Spring migration is finally looking up…

After a disappointing week of almost no migrants around, things are finally looking up. The heatwave and the dust storms have settled, and we are already seeing the results.

At least three Black Bush Robins were seen in the area, including one at Neot Smadar, and one at the very productive canal between the Km 20 salt pans and the Km 19 Eilat Sewage works. Both Itai Shani and Yoav Perlman have been calling it the Black Prince, a very fitting name for it, I think.

The area called Qa es-Sa’eddin (Km 76) is proving to be a magnet for birds. Northern and Isabelline Wheatears galore, Short-toed Larks and Tawny Pipits, too. The Spotted Sandgrouse that are usually there have been seen again.

I am having a bear of a time photographing the White-tailed Lapwing that is about. Twice I have seen it flying past, never being able to take a picture of it. Once it flew right over my head, and the other time, it flew past me while I was driving along the highway, going the opposite direction, of course. Hopefully I will be able to get a good picture of it sometime. I did search for it with two clients, but was unsuccessful.


Three of the four Egyptian Geese at Km 19

Three of the four Egyptian Geese at Km 19

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

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Beginning of March 2013 update

As already predicted earlier, there are a lot fewer birds around this year as compared to last year. The flooding we have had here in the past few months have left a beautiful carpet of desert flowers in many areas, and they are quite impressive. There is so much more green, for our standards, compared to other years. That means that the birds are spread out a lot more, making for a lot tougher birding. The birds do not flock to the Kibbutzim in the Arava valley, but stay on the green expanses in the desert.

That said, it does not mean that birding is boring here. The Lesser Whitethroats and Rueppell’s Warblers are already here. We have had some Chiffchaffs hopping around in the trees and shrubs, some of the wintering species are still here, but in smaller numbers, such as the Bluethroat and the Stonechat. We are having an influx of Isabelline and Black-eared Wheatears, as well as the Northern Wheatear.

On Friday I saw one White-tailed Plover flying overhead between the Eilat sewage works and the Km 20 salt pans. At the same time we had some migration going on overhead. A few Steppe Eagles soared, one Egyptian Vulture, one Spotted Eagle,  and the resident Marsh Harrier was about. At the Eilat sewage works we had one Pelican, several hundred Cormorants, a large assortment of Egrets (Greater and Lesser), seven Squacco Herons, eight Spoonbills, at least five White Storks, and well over a hunderd Grey Herons. In the water: Coots, Pintails, Mallards, Shelducks.

Eilat sewage works pond, after removal of reeds with the birds foraging

Three of the seven Squacco Herons seen at Eilat sewage works

Because of the rains a natural lake has appeared between the sewage works and the Km 20 salt ponds that has started to attract quite an assortment of birds. Quite a bit of maintenance had been done by heavy equipment to avoid flooding agricultural land, and that has left some lower-lying areas full of water. This area now has a quite a few Common Swifts, Barn Swallows, a larger than usual amount of Red-rumped Swallows and House Martins hunting for insects. The first of the feldegg Yellow Wagtails was seen here too.

I visited Uvda Valley too, and found that it was very quiet. Very little activity in the valley itself, but it turned out that in the more inaccessible valleys that run into it, there was a lot more activity. The Trumpeter Finches were out in force, with a good two dozen flying about. I had one Isabelline Wheatear and one White-crowned Wheatear chasing each other around.

Here is a curiosity that I took a picture of. The black Flamingo has been at Km 20 salt ponds for several months now. Finally it was close enough to take a picture of with my amateur camera…

Two Flamingos at Km 20 salt ponds

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Indian Silverbills on Lotan, and other news

I went out with a German birder on Thursday, went to Uvda valley to look for birds, especially the Temminck’s Larks that I had seen there two weeks earlier, but were disappointed that there was very little activity going on there. The usual suspects, the House and Spanish Sparrows were about, as were the Wagtails, but there was little else going on. We did not hear the usual Spotted Sandgrouse either.

I did have some reprieve for this disappointment today, when I walked to the Kibbutz dining room and saw seven Indian Silverbills frolicking about. Not having either my binoculars nor my camera at hand, I went home after breakfast . With all the necessary equipment I started looking around, but the earth seemed to have swallowed them up. I did a good round of the Kibbutz, and did not see anything spectacular. I decided to take one last look at the trees they had been frolicking in, and, finally did see them. All seven were huddled together on one branch, keeping very quiet. Got some good pictures of them. These escapees from some cage in the Eilat area have decided to visit Lotan again after quite a few years, maybe as many as 10. I had seen them several times in the Eilat area, especially in the Kibbutz Eilot southern date plantation. Nice to have them here.

Also saw three Namaqua Doves and two Corn Buntings.

One of three Namaqua Doves at the eastern side of the dairy barn at Lotan

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End of January 2013 update

The winter has been quiet here in terms of birding. The wintering birds are here, White Wagtails by the thousands, Corn Buntings in good numbers, some Water Pipits, one Imperial Eagle that is repeatedly being seen around here.

