Southern Israel Birding Sites
Here are further details about the sites we visited in Southern Israel during our holiday in September 1997. Most books provide details about the best sites, such as Eilat's salt pans, but what I've tried to do here is provide a little further advice about the sites we looked at. In other words the information here is simply from our own experiences and is not intended to be a comprehensive site guide. For info about the Sandgrouse drinking pool in Eilat, look elsewhere!! We never made it there!
Ein Gedi Nahal Arugot Nahal David Wadi Zin Neot Fish Ponds
Wadi Peres Yeroham Park Eilat North Lagoons Kilometre 20
Kilometre 33 Eilat Sewage Ponds North Beach Sde Boker Ein Avdat
A beautiful spot on the shore of the Dead Sea. It is an oasis and the two valleys here flood in winter (I can't quite picture that!). It was extrememly hot when we were there (early September), unbearably so around midday. To be quite honest, after about 9.30 or so it was getting uncomfortably hot. Just take plenty of drinking water wherever you go.
We stayed in the camping site beside the seashore. It has a reasonable shop for food supplies and a restaurant/cafe for a decent meal, although it can be expensive. The campsite is very pretty. We arrived after having just left Jerusalem on our first morning in Israel. It seemed like paradise! There is plenty of shrub cover around the campsite and was good for Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Tristram's Grackles. Also Palestine Sunbirds, Arabian Babblers, Laughing Doves and House Sparrows. One morning at breakfast I had a Barbary Falcon fly over. An early morning wander round the site could be productive. The showers here are fine and there is a priceless water fountain which provides clean, chilled water. Lovely! Camping here costed £5 sterling each per night.
A short walk across the road from here is the entrance to one of Ein Gedi's two nature reserves. The nearer one is the larger - NAHAL ARUGOT. A windy entrance road leads up to it and the walk takes you through some nice scrub and past a date plantation (guaranteed Grackle country). Blackstarts are common along here and this was the best spot we found for Sand Partridge. Keep an eye out above because two raven species are here - Brown-necked and Fan-tailed. The entrance to the Arugot reserve is set in some decent scrub, all worth checking for things like Masked Shrike. There is an entrance fee which is reduced if you are staying at the campsite. It is a nice walk along the valley, past several clear pools. Willow-like scrub is excellent for warblers and buntings and keep an eye on the hills for vultures and other raptors.
Further to the north is a small complex of buildings on a hill known as the Field School. It was up there that the Hume's Tawny Owls used to be found but have not been there for about 5 years now. There is a youth hostel here also. The entrance to the NAHAL DAVID reserve is along a short road behind the bus stop. This reserve can be a shorter walk and is therefore the busier in terms of visitors. There is plenty of acacia and other scrub here. I saw shrikes and bush robins here very easily. Little Green Bee-eaters are common around the dried river bed. Again there is an entrance fee for this reserve. Lockers are available for valuables and there is a shop for souvenirs and refreshments.
NEOT HAKIKAR AND WADI ZIN
This is a farming community known as a moshav. It is reached from the main Arava road which runs north and south with Eilat at the southern end. Neot is signposted to the left as you are going south past the southern end of the Dead Sea. If you reach the Dimona turning then you have gone too far.
The area of acacias near this junction to Neot is known as Wadi Zin and an early morning walk round here was very productive. Although early in the migration season, we did see Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Orphean Warbler, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, Scrub Warbler and Golden Oriole, not to mention a few shrikes. It is okay to park at the side of the road and walk round here. It might even be possible to camp.
NEOT FISH PONDS
The fish ponds are along the road towards Neot Hakikar. They will be on your left and can be seen from the road. There are some obviously man-made pools surrounded by sand banks. These could be scoped from the road and can provide waders and the odd gull. Spur-winged Plover are easy here. I am uncertain if you can just walk down to the ponds. You may have to ask one of the workers. I do not think there is public access to the site itself. The best pond is further back from the road and is surrounded by tall reeds. I saw several species of heron (Little Bittern breed here), egret and a Glossy Ibis here, not to mention crakes, ducks and waders. Clamorous Reed Warblers are here also. If you are here near dusk, wait by the road and scan over the marshland and nearby farmland. Sooty Falcons feed over here. The Nubian Nightjar site is nearby but there I would not suggest looking unless you have permission or are with a local guide. I think there is no public access. You are also fairly close to the Jordanian border so be careful where you point your telescope and camera lenses!
