Champions of the Flyway!

Friday, April 28, 2023

Israel, spring '23 - days eight to ten

Male Rüppell's Warbler, Holland Park. I know....
With the Champions of the Flyway team gathering on North Beach followed by the awards ceremony and lunch at the IBRCE, day eight of our trip (28th) was pretty relaxed - especially with a change of accommodation (from the Soliel to an apartment across town for two nights), and the prospect of more snorkelling....
... which is how we spent several very happy hours in the afternoon and evening, again down at the end of South Beach near the border with Egypt; just an absolute joy. Birding was limited to an early session in Ofira Park before checking out, which was productive (as always) - lots of migrants, including two showy Wrynecks (above), 60 Lesser Whitethroats, four Eastern Olivaceous Warblers and plenty more.
Arabian Babbler
"blame it on the falling sky... blame it on the satellite, that beams me home"* 

A quick stop off at the date palms just north of the IBRCE to check out a Semi-collared Flycatcher was instantly successful:
With the business of the week concluded (more on the climax of a wonderful COTF Race Week to follow), a spare day and evening in Eilat beckoned for day nine (29th), which we exploited to full in the increasingly simmering desert heat. The first stop early doors was a fantastic session in the Eilat mountains, up at the higher of the two raptor migration watchpoints:
The higher Raptor Watchpoint in the Eilat Mountains (and a Lesser Spotted Eagle cruising north)
We had a wonderfully busy time as the trickle became a flow, and the flow became, well, an ever-changing cloud of birds - in less than three hours, we counted 12,250 Steppe Buzzards, 4,800 Black Kites and four eagle species (Lesser Spotted, Booted, Bonelli's and Short-toed) heading north through the beautiful, dramatic terrain.
As the heat increased, we headed a little way up the 90 to Timna (below), a National Park in the desert which I've been wanting to visit for a long time (but, as with all non-birdy adventures here, have always fallen off the foot of the priority list in the past). What a place - stunning doesn't begin to describe it, and we couldn't help staying out in the midday sun a little too long....
Stone-curlew, Timna

The rest of the day? Well, we just had to spend it snorkelling. Mind-blowing!
Easter Bonelli's Warbler and Wryneck in Holland Park
Day ten of the trip (30th) was a mostly a travel day meandering our way back up to Mazkeret Batya, where our dear friends the Perlmans awaited us - but first we had a final session on the edge of the city in Holland Park, which was full of recently-arrived migrants (and, oddly, no birders, after the preceding week of bumping into international friends behind every bush....).
More Rüppell's Warbler? No problem!
An increase in warblers and Wrynecks (at least eight of the latter) provided a fittingly entertaining goodbye to Eilat, not least the stunning Rüppell's Warblers sipping nectar on the magic bushes.
Huge White Stork migration in the middle of the desert
Red-throated Pipit - looking a little different out in the desert to those in the city parks

A leisurely drive through the beautiful Eilat mountains and a couple of stops at Ovda and Neot Smadar provided larks, pipits, masses of White Storks (always a surreal sight in the middle of the desert) and delicious, melt-in-the-mouth dates along the way, and by evening, we were safely ensconsed with the Perlmans for the next couple of days.
Desert Lark and Spotted Sandgrouse, Ovda Plains

*Extremely niche early nineties music reference - bonus points if you got it (listen to 'The Bends' if you didn't....)

Monday, April 24, 2023

Israel, spring '23 - Bonelli's Eagle & yellow wagtails

A minor diversion from the chronological flow to accommodate a few extra photos.....
- firstly from an insane experience Amity and I enjoyed with a Bonelli's Eagle on the Jordanian border, just north of Eilat.... these at least include the whole bird - only possible when it'd gained sufficient height (not much) above our heads for it to fit in the frame. A proper goosebumps moment!
And secondly, a collection of 'yellow' wagtails from the Eilat area over the first week. The first three photos are of Citrine Wagtail, a regular presence on the trip (and more abundant than on previous visits) - pictured are a male from the IBRCE, and a female from the Flamingo Pools....
.... while the rest are, well, Yellow Wagtails. Honest.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Israel, spring '23 - days six and seven

