The best ever Raptor day count in Eilat - 250,000 Honey Buzzards
The 2nd of May will be remembered as Eilat's Big Day, when at least 250,000 Honey Buzzards passed through the region. The madness commenced right from first light when rivers of Buzzards streamed through Wadi Shlomo just below our Raptor survey post at "High Mountain". It looked like as if the wadi was flowing, only that it all went upstream and then glided down to the next wadi.
The wave was endless and got thicker and thicker as the air warmed up. Johan from Denmark, the main raptor surveyor of the Israeli Ornithological Center of the SPNI in Eilat, counted 40,000 by 09:00 and then called the other surveyors for help. At the same time, our other monitoring team that focuses on migration hotspots for passerines and waders, already knew it was a special day as they witnessed tens of thousands of Buzzards passing above Yotvata.
At the Bird Sanctuary in Eilat there was a massive amount of Honey Buzzards stopping for a drop of fresh water, and people everywhere in the area had called to report more and more flocks. Doug, our American team member, drove to the North Beach just to discover tens of thousands more Buzzards short cutting-above the bay to the east towards Jordan.
This is not only Eilat's big day but also Johan's. Johan came here 2 months ago for bird ringing but fell in love with the raptors and insisted to spend every possible day in the mountains counting them. He was happy with 500 Steppe eagles a day in March and super excited when 40,000 Buzzards flew above him in early April. Today he got rewarded for his very hard work and could hardly talk on the phone from High Mountain station. At 12:00 he had 100,000. At 14:30 more than 150,000. By sunset it climbed to 198,000. Between the Honey Buzzards also 11,000 Levant's Sparrow Hawks made it north through the region.
Dan Alon, the director of the Israeli Ornithological Center can still clearly remember the last time we had such a day. It was the 2nd of May 1985, when he observed 200,000 Honey Buzzards in High Mountain in a single day. That crazy year the survey counted 850,000 Buzzards in about 10 days. Today is probably the best ever day count in Israel, and the highest ever day count of Honey Buzzards.
It's the first year we have counted Raptors after 20 years of no consistent surveying. The Steppe Eagles seemed to decrease sharply from numbers recorded in the 1980's, and also the Steppe Buzzards didn't do so well this spring. It is so exciting to discover that at least for the Honey Buzzards it is still happening just like good old days.
I would like to thank my staff that have worked so hard today, with endless smiles on their faces and red eyes, The SPNI survey team - Johan, Denmark - High Mountain, Dave, UK and Doug, USA, Arava, North beach and Low Mountain, Tim, UK and Euan, Scotland at the bird sanctuary. Just myself, in Tel Aviv, getting ready to fly for fund raising to the US, has missed it all. I think they call It in America "when sh*t hits the fan". I'm soon to find out.