ISRAEL – SPRING
This year's Israel spring tour began with two nights at our favorite Kibbutz in the Western Negev before transferring to a comfortable hotel in Eilat for the following five nights. The hotel was ideally situated next to Central Park in Eilat, allowing for pre-breakfast birding for many in our party. A cool westerly air-stream kept temperatures well below average for much of the tour and we needed every item of field clothing we'd brought just to stay warm in the desert!
Our tour dates were slightly earlier than in previous years opening up the opportunity for late wintering species, and earlier migrants that we might otherwise have missed on a later tour. This was particularly evident with species such as Cyprus and Rüppell's Warblers, which we found in numbers on several days of the tour. Late winterers included two unprecedented Pallid Scops-owls, plus small flocks of Sinai Rosefinches and Syrian Serins.
However, the cool temperatures did not negatively impact our birding and we did remarkably well in finding most of the key birds, and tallying over 190 species. Highlights included up to two Brown Boobies and a Western Reef-heron on Eilat's north beach, two male Pallid Harriers together at Yotvata, an immature Bonelli's Eagle north of Eilat, almost daily sightings of Barbary Falcon, six Macqueen's Bustards in one morning at Nizzana, several very early Red-necked Phalaropes, all five possible species of sandgrouse, five species of owl including an ethereal, calling Hume's Owl, no less than four Egyptian Nightjars, Nubian Nightjar, all four possible species of swift including Little, ten species of lark including Greater Hoopoe-lark, Thick-billed and Temminck's, eight species of wheatear including Hooded and Pied, Arabian Warbler plus a fantastic show of Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, an adult Steppe Grey Shrike, Dead Sea Sparrow, Desert and Trumpeter Finches.
But no tour to Israel would be complete without observing the famed migration of large soaring birds, and again we met with success seeing thousands of White Storks and Common Cranes in spectacular flocks over the desert, and steady streams of raptors in the Eilat Mountains and over the Judean Hills. Perhaps the most surprising raptor event was a single stream of 27 Short-toed Eagles on the very first morning of the tour at Nizzana, the likes of which we've never experienced on a Birdfinders tour before.
Mammals of interest included Wolf, Dorcas Gazelle, the rare 'acacia' race of Mountain Gazelle, Rock Hyrax, Cape Hare and Golden Spiny Mouse.
Next year's spring Birdfinders tour will take place during 18th–25th March 2013, and early booking is advised. In the mean time, do enjoy this gallery of images from the 2012 Israel spring tour.
James P. Smith, Gill, MA, USA