Hello from sunny Eilat, Israel! I’m out here this spring taking part in the intensive bird monitoring efforts put on by the Israeli Ornithological Center, and the International Birding and Research Center, Eilat. I’m participating in the survey side of things, rather than the banding (ringing for all of our Old World friends!) operation that constitutes the other major portion of the monitoring. This means I’m up in the Eilat Mountains 4-5 times a week counting large diurnal migrants (mostly Raptors, but also things like Storks, Pelicans, and Cranes).
The other 2-3 days a week I’m off doing general bird surveys at many of the hotspots in the Arava Valley stretching north out of Eilat, which includes some excellent spots for migrant passerines, shorebirds, waterfowl, waders, and gulls.
So far, with the bulk of spring migration still ahead (but bearing down on us quickly!), the main focus has been Steppe Eagles. This species, because of an apparently drastic population decline over just the last few decades, is one of the main reasons for the resurrection of the systematic hawk counts in Eilat this spring. Steppe Eagles winter, for the most part, in Africa, and then migrate into the vast steppe habitats of Asia to breed, and this means that the vast majority of the entire worldwide population passes through the Gulf of Aqaba (at the head of which, lies Eilat), making this the ideal place to survey the status of the overall population.
In early February, Steppe Eagles were one of the only migrants detectable, but now migration is really kicking into high gear, and we’ve already had a couple of very impressive waves of Swallows, and the number of migrating Swifts (mostly Pallid Swift and Common Swift) has been staggering on a couple of days. Gulls are certainly moving through now, with a surge of adult Baltic Gulls (the nominate subspecies of Lesser Black-backed Gull, considered by some authorities to be a separate species) moving up the Gulf over the last couple of days, some scattered Pallas’ Gulls (aka Great Black-headed Gull), and obviously building numbers of Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls.
Songbirds are also starting to really get things popping, with a decent diversity (if not great numbers, yet) of Sylvia Warblers, plenty of Chiffchaffs, several species of Wheatears, the first Western Yellow Wagtails, and several species of Larks, including good numbers of typically rare or nomadic species, such as Thick-billed Lark and Bar-tailed Lark. Just within the last week we’ve also observed new nest building by the less-or-non-migratory species in the region, including by Southern Gray Shrike and Graceful Prinia; Spring has definitely sprung here in Eilat!
Anyway, with each day promising more birds than the last at this point in the season, it’s time for me to sign off and rest up for whatever new migration awesomeness that tomorrow will bring.
– Doug Gochfeld
Look forward to more of Doug’s images and text from Israel in the near future. He is a member of the Leica / Cape May Bird Observatory „American Dippers“ team in this month’s Champions of the Flyway bird race for conservation along with Michael O’Brien, Glen Davis, & Jeff Bouton. This year all proceeds raised will be used to support Birdlife International’s efforts to protect migrant birds from illegal trapping on the Island of Cyprus.