Birding update, beginning of October, 2010

As already stated previously, we have had an especially hot summer, but more than that, a summer with higher humidity for longer periods of  time than ever before.

I went out birding with a couple at the beginning of the month, and saw immediately that it was very quiet. The usual hotspots here in the Arava valley were very quiet, and finding the birds was quite a bit harder than usual. The usual year-round birds on Lotan were present, but we did see the three Arabian Babblers that have made their home here. There were a whole lot of female and juvenile Red-backed Shrikes

that were present, not only on the Kibbutz, but also in the surrounding wadis (dry river beds). I did see one Red-throated pipit that had come in. A Common Redstart had also made two particular trees along the main path here its provisional home.

Going down to Km 52, just south of Kibbutz Yotvata, the birders with me saw their first-ever Blackstart. I pointed out the characteristic “stretch” of the wings each time it lands. They were also very taken by the Little Green Bee-eaters. We saw a warbler, maybe even the Arabian Warblers that has been breeding there, but it was extremely evasive, and we never got a good look at it. We did see six Sand Partridges that scurried away as we approached, and finally flew away, making their characteristic alarm call.

Going down to Eilat, we went first to North Beach to see what was going on. We saw Little Egrets, Grey Herons, one Western Reef Heron, two White Storks, one Black Stork in the canal that flows southwards towards the sea. Above the Eilot date plantation we saw a Booted Eagle flying around. North Beach itself was very quiet, so we did not spend much time there.

We then proceeded to the km 19 sewage treatment plant. The reservoir attached to the plant is stocked with fish, so there were several Little Egrets, Grey Herons and Great Egrets around peering into the water. Apparently there are more nutrients around the entry water pipe, because there was a large concentration of fish in the north-eastern corner of the reservoir. There we noticed a juvenile Squacco Heron walking around. We saw immediately that it was exhausted and could barely walk. Leslie, one of the birders with me, took the initiative, and captured the bird. It made some token attempts at getting away, but was easy to catch. I called the Hai Bar Nature Reserve which functions also as a first-aid station for stricken birds, and asked if we could bring the bird there. That was no problem, so off we went to bring it. I held the bird, being careful to keep my sunglasses on. Squacco Herons defend themselves by attacking their predators’ eyes, but it in this case, nothing happened. It sat quietly, until we delivered it. It was first washed with a special soapy solution to take any contaminants away. It would then be placed in a cage, to gain some strength. If it rejuvenates then it would be released. The other option is to transport it to a veterinary hospital in Tel Aviv by air. I have not received an update on its progress, but hope to get some information soon.

The next day we set out at 5:15, this time going up to the Neot Semadar constructed wetlands sewage treatment plant. We saw a few White Wagtails, two Yellow Wagtails, a Greenshank, half a dozen Red-backed Shrikes, an Isabelline Wheatear, and a female Northern Wheatear. The last two were pretty much standing next to each other, so we could have a good look at the differences between them. On the fence we saw a Hooded Wheatear. After spending an hour there, we decided to continue on to Uvda Valley. In the springtime this valley was luscious and green, but after the summer we had, it was all dry. I had seen a Marsh Harrier and a Pallid Harrier flying around a few days before, but we only saw the Marsh Harrier. In the spring, there was a colony of Hill Sparrows breeding in one of the side wadis, and wanted to see whether they may have come back. No such luck this time. I did see a Scrub Warbler darting around one of the trees there. The valley itself held a lot of Crested Larks, but little else. Disappointed we went down towards Eilat to try to get a glimpse of a Sinai Rosefinch at Amram’s Pillars. Despite an extended search, we did not find it. I did see another Scrub Warbler right by the pillars themselves. On the drive back we saw a Blackstart excitedly hopping around on an escarpment. Through our binoculars we could see that it was keeping a close watchful eye on a Braid Snake, staying no more than 25 cm away from it.

We proceeded down towards Eilat, and came back up on the old Arava road, this time to the km 20 salt ponds. Here again, there was little going on. There were about 250 Greater Flamingoes there, a little less than usual, several hundred Black-winged Stilts, several hundred Little Ringed Plovers, some Black-headed Gulls and two Grey Herons. On the way back, we drove a little up the old road and saw a Negev Gazelle resting under a tree. In terms of birding it was not a very good day, but in terms of the natural beauty of the desert, it was a very successful day.

The next day, just before the two birders were about to leave they reported seeing a Little Bittern right near the tourism office here at Lotan.

Just before I sat down to write down these words, I drove around the perimeter fence of the Kibbutz. It was night. All of a sudden a Stone-Curlew appeared in the headlights. I stopped, kicking myself that I had not brought my binoculars with me. It walked back and forth a little and then flew off into the night.

More reports will be forthcoming, but since I am a licensed tour guide, I will be gone from the area, guiding around the country.

Good birding

David Schoneveld

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