Category Archives: Israel

Israel 17th to 30th of March 2015

After spending a weekend in Helsinki in Bongariliitto (Twitchers association) 30 year parties and BirdLife Finland meeting, I still did a morning bird-trip to Hanko before in the late afternoon I was heading towards Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

I was going to Israel for 2 weeks and in the mid part of the trip there would be Champions of the Flyway bird-race. Our team Tarsiger – Northern Lights (Mika Bruun, Jan “Jände” Nordblad, Erkki “Eva” Valsta and me) was participating this second international race that collected this year money to stop trapping of migrant birds in Cyprus. We had also managed to collect money pretty well.

I was at the airport after 6 p.m. and I walked almost straight to the gate and soon Mika and Jände arrived too. Eva was coming to Israel a few days later. At 8:05 p.m. our plane left to Tel Aviv. After I had fallen asleep and awaken several times, we finally landed at 00:30 a.m. We found our luggage pretty soon but Europcar office was missing. People in the other offices weren’t really helping neither was angry looking maid in the tourist information. After some more searching Mika called to a number that was found in his papers and a girl that hardly spoke English told us that the car was soon coming to the main doors of the airport. After some waiting a van came and drove us to the office that was about 10 minutes from the airport.

We got finally our came that was a big Mitsubishi Outlander – so much better than VW Passat that we had booked. Finally at 1:30 a.m. we packed our luggage to the trunk while a Stone Curlew was calling on the background, and started to drive towards south. Luckily Mika remembered to put the place of the office to his navigator-app, so we could find back after 2 weeks.

Nizzana

We stopped at a couple of service on the way but they couldn’t or just didn’t understand to sell us anything to eat or drink. It was a long drive before we finally were at Nizzana just before 5 a.m. After some waiting the first larks started to sing even though it was still pretty dark. We were happy that we had come so early before the race as we had no idea what the birds that were singing were.

It was once again really cold in the desert! I was wearing a hat, gloves and long underwear and so on. Luckily it started to get warmer very quickly once the sun rose. We were scanning the desert with our scopes and soon Mika found what were searching for – a Macqueen’s Bustard was displaying on a sand-dune very far on the horizon. Soon a couple of Cream-colored Courser flew over us and a couple of Chukars were found, so we started to get to the right mood. It was good to be back in Israel!

ChucarCrested Lark

It was already very warm when we headed to the village of Ezuz, where we had planned to try to find sandgrouses from the desert behind the village. There was a terrace from where we had planned to scan the desert, but before we got there we saw first a Common Mynah flying over us and then a local woman came to tell us that she had nowadays a bird-watching company in the village and even a hide with a pool where the sandgrouses came to drink. We were starving so we asked if she could offer some breakfast too, and soon we were having really good omelettes and tea on the terrace. When we saw a distant flock of sandgrouses in flight we decided to go into the hide with Mika to wait.

We were in the hide for an hour but only Spanish Sparrows were coming to drink. Also a Black Redstart was seen, but unfortunately we had no more time to spend and wait for the sandgrouses. We still had a long day before we were in Eilat.

Spanish SparrowLittle Owl

We still walked in on bushy desert-area and found some Scrub Warblers, Trumpeter Finches and of course some other trip-ticks before started to drive towards East. We stopped several times to tick some birds and also to photograph some that were close to the road like a nice Little Owl and one of the Southern Grey Shrikes. We decided to drive until Lake Jerokham that unfortunately was full of local people.

Because of too many people but also the hottest time of the day there weren’t many birds to find. We were also pretty tired already, so all better birds we found were a Great White Egret, a Syrian Woodpecker and a Cetti’s Warbler. Of course quite a few trip-ticks were also ticked.

Once we were back on the road again we drove until Mizpe Ramon to photograph the Arava Valley that was opening in front of us. There we saw also a Blue Rock Thrush. It was already late evening when we finally arrived at Eilat. We dropped Mika to Isrotel Agamim hotel that was the main place of the Champions of the Flyway, but it was too expensive for me, so with Jände we continued to a small and very cheap Little Prince motel that looked really bad from outside but was luckily pretty comfortable inside. Our room was sure big enough so we were pretty happy to make it home and soon go to sleep after a long day.

On the 18th of March we started from the North Beach where Pied Kingfishers and a Western Reed Heron were fishing, some Armenian Gulls flying and 2 Pochards flying around the bay trying to find courage to start flying inland.

Mika went to have breakfast to Agamim while we rested in our room before we continued to Holland Park where a Black Bush Robin had been for a couple of days and even on this morning. On the parking place we met a few birders that told us that the bird had been missing for at least an hour, so we decided to start walking slowly up along the wadi to find as many birds as possible, maybe the missing one too?

Palestine SunbirdLittle Green Bee-eater

There were lots of birds in the bushes! Lesser Whitethroat was the most numerous but also plenty of Chiffchaffs and Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers, but also about 10 Rueppell’s Warblers, Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats, Sardinian Warblers, a couple of Eastern Orphean Warblers and even a Subalpine Warbler. Also Little Green Bee-eaters, Sand Partridges, Arabian Babblers, some Penduline Tits, a couple of Bluethroats and a Rufous Bush Robin were found but the black one was missing. The bird had used to be in the last bushes of the wadi, but there I met Hadoram Shirihai who had been photographing warblers there for some time already and he hadn’t seen the bird. Anyway I checked all the bushes very well, but after some time I had to start walking back towards the car. It was already very hot and I was extremely thirsty!

Rueppell's WarblerSubalpine Warbler

In the afternoon we drove to the pools. We started at k19 and then continued to k20 -pools. Many common waders and so on were seen but also 11 Shelducks, a Tufted Duck, a Spoonbill, a Grey Plover and the best bird was a Greater Sand Plover!

Kentish PloverGreater Sand Plover

It was already getting dark when I got an idea to drive back to k-19 pool to see if the Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses would come to drink to the pool. Once we got there an extremely small Barbary Falcon was hunting there but soon after it left and it came dark, the sandgrouses started to arrive. It was very dark already but I counted 7 different birds visiting the pool. Many egrets and herons were seen and a couple of Egyptian Geese landed to the pool too.

Mika was still participating to a couple of presentation in Agamim and updating Tarsiger blog and so on, when were already sleeping in our motel.

On the 19th of March the morning was cloudy while we headed towards Yotvata to check the famous fields. On the way we saw probably the same Barbary Falcon perched on the electric pole. Soon the clouds moved away and the sun started to burn very hot. Soon raptors were soaring on the sky and we counted 2500 Steppe Buzzards, with 15 Steppe Eagles, 7 Booted Eagles, a couple of Greater Spotted Eagles and Short-toed Eagles, a Long-legged Buzzard and a few Black Storks. From the fields we found a couple of Desert Finches, some Bimaculated Larks that were in a flock of Short-toed Larks and many wheatears that included a few Siberian Stonechats, a Caspian Stonechat and a stunning Cyprus Wheatear. We used our car as a hide and managed to get good pictures of the last one.

Barbary FalconCyprus Wheatear

We continued to the traditional Arabian Warbler place and even though the day was very hot, we managed to find a couple very easily. The birds were very elusive and hiding really well inside the bushes, so we couldn’t get almost any pictures. Also the first Masked Shrike was seen and while driving back towards Eilat, we saw an Eastern Imperial Eagle perched on an acacia next to the road but unfortunately it left too soon so I couldn’t get any pictures.

Arabian WarblerWhite-eyed Gull

In the afternoon we visited the pools again but all new we saw were 6 migrating Cranes. Then we ended the day at the North Beach, where some local fishermen had got lots of fish, so gulls were flying very close to the shore and we managed to get some good shots of White-eyed Gulls.

Ovda

On the 20th of March we left early, while it was still completely dark, towards Ovda. Anyway we were a little bit late as the sun rose before we got there. It was cold again but birds were already active when we started walking through the first bushy area. Scrub Warblers, a Chukar, lots of White-crowned Black Wheatears, Trumpeter Finches and also a couple of Mourning Wheatears were found, but we had hoped to find a little bit more as we had planned to visit this area during the race.

Before the mid-day we walked in the different part of Ovda and saw a very distant flock of two species of sandgrouses, but I could only identify Spotted Sandgrouses from the calls. We walked a lot before we found the next good birds. I flushed a flock of birds but I couldn’t see them, I just heard them and I had no idea what they were. Mika who was walking about 100 meters from me saw me staring at the sky and then he looked up and saw the birds – they were 3 Thick-billed Larks! Unfortunately they flew as far as he could follow them.

Mourning WheatearMourning Wheatear

While walking in another bushy area again, I saw something moving a little inside a thick bush. I walked closer as I thought it was some kind of small mammal. But when I was a meter from it, it attacked a half of a meter towards me – it was a poisonous Palestine Saw-scaled Viper! I jumped a meter further but it followed me again for a half of a meter. Then I decided to get much further without looking back! Mika was keen to get pictures of this snake, but it wasn’t found in that bush anymore.

When we were driving again, we saw a male Rock Thrush, but Neot Smadar sewage was almost empty. We were a little bit disappointed but when we stopped at kibbutz restaurant and got the best ever cheese-cake, we were happy again. In the garden we managed to photograph well a Bluethroat, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Laughing Doves too.

Yellow-vented BulbulBluethroat

In the evening Jände fell asleep already at 7 p.m. and I followed him pretty soon.

On the 21st of March we had planned to meet Erkki Valsta that had arrived at Tel Aviv at night in k76 area, but and once we got there, “Eva” had already checked the traditional best areas and found out that they weren’t that good this spring. So we decided to move to the ponds nearby but they were also pretty bad. A Couple of samamisicus Redstarts and a Common Nightingale were seen but nothing else. So after all almost the whole morning was lost. So we decided to drive to Yotvata as there were always birds to see.

In Yotvata we found a Stone Curlew under a tree and as usual only flight-shots were got. A Masked Shrike and some Cretzschmar’s Buntings were seen.

Stone CurlewMasked Shrike

We continued to the pools but it was pretty quiet there too. Almost all the same common birds were seen but all the better birds were gone. Only new species were a few Gull-billed Terns and finally first Dead Sea Sparrows. We also found a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes pretty close to the pools which was pretty good for the race, as we had already plans to skip Nizzana completely. Very windy and extremely hot weather didn’t really give us reason to continue birding so we headed to Eilat and were at our motel already at 4 p.m.


FlamingoDead Sea Sparrow

In the evening there were 2 presentations in Agamin that we also went. Most of the teams had arrived and it was good to see many old friends. Especially it was good to see old British RC-team friends Paul French and Micky Maher! The presentations were a bit long and after we had walked back to our motel and were finally ready to go to sleep an infernal bass-rhythm started to break the house to atoms. There was a famous disco downstairs! We finally realized why the motel was so cheap and why ear-plugs were free on the reception.

The 22nd of March. The parties continued until morning and I think the music was loudest when we were leaving towards Ha Mesar plains. Once we got there, we found out that this place was really good! In a small area where we first walked, we found a couple of Temminck’s Horned Larks that were building a nest, Desert Wheatears, Scrub Warblers, a Bar-tailed Desert Lark and a Chukar, a flock of Spotted Sandgrouses flew over us and on the next big area we found a couple of Bimaculated Larks from a flock of Short-toed Larks.

Temminck's LarkNubian Ibex

We continued to Mizpe Ramon where we saw Nubian Ibexes and in kibbutz-gardens a Cuckoo. In Sde Boker, in Ben Gurion we watched for raptors and saw Egyptian and Griffon Vultures and on the garden we found a Semi-collared Flycatcher, a Subalpine Warbler, a couple of Common Mynahs, heard a Goldfinch and got good pictures of Arabian Babblers.

