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Courtesy of James P. Smith

Birdfinders successfully ran two autumn trips to southern Israel in 2011. This relatively new tour took place for the first time in 2010 and looks set to rival the popularity of the spring tour which has now been running annually since 1995!

November proved to be an exciting month in Israel. The first tour set a very high standard with a new tour record of 183 species, culminating in the discovery of the 2nd national record of Red-flanked Bluetail. This bird was found in Eilat Cemetery, a former 'hotspot' that had not produced a truly rare bird since the late nineties (a Hume's Warbler), so there was certainly an element of nostalgia involved in the find. During the remainder of the tour our highly motivated group went on to find Black Stork, Jack Snipe, Eurasian Woodcock, Whiskered Tern, Pharaoh Eagle-owl, Pallid Swift, Eurasian Crag-martin, Thick-billed Lark, Long-billed Pipit, Clamorous Reed-warbler, Cyprus Warbler, Asian Desert Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Masked Shrike, and Common Rosefinch, all of which would not be recorded by the second group.

As if to highlight the difference between two back to back tours, the second tour produced even more rarities and a completely different species profile. We discovered Great-crested Grebe, Striated Heron, Black and Eurasian Griffon-vultures, Short-toed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Greater Sandplover, Nubian Nightjar, Pallid Scops-owl, Bar-tailed Lark, Blyth's and Olive-backed Pipits, Little Bunting, Grey Hypocolius and Sinai Rosefinch (including three males), all of which went unrecorded on the first tour.

Notable species common to both tours included Western Reef-heron, Pallid Harrier, Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Lanner, Saker and Peregrine (Barbary) Falcons, Sand Partridge, Macqueen's Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser, Sociable Lapwing, White-eyed Gull, Armenian Gull, all five possible sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove, White-throated Kingfisher, Little Green Bee-eater, Syrian Woodpecker, Greater Hoopoe-lark, Temminck's Lark, Oriental Lark, Richard's Pipit, Siberian and Caucasian Stonechats, Finsch's, Mourning, Hooded and White-crowned Black Wheatears, Redwing (rare in southern Israel), Streaked Scrub-warbler, Clamorous Reed-warbler, Red Sea Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Desert and Trumpeter Finches, and some impressive gatherings of Indian Silverbill.

All of this was enjoyed from a very comfortable hotel in Eilat with great food and well appointed guest rooms. We followed this with a two-nights stay at an equally comfortable Kibbutz Guest house deep in the Western Negev. In contrast to last year's scorching trip, both of this year's tours were on the cool side with some showery rain towards the end of the first week. Otherwise the weather was pretty much ideal for field birding.

Next year's tour will be running on the same dates and early booking is advised – our Israel tours fill up fast! Do enjoy the photo-gallery from autumn 2011 which combines images from both of our Israel weeks.

James P. Smith, Gill, MA, USA

Sand Partridge
Striated Heron
Western Reef-heron
Golden  Eagle
Imperial Eagle
Greater Spotted Eagle
Peregrine (Barbary) Falcon Water Rail
Macqueen's Bustard Greater Sand-plover
Eurasian Woodcock Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Eurasian Woodcock Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Pallid Scop's-owl Green Bee-eater
Oriental Skylarks Desert Lark
Thick-billed Lark Temminck's Lark
Greater Hoopoe-lark Blyth's Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit Red-throated Pipit
Hypocolius Bluethroat
Red-flanked Bluetail Red-flanked Bluetail
Red-flanked Bluetail Mourning Wheatear
White-crowned Wheatear Blackstart
Desert Wheatear Arabian Warbler
Asian Desert Warbler Arabian Babbler
Great Grey Shrike Red-backed Shrike
Masked Shrike Sinai Rosefinch
Desert Finch Little Bunting
Indian Silverbills Wadi Ketura Nature Reserve
Zin Valley Wadi Mishmar
Sand Partridge

Sand Partridge