Israel Sept-Oct 2019 Part 1 – Negev

Israel 2019

A summary of a birding trip from 24 Sept – 3 Oct 2019
Dave Bickerton, Mark Breaks, Margaret Breaks.

A year of hospital appointments, surgery and the like have meant I've been rather tardy at keeping my blog up-to-date. However, retirement has arrived and so my first trip was to Israel with Mark & Margaret Breaks for an out-of-season visit.
Little Green Bee-eater (DB)
The first plan for a post retirement birding trip was to Fair Isle - everything was booked and then the observatory burnt down! So an alternative was sought and Mark suggested Israel. I’d never been to that area so was keen on that but a little concerned about the heat at that time of year - it turned out to be just as hot as we thought but we made the best of early mornings and late afternoon when a welcome breeze would typically pick up.
So plans were made for Mark, Margaret and I to travel to southern Israel in late September, flying EasyJet from Manchester to Tel Aviv, hiring a car from Budget and spending five nights in Dimona, four in Eilat and one near Tel Aviv.
“Dimona? Why there??”, was the oft asked question. Well we thought it would be centrally located for the sites we planned to visit in the northern part of the Negev and indeed it turned out to work quite well though the immigration officer and others beside would look extremely puzzled that anyone would want to stay there. (There were precious few places to stay in the area and English wasn’t widely spoken or written as in the more cosmopolitan and touristy areas.)
Accommodation-wise, all the self-catering apartments were clean and moderately comfortable though the first (Hadass Desert Inn, Dimona) was spoilt by the noisiest waste water system I’ve ever encountered! The second (City Apartments, Eilat) was difficult to find and the third in Tal Shahar was vacant - the proprietors had got the wrong day for our arrival but fortunately a very kind neighbour helped out.
Refuelling the car was fun as all the pump instructions were in Hebrew so help was always sought - paying by card took a deposit and the unused balance credited a few days later. Food was also a challenge around Dimona as very few restaurants but we managed. Portion sizes were on the large side!
Now to the birds and sites. Mark had received several recommendations from Yoav Perlman who was meant to take us for some nocturnal birds but he was called away to the USA so Meidad Goren took his place that one evening. A trip report by Steve Arlow was also very useful along with the maps which were remarkably accurate.

Tuesday 24th September

We had arrived at our hotel in Dimona around 11pm but we were up at 5:30 to head off south-west to Yeroham Lake, just 15 minutes away. This turned out to be a very pleasant spot and one we’d return to on some evenings.
Arabian Babbler (DB)
We soon started picking up birds such as Syrian Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Arabian Babbler, various herons, ducks and waders as well as an African Swamphen. Common birds included the ubiquitous Spur-winged Lapwing, Graceful Prinia, White-spectacled Bulbul, Tristram’s Starling, Palestine Sunbird, Masked Shrike and Spanish Sparrow. Laughing and Collared Doves were encountered everywhere we went.
Syrian Woodpecker
After an hour here we moved on to Revivim where there was a pool that sandgrouse visit to drink. This was another good site though we had to watch from a vantage point. There were plenty of waders here and not before too long, sandgrouse (Back-bellied and Spotted) began to appear, circling around before alighting next to the water at the far end of the pool for a brief moment and then moving off. We probably had up to 100 Spotted and 20 Black-bellied in the hour that we were there.
Spotted Sandgrouse (DB)
From here, were continued on to HaBsor, a reservoir and river/wadi area which would probably have been better if we’d got there earlier as with many sites. Even so we had plenty of good birds with a large flock of Black Kites (the only one we really had all trip), Short-toed Eagle, Osprey, Egyptian Vulture, Levant Sparrowhawk and Steppe Buzzard representing the raptors, Black Storks, European and Little Green Bee-eaters, White-throated Kingfisher, Hoopoe, Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes, Chukar, Isabelline & Mourning Wheatears and a family of Stone Curlews. Various waders were seen on the pools with Little Stints common alongside small numbers of Marsh, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Spotted Redshank and Greenshank.
Hoopoe (DB)
Stone Curlew (DB)
Once we’d driven the length of a very bumpy track along the west side of the ‘river’, we headed towards Be’er Sheva to try and find the park lake where some marsh terns had been seen. This turned out to be a building site with the lake on the far side. Sure enough, there were Black, White-winged Black and Whiskered Terns there along with Kingfishers and Yellow Wagtails.
White-winged Black Tern (MkB)
Whiskered Tern (MkB)

It was nearly 3pm and rather hot so we headed back to Dimona for a siesta and then back out to Yeroham that evening where we had a flock of 16 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, 60+ European Bee-eaters, Blackstart, lots of Yellow Wagtails and Sparrows as well as hirundines and herons all coming into roost.

