Israel Science and Technology Directory

Birding Sites in Israel : Eilat

By Keith Marsh from Bird Forum, Great Britain.

For sheer variety of species there are few better birding areas in the Western Palaearctic than Eilat on the Red Sea coast of Israel where more than 420 species have been recorded. During passage periods it is not only variety but numbers that impress, raptors pass through the area in far higher numbers than at either Gibraltar or the Bosphorus and more than a million have been recorded in a single spring. Most numerous are Honey and Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites but Levant Sparrowhawks pass in thousands and there are also good numbers of Egyptian Vultures, Short-toed, Booted and various Aquila eagles. In recent years small numbers of Crested Honey Buzzards from Central and eastern Asia have been recorded at Eilat.

In addition to raptors there are White Storks, flamingoes and herons, and waders and crakes are also common. Numerous warblers, flycatchers, chats and other passerine migrants can be seen throughout the area, attracted in particular to the kibbutz farmland surrounding the town. Situated in a largely desert area, any vegetation will attract migrants and there are gardens, palm plantations and scrubby wadis as well as the cultivated areas.

In addition to migrants the local breeding species are of great interest and include desert birds such as Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse and Sand Partridge, numerous larks and wheatears, Tristram's Starling and Brown-necked Raven. Other local desert specialities include Dead Sea Sparrow, Desert Finch, Trumpeter Finch and House Bunting. Two elusive and highly sought-after owls can be seen in the Eilat region, Hume's and Striated Scops, but to see these may require the help of local birders. Namaqua Dove, a fairly recent colonist, is found in cultivated land just north of Eilat.

Now one of the most popular birding locations in the Western Palearctic, Eilat is visited each year by thousands of birders from all over Europe and beyond. This has led to certain "hotspots" becoming well-known some of which are detailed below.

Most visitors begin their birding at North Beach where many of the hotels are situated. In the far north of the Red Sea, Eilat is visited by seabirds seen nowhere else in the Western Palearctic with any regularity such as Brown Booby and White-eyed Gull. Striated and Western Reef Herons are usually present. Various other seabirds such as Slender-billed Gull, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns are regular but with strong southerly winds there is the possibility of rarer birds such as Streaked Shearwater, Red-billed Tropicbird or even Lesser Frigatebird being seen from shore. White-cheeked and Bridled Terns are also possible and Sooty and Grey-headed Gull have been recorded. No doubt other Indian Ocean seabirds will occur and the Mascarene Shearwater, originally thought to be a new species, was recorded here in June 1992. House Crows, ship-assisted colonists from Asia, are usually present on the beach.

Crakes can often be seen along the Sewage Canal but at the southern end, where it empties into the sea at North Beach, Western Reef Heron, White-eyed Gull and a variety of waders including Greater Sand Plover are regular. The canal is also good for White-breasted Kingfisher and Little Green Bee-eater.

Inland and to the west of the canal are the Salt Pans where Flamingo, various herons and a range of waders can be seen. Slender-billed Gull is regular as are marsh terns and often Gull-billed and Caspian Terns. Sooty and Barbary Falcons pass through in autumn and migrant passerines include Red-throated Pipit and Citrine Wagtail.

To the north of the Salt Pans are Palm Plantations that hold Little Green Bee-eater and White-breasted Kingfisher as well as attracting a host of migrants and passerines in particular. Further north but still within walking distance of the main hotel area is an area known as the South Fields where large numbers of migrants of all kinds occur. Many common European breeding species can be seen as well as more eastern species and this is the best site in the Western Palearctic for Namaqua Dove.

The Eilat Bird Sanctuary and Ringing Station is located on the site of a former refuse tip to the north of the Saltpans and close to the Jordanian border crossing. The saltpans, pools, trees and bushes here host migrant passerines such as shrikes, flycatchers and warblers. Little Green Bee-eater is common here. Rarities are often trapped and this area is worthy of thorough examination. It is also a very useful place to exchange information on what's about. There is an information center at the entrance to kibbutz Eilot with a bird-log and various bird-related items for sale.

The North Fields also attract numbers of migrant passerines and Oriental Skylark is regular. Desert Finch and Dead Sea Sparrow are also present and migrant pipits include Red-throated, Tawny and Richard's. Caspian Plover is sometimes seen here in spring. The North Fields are best reached by road, take Route 90 north from Eilat and turn right on the new road to Aqaba then left on a track beside a date plantation.

Continuing on Route 90 northwards are the Northern Reservoirs or Salt Pans where terns and waders can be found as well as various northern ducks in winter. Dead Sea Sparrow and Desert Finch, Desert and Isabelline Wheatear occur in the surrounding desert. The reservoirs can be reached by continuing north on the track from the sewage farm or by turning right off Route 90 opposite the turning for Amram's Pillars. Crowned Sandgrouse can sometimes be seen in patches of acacias in this area.

Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse breed in the deserts around Eilat but can be regularly seen drinking at the Pumping Station to the north-west of the town. This station also attracts Sand Partridge, Trumpeter Finch and House Bunting, Arabian Babbler, Blackstart and Little Green Bee-eater. Originally attracted to a small pool, the birds now drink from a tray provided for this purpose. The pumping station is best visited just before dusk but the site has become over-visited and care must be taken to avoid disturbing the birds. To reach the station head for the top of Jerusalem Street, cross the junction and continue until a sharp left-hand bend shortly after which a track turns off right, signed "Nahal Netaphim". The pumping station is on the right of this track.

The pumping station track leads into the Eilat Mountains and by keeping right at all junctions it follows Wadi Roded until it reaches Elot Kibbutz close to Route 90 north of Eilat. A good range of local specialities occurs in this area including Sand P{artridge, Little Green Bee-eater, Arabian Babbler, Palestine Sunbird and Tristram's Starling as well as Scrub Warbler, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Hooded Wheatear and House Bunting. Cyprus Warbler winters here.

The Cemetery is well-known as a good site to watch raptor migration and a wide range of species can be seen at almost eye-level from the hill beyond the cemetery. Other species to be see here include House Bunting and White-crowned Black Wheatear, Sand Partridge and Desert Lark. Passerine migrants are often attracted to the bushes here. The cemetery is reached by turning right at the top of Hatmarin Street.

Rarities frequently appear at Eilat in all the various habitats and many species are recorded annually in small numbers, especially on spring passage. Virtually any migratory bird breeding from Europe to Central or even eastern Asia could conceivably turn up at Eilat and species from further south in Arabia and Africa are also recorded. News of such sightings soon gets around via the Birdwatching Information center on Hatmarin Boulevard. This is open every evening for the exchange of information on sightings and sites, and from here trips to see special birds such as Hume's Owl are arranged, undoubtedly the best way to see such an elusive species.

There are few mammals in the area but there is the chance of Dorcas Gazelle in the desert and Rock Hyrax and Nubian Ibex in more mountainous regions.

Undoubtedly the most productive times to visit are spring and autumn, Eilat is easily reached by air from Europe and one of the easiest and cheapest ways to visit is on a package holiday. However, for the independent traveller there is a wide choice of hotels, to suit all budgets, mainly on North Beach, and also campsites and hostels, all within easy reach of good birding areas. Birding aside, Eilat is an excellent holiday destination with all the facilities of a modern resort. Public transport is good but a hired car is more or less essential to reach all the best areas. Being in the Red Sea the coral reefs are magnificent and few visitors return home without having spent a few days snorkelling or scuba-diving.