If you return to the main road and turn left towards Eilat again you will soon arrive at another nice birding site, Wadi Peres. About half a mile along the road on the right you will see a stone track leading off. There is a small brown or green sign with the symbol of an ibex, representing the Israeli nature conservation body. In fact I think it says "Wadi Peres" too! Park a little way along here and walk up the narrow valley. There is more scrub along here, although not a great deal! This spot is good for Hooded Wheatear.
Further south from here is a turning on the right to Dimona. Take this road through some spectacular Negev scenery. I cannot remember exactly where the town of Yeroham is but it will be on the map (I assume you have one). The park is quite large and I think is on the north side of town. There are plenty of opportunities for birding here and lots of places to park. The trees look like they would be fantastic in peak migration time. We saw a few warblers here and the odd flycatcher. There is a lake where we saw grebes and duck, Black-winged Stilts and Night Heron. Cetti's Warblers were calling from lakeside scrub. Overhead we saw raptors. The rough grassland by the lake provided Hoopoe, Rufous Bush Robins and flava wagtails. We came across a wet marsh which reminded me of a watercress bed. There were Cattle Egrets on here.
Everyone knows about the salt pans here and there is plenty of literature on the sandgrouse drinking pool and Striated Scops Owl sites, etcetera. I would like to provide a word of warning about the NORTH LAGOONS. We drove around the lagoons and watched the birds and took some photographs. The site is about 20 metres from the Jordanian border and it is regularly patrolled by army vehicles. On leaving the site a truck came alongside and Arnon (our friend and local guide!) was questioned about what we were doing. It seems the guards did not like us taking pictures so close to the border. It seems a bit petty and I suppose they must have been bored but you can understand them being a bit jumpy. Anyway, just be careful here! The North Lagoons are reached by taking a left turn (as you go south towards Eilat) by Kilometre 20 (the kilometres to Eilat are counted down on little white signs at the roadside). Go past some greenhouses (the scrub and semi-desert here is good for Namaqua Doves) and the lagoons are at the end of the road. Greater Flamingos winter here and the place looks excellent for waders.
Kilometre 33 is a bit further north up the road (you didn't drive past it did you?). An early morning visit is the only way to do this site. We did it another way by visiting at noon (the car had broken down) and the place was dead. One Bar-tailed Desert Lark was all we had to show from the"lark field" - an area of semi-desert and stunted shrubs. Several species of lark can bee seen here and an early morning visit is the best way to see them. A series of small white signs marks the path across this "field". They are difficult to see but they are there! You need to turn left along a track and drive as far as a small white water authority building with land mine warning signs around it. Take a right turn here (the lark field is on your right now) and drive for a few hundred metres until you see the white signs. Park along here.
We stumbled across the SEWAGE PONDS by mistake after taking a left turn along the entry road to the North Lagoons. The Ponds are on the left along this minor road and are fenced in. They are up an embankment and we only realised they were there when we saw a flock of White-winged Black Terns hawking over them! We had to climb over a fence (a concrete roller had been strategically placed for birders I think) and walk up the slop to view the ponds. The smell is disgusting but the birds are worth it. On the brown stinking crust were plovers and many many wagtails. On the path running between the ponds (there are 4) were several Western Reef Herons and Cattle Egrets. We found a Collared Pratincole, 2 Short-toed Larks and 2 Black-headed Buntings here too. Excellent!
NORTH BEACH is a strange place. You hear about all these great birds seen off here but when you get there you feel like you don't want to turn your back on the car. It is a kind of shanty town on the beach. Lots of seemingly permament tent-like constructions as well as genuine campers (we didn't want to camp there!). Anyway, from the beach (a telescope is a must), scan the sea. Check all the buoys (a Brown Booby is usually sat on one) and pontoons for gulls and terns. White-eyed Gulls and Caspian Tern are almost guaranteed. Make it an early visit here for best results.
The Be'er Sheva road from Eilat runs through some of Israel's most spectacular scenery including the world's largest natural crater at Mitzpe Ramon (good for larks and Chukars). Further along from Mitzpe Ramon is a town called Sde Boker. There are two bus stops here. One is at the kibbutz (lots of scrub for birds) but the first is at the High School. There is a guard on the gate but we were visiting a contact in the school so we could get in. The rough wasteground to the left of the entrance was where we saw all those Stone Curlews. If you tell the guard you want to walk round and look at birds, he may let you in. If not then don't worry, there is some excellent birding to be had in the nearby reserve of