Monday, 3 April 2017

Negev Desert, Israel - 21st to 23rd March 2017.

We arrived at Tel Aviv after the flight, almost 5 hours then, spent the next two hours waiting in a general melee that eventually after no less than an hour became rather disorderly lines. Having finally reached the front of the queue and cleared the booth rather speedily we then set about trying to find out which belt the bags had been sent to as by that time all details of our flight had long disappeared. Eventually, we had reached the stage of getting money out (Chris made a fatal mistake here as he got out less than we actually needed) and we trundled off to the Avis desk where we found that we’d been allocated a Nissan Micra, deemed to be equivalent to a Hyundai i20 – which it wasn’t, as that would have fitted all the luggage in the boot – and the Micra would not.

We were finally on the road in time to set off in daylight and made our way to Shivta farmstead, stopping off briefly only to eat (and that was a good move as there are very minimal facilities in the southern Negev, and quite a few other parts of Israel).

21 March 2017

We were up and out at 6am, travelling to Nizzana sewage works to look for sandgrouse. Around Shivta, first thing, there were Laughing Dove and Arabian Babblers with Black-eared and Isabelline Wheatears by the roadside.

At the sewage works we drove to a vantage point that should allow decent views if they came to the same place as we’d seen then in the previous year. We used the car as a hide and among the more interesting species we saw were Black-necked Grebe (3), Squacco Heron (1), Garganey, Pintail and Ferruginous Duck (1), along with an assortment of common waders, including a single Marsh Sandpiper and circa 100 Ruff. The only Sandgrouse to fly in were Black-bellied, with no large numbers seen.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse

 Black-winged Stilt

 Little Grebe

Wood Sandpiper

A handful of common migrant warblers present with three Water Pipits, one of which was in summer plumage, which being a different race to those in the UK, is not seen in Western Europe, and bears some resemblance to the summer plumage of Asian Buff-bellied Pipit.

We went to the area around Nizzana Fort to look for Wheatears and work the wadi but only found an Eastern Orphean Warbler with a very dark looking blackhead that was puzzling as it looked quite good for Arabian Warbler, but was way out of their range and sadly was not due to the extensive white in the outer tail being typical for Orphean. We then checked the area towards Nizzana tower which produced a couple of Stonechat and in the Tamarisks there was at least 5 Eastern Orphean Warblers mixed in with a few Lesser Whitethroats.

We then moved on to Ezuz with no luck finding Bustards or Coursers. We managed to pick up two Little Green Bee-eaters. We worked the wadi at Ezuz finding two Little Owls (pale morph Lilith), a Black-eared Wheatear, European Stonechat, Nile Sunbird , a couple of Redstarts, Southern Grey Shrike and two Common Minahs.

We returned to the wadi below the fort, seeing Pale Crag Martin, Southern Grey Shrike and Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler.

Finally we revisited the sewage works where we had a female Sparrowhawk, another European Stonechat and a Bluethroat.

The only other raptors seen during the day were Steppe and  Long-legged Buzzards in the morning and a group of 15 Black Kites in the evening around Nizzana.

22 March 2017

Another early start, travelling to Ezuz to search for McQueen's Bustards before waiting for Sandgrouse at Nizzana. There is now an old railway carriage sited near the area where the birds display, but we were not lucky, perhaps it's getting too late. However, we did see seven Cream-coloured Courser opposite the carriage. Other observations were a  Southern Grey Shrike and some Dorcas Gazelle.

 Cream-coloured Courser

Ezuz hide

Dorcas Gazelle

At the sewage works there were only Black-bellied Sandgrouse again, but in greater numbers than the previous day. We amassed a decent list of birds present though, Sand Martin, Hen Harrier (female), Black Kite (6), Great White Egret, Wryneck, Bluethroat (3), Water Pipit (5), and a thermal of circa 60 White Stork getting uplift.

We returned to our accommodation at Shivta homestead, had breakfast while tank shells were fired over our heads and into the desert, a result of army conscription and a lot of money spent on armaments. We also found that cash was required for payment. Chris had to drive to the nearest garage, some 20km to get a little extra cash. Meanwhile I explored the World Heritage Site of Shivta National Park.


We started our journey towards Eilat via Sede Boker for the overnight stay at Mitzpe Ramon. Here we saw Linnet, Woodchat Shrike, Hoopoe. Little Green Bee-eater, Desert Finch (c20), Greenfinch, Southern Grey Shrike, Blackstart and also heard Nightingale.


Moving on to Ben Gurion Memorial Park there was a short shower before our visit.There the list was made up of Masked Shrike, Collared Flycatcher, Griffon Vulture (2), Redstart male (Samamisicus), Hoopoe, Blackstart (4), Arabian Babbler and a male Syrian Serin.

We drove on to Mitzpe Ramon and stayed in a Silent Arrow private bungalow.

23rd March

Not long after first light we went for a short drive down a track that led past a Bedouin graveyard and to a small collection of shabby huts. On the drive we encountered Redstart, Mourning Wheatear and Desert Lark, We walked along the edge of the great crater then drove further along to cover a small outlet at the back of the sewage works that flowed into a pool, getting Hoopoe, Pale Crag Martin, Scrub Warbler, Rock Dove, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler (20), Arabian Babbler, Nightingale, Cretzschmar's Bunting (2), Nile Sunbird, Golden Eagle, Egyptian Vulture (2), White-crowned Black Wheatear, Bluethroat, Woodchat Shrike, Finsch's Wheatear and Black-headed Gull.

Nubian Ibex at Mizpe Ramon

Ramon Crater

Hooded Wheatear (female)

 The pool behind the sewage works held many
Pale Crag Martins and Bonelli's Warblers

Bonelli's Warbler (called Balkans Warbler in Israel)

Palestine Sunbird

We started the drive through the crater, stopped by a small wadi and saw a Ruppell's Warbler, more White-crowned Black Wheatear and a total of 24 Chukar.

The crater floor

Mourning Wheatear

A drive into Wadi Param produced Eastern Orphean Warbler (1), White-crowned Black Wheatear (2), Desert Lark. Little Green Bee-eater (1), Scrub Prinia (1) and Blackstart (1).

At Shizzaton sewage-works we found Water Pipit (1), Eastern Bonelli's Warbler (2), Redstart (2), Namaqua Dove male, Little Egret (4), Black-eared Wheatear, Cretzschmar's Bunting (4), Grey-headed Wagtail (1), and Black-headed Wagtail. 

Namaqua Dove

We reached Eilat with enough light for a quick look at the salt pans by the reserve. We met the bird race team from Cape May (prospecting for good sites and potential stayers ready for the race in a few days time) who pointed out a rather distant White-tailed Plover. It didn't photograph well as the light was failing.

Record shot - White-tailed Plover

Other birds present: Greater Flamingo, Baltic Gull (2), Caspian Gull (1), Caspian Tern (2), Spotted Redshank (1), Redshank, Dunlin, Glossy Ibis (2), Grey Heron, Slender- billed Gull.

Tomorrow Chris and I will visit the ringing centre where we'll be assisting over the next couple of weeks.