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EILAT         13th - 20th March† 2000


DAY 1†††† Monday 13th† March

†††† Everyone met in plenty of time at Gatwick airport, where after introductions we were soon checking our luggage in ready for the flight to Israel. It wasnít long before we were on board and taking off. The smooth flight soon past with spectacular views of the Alps and Greek coastline and just as the sun was setting we flew across the Negev Desert and arrived at Ovda airport. We were then taken by coach to our hotel in Eilat where after settling into our rooms we had a meal and retired for an early night.

DAY 2†† Tuesday 14th† March

†††† The anticipation and excitement of being in a new country saw nearly everyone up early, and joining myself and Nick outside the hotel. In the garden bushes a Bluethroat was found, while nearby the more common House Crows and White-spectacled Bulbuls were watched. Across the road on the corner of a building a fine male Blue Rock Thrush sat patiently as we all looked at him through our scopes. Common Swifts started passing over, shortly followed by a small group of larger Alpine Swifts. We then walked slowly to Ofira Park in the centre of town. We hadnít been in this tiny park more than a few minutes before our first birds were being spotted. Water Pipits, Black-eared Wheatear and lots of Chiffchaffs, soon followed by a Masked Shrike and a very confiding and tired Quail which went fast asleep beside the footpath. In the skies above us Rose-ringed Parakeets flew over shortly followed by two superb adult summer Great Black-headed Gulls. Amongst the Water Pipits and Chiffchaffs feeding on the short grass we found a few Red-throated Pipits and nearby a Wryneck which initially showed well then decided to elude us. As we were leaving the park to head back for breakfast a beautiful male Cretzschmarís Bunting showed exceptionally well as it fed amongst the House Sparrows.

As soon as breakfast was over Nick and I went into town to collect our minibuses. We soon returned and found everyone ready and eager to get going. We first drove down to the North Beach and parked close to the shore. A group of Slender-billed Gulls were bobbing around in the sea just a few yards from the beach while further out scores of Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls were seen. Distant raptors were spotted flying in, and amongst the Black Kites a few Steppe Eagles came right in over our heads giving us excellent views. There were several White-eyed Gulls sat on the pontoons but we were soon distracted from these by what must have been our star bird of the day an immature Bridled Tern, which flew back and forth eventually landing on some bouys and then a wooden platform. A very rare bird in Israel there had never been a March sighting of this species ever before. Not a bad start for our first morning! We then decided to drive slowly inland, first stopping beside some dusty fields were an Isabelline Wheatear, Spur-winged Plover and Tawny Pipit were found, a Little Green Bee-eater was spotted sat on a fence and overhead flew one Steppe Buzzard and five White Storks. A little further along beside a water filled ditch we watched a male Pied Kingfisher and only minutes after this a stunning White-throated Kingfisher dazzled us with its bright plumage. Nearby in another ditch two Squacco Herons and a few commoner waders were seen, while just a little further along we came across Graceful Prinia, Crested Larks, Red-rumped Swallows, Rock Martin and another group of Alpine Swifts. We decide to have a quick look†† at the pools beside the ringing station. Here we found Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Spur-winged Plovers and two more very confiding Quail. Time for lunch and a break so we returned to our hotel about five minutes away. Later we headed up to the pumping station, just on the outskirts of Eilat. In a tiny area with just a couple of bushes we soon found two White-crowned Black Wheatears, three Blackstarts, two Desert Larks, a male Sardinian Warbler and some Palestine Sunbirds. Much more difficult was the small flock of Trumpeter Finches that sat hidden amongst the rocky hillside. Once we had got them in the scopes they actually showed very well. We then took a short walk up the side of a wadi where we found a male Hooded Wheatear, a Desert Wheatear and we had a Booted Eagle fly low overhead giving exceptional views. Back to the pumping station and we stood and waited until the sun started to drop. With the light still reasonably good our first group of four Lichtensteinís Sandgrouse flew in to land right in front of us. These lovely birds were seen perfectly through our scopes and within the next twenty minutes we had counted a total of twenty one. An excellent end to our first day, we returned back to our hotel.

