By Keith Marsh from Bird Forum, Great Britain.
The Arava Valley covers the desert areas of southern Israel to the north of Eilat and can be explored from the Arava Highway. Larks are a speciality of Arava with numerous species present as well as several wheatears and the area attracts large numbers of migrants during passage periods. The Arava Valley was once a regular site for Lappet-faced Vulture but this is now an extremely rare bird in Israel and future records seem unlikely.
Extensive coverage of the Arava Valley by birders over recent decades has led to the creation of a few well-known "hotspots", some of which are detailed below. However, many of the species probably occur much more widely in the valley. All these sites are within easy reach of Eilat and lie close to Route 90.
Yotvata is about 40km north of Eilat on Route 90, the Arava Highway, and an excellent area of cultivated land that attracts an astounding number of migrants and has a good selection of resident species. One area worth checking is on the west of Route 90 opposite the 50km marker-post. Arabian Warbler and wintering Cyprus Warbler can be seen here and Barbary Falcon is possible over the nearby hills. Some of the best areas can be found by turning right off Route 90 at Yotvata petrol station. This road leads to kibbutz fields with large numbers of pipits, wagtails and other migrants. There is also a sewage farm where the Spanish Sparrows are worth checking for Dead Sea Sparrow, once regular here as were various waders including White-tailed Plover. The acacia trees and bushes around Ye'elim Holiday Village are well-known as a regular spot for Arabian Warbler as well as Masked Shrike, Palestine Sunbird and Arabian Babbler. A track to the right at the 53km marker-post to the north of Yotvata kibbutz leads to more fields with migrant passerines including Spectacled Warbler and Oriental Skylark, and possible pratincoles, courser and even Houbara Bustard. Still further north at a sewage farm near Shizzafon on the Beer Sheva road, sewage farm has Crowned Sandgrouse visiting to drink in the mornings although their appearance cannot be guaranteed. Other birds found in this area include Sand Partridge, Hooded and White-crowned Black Wheatear.
One of the most famous areas for migrants is known as Km40. There are date-palm plantations here and bushy areas good for passerine migrants including Cretzschmar's Bunting and a sewage farm and marshy pools with passage waders and ducks. Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse may come to drink at dusk. The surrounding desert has Hooded and Isabelline Wheatears. To explore this area turn right off Route 90 shortly after the 40km marker-post.
For larks and wheatears the area around the Km33 marker-post is undoubtedly the best in the WP. Although the birds present vary from year to year the range of larks possible here include Dunn's and Thick-billed, Bimaculated, Desert and Bar-tailed Desert, Hoopoe and Temminck's Horned. Wheatears recorded at Km33 include Desert, Mourning, Hooded and Red-tailed. Tristram's Starling, Desert Warbler and Desert Finch are also present. To find this superb area turn right off Route 90 just past the 33km marker-post, go past the red and white aerial and park at the pumping station. Continue on foot on the track that runs north-south. This area is currently under threat of cultivation and so birders may have to seek their desert birds elsewhere in the future.
The Timna Valley is signposted to the left from Route 90 between Km33 and Km40. The impressive rocks here are a popular tourist attraction but for birders there is the opportunity to see various desert species such as White-crowned Black Wheatear and Scrub Warbler but also the very local Sooty Falcon. These birds breed here and can be seen until early October.
Amram's Pillars also has rock formations that attract tourists but for birders there is a range of desert-loving species including Sand Partridge, Brown-necked Raven and White-crowned Black Wheatear, and this is a regular site for wintering Sinai Rosefinch. Dorcas Gazelle Gazella dorcas is common in the Arava Valley and can be seen at Amram's Pillars.
BIRDS INCLUDE: Little Grebe (W), Purple Heron (PM), Common Teal (PM,W), Mallard (PM,W), Garganey (PM), Egyptian Vulture (PM), Marsh Harrier (PM), Eurasian Sparrowhawk (PM), Lesser Spotted Eagle (PM), Steppe Eagle (PM), Eastern Imperial Eagle (PM), Osprey (PM), Lesser Kestrel (PM), Sooty Falcon (Su), Barbary Falcon, Sand Partridge, Moorhen, Eurasian Coot (W), Cream-coloured Courser, Spur-winged Plover, White-tailed Plover (rare PM), Ruff (PM,W), Common Snipe (PM,W), Green Sandpiper (PM,W), Wood Sandpiper (W), Black-headed Gull (PM,W), Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Collared Dove, Laughing Dove, Common Swift (PM), Alpine Swift (PM), Common Kingfisher (W), Little Green Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Wryneck (PM), Dunn's Lark, Bar-tailed Desert Lark, Desert Lark, Hoopoe Lark, Thick-billed Lark (rare), Bimaculated Lark, Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Oriental Skylark (PM,W), Temminck's Horned Lark, Sand Martin (PM), African Rock Martin, Crag Martin (PM), Swallow (PM), Red-rumped Swallow (PM), House Martin (PM), Richard's Pipit (PM), Tawny Pipit (PM), Red-throated Pipit (PM,W), Black-headed Wagtail (PM), Citrine Wagtail (PM), Pied Wagtail (PM,W), Eurasian Robin (PM,W), Nightingale (PM), Bluethroat (PM,W), Common Redstart (PM), Blackstart, Stonechat (PM,W), Isabelline Wheatear (Su), Black-eared Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Finsch's Wheatear, Red-tailed Wheatear (rare PM), Mourning Wheatear, Hooded Wheatear, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Scrub Warbler, Graceful Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (PM), Spectacled Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Cyprus Warbler (W), Ruppell's Warbler (PM), Desert Warbler (W), Arabian Warbler, Orphean Warbler (PM), Lesser Whitethroat (PM), Blackcap (PM,W), Eastern Bonelli's Warbler (PM), Common Chiffchaff (PM), Spotted Flycatcher (PM), Arabian Babbler, Palestine Sunbird, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike (PM), Masked Shrike (PM), Brown-necked Raven, Tristram's Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Dead Sea Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Pale Rock Sparrow (PM), Goldfinch (W), Linnet (W), Desert Finch, Trumpeter Finch, Sinai Rosefinch (W), Cinereous Bunting (PM), Cretzschmar's Bunting (PM).