Semi-collared FlycatcherArabian Babbler

On a sewage nearby we saw a couple of Blackbirds, a Reed Warbler, a Thrush Nightingale, a Chaffinch and a Common Snipe. On the big fields we found a Chukar, a couple of Black-bellied Sandgrouses, Desert Finches and so on. In the evening we still continued to Lake Yerokham, where weren’t too many people this time. We saw quite a few good species there like Sedge Warblers, Syrian Woodpeckers, Great Tits and Mika saw even a Brambling, so we started to think that it was a must place to come in the race. Tristram’s Crackles were posing well so we took some more pictures again.

Cretzschmar's BuntingTristram's Crackle

Once we were back in Eilat it was soon time to head to IBRCE ringing station to the opening ceremony of the race. All the teams were there and lots of speaks were given and then all the teams had to introduce themselves. Mika had decided to skip this and was resting, so somehow I had to say something about our team. I was extremely tired so there weren’t many clever words coming out from my mouth… I hope not too many TV-channels are showing my speech.

We ate very well but it really was too late when we left. Our day had been extremely long and I was completely knocked out when I finally got to my bed – and then the bass rhythm started again…

On the 23rd of March we got a journalist from Maaseudun tulevaisuus -newspaper called Saara to join us for the morning and we really did some too relaxed birding with her. We started at the bushy desert at k26 but saw almost nothing except some migrating birds on the Jordanian side of the border.

Our carDeer

Soon we moved to Eilat Mountains to raptor-watching but there were almost only Steppe Buzzards on the move. Only some Steppe and Booted Eagles were seen. There were again some TV-group interviewing people and I had to give a lecture about Finn-sticks once again. The best birds were Desert Larks, White-crowned Black Wheatears and a beautiful male Hooded Wheatear that came to drink water from a small cup that birders had filled like every morning. These birds had used to photographers so also we got some good pictures.

Hooded WheatearDesert Lark

During the day we were resting at the motel while Mika and Eva surprisingly twitched an Oriental Skylark nearby. I’d have been interested to see it too but at least it was now checked and maybe it’d stay until the race. Anyway I was happy to get some rest too!

In the evening most of the race participants gathered to Agamim and at 3 p.m. to a bus and a long drive towards the Dead Sea started. Jonathan Meyrav was leading the trip to see some owls and nightjars. Only Mika was joining the trip from my team, but there were many other friends. Jonathan and Hadoram were telling some stories and I was talking with “Frenchy” so the time was going fast and in the early evening we stopped to an area with big acacias and started to search for Arabian Warblers.

I had walked only a couple of hundreds of meters from the bus when I saw an Arabian Warbler in a bush just in front of me. It flew to the next bigger tree when some other birders saw it too. Josh Jones saw it also well but then it somehow disappeared. We were searching for it or other Arabian Warblers for half an hour, but only several Eastern Orphean Warblers were found. Jonathan still saw one Arabian Warbler very briefly but most of the birders didn’t see this species at all.

Arabian Warbler biotopeOur bus

It was getting dark when we continued a long way north to our next stop where we walked along a wadi for a couple of hundreds of meters before Jonathan gave us instructions to stay still about 10 meters from the edge and Jonathan, Hadoram and a couple of other local birders went to the edge. After some waiting Jonathan played some calls of an owl and soon we could hear a bird responding! Soon we heard the bird much closer and then Jonathan started to check the cliffs with his flashlight. And when he found the owl, he told us to come to the cliff and there it was – a legendary Desert Tawny Owl! The bird was perched about 80 meters from us but soon it flew towards us and landed only 30 meters from us! I managed to get a couple of pictures through my scope before Jonathan decided that we had seen it well enough and shut the flashlight. It was of course important not to disturb the bird.

Desert Tawny OwlHadoram and Jose Luis

Even the locals were amazed how well we had seen the bird. Hadoram was extremely happy too. This species had been just separated from Hume’s Tawny Owl and it was named after Hadoram as Strix hadorami. And this was the first time he saw the bird after that – and we really saw it well!

We continued towards south again and after some driving we arrived at one kibbutz area where Jonathan and a few other birders continued by car along a field road and we just waited next to the bus. After some time we heard that Jonathan had found the bird that we were searching for and started to walk after them. After some walking we found them but the bird was gone. Luckily when Jonathan started to scan the field with his flashlight, we saw the bird flying above the fields. It’s eye was reflecting the light and it was a small nightjar – a Nubian Nightjar!

The bird landed soon and we walked after it and found it perched on the road. I managed to get it to my scope but when I tried to get some pictures I somehow moved my scope. I soon found it again but then it flushed! It flew behind some green-houses but we didn’t find it again. Because of the cold night moth activity was very low so this was maybe the only nightjar around. Anyway we were extremely lucky that we had seen this rare bird that was already my second lifer in a couple of hours!

On the way back to Eilat I tried to sleep, but it was impossible because of the driver was speaking quite loud. Luckily we were in Eilat already at 1 a.m. and I got a ride to my motel from my British friends. Soon I was sleeping and luckily it was quiet downstairs…

The 24th of March was the last day before the Champions of the Flyway race. We started from the North Beach where a Western Reef Heron was again with some other normal birds. Together with Mika we headed next to Holland Park where weren’t that many birds anymore but some Rueppell’s Warblers, a Rufous Bush Robin and of course many other local birds.

Western Reef HeronRufous Bush Robin

During the day I had to get some sleep as the next day would be 24 hours birding! In the early afternoon Jonathan was giving tips and information about the race for all the teams. Also all teams gave tips to the other which was something very different than I have used to in other bird-races.

Pied Wheatear

In the afternoon with Mika we still drove to check Elifaz pools where were a few Ferruginous Ducks and a Pochard and then we continued to Yotvata where we managed to twitch a Pied Wheatear, but soon we started to feel too tired and drove back to Eilat. We still checked the gulls in IBRCE pools and then went to eat very well to Agamim. And then it was time to go to sleep.

The 25th of March – Champions of the Flyway

After a few hours sleep we were back at Agamin at 11:45 p.m. All the keenest teams were there to begin their race at midnight. Team photos were taken and we also got the species lists and somehow we managed to be the first team to get out at 00:03 a.m.

From the IBRCE pools we managed to see Armenian and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and also an adult Pallas Gull with a flashlight. Heuglin’s or Caspian Gull weren’t identified. Then we continued to k19 -pool where we saw some herons and egrets including a Purple Heron. It wasn’t aloud to go to k20 at night, so we headed towards north. When we were driving the small roads towards the main road a small car started to follow us. And when we were on the main road it came very close and we started to worry what was going on. But then we realized that it was a TV-group that was videoing us.

At Yotvata we started to scan the fields with lights. A Stone Curlew was calling. We drove around the fields but found nothing. One man from the TV-group came to our car for some time and once we had dropped him, soon after that we heard a strange phone calls under Mika’s seat. Cameraman had dropped his phone to our car. Luckily we managed to get his phone back to him pretty easily without loosing too much time.

We continued towards north but saw only some foxes, jackals and several mice. In Mizpe Ramon we finally heard a Scops Owl and in one kibbutz we heard a Long-eared Owl that some other teams had also seen. A Robin was also calling there.

Syrian Woodpecker

Before the sun was rising we were at Lake Jerokham where we started to get lots of new species. From the reeds we heard Sedge, Reed, Cetti’s and River Warblers, several ducks and herons and egrets and 2 Kingfishers were seen and some migrants were flying over us. Syrian Woodpeckers were found easily and Great Tits were singing and the best bird was a stunning Smyrna Kingfisher that flew over us.

All the teams had wireless internet working and a COTF whatsup group was up and it was told to tell all the better observations there. Unfortunately our battery had died and we didn’t get any messages. So we missed some birds that other teams found like a Little Bittern and that Brambling.

Southern Grey Shrike

We got plenty of species like it always happens in a good place in the beginning of the race but after all we stayed for a little bit too long on Lake Yerokham. But finally we started to drive towards Sde Boker but still stopped several times on the way and saw some shrikes and a Long-legged Buzzard and some other species.

From the big fields we found Desert Finches, Skylarks, Linnets and so on and after a long wait we saw a Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight. On the vulture-feeder we saw Egyptian Vultures but also a Wolf!

Desert FinchBlack-bellied Sandgrouse

All the race-teams were able to get to Ben Gurion Valley free and there we met several other teams. Some team had put out news about a Cyprus Warbler there and we spent some time searching for it but then we heard that it was a mistake, there had been a Cyprus Wheatear and of course it had been in completely different biotope. Anyway we saw a Bonelli’s Eagle easily but a couple of Pale Rock Sparrows that flew over me were too fast and the others didn’t see them. But the time was ticking and no other new birds were seen.

In Midreshet parks we saw some Blackbirds and Song Thrushes and several Haw Finches and so on but we had expected to find more. We spent again quite a lot of time but finally managed to see a Lanner from the view-watching place.

In Mizpe Ramon we stayed far too long time without any good species. We tried to find a Hooded Wheatear that some French birders had seen but saw only a Mourning Wheatear that was already on our list.

We were badly late from our schedule but of course we had to make several stops on the way again. A Subalpine Warbler was seen but unfortunately a Lesser Grey Shrike that Mika found managed to disappear before we saw it with Jände.

In our well prepared desert place, Ha Mesar was a war going on! Israel army had a big training there and it wasn’t aloud to get out from the main road. So we really missed several species! Luckily we managed to see the same Bimaculated Larks again, before we hurried towards Yotvata – at least we had saved some time…

In Neot Smadar we saw some new species like a Booted Eagle, Meadow Pipits and a Grey Wagtail but in Yotvata we had no surprises as only Red-throated Pipits and Little Ringed Plovers were seen. With some more time there would’ve been more species but we were in a hurry!

Water PipitLittle Ringed Plover

We had hardly left Yotvata when we got once again a whatsup message that told that something had once again been found behind us – but this time it was a Black Bush Robin and in Yotvata sewage! It was a species that really had been difficult for me. We had already tried to find one in Holland Park and I hadn’t seen it in spring 2004 either even though we were in Eilat for almost 7 weeks. It was maybe the only spring in 21st century that this species wasn’t found at all. But now our schedule was too tight – we had to hurry towards Eilat.

We checked k20 pools quickly and found many of the easiest species that we needed and at IBRCE pools we managed to get Heuglin’s Gull, Red-necked Phalarope and Collared Pratincole. It was extremely windy so some species that should have been easy weren’t found. We had to skip Oriental Skylark fields as we had no time to get there and the same happened to Holland Park.

At North Beach we did evening seawatch, but saw only some of the species we had hoped to see. We really had expected to see also Pied Kingfisher, Cormorant and some more ducks. A Temminck Stint, a Rose-ringed Parakeet, a Caspian Gull and also a Western Reef Heron were luckily seen around the canal.

Sandgrouse group

When it was getting dark we headed to k19 pools like almost every other team too. There were really lots of people as there were both international and national teams. Luckily Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses came very soon and we could really see them well this time. When it was dark, also 2 Egyptian Geese arrived.

After this we decided to go to eat very well to Agamim again. Only after that we headed towards Yotvata again and luckily saw a Quail flying through the lights of our car. Nightjars or owls weren’t found so after a couple of hours trying we had to give up and head towards Eilat again. Mika was extremely tired but managed to drive safely back to Agamim where we gave our species-list to Jonathan. We were already sure that we hadn’t done that well in the race as we had lost far too much time in the beginning and the war in Ha Mesar had really paid us several species. And we didn’t feel that we had been as lucky as sometimes in the race that has gone well.

