Saturday, July 24, 2021

More Eilat birds and butterflies

 The rest of the week in Eilat was enjoyable. I did some scuba diving with my son, and continued to visit North Beach twice a day, dawn and dusk. I must admit that I had expectations for some extra rarities - with such effort (8 sessions in five days) I was hoping for a new rarity to show up (Crab Plover?), but nothing exciting happened. Still, I was pleased with the great action, especially of terns. The Great Crested Tern continued to show well as it flew back and forth across the bay, very close sometimes:

Bridled, Lesser Crested and White-cheeked Terns continued as well. Also the/an Arctic tern flew across a couple of time - still I haven't managed to photograph this species in Israel!

Lesser Crested Tern

White-cheeked Terns

The regular White-eyed Gulls did their thing:

Two Western Reef-Egrets (and three littles) in the adjacent canal:

At 45 degrees daily it's hard to think about butterflies in Eilat, but even in the harshest midday conditions Eilat has some on offer. One day I paid a quick visit to a concentration of a butterfly I haven't had the chance to photograph before - Arabian Sapphire. It's a wonderful little 'blue', mouse-white with two splashes of colour at the rear end. I really enjoyed them, nectaring on flowering acacia and baccatus:

Also Desert Bath White enjoyed the acacia

En route bumped into a lovely herd of Onager while driving through Hameishar, in beautiful golden light:

Monday, July 19, 2021


I am spending a few days in Eilat now. My elder son is taking an Open Water Diver course. I am escorting him, and between marine activities and work I manage to get some birding done. Main focus in on North Beach, that is in good form - in fact best I have seen it in many years. There's lots of seabird activity, especially in the morning. Biggest star is a Great Crested Tern, it's been here for a few days now. It's a big rarity in Israel, not even annual; a welcome year tick for me, and also a photo tick. As they always appear in Israel, it's a worn non-adult in non-breeding plumage. BTW it most probably belongs to ssp. velox that breeds in the Indian Ocean north into the Red Sea.

This morning when I arrived at dawn, I found Avi already there, and the bird was there too. It was perched near the Jordanian border, at a spot without good access, so views were a bit distant.

Every now and then, it flew out west across the bay, at some distance, for fishing. Then it headed back east to its perch.

It normally U-turned with the city and the mountains as a background - I find these photos more pleasing aesthetically, despite the bird being farther away:

Here it demonstrates why some people still call it Swift Tern - it has such long wings and is extremely aerobatic:

Other cool terns are Bridled, Lesser Crested and quite many White-cheeked.

The famous underwater observatory in the background:

Cory's Shearwaters are present in exceptional numbers. Others reported up to 35 in previous days, I saw max. 18. Still very cool.

eBird checklist from this morning here.

I am here for a few more days - stay posted!

Monday, July 5, 2021


 Over the last few weeks, a spectacular concentration of Eleonora's Falcons and other falcons has been discovered on Mt. Meron. First noted by Ohad Binyamini on June 17th (during a butterfly walk), it was soon established that the falcons are there to stay (for the time being), and that their numbers are unprecedented in Israel. Eleonora's Falcon is rare in Israel, despite breeding so close in the Mediterranean, in Cyprus for example. In recent years, small numbers were recorded in the northern Golan Heights and Mt. Hermon, but never more than 3-4 together. This year something special was discovered.

At 1208 m asl, Mt. Meron is the second highest mountain in Israel, beautifully forested in thick, evergreen Mediterranean scrub. The unprecedented numbers of Eleonora's reported there in recent days, up to tens together, lured me to go there yesterday. I left early, met up with Jonathan, and we arrived to the mountain when it was still cool - 17 degrees! 31.5 less than what I had experienced in Eilat a few days earlier. The mountain was coated by a thick cloud, the cicadas were still inactive, and as a result early morning falcon activity was very low. However, when the sun finally came out, many falcons started zooming around us, feasting on flying cicadas. Quite fantastic. First ones and twos, then threes and fours, then wonderful sights of 15-20 together. Unfortunately, the most impressive views were distant and in harsh light, so my photos aren't the best, but I can't complain. They are such impressive falcons - powerful, fast, amazing aerobatics, so beautiful. Most birds I saw well were 2cy (hatched 2020). Only one or two dark morphs were seen, and not very well. Hard to estimate the total numbers, must be several tens.


Catch that cicada!

Dark morph

Tricky individual (approaching Hobby), slim build, lightly-streaked underneath, but still dark trailing edge, buff cheeks and pale cap, some rufous on flanks.

So what's the story this year on Mt. Meron? Is it really something novel, new? Or is this an annual event, that went unnoticed up till now? I heard rumours that the cicada flight this year is unusual, but have not seen data. In Israel, major phenomena can still go under the radar, due to the lack of observers in some parts of the country. So let's wait until next year to figure this out.

With the Eleonora's there were at least six Hobby, a few Lesser Kestrels and many Eurasian Kestrels. No sign on the Sooty Falcon seen here in previous dats. 

3 European Honey-Buzzards were seen, also an interesting phenomenon this year. They do not spend the summer here! To my eyes, most surprising and impressive was a displaying male European Honey-Buzzard - never seen this before in Israel. Too distant for photos. So beautiful however, gliding with raised wings flapping rapidly. There are no known breeding records in Israel. Could they be breeding in the region?

General birding was not too exciting, quite many Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, one Chiffchaff (local breeder or dispersing from Mt. Hermon?), and a few other bits and bobs (eBird checklists here and here).

Mt. Meron is famous for its butterflies too. It was quite difficult for me to divide my attention between the falcons and the butterflies. Still I managed to find Levantine Silverline that I really wanted to see (thanks Nitay for the intel), and photographed a few others. Levantine Silverline is one of the rarest butterflies in Israel, found only on Mt. Meron and in another relict population near Hadera on the Med Coast. Like other Apharitis/Cigaritis butterflies, they have an extraordinary life history linking them with ants: Adults lay their eggs on ant trails. Ants carry the eggs into their underground nests, nurture the caterpillars and collect honeydew that the caterpillars secrete. When the caterpillars turn to cocoons, the ants carry them to the nest entrance. When the adults emerge, they crawl out of the ant nest and into the open. Fascinating.

Levantine Silverline

Tawny Silverline

Southern White Admiral

Small Copper

Holly Blue

Freyer's Grayling

Brown Argus

Wall Brown

Thanks to Jonathan, Nadav and Inbal for a great morning!