Raptor Rapture

Walking wearily back to our apartment in Eilat two weeks ago after most of the day spent at the Marine Park looking at the wonderfully varied and abundant inhabitants of the Red Sea coral reef, we noticed a raptor, probably a Steppe buzzard, flying low over the street. Thinking that maybe some kind of mini-migration event was taking place we brewed a cuppa and sat on our balcony and waited to see what would happen. Boy oh boy! Were we in for a pleasant surprise. For the next couple of hours until the sun began to set, turning the sky a deep gold, we saw streams of honey buzzards, black kites, the aforementioned Steppe buzzards and smooth, streamlined Levant sparrowhawks flying purposefully north between the mountain ranges of Israel and Jordan. Most of these birds passed at little more than rooftop level affording excellent views.

Over the next couple of days we spent quite a bit of time, early in the morning and later in the afternoon repeating this experience (much better prepared this time, me with a glass or two of a mellow red wine, Denise with a good book). The passage on Sunday 26th April was simply fantastic with hundreds of raptors, including Egyptian vultures, steppe eagles, long-legged buzzards and booted eagles gracing the cloudless skies above our dwelling. Black storks, bee-eaters, swifts and swallows joined the throng, and would you believe nobody else looked up to see the spectacle of mass migration taking place just 100 feet above their heads. Too busy sunbathing and trying to look cool to be bothered with the real wonder of Eilat. But at least a couple of middle-aged English folk had the good sense to notice. A few pics taken from the balcony to give a flavour of what it was like:


Steppe Buzzard

Possibly a young bird making its first northwards migration

Levant Sparrowhawk

A male passing at little more than head height

Steppe Buzzard Mobbed by House Crow

The local house crows take exception to large raptors
passing so low.

A couple of miles north of the city, created on a site that was previously the municipal rubbish dump, lies the International Birding and Research Centre Eilat  (IBRCE). Here you will find a warm welcome, several hides, an information centre and shop selling various goodies and ice cream and, most importantly, birds. Lots of birds. The site is not very big, just a few acres, but has pools of fresh and salt water as well as plenty of low bushes and a few trees which provide shelter and food for enormous numbers of migrants making their way out of Africa and northwards into central and Eastern Europe. For me it was like being in a sweet shop and not really knowing which jar of sugar laden treats to plunder first, or maybe a more suitable analogy would be visiting a beer festival and not knowing which sugar laden ale to sup first. Birds were everywhere, the scrub held warblers, buntings and shrikes; the ponds, waders, herons and gulls, and the skies above buzzards, eagles and falcons. Everywhere you looked there was something new, almost too much to take in to be truthful. We visited twice and each time logged a different cast of characters zipping around in the bushes with a never-ending stream of tired migrants passing overhead.

The heat was quite oppressive at times, even late in the afternoon, so we sought refuge in one of the hides overlooking a fresh water lagoon. Fresh water is an uncommon resource in this part of the world and acts like a magnet to all kinds of wildlife, so sitting quietly for an hour means you are likely to see all kinds of birds feeding, resting and dropping in for a much needed drink. In the latter sense we had the good fortune to see at close quarters a fine male honey buzzard alight on the far bank for a well-earned guzzle and a male Levant sparrowhawk sipping the sparkling waters from the pool edge. Gull-billed and Caspian terns likewise stopped for refreshment and a quick rest, whilst herons of six species fished in the shallows. A party of spoonbills tarried for a few minutes gliding over marsh sandpipers, black-winged stilts, spur-winged plovers and ruff attempting to nap on a small island, tucking their heads under their wing and standing on a single leg. Unmoved by all the commotion a pied kingfisher sat patiently on a post waiting for some hapless fish to swim too close to the surface. He had obviously seen it all before and didnt flinch, not even when sparrowhawks and a booted eagle passed within striking distance causing mass panic amongst the intermittently slumbering waders.

Plans are afoot to enhance this area and make it even better for birds and people. I hope to return one day and spend a more relaxed day or two there, but I guess if youre not a birder it has limited appeal. Anyway a few more pics to show what can be easily seen during the wonderful season that is spring:

Red-necked Phalaropes

These active needle-billed waders were using the salt pools to feed on the
numerous small flies.

Masked Shrike

Beautiful birds and normally very shy, this one allowed close
approach at IBRCE


Booted Eagle

A fine specimen that buzzed the wader pools causing mass panic (not only
with the birds). Looking at this picture and the one above of the osprey it is
easy to see how people could mistake one for the other, but believe me
they are totally different. 

Little Green Bee-eater

One of the most wonderful creations in the bird world in my opinion

....an opinion unlikely to be held by this unfortunate bee.


A party of five dropped in briefly

Spur-winged Plover

These birds had a nest somewhere close to the footpath and were voicing
their displeasure at our trespass

Levant Sparrowhawk (male)

Caught against the towering hills of Jordan only a couple of kilometres
from the Israeli border

Levant Sparrowhawk (female)

We flushed this fine bird from a bush as we left the reserve towards dusk