Soon we took Eva’s car and continued soon to Little Prince to sleep.

On the 26th of March all the teams gathered to the extremely North Beach where lots of group-photos were taken. A hydro-copter was taking videos and pictures while flying over us very low. But somehow the hydro-copter was lost! Strange that nobody really watched where it was going. It was really weird to see the photographers searching for it from the mine-field.

Money was collected to Cyprus

The results of the race were told in Hotel Hilton. There were of course many speeches first and I already wanted to leave to Yotvata sewage where hardest twitchers had already visited early in the morning and confirmed that the Black Bush Robin was still there! I had also woken up at 5 a.m. but felt so bad that I had just turned and continued sleeping.

The winner of the international race wasn’t a surprise. Americans won again but not that clearly as on the first race a year before. They had got “only” 168 species. Another Finnish team – Arctic Redpolls – was the second with 167 species. We were the third together with our Catalan friends Ferran lopez, Jose Luis Copete and Rafael Armada with 164 species.

When the results were given we headed to Yotvata with Mika and Jände. Eva went to twitch a Redwing that was much better Israel-species for him. It was again worst possible time to go to twitch a black bird that likes to hide in the shadows, but once we got to the sewage we met some birders that told that the bird was still there and showing well!

There were some birders about 25 meters from a big acacia-tree waiting for the bird to show up again. And soon we could see it moving under the tree! A huge stone dropped from my shoulders when I finally managed to see this amazing species! It was my WP-tick number 699!

The bird soon flew from the bush to another and went like this around the small pool and then flew back to the same bush. Then a big Dutch group arrived and they were too noisy. I had to tell them to shut up, so the bird might show much better and after a while it came well visible to the road indeed. But then someone started to talk again and it ran back to the shadows. After some more waiting it was back on the road again and finally I managed to get a couple of more focused pictures of it. We spent there more than an hour in very hot weather but weren’t happy to the pictures we had got. So we planned to come back one morning.

Black Bush RobinBlack Bush Robin

Anyway I was happy but also a little bit sorry that Jände was with us and not with Eva who had seen the Redwing that was missing on Jände’s long Israel-list.

There were other birds around the sewage too. A male Citrine Wagtail, Cretzschmar’s Buntings and Eastern Imperial Eagle were seen and a Bluethroat and a Great Reed Warbler were singing.

Citrine WagtailBlack-headed Yellow Wagtail

We drove around Yotvata fields too but saw almost nothing new. I saw a Namaqua Dove in flight but very briefly. Anyway we took lots of pictures of local birds that were showing very well like Black-headed Yellow Wagtail and a Kestrel

In the evening we were at the North Beach again and after that we went to eat together with Arctic Redpolls and BBRC Vagrants. It was a really fun evening and it was very late when we went to sleep.

On the 27th of March we were extremely tired but once we woke up we sent SMS to Eva and Mika – we wanted to go birding! Eva came pretty soon and we headed to Eilat Mountains.

Raptor-watching

It was pretty good migration and altogether 15000 Steppe Buzzards were counted during the morning. There weren’t many eagles but some of the Steppe Eagles came a little bit closer so I took some pictures of them. The same Hooded Wheatear was still showing well too. Somehow we had managed to drive cross with Mika and even though he was also raptor-watching, we didn’t see him at all – he was somewhere higher on the mountain.

It was an extremely hot day, even +39 degrees, so when Mika and Eva went to a late breakfast we fell asleep in our motel – and of course we slept too long! Luckily Mika was ready to pick us up soon after we finally woke up and we headed to the pools. We even tried to find the Redwing for Jände but only a unidentified small thrush was seen and once a promising call heard but it wasn’t enough. An Eastern Imperial Eagle was showing well at the pool and we got good pictures of Cattle Egrets and a Bushchat Shrike.

Bushchat ShrikeCattle Egret

At k19 pool we found a dark Squacco Heron looking heron again. We had seen it only in flight before but this time we managed to get some pictures too. It is probably a strange looking Squacco but a pond heron could look something similar too… A flock of Night Herons was flying around and finally we managed to photograph Dead Sea Sparrows too. There were about 60 of them in one flock.

Squacco Heron?Night Heron

In the evening we were at the North Beach again. It was so quiet that we tried to twitch a Caspian Plover from IBRCE pools but we were some minutes late. It had already headed towards north. Later I went to eat with my British friends and it was very fun evening again.

On the morning of 28th of March we started from the North Beach where nothing new was seen. We continued to the pools and saw a couple of Namaqua Doves at IBRCE pools. At k20 more Marsh Sandpipers than before were seen and also 4 Red-necked Phalaropes and a Broad-billed Sandpiper. At k19 we managed to get pictures of those 2 Egyptian Geese.

Marsh SandpiperEgyptian Goose

Then we headed to twitch Striolated Buntings and Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses that had been seen nearby. We managed to find the sandgrouses and photograph them pretty well from the car without disturbing them at all.

Lichtenstein's SandgrouseLichtenstein's Sandgrouse

After a short break we continued to Neot Smadar where we checked the pools again but it was very quiet. It was once again very hot day so birds weren’t really showing. At Yotvata we saw plenty of harriers hanging towards north in a heavy northern wind. We counted more than 20 Marsh Harriers and saw the first Montagu’s Harrier of the trip in a half an hour. It was +34 degrees and sand on the air because of the wind so birding was really hard.

In the evening we met a group of Finnish birders at the North Beach. It was a good evening with a 2nd c-y White-cheeked Tern and a Little Tern.

Pied Kingfisher

White-cheeked Tern

On the 29th of March we woke up very early and headed to IBRCE ringing station before the sun was rising. Noam Weiss had asked us to come to visit there and it was a nice possibility to see how much the place had changed in 11 years since I had been there. Unfortunately the weather was really bad. It was windy again but also raining so we opened only a handful of mist-nets. And soon it started to rain more, so when we did the first round, we closed the nets right away. We caught some Lesser Whitethroats, a Reed Warbler and then a very interesting looking Stonechat. It really looked like a female Stejneger’s, but of course none of us had any experience of them. We took lots of pictures and also DNA-samples of it. Noam also alarmed local birders to twitch it. Maybe one day we hear what it really was?

Eastern Bonelli's WarblerSiberian Stonechat ssp?
As there was no ringing in the station we left early and headed to our hotels, Mika and Eva to have a breakfast and me and Jände to rest some more.

After a short break we went to leave Eva’s car to an office as it was ok to leave it here in Eilat. Then we headed to the mountains again. The migration was pretty good and this time raptors were in good light so we got more pictures than earlier. About 7000 Steppe Buzzards were seen but also even 75 Steppe Eagles and some other eagles and so on.

Steppe EagleBooted Eagle

At midday a big storm arrived from Egypt and it was lightning even in the mountains! It was a chaos down in the valley where Rafael Armada was in big problems while birding on the pools. It was flooding there and he had only a small car.

When the rain stopped we went to see if there were new birds on the pools. The roads were extremely slippery and it was really flooding by the pool, but luckily we had a good car. We found a nice flock of 85 Collared Pratincoles but not many other new birds.

Spur-winged LapwingCollared Pratincole

After we had checked also IBRCE pools we ended the day at the North Beach.

GarganeyWestern Reed Heron

On the 30th of March we started a long day very early. We packed our luggage to the trunk and drove to Ha Mesar plains. The place that we had missed in the race was a little bit quieter than we had expected but still we found easily a Bar-tailed Desert Lark, Scrub Warblers and a flock of Spotted Sandgrouses. The nest of Temminck’s Horned Larks was now ready and there were 3 eggs, but the birds had probably escaped when we arrived. We also saw a big brown falcon, but too far in the desert. Also a Wild Ass was found from the desert while scanning with the scope.

In Mizpe Ramon we tried to find an Eastern Black Redstart that had stayed around small football stadium for 6 years. Mika and Eva had seen it shortly in the race, but not third of us. We were checking every corner of the stadium but couldn’t find it. 2 Semi-collared Flycatchers were found on the park nearby.

In Wadi Negarot we found a drinking place for birds after some searching. We stayed there for some time but saw Sinai Rosefinches only in flight. They didn’t land to drink, but at least we saw a couple of these rare birds.

Ben Gurion valley

In Sde Boker we headed to Ben Gurion Valley with Mika while Jände and Eva stayed raptor-watching up on the view-watching place. With Mika we paid the ticket and drove down to the bottom of the valley and then walked along the valley and once we found the right place we stopped to wait. After a half of an hour a Bonelli’s Eagle arrived and soared in perfect light over us. Then it landed to its nest. We waited for some time to another bird to arrive. After we had got pictures of a Gyps Vulture too, we had to give up and start walking back to our car. Of course soon after that another bird arrived. Luckily the pair didn’t fly together so we didn’t miss amazing pictures.

Bonelli's EagleGriffon Vulture

Eva and Jände had already stopped raptor-watching and were waiting for us on the cafeteria. Soon we were on the road again and headed towards Ashkelon that was along the sea. We found pretty easily to Ashkelon National Park where we bought the tickets to get inside and soon found some birders there. The bird we were searching for had just flight down to the bigger trees that were inaccessible from where we were. So we just had to wait. Soon a local birder saw the bird in flight and coming towards us and landing to the bush right in front of us. Almost immediately we could hear strange whistling song from the bush – a Grey Hypocolius was singing actively! With Mika we managed to see the bird inside the bush and soon it jumped very well visible and I managed to get first pictures of it. Jände and Eva were on the wrong side of the bush so they still missed it but luckily after some waiting hypocolius perched to the top of the tree and everyone saw it very well. It was the first Israel-tick for Jände during the trip – but Eva had seen also this species earlier!

Grey HypocoliusGrey Hypocolius

We stayed in the park for more than an hour and met a couple of local birder friends and helped them to see the bird too. Then we packed everything ready and left the park right after 6 p.m. The park was just closing and we were lucky to meet a guard on the gate that had just been locked. He let us go out. No idea what would’ve happened if we had come 5 minutes later?

Pretty soon we were closing Tel Aviv and Mika managed to get his phone-navigator work and we found easily to Europcar office. Soon we were in a van driving towards the airport. There we had hours to spend so we ate well and did some shopping and when the check in started we were queuing for a couple of hours. I don’t know why, but again I was checked in every single point extremely well, as has happened in every flight to and from Israel. And I hate to pack and unpack my back-bag that is extremely full.

Our flight left finally at 1:20 a.m. and I was sleeping almost the whole flight. In Helsinki-Vantaa we got our luggage easily and it was time to say goodbye and thanks to everyone. Soon I was sitting in my dad’s car and heading towards Kirkkonummi. And there I ate some breakfast and left birding! In the afternoon after a couple of hours sleeping, I started a long drive back home to Parikkala.

After all I had once again had amazing trip! I had seen altogether 222 species which about 20 of them were new Israel-ticks and 3 lifers – Desert Tawny Owl, Nubian Nightjar and Black Bush Robin. Thanks to Eva, Jände and Mika that you asked me to join you and to Jonathan and many other local birders that made a huge work to make everything to happen in Champions of The Flyway!

J.A.

Israel 1.3.-22.4. and Egypt 22.-26.4.

To Israel!