DAY 3†† Wednesday 15th† Feb

†††† We had to be up very early so that we could make the three-hour journey to the Negev to arrive at dawn.† Near Kibbutz lotan we met our guide Trevor and then continuing on we arrived at Nizzana at about 06.30 in the morning.† We parked up the vehicles along the side of the road and as we got out we were greeted by a Southern Grey Shrike singing from a bush.† There were also the calls of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse coming from across the desert.† Trevor then found a displaying Houbara Bustard, which, although distant, everyone managed to see.† We also had a flock of thirty Short-toed Larks, and a single Lesser Short-toed Lark flying over.† We then drove further along the road and just before parking, Mary spotted a very close Houbara, this bird showed incredibly well, while two more distant birds could be watched displaying. Nickís thorough search of the desert soon paid off when he found a superb Cream-coloured Courser and not long after we found another two.† A small group of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse then flew in and once located, could be watched closely walking through the stones.† With a tally of four Bustards, four Coursers and a hundred plus Pin-tailed Sandgrouse we were off to an excellent start.† We then drove just up the road to the shade of a big tree where we had our packed breakfast.† From here we saw a Black Redstart and a Desert Rat.† A few of us also saw a Little Owl sat on a rock before it disappeared.† After our breakfast we then moved on a short distance to some sewerage pools.† As we pulled up several Spotted Sandgrouse flew off.† As we all slowly approached the edge of the pools another small group were seen to take off and fly around.† We all sat down quietly and waited.† A pair of Teal was seen, a Spectacled Warbler was spotted and then a group of Spotted Sandgrouse came in and allowed everyone to see them well.† After we had seen these lovely little birds we left them alone and walked back to the vehicles.† In the short scrub a Desert Warbler was spotted and everyone managed to see it.† We then tried another open area and found three more Cream-coloured Coursers.† These birds came close and we enjoyed some good views.† It was time to re-fuel and move on.† We then stopped beside some arable fields where an Isabelline Wheatear, a Desert Finch and three Lesser Kestrels were found plus, unbelievably, another two Cream-coloured Coursers.† As we left this site a group of Desert Finch were spotted alongside the road.† We then set off towards Kibbutz Guvelot.† En-route we spotted some freshly cultivated fields and decided to drive around them.† Here we saw over one hundred Spotted Sandgrouse plus a single Egyptian Vulture.† Moving on to the Kibbutz, with a few stops for raptors including hundreds of Black Kites over the local rubbish dump and hundreds of Common Cranes feeding in the fields with several White Storks, we then arrived at the Kibbutz and had our lunch.† After this we had a walk around the gardens.† Palestine Sunbirds showed very well and Nick then located the bird we thousands of white storks were seen to go off in a thermal together and finally disappear from view.† As we left the Kibbutz an immature Imperial Eagle was spotted in a tree.† It soon took off and gave us spectacular views flying around above and in front of us.† We then continued on to Urim where we drove around and searched all the fields and pylons.† Amongst the raptors here we had close views of two Long-legged Buzzards, on the pylons we found a Lanner Falcon, two Peregrines and a Barbary Falcon, whilst beside the road two close Stone-curlews were spotted.† It was now time to leave this site so as we could get back to the hotel for our evening meal. On the way back we saw a Short-toed Eagle, a Marsh Harrier, quite a few Isabelline Wheatears, plus a flock of five hundred Common Starlings (the only ones we saw on the trip), several Hoopoes and a couple of Dorcas Gazelles.† After a long drive back we arrived just in time for our meal.

DAY 4† Thursday 16th† March

†††† After a leisurely breakfast, we headed straight up to Shizzafon where we first called in on the small sewerage pools.† As we parked the vehicles a Quail flew off and on the wire fence surrounding the pools we found a male Hooded Wheatear, and closer on the ground a Mourning Wheatear allowed comparisons.† Green Sandpiper and Common Snipe flew around whilst several Syrian Serins could be heard calling.† In the scrubby areas we had tantalising views of two Scrub Warblers, whilst a House Bunting showed very well to everyone.† Several Trumpeter Finches hopped around in front of us while in the scrub a superb male Ruppellís Warbler was eventually seen by all.† We then drove the short distance to Shizzafon Kibbutz.† The first small area of fields we came across was living with birds.† A pair of Blue Rock Thrushes were over shadowed by a male Rock Thrush, which posed perfectly on some small posts for us.† Flocks of Syrian Serins kept moving around but in the end we had them sat in full view in some fir trees.† There were lots of Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears, Cretzschmarís Bunting and an Ortolan Bunting showed very well, along with a Woodchat Shrike and lots of common migrants. Reluctantly we left the area for lunch and drove to Yotvata.† After lunch we had a quick look around Yotvata where a very close Hoopoe, and a Black Redstart of a race (semirufous) showed very well.† There were obviously less birds around this area so we drove straight back to Shizzafon.† On the way we stopped to look at a Long-legged Buzzard and a Steppe Buzzard sat in a tree together and then we drove to the fields we had tried earlier.† A Desert Finch was soon found and then a close Chukar and at least two Wrynecks.† We tried another area around some small buildings and found another four Cretzschmarís Buntings.† We then went looking for further fields that could be productive.† A couple of short stops produced Steppe Buzzards and a distant Black Stork.† We then came upon some more good-looking fields.† Firstly a group of Short-toed Larks flew over while in the weeds were lots of Water Pipits, two Yellow Wagtails, Red-throated Pipits, Linnets and some Corn Buntings.† A single Wryneck was found and at the back of the field a couple of Arabian Babblers hopped up and sat in a small tree.† A Barbary Falcon was then seen well as it flew around.† Searching the fields further there were lots of Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears but our star birds were two Bimaculated Larks that gave us great views through the scopes.† Geoff then found a lovely Tawny Pipit before we headed back towards Eilat. A short stop was then made at Kilometre 33 where after a long hard search of the seemingly empty desert we then found two Hoopoe Larks. These birds were constantly on the move and kept disappearing into hollows hence only brief views could be obtained and we knew we would have to return to try again.