Wednesday 25th September

Today we were to meet Meidad around 5pm for Sooty Falcons and night birds so we spent the morning a little way past Yeroham at Sde Boker. Starting in the south-western fields, we came across a large group of Short-toed Larks, a Tawny Pipit and a few sandgrouse overhead (1 Back-bellied and 7 Spotted). Isabelline Wheatears were common and we had a few migrants such as Whinchat, Wood Sandpiper, etc.
Griffon Vultures (DB)
We moved onto the Ben-Gurion Memorial Park area where we had more common migrants such as Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Blackcap with Griffon Vultures overhead. We tried a few other places in the area but there was not a great deal out of the ordinary so we went back to Dimona for something to eat and some rest before we headed out to the Dead Sea and Lot Reservoir at Neve Sohar.
Only another 400m down to get to the Dead Sea (DB)
The Dead Sea Magnesium plant in the background with its associated salt pans (DB)
We met Meidad bang on 5pm and planned our evening. It appeared that we couldn’t go for any owls as they’re all protected now and therefore unvisitable. That left us with potential Sooty Falcons coming to take hirundines at a nearby roost (they breed in the area but it’s like finding a needle in a haystack) and then Nubian Nightjar. Whilst waiting we chalked up White-crowned Black Wheatear and as dusk descended, Mark noted a falcon on a distant pylon. This turned out to be a Sooty and was joined two more birds over the marsh hunting dragonflies before dropping low at dark to chase hirundines. Once it had gone dark, we set off for an area at the south of the Dead Sea for the nightjar but after five hours of searching we had to give up. Probably the wrong time of year.
Golden Spiny Mouse (MkB)

Thursday 26th September

It was an early start to get to Shezaf NR, Hazeva about an hour’s drive from Dimona where we’d hoped to get Pharaoh Eagle Owl. We had a nice Namaqua Dove and Golden Oriole on the way as well as our first Desert Larks.
Namaqua Dove (MkB)
We search the wadi area about a mile to the south of the kibbutz - there were plenty of Little Green Bee-eaters and Arabian Babblers (subject of a long-running local study where the birds were fed and ringed). Lesser Whitethroat, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Black-eared Wheatear, Sand Partridge and a few migrants were seen and finally we came across a couple of Arabian Warblers which performed rather well alongside an Eastern Orphean Warbler!
Arabian Warblers (DB)
It was a hot walk back to the car but we then headed back north to Ashalim Reservoir near the Magnesium plant on the Dead Sea - lots of birds in there but not very accessible. From there we headed to Masada(we didn’t go up to the fort) where we had lots of Fan-tailed Ravens and a juvenile Steppe Eagle.
Fan-tailed Ravens (DB)
After an afternoon break we hit Yeroham Lake again where we got 4 Alpine Swifts and a Red-breasted Flycatcher.

Friday 27th September

Today we headed to Ezuz near the Egyptian border to spend some time in the photographic hide there. On the way we stopped at the railway carriages that overlooked the MacQueen’s Bustard site in hope rather than expectation as we’d been told that the birds had moved to their post-breeding locations on a military site near Be’er Sheva. We got a nice Desert Little Owl nearby as well as a Short-toed Eagle but pretty soon, Mark had a bustard in his scope! We ended up with four birds in total.
Desert Little Owl (DB)
Maqueen’s Bustard (MkB)
A few minutes south to Ezuz and we met with Celia who runs the hide - there was no problem with us using it as ‘no birders come this time of year!’. For NIS150 each we could use it all day but 8 - 11 was sufficient as we got great views of Crowned Sandgrouse, Sand Partridge, Desert & Crested Larks, Corn Buntings (our only buntings of the trip) and Dorcas Gazelle.
Crowned Sandgrouse (DB)
Dorcas Gazelle (DB)
Corn Buntings (DB)
Crested Lark (DB)
Desert Lark (DB)
Sand Partridge (DB)

After our customary siesta, we birded Sde Boker again but nothing special was seen though we enjoyed cracking views of an adult Egyptian Vulture and all the many Nubian Ibex.