Sunday, 18 December 2016

Day 3 Amazing Hula Valley

As we headed further north and into the Hula Valley we made it to Kfar Blum and checked into the Pastoral Hotel. This place was a lot posher than the run down hostels I'm used to staying in and I felt like a king when I learnt that breakfast and dinner was all you can eat! The gardens where full of birds too and this gave me the chance to photograph some new species:

Palestine Sunbird

Yellow-vented Bulbol

Syrian Woodpecker courtesy of Oliver Krauss

Also seen in the gardens where plenty of Bluethroat's, Syrian Woodpecker, Siskin, Sardinian Warbler, 20-30 Laughing Doves and a Peregrine Falcon. In the evening we headed out to Hula Lake and we were joined by local birder and guide Nadav Israeli , Nadav had a great sense of humor and was very passionate about the area he grew up in, as well as being a great birder! Even though it was very windy ( this dry desert wind was a feature of my time in Israel and it was causing the spread of wildfires in many areas) the birding was fantastic as we watched many species congregate in front of us to roost. 400 Glossy Ibis, 30 Cattle Egret, 10 Great white Egret, 50 Pygmy Cormorant, 1 Black-winged Kite, 1 Water Rail, 20,000 Common Crane, 250 Avocet, 70 Spur-winged Lapwing, 170 Armenian Gull, 1 Hoopoe, 1500 Skylark, 1 Fieldfare, 450 White Wagtail and 15 Water Pipit are just a sample of what we saw and counted. At 5:30 am the next morning we returned to Hula Lake and we had the treat of getting closer to the birds by going on a mobile hide tour, which is basically a grandstand that is pulled along by a tractor! Still it was very effective and as the sun came up I watched in awe as an estimated 60,000 Cranes lifted up from the reed beds and headed skywards.
Common Cranes at dawn-Oliver Krauss

Mobile Hide

You could almost touch the Cranes...

Glossy Ibis

It was spine tingling watching so many birds at such close quarters and it felt like being on a Safari ( except for the lack of animals! Some Coypu and a beast of a Wild Boar being the only ones seen ). 200 Shoveler, 3 Greater Flamingo, 600 Glossy Ibis, 5 Spoonbill, 10 Night Heron, 300 White Pelicans, 300 Pygmy Cormorants, countless waders including 200 Ruff, Little Stints and several Marsh Sandpipers, 100 Laughing Doves, 20 White-throated Kingfishers and a ghostly Barn Owl added to the spectacle. As the sun got higher many raptors started to move around and we enjoyed ridiculously close encounters with several Eagles ( 10 Greater Spotted Eagles and 5 Eastern Imperial Eagles) , as well as 15 Kestrel, 2 Black winged Kite, 40 Black Kite, 15 Marsh Harrier , 4 Common Buzzard and 2 Long-legged Buzzard it was raptor heaven!
Great Spotted Eagle

Eastern Imperial Eagle

It was only 9am and there was plenty more birding to do as we drove towards Lehavot Habashan Fishponds. Typically full of birds and another great site with my personal highlights being 30 Black Stork, 4 Long legged Buzzard and a rarity for Israel ! A Little Bustard expertly found by Nadav. Another fishpond further up the road added 5 Ferrugnious Duck, 5 Little ringed Plover and I was happy to find a Temmicks Stint and a 1st Winter Black headed Wagtail for the group.

Half an hour later we found ourselves very close to the Lebanon border and in the higher altitudes of Tzfat Safed we saw many new species ( which
 distracted me from the thought of minefields and the militant group Hezbollah which operate across the border). A Southern Grey Shrike ( Aucheriwas a welcome lifer and amongst the many other passerines we enjoyed 6 Blackcap, 4 Black Redstart, 4 Common Redstart, 2 Bluethroat, 30 Brambling and 6 Hawfinch.

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