Israeli Fall means birding time!

Cyprus wheatear in Israel. Photo: Jonathan Mayrav

Birdwatchers of all ages, professionals and amateurs alike, are currently enjoying bird migration season as dozens of varied species fly across Israel to spend their winters in warm Africa. SPNI ornithologists closely monitor the different  species, their population numbers, their migration times and routes as part of global conservation and research projects.

 This year we were treated to unprecedented event as an unusually heavy rain system over the eastern Mediterranean interrupted the migration route of the Cyprus wheatear (Oenanthe cypriaca) and forced these rare birds to turn east. As a result eighty of this species were spotted mostly in Tel Aviv coastal area and expert birdwatchers estimated that a total of about 100-200 touched down.

 This tiny bird though weighing just under 20 grams (0.70 ounces) and only 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) in length migrates from Cyprus to Africa over 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles).

The toughest part of their journey is the first leg as they fly over the Mediterranean Sea at night until they reach the coasts of Egypt.

 Usually only a handful of these birds stop in Israel and the total global population is around 18,000. Israeli birdwatchers got a special treat on October 28, including 7 of the birds spotted resting on one branch, and this whole event registered as an all times record in Israeli birding history.

Common crane at Hula Valley Nov2015 Photo: Jonathan Mayrav

This season there have also been other rare sightings such as a lone European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus unwini) and rock thrush (Monticola sexatilis) as well as a flock of 200 greater flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus). There was also the first ever recording of a desert finch (Rhodospiza obsolete) in the Tel Aviv area. Less rare highlights include 20,000 lesser-spotted eagles (Aquila pomarina), 40,000 great white pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) (the entire Asiatic population), 4-5,000 chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) and 37,000 common cranes (Grus grus)(so far) in the Hula Valley

 There are plenty of difference events taking place during the migration season including the 9th international Hula Valley Bird Festival, the 36th annual birding conference at Tel Aviv University on 14 December, and SPNI’s special birding youth activities during Hanukah which offer young birdwatchers a first-hand experience of a fascinating nature phenomenon.

 If you happen to be visiting Israel any time soon, do not miss this great opportunity to appreciate one of the world’s best migration hot-spots. For more information about Israel’s birds visit