Trip Report – November 2013
Comments: November, when we went, isn’t the best time to bird in Israel if you are looking for a huge number of species but it is spectacular (especially in the north) in terms of the number of individual birds migrating and over wintering. This itinerary worked well for us but it would work in the spring as well.
The country is very easy to get around – we drove ourselves and never got lost. The main challenge is that it is very expensive. Even basic Kibbutz accommodation ( e.g. Ketura Kibbutz below) was about $150 CAD and everything else was $250 plus. The guides are also the most expensive we have used anywhere in the world – although they were also amongst the best and the nicest that we have used. Most of these photos were taken by one of our guides, Meidad Goren.
Day 1: Our first day we were guiding ourselves at the fish ponds of Ma’agan Mikhael. This is actually a part of a kibbutz but you can walk around and the birds were great. There were hundreds of Glossy Ibis and Great White Pelican flying overhead, along with waders and shorebirds. We had 2 life birds before we even entered the fish ponds – Palestine Sunbird and White-eyed Bulbul and then a further 35 species on the ponds. Our main target was Armenian Gull and there were plenty of them!
We spend the afternoon at other fishponds near Hahsholm Resort (turn right BEFORE the village and follow the road round). This added a further 24 species – including Water Pipit.
A nice easy start to our trip and a lovely day birding. Back to the Colony Hotel in Haifa and across the road to Douzen for a great Israeli meal.
Day 2: We started the day at Tel Shiqmona point in Haifa for some sea watching but it was really the wrong time of year and nothing was moving. We did get a life bird (Masked Shrike) walking out to the point so it wasn’t a complete waste.
We then took the time to do a little sightseeing in Haifa – the cable car up to Stella Maris was right near sea watch and the church at the top is lovely. Then over to Bahai Gardens – unfortunately you can’t walk through them but they were stunning and the view was great.
The rest of the day was spent working our way over to Rosh Pina where we were to start the Hula Valley part of our trip. Stayed at Pina Balev B&B and great dinner with amazing view at Pina Barosh
Day 3: An early morning start to meet our guide, Nadav, and our first stop was at Agamon HaHula to see 46,000 Common Cranes as they started to leave the roost for the day – what a sight!! We then spent the rest of the day touring the fields and fish ponds of the Hula Valley. While this didn’t produce much in terms of life birds for us (we have birded both Europe and Asia so our target list was quite small) the numbers of birds were amazing – Skylarks and White Wagtails were there by the thousands – they were like ants and it was really quite a spectacle.
We ended the day at the Hula Nature Reserve where we first got a life bird – Moustached Warbler – and then enjoyed the another spectacle as dozens of harriers came in to roost in the reeds for the night. A wonderful birding experience. Back to Pina Balev and dinner again at Pina Barosh.
Day 4: Met up with Nadav and drove up to the Gamla Nature Reserve – Finsch’s Wheatear on the way in and then spectacular views of the Griffon Vulture. This is where they nest and we had fabulous views. Then we drove up to the Golan Heights for coffee at Merom Golan overlooking Syria, which was interesting. Then a wonderful falafel lunch in the Druze village of Bu’quta on the way up to Mount Hermon.
We were able to go into military areas because our guide had clearance and while it was quite quiet on the bird front it was a fascinating experience. We did mange to get Syrian Serin – although the Red Fronted Serin that was supposed to come in to drink at a certain pond eluded us due to rain the previous day that left many drinking spots available to them.On the way down we were able to get Rock Nuthatch – although the Sombre Tit was also absent!!
Last night at the Rosh Balev and dinner again at Rosh Balev.
Day 5: Our final day with our guide Nadav. we headed south round the east side of the Sea of Galilee and our first stop was the southern side of Gamla. Our target species were Long-billed Pipit, Blackstart and Woodlark and we had success with all three quite quickly so we decided to continue south straight to the Beit Shean valley.
Once again we covered fields and fish ponds and enjoyed the huge numbers of larks and pipits. Our targets here were Pallid Harrier, Desert Finch and Dead Sea Sparrow and once again Nadav delivered.
We left him at this point and went to stay at the Ein Harod Guesthouse to enjoy a couple of days relaxation so Day 6 was really about doing nothing but reading and relaxing.
Day 7: Resumed our birding today but with a bit of a lazy start. We drove south, through the Westbank and stopped at Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea. Our main targets here were Tristram’s starling and Fan-tailed Raven so we drove into the car park beyond Nahal David and Nahal Arugot and managed to get them before we left the car!!! Also added Arabian Babbler, Little Green Bee-eater and a juvenile White-crowned Wheatear that were new for the trip.
Had lunch at Ein Gedi which was a really disappointing spot compared with the Dead Sea in Jordan which is beautifully done. Thank goodness we hadn’t decided to stay here because it really isn’t very nice. In fact the rest of the drive along the west side of the Dead Sea was really unattractive – at least the road was good and we were able to make good time to get passed it all! Continued on all the way to Eilat – which is like Las Vegas and not at all what we had expected!!
