Northern Valleys Soaring birds Survey – Beit shean Valley
Early September 2006
Like every year we will run updates from the soaring birds survey, being held in Israel's northern Valleys. The survey which is sponsored by the Israeli Air Force and the IOC aims to document the massive fall migration through Israel. The surveyors are posted in numerous posts and identify, count and log the soaring birds passing in their millions over the country. Besides the valuable data gathered the survey is an important tool for the air force. The survey team is in close contact with the Air force and delivers precise locations, heights and more information, in order to assure minimal contact between birds and various aircrafts using the air space.
Besides the incredible migration in the skies, the Beit Shean valley is a very productive area for birding and hosts a variety of interesting residents and summer visitors. Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters breed in the region and reach a peak of around a 100 birds before they disperse around mid September. Black Francolins are still easy to see in the valley as are Pygmy Cormorants and all 3 of Israel's Kingfishers.
Like every migration season we notice very distinct waves and patterns and different species pass at different times during the fall.
White Storks start very early in the season and the first flocks pass from as early as mid August. From the third week of August small numbers of Honey Buzzards make an appearance and the really large numbers show up during the first week of September. So far we have counted around 260,000 Honey Buzzards ( Sept. 9th ) from late August Marsh and Montague's Harriers make an appearance and with them small numbers of Egyptian Vultures, Ospreys, Black Storks, Black Kites, Booted and Short-toed Eagles. Levant Sparrowhawks and Lesser Spotted Eagles have also started trickling through and they are to peak during the last few days of September and early October. Besides these there are other rarer species that pass in small numbers.
The interesting story of this year's survey is the relatively small numbers of White Storks that passed through the northern valleys. Normally the bulk of White Storks passing through Israel pass over the Beit Shean Valley in northern Israel (which is part of the rift valley) continue south over the Dead sea depression and then sharply cut west and continue south. What apparently happened this year is that the bulk of White Storks (possibly up to 200,000!) passed east of our region, over Jordan and cut into Israel in the southern Dead Sea or even further south over the Arava valley and Eilat area. This is a very irregular route and we have many questions that may never be answered but this usually involves irregular weather or wind patterns. Whatever the reason, it has to be significant since this occurs rarely and most years the Storks can be "trusted" to follow their traditional migration route.
On the ground migration is evident and large numbers of Shorebirds and Passerines can be found. It is refreshing to enjoy a migrant filled outing after the relatively dry summer months.
Worth noting in the north are several Lesser Grey Shrikes, Citrine Wagtails, Broad billed Sandpipers, Spotted and Little Crakes already in the area and a mouth watering list of good birds that show up daily. A single Greater Flamingo found in the Tirat tzvi Pools is worth noting as well.
At Maagan Michael a Common Gull was found in late August. This is the 4th consecutive year that this (presumed) same bird is found at the same place.
In central Israel a male Painted Snipe was found at the Ein Hahoresh pools in early September at was has become a nearly traditional site for this species. At the same place there was also a Purple Gallinule of the madagascarensis ssp. A very rare and localized visitor in the country.
In our neck of the woods the long hot summer is always an interesting period for seawatching off Eilat's North beach. Besides the Franklin's Gull found in July, August was the month of the Terns. Up to 3 Arctic Terns were seen with a single bird present till mid August. Bridled Terns showed up in good numbers in early August with a maximum of 40 birds. Up to 5 Lesser Crested Terns were seen daily off the beach till mid August and a single White Cheeked Tern was seen till early August.
At the ringing station a single Hill (Pale rock) Sparrow was ringed on the 31st of August and Passerines and Waders are growing in numbers daily.
So, the Autumn is officially upon us and many good birds are soon to be found. We will be offering updates from the soaring birds survey, as well as from the rest of the country. Our southern Israel tour season is nearly here and we will naturally report about the good birds found in the south.
Jonathan Meyrav and the birdingisrael team.
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