Israel Trip Reports
Round trip 24 March - 5 April 2000
Birding trip report by John van der Woude
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Friday 24 March 2000
Even while landing at 2.30 p.m. at Ben Gurion Airport of Tel
Aviv and Jerusalem, I ticked Spur-winged Plover and Stone-Curlew
beside the runway. After the drive to kibbutz Shefayim just N
of Tel Aviv where I joined Nollie (who arrived three days earlier
for a workshop), we made a late afternoon stroll along the coastal
bushes which produced surprisingly tame Quail, and some remains
of the migrant warbler fall-out of the last few cold days. Here
we had our first Cretzschmar's Buntings, Graceful Prinia's and
Saturday 25 March
set out early for the coastal wetland site Ma'agan Mikha'el (see
map), some 30 km to the North. Permission to enter was given as
a matter-of-fact. The site is an interesting mixture of pools,
reedbeds, bushes and beach, and the best birds were Clamorous
Reed Warbler, Penduline Tit, Rüppels Warbler, five Pied Kingfishers
sitting together, and the first White-throated Kingfisher. Armenian
Gull (split from Yellow-legged Gull) was easy, but Great Black-headed
Gull had probably departed. This was along the southern entrance
The northern entrance road is blocked off now so we walked a
while there, and this produced a group of 55 Black Storks (photo).
Gladly this was one of the very few occasions on our trip that
a road, surfaced or unsurfaced, was blocked. Here we also had
our only Spoonbills.
then crossed Israel from West to East, a remarkable short distance,
and after some roadside birding we ended up at the multi-habitat
kibbutz Kfar Ruppin (see map), where we had a close encounter
with a pair of Black Francolin, one of the best species of the
trip. Another wish-list species was Pygmy Cormorant, because I
dipped it when it was in Holland for the first time ever. It flew
around nicely above the first pool S of the kibbutz terrain proper.
Looking down the impressive Jordan valley to the South, we saw
some migration of White and Black Storks, although in relatively
small numbers (largest group was 150 White Storks). Arrived near
dusk at hotel Astoria in Tiberias, for the first of three nights.
Sunday 26 March
drove up the wide grassy Golan Heights via the scenic route 869
from the east side of the Lake of Galilea/Tiberias/Kinneret. The
panorama point Bethsaida is worthwhile for the view over the lake
depression, some birds, and a funny group of hyrax (sort of mountain
marmot). At the Gamla National Park we walked the trail to the
Gamla falls, situated at the head of a deep gorge in this high
plateau (photo), for a splendid view on a Bonelli's Eagle nest
(female + 2 chicks). The male flew around in the gorge, as did
Little Swift, trying to catch up with the much bigger Alpine Swift.
The gorge is popular because of the vultures (we saw Griffon and
Egyptian). Across the wide natural plains we saw several groups
of Crane migrating. A strange phenomenon was a group of 80 Corn
Bunting in a lone tree, because we also had singles singing at
other spots. This is an expression
of what Hadoram Shirihai unravels so often in his book - a species
can both be migrant, wintering and resident. We also had our first
Wryneck, turning its head at least 180 degrees.
We returned via the 789 South along the lake of Galilea, and from
the first view after turning from the 789 on the 92 we heard Clamorous
Reed Warbler again at the lake border below us. There too, a Quail
was flushed by two of those beautiful Dorcas gazelles.
In late p.m. we checked the North face of Mt. Arbel just N of
Tiberias, opposite the village of Wadi Khamam, because on this
slope there should be Long-billed Pipit. The habitat looks fine
(see photo), but we found no pipits, and we should have tried
at similar sites nearby. But we got our first Syrian Woodpecker
here at the base of the slope, at the cemetery.
Monday 27 March
northernmost part of the rift valley, in which Red Sea, Dead Sea
and Lake of Galilea are situated, is the depression of the Hula
marshes, or what is left of them. Before opening time of the Hula
National Park (8 a.m.) we made a short walk between the first
ponds 1 km or so before the entrance of the park (see map). Here
we had our only Little Bittern of the trip, and Clamorous Reed
Warbler, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-crowned Night-Heron
again. Then, as it was still too early for the park, we did the
recommended side road of the 90 half a kilometer more to the North
(see the map). In the fishponds here we had our only Marbled Ducks,
some 20 in total.
Then we finally entered the reserve proper, a fine classical
marsh area with good trails and a few hides, with the snow-capped
Mt. Hermon on the background. We walked the circular trail clockwise
and added Lesser Spotted Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, White Pelican,
Long-legged Buzzard, Little Crake and Garganey to the list. All
of these except the Lesser Spotted Eagle were not seen again afterwards
on this trip. The crake stepped all along the left (Northern)
reed fringe of the lake with the long hide (see photo). Clamorous
Reed Warbler did we hear and see in several spots along the trail,
and we helped an American bird tour leader identify this sound
and that of Cetti's, Reed and Sedge Warbler also singing there.