After 5 weeks in Greece we were again continuing our journey. Our birding trip was continuing in a different kind of volunteering, birding at the International Birdwatching and Research Centre, Eilat (IBRCE).

At the airport of Athens where we had arrived from Alexandropoulos, we had to wait 6 hours for our next flight to Cyprus Larnaca. The airport was really good and we even had the possibility to spend time on the Internet. Check-in was a taster of where we were going: all of our luggage was checked really carefully before our Cyprus Airlines plane left towards Larnaca at 6.45 p.m. Our flight was on schedule, so we landed in Cyprus pretty soon.

The airport of Larnaca was really awful! We also had to wait for our luggage far too long. And when they finally came we were already in a hurry to go to the check-in. This check-in was something horrible! A young girl interviewed us with her teacher for one and half hours! They asked everything about our trip at least 4 times. We had to show our pictures from the computer to prove we had been in so many places. The biggest problem seemed to be that we couldn’t prove that we had enough money to live in Israel for 1.5 months. They probably thought we couldn’t get away from the country.

After the hard interview we really had to hurry to get to the plane. The interview took all of the time that we were in Cyprus!

At 10.45 p.m. our flight to Tel Aviv took off. Air Israel flight took only 50 minutes, so we landed to Tel Aviv 11.35 p.m.

Again we were interviewed, but quite soon we were at the information desk asking when there would be buses to Eilat.

To Eilat

We spent our night at the beautiful airport of Tel Aviv. Hanna managed to sleep some hours before 5 a.m. We then took a taxi to the bus-station.

At the bus-station we managed to get tickets for the first bus to Eilat and we even found the place where the bus was supposed to leave. We had to wait only for an hour.

When the sun started to rise, Janne tried checking all the Swifts because of Little Swifts, but without luck. Then one young man came to talk with us and we soon found out that he was also a birder and he was even going to stay at the IBRCE for almost the same time that we were! This is how we met Paul French! While waiting for our bus we saw Caspian Gulls, Palm Doves and cool looking white-headed subspecies of Jay. While waiting for our bus we saw Caspian Gulls, Palm Doves and cool looking white-headed subspecies of Jay.

Bus left on time and we of course tried to see birds from the windows. Soon Janne and Paul got their first lifers: Tristram’s Grackles, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Blackstarts were seen. (I must say that the whole city of Tel Aviv was closed only one hour after our bus left, because terrorists had told that there is a bomb in a bus!) During our 6 hours drive we saw Steppe Eagles, Desert Larks, African Rock Martins, etc.

Finally at midday we arrived at Eilat bus-station. There we called Dr Reuven Yosef who is the leader of the IBRCE (International Birdwatching and Research Centre, Eilat), and he soon came to pick us up in his huge car. We were quite easy to find because we were looking up in trees where there were some Indian House Crows. First we drove to the office where we were told all the rules and everything else important, but soon we continued to our accommodation. On the way we saw Sand Partridges at the cemetery. At the apartment we met all the other volunteers: Marco was from Eastern Germany, Matan from Northern Israel and ringer Misha was from Russia. Soon we continued to eat to Jackni’s where we would eat every day.

After the lunch we relaxed for a while, but soon we had to go and do some birding! We (Janne, Hanna and Paul) walked to the North Beach of the Red Sea to see what we could find. And we did find some birds: Slender-billed Gulls, a couple of Great Black-headed Gulls, 12 White-eyed Gulls, Black-winged Stilts, Little Egrets, Arctic Skua and the best observation – an immature Brown Booby.

To the work

The 2nd of March was our first day at the ringing station. We woke up 6 a.m., and at 7 a.m. Reuven picked us up and we drove to the station. On the way we got several Israel-ticks, but in the station area we got much more. Our whole team (which had grown by one member, namely a French girl called Severine) went to do the first trap round. There were 8 Heligoland traps and 7 nets in the area.

During the day we ringed Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Sardinian Warblers, Tawny Pipits, Palm Dove, Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Graceful Prinias.

The girls were making the trap rounds while the boys set up a couple more mist-nets – and it was hot work! 360C were far more than normal, so we had to drink all the time!

After midday it was already so hot that birds weren’t moving at all. So we closed the mist-nets and went “home” via the Jackni’s.

We rested for couple of hours but then we and Paul managed to join Reuven on a guided tour for an English couple. First we drove to the station where we made the evening round. Then we drove to the Northern saltpans (km 20). There we saw lots of ducks, waders and for Greater Flamingos. Also two White Pelicans and Little Gulls, several Avocets, Pochard and plenty of Black-winged Stilts were seen.

From the pools we continued to the sewage ponds to wait for dusk to fall and the Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse to come and drink. While we were waiting, we heard jackals and wolves calling together for couple of minutes. Great!

It was already dark when the Sandgrouse finally came. We saw only 16 Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, but we were lucky and saw them pretty well.

At night we had the possibility to spend more time with our team. It was really great to find out that we had an amazingly good and funny team!

First better bird which we found

Our second workday was easier because we knew the routines. Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats were the most common species from the traps this time but we managed to catch different races of Stonechat (maurus, rubicola, variagatus), Tawny Pipits, Spanish Sparrows and even Hoopoe and Little Green Bee-eater. We also saw male Citrine Wagtail. We had to stop quite early again because it became so hot.

At the afternoon we went with Paul, Matan and Marco to search for Striated Scops Owls in the closest wadis. We found out that we were there only a few days too late, so we couldn’t find any of them. The latest records ever are just in these first days of March. Anyway we found some interesting species like Great Spotted Cuckoo and Blackstart. On the way back Janne managed to see a male Palestinian Sunbird passing us.

After some hours hard walk in extremely hot weather we took a taxi with Paul and Matan and drove down to the Northern beach to check if Southern wind had blown any good species there. Almost immediately we found more White-eyed Gulls than last time, a Kingfisher was flying along the coast and Sandwich Terns were flying over the sea. Soon we found big yellow-billed Tern, which was fishing just offshore; a first summer Crested Tern!

The 16th Crested Tern ever in Israel was flying for one hour along the coast between the fish farm and Eilat. It passed us several times really closely. When the wind died down, the bird flew south out to sea from where it had come. Later, before the sun set, we saw Cory’s Shearwater, Pied Kingfisher and Desert Wheatear.

Life at the ringing station

The rest of the first week in Eilat continued at the ringing station. The weather turned cooler to a pleasant 20′C, and the wind turned to the north.

At the station we caught lots of birds: of course there were lots of Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats but also Indian Silverbills, a female Dead Sea Sparrow, Cretzschmar’s Buntings, some Greenfinches, a Great Reed Warbler, Collared and Palm Doves and one Feral Pigeon, a rare ringing tick! One nice subspecies was the desert race of Lesser White-throat – “minula”.

Every day there were more and more hirundines in the station area. At the end of the week there were Swallows, House Martins, Red Rumped Swallows, African Rock Martins and Sand Martins. Also, one Crag Martin was seen. Lots of Swifts were constantly circling in the sky: Common Swifts and Pallid Swifts and even one Little Swift passed through! Two White Pelicans, Long-legged Buzzard, Steppe and Booted Eagles, Black Kites, Rose-ringed Parakeets and singing Savi’s Warbler were all observed. Many other animals were also seen: near the traps we had an Egyptian Dab Lizard living in a hole in the gravel, and there was also a little Skink which really enjoyed eating oranges.

Some bigger groups were also visiting at the IBRCE. Luckily Reuven and Matan were their guides. Hebrew was little bit too Hebrew for us!

After the mourning ringing we often made bird-trips to the closest places. The best observations were made again at the Northern Beach, where we also met some unlucky Crested Tern twitchers. Striated Heron, several Western Reef Herons and two migrating Common Cranes were seen. From the parks we found Black-eared Wheatear, some Tee Pipits and a Redstart.

During the evenings we discussed with the days events with the others. Misha told us a lot about his work with wintering Bluethroats in Eilat. He had found lots of information!

The second week in Eilat

Second week started well but soon the northern wind started to blow too strong and we caught very few birds. In the beginning of the week, eagles were migrating, but not so numerously. Steppe, Booted and Short-toed Eagles were seen every day and the first early Lesser Spotted Eagle was seen too. The best species from the traps were two Squacco Herons, several Water Rails, Quail, Woodchat Shrike, Penduline Tit and Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler.

Marco and Matan were flick netting the hirundines. They caught lots of Swallows and House Martins but also a couple of Sand Martins, Red-rumped Swallows and African Rock Martins.

One nice observation was when a couple of Cream-coloured Coursers flew over the station, followed by migrating Purple Heron, some Night Herons and a couple of Great Black-headed Gulls which were in with a flock of fuscus Lesser Black-backed Gulls on their way to Finland!

Our best trip to the closest bird-places was made on Monday. We walked with Paul to the cemetery. As soon as we arrived, we saw Woodchat Shrike in the car park. Inside the cemetery, we found a Syrian Serin that was initially very mobile and elusive, but then it started to sing on the top of one tree and was eventually very approachable. We also found some Sand Partridges and a female Cyprus Warbler. From the Wadi behind the cemetery we found an Eastern Orphean Warbler, so we all got 3 lifers in 30 minutes! Also eagles, White Storks and Tristram’s Grackles passed us when we were in the Wadi. So we really had a good short trip.

On Wednesday we managed to join Reuven and an American professor to visit the Hai Bar “zoo”. There were many desert animals in the cages, but also in a really big fenced area, which it was possible to drive through by car. Ostriches and many kinds of deer were living there roaming semi-free. In future these species will be re-introduced to Israel. We also saw some birds: Arabian Babbler, Lesser Kestrel, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Palestine Sunbird and Corn Buntings were the best ones.

On km 23 we tried to twitch Thick-billed Larks but they weren’t there anymore. Some Indian Silverbills were found anyway. Also the northern pools were quite boring: more of the same species from last time.

At night we had lunch at Reuven’s home. It was the last evening for Misha. We really had a great time! It would have been a weeks worth of work to check all the interesting bird-books that Reuven had in his library.

Empty traps and an escaper

At the end of the week we caught even less birds. We still saw some Steppe Eagles and also Long-legged Buzzards and Marsh Harriers but Steppe Buzzard was becoming the most numerous.

Traps were almost empty for much of the time, so we spent time repairing them – there were lots of holes in the nets. We had a lot of much needed help – an Israeli family was helping us for couple of days, and the children were amazing! They made everything with or without us.

The most common bird of the week was Lesser Whitethroat, but we also caught some Olivaceous Warblers, Rüppell’s Warblers and a Chiffchaff that had a Hungarian ring. It was also funny to find out that we had already ringed 15 Greenfinches, which was more than in all the previous 19 years of the station.
We had also put some wader-traps to the salt-pools, but we caught only a couple of Little Stints.

We saw also the same White Pelicans, 3 Great Black-headed Gulls, a flock of Garganey and some Gull-billed Terns.

Sunday 14th of March was really busy day because we had several big groups visiting, but anyway we had time to celebrate Hanna’s birthdays. Hanna had to be the waitress so everyone could get a piece of cake, and the Israelis were singing several birthday-songs in Hebrew. At least Hanna had a different kind of birthday!
We had a short trip again to the cemetery and we saw a male Blue Rock Thrush. In Ofira Park we saw an Alexandrine’s Parakeet that was with Rose-ringed Parakeets. When we went to the internet-bar that was in the bus station we saw a Barbary Falcon sitting on the roof of the bus-station.