Day six (26th) dawned cloudy and full of promise after the torrential rains and flash floods of the previous day and night, and with some birding time to spare, Yoav and I decided to focus on Eilat and its parks (joined by Amity for the first session and Anat for plenty of the morning's urban birdfun, her speciality up in Tel Aviv).
Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse by the roadside at km20
An early session in Holland Park (above) was pretty good, but not amazing - 100 Lesser Whitethroats, four Rüppell's, two Eastern Orphean, three Eastern Bonelli's, plus plenty of other common migrants - and so we soon headed further into the city, for some proper urban(e) migrant hunting. Both of our subsequent chosen sites were small, manicured, pretty disturbed parks deep within the city; sounds like a nightmare in any other place, but in Eilat, in late March, after rain? The very opposite....
Arabian Green Bee-eater (above) and Masked Shrike (below)
Our first stop was Central Park, where we'd the first Collared Flycatcher of the day, plus Wryneck, six Eastern Orphean, 60 Lesser Whitethroats, 40 Blackcaps, Rüppell's, three Hoopoes, a Common Whitethroat and plenty more; so many birds in such a small corner of habitat, and a very good sign.
The first of a fistful of urban Collared Flycatchers, and one of many tame Tree Pipits on the lawns
Some weirdo frightening the office workers 

We soon moved on to Canada Park, which was exploding with new arrivals.
Warblers were bursting out of every bush and tree, with at least 150 (!) Lesser Whitethroats, 70 Blackcaps, 15 Chiffys, six Eastern Oliveaceous, Wood and Sedge Warblers, five Common Whitethroats and two Rüppell's, while our ongoing black-and-white flycatcher hunt was rewarded with another three cracking male Collareds....
One of a good scattering of Eastern Orphean Warblers 

.... and as if that weren't enough, raptor passage over our heads was an absolute thrill, with 24 Steppe Eagles, Egyptian Vulture, Pallid Harrier, two Short-toed Eagles, 400 Black Kites, two Marsh Harriers and at least 1500 Steppe Buzzards (as well as 50 Common and 30 Pallid Swifts, Red-rumped Swallows and Pale Crag Martins) streaming over the city and around the tower blocks surrounding the park.
Egyptian Vulture (above), Steppe Eagles and Steppe Buzzards (below) migrating over the city centre 

An unforgettable session overflowing with migrants around and above us, all in two tiny urban parks that you could walk the lengths of in a couple of minutes.
By mid-afternoon we were back at the IBRCE for the Champions of the Flyway swap-meet, before Amity and I took off to Yotvata (via a quick stop for super-close Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse) for ice-cream and evening birding at the ponds - highlights here, aside from the ice-cream, included 11 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters performing a perfect feed-up-and-fly-by and they migrated north, 34 (shades of) Yellow and five Citrine Wagtails, waders including Wood and Green Sandpipers and plenty of herons around the pond's fringes.
Low-flying Barbary Falcon, km76 

With COTF23 teams scattered across the Negev, we (Amity, Yoav, Anat and I) headed north for a morning session back at KM76 on day seven (27th) - the undisputed hotspot of the valley this spring and scene of some epic desert birding on our first day in the south (see here).
Migration madness at km76
Isabelline Wheatear 

The next two and a half hours were a whirlwind of birds - too many to mention here, but including Caspian and Siberian Stonechats, Temminck's and Bar-tailed Larks, 40 Isabelline Wheatears (as well as various other white-arses, including 20 Eastern Black-eared), Barbary Falcon, swarms of Tawny Pipits, Yellow Wagtails and Short-toed Larks, warblers scattered everywhere, hundreds of Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites, Bluethroats, six singing Savi's Warblers.... and much more. Full eBird checklist here
A local Great Grey Shrike eyeing up a Spanish Sparrow breakfast....
.... of which there was plenty of choice
The afternoon and evening were dedicated to covering and supporting the climax of Champions of the Flyway '23, as the campaign, and the teams, hurtled towards the finish line, via the traditional impromptu gathering at North Beach for dusk - ostensibly to pick up extra species, but also to connect and share experiences of the day with teams from across the world. (More on the race, and the people, to follow).
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear - numerous at km76 

A wonderfully busy, bird-filled, fun-filled couple of days - and we weren't done with the south just yet.....