We got the White-tailed Eagle in exchange for this. It was discovered
by one of the tour participants by just scanning the dense foliage
of the tall trees near the entrance, where the bird was perfectly
the afternoon we extended our day trip to Mt. Hermon, as distances
in Israel are smaller than expected, quite the reverse from many
other birding destinations. We went till above the snow line and
the scenery was impressive all the way, but the only specialty
we got was Sombre Tit. The original stake-out for Syrian Serin
(which we got a Eilat anyhow) and Crimson-winged Finch has fallen
victim to the enlarging of the parking place, where some fifty
buses had thrown up school children. We asked them if this was
a special day but this was not the case.
Tuesday 28 March
departed from the hotel in Tiberias to go south, but first visited
kibbutz Kfar Ruppin again. In the fields before (just N of) the
kibbutz entrance we had Black Francolin again (one pair seen and
another two heard), and saw a party of three Hoopoes being chased
off by a Spur-winged Plover. A male Pallid Harrier was sitting
on an irrigation device in the middle of an alfalfa field. We
completed the trio of Kingfishers possible here with the (European)
Kingfisher. South of the first pond complex S of the kibbutz is
a creek where crakes are seen but we had none. Pygmy Cormorants
did appear again, falling in like ducks.
Now we went down the Jordan valley in a gradually more barren
habitat, where even the wadi's had no trees, but we got our only
Golden Eagle here along the road following the mountain rim. It
had the broad tail band of an adult.
Approaching the Jericho area we saw an oasis like settlement Yafit
and got permission to enter (see map). Here we had Ortolan Bunting
and Indian Silverbill.
After passing the Jericho area (keeping the 90 all the time)
we made a side trip of two hours to the Mount of Olives at the
Eastern border of Jerusalem, just for the classical view over
the old city (see photo). We easily got there by taking the turnoff
'Tur' off the highway 1, driving this steep road up until a crossroads
on top, and turning left there. The viewpoint is just 300 m further
we descended down to the Dead Sea, which is 400 m below sea level.
Soon we ticked Fan-tailed Raven and were surprised to hear Clamorous
Reed Warbler again in a reed bed on the salty shore. After leisurely
installing ourselves in the En Gedi kibbutz hotel for one night,
we strolled around on the green hotel grounds and ticked Little
Green Bee-eater, Pale Crag Martin (Rock Martin), Arabian Babbler,
Blackstart, and Tristrams Grackle.
In late p.m. we went to the public beach nearby (see map), in
order to have a short but thrilling experience of floating in
the Dead Sea. A guard is on watch all the time and sends people
who got water in their face out to the showers on the beach. The
water is dangerous for your eyes they say.
dusk we birded some more on the even greener kibbutz village proper,
uphill from the hotel. Many large trees are found here and we
got scops owls at three different locations in half an hour, and
I guessed that the total of these owls might easily have been
15 or so for the whole kibbutz. One of the three was shortly calling
and this clearly was European Scops Owl. However, one of the other
two did we get at 10 m distance in our huge Q-beam torch and this
one had no whitish spots on the back, which was greet with clear
scales, and it had remarkably streaked underparts, so this may
have been Pallid Scops Owl.
Wednesday 29 March
First of all we did the parking place of wadi Arugot where we
had some migrant passerines like Bluethroat in the wadi itself,
where water had been let in during the previous night. New residents
on and around the parking place were Brown-necked Raven, Sand
Partridge, Scrub Warbler, and again Little Green Bee-eater, and
a nesting pair of Indian Silverbill in the acacias near the ticket
After breakfast we left En Gedi and went first to wadi Mishmar,
c. 10 km further South (see map and photo). In the wadi we had
a nice array of semi-desert species but none new, but at the end
of the dirt road, below the mountain rim, we witnessed some raptor
migration with Spotted and Booted Eagle as trip ticks. All raptors
circled above the gorge of the wadi to gain height, and all were
attacked then by Brown-necked Ravens. Looking up to the raptors
we nearly stepped on two very confiding Desert Larks which apparently
often visit this place.
south, the Masada fort, sitting on a singular promontory, offered
great views but few birds except Tristram's Grackle.
Up till now we had seen only two of the many possible wheatear
species (Northern and Black-eared) but this was to change soon.
First we had our lifer White-crowned Wheatear just on the shoulder
of the road (the 90 all the time). We paid a short visit to the
Neot Hakikar fish ponds along a side road of the Dead Sea depression.
This was a good area but did not produce species that we did not
get elsewhere. Later in the season this is a stakeout for Blue-cheeked
Then we crossed the strange watershed area between the Dead Sea
depression and the Arava valley south of it, and right at the
sign 'Sea Level' we had another new wheatear, the Mourning Wheatear,
which we would see only once later on the trip. At the same spot
was an equally uncommon Bar-tailed (Desert) Lark. The desert here
was spectacular, with extremely well developed 'desert pavements',
the technical term for the gravelly surface after the sand has
been blown out, and equally well developed caps of cemented sandy
material on top of the remains of eroded surfaces.
At sunset, the drive down the Arava valley to Eilat was very impressive,
and we were eager to visit those famous sites here the next days.
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