Birding in March – Southern Israel

Full of variety with an overlap between wintering birds and increasing numbers of early spring migrants. Remaining wintering species include Great Black-headed Gull, Pallid Harrier, Saker and Lanner. As each day goes by, the pace of migration increases. Steppe Eagles peak in the first week and may number up to 1000 birds per day. Amongst them will be the first Black Kites, Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, Steppe Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles and Ospreys.

Black Storks and Cranes may be seen migrating northward over the Arava Valley, and one of the star birds of March, the White Stork, may pass over in awesome flocks numbering thousands of birds during westerly gales. A trip to the western Negev will almost guarantee huge flocks of White Storks, along with hundreds of migrating Lesser-spotted Eagle. Any green space will have a magnetic effect on the waves of songbirds passing through. Typically, Wryneck, Yellow Wagtail (mainly M. f.feldegg), Isabelline Wheatear, Masked and Woodchat Shrikes and Cretzschmar’s Bunting occur in numbers. Hordes of Chiffchaff, some Eastern Bonelli’s and Olivaceous Warbler, along with stunning male Ruppell’s Warblers enliven many of the Acacia trees. The beautiful’ samamisicus’ , race of Redstart passes through at this time, a few weeks ahead of the larger numbers of the nominate form.

The salt pools at Km.20, just north of Eilat, become a major attraction, as wader migration gathers momentum with numbers of Black-winged Stilts, and Marsh Sandpipers increasing daily. From the North Beach, Arctic and Pomarine Skuas appear towards the end of the month, along with the odd Cory’s Shearwater. Almost any area of open water may attract Little Crake and the rare White-tailed Plover, especially at the local sewage pools, which may also attract pristine male Citrine Wagtails in an unlikely setting.

The variety and volume of passing raptors can be overwhelming, with Steppe Buzzards passing in tens of thousands, followed by hundreds of Black Kites and a supporting cast of Short toed Eagle, Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and still plenty of Steppe Eagles. A morning spent at a raptor migration watch point may well reach 30,000 birds or more, many of them passing low overhead, giving breathtaking views. The opportunities for raptor photography at these sites are excellent.

Lark migration is a feature of the month, and we shall certainly be visiting the circular fields at Yotvata and the environs as well as the Uvda valley and Hayun riverbed. Bar-tailed Desert, Desert, Hoopoe, Bimaculated, Short-toed, Lesser Short- toed, Temminck’s Horned and Crested Larks could all potentially be seen, but heard singing. We usually regard the 20th as the starting date for the waves of migrants, which will include Quail, Hoopoe, Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit, Red-rumped Swallow, Black-eared Wheatear, and Savi’s Warbler all of which can be seen in the area of Lotan. The last week offers a final opportunity to find Striated Scops Owl, which disperse by early March.

We may need several visits to find all the key key species! Rarities such as Dunn’s and Thick-billed Larks, and Black-crowned Finch Lark are extremely scarce in Israel, but have occurred here from time to time. Tawny Pipit, Desert Wheatear and particularly, small numbers of Pale Rock Sparrow feed here regularly in early spring. March has produced many rare species over the last few years in the southern Arava, including Black Bush Robin, Grey Hypocolious, Basra Reed Warbler, MenetriesWarbler and Hume’s Warbler, all of which have been especially obliging.

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