Saturday 31 March 1979

ISRAEL March 1979

This blog is the first of two recounting a two week trip to Israel in early spring 1979.   It is based on old notebook entries, often inadequate, rather hazy memories and scanned slides of variably indifferent quality.  I went out with four absolutely excellent companions - Rupert Hastings, Andrew Moon (who produced a trip report), Pete Naylor and Tim Norris, two sadly no longer with us and one I've long since lost touch with.  We flew to Tel Aviv, hired a car and Andrew drove us around the whole country seeing as much as we could while, it seemed, spending as little as possible.  In my case that was next to nothing as we slept out and I don’t remember eating much!  The trip cost me £230 all in, although that might have bought 6000 Mars bars in those days!

We arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv at 21:00 on 24th, picked up a hire car (a bit of a squash for five) and drove to Caesarea where we found somewhere to camp.  

25 March.  We started birding at Caesarea as it was getting light.  Here Chukar was my first new bird followed by Graceful Prinia and Orange-tufted Sunbird.  We continued on to Ma’agan Mikhael (lots of wetland birds including 2 Great Black-headed Gulls and my first Spanish Sparrows) and Hula Fishponds where we saw 600 White Pelicans, 15 Black Storks, 500 Alpine Swifts and a male Dead Sea Sparrow and spotlighted a Scops Owl.


Yellow-vented Bulbul

Crested Lark

Pied Kingfisher

Graceful Warbler

Laughing Dove


26 March.  Two Spotted Eagles and the pelicans were seen at Hula before we headed north to the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon.  Here snow was unexpected but birds included Syrian Woodpecker, 20 Eastern Black Redstarts, Pied, Finsch’s and 8 Black-eared Wheatears, 3 Rock Thrushes, 8 Sombre Tits, 4 Rock Nuthatches and 20 Tristram’s Serins.  We were not equipped to spend long in these conditions and headed down to Lake Tiberias seeing our first Masked Shrike and 200 White Storks on the way before continuing, the last part in the dark, to Jericho where we camped.
White Pelicans over Hula
27 March.  We found 2 Black Francolins and 30 Quail around our camp while a very impressive 10,000 White Storks were on the move!  We headed to Jerusalem, seeing 40 Lesser Kestrels, 2 Long-billed Pipits, 4 Blackstarts and 10 Scrub Warblers mostly in the hills 12km east of the city, and on to the Dead Sea and the kibbutz at En Gedi.  Here were 9 Fan-tailed Ravens, 2 Tristram’s Grackles and 17 Ibex while between us we had several poor, or very poor flight views of Hume’s Tawny Owl after dark.  We left the kibbutz somewhat disappointed and camped out near the Dead Sea.

road to Jerusalem

roadside Mourning Wheatear

dry hillsides 12km east of Jerusalem

Jerusalem walls

me at sea level

Dead Sea

desert near the Dead Sea
28 March.  We headed south towards Elat seeing 4 Brown Babblers and Orphean, 4 Arabian and 2 Ruppell’s Warblers near En Yohav.  Stops at a small pool at Qetura and at Yotvata were productive with a pair of Little Green Bee-eaters at both, a Glossy Ibis, 2 male Rock Thrushes and 2 Desert Finches at the former and 3 Stone Curlew, Thrush Nightingale, 3 male Semi-collared Flycatchers and 10 Bonelli’s Warblers at the later.  We continued the short distance to Elat and after a meal camped in the Moon Valley Mountains.


Qetura sewage farm

Glossy Ibis disturbed from the sewage pool at Qetura

Brown Babbler


Little Green Bee-eater

stunning birds
29 March.  A raptor watch from dawn produced 1000 Steppe Buzzards, 13 Steppe Eagles, 20 Black Kites and an Egyptian Vulture while we also saw our only Sand Partridge of the trip.  It had started off quite cold but soon warmed up and we dropped down to Elat which was even warmer.  We spent the afternoon around the beach and fields seeing 3 Brown Boobies and 2 Western Reef Herons at the former and a selection of waders, commoner migrants a Short-toed Eagle, 4 Bluethroats and our first Cretzchmar’s Bunting at the later.  After a meal in Elat we drove down to Sharm-El Shek where other birders had told us there was a Black-crowned Finch Lark.  Full of expectation we camped by the sewage farm under a brilliantly clear starry sky.  The desert experience at its best. 

Moon Valley Mountains

Rupert raptor watching in the Moon Valley Mountains

Steppe Buzzards

Steppe Eagle
30 March.  I was woken by the sound of Crowned Sandgrouse coming in to drink at dawn. Absolutely superb, as was the sewage farm and we spent several hours there seeing a female Little and 3 male Baillon’s Crakes, Cream Coloured Courser, White-tailed Plover, 110 Crowned Sandgrouse, Bimaculated Lark, 2 male Black-crowned Finch Larks, 30 Red-throated Pipits, 3 Bluethroats and a Savi’s Warbler.  Fantastic!  We drove on to Ras Mohammed where a short seawatch produced Lesser Crested Tern and then back north to some mangroves at Nabq where we saw 2 Striated Herons but not any hoped for White-eyed Gulls.  We returned to Sharm-El Shek, where 10 Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse came in to drink soon after dusk, and camped there again.  Despite missing the gull we were feeling very content.


Little Crake

Baillon's Crake

White-tailed Plover

what legs!

Red-throated Pipit

Squacco Heron and flava Wagtail

Tim crab watching

Gulf of Aqaba and sunk ship at Nabq
31 March.  I heard Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse calling at 04:00.  I stuck my head out of my sleeping bag but it was still completely dark and I went back to sleep.  The sewage farm was quieter than the previous morning with many of the more interesting birds having moved on.  Just a single male Baillon’s Crake, 42 Crowned Sandgrouse, the Red-throated Pipits and Savi’s Warbler remained.  We drove back north and turned onto a gravel track for about 50 km to the base of Mount Sinai and Santa Katarina Monastery.  Sinai Rosefinches were common here with 10 (3 males) at the Field Centre and another 6 (2 males) around the Monastery.  We also saw a single Tristram’s Serin, female Rock Thrush and 12 Lesser Whitethroats and I would imagine it could be quite a migrant trap on its day.  White-crowned Black Wheatear was one of the most obvious species on this section and we had seen 13 before re-joining the main road and finding somewhere to camp near Nueba.

road to Santa Katarina

Santa Katarina and presumably Mount Sinai

bushes by the track to the monastery looked to have great potential for resting migrants although we saw little in them

Santa Katarna Monastery

our pilgrimage was to see Sinai Rosefinch
we were not disappointed!