Southern Israel birding report –
Late March-early April 2008

The second international spring migration festival in Eilat was a great success. Over 170 people took part in the festival tours, lectures and presentations. A full festival report will follow shortly. The last week of March started off with 2 rather slow days, but a nice wave of migrants and some real rarities followed later in the week.

It was nice to see so many birders around the southern Arava and some evenings at the north beach were crowded with birders, like in the good old days. The dozens of birders that swept the southern Arava and Eilat regions greatly contributed to the birding scene with many excellent birds found and photographed. I am happy to provide you with a summary of the significant sightings from the region.

Black Bush Robin –this much anticipated species finally made an appearance on the 28th of March. A highly confiding adult was found by some Spanish birdwatchers and was present for a week in the IBRCE Park. The bird amused over 200 birdwatchers and performed well for the cameras. The bird was last seen on April 4th.

White Tailed Plover –following the 3 individuals earlier in the month a nice bird was found near the Elifaz sewage in late march.

Bateleur –an individual of this highly nomadic African species was seen in a stream of Steppe Buzzards migrating over Eilat. This will be only the 8th record for Israel and like the Black Bush Robin is strange, since both these species don’t breed in the region or north of us making their appearance here in spring puzzling.

Yelkouan Shearwater –Also on the 28th of March, a small Shearwater was seen with some Skuas off the north beach. The bird caused much excitement as it was first identified as one of the small Shearwater group, probably the'bailoni' form of Audubon Shearwater, now part of the distinct Indian Ocean shearwaters. After much debate and with the help of some good images, the bird was reidentified as a Yelkouan Shearwater. Not a mega rarity but only the 2nd record for the Eilat region.

Eilat's North Beach also provided the following: 1 Lesser Crested Tern on the 28-29th March. A single Crested Tern on the 29th as well, a single White-cheeked Tern represented a nice early record for this Red Sea breeder.

Two very rare spring migrants are popping up constantly, making this a great season to catch up with these 2 difficult species.

Menetrie's Warbler- with 6-7 birds already seen and some ringed (3 at Eilat) , this is the best spring for this species for many years.

A female was caught and ringed in Lotan's Organic garden on April 1st.

Thick-billed Lark-we had regular records of this species from the Meishar from mid March onwards. Besides this several fly-by records followed. Amir Ben Dov and Thomas Krumenacker saw 13 birds flying over Neot Smadar on the 18th. Thomas had 7 birds at Eilat's North Beach that continued north, alighted momentarily at the southern salt pools and continued north. On the 25th Dick Forsman and a festival tour group enjoyed prolonged views of a pair of birds feeding and collecting nesting material at the Meishar.

On the 30th A Ben Dov saw no less than 12 birds at the same location. I had 4 Thick- billed Larks fly over at Neot Smadar sewage on the 31st. What an excellent spring for this normally enigmatic species.

The long staying rarities are still around with at least 3 Olive-backed Pipits at Eilot's southern date plantation. The over wintering Crested Honey Buzzard is still present and helping many birders with their WP list.

April rolled in and with it several interesting records. A probable Basra Reed Warbler was seen at the Elifaz sewage on the 1st. Marcus Craig found the bird and many birders were able to catch up with the bird that day. I only managed short and insufficient looks at the bird but the structural features fit this species (larger than Reed Warbler with a much longer wing and bill. The tail looked rather short) as the did the darkish olive brown upperparts and the clean white underparts.
Unfortunately no one managed to get images of this bird that day. The following day we arrived with mist nets in order to catch the bird and finalize its identity. We failed to find the bird but a group of visiting birders alerted us to where they had seen the bird at the time. We joined them at the site and indeed saw a rather bulky looking Reed Warbler, but scrutiny of the bird in the field and images taken proved that this particular bird was a Reed Warbler and definitely not Basra Reed. On the 2nd another nice male Caspian Plover was found and photographed south of Elifaz.

Night tours were very productive in March with regular performances from the resident Hume's Owls and Pharaoh Eagle Owls that were joined for some nights by Egyptian Nightjars and at least 2 Short-eared Owls.

With April rolling in a new phase of migration begins. We already logged our first Honey Buzzards, Levant Sparrowhawks, ficedula Flycatchers, Subalpine Warblers and Corncrakes in late march. These species will show up in greater numbers in the upcoming days.

Some exciting migrants are on the way; stay posted for more reports and great images fresh from the field.

Jonathan Meyrav      

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