No need to go to Cyprus anymore

3rd week: Monday and Tuesday were still quite easy. On Monday, the quality of trapped birds was really good: Eastern Orphean Warblers, Rüppell’s Warblers, Quails, Olivaceous Warblers, more Greenfinches, samamisicus Redstart and 3 out of a flock of 4 Desert Finches which we saw! From the wader-traps we got a Redshank. We also saw Citrine Wagtail, Great Black-headed Gulls, Alpine Swifts and Indian Silverbills.

On the afternoon round Janne and Marco managed to see the Jackal that Paul had seen really well one day before.

After we had got to sleep that night, the latest member of our team arrived. Swiss Mike Schaad came to stay for couple of months.

At the station we worked with a deal that we would work 6 days every week, but if we worked more we could collect free-days. So now, when we had been working for almost 3 weeks, we decided to have 3 days birding holiday. On the Tuesday afternoon we started our first bird-tour. We rented a car (Mazda 323), packed and drove first to check all the closest places.

Our main target was to go again to the sewage pools to see Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse. When we were almost there we remembered we had seen a good looking manure “hill”, so we drove there first. With the Red-throated Pipits, Black-headed Yellow Wagtails (feldegg), Isabelline and Black-eared Wheatears there was a beautiful Cyprus Wheatear! Also a flock of Short-toed Larks was nearby.

When we finally reached the sewage ponds, we found out that there was a big group that had arrived by bus. They had come to see the sandgrouse. They weren’t birders at all; children were eating candies, phones were ringing and parents weren’t silent at all! We were sure that the sandgrouse wouldn’t come at all. Surprisingly, eight sandgrouse came, even though it wasn’t totally dark. So Janne managed to digiscope them. But then the tourist-group made the worst mistake. They started to move and they all started to talk and leave before the sandgrouse had managed to drink! They should to drink only once a day and obtain their water after a flight of tens of kilometres!

We were happy when we drove back to eat at our apartment. After the lunch we started on our way towards Northern Negev and Nizzana, where we had planned to sleep for a couple of hours before starting to do birding in a totally new kind of landscape.

After a couple of hours drive, we arrived at Nizzana and the big desert areas near to Ezuz. There we tried to find a good place to spend the night. Finally we parked our car beside one small road and got into our sleeping bags in the middle of the desert.

Lifers and new places

The night was just horrible! The temperature went down to couple of degrees, which wasn’t the problem, but the humidity! After the rainy winter the whole desert was very wet, so the humidity made our sleeping bags extremely wet! Janne was really in trouble because he had the thinnest sleeping bag. Somehow we all survived, but Janne slept only for an hour.

The morning was really beautiful! The first birds we saw were migrating Hen and Pallid Harriers. We drove a couple of kilometres (mainly to get warm) to a good-looking site, and started to walk around the green desert. Every place was full of flowers and there were big green areas, which made finding the birds really difficult.
A couple of Cream-coloured Coursers flew over us, Desert Larks were singing, some flocks of Short-toed Larks were feeding on the ground and Isabelline Wheatears were everywhere. Soon we heard an unfamiliar voice and we started to search for the caller. We found the bird quite easily and it was a Chukar. Only a couple of minutes later Paul found the first McQueen’s Bustard too! This species was number 500 for Janne’s Western Palearctic list.

We walked around the green desert for couple of hours, but we couldn’t find anything else good. We did saw one more McQueen’s Bustard that was displaying over a small hill but very far. Janne also saw one Spotted Sandgrouse flying.

Soon we continued to the sewage pools at Nizzana to wait and see if any sandgrouse would arrive to drink. On the way we saw some gazelles passing the road jumping. We stayed at the sewage ponds for an hour but we couldn’t see any sandgrouse. A Southern Grey Shrike, a flock of Skylarks and one lonely Crane were seen, as well as a flock of 20 Spur-winged Plovers.

We failed to find any Finsch’s Wheatears on the ancient Nizzana fortress, and were probably too late for them. We did manage to see a singing male Mourning Wheatear. Also a Little Owl was living in the fortress. A couple of pairs of Chukars were also found. Down in the Wadi there were some Palestine Sunbirds and Quails. Some raptor-migration was also passing over, for example Short-toed Eagle and female Pallid Harrier were seen.

We continued stopping for a while on the drive east from Nizzana along the “back” roads, and we did found several interesting species. Several Arabian Babblers, a Scrub Warbler, Desert Warbler, several Sand Partridges, and flocks of 42 migrating Cranes and 10 White Storks.

At Ben Gurions grave, we found quite a few Desert Finches, a couple of Syrian Serins, Blackbird, Palestine Sunbirds and samamisicus Redstart. From the edge overlooking a huge canyon, we saw a couple of Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, female Black Redstart and 3 male Mourning Wheatears.

While driving towards the Dead Sea we saw some more Chukars and Sand Partridges, Southern Grey Shrikes and our first White-crowned Black Wheatear. Neot Hakikkars fishponds produced Alpine Swifts, Purple Heron, Little Green Bee-eaters, Kingfisher, a few singing Clamorous Reed Warblers, Little Bittern and several Dead Sea Sparrows.

We finally arrived at the Dead Sea late in the afternoon after we had passed the ugliest factory buildings in the whole World! Our first Fan-tailed Ravens were found quite soon, flying over the main road, but we still tried to get to the Ein Gedi cliffs to search for some new ticks. Unfortunately we found out that Ein Gedi had been closed only about an hour earlier, so we had to do something else.

So we continued 20 kilometres more to the north, and turned up into the mountains. We tried to find Hooded Wheatears. On the way we saw some Griffon Vultures that were soaring high above the mountains. We also saw a Bonelli’s Eagle soaring with them. When we had driven almost up to the top of the mountains, we found a sign that told us we were now at sea level! Funny!

Before sunset birds were pretty active, so we managed to see several White-crowned Wheatears, Sand Partridges and Fan-tailed Ravens. Steppe Buzzards were still migrating even though it was already dark. One of the funniest observations of the whole trip were a small herd of Nubian Ibex which let us stop and look at them pretty close.

After such a busy day, we had to think where we should spend the night. We decided to drive all the way south to Eilat. All of the next days birding places would be closer to Eilat than where we were now. We also all wanted to sleep as well as possible! Janne fell to sleep in the car, so Paul had to learn what it is like to drive on the “right” left side!

Hard trying but…

When others were leaving to the ringing station, we started again to drive towards north. Our goal was to find a good drinking place for sandgrouse that Reuven had told us about. But we never found it. On our way we found our second Cyprus Wheatear at the 59 km post, and also some White-crowned Wheatears.
Soon we continued to the sewage pools at Shizzafon, where we found a male Trumpeter Finch, our first Ortolan Bunting and a beautiful male Rock Thrush. We also saw Grey Wagtail and a flock of Skylarks but we couldn’t find any better wheatears or larks for which we had hoped.

Then we continued to km 77, where the desert was extremely green. The place had clearly been even better, but nevertheless we walked around the green places for couple of hours. We couldn’t find any Bimaculated, Thick-billed or Temminck’s Horned Larks or Pale Rock Sparrows that had all been there earlier. But we did find a Desert Warbler, Lesser Kestrel, a couple of mobile Short-toed Lark flocks, Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears, Cretzschmar’s Buntings, many different warblers and so on. There were lots of birds to study and digiscope.

We also paid Kibbutz Lotan and Jonathan (a local bird-guide) a brief visit before we continued to Yotvata. We tried hard to find Arabian Warbler but still we had no luck. We did check lots of acacias, but we found only Arabian Babblers, Palestine Sunbirds and almost all other warblers. A big flock of Tristram’s Grackles were whistling in the picnic park behind the petrol station. Also Nubian Ibex were seen under the acacias on the western side of the main road.

During the afternoon we still had time to visit Amrams Pillars in the Eilat Mountains. We tried for a couple of hours to find Sinai Rosefinches or Hooded Wheatears but with no luck. The place was really beautiful, and some birds which we saw were: a flock of Black Storks, some Brown-necked Ravens, Sand Partridges, Trumpeter Finches, White-crowned Wheatears, Desert Larks and a lonely Egyptian Vulture.

At last light we still had a look to Eilat Pumping Station, which we knew wasn’t a site for Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse anymore, but someone had seen House Buntings there, and Jonathan had seen an Arabian Warbler there only couple of days previously. We did find a pair of Palestine Sunbirds and Arabian Babblers, but only Janne managed to identify one bunting that flew over us as a Mountain Bunting.

But again it goes better

On the 19th of March during the morning we again went to the ringing station. We still had our car because it had been cheaper to take the car for 3 days (then we got unlimited kilometres) than for 2 days (then there was a restriction on the amount of kilometres).

All 7 volunteers from our apartment and also an American lady, Anita (who had paid for the construction of Lake Anita) were at the station. So there were far too many workers, because traps were still quite empty. So Reuven told us to use our opportunity; we still had a car and some species were still missing.

We started to drive towards Ein Netafim spring. On the way we saw a lonely Black Stork standing on the top of a hill. It was probably waiting for a flock of friends to join. Also White-crowned Wheatears, Arabian Babblers and Tristram’s Grackles were found. While walking one kilometre to the spring, we finally found a female Hooded Wheatear. It was flying around very quickly, so it was impossible to digiscope, but at least we got a lifer. Above the spring there was also a nice surprise waiting for us, because two female types of Sinai Rosefinch were feeding just near the edge. So again everything was going better!

We wondered for some time how small the only natural spring in the area was, before we continued to the Eilat Mountains to watch raptor migration. After one hour we had found out that there was almost no migration, even though 220 Black Storks and about 100 Steppe Buzzards were seen. So we continued to the Pumping Station because of House Bunting, which we couldn’t find.

After spending some time in cemetery, we desided still to visit the Northern saltpools, where we knew were always something to see. Cyprus Wheatear was still present in the sewageplace and on the pools we saw 400 Flamingos, 5 Avocets, 2 Desert Wheatears and Short-toed Eagle which landed to walk to the road.

We were on our way back to Eilat when we found our 3rd Cyprus Wheatear. It was very close to the army post, so we didn’t dare to watch it very well.
At the afternoon we had again a good lunch at Jackni’s, then made the evening round at the ringing station where we ringed a Ruff and couple of Water Rails.

And one more lifer

On Saturday and Sunday we went to the ringing station and it was still pretty quiet. The wind was still from the north. Two interesting captures were a couple of Swifts that Reuven had picked up from the hotels. These birds had flown in through the open windows. Best species from the traps were an amazingly beautiful dark-breasted Barn Owl, a male Masked Shrike, Dunlin, several Little Stints and Wrynecks, a couple of Eastern Orphean Warblers, some Cretzschmar’s Buntings, Graceful Prinias, Quail and a female Desert Finch. So the quality was pretty good but the numbers were small. We also saw a couple of White Pelicans again, Spoonbill and some migrating raptors: Steppe Buzzards and quite a few eagles were flying north.

On Saturday, Janne, Mike and Matan had a long bird-walk. It was quiet in the parks but the North Beach once again held Western Reef Herons, Striated Herons, White-eyed Gulls and so on. Nothing was moving over the sea, so we decided to walk to the date palms, where we hadn’t been yet. This was the place for Namaqua Dove.

On the way we had to walk really near to the Jordanian border, and we were a little bit afraid when the border guards started to call out that somebody had passed the border illegally. It was so nice to carry a huge machinegun looking tripod in the middle of bushes that near to the border!

When we reached the date palms we soon found some Little Green Bee-eaters, several Rose-ringed Parakeets and again the Alexandrine’s Parakeet was with them. Pretty soon we found what we were searching for – a pair of Namaqua Doves were feeding on the ground behind some palms. They were just extremely shy and flew inside the bushes when we tried to get a little closer.

