Migration of Lesser Spotted Eagles and Black Storks in Northern Israel Autumn 2010



It is well known that Israel is the place to go to witness Bird- and especially raptor migration. Whereas many birdwatchers travel to the country during the spring season and mainly visit the southern Eilat area, the autumn migration takes place nearly without any attention from foreign birdwatchers. This despite the fact that autumn migration of Lesser Spotted Eagles is among the most spectacular wonders of nature one can imagine. A major part of the world-population of this globally endangered bird species passes Israel in a relatively narrow corridor and within a short period of time. Doing research for our upcoming Bird Guide to Israel I spend three weeks in September/October in Northern Israel, joining the Survey team of the Israeli Ornithological Center. 

Adult Lesser Spotted Eagle in its breeding grounds in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Eastern Germany  (July 2008, above) and juvenile ringed bird in Brandenburg state (Sept. 2010) just after fledging. Maybe also these two birds joined thousands and thousands of their conspecifics migrating over Israel's Northern Valleys.  

 For the first time I tried photography from a small plane 

Unfortunately on a day with only limited migration. Like in recent years the peak day of Lesser Spotted Eagle migration was Oct. 6 with 25.000 birds counted. Overall 110.000 Lesser Spotted Eagles were counted during the survey, the highest number in the last 24 years.  On hot days - with temperatures around 35 centigrades - the first groups of migrating eagles arrived already in early afternoon at their roosting sites in the large pine-forests in northern and central Israel. 

 Nazareth, native city of Jesus is situated along the migration route of Lesser Spotted Eagles. 


Lesser Spotted Eagle roosting place in a Pine-forest in northern Israel, photographed from the plane.  


Typical formation of arriving Eagles 

The departure in the mornings took place mostly already shortly after 7 a.m., in awkward conditions with clouds significantly later around 8.30 a.m.

A group of Lesser Spotted Eagles is seeking for thermals in early morning 

Lesser Spotted Eagles leaving the roost  

Apart from Lesser Spotted Eagles also Short-toed Eagles migrated in good numbers, also daily around two dozens of Booted Eagles and - sporadic - Eastern Imperial Eagles were seen. 


A juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle joined the Lesser Spotted Eagles 

Short-toed Eagle, a common migrant (and breeder)

Levant Sparrowhawks and Lesser Spotted Eagles using the same thermal 

The number of Levant Sparrowhawks was still impressive. The migration peaked with 68.000 birds counted on Sept. 23 (one day ahead of my arrival). On Sept. 28 still 10.000 birds were registered by the Survey team. Also worth mentioning:  About 30.000 White Pelicans migrated during the time of my stay, many bee-eaters and small groups of Hobby and Red-footed Falcons were seen. A small flock of Levant SparrowhawksA small group of Pelicans, photographed from the plane

During migration sightings of Lesser Spotted Eagles are not uncommon even over cities 

Also the birds came to roost near human settlements 


The annual survey of autumn bird migration is conducted since already 30 years. From Aug.1 onwards until mid-October observers are dispatched over the entire west-east extension of Israel in a two-kilometer-distance to ensure a comprehensive count of soaring birds.  The results are shared in real-time with the flight security authorities to avoid bird-strikes in the small but busy airspace. The cooperation between ornithologists and civil as well as military aviation has reduced the number of fatal accidents in the recent years to zero.  

Also mobile radars and infrared-cameras are used to monitor flocks of migrating birds. To check the results counts by the observers are compard to the results of the machines.

Man or machine, who gets the birds first? 

Waiting for a flock of several hundreds of Pelicans that were registrated by radar even before entering Israel. This time the birdwatchers came first and saw the birds earlier than the researchers on the infrared-cameras.  

 Two different ways of Birdwatching




Apart from Lesser Spotted Eagles I concentrated on Black Storks in the Bet-Shean-Valley, Northern Israel. Bet Shean, praised in the Bible as the gate to paradise, lived up to this advance praise in terms of birds. Daily more Storks arrived, with a group of 800 Black Storks virtually falling from the sky on Oct. 3. Also White-storks were present still in good numbers, although the bulk of the 435.000 birds counted during the survey left already before I arrived.  Temperatures were very high - up to 40 centigrades - making the stay in the hide sometimes a bit unpleasant. White-breasted Kingfishers immediately appreciated the new perch: 


Putting up the hide in an disused fishpond

After a few days without avail my patience was rewarded. Black Storks, Grey- and Great White Herons, Little Egrets and Squacco Herons came to feed or roost close to my hide. Ospreys came down to drink


A juvenile Black Stork tries to impress another youngster passing by. This bird was very bold even towards adult birds when food was involved. 


Israel is becoming increasingly important as a wintering site for Black Storks. The fishpool-complexes in the Bet-Shean-Valley offer ideal food-conditions 

This Black-stork was harassed by a Black Kite - but succeeded in the end  and kept its prey


 Osprey is a common migrant and regular winterer in Israel

Kingfisher, a very common winterer


Spur-winged Lapwing, a common bird throughout the country


Pallid Harriers, picture shows a male, profit from the many thousands of Larks, pipits and wagtails migrating through the Bet-Shean-Valley 


To conclude some impressions, photographed from my hide. In the background the Jordanian mountains.


Interested in visiting Israel for birdwatching or Photography? In the last week of March 2011 the International Spring Migration Festival takes place again in Eilat - A week full of birding and evening lectures in one of the best places to watch migration. See the website here. Also I am happy to help. Contact me at tkrumenackeratyahoo [dot] com or infoatkrumenacker [dot] de