Israel Sept-Oct 2019 Part 3 – Tel Aviv area

Wednesday 2nd October

Today we were heading back north to the Tel Aviv area via the Dead Sea and Jerusalem so we had a shot at a few birds we'd missed. We set off at 5am so that we could get to Hazeva around dawn. Our previous instructions for the Pharaoh Eagle Owl site had been slightly out by a couple of kilometres so as we approached a far more promising area two birds flew out of what turned out to be the roosting tree site even though we were at some distance. Goodness knows where they went but a local search couldn't find them so we departed knowing that our next stop would be very hot even though it was only early morning.
Pharaoh Eagle Owl (MkB)
The Ashalim Reservoir just south of the Magnesium plant at the south end of the Dead Sea look absolutely splendid. We got a bit nearer than the last time and finally recorded Dead Sea Sparrow as well as a brief view of Clamarous Reed Warbler (which was singing). The usual waterbirds were all present but it was already 32 degrees and the sun was bouncing off the white ground making it feel like we were in an oven.
We moved on to Mitspe Shalem where there was a visitor centre for the cosmetics factory and a pool for birds to drink. As we arrived a guy came up and showed us to the bird watching area. The pool was small and marshalled by a Spotted Flycatcher. We saw several Warblers in the small patch including Eastern Bonelli's, Sedge, Reed, Willow and Blackcap. However, no Striolated Buntings were here nor in another site a few km to the south.
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler (MkB)
By mid afternoon we were back en-route to our hotel for the night at Tal Shahar. We got there around 3:45 and eventually got access to our room. We headed out to a couple of local reservoirs, Hulda and Tal Shachar - both were excellent with several Black-winged Kites in the area as well as Kestrels, Harriers, migrants such as Red-throated Pipits and quite a few waders including a Golden Plover.
Black-winged Kite (DB)

Thursday 3rd October

Our final day started off at Ben Shemen Forest near the airport, a site which had had 1400 Lesser Spotted Eagles the previous day. We soon saw Jays and Sardinian Warblers as well as Syrian Woodpeckers and a Hobby. By 8am, the first few Lesser Spotted Eagles were in the air, leaving their overnight roost site and continuing their southward migration. What followed in the next hour was rather spectacular with 300+ Lesser Spotted, several Short-toed and the odd Booted and Steppe Eagle as well as Honey Buzzard, Eurasian and Levant Sparrowhawks, Hobby & Red-footed Falcon.
The local birders were delighted with our presence - 'the first tourists to visit' allegedly. Well we had a good time and they handily suggested a few other sites we might try before we had to get to the airport.
The first was at Shoham Forest Park next to a quarry area at 32°00'47.4"N 34°59'04.0"E where we found a single Long-billed Pipit along with Blue Rock Thrushes and Great Grey Shrikes. This was a great piece of habitat along a drivable road.
Next we set off an hour or so north to the fish ponds at Ma'agan Michael. Stopping at the ponds at 32°34'37.0"N 34°55'37.1"E we had large numbers of Glossy Ibis, Great White Pelicans, Pygmy Cormorant, Temminck's Stint, Storks, Kingfishers of three species galore and lots more besides. Armenian gulls were common here. Eventually we made our way to the ponds a little further south and enjoyed more of the same but the beach there had lots of gulls and waders including the odd Turnstone, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit amongst the hordes of Ringed & Kentish Plovers, Dunlin and Little Stints whilst a male Citrine Wagtail made a brief appearance.
Great White Pelican (DB)
Armenian Gulls (DB)
Pied Kingfisher (DB)
Eventually it was time to depart but at 3pm, we found the entrance gate closed (the tracks are private but we'd been told if the gate was open, it's fine to drive around) - fortunately, a local woman who'd been at the beach shack also had the same fate and she called the number and we were eventually let out. Not sure what we'd have done without her help!
So that concluded our 10 day trip to southern Israel with 196 species recorded and 24 lifers for me (Mark even got 7 lifers).