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Trip Report: Eilat, Israel, November 24-31, 1996

Martin Helin, Antreantie 10 C, FIN-02140 Espoo, FINLAND;

"A family holiday" to Eilat with some birdwatching and some general relaxing. One day trip to Nizzana and Urim.

Participants: Tom Backlund, Minna Backlund, Terese Palm, Martin Helin

Weather: Warm (25-30 C at daytime, about 18-20 at night), sunny with some clouds. Many days were windy, especially in the evenings. It may be totally normal but we were surprised (and horrified, guess why...) to see Nizzana covered in a thick fog when we arrived there. It cleared in a few hours.

Other birdwatchers: Several groups (among them the Finns Jyrki Normaja; Harri Muukkonen, Gustaf Nordenswan and Matti Rekila) had visited Eilat and S Israel earlier in the month so we had fairly good information on recent observations. In the end of November there weren't that many birdwatchers around anymore. We met the resident John Morgan briefly and one Danish and one British group and a Finnish group (Hannu Kettunen & Martti Siponen) which we had contacted already in Finland.


24.11. We (TB & MHe) arrived at Ovda at 2 pm and got rather quick through the formalities and managed take a short peek at North Beach between 3-4.30 pm.

25.11. Km 33 and surroundings (6-8.45 am), 3.15-4.30 pm Salt pools, the Canal, North Beach

26.11. Km 20 (6.20-10.45 am) (MHe only); pm: Salt ponds, Pumping station & surroundings, the Striated Scops Owl site

27.11. Km 20 (6.20-9.10 am), the Striated Scops Owl site + Pumping station in the evening

28.11. Nizzana & Urim. Start at 4.15 am from Eilat, in Nizzana at 7 o'clock. Back from Urim at about 3.30 pm, back in Eilat at about 7.15 pm. We drove to Nizzana turning from road number 90 to Be'er Menuha, road number 13 (instead of driving through Shizzafon, road number 12) as we heard that the latter route had been quite slow earlier in the year (road construction?; the situation may have changed by now). The roads were generally in good condition (although somewhat winding) and there were only short distances of road construction going on. Returned from Urim through Be'er-sheva (you just drive through the city along the same main street; we didn't have any city maps of Be'er-sheva). There was only a couple petrol/gas stations along this street as far as I could tell.

29.11. The road to Amram's Pillars (start at km 20) 7-9 am, 3.45-4.30 pm North Beach.

30.11. We had planned to head to Yotvata at 7.30 am after the breakfast but it was impossible to drive away from the hotel area because the roads were closed due to the 10th Eilat triathlon competition!!! There wasn't any warning about this in the hotel (Ceasar) which we sourly announced to the somewhat indifferent hotel staff. Apparently the only way we could have avoided getting stranded was if we'd understood the announcements in the local newspapers in Hebrew. We couldn't think of a way to get out of the area with a car (and besides the main road to the Dead Sea was apparently also closed all the way to Be'er Ora with only bus convoys getting through) so we had to postpone our trip to Y. and we drove there in the afternoon. Yotvata (km 50 and the area around the gas station), km 33 and km 20 12.40-4.30 pm.

31.11. We left to the airport at 9.30 am and did not watch birds that morning.

General remarks:

Km 20: It seemed to be okay to drive on all the dykes except the ones closest (parallel) to the border.

Km 33: As reported in e.g. Birding World the area has been partly turned into fields but the are east of the pumping station seemed to be intact. However, there weren't that many birds (=larks) around.

Km 40: We heard from a British group that in addition to the small sewage pond on the east side of the main road there is a good stream from this pond to the east which had produced e.g. a Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) and a Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) (possibly the same I saw at km 20) but no Sandgrouse.

Nizzana: The military presence wasn't as disturbing as we had thought and we had no interference from the military at all (well, maybe they didn't even notice us at first because of the fog...).

We observed about 135 species during our stay.

