Friday, April 6, 2012

Southern Israel

Greater Short-toed Lark (?)

Southern Israel will always be remembered by me as the land of wheatears and larks. There are a confusing assortment of both, some of which can present some tormenting identification challenges. Was that a Lesser Short-toed Lark or a Greater Short-toed Lark? Do I see a Pied Wheatear or is that a Cyprus Wheatear?

Siberian Stonechat

In my post on northern Israel, I stated that southern Israel is a desert landscape. As we were to learn a desert is any environment which receives less than 200 mm of annual precipitation. However there is still a great deal of difference between desert habitats at the upper and lower extremes of this range. Consequently we developed an appreciation for the many different kinds of desert habitat that we visited. Be that as it may, any way you slice it every locality within the Negev Desert is dry, and desert oases can be counted on to attract wildlife.

Red-rumped Swallow

An oasis can result from a naturally occurring water source, such as a spring fed wadi or a flooding event, but we also took advantage of several anthropogenic sources. Water treatment ponds, date palm plantations and other irrigated agricultural operations were prime targets. Also, we were based in Eilat for most of our second week, which is a city situated on the Aqaba Gulf of the Red Sea. So we were able to see some coastal birds as well including Brown Booby and to our delight a juvenile Sooty Gull (a rarity).

Finally, my description of the birding habitats would not be complete without mentioning the raptor migration as observed from the Eilat Mountains to the north of the city. We witnessed a truly impressive raptor migration on two mornings in the mountains. It is cool in the mountains first thing in the morning, but as the thermals would begin to rise there soon appeared thousands of Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites and smaller numbers of Steppe Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Pallid Harrier and Egyptian Vulture. Hannah even saw a Levant Sparrowhawk which I unfortunately missed.

Spotted Redshank

Altogether we really enjoyed this trip and would recommend Israel for not only its birds but also its ancient culture and down-to-earth people. We came away with 184 species which is only slightly shy of our target of 200. The species tally was fewer than if we had visited Sub-Saharan Africa or southeast Asia, but as a first time trip to a different ecozone it perhaps more manageable than other areas where the species richness is much higher and almost all of it is unfamiliar!

White Storks in migration

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