Even with an intermittent cooling breeze and plenty of water you soon feel drained whilst walking around in the heat of the desert surrounding the Dead Sea. We spent most of Wednesday there in the company of Carmel Zitronblat, a birder based in Jerusalem, who kindly agreed at short notice to try and find some of the special birds of the area for us. One thing became quite clear, quiet early: you have to work very hard to see birds in this harsh landscape. Not only are they thinly distributed but they all blend in so well with the rock strewn landscape. No brightly blazing kingfishers here, just for the most part small birds cloaked in various pale browns and whites - the perfect camouflage. And it was hot, very hot, even early in the morning. Still we did alright. The area we visited was essentially the strip of sun scorched land between the Dead Sea to the east and the imposing Judaean mountain range to the west that thrusts up from the desert floor to dominate the horizon for tens of miles. It is in this mountain range that you will find Masada where the Jews held out for 7 months against the Roman army that eventually built a ramp of rock and compacted sand with which to reach the gates and storm the fortress only to find the inhabitants had committed mass suicide. Here too are the dry caves at Qumran that held the scrolls upon which ancient tribesmen had scribed psalms and stories of events occurring in biblical times. We visited both a couple of days back as well as spending time floating in the Dead Sea itself - great fun! The mountains form a very effective rain barrier, but there are many Wadis that help carry the rains that fall around Jerusalem down towards the sea. Where these depressions occur they form strips of green where low growing flowers and shrubs find sufficient moisture to cling on to life. As ever in such environments what at first seems lifeless will, on closer inspection, prove to be anything but. You just have to exercise patience and have a good pair of binoculars.
Lesser-spotted EagleA lone migrant making its way north through Israel
Tristram's StarlingThese perky birds seemed to appear out of nowhere whistling their three note
welcome as soon as we stepped out of the car. They were after free hand-outs
and as soon as they realised none were forthcoming upped and disappeared.
Southern Grey Shrike
Brown-necked RavenAnother scavenger that seemed quite used to people.
Family groups of these hardy mammals could be found marauding around the Wadis.
Quite how they scrape a living from the parched earth beats me.
Graceful PriniaThese tiny little birds were singing their hearts out from every clump of bushes.
About the size of our long-tailed tit they gave a welcome buzz to an environment
otherwise devoid of birdsong.
White-crowned WheatearA beautiful bird seen only too briefly as we drove up into the mountains
White StorksWe saw two groups of about 150 birds riding the updrafts over the mountains