Species observed in systematic order:

Not all observations for each species are included in the notes, rather peak numbers or estimates for some sites are given. Also we did not try to see some species which were present as we have seen them before.


Little Grebe                 Tachybaptus ruficollis 1 at km 20
Great Crested Grebe          Podiceps cristatus     Up to three at North Beach
Black-necked Grebe           Podiceps nigricollis   3-4 at km 20
Brown Booby                  Sula leucogaster       1 juvenile at the North Beach on 
                                                    24-25.11. There were actually two
                                                    juveniles present for the whole period
                                                    but we only saw the other bird.
Cormorant                    Phalacrocorax carbo    In Eilat
Squacco Heron                Ardeola ralloides      1 adult at km 20 on 26.11. (MH only)
(Cattle Heron)               (Bubulcus ibis)        2 probable birds on 28.11. close to
Western Reef Heron           Egretta gularis        E.g. 13 birds on 29.11. at North Beach
Little Egret                 E. garzetta   
Great White Egret            E. alba                1 at the salt pools and 1 at km 20
Grey Heron                   Ardea cinerea   
Purple Heron                 A. purpurea            1 juvenile at km 20 on 27.11.
Greater Flamingo             Phoenicopterus ruber   4 at the salt pools and 
                                                    e.g. 66 at km 20 on 26.11.
Ruddy Shelduck               Tadorna ferruginea     1 at km 20 on 26-27.11.
Shelduck                     T. tadorna             E.g. 22 at km 20 on 26.11.
Wigeon                       Anas penelope   
Gadwall                      A. strepera            5 at km 20 on 26.11. and 2 on 30.11.
Mallard                      A. platyrhynchos       5-10 at km 20 and in Nizzana
Pintail                      A. acuta               E.g. about 40 at km 20 on 27.11.
Teal                         A. crecca              Small numbers at km 20
Garganey                     A. querquedula         One female plumaged at km 20 on 26.11.
Shoveler                     A. clypeata            At km 20 and n Nizzana
Marbled Duck                 Marmonetta angustirostris  One at km 20 on 30.11.
Tufted Duck                  Aythya fuligula        Up to three at km 20
Ferruginous Duck             A. nyroca              One male and two female plumaged birds
                                                    at km 20
Black Kite                   Milvus migrans         Dozens in Urim (we didn't go to the
                                                    rubbish tip where there should be
                                                    hundreds of them)
Marsh Harrier                Circus aeruginosus   
Hen Harrier                  C. cyaneus
Pallid Harrier               C. macrourus           Two adult males and one female
                                                    (+1 year) in Urim
Pallid/Montagu's Harrier     C. macrourus/pygargus  Two female plumaged in Urim
Sparrowhawk                  Accipiter nisus   
(Buzzard)                    (Buteo buteo)          1 probable in Nizzana
Long-legged Buzzard          B. rufinus             1 in Nizzana, 2 in Urim
Imperial Eagle               Aquila heliaca         About 8 in Urim (juvenile and subadult
Steppe Eagle                 A. nipalensis          Just one juvenile migrating in Eilat
                                                    on 24.11.
Booted Eagle                 Hieraetus pennatus     1 adult (light phase) near Urim
Kestrel                      Falco tinnunculus   
Lanner Falcon                F. biarmicus           1 adult in Urim
Saker Falcon                 F. cherrug             2 in Urim
Peregrine                    F. peregrinus          1 adult in Urim
Barbary Falcon               F. pelegrinoides       1 in Eilat and 1 probable in Nizzana
Chukar                       Alectoris chukar       Common in Nizzana and Urim
Sand Partridge               Ammoperdix heyii   
Water Rail                   Rallus aquaticus       1 + calls at km 20
Moorhen                      Gallinula chloropus    Lots of calls and a few seen at km 20
Coot                         Fulica atra            At km 20
Crane                        G. grus                25 birds in Urim
Houbara Bustard              Chlamydotis undulata   1 male in Nizzana 
Black-winged Stilt           H. himantopus          A few dozen
Avocet                       Recurvirostra avosetta 2 at km 20 on 27.11.
