The Uvda Valley Wheatears
The Uvda Valley is about a one hour drive NW of Eilat. Autumn rains caused the desert to bloom making it attractive to a range of wintering passerines espcially wheatears. These included two Israeli rarities; Kurdish Wheatear and Basalt (Mourning) Wheatear that I was keen to see. The black and white nominate form of Mourning Wheatear (Oenanthe lugens lugens) is common throughout Israeli desert regions. In contrast the striking all black Basalt Wheatear (O. l. warriae) is a scarce (increasing?) winter visitor from NE Jordan and Syria. These represent two of eight taxa in a complex distributed across the arid regions of North and East Africa and the Middle East . Historically Basalt Wheatear was regarded as a colour morph of Mourning Wheatear. However recent work suggests that it is at very least a distinctive subspecies and quite possibly a good species.
Despite best efforts at an early(ish) start I was doubly thwarted. First by lack of planning; no packed breakfast. Second by a call from Yoav, surprised that I was not already in the field, who wished to plan for Sunday. When I arrived at the given coordinates it was already mid-morning. Although Noam Weiss and clients were already leaving they had seen both birds. Despite clear directions it took me over two hours to track down the Kurdish Wheatear. After showing well for <1min it flew off 200+ m. to another patch of bushes and I couldn’t relocate it. A real shame as although not a WP tick, I saw this species in Turkey 34 years ago, it might as well be!
Time was moving on as I walked NW up the valley to try to find the regular Basalt; one of four wintering in the area. It was slow going with many distractions like this confiding female Hooded Wheatear.
And a noisy flock of more than forty Trumpeter Finches to name but a few.
I spent some time with this Mourning Wheatear perplexed by the coarse and extensive streaking on the crown. Later I discovered Dutch birder Leo Boon the author of a 2004 article “Mourning wheatears” – illustrated in Dutch Birding had photographed the same bird. He wondered if it was of the Eastern form O.l. persica that breeds in Iran. Leo recorded video and collected poo for DNA extraction/sequencing. I await the outcome with interest.
Nearby a promising looking black wheatear sitting on top of a bush about 250 m away turned out to be the boy.
The Basalt Wheatear was clearly not happy that I hadn’t brought a tribute of mealworms and promptly went walkabout. Not before giveing couple of distant fly pasts to show off it’s distinctive wing and tail patterns. More than happy I said farewell to the Uvda Valley wheatears and returned to the car. I drove to Yotvat to find something to eat and had a brief poke around the north circular field, Finding nothing of note I headed South in search for my next target.
Samar, a small kibbutz about 40 km North of Eilat, has recently hosted a family of Black Scrub Robins. This sub-Saharan species has recently colonised the Southern Arava. The one remaining bird, I was told, had moved location and become a bit elusive. Passing through the sturdy gates of the kibbutz I stopped to photograph an approachable pair of Spur-winged Lapwings.
The horse paddocks, reputed to be the bird’s new favourite haunt, were easy enough to find. But because it was the Israeli weekend the young kibbutz residents were busy grooming their animals and cleaning tack. I explored a few areas of nearby scrub finding little of note, although a couple of Graceful Prinias posed for the camera.
Back at the paddocks the Black Scrub Robin (WP #717) crept out from cover to drink at a leaky pipe. As I lined up the camera the BCS was spooked by a passer by and flew to the kibbutz perimeter. Before I could catch up and recompose it dropped into a well-lit hollow under some tall bushes. This was absolutely perfect except for the chain link fence between me and the bird! Here the BCS strutted its stuff. A magnificant all black bird frequently showing off the rows of white spots on the underside of its huge tail. An absolute delight but just impossible to photograph…
After another 30 minutes or so of frustration I gave up and headed back to the hotel to catch up with Ingrid and have dinner. There would be much to talk about after an enjoyable if slightly frustrating day.