I was lucky enough to be invited out to Israel to attend the 5th Eilat bird migration festival from 20th to 27th March 2011. Whilst I was there, I kept a day-to-day diary of the festival. The videos are intended to show how things were like on the ground; much of the footage isn't frame-filling and my editing won't win me any awards, but all of the footage was filmed on the day in question and edited together that evening.
Despite being a relatively quiet spring, there was always plenty to see. All of the trips were well organised with small groups, and the Hotel Agamim in Eilat provided accommodation. The tour leaders were, without fail, exceptional; a visit to the festival is thoroughly recommended!
My tour package was booked through WildWings and I flew with El Al.
Below are the short vidoes from each day and the brief text that I posted with them when they were uploaded in the evening (or, in the case of many of them, in the early hours of the next morning!). For a summary of the week along with a five-minute video showing off some of slightly less roughly edited footage, see here.
Sunday 20th March
After an overnight flight from London to Tel Aviv followed by a short internal flight, I arrived at Eilat on 20th March; seriously in need of some sleep but excited all the same. Late morning was spent around the hotel grounds, early afternoon spent catching 40-winks, and late afternoon into the evening spent around the km20 pool complex. Personal highlights for me on the first day were a variegata Stonechat:
And a male 'superciliaris' wagtail, here with two male feldegg:
Sad, I know. But 'proper species' like Litchenstein's Sandgrouse, Little Crakes, a Great White Pelican, Palestine Sunbirds, Spectacled Bulbuls, and Spur-winged Plovers have also provided plenty of interest.
Monday 21st March
Day two of the festival, and the first full day of tours. I opted to head up to the Dead Sea in search of some of the specialities that area has to offer. Led by Itai Shanni, our group of six left the hotel at 5am to head north. The array of species on offer was amazing, though frustratingly several proved to be just that bit too flightly, flittly or scuttly for me to keep up with. The result: good views of Sand Partridge, Cyprus Pied Wheatear, Fan-tailed Raven, Scrub Warbler, Long-legged Buzzard, and Graceful Prinia but no usable footage of any! Here's a summary of the day with some birds I did manage to film:
Tuesday 22nd March
It was another early start with the minibus leaving at 4am, heading to Nizzana in search of desert species. It was a long day but we managed a good haul and, in addition to the species features in the film clip below, we managed to see Bonelli's, Lesser Spotted, Short-toed & Steppe Eagle, Cretzschmar's Bunting, Rüppell's Warbler, Masked Shrike, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, and Eastern Orphean Warbler.
Given the nature of the terrain we were birding in, a lot of the birds have been filmed from the car, so please do excuse the slightly shaky footage of some of the species!
Wednesday 23rd March
The great thing about the festival here in Eilat is that there's no obligation to take part in the festival tours. So, if like me this morning you want to take a lie-in and catch up with some sleep, you're free to do so. It also gives the chance to do a little bit of exploring yourself. I took a wander through Eilat, where I found several House Crows along with the usual Spectacled Bulbuls, Laughing Doves etc. At North Beach, a dark morph Western Reed Egret was present and several Eastern Bonelli's Warbler were migrating through.
In the afternoon, I joined Yoav and the group for a trip to the km19 pool. The pair of Little Crakes were still showing exceptionally well and, around the cattle sheds, we found a smart male Namaqua Dove. Sadly the latter decided to fly north before I can set the camera rolling. At least one Red-throated Pipit flew north over, a couple of Isabelline Wheatears were around the site, and Short-toed Larks and Spanish Sparrows were feeding in the cattle sheds.
Thursday 24th March
I spent this morning at the IBRCE ringing station with Re'a, Roni, Teun, Bram and the other volunteers there. On the walk up to the station, two Pied Kingfishers were along the canal. I arrived just as yesterday's male Ménétries's Warbler was retrapped; sometime late a second bird, a female, was caught. Other highlights includes a Hoopoe, a female Woodchat Shrike, a Squacco Heron, and an Eastern Orphean Warbler.
The evening was 'Rambo night' - a trip north to look for Nubian Nightjars and Hume's (Tawny) Owls. Our first sighting of a Nubian Nightjar came quickly, before we had even arrived at the favoured site. At the site, we managed to get good views of two or three birds as they sat on the tracks around the saltmarsh. Then we moved onto the Hume's Owl site, where we quickly located a pair of calling birds that gave fantastic scope views as they sat on the cliff face.WARNING: This movie contains no bird footage... though it does contain a recording of a male Hume's Owl!
Friday 25th March
This morning I joined the Uvda Valley tour and, under grey skies and with strong winds, headed up into the mountain valley. We soon found a large mixed flock of larks, mostly Thick-billed and Short-toed though with some Bimaculated mixed in. Trumpeter Finches were also mingling amongst the flock.
A female Citrine Wagtail, a female Namaqua Dove and a Collared Pratincole were at the sewage works; the fields nearby were very productive with several Red-throated Pipits, Woodchat Shrikes, Wrynecks, a mixed flock of yellow wagtails (mostly Black-headed with one 'superciliaris' and at least one flava/beema-type), an Ortolan Bunting and two Cretzschmar's Buntings.
At Yotvata, the fields contained several more Red-throated Pipits along with Water Pipits; a Lesser Short-toed Lark called in briefly, a Booted Eagle dropped down on some prey nearby, and an Oriental Skylark gave fantastic 'scope views as it fed in the cut grass.
The evening was spent back at Yotvata. Three species of bird were seen - Stone Curlew, Pharaoh Eagle Owl, and, oddly, Isabelline Wheatear. The owl gave stunning views. We also scored with several mammal species: many Cape Hares, three Jackals, a Red Fox, and three Desert Hedgehogs.
Saturday 26th March
It's my final full day at the spring migration festival here in Eilat. I've had a bit of a lazy day, catching up on a few things that needed doing and staying local in Eilat. Two White-eyed Gulls off North Beach were the highlight, and a Pied Kingfisher was briefly along the canal there.
Sunday 27th March
On the final morning, to end the festival, we went on a last minute "mop-up tour". It proved worthwhile, starting with a female Semi-collared Flycatcher (plus Chaffinch and European Bee-eater, new for the trip list), then on to a Broad-billed Sandpiper; next was a pair of juvenile Striated Herons in the marina; then finally Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and a male Cretzschmar's Bunting in the IMAX park.
For more information about next year's spring migration festival in southern Israel, see HERE.
And for more about this winter's Hula Valley festival, see HERE.