Ringed Plover                Charadrius hiaticula
Greater Sand Plover          C. leschenaultii       2 at km 20 on 27.11.
Kentish Plover               C. alexandrinus   
Grey Plover                  P. squatarola          1 at km 20 on 26-27.11.
Spur-winged Plover           Hoplopterus spinosus   E.g. about 40 in Urim
Sociable Plover              Chettusia gregaria     1 in Urim
Lapwing                      V. vanellus            About 150 in Urim
Little Stint                 C. minuta
Temminck's Stint             C. temminckii
Dunlin                       C. alpina
Ruff                         Philomachus pugnax     3 at the Salt pools
Common Snipe                 G. gallinago           2 at km 20
Redshank                     Tringa totanus   
Greenshank                   T. nebularia   
White-eyed Gull              Larus leucopthalmus    Dozens at North Beach on all visits,
                                                    the highest count was 34 birds on
Black-headed Gull            L. ridibundus          A few dozen at North Beach
Slender-billed Gull          L. genei               A few dozen at North Beach
Common Gull                  L. canus               One +1st cal. year at North Beach on
Yellow-legged/Lesser Black-backed type gulls  Larus sp   A few juveniles at North Beach
                                                    none of which were seen well enough to
Caspian Tern                 S. caspia              2 at North Beach - the Lagoon
Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse    Pterocles lichtensteinii 18 at the Pumping station (in
                                                    Eilat) on 26.11. and 13 on 27.11.
Crowned S.                   P. coronatus           2 in Nizzana
Spotted S.                   P. senegallus          About 150 in Nizzana
Black-bellied S.             P.  orientalis         About 80 in Nizzana. In addition, we
                                                    saw about 100 unidentified sandgrouse
                                                    (in several flocks) in Nizzana too far
                                                    away to be identified.
Rock Dove                    Columba livia          Common
Collared Dove                Streptopelia decaocto  Locally common
Palm Dove                    S. senegalensis        Common and widespread
Namaqua Dove                 Oena capensis          5-7 birds at km 20 on 30.11.
(Rose-ringed) Parakeet       Psittacula sp. (krameri) Two were seen flying west at km
                                                    20 on 30.11., probably coming from
Striated Scops Owl           Otus brucei            Three birds resting in acacias on
                                                    26.11. in a wadi just outside Eilat
                                                    (the same place as before). The next
                                                    day just two were found.
Kingfisher                   Alcedo atthis          One at North Beach on 24-25.11.
Pied Kingfisher              Ceryle rudis           Two birds at North Beach - the Lagoon
                                                    throughout the period perhaps staying
                                                    overnight on the other side of the bay
                                                    (to the SW, i.e. in the direction of
                                                    the Port)
Little Green Bee-eater       Merops orientalis      A few birds here and there
Bee-eater                    M. apiaster            One lingering at km 20 on 26.11.
Hoopoe                       Upupa epops            Two in Urim on 28.11.
Desert Lark                  Ammomanes deserti      A few
Hoopoe Lark                  Alaemon alaudipes      One or two at km 33 on 25.11.
Calandra Lark                Melanocorypha calandra Two birds in a flock of Skylarks in
                                                    Urim on 28.11. (TB only)
Crested Lark                 Galerida cristata      Common
Skylark                      Alauda arvensis        Thousands in Urim, single birds around
Rock Martin                  Ptyonoprogne obsoleta  A few
Meadow Pipit                 Anthus pratensis       Only one in Eilat on 24.11. and one in
                                                    Urim on 28.11.
Red-throated Pipit           A. cervinus            A few in Eilat and in Urim
Water Pipit                  A. spinoletta          A couple of dozens in Eilat and
