabian Babblers have one of the most complex social structures of any species of bird in the world, operating in large loosely familial groups of 5-15 individuals. Sometimes they can be quite shy and difficult to find, but where they are used to humans, they can be exceptionally confiding. Photo by participant Carla Bregman.
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)
EUROPEAN ROBIN (Erithacus rubecula) [*]
COMMON NIGHTINGALE (Luscinia megarhynchos)
BLUETHROAT (Luscinia svecica)
SEMICOLLARED FLYCATCHER (Ficedula semitorquata)
COMMON REDSTART (EHRENBERG'S) (Phoenicurus phoenicurus samamisicus)
BLACK REDSTART (WESTERN) (Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis)
BLUE ROCK-THRUSH (Monticola solitarius)
SIBERIAN STONECHAT (CASPIAN) (Saxicola maurus hemprichii)
BLACKSTART (Cercomela melanura)
That grasshopper never had a chance. We got to watch this Black-eared Wheatear dismantle its prey at point blank range with apparently no thought as to our proximity. The bird worked for several minutes before it could finally get most of the insect down the hatch. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
WHITE-CROWNED WHEATEAR (Oenanthe leucopyga ernesti)
HOODED WHEATEAR (Oenanthe monacha)
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)
MOURNING WHEATEAR (MOURNING) (Oenanthe lugens lugens)
FINSCH'S WHEATEAR (Oenanthe finschii)
BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR (EASTERN) (Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca)
DESERT WHEATEAR (Oenanthe deserti)
ISABELLINE WHEATEAR (Oenanthe isabellina)
Isabelline Wheatear was perhaps the most widespread and common wheatear we saw on the tour, but its understated beauty and ability to blend right into the desert with its many tones of brown maintained our interest in it until the very end. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
EURASIAN BLACKBIRD (Turdus merula)
SONG THRUSH (Turdus philomelos)
COMMON MYNA (Acridotheres tristis) [I]
TRISTRAM'S STARLING (Onychognathus tristramii) [E]
Nectariniidae (Sunbirds and Spiderhunters)
PALESTINE SUNBIRD (PALESTINE) (Cinnyris osea osea) [E]
Palestine Sunbirds are widespread, from urban settings to desert wadis strewn with sparse acacias and mistletoe. The males often look black, but when the sun hits them they really pop! Photo participant Carla Bregman.
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla flava)
WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (THUNBERGI) (Motacilla flava thunbergi)
WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (FLAVA) (Motacilla flava flava)
WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (BEEMA) (Motacilla flava beema)
WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (FELDEGG) (Motacilla flava feldegg)
CITRINE WAGTAIL (Motacilla citreola)
WHITE WAGTAIL (WHITE-FACED) (Motacilla alba alba/dukhunensis)
The subspecific and phenotypic diversity of Western Yellow Wagtails is overshadowed only by the sheer number of inidividuals that migrate through southern Israel every spring. We were fortunate to have a couple of windy days which really concentrated and showcased them. This was part of a large group that was feeding on grounded insects at K20. There are anywhere from three to five subspecies visible here, depending on your taxonomic leanings. The purely dark-headed feldegg were the most common, with the blue-headed, black-faced thunbergi and blue-faced, white-eyelined flava trailing them distantly. M.f.beema (likely the unfocused bird in the bottom left) looks much like flava but with a small white patch on the cheek, and M.f.superciliaris (looks like feldegg but with a pencil-thin eyeline) may or may not warrant its own subspecies, though it is usually thought to be an intergrade. These guys (it was still mostly males this early in the season) gave us entertainment day after day during the tour. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
LONG-BILLED PIPIT (MIDDLE EASTERN) (Anthus similis captus) [E]
TAWNY PIPIT (Anthus campestris)
MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis)
TREE PIPIT (Anthus trivialis)
OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT (Anthus hodgsoni)
RED-THROATED PIPIT (Anthus cervinus)
WATER PIPIT (Anthus spinoletta)
Emberizidae (Old World Buntings)
CRETZSCHMAR'S BUNTING (Emberiza caesia)
STRIOLATED BUNTING (Emberiza striolata striolata)
CORN BUNTING (Emberiza calandra)
This Semicollared Flycatcher during our lunch break one afternoon was one of three we saw on the tour. This species has a fairly limited breeding distribution, just on the east and west sides of the Black Sea, and patchily through Turkey, so it is the most sought after of the black-and-white flycatchers by most visiting European birders. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
BRAMBLING (Fringilla montifringilla)
HAWFINCH (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)
SINAI ROSEFINCH (Carpodacus synoicus) [E]
TRUMPETER FINCH (Bucanetes githagineus)
DESERT FINCH (Rhodospiza obsoleta)
EUROPEAN GREENFINCH (Chloris chloris)
EURASIAN SISKIN (Spinus spinus)
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus hufufae)
SPANISH SPARROW (Passer hispaniolensis)
DEAD SEA SPARROW (DEAD SEA) (Passer moabiticus moabiticus) [E]
Estrildidae (Waxbills and Allies)
INDIAN SILVERBILL (Euodice malabarica) [I]
Sinai Rosefinch was one of the just rewards for the tricky and toasty hike up Wadi Salvadora. That silver in the head isn't just sunlight, they actually have silvery feathers mixed into the rich pink of the head. This species withdraws into remote desert canyons to breed, so it takes some effort to see them at this time of year, but it was well worth it! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
EGYPTIAN FRUIT BAT (Rousettus aegyptiacus)
GOLDEN SPINY MOUSE (Acomys russatus)
SYRIAN JACKAL (Canis aureus syriacus)
ROCK HYRAX (Procavia capensis)
DORCAS GAZELLE (Gazella dorcas)
MOUNTAIN GAZELLE (Gazella gazella)
NUBIAN IBEX (Capra ibex nubiana)
ROUGH-TAIL ROCK AGAMA (Laudakia stellio)
EGYPTIAN MASTIGURE (Uromastyx aegyptia)
ORNATE MASTIGURE (Uromastyx ornata) [E]
SNAKE-EYED LIZARD (Ophisops elegans)
NIDUA FRINGE-FINGERED LIZARD (Acanthodactylus scutellatus)
LEBANON LIZARD (Lacerta laevis)
Here's our merry band of marauders overlooking Maktesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater, considered the Grand Canyon of Israel). A blast we certainly had!
Other Creatures of Interest
DEATHSTALKER SCORPION (Leiurus quinquestriatus)
Totals for the tour: 210 bird taxa and 7 mammal taxa