Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Israel 2014

On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound

America - A horse with no name

Finally I can post something about the trip to Israel that we did some weeks ago. Many people have asked me which moment I enjoyed the most but, honestly, I can't choose just one.

Marcel, Martí and me arrived in Israel early in the morning on 12th April. Since then until Tuesday 22nd April, we enjoyed about 240 bird species, and 50 were lifers for me. Also many interesting butterflies, reptiles, mammals, dragonflies, fishes... and everything.

We crossed the country almost 4 times, visiting the main part of the habitats. We rent a car in Tel Aviv, and we drove towards the south-east to Nizzana. The following days we reached Eilat, in the Red Sea coast, and then we went north to the Dead Sea. After that, we visited the Mediterranean Coast in Ma'agan Michael and we stopped at the Kfar Ruppin Kibbutz. We crossed Hula Valley and we reached Mont Hermont, and then we drove back to Eilat to spend a few more days. As I said, I can't explain all the trip here so I'll just show a few moments...

We visited this area, close to the Egyptian border, during the first morning. We arrived there just with the firsts lights of the day. It was an actual magic moment when I went out of the car and I step on Israel for first time (out of the airport, of course). We had seen our first bird for the trip, a Barn Owl, and also the second, a Scops Owl. But just a few minutes after I did the first lifer: Graceful Prinia (Prinia gracilis). Minutes later, my first Balkan Warbler (Phylloscopus orientalis), many Spur-winged Lapwings (Vanellus spinosus), the first Palestine Sunbird (Cynniris osea)... We took the read to Ezuz then, and crossing the desert we saw many Isabelline Wheatears (Oenanthe isabellina), Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and some other migrant stuff! Also there were some Masked Shrikes (Lanius nubicus) around; a good day for migrants!

We stopped also for a family of Streaked Scrub Warblers (Scotocerca inquieta), really nice. Minutes later, Marcel found a Pallid Harrier, and when we were looking for them...
Two MacQueen's Bustards (Chlamydotis macqueenii) passed over us...
Streaked Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta)
Also the first Chukar Partridge for the trip, a Lilith's Little Owl and this really nice Desert Mantis!

Road 40 to Eilat
Just from the car we saw many Mourning Wheatears (Oenanthe lugens), some of them taking care of their fledglings. We also stopped in some wadis looking for migrants, and we saw some interesting stuff. Surprisingly, the commonest bird were Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla)...

In the midday we slept in a wadi close to Mitzpe Ramon. I woke up by many migrants calling, Blackcaps of course but some other things around. Another Masked Shrike appeared so I decided to go out to see what was hidden in those bushes. Many Eastern Olivaceus Warblers (Iduna pallida) and some other common migrants appeared, as well as some Arabian Babblers (Turdoides squamiceps) and stuff. The biggest surprise was a really nice male Ruppell's Warbler (Sylvia rueppelli)!

After some time checking every simgle feather in that place, we went to Mitzpe Ramon. The lookout from the road is so nice, and also good to have some desert species quite close...

Blackstart (Cercomela melanura)
Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti)
White-crowned Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga)
Nubian Ibex (Capra nubiana)
Eilat and surroundings
We arrived there when it was getting dark, and we went straigh to try to see the Lichtenstein's Sandgrouses (Pterocles lichtensteinii) going to drink (they only do that in the evening!). We were lucky with some birds quite close, and despite the bad light to see them, it was really nice.

The Km 19 saltpants remembered my a little part of Ebre Delta. Lots of Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) and many nice waders make this area a really nice place to go for birding. The first time we went here we saw this Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus), and later on in the trip, many Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus). Also, this nice male Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) and some White-winged Terns (Chlidonias leucopterus).
Some waders (Little Stints..) in Km 20
Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus)
Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)
Spur-winged Lapwing (Vanellus spinosus), really common wherever 
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)
White-winged Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus)
If you are in Eilat in spring, you mustn't forget to check the sky almost constantly. This Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) appeared out of nowhere when we were at Km 19, and our first Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) passed through us when we were driving!

We passed for the IBRC, and a nice guy told us that a Black Bush Robin (Cercotrichas podobe) had been seen in the Doum Palms, a little bit north that Km 19 saltpants. We went straight there, and about 5 minutes after starting looking...
We found it. "We went to Israel, and we saw a Black Bush Robin"
The Doum Palms (Hyphaene thebaica), the most northern
population of this species in the world
Arava Desert. Black Bush Robin's place!

Road 90 to the Dead Sea
It's really nice when you feel that emotion to reach your target after a big effort. That was exactly what happened with one of my dream birds, the Arabian Warbler (Sylvia leucomelaena). We walked for hours with a hard Sun burning us in the Negev Desert until we were about to defeat. They appeared just in that moment, when it seemed almost impossible. There were 4 birds, 2 adults feeding their youngs. What could be better than that?!