BIRDS INCLUDE: Great Crested Grebe (W), Black-necked Grebe (W), Cory's Shearwater (Su), Sooty Shearwater (Su), Red-billed Tropicbird (rare,PM), Brown Booby, Great Cormorant (W), White Pelican (PM), Little Bittern (PM), Black-crowned Night Heron (PM), Striated Heron (rare), Squacco Heron (PM), Cattle Egret (PM), Western Reef Heron, Little Egret (PM), Great White Egret (PM), Grey Heron (W), Black Stork (PM), White Stork (PM), Glossy Ibis (PM), Greater Flamingo (PM), Common Shelduck (PM,W), Eurasian Wigeon (W), Common Teal (PM,W), Mallard (PM,W), Northern Pintail (PM,W), Garganey (PM,W), Northern Shoveler (PM,W), Common Pochard (PM,W), Tufted Duck (PM,W), Honey Buzzard (PM), Black Kite (PM), Egyptian Vulture (PM), Griffon Vulture (PM), Short-toed Eagle (PM), Marsh Harrier (PM), Pallid Harrier (PM), Montagu's Harrier (PM), Northern Goshawk (rare PM), Eurasian Sparrowhawk (PM), Levant Sparrowhawk (PM), Steppe Buzzard (PM), Long-legged Buzzard (PM), Lesser Spotted Eagle (PM), Steppe Eagle (PM), Eastern Imperial Eagle (PM), Golden Eagle (PM), Booted Eagle (PM), Osprey (PM), Lesser Kestrel (PM), Common Kestrel, Northern Hobby (PM), Sooty Falcon (rare PM), Lanner Falcon, Barbary Falcon (PM), Sand Partridge, Common Quail, Spotted Crake (PM), Little Crake (PM), Baillon's Crake (rare,PM), Moorhen, Eurasian Coot (W), Oystercatcher (PM,W), Black-winged Stilt (PM), Pied Avocet (PM,W), Cream-coloured Courser, Collared Pratincole (PM), Little Ringed Plover (PM), Ringed Plover (PM,W), Kentish Plover, Greater Sand Plover (PM), Caspian Plover (rare PM), Spur-winged Plover (rare,PM), White-tailed Plover (rare PM), Northern Lapwing (W), Little Stint (PM,W), Dunlin (PM,W), Broad-billed Sandpiper (PM), Ruff (PM,W), Common Snipe (PM,W), Whimbrel (PM), Eurasian Curlew (PM,W), Spotted Redshank (PM,W), Common Redshank (PM,W), Marsh Sandpiper (PM), Greenshank (PM,W), Green Sandpiper (PM,W), Wood Sandpiper (PM,W), Common Sandpiper (PM,W), Terek Sandpiper (rare PM), Pomarine Skua (PM), Arctic Skua (PM), Long-tailed Skua (scarce PM), Sooty Gull (rare,PM), White-eyed Gull, Great Black-headed Gull (PM), Little Gull (PM), Black-headed Gull (PM,W), Slender-billed Gull (PM), Lesser Black-backed Gull (PM,W), Yellow-legged Gull (PM), Caspian Gull (PM,W), Armenian Gull (scarce PM,W), Heuglin's Gull (PM,W), Gull-billed Tern (PM), Caspian Tern (PM), Greater Crested Tern (PM), Lesser Crested Tern (rare PM), Sandwich Tern (PM), Common Tern (PM), White-cheeked Tern (scarce PM), Bridled Tern (scarce PM), Little Tern (PM), Whiskered Tern (PM), White-winged Black Tern (PM), Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Feral Pigeon, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove (PM), Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, Striated Scops Owl (rare W), Eurasian Scops Owl (PM), Desert Eagle Owl, Hume's Owl, Nubian Nightjar (rare), Egyptian Nightjar (rare), Common Swift (PM), Pallid Swift (PM), Alpine Swift (PM), White-breasted Kingfisher (PM), Common Kingfisher (W), Pied Kingfisher, Little Green Bee-eater, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, European Bee-eater (PM), Hoopoe, Wryneck (PM), Bar-tailed Desert Lark, Desert Lark, Hoopoe Lark, Thick-billed Lark (rare visitor), Bimaculated Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark (PM), Short-toed Lark (PM), Crested Lark, Oriental Skylark (W), Sand Martin (PM), African Rock Martin, Crag Martin (PM), Barn Swallow (PM), Red-rumped Swallow (PM), House Martin (PM), Tawny Pipit (PM), Tree Pipit (PM), Meadow Pipit (PM,W), Red-throated Pipit (PM), Water Pipit (PM,W), Buff-bellied Pipit (rare,PM,W), Black-headed Wagtail (PM), Citrine Wagtail (PM), White Wagtail (PM), Yellow-vented Bulbul, Rufous Bush Robin (PM), Black Bush Robin (rare), Bluethroat (PM,W), Thrush Nightingale (PM), Nightingale (PM), Common Redstart (PM), Blackstart, Stonechat (PM,W), Isabelline Wheatear (PM), Northern Wheatear (PM), Pied Wheatear (rare PM), Cyprus Pied Wheatear (rare,W), Desert Wheatear (PM), Black-eared Wheatear (PM), Mourning Wheatear (PM), Hooded Wheatear, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Graceful Warbler, Scrub Warbler, Savi's Warbler (PM), Moustached Warbler (PM), Sedge Warbler (PM), Reed Warbler (PM), Clamorous Reed Warbler (PM), Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (PM), Upcher's Warbler (rare), Olive-tree Warbler (rare), Subalpine Warbler (PM), Sardinian Warbler, Cyprus Warbler (PM,W), Ruppell's Warbler (PM), Desert Warbler (PM,W), Arabian Warbler, Orphean Warbler (PM), Lesser Whitethroat (PM), Common Whitethroat (rare PM), Blackcap (PM,W), Eastern Bonelli's Warbler (PM), Common Chiffchaff (PM), Spotted Flycatcher (PM), Semi-collared Flycatcher (PM), Collared Flycatcher (PM), Pied Flycatcher (PM), Arabian Babbler, Palestine Sunbird, Red-backed Shrike (PM), Lesser Grey Shrike (rare PM), Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike (PM), Masked Shrike (PM), House Crow, Brown-necked Raven, Tristram's Grackle, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Dead Sea Sparrow, Pale Rock Sparrow, Indian Silverbill, Syrian Serin (PM), Greenfinch (W), Goldfinch (W), Desert Finch, Trumpeter Finch, House Bunting, Cinereous Bunting (rare Sp), Ortolan Bunting (PM, mainly Sp), Cretzschmar's Bunting (PM, mainly Sp).