When we were walking back still inside the palms, we saw two young men walking with a marijuana-plant. They just planted it in the ground and walked away!
But not everything went smoothly, and several distressing events did occur. Hanna developed several rolls of film, but 3 of them were stolen and all of the others were of pretty bad quality! Someone also stole several mist-nets from the ringing station! And at Jackni’s we couldn’t eat our salads and soup there at lunch time and take just the main course away with us due to a “change of management policy”, so we had to take everything away at lunch time. That was a real pity because the views (waitresses) in the restaurant were great!

Fourth week

Our fourth week in Eilat was really the quietest! The wind was changing between East and North, and at the end of the week it was really strong. Then we did see lots of migrating raptors: some thousands of Steppe Buzzards and of course also some other raptors. The beginning of the week was really boring. At the end of the week we started to get some new birds, not only re-traps. Tree Pipit was the only new ringing species. Also a couple of Short-toed Larks were caught.

On the Friday we saw the first migrating flocks of Bee-eaters and straight away a couple of them were caught in the Heligoland. The wader-traps also started to work a little bit better when we had cleaned and replaced them several times because the wind was moving them. Kentish Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and couple of Little Stints were caught.

The best observations of the whole week were: a flock of migrating Bimaculated Larks which only Janne managed to see, a flock of 14 Spoonbills, Little Bittern and a Stone Curlew.

On one evening Tzadok (a worker of Reuven’s) invited all of us to have barbeque at his place. We really had a great time, with lots of good food and drink! Victory of bird-pictionary slipped surprisingly to the smaller and more drunken team.

At the weekend the weather changed for the better, and it became hot (about 350C). Also the wind stopped, so we started to catch more new birds in the mornings. Lesser Whitethroat was still clearly the most common species, and Blackcap had overtaken Chiffchaff as the second commonest. But also many interesting species were caught: Quails, Green Sandpipers, Little Stints, Collared and Palm Doves, Short-toed Larks, Common Swifts, Tree Pipits, Wagtails, Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Great Reed, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Common Whitethroats, Rüppell’s and Eastern Orphean Warblers and Cretzschmar’s and Ortolan Buntings.

Reuven received some phone calls from the hotels and a birding group telling him of some injured birds, so he picked up one very badly oiled Steppe Buzzard and one Black-headed Gull that was also in bad shape. A Quail and a Little Bittern were just ringed and released.

At the weekend the best observations were Rufous Bush Robin, 2 Stone Curlews and a Barbary Falcon that was flying above the central Park where there were lots of different races of Yellow Wagtails and a Masked Shrike. It was also nice to see Egyptian Dab Lizards and many different kind of big insects, including Oleander Hawk-moths that were found in the traps and Monarch-type butterflies.

Nice selection of species

Our fifth week started hot, it was about 350C! During the last few days of March we caught a really nice selection of species from the traps. Blackcap was now the most common species, and Lesser Whitethroat the second. The number 3 was probably as interesting a species as Wryneck! Anyway we didn’t catch any new species. Most interesting birds were extremely small Reed Warblers, which had shorter wing than Blyth’s Reed Warbler! DNA-samples were taken so let’s see if they were African Reed Warblers or something else? It was also nice to get the first White-spotted Bluethroat. Of course Eastern Orphean Warblers, Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers and so on were always nice birds to handle.

On the IBRCE area we got some new year-ticks: Little Tern was flying around over Lake Anita, Red-necked Phalarope was swimming on the salt-pools, Marsh Warbler was hiding inside a bush 10 meters from the station and one lonely Glossy Ibis was migrating high between the clouds. Other nice birds were Purple Heron, Little Bittern and Great Black-headed Gull. Near the station there was also lots of more common birds: the pools had lots of waders like more than 100 Little Stints, tens of Dunlins, Ruffs, Green Sandpipers and Redshanks, some Greenshanks and Marsh Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Kentish, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilts and the always present Spur-winged Plovers. Lots of raptors were also migrating. With hundreds of Steppe Buzzards we saw more Booted and Short-toed Eagles and again also some Steppe Eagles.

Bird-walks at the afternoon were also really good! First we found a female Semi-collared Flycatcher in Ofira Park. Wrynecks were everywhere and Yellow Wagtails were of all possible races. From the southern salt-pools we found a flock of pipits, and at least two of them were Buff-bellied Pipits and 1 Water Pipit. Together there were 10 birds but it was already getting dark so we just tried to identify one Pipit as well as possible. Meanwhile Paul and Mike found a Thick-billed Lark at the Eilat Hospital and some local Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, but unfortunately none of these good birds were twitchable to anyone, and were only seen by their finders.

April starts promisingly

The beginning of April was pretty quiet, but we caught some new species, so it was promising better times. On the first day we saw Turtle Dove and caught a Nightingale, Curlew Sandpiper and Wood Warbler. Also a nice male Montagu’s Harrier was seen flying over the ringing station and Snipe was added to our Israel lists. We also found some better birds in the reserve area: Indian Silverbills, Little Bitterns, Night Herons, Little Green Bee-eaters, Desert Finches and Egyptian Vulture were seen at the ringing station. A nice surprise was a Blackcap that had been ringed in Turkey!

On the 1st of April we had a nice walk again. The pumping station held no surprises but some Palestine Sunbirds, Sand Partridges, Tristram’s Grackles, Blackstarts and White-crowned Wheatear were found. Then we took a taxi to the North Beach were we met Mike and Paul. We saw 2 Pomarine Skuas, 7 Arctic Skuas, a Cory’s Shearwater, more than 100 Night Herons that were migrating in two huge flocks, a female Red-breasted Merganser (a local rarity) and of course same of the traditional birds from before.

Also during the next day we walked to the North Beach, but the wind was again from the north, so we didn’t see a lot. Anyway it was nice to see a flock of 80 Black-winged Stilts trying to find a place to land. Also a beautiful Barbary Falcon (that had a ring) was soaring above the high hotels.

Matan’s father came to pick him up to spend Pessah with his family in the north of Israel. We twitched the familiar Red-breasted Merganser that had moved to the sewage-pools. It was a lifer for Matan. Also at the pools we saw Osprey, 2 Desert Wheatears and Stone Curlew.

At Sunday we ordered 3 meals from Jackni’s because during Pessah all the restaurants would be closed. In the afternoon when Janne was going to the Internet cafe, he found a male Semi-collared Flycatcher in Central Park.

Pessah made our life pretty difficult! All the restaurants were closed and shops hadn’t any bread, milk or bear. Also, an amazing numbers of Israeli tourists came to stay in Eilat! So the ringing station was also full of tourists all the time.

Now it begins to happen!

Our 6th week in Israel started very well. We caught birds very well and the selection of species was really good. The only pity was that we didn’t catch any rarities and the only new species trapped was a Wood Warbler. Other observations included 4 flocks of Glossy Ibises (totalling 100 birds), some Purple Herons, more than 300 Bee-eaters and good raptor migration. We had all the time a feeling that something better was coming soon.

On Monday afternoon it was Janne’s turn to be a guard on the reserve area. We had to keep on eye out that people who were celebrating the Pessah didn’t do anything stupid in the area. Then Janne saw thousands of raptors (mostly Steppe Buzzards) some Collared Pratincoles, Hobby, 2 Lesser Kestrels and several Booted Eagles.

We also celebrated Pessah with the Yosefs. We had traditional food but the drinks weren’t that traditional, I think! Again, we had a really great time! So we were back at our apartment after midnight, ready for our 5 hours sleep before we had to get up to go the station.

Tuesday was the day that we will all remember. Already the morning was promising. When we drove throught the salt-pools we saw 2 Spoonbills. When we were finishing the first trap-round we found 3 beautiful Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters which were with a big flock of European Bee-eaters. These Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters were just sitting on the top of bushes while the others were catching bees, so they were easy to photograph.

We set up some mist-nets next to the beehives to try and catch Bee-eaters. While we were setting up the nets we saw two Pratincoles flying past us. They flew just over us and we managed to see they were different species: Collared and Black-winged Pratincole! Later we saw an amazing 90 Pratincoles, there were even 75 in one flock! But they were all in Jordan, so all we could say was that they were of course mostly Collared Pratincoles.

After all we effort of setting the nests, we only caught two Bee-eaters because the wind was little bit too strong.
But this wasn’t all, not even close! A beautiful Bonelli’s Eagle was seen on migration, a Little Crake was swimming(!) into the reeds of small Lake Anita, 90 migrating Glossy Ibises went over, a Kingfisher and 7 Purple Herons were also seen. Also the species selection from the traps was good.

The biggest surprise was still to come! We were washing our oily Steppe Buzzard Christina, when Paul took a Collared Dove, which he had caught in the last heligoland, from a birdbag. He noticed that bird’s under-parts were absolutely white, and for example, the head shape was really weird. The bird was an AFRICAN COLLARED DOVE!
We had had such a good day, we still had the power to check all the closest places in the afternoon. From the parks we found 2 male Semi-collared Flycatchers, finally our first Willow Warbler, a Wood Warbler, Masked Shrikes and a Rufous Bush Robin.

Hurry and action

In the middle of the week we were still catching lots of birds in the traps. We were quite busy because we started to catch also Bee-eaters pretty well. Henk (Dutch raptor ringer) was working with nets, that were placed around the other beehives. Hanna was working with the original Bee-eater nets. We caught 50 Bee-eaters including altogether 11 Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters! In the 19 year history of IBRCE there had been only 2 of them ringed.

We caught the Bee-eaters also because the kibbutz had ask us to do so. Bee-eaters were eating so many bees, that the kibbutz workers wanted to shoot them. They were obliged to call us first and let us attemp to catch as many birds as possible before they were allowed to think about shooting any. So when we caught them and released them 10 kilometers from the hives they didn’t need to shoot them.

We caught some other interesting birds like a male Little Bittern, a female Desert Finch and our first Ortolan Buntings. A Couple of Steppe Buzzards were also caught with the mice-traps. One Buzzard (Britney) was also brought to us because it was oiled. A Grey Plover was migrating, a surprising Merlin was still hanging around, several Ospreys went through and a Turtle Dove was getting common.

Tzadok prepared food for us all with help of Henk and Severine. So even though the restaurants were closed we had really delicious food, and a lot of it.

Janne and Paul managed to go birding with two birders from Jerusalem. The northern salt-pools were still really empty. Sewage pools had 2 male Namaqua Doves and a female Little Crake. From the fields they found again some Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters and Hobbies. The Northern Beach had all the normal birds and also a Black Tern.

At the weekend there were far too many people on the station! Pessah was coming to an end, so we had amazing numbers of visitors. We also had several Israeli “helpers” who weren’t much a help so it started to be frustrating, because there was nothing for us all to do. It was good that we saw some good birds anyway. On Saturday we caught a Barred Warbler, and Henk had an amazing surprice for us when he came back from the vineyard where he was catching Blackcaps – Rock Thrush! He also caught couple of Crested Larks. One really nice thing was that our Steppe Buzzard, Christina, was already in that good shape (805g) that we could let it go free. It was a miracle that she survived! It was in such bad shape when we got it.

On Sunday on the first trap round we got a male Semi-collared Flycatcher and a Red-backed Shrike. On the second round we got several more Semi-collared Flycatchers with more being caught through the course of the morning! Altogether we caught 11 Semi-collared Flycatchers (equalling the grand total for the IBRCE), 1 Pied Flycatcher and several Rufous Bush Robins.

