Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Monday, 3 February 2020

Israel, January-February 2020

My Western Palearctic list kicked back into life last week, when Sam J and I visited Israel in what was my first heavily targeted WP trip for two years. Having never been to this famous birding country before, plenty of lifers were on offer, though Israel – perhaps the best winter location in the WP – still surpassed expectations.

Nahal Grofit wadi in the Negev Desert.

As well as a fine suite of lifers, including many desirable, rare and eye-catching species, the general birding was first-class. One can only imagine what it’s like during migration. In total we logged 179 species – not bad for six days. A trip report on Cloudbirders details the more specific information in regard to certain target species – a link to it is here. A selection of sound recordings, including the first Syrian Serin vocalisations to have ever been uploaded to Xeno-Canto, are already on said website.

Here, I’ll do a sort of photo diary (much like my Florida trip), hopefully in three parts. This one covers our first two days, during which time we scored Desert Tawny Owl in the Dead Sea following our late flight, before birding the Eilat area and southern Arava valley.

One of the first new species encountered when we awoke in the car in
the Uvda Valley was Blackstart – a common species in southern Israel.

Despite it being January, this migrating second-year Great Spotted
Cuckoo was a welcome sign that spring was stirring.

This Arabian Wolf was a wonderful and unexpected surprise.

A group of Wild Ass were picked up in the half-light of pre-dawn.

One of our main day one targets was Asian Desert Warbler. This highly
active individual performed nicely in a small wadi in the upper valley,
occasionally bursting into song.

Pale Crag Martin was a fairly regular overhead presence in the south.

The upper valley held good numbers of both Bar-tailed Lark (top bird)
and Temminck's Lark.

The elegans form of Great Grey Shrike was seen at two spots. This bird
sang several times, allowing for some sound recordings.

A large flock of Tristram's Grackles awaited us at Yotvata fields.

We were pleased to score Desert Finch so early in the trip, though
these two somewhat underwhelming females in poor light provided
motivation to get better views later on.

Little Green Bee-eater always ground the car to a halt when one was
picked up roadside.

This subadult Eastern Imperial was a surprise as it cruised over a cafe
car park in Yotvata – a new bird for both of us.

The novelty did kind of wear off after the first couple of days. Stunning
birds nonetheless.

Laughing Dove is a common bird throughout Israel.

Our first Pied Kingfishers of the trip were at Eilat salt pans.

Our only Ruff (left) of the trip, with Marsh Sandpiper and Black-winged
Stilt at Eilat sewage canal.

White-eyed Gull, a Red Sea endemic, is easy to catch up with off either
Eilat North Beach or Dolphin Reef.

A visit to the famous KM19 sewage pond failed to produce Lichtenstein's
Sandgrouse, but there was plenty of other good birds including Black Storks.

Somewhat more bizarre was the wintering Lesser White-fronted Goose,
which flew in at dusk incongruously with an Egyptian Goose.

Great Cormorants streamed south down the Arava valley to roost on
the Red Sea.

A pack of Golden Jackals were by KM19 pools at last light on day one.

Day two started at Amram's Pillars where showy birds – including
Tristram's Grackles – were very much in play.

Our first Scrub Warblers were noted beside the entrance track ...

... as were our first Sinai Rosefinches, a key target and thankfully playing
ball this winter. The drab females weren't quite as exciting as the males.

Further up the track, some pools of water provided crippling views of
several species, including Blackstart ...

... and Hooded Wheatear, with this male showing the species' striking
attenuated shape.

We were very lucky to enjoy great views of three male Sinai Rosefinches
drinking at the pools, allowing close study and some sound recordings
of these Middle East, arid habitat specialities.

Even a Scrub Warber couldn't resist a drink.

A Dorcas Gazelle was noted on the way out.

Next up was a second attempt for Black Bush Robin at Samar. This
Bluethroat there was one of several seen during the week.

Despite seeing several Black Redstarts during the trip, we only had
one adult male.

After a bit of a search, we were delighted to locate two Black Bush Robins.
This recent WP colonist proved rather shy, although we enjoyed good
views for a short period.

Also in Samar were a few Indian Silverbills – category C in Israel.

This Spanish Sparrow fancied being photographed too.

We were very lucky that our visit coincided with several wintering
Basalt Wheatears in the Uvda Valley. This poorly known bird is either
a plumage of Mourning Wheatear or a subspecies in its own right, but as
it's restricted to dark basalt desert in north Jordan and south Syria
it is hard to study. There have been fewer than 20 Israeli records.

Also wintering in the Uvda Valley was this smart first-winter Kurdish
Wheatear, a tricky and localised WP species.

One of the highlights of the trip was the discovery of this day-roosting
Pallid Scops Owl in Nahal Grofit. Searching for them, even with recent
gen, can be a bit of a needle in a haystack job so we were chuffed to
eventually find this bird sitting tight in a dense acacia. We soaked up
crippling views before leaving it in peace.

Another trip highlight was connecting with two of the wintering Crested
Honey Buzzards, including this juvenile. A highly-desired WP species, six
are wintering around Eilat this season and our sky-watching efforts
eventually paid off, with a bonus Steppe Eagle to boot.

We ended the day at Eilat North Beach, where we obtained upgrade views
of Western Reef Egret (having seen one in flight earlier) ...

... as well as a better look at White-eyed Gull. A failed look for Pharaoh
Eagle-owl that night concluded our time in Eilat.

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