2017 Israel

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1 April


The trip didn’t start fantastically. I’d gone down with a chest infection about a week before and I was feeling rather weak. The drive to Guarda took longer than expected and was our first experience of Israeli driving. I’ve experienced much worse but it was something of a challenge when weakened by illness and one of the car hire companies described it as ‘abysmal’.


Once at Garuda, I self-medicated with a fair amount of wine. Sadly this didn’t help and I spent the night violently coughing and throwing up.


2 April


Garuda


An introduction to Israeli birding around the accommodation with Palestine sunbirds, the ubiquitous white-spectacled sunbirds and other common birds before the drive to Eilat.


En-route we stopped at KM82 and Yotvata. The highlight here was undoubtedly a superb sand partridge  Sadly it was not on the driver’s  side of the car.


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Other species included the common graceful prinia, eastern olivaceous warblers, masked shrike and spur-winged plover.


This is either Bosk’s or Arnold’s fringe-fingered lizard. Sadly they are ‘almost impossible’ to identify in the field.

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We also looked at the acacia gazelle reserve, where the last twenty of this species are fenced in. Views weren’t great and we soon realised we didn’t really know what we were looking for! We definitely saw DORCAS GAZELLE as they were outside the fence!


We stayed at the Motel Aviv - which was clean and a standard type cheap hotel. It had a communal area, in a country where restaurants and bars are expensive this was our usual beer drinking places. We ate at a food stall nearby. With a weak pound, Israel was considerably more expensive than the UK.


3 April


Eilat


North Beach


One dark and one light imm. western reef heron gave superb views, along with a greater sandplover. 6 slender-billed gulls were seen on arrival, considerably more arrived later in the day.


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Birdwatching Centre and nearby


Birds here included booted eagle

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little bittern, 3 males and one female little crake


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2 little green bee-eaters, Namaqua dove, lots of eastern Bonelli’s warblers,

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eastern olivaceous warbler, Ruppell’s warbler


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and bluethroat

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It was then off to Dolphin Reef to see our first, rather distant, white-eyed gull of the trip.


In the later afternoon we headed north to KM19 sewage works.


Before it was dark birds seen included a flock of about 100 white storks, 4 collared pratincoles, spur-winged plovers and a male pallid harrier.


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Our main target was Lichtenstein's sandgrouse. We saw three, but it was pretty dark and I found the experience pretty underwhelming.


4 April


Se’ifim Plain


A surprisingly cool morning.


Birds seen included about 4 hoopoe larks,


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hooded wheatear,

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mourning wheatear, black-eared wheatear, desert lark, trumpeter finch, Temminck’s lark and tawny pipit.


Other wildlife included desert agama




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and desert mantis.


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Returning to Eilat we saw a good passage of steppe buzzards causing us to spend some time looking through them. This was a little disappointing but we did see black kite, booted eagle, Egyptian vulture and lesser kestrel.


We also got poor views of striolated bunting.


The evening was spent at North Beach, mainly looking at Baltic and white-eyed gulls.


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5 April


A trip to Yotvata produced out first Arabian babblers of the trip. Near the Acacia Antelope Reserve we got rather frustrating views of Arabian warbler. I failed to get any photos, although John had more success.


The antelopes also proved frustrating. It took some time to feel happy that we had seen at least one Acacia among the Dorcas antelopes. All of the antelopes were distant.


John’s photo of Acacia antelope.


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Dorcas gazelle


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It had now reached 38C and we were struggling a bit.


The birdwatching centre had a very similar line-up to yesterday.



After a siesta we headed to route 12 getting good views of striolated bunting and our first Nubian ibex of the trip.


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We then drove to Ovda valley to make sure we knew where to go first thing in the morning. We saw white-crowned black wheatear from the road and, more excitingly, 6 onagers at Ovda. Sadly they were extremely distant.


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6 April


Ovda Valley


We arrived shortly after first light seeing a car load of birders coming the other way; they’d damaged the sump of their car and were draining oil. We were feeling glad that’d we’d paid a bit extra to get a SUV. About 40 spotted sandgrouse came to the sewage works along with 3 trumpeter finches and a brown-necked raven.


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Birdwatching Centre


Among the birds seen were broad-billed sandpiper, booted eagle and Caspian tern.


Canada Park


We failed to see the hoped for scops owls, but our evening visit was still quite productive.


Collared flycatcher


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hoopoe

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Other birds seen included wryneck, 2 tree pipits and eastern Bonelli’s warblers.


For me, the highlight were the Egyptian fruit bats which came out after dark.


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7 April


We did a bit of birding en route and at Nizzana seeing a few things but sadly no McQueen’s bustards, however a lot of the day was spent getting to our accommodation at Midreshet Ben Gurion. This was not helped by the owners giving the wrong GPS coordinates, which actually took us to the wrong town. When we found it the Negev Bus - which really was a bus - turned out to be very nicely located but a complete dump.


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White-breasted kingfisher and Nubian ibex were seen around the bus.


We met up with Tomer Ben-Yehuda, an Israeli mammal watcher, and spent dusk at the vulture watching site - where wolf and spotted hyaena have been seen in the past. Sadly they weren’t by us! We then did some discrete driving around at night. We could only manage 5 or 6 foxes.