We all had some extra heartbeats when a hungry Booted Eagle desided to catch a Dunlin that was inside a wader-trap as a meal. Fortunately for the Dunlin, the eagle wasn’t clever enough to unlock the cage and it was eventually flushed off the trap by a rapidly moving Mike. Not before some interesting photographs were taken though!

Another surprice was a late Cyprus Wheatear that was sitting on a roof of one trap, but ofcourse it flew over it and we never saw it again.
When we were walking to the North Beach in the afternoon, we found a Lesser Grey Shrike in the Central Park. The beach was extremely empty. Only the same Black Tern, 8 Little Terns, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Striated Heron were still there.

Good ticks

The new week started quietly. Still, we caught lots of Blackcaps, but not as many as last week. We still caught 7 Semi-collared Flycatchers, a pair of Trumpeter Finches, a Red-backed Shrike, 2 Redstarts and Indian Silverbills, our first Willow Warbler (it was about time!) and a Steppe Buzzard.
We got again one more bird to our bird-hospital, when we found a tired Slender-billed Gull from the salt-pools. A Honey Buzzard was seen as a year-tick, when one was seen flying over the station.

At the afternoon we went to get Egypt visas, because we had only 10 days left in Israel.

Tuesday-morning started with a big surprice. Matan was talking about a bunting and when we checked the birdback he had – it was a Mountain Bunting! We were still celebrating the bunting when one Israeli girl who had been volunteering for a couple of days came to ask where the the butterfly-net was. Soon she came back with a female Little Crake! She had caught it next to the tarck with the net!

To car trip

After the morning we went to get a rental car from Sixt (an Opel Corsa). This time we took the car for one week because first our-selves and Paul would use it for 3 days and go North, and then Mike, Severine and Matan would go to the places in Southern Israel where we had been already.

We started our trip in the afternoon. Something (Paul!) made us stop at the cemetary, even though we had thought to drive much further. We just checked from the car if there would be something in the trees at the parking place. And there was! Beautiful, cosmic mind-fucker, which we hadn’t even dreamed about – a male White-throated Robin! It was jumping in one tree and for a while it was also on the ground.

We called to Mike and Matan, and they almost ran to look at this beauty. The bird was in shadow for most of the time, and the weather was too hot, but Janne managed to get some kind of pictures. While looking at the “Irania” we found a Corn Crake, some Blackstarts and Sand Partridges. Finally, White-throated Robin flew to the cemetary so we were free to continue our way North.

Getting ironic!

Next stop we had was Yotvata again, where we were again in totally wrong time of day. So, as before we couldn’t find Arabian Warbler, just some Little Green Bee-eaters and Palestine Sunbirds.

We managed to get to Lotan just about an hour before sunset. Right away we found Spotted Flycatchers from the car park, and in the kibbutz area we saw several Semi-collared Flycatchers, Palestine Sunbirds, Nightingales, a Goldfinch and the best one – an elusive Upcher’s Warbler.

The sun had already set down and it was pretty dark when we walked back to the parking place. Suddenly we noticed a familiar looking bird jumping towards us – a male White-throated Robin again! Amazingly we then saw another bird back iat the car park! The third one wasn’t that colourful, but was our third male Irania of the afternoon!

Before we were leaving the Lotan bird-guide, Jonathan, drove into the parking place. It was nice to talk with a really good birder while a White-throated Robin was jumping around just some meters from us!

Our long drive started. We drove some hours without through the length of Israel without stops, but when we made the first stop somewhere in the middle of fieds, we heard several Black Francolines and a Corn Crake calling!

We were extremely tired when we reached the place where we had desided to drive to for the night, the Hula-valley. We went to sleep in an orchard close to the Hula Nature Park.

Jackals, Barn Owl and Long-eared Owl were calling when we felt asleep. We were really happy how well we had managed!

In Hula-valley

Around 3 a.m Janne thought that Hanna had (again!) hit him with her elbow in her sleep. Janne woke up and turned around and realized that Hanna was sleeping on the other side of him. Then he saw a Jackal running over the road! Propably this Jackal had been checking what was that big smelly and warm thing which was laying down in the middle of the orchard at night?

At the morning we were again totally frozen! Our sleeping bags were again really wet because of the water in the air, so again Janne felt himself as a frozen vegetable.
We started birding by driving around the fields north of the Hula Reserve. We tried to find some pools but we never found them (Shirihai’s book was little bit old). But the fields were really good anyway: Black Francolines were calling and couple of them were seen too. One ditch held several Pied Kingfishers and some White-breasted Kingfishers. The most surprising observation was a couple of Marbled Ducks which that flew over us and landed on an old rusty metal sluoge gate which was one meter above the ditch. They were sitting like Crows!

While driving towards the famous re-flooded area, we found nice colony of Herons and Egrets. The roadside trees were full of Night Herons, Cattle Egrets and Little Egrets. They were making their nests while some of them were already nesting, and they were easy to photograph. The voices were ridiculous!

The re-flooded area was really worthy of its fame. Even though the bird-hides were closed, we saw lots of different kind of birds such as 50 White Pelicans. More than 10 Marbled Ducks, Spotted Crakes, a Baillion’s Crake and singing Clamorous Reed Warblers were seen. The meadows held plenty of Purple Herons, 10 Cranes and some more Black Francolines. On the surrounding agricultural fields we saw Black Kites and Pallid and Hen Harriers. Also several mammals were found: on the water we saw several coypu, and along the road we saw really funny Mongoose that gave excellent views.

Our next stop weas at some fishponds, but they were really poor. So we continued towards Gamla Vulture reserve. On the way we saw some Egyptian Vultures and we got Great Tit as a Israel tick – yahoo! At Gamla we watched the Griffon Vultures soaring around for couple of hours. They are just amazing! We also saw lots of Little Swifts and some Alpine Swifts. Palestine Sunbirds and gorgeous Bonelli’s Eagle were also seen. The eagles were nesting somewhere in the valley.

Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) offered a lifer for Paul when we found some Pygmy Cormorants in a marshy area on the northern shore of the lake. I think Paul thought Janne had became crazy when he was atleast as happy when he found Great Crestes Grebe! (Janne and Hanna had seen hundreds of Pygmys in Greece couple of weeks previous, so they were both just Israel-ticks).

Our destination was the Arbel Mountain where we really tried hard to find Long-billed Pipit on the Mount Arbel, but without luck. We climbed the mountain for couple of hours but we saw just Syrian Woodpeckers and some Blue Rock Thrushes.

Because of the Long-billed Pipit we also walked a lot in Wadi Ammad, but after an hours walk we didn’t believe they existed at all. Again we saw lots of Little Swifts and really cute family of Rock Hyraxes!

While we were driving North again, we saw more soaring Black Storks, couple of Great White Egrets, Pallid Harrier, some Chukars, Linnets and lots of Southern Grey Shrikes.

We had managed to get free accommodation thanks to Reuven. He had contacted a friend of hiswho had been several times to the IBRCE, and who owned a holiday village with many houses. Our house was really great, but we were extremely tired so we went to sleep.

On the top of Israel

We woke up again before the cockerel and soon we were going towards the very top of Israel. Mount Hermon is situated on the border of Syria and Lebanon. We stopped several times while we were driving north along the climbing roads and we saw Chukars, (atricapillus) Jays, Wrens, at least one Dunnock, (semirufus) Black Redstarts, Syrian Serins and couple of Sombre Tits. There was no sign of the hoped for Pale Rock Sparrows.

While driving to the lifts we saw a Jackal standing on the middle of the road, two Rock Sparrows and we heard a Shore Lark. When we reached the top we bought the tickets to the highest area, which included the chair-lift tickets (34 Sheckels). Of course we went directly by lift to the top of Mount Hermon. The lift was something really horrible!

The way to the top was one of the scariest we have ever made. But it had something really good too! We had just started to move and had literally not left the base area, when Paul started to shout: “Crimson-winged Finches!” There were three birds that were flying very actively near a small snowy area (yes, really snow!). Two male and one female Crimson-winged Finches were just what we were searching for. But we only had a minute or so to watch them as the lift was climbing higher and higher.

The end of the lift trip was amazing! The wind was so hard that we were almost preying! It was also minus degrees, so it was really freezing! Even Paul who has seen some windy days in Scotland said:” Its pretty windy”. We walked couple of hundreds meters on the top of the mountain and had only one Israeli soldier disturbing us. The wind had blown away the signs where it was not aloud to go, so we were walking in the army areas. On the top we saw only a Northern Wheatear and female Crimson-winged Finch.

Soon we were on the way back down. Luckily we saw that the Finches were still chasing each other near the snow. So we walked to see them better and Janne even managed to digiscope these pink birds even though they were really active and fast. A couple of times, another male stopped and sang shortly.

While driving back down we heard a Cuckoo calling, but we had to hurry, again.

Next we tried to find Bimaculated Larks, and tried to find an area in the Golan outlined in Hadoram’s site guide, but we found just lots of Crested Larks. Luckily we later found one newly ploughed field where there were several Calandra Larks, but no Bimaculated.

Our schedule was tight so we had to continue. We had to pass through the West bank before it was getting dark. (We had been told to do so.) But anyway we decided to make one more try for Long-billed Pipit. So we drove to Mount Gilbao, where we stopped in several good looking places without any pipits. The last stop in last good pit of habitat was worthwhile! First we saw a Sparrowhawk flying over us and then we heard a pipit-like warning call. Soon we saw a pipit flying and also singing before it landed on a big rock about 60 meters away. And there it finally was – a Long-billed Pipit!

We drove through the Palestinian areas before it came dark. Only better Palestine ticks we got were Jackdaw and Barbary Falcon. We are propably not the top Palestine listers!

We tried to camp for the night in Yotvata, so we could have woken up to the sing of Arabian Warbler A Humvee full of soldier-girls didn’t let us to do that. So we desided to drive again to Eilat, where we arrived at 10 p.m. (Then we heard that others had ringed female White-throated Robin, Night Heron, Marsh Sandpiper and Corn Crake). Soon we were already sleeping.

Really good birds

We woke up 5.30 a.m., and before the ringing team had woken up we were driving towards Yotvata again. Sun was rising when we reached the acasia areas where we knew the Arabian Warbler had its territory.

We didn’t know the exact place where the warbler had been so we started to search all the bushes.

After 5 minutes searching we found (again) male White-throated Robin. Also Garden Warbler and Barred Warbler were found, but we checked all the bushes without finding the Arabian Warbler.

We were just going to move to check the acasias little bit further on, when we heard an unfamiliar singing from the bush Janne had just checked. The song was little bit like a Blackbird, but clearly a warbler’s song. And soon we found the singer and it was an Arabian Warbler! It was a bit of a skulkier in the middle to top reaches of the acasias, but eventually gave good views.

We continued towards the place in Yotvata where there had been a Cinereous Bunting. Janne had got the information about the bird from internet, so we hadn’t got very good instructions to the place. We managed to find the circular fields pretty easily and we started to drive towards the sewage-place. We had driven only some hundred meters alongside when we saw a plover walking on the road in front of us. We stopped the car carefully and, YES, it was a male Caspian Plover! Caspian Plover was pretty much like a Dotterel, in as much as it was very easy to photograph. So we photographed it really closely from the car. Even Paul managed a couple of shots with 90mm lens! On the fields we also saw a Whinchat, 2 Lesser Spotted Eagles, a female Pallid Harrier and a male Montagu’s Harrier.

