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ISRAEL

Saturday 14th April - Tuesday 24th April 2018

MIKE WATSON

A gorgeous male Sinai Rosefinch in the Israel's Negev Desert (Mike Watson).

A gorgeous male Sinai Rosefinch in the Israel's Negev Desert (Mike Watson).

Returning to Israel for the first time in almost 30 years was an exciting prospect. It was once my favourite destination and was one of the first places I birded outside the UK back in the 1980s. The bird-show is as good as it ever was and in some ways even better with more information available and new sites discovered or created in this period. We had a great time on a short itinerary, which visited the north, including Ma’agan Mikael, Bet She’an Valley, Hula, Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights before heading south via the Dead Sea to Eilat and then completing a circle back to Tel Aviv via the Negev Desert. We recorded 230 species, including many regional speciailities among a total of 46 Birdquest ‘diamond’ birds and main highlights were Nubian Nightjars in a remote corner of the Dead Sea region (this subspecies, ‘Tamarisk Nightjar’, is one of the rarest breeding birds in the Western Palearctic), a Desert Owl spot-lit in a Judean Desert wadi, Macqueen’s Bustards turning themselves inside-out during their display and Crowned and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse at point blank range at a drinking pool in the Negev Desert, the male Hooded Wheatear, which investigated us, on a desolate wash in the Eilat Mountains, the male Arabian Warbler that finally gave up after a game of hide and seek in one of the last acacia-filled wadis in the Arava Valley, rose pink male Sinai Rosefinches drinking at a spring on the Dead Sea escarpment, smart Desert Finches around our vehicle at Sde Boker and Syrian Serins song-flighting over us on Mount Hermon.

Numerous other notable encounters included Marbled Teals seen by golf cart at Lake Agamon in the Hula Valley, lots of Chukar and Sand Partridges, Pygmy Cormorants common at Ma’agan Mikael, the endangered Egyptian Vulture, Levant Sparrowhawks on migration, great views of both Little and Spotted Crakes, at least 28 White-eyed Gulls from Eilat’s famous north beach, hundreds of Armenian Gulls in northern Israel, the Syrian Woodpecker drumming outside our rooms in the Hula Valley, a strong passage of smart Masked Shrikes, Sombre Tits, also on Mount Hermon, Bar-tailed Larks singing in the Negev, Balkan Warblers on migration in the Arava Valley, the male Collared Flycatcher in a tiny clump of trees in the Eilat Mountains, a very showy adult Barred Warbler and plenty of Blackstarts and White-crowned Wheatears from the Dead Sea to the Negev, where they were joined by equally smart Mourning Wheatears.

Crowned Sandgrouse is often a tricky species to see in the rest of the Middle East. In Israel it was by far the easiest this time! (Mike Watson).

Crowned Sandgrouse is often a tricky species to see in the rest of the Middle East. In Israel it was by far the easiest this time! (Mike Watson).