Southern Observations – early spring 2007
March – the first 10 days
Well, spring is upon us. Chilly mornings give way to bright sunny days, with temperatures in the mid 20's on most days. Spring migration is well underway. The dawn chorus is overwhelming and the morning air is full of hirundines and the bushes are full of feeding migrants. Chiffchaffs are numerous with the wintering population reinforced by dozens of freshly arrived migrant birds. Our tour season started and we enjoyed some great early spring specialties with a few rare and surprising finds already. Here is a summary of early march's significant sightings in the area.
The Yotvata circular fields have been the busiest spot for migrants from the get go. Hundreds of Swifts and Swallows can be seen daily hawking for insects and single feldegg Yellow Wagtails can be found amongst the dozens of White Wagtails.
In early March Noam Weiss from Eilat reported an amazing 6 Egyptian Nightjars in the fields so on March 5th we found ourselves at the spot waiting for night to arrive. The wait was not dull due to the fact that we were surrounded by birds. Up to 4 Hen Harriers and 1 (maybe 2) Pallid Harriers skirted the fields. We noticed a female type Pallid Harrier on the ground feeding on a collared Dove, what a sight. Overhead I picked up a single Little Swift amongst the dozens of Pallid and Common Swifts. We were happy to close all 4 Swift species in an hour of birding. A single Buff bellied Pipit briefly made an appearance on the irrigation pipe.
As daylight started to fail, we concentrated on the Nightjars. After 10 minutes and at last light we picked up a single Egyptian Nightjar flying close by. When it was dark we pulled out the spot light and were able to follow up to 3 Nightjars hunting together in their typical slow wing action, for an hour or so. It was quite an excellent site and everyone on the group was happy. The nightjars were seen several more times during the week and we noticed that later in the night the birds don't feed that actively and can be seen and photographed on the ground between hunting forays. The images seen here were taken by Rea Shaish on March 4th,we would like to thank Rea.
From Early march, impressive numbers of Rueppell's Warblers were recorded in the valley and the southern Negev. Yoav Perlman and Lior Kislev stopped for lunch in Wadi Hadav in the southern Negev and recorded 5-6 Rueppell's Warblers in a small area on the 2nd.
On Lotan the lawns and gardens are full of birds. From the 4th impressive numbers of Black eared Wheatears of both the dark and the pale throated forms have been moving through and on the 9th around 30 were counted in a morning in the Lotan area. From the 3rd of March, Rueppell's and Cyprus Warblers were seen nearly daily. Early in the morning of the 8th it was clear there was a nice arrival of migrants overnight. Visible passerine migration included Red throated Pipits, Small parties of Short toed Larks and our first Chretzchmar's Buntings. The springs first Masked Shrikes and several sammimisicus Redstarts added a dash of color to the lawns.
A big, flowering Ochradenus baccatus bush attracted many Sylvia Warblers. From my experience this is by far the plant of choice for migrants and this was no exception. The most interesting of the bunch were 2 beautiful male Subalpine Warblers, but the same bush hosted no less than 20 Lesser Whitethroats, 3 Sardinian Warblers, a single Cyprus Warbler, a Whitethroat and a male Blackcap. Throughout the day there was a steady movement of Warblers in and out of this bush but the Subalpine Warblers were still around that evening.
One really must witness these things to fully appreciate migration. A single bush in the middle of the desert provides for thousands of migrants a week… incredible.
At the K20 pools wader numbers are low and a single Broad billed Sandpiper is present to enliven the scene. On the 6th of March a nice female Barn Owl was caught at the Birdwatching Park in Eilat, where several E. Bonelli's Warblers were also seen and heard that morning. This attractive little Phylloscopus lately named Balkan Warbler, was also seen regularly from the 6th at various Acacia scrubs in the valley.
Larks are also not around in numbers, only small parties of Short-toed Larks were seen to date. Of the rarer Larks, 2 Bimaculated Larks were seen on the 9th at Yotvata and a flock of 5 Temminck's Larks were seen at K76 on the 2nd. A single Temminck's was near Zihor Junction on the 9th as well.
Preparations for the Spring migration Festival (18-24th) are in full swing. We would like to remind those of you that are planning to join any of the tours or activities to contact us and pre book your spot on the tours, since some tours are already booked. This is shaping up to be quite an event with media coverage from birding circles around the world, highly acclaimed speakers and of course excellent birding.
So, one might say the best is yet to come, but things move quickly during the season down here and every day brings new surprises. Stay posted as we get into the heat of the spring migration.
Jonathan Meyrav and the Birdingisrael team
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