We did eventually find the sewage-place but there was nothing else than amazing flocks of Spanish Sparrows! Acasias were totally full of them!

We continued to the traditional Black Bush Robin-place but we walked two hot hours without any other rarities than our sixth White-throat Robin. They were starting to becom common! We also saw some Araban Babblers, Golden Oriol and a Semi-collared Flycatcher. There were plenty of Rufous Bush Robins that were singing on the top of trees or on a display flight. They were really beautiful, but we would have liked to find a black one.

At Lotan we checked to see if there were lots of Flycatchers, as had been earlier, but we saw only our old friend White-throated Robin and a Stone Curlew.
Still we wanted to check the bird-places in Eilat. So we drove to km 20 salt-pools. On the way we had a bit of amazing luck when we found a pair of Lictenstein’s Sandgrouse resting under a palm. Now Janne managed to digiscope these fabulous birds in daylight. The haze was just horrible, but we were of course happy to see these birds. Also the pools finally had some better birds: with Black-winged Stilts, Greenshanks and other common waders there were 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Turnstones, 3 Greater Sand Plovers, Terek Sandpiper and Curlew Sandpiper.

After we had driven through the Eilat fields we still went to the sea at the North Beach for a couple of hours. Whiskered Tern, 10 Pomarine Skuas and a Sooty Shearwater were really nice to see.

Before the sun was setting down we were too tired to continue anymore. So we slept until the next morning and we didn’t notice at all when Mike, Matan and Severine left on their three day journey towards central Israel.

Back to the routins

On the 17th of April there were only the three of us and Reuven at the station. Marco and Henk were on the vineyards with the mist-nets. Every hour someone picked up their birds, which were almost all Blackcaps.

The first trap-round showed what the day would be like. The traps were totally full of Blackcaps! The best box had more than 50 of them. This meant that Paul and Hanna were ringing all the time and Janne was making the trap-rounds alone, and it wasn’t easy at all! When you think it was taking approximately one minute to ring one bird, the time was soon flying by!

When also Marco and Henk got lots of Blackcaps we ringed in total 500 birds of which 450 of them were Blackcaps. The best bird we caught was a young Arabian Babbler but also 3 Barred Warblers, 2 Nightingales and some Rufous Bush Robins were ringed.

At night we heard that in that time we had been in Israel already second Hamas-leader was killed. This caused some scary moments for our friends who where sleeping in the desert at Nizzana. They were sleeping near the Palestinian jail and also near the border of Egypt inside an old abandoned house. At night when the prisoners heard about the killing they started to shout and riot, hitting the prison walls. Of course our friends hadn’t heard anything about the reasons behind the disturbance. So at least Mike who hadn’t felt asleep yet was thinking were the prisoners had escaping or were the Egyptians attacking!

At next morning we had again lots of Blackcaps. In total we ringed 400 birds. In the stations backyard, we saw a possible Upcher’s Warbler, but nothing else interesting happened. We were busy and it was hot!

Again one nice surprice

19th April – the birds were mostly gone. Until midday we had almost nothing to do. When Lynette (who has been at the station many times and is 75 years old British birder birder, and a lady!) arrived everything changed. The last round we made was extremely good! The first bird of the whole round was in mist-net and really badly tangled! Janne started to release the bird from the net and thought first that the bird was again just one of the weird pale White-throats (whatever subspecies?). When Janne turned the bird so he could see it better, he realized it wasn’t a Whitethroat at all – it was a female Ménétries’s Warbler!

Ménétries’s Warbler was really badly stuck so while taking it off Janne had time to think how to show the bird to the others. He desided to keep the bird as a secret and show it after the round.

Janne felt the round went on for ages when he had the secret in a bird-bag. But finally we were all back at the station, and Janne gave the bird-back to Paul insisting that he did this one first. Paul also looked first that the bird was a Whitethroat, but the plain sandy tertials, dark tail and all other details quickly made him realize the bird was a female Ménétrie’s Warbler.

In the afternoon we walked through the parks to the North Beach. In Central Park we briefly saw a female Collared Flycatcher that propably continued its migration staightaway. At Ofira we found our first Thrush Nightingale, and from the beach 3 Pomarine and Arctic Skuas, 60 Little Terns, Whiskered Tern and Sooty and Cory’s Shearwater.

At night Mike, Matan and Severine came back from their trip. They had had good trip with Macqueen’s Bustards etc, and even Pin-tailed Sandgrouse at Nizzana. They had also found that Sandgrouse place which we hadn’t found and had seen several flocks of Spotted Sandgrouses.

Twitching the Sandgrouses

Luckily fo us, we still had our car for one more day, so the three of us started to drive to the Sandgrouse place that we had missed already ones.

Still we had problems to find the right place even though we had Mike’s instructions. Finally we found a couple of small pools and started to wait for something to happen. We had sat down for less than 5 minutes when we heard strange “koit-to” calls from the sky. Easily we found a flock of 15 Spotted Sandgrouses that landed on the stony desert a couple of hundred meters from us. We looked at these birds for some minutes and suddenly we heard totally different calls. Two Crowned Sandgrouses flew over us and one of them landed only 50 meters from us. So both target-species were found even though we had been there less than 15 minutes!
Janne managed to get a little bit closer to the Crowned Sandgrouse so he got pictures. On the pools were a couple of Temminck’s Stints too.

We were already packing the car and leaving back to Eilat when we heard loud voices, machine gun fire and saw sand-clouds coming towards us. Soon we saw that a couple of tanks were driving just towards us! We didn’t want to wait for them, so we just drove away as quickly as possible! We were in the middle of tank firing range, which is propably not the most sensible place to be, but Crowned Sandgrouse is a good Israel tick, so it was worth it!

On the way back we stopped a couple of times and saw a pair of Scrub Warblers opposite Shizzafon. The male was even singing.

Everyone was busy at the station when we went there. We finally caught the first Thrush Nightingale. There was again 4 Blue-cheeced Bee-eaters near the bee-hives. Anyway we didn’t have a lot to do when we were all at the station. We had been used to working so much harder the couple of days.

At the afternoon we went to do the afternoon rounds with Matan. Surprisingly we caught lots of birds! So Hanna and Matan were really busy with ringing. When we also caught a difficult female Flycatcher which wasn’t easy for us to identify as a Collared Flycatcher, we had still birds in the bags when it was totally dark.
At night we went to Underground-bar because we were soon leaving. We had only one whole day in Israel!

To Egypt

Our last day in Israel was extremely quiet! There was sand in the air, so birds were in the bushes. Henk, who was again at the vineyard, called us that there were 3 Levant Sparrowhawks coming towards us. We managed to see these birds but they were pretty far. Lifers anyway!

We stopped the ringing earlier than ever, so we had plenty of time to clean our room and pack everything. At the afternoon we made the evening-round, but it was also boring.

At night we went to Gill (Reuven’s office-worker) where we had the last evening with all our friends.

On the 22nd of April at 6.30 a.m. Reuven and Tzadok came to collect all volunteers to the ringing station but Eldad drove us to Taba border crossing place.
We passed the border surprisingly quickly! So soon we had Yellow-vented Bulbul and Blackstart as Egypt ticks!

We walked one kilometre to Taba bus-station and luckily we had to wait only 10 minutes for the next bus to Suez. So already at 7.30 a.m., we were on our way to Suez.

We drove through Sinai, but mostly we were up on the highland where views were quite boring. So we didn’t see birds either, we could sleep some hours.
We arrived at Suez at midday. We took a microbus (aluguer) to Ain Sukhna, where we were planned to do some raptor watching over next two days.

We asked our driver to drive little bit longer than normal to the Portrait hotel, which our old friend Tom Collins had said to be good. We easily got a good (even too good) room (280$/night) with a balcony from where we had nice view to the Red Sea.

We spent about an hour looking with telescopes to the sea and surprisingly, the first bird we saw was a Lesser Crested Tern. Later we saw more Lesser Crested Terns and also Crested Terns but other birds were just Common Terns and White-eyed Gulls.

Finally time for raptors

Our first morning in Egypt started with hotel breakfast. By 7.30 a.m., we were already walking towards Ain Sukhna raptor watching point. We were about halfway when a familiar blue Peugeot stopped and our old friend Gamal picked us up. Gamal had passed us with Tom and other raptor-watchers and he came to give us a ride.
Tom was already setting up the watching point and he really had everything with him. It was nice to see Tom after some years. When we were in Egypt before, he helped us to find Painted Snipe and get Gamal as a driver and so on.

Soon we could start watching the sky, and the days first Steppe Buzzard flocks started to migrate. Also Black Kites, Lesser Spotted Eagles, Booted Eagles and Short-toed Eagles were soon coming. Janne managed to see a local rarity, Goshawk, which was also flying North with others.

For the whole day we watched raptors migrating high near the top of mountains. We didn’t see very big numbers but a total of 22 raptor-species were seen! Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, Bonelli’s Eagles and fulvescens Great Spotted Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Pallid Harrier were Egypt-ticks for us. Also Bee-eaters were migrating in their thousands and also some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. White and Black Storks, Citrine Wagtail and Sooty Shearwater were also country ticks.
In the afternoon about 4.00 p.m., we stopped thought there was still some migration. Probably Tom arranged us a ride back to the hotel with some local man. At the hotel we just relaxed and had a really good lunch.

Raptors, Cairo and home

Another Ain Sukhna day was almost similar to the first one. In the morning Mary (lady from the raptor-watching team) came to pick us up to the watching point. This time we saw more raptors. Best observations were huge flocks of White Storks, more than a thousand in one flock, Imperial Eagle, Great Spotted Eagle, some Levant Sparrowhawks, female Pallid Harrier and Alpine Swift.

We finished a little bit earlier and started our way to Cairo with Gamal. In our car there were also a Canadian couple who come to watch raptors for a day, so we didn’t have to pay the whole bill ourselves (Gamals prices were doubled!).

On the way we saw just couple of birds, but two male Hooded Wheatears were really nice.

At Cairo we tried to get accommodation in the hotels where we had been couple of years ago (Pension Roma and Berlin), but they were full. So Gamal drove us to Zamalek where we finally got a room in the hotrl May Flour. The room was really good and cheap (65$/night) and we took it for those 2 nights we had left.

In the evening we took a taxi and drove to the Khan Al Khalili bazaar, where we went shopping for a couple of hours. By 11 p.m., we had found most of the souvenirs and we drove back to the hotel.

On our last day of the whole 4,5 months trip, we mostly took it easy. In the mourning we had a short walk around the island of Zamalek. In the Parks we saw some Rose-ringed Parakeets and also here we saw one Alexandrine’s Parakeet. On the Nile we saw Night Herons, Little and Cattle Egrets and one Little Bittern.

Janne relaxed the rest of the day but Hanna still wanted to go to the bazaar to make some shopping. At the afternoon we had a nostalgic lunch in a boat-restaturant where we had been with Oriol some years before. It was nice to celebrate the end of our fabulous trip while Night Herons and Pied Kingfishers were flying on the Nile just under our eyes.

At midnight a taxi that we had arranged came to drive us to Cairo airport, where we had our Czech Airlines flight to Prague about 3 a.m. On the way to the airport we saw one Senegal Thick-knee by the road.

At Prague we landed about at 7 a.m., and our Finnair flight to Helsinki left at 11.40 a.m. We landed in Helsinki-Vantaa at 2.50 p.m (Finnish time) and our amazing trip had come to the end!

THANKS FOR PAUL FRENCH FOR HELPING TO MAKE THIS TRIPREPORT IN BETTER ENGLISH!