DAY 5† Friday 17th† March

†††† A look out of the hotel window this morning saw a Quail walking around on the lawn.† Some of us then met up for a pre-breakfast walk at Ofira Park in the middle of town. Walking around the park we found at least three Wrynecks and new was a Reed Warbler.† On the grassy areas were Black-headed Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Tree Pipits while above us a Pallid Swift and several Rose-ringed Parakeets flew over.† After breakfast we all drove up to Kilometre 20 where we then drove to the saltpans.† We first parked by the beginning of the pools and got out with our telescopes.† At least thirty Garganey were seen and twenty plus Slender-billed Gulls, with a group of distant Avocets also being seen.† One of the closest waders to us was a superb summer plumage Marsh Sandpiper.† We then got in the vehicle and drove around the edges of the pool where we found at least five Little Ringed Plovers, ten or more Kentish Plovers, a couple of Green Sandpipers lots of Little Stints and the best finds were three Broad-billed Sandpipers and two Greater Sandplovers.† We also had fifty-two Greater Flamingos and around the edges of the pools and on the wire fences we found at least two Desert Wheatears and a Hooded Wheatear.† Leaving here we then crossed over the main road and took the dusty track to Amrams Pillars.† In a small tree beside the track we had extremely close views of a Lesser Kestrel to the point that we could even see itís white claws.† At Amrams Pillars itself it was very quiet but we did see two very close Desert Larks.† We had our lunch and then we left and drove north to Kilometre 40.† A quick stop by the date palms produced four Cattle Egrets and four showy Cretzschmarís Buntings as well as Graceful Prinia and several Common Bulbuls.† A little further on towards the sewerage pool we stopped quickly as a Great Spotted Cuckoo was spotted sat in a tree.† We all got out and watched as this bird took off and flew right across the field in front of us.† A search was then made of the surrounding area where it was now very hot.† A Sardinian Warbler was seen, a couple of Bluethroats and a very difficult Orphean Warbler. We then left and headed back towards the North Beach via the north fields where we stopped beside a drainage ditch and there we watched a very nice Citrine Wagtail.† As we drove from here towards the North Beach, at least five hundred Pintail and four hundred Shovelar were seen flying over in huge flocks.† When we arrived at the North Beach. Searching the sea we found two Greater Black-headed Gulls, there was at least four Striated Herons seen on the pontoons.† A single Caspian Tern flew past and further out with at least thirty White-eyed Gulls there were two Little Gulls.† We then returned to the hotel.

DAY 6† Saturday 18th† March

†††† For most of us there was the pre-breakfast visit to the local park to see what birds were new.† Once at the Park we found the normal array of species such as many Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, a few Bluethroats, both Woodchat and Masked Shrike, Wryneck and amongst the Water Pipits a very obliging Buff-Bellied Pipit.† Just as we were about to leave for breakfast Nick then spotted a close Olivaceous Warbler which everyone got to see very well.† After breakfast we drove up to Kilometre 33 and drove out along the track.† It wasnít long before we heard the distant song of a Hoopoe Lark. It took a while because of the wind to locate the right area but eventually we got brief views of it running around in the rocks and for the lucky few it was also seen giving its song display flight.† As we drove back we passed a small puddle that had a Green Sandpiper and a Short-toed Lark drinking from it.† We then continued on to Yotvata where a sand storm was blowing up.† As we arrived three Spoonbills were seen to fly over and then we parked under some trees.† We then set about walking around the Acacias. Here we found three Cyprus Warblers, several Little Green Bee-eaters and an Arabian Brown Babbler sat singing in a bush, after which the bird we had been looking for was found when Ann spotted a very showy Arabian Warbler which we all enjoyed excellent views of.† Happy with this we then drove to Kibuttz Lotan for our lunch.† As we ate our picnic a Lesser Kestrel flew past and later a passage of Steppe Buzzards with a few Black Kites started to pass overhead.† We estimated that in less than an hour we might have seen between two to four thousand - quite a sight.† In the organic garden a Quail and a Redstart were found but there was too much sand blowing around for us to comfortably continue looking. After we had eaten we were just about to go and search the area around Yotvata when news that a Grey Hypocolius, a very rare bird in Israel, had just been seen at Kilometre 20.† A quick change of plan and we drove straight down there.† We were the only people here and after searching the area for at least an hour and finding three or four Stone-curlews, twenty odd Lesser Whitethroats plus a few Arabian Babblers we eventually found the bird we were looking for, it was a superb male Grey Hypocolius. After a lot of hard work we all saw the bird very well. Happy at seeing it we then drove to the North Beach stopping by some greenhouses where we found a superb male Namaqua Dove. This bird was very close and gave stunning views to everyone. When we arrived at the North Beach there were already several birders there.† We informed them of the Grey Hypocolius, and they all sped off like lightning. Unfortunately we heard later that none of them saw it. At the beach we saw the normal array of White-eyed Gulls, Western Reef Egrets, and an adult and a first winter Great Black-Headed Gull, plus a few terns and a Striated Heron.† Another good day was had so we headed back to the hotel for our evening meal.

