Saturday, 10 December 2016

Israel day 2 - Journey to the Hula Valley

I was a bit fuzzy from the wedding when I woke up and dashed for the train to get back to the airport but I was so excited to meet up with the group and start birding! By 7:30 am the group had made their way to the airport and we met our guide for the next few days , Jonathan Meyrav who is the tourist and one of the country's top birders. I was surprised at how far people had traveled to experience the Hula Valley bird festival as I met people from Switzerland, Germany, America, Canada, Australia, Italy, Israel and of course the U.K. Everybody seemed very friendly and I struck an instant friendship with Lars , a crazy German guy with a great sense of humor , likes a beer and is a really good birder, my kind of guy! As we left the airport I saw my first bird of the trip and my first lifer; this handsome Common Myna:
Common Myna

As we headed north towards the Hula Valley Jonathan commentated on the different towns and landscapes we passed en route, describing their importance to Israel or regaling us with any historical facts. It was clear he was very knowledgeable and passionate about his country and learning about the culture and history of Israel throughout the trip made the week for me to be honest. Still it was about time we did some birding and my first taster for what to come was a quick stop at Gan Shmuel fishponds. The locals are very keen on fish farming in Israel  and this habitat has become very important throughout the country to migrating water birds needing to stop and drink or feed. There is some conflict as the fish eating birds such as Pelicans eat the farmers profits but thanks to the work of the SPNI there seems to be a balance were the farmers tolerate the birds. The amount of birds using these small ponds were incredible! I wasn't sure were to look first, 10 White-throated Kingfisher, 5 Common Kingfisher and 20 Pied Kingfisher had lined themselves up on the fishing nets enjoying their meals. Raptors circled overhead : 2 Kestrel, 10 Black Kite, 3 Marsh Harrier, 4 Common Buzzard, 2 Long-legged Buzzard and 2 majestic Great Spotted Eagle. Whilst amongst the many waders, pipits and wagtails included my first ever Citrine Wagtail, 5 Wood Sandpipers and 20 Spur winged Lapwing. For such a small place there also seemed to be an incredible amount and variety of Herons. 10 Black Storks, 200 Glossy Ibis, 5 Cattle Egret, 25 Grey Heron, 15 Great Egret, 30 Little Egret, 50 White Pelicans , 1 Squacco Heron and 2 Night Herons joined the 80 Pygmy Cormorants in feeding on the many fish in these ponds. If that wasn't enough the bushes and trees were also alive with birds and I heard and saw 3 Penduline Tits, 2 Graceful Prinia, 5 Bluethroats, 1 Caspian Stonechat ,2 Red- throated Pipits and 2 Water Pipits.

Pied Kingfisher ( courtesy of Oliver Krauss )

I could have stayed here all day but we needed to head north, still I was to learn that even though this was amazing for birds, it was going to get even better....
Great Spotted Eagle ( and Hooded Crow)

White Pelican's

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