Tuesday 21st March
Trip 1: Up into the Negev Desert, not too far from Ein Gedi
The artists, led by Yossi Leshem, trekked to find nesting Bonelli's Eagles in a ravine where eagles of this species have nested for over 40 years (Yossi did his MA on breeding raptors of this desert, and so was a mind of information). After a few red herring unused nests, we found the inhabited one, sporting 2 feisty (but hot) chicks, which were roughly 3-4 weeks old. It took a bit of finding, but the male (adult, approx 6-7 yrs) was on sentry-watch further up the mountain, and the female absent, hunting for food. Bonelli's have the longest talons relative to body-size of any raptor; these formidable weapons are used to catch aerial prey such as chukkars and rock doves. The artists and their beloved scopes yielded some excellent drawings of 'family Bonelli', and watched the aerial dives of the territorial displays.
The ever opportunistic Tristam's Grackles kept us entertained with their antics whilst cajoling for food and attention. Migrant raptors were soaring on the thermals overhead - Steppe Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles, Egyptian Vultures and Booted Eagles amongst other animated specks... Black-eared wheatears skipped from rock to rock as the artists worked.
Some artists took to the botanical and insect life - broom, tank-like beetles, tiny species from the sunflower family and halophytic succulents that were faring better in the dry heat than we were.
Trip 2: Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
Ein Gedi is an extraordinary nature reserve the animals are remarkably unperturbed by the high number of visitors as you can see from the photographs.
Trip 3: Enot Tsukim Nature Reserve
This is located on the NW shore of the Dead Sea and is a wetland oasis called 'Ein Feshkha', meaning split spring. Here a number of natural springs emerge from under the valley conglomerate, their varying salinities and temperatures creating a series of diverse habitats including reed-beds, shrubby salt-bush, tamarisk woodland, and lakes. Amongst the long list of notable species here are included: Striped Hyena, Caracal, Dead Sea Sparrow, Calmorous Great Reed Warbler, Marsh Frogs, Common and Jordan St Peter's Fish and Freshwater Crab. The real stars are the insects though, the metallic green Middle Eastern Jewel Beetle and the Weaver Ant with it's unique aphid/cicada 'honeydew milking business' that keeps them nourished.
Thanks to the managers for giving the artists special permission to enter the 'Hidden Reserve', where they settled down to draw flora and fauna including date palms, phragmites, darters, praying mantis, Crested Lark, warblers, water snails and tilapia.
The evening: Project Event at the Dead Sea Research Institute
After supper we all travelled to the newly opened Institute to listen to lectures, hear music and witness aerial photographs all focussing upon the Dead Sea region's landscape and wildlife:
David BenShabat - Center for Regional Thinking
Invitation to Think Together
Dov Litvinoff - Mayor of the Tamar Regional Council
Matya Shick, photographer - Devious Powers (the Dead Sea in photographs)
Juan Varela, Spain - An artist's impressions of ANF and painting
Paul Winter with excerpts from his new composition "Flyways" celebrating bird migration and the countries through which they fly along the Great Rift Valley, integrated with ethnic music from these countries and the calls of the birds that migrate along this route.
Prof. Yossi Leshem - The Great Rift Valley, an international highway for migrating birds
Amir Ben Dov - The unique Tamar Regional Council bird treasures: Desert Tawny Owl, Pallid Scops Owl, Nubian Nightjar