Israel Sept-Oct 2019 Part 2 – Eilat

Saturday 28th September

Most places would be closed today so it was the day we decided to travel down to Eilat and call in at desert sites en-route (as the military wouldn’t be active).
We passed through Mitzpe Ramon and the ‘crater’ - a rather spectacular geological formation - and stopped to bird the expanse of stony desert at HaMeishar Plains. Here we found Bar-tailed Desert Lark and Temminck’s Larks as well as Hooded Wheatear, Short-toed Larks, Barbary Falcon, a few sandgrouse and a herd of Onagers.
Onagers (DB)
We doubled back to a drinking pool at Yeleq Cistern where we had around 20 Sinai Rosefinches as well as the usual Blackstarts, Desert Larks and Mourning Wheatears.

Bar-tailed Desert Lark (MkB)
Sinai Rosefinch (MkB)
Streaked Scrub Warbler (MkB)
On to Eilat and we first stopped at a wildlife park near Samar where the Black Bush Robins were but was told that it wasn’t open for visitors. Allegedly you could see where they hopped around from the car park but you needed to be there in the morning. So we continued onto the Km 20 Flamingo Pools where we had lots of birds. 100’s of Little Stints with large numbers of Black-winged Stilts, Ringed & Kentish Plovers, Red-necked Phalarope, sandpipers of all sorts as well as 300+ Greater Flamingos and 20 Slender-billed Gulls. What a place, made all the more special with stonking views of Hoopoe Larks on the eastern edge.

Hoopoe Lark (DB)
We then went to find our apartment which took some time but eventually successful after which we headed back out to the Km19 Sewage Pool where Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse should come to drink at dusk. We got our first White Storks of the trip and the reed-fringed pool held lots of herons including Squacco and an African Swamphen but though we waited patiently until it was virtually pitch-black, there were no sandgrouse. So it was back to Eilat and an Irish bar that was open where we could watch the footie!

Sunday 29th September

White-cheeked Tern (DB)
We started the day at North Beach, Eilat where, after ticking off House Crow and Striated Heron for the trip we had good views of White-cheeked Terns and more distant views of White-eyed Gulls making their way to Jordan offshore.
From here it was onto the Birdwatching Centre which was undergoing a lot of reconstruction work - it had a good selection of waders but few land migrants (Wryneck, Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Pipit, Red-backed Shrike) as was to be the case the rest of the trip. We did manage to see a Crested (Oriental) Honey Buzzard as it made its way across the reserve as well as a flock of around 20 Levant Sparrowhawks. A flock of Indian Silverbills were seen here and later in the day along the back road to the Flamingo Pools which had much the same fare as the previous day - we continued to scratch our heads regards the identification of the juvenile gulls there and at the Km19 pool.
Levant Sparrowhawk (DB)
Blackstart (DB)

Oriental Honey Buzzard (DB)
Spotted Flycatcher (DB)
It was very hot so we had an extended break in the afternoon which did us all the world of good, before heading back out to Km19 to dip the sandgrouse once again.

Monday 30th September

We set off early back north to our first port of call, Samar kibbutz. Fortunately, despite it being the New Year, the gates were open and we wandered around the orchard in search of Black Bush Robins. Eventually, one popped into view and quickly disappeared in the direction of the main housing area. Red-throated Pipits called overhead.
We headed back towards the football pitch where we got some excellent, prolonged views of these recent colonists.
Black Bush Robin (DB)
We then set off for the circular fields of Yotvata where we came across a large flock of short-toed Larks, several Red-throated Pipits in amongst a large flock of Yellow Wagtails, several Wheatears and Whinchats, a flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters but no coursers which had been there a few days previously.
After lunch at the Yotvata "Theme Park" (as nothing would be open in Eilat), we headed back via the Flamingo Pools where the wader numbers had reduced a little but we did find the White-throated Bee-eater that hadn't been seen for a couple of weeks, so ended up with a 4 Bee-eater species day. The evening trip to Km19 was aborted straight away as there were locals fishing the inlet so we went back to the Birdwatching Centre where we'd been told that if we stand on the bank above, the Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse flew through at dusk and at 18:49, three did just that, flying fast and low over the bank, over the field and into Jordan. Five minutes later, a Nightjar flew right past us!

Tuesday 1st October

Masked Shrike (DB)
We spent the morning at the Birdwatching Centre where we were able to examine Savi's and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers in the hand - I think it's unlikely I'll get the chance in the UK! There were several Red-backed and Masked Shrikes around as well as the odd Tree Pipit and Spotted Flycatcher. We also got a splendid Wryneck in one of the bushes, two Oriental Honey Buzzards and a passing juvenile Montagu's Harrier (third of the trip) right over our heads.
Wryneck (DB)
Montagu’s Harrier (DB)
Eastern Olivaceous Warblers (DB)
From there it was off to the Eilat Mountains for a very hot three-hour vigil for passing raptors. We did see a few birds, 5 Steppe Buzzards, 2 Short-toed Eagles, 4 Booted Eagles and 3 Steppe Eagles as well as several Marsh Harriers and a few other bits and bobs.
The late evening trip to the Flamingo Pools and Km19 didn't bring anything new and the sandgrouse didn't appear again (we stayed until 19:20 when it was very dark!).