8 April


We were a bit on the drag due to a fairly late night combined with far-from-ideal sleeping conditions in the Negev Bus and arrived to find that we had just missed a McQueen’s bustard. Eventually Jeff found a very distant one. Better than nothing but rather disappointing.


We then went to the sewage works getting good views of 17 black-bellied sandgrouse.


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Other birds in the area included this semi-collared flycatcher.


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Negev Bus


A scrub warbler near the bus really didn’t want to be photographed. Also a collared flycatcher, Palestine sunbird and young a female Nubian ibex.


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Fields near Midreshet Ben Gurion


Very disappointing views of desert finch, about 50 black-bellied sandgrouse, short-toed eagle,

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Egyptian vulture


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and barbary falcon

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were the highlights here.




Garage near Midreshet Ben Gurion


We then had a  fortunate petrol stop as we saw the only fat sand rat of the trip.


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In the evening we went looking for striped hyenas with Negev Jeep Tours. Four and a half hours of bumping around in a Land Rover later and we still had no luck. C.15 golden jackals, c.5 foxes, a stone curlew and European green toad were  a small consolation.


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9 April


Negev


The day was spent in the general area, ending up at the vulture watch point. Birds included mourning wheatear


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Desert finch - more poor views, lesser spotted eagle, isabelline wheatear, desert lark, bee-eaters and northern raven.


10 April


Three sand partridges, a collared flycatcher and Nubian ibex were seen on our last morning at the Negev Bus - a place we were keen to leave.


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Ovda


Huge numbers of sandgrouse were seen. They were often very distant. The majority were crowned  but at least two spotted sandgrouse were seen.


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We met two men walking through the desert. They didn’t speak English but showed us one of their phones: on it were some stunning photos of McQueen’s bustard! Wandering around, we found what was presumably the bustard in question. It had colour rings and was stupidly tame. In fact we are convinced that at one point it actually followed us. It was still very smart.


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Wadi Shizaf


Arabian babbler, desert lark, little green bee-eater and black stork were the highlights here.


Lot’s Reservoir near the Dead Sea


Three Dead Sea sparrows were seen but all frustratingly briefly.


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Sand partridge and Namaqua doves were among the other birds seen.


11 April


Along the side the Dead Sea: wedge-tailed ravens


Wadi Shadon


Both male and female SINAI ROSEFINCHES

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were seem coming to a natural ‘drip’  as well a 2 trumpeter finches  and a striolated bunting.

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A barbary falcon flew past  and we also saw Tristram’s starlings, white-crowned black wheatear,

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lesser whitethroats, Nubian ibex and rock hyrax.


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Lot’s Reservoir


We failed to find any more Dead Sea Sparrows a rufous bus robin was a good consolation.


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Night Drive


At £90pp we were rather keen for this to be more successful than our last night drive; it wasn’t. We did get very brief views of two Nubian nightjars but failed with Hume’s owl. The highlight was a white-breasted hedgehog seen while driving back through Arad.


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12 April


Much of the day was spent in terrible traffic.


Ma’aghan Mikhael


Very windy.


Jeff identified Armenian gulls for the less Larophile John and I.


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Pygmy cormorants, pied kingfisher, glossy ibises were the other bird highlights. An Egyptian mongoose was an exciting but very brief sighting.


We finally reached our  accommodation at Yesod Hamaala, with neither the time or the inclination to do much rather than a bit of general birding around the garden and looking for food. Syrian woodpecker was new for the trip.


13 April and 14 April


Agamon Hula


Both mornings were spent here. A delightful place when we first got there; it soon turned into a crowded nightmare!


Birding was good.




We saw about 100 collared pratincoles.


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A few white-breasted kingfisher were seen.

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I never tire of bee-eaters.

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Clamorous reed warbler was a little less gaudy.

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One of the highlights of the whole trip was having over a thousand white pelicans flying over our heads. Truly fantastic.

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A pair of black francolins was seen reasonably well but briefly.

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This spoonbill was rather more cooperative.


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Other birds included about 150 distant cranes, black-shouldered kite, gull-billed terns,  marbled teals and a white-tailed eagle.


We were hoping for jungle cat but our best mammal was this wild boar.

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The introduced coypu population was very high.


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Also common was Western Caspian turtle.

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Outside the reserve we had considerable less success. We did see a very distant mountain gazelle from a service station.


Our time in the Golan heights was very unsuccessful and we were not helped by some heavy rain. In fact we saw almost nothing! This eastern festoon was the highlight.


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There was definitely an end of trip feeling and the evenings were spent drinking rather too much wine and watching the house geckos around our accommodation and hearing a distant scops owl.






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15 April


Kfar Vitkin


A stop for African softshell turtle, which was absolutely superb.


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I’d imagined this as a nice quiet stop by a river. It was absolutely packed and was a parking hell. Two Israelis in a ‘face-off’ prompted me to leave the wheel of our car and try to persuade them to stop blocking everyone's route.


The conversation went something like this.


Me: Would you mind backing up and letting the man past so people can get past?

Woman: That man is very stupid.

Me (trying the other car): Would you mind backing up and letting the woman past so people can get past?

Man: That woman is very stupid

Me: She may be but you two are stopping all the traffic.

At which point I gave up and somehow reversed the Duster through the bedlam behind me.


Then it was a fairly dull night in the outskirts of Tel-Aviv before driving back to the airport and home.



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