A few hundred meters down the road, we stopped to scope the ponds of the IBRCE Eilat Bird watching Centre. This new habitat quickly boosted our list with a number of waders and other waterbirds, highlights being Gull-billed and Caspian Terns, many Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls and Common Redshank.
Our main waterbird site, the series of salt pans at Km 20, was crawling with both birds and birders. This is the perfect site for a big day, as you can see all the birds by simply driving along the levees and dam walls, without even having to leave the vehicle. In this fashion we added all of the standard waders – Little Stint, Ruff, Grey, Common Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Dunlin and the like – and with a bit more scanning we found Broad-billed Sandpiper, Eurasian Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit too.
We had very clearly defined targets here, that we had found on our scouting days. Working systematically, we found Black-necked Grebes bobbing alongside two Red-necked Phalaropes, a Whiskered Tern cruising past, and a few Pied Avocets. There was a brief moment of confusion when a distant male Common Shelduck was taken for an avocet; sounds ridiculous, but I see that this confusion risk is mentioned in the Collins field guide. Even such distinctive and common birds keep you on your toes – gotta love birding! Other waterfowl were Common Shelduck, Northern Pintail and Garganey. Western Yellow Wagtails (mostly the black-headed feldegg race) and White Wagtails patrolled the shores in large numbers, but we dipped at our ostensibly reliable Water Pipit site.
Even such distinctive and common birds keep you on your toes – gotta love birding!
Southern African birders will find this hard to believe, but probably the best species of waterfowl we had on the day was Egyptian Goose at Km 19 – an uncommon bird in these parts, and causing great excitement and a mini twitch among the local race teams. We even saw a car do a rapid U-turn and head back towards us just 30 second after we put this news out on the Whatsapp group! At this productive reed-lined dam, we were a lot more impressed with the likes of Common Snipe, Eurasian Teal, Spotted Redshank and an Osprey flying over.
The IBRCE (Eilat Birdwatching Centre) is sure to be a highlight of any trip to southern Israel. This immaculate and well-maintained bird sanctuary is perfectly geared towards birding, and is simply pumping with birds. A few days earlier we had been lucky enough to be personally guided around the hides by the director of the sanctuary, Noam Weiss, who was now on one of the other teams.
At the first hide past the entrance complex we met up with some birders peering intently into some reeds who got us onto two elusive rallids at once: Little Crake and Water Rail. In terms of passerines, Indian Silverbill and Penduline Tit were good ticks, although the Citrine Wagtail we had there previously was absent.
With daylight now fading fast, we floored it down the dirt track towards North Beach, pausing only to add Pallid and Alpine Swifts to the list, and a Pied Kingfisher nesting in a bank along a small canal. The resident Western Reef Heron at North Beach, a mottled individual, was at its usual post. Far offshore a raft of Tufted Tucks were bobbing on the ocean, while Baltic and Heuglin’s Gulls (both “Lesser Black-backed”) were resting on buoys.
A Whatsapp message on the Champions of the Flyway group prompted a minor change of plans, and within minutes we had connected with a lone Mediterranean Gull, courtesy of the Arctic Redpolls team. As dusk descended in earnest, our options for new birds were dwindling fast. We sped back to the Bird Centre, and as we had hoped, heard both Little Bittern and Black-crowned Night Heron in the gloom before full darkness and a heavy fatigue settled in.