Before coming to Israel I looked for someone (with a car) who could take us on a couple of birding days. There weren't any lay birders who were going to be in town. But my favorite travel website, Birdingpal, had a professional guide who was relatively inexpensive and extremely responsive via email: Carmel Zitronblat.
We made arrangements and went birding in the Northern Negev desert with him. Of course, because of the heat in August added to the two-hours it would take us to drive there, we woke at 3:00 a.m. and were picked up a half hour later.
By the time we got to the Desert the sun was beginning to rise.
We spent the first while scanning the rocks and shrubs trying to find a Macqueen's Bustard. Carmel had seen it a couple of days earlier when he was scouting the area for our trip. We had no such luck, dipping on this particular species.
Our first new species of the day was a Mourning Wheatear, a very pretty black and white bird which was fairly ubiquitous throughout the rocky terrain.
After spending a good amount of time scanning the area, we got back in the car and drove to some fish ponds. Life is dependent on the availability of water. In the desert, manmade water sources allow for incredible concentrations of life. Our main focus here was to see the four species of Sandgrouse that come throughout the morning, and we were not disappointed.
First, a view of the habitat, with some of the species visible in the photos:
This is a Little Egret among the reeds growing in this particular pond. There were also many Little Stints, Wood Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers,
White Stork, and Black-winged Stilt:
We saw all four species of Sandgrouse (see bird list). We even managed to get close enough to these Crowned Sandgrouse (using the car as a blind) to get a decent few photos. This is the best one:
Check out their gorgeous markings! Each species was equally striking. Carmel was also good at pointing out their size differences.
We were also lucky enough to see a herd of Desert Gazelle off in the distance. But they use the ponds as well, evidenced by Dan's excitement over Gazelle scat on the ground nearby.
Israel's ecotourism infrastructure is in its infancy, despite the incredible numbers of birds passing through here in both spring and fall, during Eurasian migration. But accommodations are springing up in a few kibbutzes, as well as these lovely little cottages we passed in the middle of nowhere.
I would love to see more birders from all over start coming here, wearing their birding shirts and binoculars, and spending money in the towns, cities, and kibbutzes. Showing people birding can provide an influx of money might move the ecotourism movement along. My son even came up with a good slogan for the campaign: "Israel: It's Safer Than Detroit!" (Sorry Detroit!)
Carmel took us to a lovely treed area for a field breakfast of fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese, cold cuts, and pita bread (and regular sliced bread as well). He even brought a field stove, in case we wanted Turkish coffee.
While we ate we added Arabian Babbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, and European Bee Eater to our growing list of birds.
After breakfast, we drove to a park with a disappearing wetlands. Carmel told us about a birder who's trying to convince the government to try and reestablish it by bringing in water. One can only hope he has success.
Walking down to the wetlands, we saw a large herd of long-haired goats (Angora?). As we walked down, we saw they were tended by a Bedouin woman and her son, accompanied by a dog and this camel.
Driving through the desert we saw many Bedouin towns, both small and large. These were not the tents set up for tourists who want to have some coffee and a camel ride. They were shanty towns which reminded me of Native American reservations in the U.S. southwest. The difference was these had camels. I was able to get a photo of one of the larger ones as we drove on the highway back to Tel Aviv.
All in all, it was an incredible birding morning. And now I'll leave you with another vista of the Northern Negev desert.
The bird list:Little Grebe
Little Ringed Plover
European Turtle Dove
Eurasian Collared Dove
European Bee Eater
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Southern Gray Shrike
and an interesting beetle (albeit a dead one):