Saturday, August 20, 2011

Israel: Birding Beit She’an to the Dead Sea

Before coming to Israel, we made arrangements with Carmel Zitronblat (see earlier post) for a full day of birding which would take us from the Beit She’an area in the north, along the Jordanian Valley, and down to the Dead Sea and the Judaean Desert/Great Rift.

We stopped at fish ponds at a couple of kibbutzes, went up Mt. Gilboa, passed through the West Bank, and wound up looking down at the Dead Sea.

We saw 59 species of birds as well as some mammals and reptiles.

Carmel picked us up at 6 in the morning and we drove north. Fish ponds on the kibbutzes have different water levels in them. When you find one with the right amount of water and the right amount of mudflats, you get a scene like this one (and Israel wasn’t even in peak migration!).


We scored three species of Kingfisher. The first photo is a White-throated Kingfisher. We also saw lots of Pied Kingfishers flying around and making plenty of noise.


Finally, there’s the smallest of Israel’s Kingfishers, the Common Kingfisher, with its incredible azure blue back and wings. Unfortunately, we only got a profile shot.


Squacco Heron with a new species for this trip. How fortunate was it that I snapped the shutter at the exact moment it took flight?


We drove a short ways along the Israel-Jordan border. Even though it’s a patrolled area, we didn’t see much more security than this electrified fence. Peace is a wonderful thing, when you can get it!


Even though there weren’t patrols, there was a Blue-cheeked Bee Eater sitting on a wire near the border.


Agriculture in Israel is incredible, considering the geology and climate of the region. This is a date orchard. We saw tall trees and short trees, all full of honey dates. If you see Israeli dates in your supermarket, buy them – they’re incredibly delicious!


Even though we couldn’t come during peak migration, we were lucky enough to be here at the beginning of bird movement. We saw this flight of Western White Storks kettling from thermal to thermal. I love the one on the lower left looking down at something.


We also came across populations spending time on the ground feeding – gearing up for their next flight.



Another great bird for the day was a European Roller.


Of course, you can’t visit a fish pond operation without getting interested in the operation itself. We were there during feeding time. You can see all the fish up at the surface, eating the feed tossed out by the turbine in the photo. We believe they were Carp.


It’s also inevitable a day out in the field will produce wildlife other than birds. This is (I think) a Eurasian Otter.


We stopped for brunch at Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin. They are one of several kibbutzes in Israel trying to create a birding infrastructure, offering accommodations and birding opportunities. Please come to Israel and support them.

Israel is a vital Eurasian migration route. With support, places like this can promote habitat conservation and migratory bird protection. (End of advertisement)

Field brunch was wonderful, with bread, cheese, cold cuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, and even Turkish coffee.


We didn’t see any Dead Sea Sparrows that day. But Carmel pointed out one of their large nests.


We also visited even more fish ponds and were lucky enough to add three more species to the day’s counts, Black Stork, Glossy Ibis, and Armenian Gull.

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Here’s what the fish ponds look like from the top of Mt. Gilboa. (I was humming BeHar HaGilboa for a while after this).


As drove into the Judaean Desert between the Great Rift and the Dead Sea, we continued to see new species of birds. This is a White-crowned Wheatear.


Our final “stop” for the day was Ein Gedi. We had some luck and were able to get a photo of a Sand Partridge, though we had seen them earlier in the day as well.


Not a bird, this cute little mammal at Ein Gedi is called a Hyrax.


And now for some spectacular scenic shots taken during our time birding.


The Dead Sea:


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Trying to give a feel for scale:

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A Bedouin settlement is below. These are frequently seen in the desert regions.


Avi and I were still going to bird HaYarkon Park in Tel Aviv to see what some urban birding could yield. Report to come soon!  

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