Birding in Israel in general is unique. But the observation of the spring migration of thousands of raptors is literally breathtaking. The Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus) is one of the first raptors, you can observe migrating. On good days, migration starts as early as before 8 am. Then the birds pass the city of Eilat between Sholmo and Mount Yoash in about 300-400 meters above sea level (asl). During the morning, migration normally moves a little to the northwest of the area between Mount Yoash and Moon Valley. However, the migration may also switch to southeast, directly over Eilat if there is bad weather in the Negev desert. The Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) forms the conclusion of migratory events in the spring around the end of May. Approx. 1 million birds of this species migrate within just two weeks through the area, in some years, the birds migrate even in the course of just one week. In early May usually the temperature drops at night below 25 degrees Celsius, which means that the Honey Buzzards do not have to wait until the air is heated by daybreak. Therefore, you can already see the first Honey Buzzards circling deep between the mountains at dawn. On very hot days, the eastern slopes of the mountains are studded with resting honey buzzards. These birds arrived exhausted in the late afternoon of the day before and have to fight back before the journey continues north again.
Good images of migrating birds the photographer most likely will shoot early in the morning from 7 to 9 am. During this time many raptors are passing low. A certain persistence, however, is necessary, as the migration routes might moves when the wind switches direction due to temperature rise. Is once picked a place from which you want to photograph, relocation cannot be taken without losing the best time of the day. Often it is too late for this. Therefore patient waiting is the recipe taken. But, if you can observe hundreds of raptors pass close to you, so close that the wingbeat of e.g. Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis) is heard, then the patience has paid off.
During the spring, other raptors show-up in the migrating crowds. E.g. Black Kite (Milvus migrans) migrate in quite big numbers a bit later than the Steppe Buzzard. Also Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) are seen almost daily in April. On the north beach of Eilat, close to the Jordanian border, many raptors are seen which take the route along the gulf of Akaba. This route is preferred particularly by Black Kites, Eurasian Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus), Pallid Harriers (Circus macrourus), Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) and Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes). On that location the bird migration is often observed in the late afternoon. Then the birds use the bay of Akaba as a guideline. Almost all of these raptors are traveling north to their breeding grounds in Europe or in the area of the Caspian Sea, as only a few raptors stay over the summer as breeding birds in Israel.
In general perfect photo conditions prevail in southern Israel; particularly the lighting conditions in Eilat and surroundings are outstanding. There are surprisingly high exposure times possible. The bright mountains reflecting the light so strong that even the bottom of the flying birds is well illuminated. Light and air in the mountains of Eilat are ideal on early mornings on most days.
Due to low humidity all objects stay sharp and crystal clear in the morning. After 10:00 am usually it comes to an end with the good conditions, because the air often enriched with desert dust during the course of the day. Late in the afternoon the good photo light returns, the temperature drops a few degrees. Now the activity of birds rises again. For the photographer the temperature is bearable again.
It took 15 year before I had the opportunity to come in comparable photo situation in terms of raptor shooting. Only in 2012 I was successful in flight shots of Steppe Eagle (Aquila nepalensis) at the dump sites near Salala in Oman. In 1997 my photographic equipment was not good enough to cope with the photo gear of 2012 but the opportunities near Eilat are unsurpassed!
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