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Birding Hotspots of Israel, continued..

The Negev Desert

The Negev occupies 60% of the land surface area of Israel and yet it is the least densely populated. Delineated as being south of Be'er Sheva and Dimona, it is mainly a stone and sand desert with sparse vegetation. However, following periods of heavy rain during the winter and early spring, the desert is transformed into a colourful carpet of flowers including many of Israel's desert specialities.

Spotted SandgrouseBe'er Sheva is a good, central base for exploring the northern and central portions of the Negev. In the northeastern section, some 20 kilometres east of Be'er Sheva, Cream-coloured Courser and Pin-tailed, Black-bellied and Spotted Sandgrouse occur and between November and February relatively large flocks of Dotterel can be seen. The sewage ponds to the southeast of Be'er Sheva usually yield a wide range of species. Pallid Harrier and Black-winged Pratincoles both occur in good numbers during September and October, and Sociable and White-tailed Plovers in October and November. The experimental agricultural fields to the south of the pools are good for Oriental Skylarks between October and mid March.

The north-western Negev is a vast expanse of natural steppe and semi- desert with transitional vast mixed cultivated areas, which supports a wealth of birds. Although the region can be productive all year round, it is outstanding in winter when large concentrations of raptors and sandgrouse are present. The fields around Urim are very good for Saker and Lanner falcons and relatively large numbers of Imperial Eagle and Long-Legged Buzzard. The best area is the now famous line of electricity pylons that cross the road between Urim and Ze'elim. The raptors often perching on the pylons are easy to find, providing superb opportunities to study some difficult species and plumages at length. The agricultural fields are the best places to find hunting Pallid Harriers as well as Sociable Plover, Dotterel, Isabelline and Finsch's Wheatear. Black Kites gather in large numbers and use traditional roost sites in Eucalyptus trees (over 1 000 near Gevulot). In the more natural steppe and semi-desert areas good numbers of Cream-coloured Coursers occur, especially in autumn. In winter in the cultivated plains Pin-tailed Sandgrouse can be found in large numbers, and flocks of up to 8 000 have been recorded. Smaller, but none the less impressive flocks of up to 3000 Spotted Sandgrouse have also been
seen during the winter months.

Sde Boker, Ein Avdat gorgeOne of the better known areas to the southwest of Be'er Sheva is the Nizzana desert plain, close to the Egyptian border. This is the most productive site for Houbara Bustard, which can be seen in concentrations in winter. Nizzana is also perhaps the most reliable place to see them during the breeding season. We recommend early morning visits for the best views, before the heat haze affects viewing conditions. In the past the Nizzana sewage pools were easily accessible in order to view sandgrouse. Sad to say most of them have dried out and are not used by the birds anymore. If you wish to see Pin-tailed, Crowned, Spotted or Black-bellied Sandgrouse you will need to reach specific feeding plains around the area, The SPNI, however, are now working on creating special constant water supply for the sandgrouse, to replace the sewage pools, which may offer a glimmer of hope for attracting large numbers of sandgrouse back to the Nizzana plains. Lanner is frequent in the area and it is one of the best desert regions for observing migrating White Storks, Pallid Harriers, Lesser Spotted Eagles and Cranes, especially in spring. Desert Wheatear, Finsch' s Wheatear (winter only) and Spectacled Warbler are not difficult to see, and the latter breeds in shallow, bushy wadis.

Sede Boqer is perhaps one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Negev. This oasis is situated on the loess plain overlooking the deep gorge of Nahal Zin. The area is especially good for raptors such as breeding Long-legged Buzzard, Bonelli's Eagle, Lanner and Barbary Falcons. A feeding station at the eastern edge of the Zin Plain is maintained by the INRP A with the purpose of supplying supplementary food to the breeding Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and sometimes in winter, Black Vulture. On the ledges of towering cliffs, Sooty Falcons breed from mid-May until early October. The gorges also host breeding Desert Eagle Owl and Alpine Swifts, and in some winters, Sinai Rosefinch and Wallcreeper.

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Daphna Abell
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lotan-programs@lotan.ardom.co.il

Tel: +972 8 6356935;
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