Saturday 7 April 1979

ISRAEL April 1979

This is the concluding blog recounting a two week trip to Israel in early spring 1979.   Rupert Hastings, Andrew Moon, Pete Naylor, Tim Norris and I travelled around in a hire car in some discomfort (at least in the back it was) seeing as much as we could.

1 April.  We looked for Hooded Wheatear around Nueba and soon saw 5 (3 males) as well as 3 Hoopoe Larks.  We continued north to Elat seeing another female Hooded Wheatear on the way.  At Elat there was a summer plumage Sociable Plover in the north fields, although it always kept its distance, and 3 Caspian Plovers.  Other migrants were a bit thin on the ground although we did see 3 Baillon’s Crakes, 3 Bluethroats, a Savi’s Warbler and an Ortolan Bunting.  We heard two Nubian Nightjars close to the Jordanian border at dusk and I had a brief view of a shape which was probably one of them, even worse than a Hume's Tawny Owl!  We slept on the beach.
summer plumaged Sociable Plover on the fields at Elat.  Despite its name it wasn't very approachable
Tawny Pipit
2 April.  We started at Taba, just outside Elat, where we saw another male Hooded Wheatear.  It was a species I has been a bit anxious about finding but we’d now seen 7.  We spent the rest of the day at and around Elat visiting the ringing station in the fields where the ringers kindly showed us some nice birds in the hand, best being a female Little Crake.  Also at Elat we saw 72 Collared Pratincoles, the Sociable and a flock of 53 Caspian Plovers (with another 21 possibly being different) and both Common and Thrush Nightingale. During the heat of the day we visited the Underwater Observation Station and saw some fish and late afternoon we tried the Water Pumping Station just south of Elat where we had good views of 2 Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse before it got dark.  After a meal we returned to the beach for another night.
Little Crake in the hand, seen during an enjoyable visit to the ringing group
Blue-headed Wagtail
Ortolan Bunting
Masked Shrike
views from the underwater observation tower

just like being in a posh aquarium

3 April.  At Elat we saw the Sociable and 20+ Caspian Plovers but the fields and canal seemed comparatively quiet and we headed north to Qetura, stopping on the way for views of a Lappet-faced Vulture over distant hills.  The Glossy Ibis was still at Qetura and we saw migrant Wryneck and Wood Warbler while 12 Bee-eaters flew north.  Yotvata was quieter, just 2 Masked Shrikes, so we headed back towards Elat for the afternoon seeing a Short-toed Eagle from the car.  Back at Elat we stayed around the beach (Brown Boobys were not restricted to being offshore!) and the canal seeing an impressive flock of 450 Garganey and another male Baillon’s Crake.  An evening walk along the border eventually produced a decent view of Nubian Nightjar, and a close encounter with the Israeli army on our return in the dark.  A patrol on the lookout for insurgents crossing from Jordan so it was just as well that we were not being particularly quiet!

4 April.  We again visited the ringing station in the fields at Elat where the 2 Scops Owls and a male Cretzchmar’s Bunting were the highlights. The 20 Caspian Plovers were still present while a Merlin was a bit of a surprise and a Sooty Shearwater was seen offshore.  We then visited the Moon Valley Mountains for some raptor watching seeing 700 Steppe Buzzards, 50 Steppe Eagles and 3 Egyptian Vultures.  A small accipiter was almost certainly misidentified as a Levant Sparrowhawk (far too early in the season we later realised) while I was also getting excited by a falcon that in hindsight almost certainly wasn’t a Saker.  Raptors have never been my favourites!  Back at Elat 7 Thick-billed Larks flew north over the beach without stopping (frustrating views but at least i'd seen them very well in Morrocco two years before) while a single Black Stork and 2 Baillon’s Crakes were seen somewhat better.
Brown Booby off the beach at Elat
Western Reef  Egret
Scops Owl
hand to be able to turn one's head like that!
5 April.   In a two hour watch from the Moon Valley Mountains we saw 20 Black Storks, 400 Black Kites, 1200 Steppe Buzzards, 2 Egyptian Vultures and Imperial, Short-toed, Bonelli’s, 3 Booted, 4 Lesser Spotted and 50 Steppe Eagles.  Even an ardent raptor-phobe couldn’t remain unimpressed for long.  Back at Elat an estimated 4500 White Storks were on the move, perhaps we’d left the mountains too soon, while the Sociable and 2 Caspian Plovers were still present.  We left Elat and headed back north, stopping briefly at Qetura on the way – Glossy Ibis still present.  In the mountains west of the southern end of the Dead Sea we had excellent views of 2 Lammergeyers and another male Hooded Wheatear with a male Pallid Harrier and a Barbary Falcon on the way to En Gedi.  Another search until well after dark failed to produce any sightings of Hume’s Tawny Owl for me, no matter how dodgy, and after a meal we left to drive into the desert and find somewhere there to camp near El Sharuhen (lights and noise on the near horizon suggested a military base close by that we were keen to avoid any contact with).
White Storks over Elat

Dead Sea
Wadi near the Dead Sea
me and the Dead Sea. Close to the Edge? Yes
Desert Lark
6 April.  Our last full day was spent in the Negev.  We started at a wadi near En Sharuhen, to the north of Ze’elim, where a pair of Eagle Owls were resident.  We had excellent views of them on the cliff face and then drove to Ze’elim, Revivim and Nizzana stopping regularly to scan or walk across sections of desert.  We were particularly looking for Crowned Sandgrouse which we never did find although a flock of 77 Caspian Plovers near Ze’elim was some compensation.  We also flushed a pale Booted Eagle, saw 2 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Cream Coloured Courses were widespread.  From Nizzana we headed southwest but hadn’t gone far when we saw a male Houbara Bustard from the car.  We then continued for about 10 kms, seeing more courses and 2 Hoopoe Larks, before returning.  The drive back to Ze’elim, and a final look around there, produced 29 more Cream Coloured Coursers (taking my day total to 51), male Pallid Harrier, another pale Booted Eagle, Little Owl and a flock of 25 Bee-eaters.  We left the Negev wanting more but had unfortunately run out of time and had to drive back towards Tel Aviv, camping out near Lud.
Eagle Owl (photo by Andrew Moon)
Houbara Bustard
Booted Eagle
Cream Coloured Courser
with film scratches
part of the Caspian Plover flock

and then I ran out of film ...
7 April.  We had an hour around Lud seeing 3 Chukars and a male Blackbird before returning to the airport, dropping off the car (very dusty by now), getting a wash and brush-up ourselves (also quite dusty) and flying home.  It had been a very enjoyable trip, nice species (including most targets), some spectacular migration and excellent companions.

[blogged February 2014]