Yellow Wagtail               Motacilla flava        Just one at km 20 on 26.11.
Pied Wagtail                 M. alba                Dozens
Yellow-vented Bulbul         P. xanthopygos         Common
Robin                        Erithacus rubecula     One near the cemetary on 26.11.
Bluethroat                   Luscinia svecica       Common
Black Redstart               Phoenicurus ochruros   
Stonechat                    Saxicola torquata   
Blackstart                   Cercomela melanura
Isabelline Wheatear          Oenanthe isabellina    One in Urim on 28.11.
Wheatear                     O. oenanthe            One close to km 20 on 27.11.
Desert Wheatear              O. deserti             Two males and a female at km 33 on
                                                    25.11., a male at km 20 on 27.11. and
                                                    a male and a female in Nizzana
                                                    (airfield road)
Finsch's Wheatear            O. finschii            Two female-plumaged birds in Nizzana
                                                    on 28.11.
Hooded Wheataer              O. monacha             One male at km 33 on 25.11. and one
                                                    male on 29.11. on the way to Amram's
Mourning Wheatear            O. lugens              One on the way to Amram's Pillars on
White-crowned Black W.       O. leucopyga           One at the cemetary on 27.11., two
                                                    near Amram's Pillars on 29.11. and one
                                                    at km 50 on 30.11.
Graceful Warbler             Prinia gracilis        Common
Scrub Warbler                Scotocerca inqueta     8 birds on the way to Amram's Pillars
Reed Warbler                 Acrocephalus scirpaceus  Singing at km 20
Clamorous Reed Warbler       A. stentoreus          One singing at km 20 on 26.11. and
                                                    probably calling on 27.11.
Spectacled Warbler           Sylvia conspicillata   3+ in Nizzana
Sardinian Warbler            S. melanocephala
Desert Warbler               S. nana                Two birds at km 33 on 25.11.
Blackcap                     S. atricapilla         One male close to the Pumping station
                                                    on 27.11.
Chiffchaff                   Phylloscopus collybita Dozens
Brown Babbler                Turdoides squamiceps   One at the salt ponds and 5 at
                                                    km 50-Yotvata
Penduline Tit                Remiz pendulinus       About 7 birds at km 20 on 27.11.
Palestine Sunbird            Nectarinia osea        Common
Great Grey Shrike            Lanius excubitor       About 20 in Nizzana and Urim
House Crow                   Corvus splendens       At least 100 in Eilat 
Carrion Crow                 Corvus c. cornix       About 50 in Nizzana and Urim
Brown-necked Raven           C. ruficollis          E.g. about 10 at km 20 on 26.11. and
                                                    about 100 in Nizzana & Urim
Tristram's Grackle           Onycognathus tristramii  Common in Eilat
Starling                     Sturnus vulgaris       Thousands in Urim
House Sparrow                Passer domesticus      Common
Spanish Sparrow              P. hispaniolensis   
Chaffinch                    Fringilla coelebs      Two at km 20 on 26.11., a call in
Serin                        S. serinus             One at km 20 on 27.11.
Greenfinch                   Carduelis chloris      5 at km 20 on 26.11., 25 on 27.11.
Linnet                       C. cannabina           2 at km 20 on 26.11., about 30 in
                                                    Nizzana/Urim on 28.11.
Goldfinch                    C. carduelis           6 in Nizzana/Urim on 28.11.
Desert Finch                 Rhodopechys obsoleta   4 at km 33 on 25.11., about 30 in
                                                    Nizzana on 28.11. and 6 at km 33 on
Sinai Rosefinch              Carpodacus synoicus    A flock of 14 birds (with at least
                                                    three males) near Amram's Pillars on
House Bunting                Emberiza striolata     One close to the Pumping station (in
                                                    Eilat) on 27.11.
Corn Bunting                 Miliaria calandra      On all visits to km 20 1-3 birds, 3 in
                                                    Nizzana, 3 in Urim on 28.11.

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