Birding Update March 2012

This spring has been truly extraordinary, with a variety of birds that we have not seen in our region for over 10 years. Although there has been below average rainfall, the numbers and variety of birds has been very impressive.

Some of the key rarities that we found in and around Lotan are a Cinereous Bunting that has been here for a week, a Semi-collared Flycatcher that has been on Lotan for three days and has been posing very well for anyone wanting to see it.

Earlier in the spring I found a Sociable Plover in the northern Yotvata circular field that had stayed there for a good four or five days. This bird is on the critically endangered list, and to see it there was very special. I arrived at the Yotvata field with an American birder who had booked a half-day tour, but ended up being a whole day of birding. We had been looking at the Pied Wagtails and the Red-throated Pipits that had been wintering here. We saw some Spur-winged Lapwings walking around and then all of a sudden I saw a bird that I first thought was a Cream-colored Courser. It looked wrong for a Courser, and was in the wrong location. I then realized that it was a Sociable Plover. I called several birder friends in Eilat and the region, and apparently set off a frenzy to see it. A friend of mine, Liron Ziv, came and took video of the bird and posted it on his website. It turned out to be a good start to the season.  I went back two more times and each time could see it in the same field. Eventually it continued on its way.

Migration kept building up with a much larger than usual quantity of Common Redstarts of the samamisicus subspecies on the lawns and branches.  We had groups of 200 and more Short-toed Larks with a few Bimaculated Larks mixed in for good measure. They could be seen hopping around with the Spanish Sparrows on the eastern side of the dairy barn.  I had two Desert Wheatears almost on the Jordanian border at the same time.

In the past week there has been a large influx of Cretschmar’s Buntings, followed by Ortolan Buntings. Sometimes it can be confusing to distinguish the female Cretschmar’s from the female Ortolans in less than optimal light. Once you get used to it, it becomes quite easy. I was walking around the goat barn with Frank Moffatt, and almost simultaneously noticed that one of the Buntings was different. A short consultation with the bird guide confirmed our hunch that we did have a Cinereous Bunting here. This one had the lime-green face, but was generally grey. It has been here outside the goat dairy for a week, and can be reliably seen every day.

Our Constructed Wetland has come into its own and has become a true magnet for migrants. The northern-most pond usually has the Pied or Yellow Wagtails in it. The second pond has Redshanks, Green Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers and a variety of Pipits in it. The middle pond is the most productive. It has a mixture of green ground cover called Lipia, reeds and taller grasses, along with open areas. Although the size of the pond is not big, it is attracting many birds. Red-throated Pipits, Meadow Pipits, Water Pipits, Yellow Wagtails, Citrine Wagtails, Chiffchaffs, Bluethroats, Balkan (Bonelli’s) Warblers, Black-eared Wheatears are regularly found in this pond. Today it was also occupied by a group of Israeli bird photographers, among whom is Yossi Eshbol, probably  the best wildlife photographer in the country.

We also had the benefit of the visit of a Semi-collared Flycatcher. I was walking out of the house at about 8 a.m. without my binoculars and noticed the bird in one of the adjacent trees. I ran back to get by bins to have a better look at it, and noticed the second wingbar immediately. The collar was farther back than the Pied Flycatcher, and the spot on the head was small. I told Thomas Krumenacker and Frank Moffatt that I had seen it, and they confirmed my sighting. It turns out that this year is especially good for Semi-collared Flycatcher, with Frank having four males and three females in the Eilot date plantation.

The Eilot date plantation is this year especially good for birds, with a Cyprus Pied Wheatear and Pied Wheatears presenting themselves very well.  Loads of samamisicus Redstarts and the nominate Redstarts are around, and are a delight to see. I was a with two Canadian birders who were in the area for the first time, and they were quite stunned with the variety of birds and the difficulty in identifying the birds. We saw a beautiful Squacco Heron sneaking around the plantation, occasionally spreading its completely white wings to fly a few meters further. While we were there, a group from the Eilat Birdwatching Festival was there too, also admiring the variety. We had several very light Black-eared Wheatears in the date plantation.

We headed north to the Km 20 salt ponds, and saw several Red-necked Phalaropes swimming around the pond. There were numerous Slender-billed Gulls about, the usual Greater Flamingoes, as well as Shelducks, Ruffs, Little Stints, Ringed Plovers, Bar-talied Godwits, one White Stork and Redshanks. We looked for the Avocet, but were unsuccessful, and must have moved on after spending several months here.

So far this time,

David Schoneveld

Licensed Tour Guide and Birder

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