DAY 7† Sunday 19th† March

†††† After an early breakfast we sat off for the two-hour drive to the Dead Sea.† As we drove north several stops were made for an Egyptian Vulture and a very showy Short-toed Eagle.† We eventually reached the fish pools at Neot Hakkakar.† Around the one main reed-fringed pool we spent several hours.† We found a tree full of Great White Egrets, while in the skies, Long-legged Buzzard, Steppe Buzzard, Black Kite and up to thirteen Black Storks were seen circling around.† Around the edges of the pool we found three or four superb Little Crakes, while in the nearby bushes Dead Sea Sparrows were seen nesting.† In tall reeds, Clamarous Reed Warblers could be heard singing but it took us a while before we all got views of them.† Much more confiding was the pair of White-throated Kingfishers that kept flying around,.† We also saw a Common Kingfisher, a Water Rail and a Little Bittern making this a superb little spot.† Continuing on we eventually arrived at the Dead Sea.† Here we were greeted by lots of Tristramís Grackles in the car park plus a couple of close Fan-tailed Ravens.† Some of our group then decided to go and have a swim, or should I say a float in the Dead Sea.† This they did whilst the rest of us scanned the hilltops where we found more Fan-tailed Ravens and at least eight Griffon Vultures.† We then had our lunch in a local Cafť before heading back towards Eilat.† We arrived back by the ringing station pools late afternoon where we checked the waders amongst which there were lots of Ruff, at least two Marsh Sandpipers, a single Little Gull, fifty plus Slender-billed Gulls, at least five Bluethroats which showed very well and three Quails walking around.† A last stop at the North Beach produced the normal array of gulls, Caspian Tern, Western-reef Egret,† Striated Heron and a Pied Kingfisher.

DAY 8† Monday 20th† March

†††† Most of us met for a pre-breakfast visit to the park where there were fewer birds than the previous days.† The Buff-bellied Pipit was still present and showed very well alongside Water and Meadow Pipits.† There were also several Yellow Wagtails, with two (feldegg) the black headed race and a another single bird (superciliaris).† Just as we were about to leave a Scops Owl was found sat in a tree.† We all left and went back for breakfast although Noel stayed with the owl while I got Geoff who desperately wanted to see this bird and rushed him back to the park where we saw the bird again sat in the tree.† After breakfast we drove out and decided to try Amrams Pillars again.† On the approach to the Pillars we stopped and all got out the vehicles as we noted quite a few raptors passing overhead.† Among the many Steppe Buzzards, a few Steppe Eagles we found as well as Black Stork and a single Imperial Eagle.† At the Pillars itself there was already a group of birdwatchers there and so there was very little to be seen.† We decided to leave and headed back to the ringing station.† We stopped on the way to see lots of Black Kites flying over plus and Egyptian Vulture.† Once at the ringing station pools we saw the regular birds we had seen over the last few days and then Nick found in the bushes an Eastern Bonelliís Warbler which was first heard calling and then after a while was seen by everyone .† As we stood around and watched several Steppe Buzzards flying over, a distant eagle slowly came towards us until eventually it flew very low over our heads.† This bird turned out to be an immature Bonelliís Eagle and it gave us absolutely superb views.† Content with these last couple of birds we had another brief look on the North Beach before returning to our hotel where we got our luggage together† ready for the airport.† Frustratingly as we took the coach to Ovda airport we could see thermals of raptors passing low over the mountains. Once at the airport it wasnít long before we were on our way back to London where this tour was to conclude.

On behalf of Nick and myself we would like to thank everyone for making this tour a pleasure to lead.

Steve Bird

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birdseekers photos