The big story is actually the weather, and the amount of flooding that we have had here. We have witnessed five rain events so far, something which is truly out of the ordinary. In the north of Israel, we have easily surpassed the multi-year average in most places, and the Sea of Galilee is filling up again (what a relief!). Here in the Arava desert, we have had several days with stormy weather and flooding. This will make for very interesting birding in the springtime. Since there will be so many more places that are green, with flowers of almost any color blooming, the birds will be less concentrated on the Kibbutzim. More diffuse birding will lead to longer searches for birds, but will reveal the full glory of a desert in bloom. This will in turn lead to the production of a lot more seeds, and that will provide the birds and other wildlife around here with more food to forage for. I am looking forward to the spring migration already.

Today on Lotan we had two Namaqua Doves and two Northern Lapwings (a species that is rare around here, as opposed to the Spur-winged Lapwing).

Here a picture of the flooding right behind Lotan close to the Jordanian border:

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End of December round-up of birding

It has been three weeks since I last updated the blog, so here goes…

The most important thing we have to report is that Steven, one of the members of Kibbutz Lotan, saw a Verreaux’s Eagle east of the cowshed on  the Kibbutz. He did not have a camera with him, so there are no pictures. Immediately upon hearing  about it, I “interrogated” him, whether he could possibly be mistaking it for the Imperial Eagle that has been around here for the past two months. He said that he has had extensive experience with the Verreaux’s Eagle back in South Africa and that he is 100% sure that it was that bird. He thought that this species was a run-of-the-mill species here, and that the Imperial Eagle was highly unusual. At first he thought that a goat or a young calf had escaped, but when putting his bins on it, he was certain.

Itai Shani has seen the Dunn’s Lark again in  the fields of Kibbutz Elifaz.

I took a birder out for a day, and we went around to see what was out there. We tried first for the Sinai Rosefinch, but it proved illusive. We did see a Barbary Falcon on the top of a cliff, but were not able to see all the distinguishing characteristics, even through the scope. I called Itai and asked whether the Sooty Falcon that is usually there should also be in November. When he said that it has already migrated south, the candidates were narrowed down. After looking some more, we decided that it has all the defining characteristics of a Barbary.

In Eilat, we tried for the Brown Booby, but it must have been in Jordan at the time, so no luck. We did see the White-eyed Gull, just over the border in  Jordan. The Western Reef Heron was there, as usual, as well as the Pied Kingfisher. We proceeded north to the Eilat Sewage pond at Km 19, and found several Black Storks among the hundreds of Cormorants, Little Egrets and Great Egrets. We also had this time one Pelican swimming in the pond.

At the Km 20 salt ponds, we found a Bar-tailed Godwit, Caspian Tern, Dunlin,  and Little Grebe among the usual winterers.

Here we have a Great Crested Grebe at the Km 19 sewage pond.

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Birding Update 5 December 2012

I went birding with two birders from France and Belgium, Benoit and Michelle, and went to the usual sites to see what was around. We went on an overcast day, unusual around here. the temperatures stayed around the 22 degree mark, so it was very comfortable.

At Uvda valley, we saw hundreds of White Wagtails and Red-Throated Pipits, Desert Wheatear, Stonechat, Bluethroat and Trumpeter Finch. I did hear at least one Spotted Sandgrouse calling, but never managed to locate it.

Desert Wheatear at Uvda Valley

We went down to North Beach, and saw the usual Western Reef Heron, a cracking specimen of a Desert Wheatear, and the usual Herons and Egrets. No Pied Kingfisher this time. While searching the buoys out to sea, we did see one Striated Heron, and, over in Jordanian territory, two White-eyed Gulls.

Going on to the Eilat sewage works, there were hundreds of Great Cormorants around, Grey Heron, Little Egret, one juvenile Pelican, around seven Black Storks, one White Stork, one Great Crested Grebe, Coots, Shelducks and Pintails. We also had a few Slender-billed Gulls around.

At the Kilometer 20 salt ponds, we went to see the black Greater Flamingo that has been here for a while. The Ruddy Shelducks had already moved on, but we did have one Pelican here too. The usual suspects, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover were here, as well as the Black-winged Stilt. Also quite a few Slender-billed Gulls. We did not go to see whether the Caspian Gulls were around, as we had a tight schedule to keep.

Glossy Ibises at Samar Sewage

On to the Samar sewage ponds, there was nothing really special around. Two Glossy Ibises were scared up as we drove in, and settled at the other end of the sewage pond. White Wagtails, Red-throated Pipits, Crested Larks, Common Redstarts, Blackstarts and one Bluethroat were there too, which is normal for this time of the year.

we ended the day at the Yotvata circular fields. The northern field had been plowed under, so there was no green here, which did not mean that we saw nothing. As we stepped out of the car, one female Namaqua Dove landed no more than five meters away from us. Good views were had by all, and good photos. We must have seen well over two hundred White Wagtails and Red-throated Pipits around, as well as two Hen Harriers,  and one Kestrel.

