Sunday, April 3, 2022

Eilat Birding Festival 2022

After two years of covid, finally this year our successful Eilat Birding Festival returned. It was so wonderful to see here again visiting birders - festival guests and others. I joined the week-long festival halfway through, on Wednesday, and returned home last night. It was a busy few days, leading tours and helping Jonathan and Alen with logistics almost 24/7. Birding was brilliant, some sites were packed with migrants, and there were lots of good birds to see. 

Heading south on Wednesday, I intercepted Lesser Spotted Eagle migration south of Be'er Sheva:

Further south, I made a quick stop at Wadi Sha'alav, in hope that the Turkestan Shrike would still be there. It wasn't, but the place was literally hopping with birds (eBird checklist here) - thousands of warblers, larks and wagtails feasting on abundant caterpillars. It was beautiful there despite the high temperatures and harsh light.

Western Yellow Wagtails (2x feldegg, 1x flava), two Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroat and a local Crested Lark:

In the afternoon I already took a festival group out to Yotvata. The fields were somewhat quiet (eBird checklist here), but the sewage was productive (eBird checklist here).

Next day (March 31st) we started off early at Uvda Valley. It was a bit slow to start, but eventually we found where the birds were concentrated and enjoyed fab views of Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse, and had fun with Bar-tailed and Temminck's Larks. eBird checklist here. On the way back we stopped again at Wadi Sha'alav that was still productive, and there was nice raptor migration overhead (eBird checklist here).

In the afternoon we checked KM20 saltpans (Black Scrub-Robin jumped along the road heading in...), then north beach. At north beach the Brown Booby was showing, albeit distantly, a few gulls and terns were knocking about including four gull-bills, and a Western Reef-Egret flew by, heading to roost probably at IBRCE. eBird checklist here.

On April 1st the festival group had a late start, so I went for an early morning, pre-breakfast session at IBRCE. Always great there, with Little Crake, Little Bittern, Red-necked Phals. eBird checklist here.
After a fantastic breakfast we went up to the mountains for raptor migration/hawkwatch. It was an amazing session, with over 12k Steppe Buzzards passing through in less than two hours, alongside many other raptors (eBird checklist here). When we arrived a Temminck's Lark was running in the carpark (thanks Tamir) - very unusual there. 

There were so many birds taking off in all directions, at different levels and distances. really overwhelming, especially for Hannah and Erik - it was their first morning in Israel.

Spot the Lesser Spot?

Especially dramatic views of the birds migrating against the dark volcanic rocks of the Eilat Mts. 

A Nubian Ibex joined our hawkwatching squad:

White-crowned Wheatear and Jonathan's group:

Back down in the city, Ofira Park produced an Olive-backed Pipit! Exciting stuff. 
As I was getting prepared for a much-needed powernap in my room, the rare bird alert rang - my mate Eran had just found 4 Caspian Plovers at KM20 saltpans. I sacrificed my siesta and dashed off to see them - stunning birds, one of the signature species of the festival.

An hour later I was there again with the group, and connected with them, to the groups' delight. On the way out and north, Ilan and Rivka pulled us over - they had just found four Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse at the little grove by the junction - amazing daytime views of them:

Later in the afternoon we saw a pair of Arabian Warblers in wonderful aerial display in Shezaf NR - what an ending to a fabulous day.

Yesterday (April 2nd) I went for a quick solo scouting session at Holland Park, finding a Hume's Warbler, three pale Rockfinches and a few other target species. I returned there later with the group and we had a great time with a showy Black Scrub-Robin:

Then two Oriental Honey-Buzzards bombarded us, the female too low over our heads, leaving us in a state of shock:

Carrying a piece of beehive

The male was a bit farther away:

That tail

On the way out, by the carpark, we had our second daytime encounter with Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, this time a wonderful group of seven:

eBird checklist here.

Then it was time for me to say goodbye to the lovely guests, and I headed home for a short break. Tomorrow I return to Eilat, for Champions of the Flyway. There is still time to take part and contribute - please check this page and consider donating to help protect Turtle Doves.

Thank you to Jonathan, Alen, Noam and IBRCE team for the great effort and work during the festival.

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