'On the way' to the Arabian Warbler we spotted many migrant species around the wadi. Also, Little Green Bee-eaters (Merops orientalis) let us to take proper photos being extremely confidents.

Thrush Nightingale (Luscinia luscinia), common in low
 and dense bushes
I also liked Hatzeva, where another Black Bush Robin was suposed to be (but it has already gone...). Good place for the 'usual' birds: Arabian Babbler, Palestine Sunbird, Namaqua Dove...
Palestine Sunbird (Cinnyris osea)
Arabian Babbler (Turdoides squamiceps)
White-spectacled Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos)
Desert Finch (Rhodospiza obsoleta)
Dead Sea
Just in front of the Ein Gedi camping it was a Fan-tailed Raven (Corvus rhipidurus) flying. We stopped to see it, but a small passerine, besides the car, attracted our attention. An Striolated Bunting (Emberiza striolata) !!!

We continued to Ein Salvatori. There, we saw many Tristram's Grackles (Onychognathus tristamii), and some of them really close! There were some Rock Hyrax too, and a nice Fox (Vulpes vulpes) that looked a bit weird.
Tristam's Grackle (Onychognathus trstamii) female
Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis) 
We failed Sinai Rosefinch (We'll come back for you, guy...), but many close males Sand Partridges (Ammoperdix heyi) treated the 'pain'... And also the Dead Sea landscape for itself!

Amasa Mountain and Ma'agan Michael
When you leave the lowest place on Earth by car, you'll see, after a long ascent, a traffic signal that says "Sea level". After that, you'll finally believe that you had been so low!
Reaching Amasa, the landscape starts to change to something more mediterranean, less desert. There are many pines and low bushes, and obviously, differend birds.

Here we saw Long-billed Pipit (Anthus similis), and also this 'Corn Bunting-like' Pale Rock Sparrow (Carpospiza brachydactyla) as the most interesting birds.

Ma'agan Michael is on the Mediterranean coast, many kilometres north. We arrived there and, soon, we saw our first Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis). Fishponds were full of birds and we saw many different species in a short time period. Also, a weird Acrocephalus song revealed the first of many Clamorous Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus).

Kfar Rupin and the fishponds
Around the Kfar Rupin Kibbutz you'll enjoy many interesting species such as the two kingfishers (Ceryle rudis and Halcyon smyrnensis), Golden jackals (Canis aureus), Pygmy Cormorants (Microcarbo pygmeus), Black Francolin (Francolinus francolinus)... and also many migrant stuff!

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)
Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus)
White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
Dead Sea Sparrow (Passer moabiticus)
Lots of Black Storks (Ciconia nigra)...
and some White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus)!
The fishponds were actually full of life (and not only fishlife...). There were hundreds of White and Black Storks, many Spoonbills, some waders...

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg)
Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)
We failed, despite an intensive search, the Pallas' Gull (Larus ichthyaetus), that is common here in winter. But we saw easily Armenian Gull (Larus armenicus) and some Caspian Gulls (Larus cachinnans).
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Mount Hermon
In the northern part of Israel, the landscape changes again. Our main target was the Syrian Serin (Serinus syriacus), that is a strange mix of Citril Finch and Serin. It actually lives like a Citril Finch and we looked for them as we are used with citrinella; just looking from the road waiting for a flock.

We finally found a small flock. and we supposed that we would find more, but they were located just on the first place we saw them. Also, there were many Cretzschmar's Buntings (Emberiza caesia) singing, and also other nice birds for us like Eastern Orphean Warbler (Sylvia crassirostris).

Zerynthia cerisy
Polygonia egea
Eilat: North Beach
We spend many hours from North Beach, looking at the Red Sea. Most interesting birds were some White-cheeked Terns (Sterna repressa) among several hirundo, up to 22 White-eyed Gulls (Larus leucophthalmus) and an unexpected Striated Heron (Butorides striatus). Nonetheless, a Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) (rarity in Israel!), many House Crows (Corvus splendens) along the beach, a Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus), a flock of 42 White-winged Terns (Chlidonias leucopterus), 2 Parasitic Jaegers (Stercorarius parasiticus) coming from the sea and flying above the desert in migration, a Danaus (butterfly) coming from the sea and some other nice sightinghs were also really good.
House Crow (Corvus splendens)
White-cheeked Tern (Sterna repressa), 1st summer
If you have reached the end of the post, it's probably because you've skipped all the 'danger mines' I put in... Sadly, this sign and a lot of different kind of dangerous fences are quite common there.

I've just tried to don't write a trip report and summarize everything, but I've not talked about many other species and great moments we passed! I have to say my most sincere thank you to Martí and Marcel, who have made this great experience possible. We'll be back soon!!