Stayed at the Leonard Royal – which was nothing to write home about – but did have a very nice meal at Bostons on the main water front.
Day 8: Enjoyed our final lazy morning before meeting our second guide, Itai, to bird the strip all along route 90 around the Lotan and Yotvata area. Unfortunately it was unusually windy and we didn’t have a terribly successful day. This is in part because we are looking for the tougher species ( Pallid Scops Owl and both Cypress and Arabian Warbler) but we did enjoy great views of Eastern Imperial Eagle and a life bird for us Scrub Warbler.
Decided to try our luck at Pharaoh Eagle Owl as Itai knew exactly where one normally appears in the evening but that too was not in our favor – oh well – that’s birding!
Second night at Leonardo Royal and another good dinner down on the waterfront at La Cucina.
Day 9: Started the day up on the Ovda Valley. And what a great start it was! We had hardly started our walk when a flock of Thick-billed Larks flew in along with both Desert and Bar-tailed
Lark. Then after a short walk we found Crowned Sandgrouse and an unexpected Striolated Bunting – after a quiet day yesterday it was nice to see some action! We started to work our way back down to Lotan and found a huge flock of Sand Partridge! Had a great breakfast at the kibbutz at Shizzafon.
Decided to try a few places in the afternoon to get the Pallid Scops Owl and the Cypress & Arabian Warblers we didn’t see yesterday and came up with the same result!
A stop late in the afternoon at North Beach outside Eilat did produce out targets, however, that were White-eyed Gull and Western Reef Heron.
Feeling good after that we went to the watering spot for Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse and although they did show up they only come at dusk and the light was so poor that it was almost impossible to really see anything other than a vague shape – and we have very good optical equipment – so it was a little unsatisfying really.
Said good bye to Itai and stayed at the Ketura Kibbutz. This was quite basic and we had to eat in their dining room which was and interesting experience.
Day 10: Drove up to the Ha Misharl and met our third guide, Meidad. Started birding straight away. Our main target was the Asian Desert
Warbler and it took a fair bit of work but eventually we had good looks at a couple of them. We then tried for Sinai Rosefinch – which we knew was a bit of a stretch and unfortunately we didn’t get it. We did get good views of Chukar and also managed a different subspecies of Black Redstart (semirufa) but it was generally quite quiet.
Had lunch in Mitspe Ramon and then decided to work our way out to Ezuz, near Nizzana where we were spending the night. What an interesting little spot – stayed in a cabin rented out by Gilboa from Desert Experience and enjoyed a great meal at the local restaurant – which only opens upon request!!!
Day 11: Left just before sunrise and took a jeep out into the desert in search of Macqueen’s Bustard. It was a stunning morning and within about 20 minutes we had found a group of 7 of them. What a great moment! After enjoying lengthy views we headed straight to the sewage ponds to be there in time for our next targets – they arrive on a strict schedule -and they flew in right on time. Black-bellied Sandgrouse arrived first and then a group of Spotted Sandgrouse flew over head. What a great morning!
Back to Ezuz for a relaxing breakfast and then decided to take the rest of the day to head back to Sde Boker and relax at our B&B – Krivine’s.
Day 12: Our last birding day! and we started very early. Drove out to the fields near Urim in NW Negev. Our first target showed up very quickly – Sociable Plovers – a group of about 19 of them on the field – with a late Dotterel.
Moved to another field which was a vast area and as we were driving through it we saw a huge flock of birds flying – they were the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse that we were after. So we watched them land and then headed towards them – what an amazing sight!!
Time to say goodbye to our guide and head into Jerusalem. Treated ourselves to the American Colony Hotel wow!
Day 13: Today was dedicated to exploring the souqs and sites of Jerusalem. Definitely worth putting aside the time – we loved it. Mount of Olives, the Holy Sepulcher and the Wailing Wall plus good food and good shopping – a great way to finish our trip!
Colony Hotel, Haifa
Pina Balev, Rosh Pina
Ein Harod Guesthouse, Ein Harod
Leonard Royal Hotel, Eilat
Ketura Kibbutz, Ketura
Desert Experience, Ezuz ( facebook page – Desert Expereience) best booked through Meidad Goren – see below or call 972 528 03 93 12
Krivines B&B, Sed Boker (website not currently active)
American Colony, Jerusalem
Guides & Resources
Northern Israel – Nadav Israel – [email protected] – 972 0 523 869 444 (Great!)
Eilat and Eastern Negev – Ithai Shanni – [email protected] 972 523 689 773
Western Negev – Meidad Goren – [email protected] 972 523 689 608 (Great!)
Field Guide: 2nd Edition of Collins Birds of Europe – Svensson, Mullarney, Zetterstrom
Bird Song: order from the NHBS – Bird Songs and Calls of Britain and Europe – Jean C. Roche
Where to bird books: A Guide to the Birding Hotspots of Northern & Southern Israel – Shirihai, Smith, Kirwan & Alon – unfortunately this is a bit out f date now but could be useful.
Lonely Planet guide for points of interest.