Namaqua Dove at Yotvata field

Going to the southern circular field, we encountered our four Common Cranes again. We had a beautiful specimen of an eastern Stonechat. We had a Squacco Heron flying in the fields, and eventually it sat on the irrigation pipe. The brilliant white wings were immediately visible when it took off, and all but disappeared as it landed. While we were getting ready to leave, a Great Grey Shrike flew into the Acacia tree right next to us. This aucheri subspecies shrike called for quite a while, so we could get good views of it.  Two Hen Harriers, a male and female were hunting here, too.

Eastern Stonechat, at Yotvata field


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Rarities Update for Israel

We received reports from other birders about rarities that were found in the southern part of Israel.

First of all, a Rough-legged Buzzard was found by Moshe Cohen at Urim in the western Negev. This is the second record for this bird in Israel, and good pictures were taken of the bird.

In our area, James Smith, together with a birding group found a Rustic Bunting in Uvda valley in one of the green spots that have developed along the road as the result of flooding. The whole area is transformed. Although I did not see the bird, there were several Corn Buntings hopping around with the Spanish Sparrows. This area is also teeming with White Wagtails.

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Ruddy Shelducks at Kilometer 20

We have been having a very quiet end of November 2012, with almost no new migrants coming through, but that has changed in the last three days.

We have had some Richard’s Pipits and Oriental Skylarks among the Red-throated Pipits at the Yotvata circular fields, with the north one being especially productive. We also have four Common Cranes that have been there for a number of days.

Ruddy Shelducks and Flamingos


At the Kilometer 20 salt ponds there are six Ruddy Shelducks among the Pintails and of course the Flamingos. In addition, there is one Pallas’s Gull. Here are some pictures, not all that clear…

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Mid-November rarities and more

I was out birding with a Canadian birder living in Belgium, and had a list of species that he had not seen yet. He was an accomplished birder with a highly impressive repertoire of bird sightings in the western Pale-arctic.

Setting out before sunrise we set out to look for the Sinai Rosefinch at Amram’s Pillars, but were unsuccessful. We did have a Desert Lark, a Blackstart and a White-crowned Wheatear. We did see some kind of falcon, possibly the Sooty Falcon, that lives around there, but could not make a good determination because of the lighting conditions, and the great distance. A couple of Brown-necked Ravens and one female Sand Partridge rounded out the visit there. We did hear the male Sand Partridge calling, but never saw it. On the way back to the Arava highway we saw a bird that looked suspicious. Was it an Orphean Warbler or an Arabian Warbler? We stopped the car, and took a closer look, and saw all the distinguishing characteristics of an Arabian Warbler. The white spots at the end of the tail on the underside, the characteristic jumping around made the identification clear.

Western Reef Heron at North Beach, Eilat

Getting to Eilat, I saw three Tristram’s Starlings flying around, but each time my birder missed it. At north beach we saw the Western Reef Heron that is almost always there, and had a good look at the White-eyed Gull before it decided to fly over to Jordan, and rested on a buoy just beyond the border. No Brown Booby this time, but we did have two Pied Kingfishers. 

Continuing on to the Eilat sewage treatment plant, we encountered several hundred Great Cormorants, ten or more Black Storks, well over fifty Grey Herons, an equal number of Great Egrets, Little Egrets one Squacco Heron, Coots, Pintails, Mallards, Shelducks, and five White Pelicans, one of whom was a juvenile.

At the kilometer 20 salt pans, we had the requisite Greater Flamingos, with one almost completely black individual that has apparently been kicked out of the group. We saw one Little Grebe, several Kentish Plovers, seven Northern Lapwings, one Black Stork,  one Dunlin, eight Caspian Terns, and an assortment of juvenile gulls that we did not have the patience to start identifying.


After lunch, we headed up to Uvda Valley, which had flooded, as reported earlier. We encountered quite a few White Wagtails, Trumpeter Finches, Bluethroats, Stonechats, Crested Larks, two Desert Wheatears, two Black-eared Wheatears. We did look for Thick-billed Larks, but found none, nor did we hear or see the Spotted Sandgrouse that usually are there. We were there at the wrong time of day, so that was not surprising.

All in all, not bad for one day of birding.


David Schoneveld

Birding Guide and Licensed Tour Guide


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Cranes and more Cranes

We have been witness to the migration of over 700 Common Cranes overhead in the last two days. First we hear them, and only then do we actually see them. Also one Black Redstart in the Lotan gardens of the ochruros subspecies (but with more of a white panel, almost like the samamisicus subspecies of the Redstart, but clearly not that species). Maybe some kind of hybridization.

Two hours after writing the lines above, another 500-600 Cranes came overhead. Seeing them against the backdrop of clouds was superb, and the noise they make was incredible given the altitude they flew at.

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