For First Time, Arctic Bird Spotted Wintering in Israel

The snow bunting, which was travelling alone, might have been confused by the bad weather in its normal Black Sea habitat.

An arctic bird that normally winters in Europe has been spotted in Israel for the first time.

The bird, a snow bunting, arrived unaccompanied at the western Galilee coast. It's direction-finding was probably influenced by a major low pressure system two weeks ago in its usual wintering region, around the Black Sea, according to ornithologist Amir Balaban.

“The bird lands along sandy beaches. But because most of the beaches to our north are rocky, it continued southward until it found a strip of beach in Israel that suited it,” Balaban said.

Balaban, who is also the photographer for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, is a member of a small group of aficionados that maintains a list of rare species seen in Israel. When another group member, Tuvia Cohen, reported the bird, Balaban was abroad. “I went nuts," he says. "I started counting the days until I’d be back in Israel. The day I landed I was already looking for the bird.”

The arrival of new species in the country is a big deal for Balaban's group. It can make any one of them “leave a wife in labor, a board of directors meeting, command of a battalion or repairing a burst pipe,” he says.

Balaban, who photographed the snow bunting feeding, was also interested in the seeds the bird was eating. He consulted naturalist Amit Mendelsohn who identified them as belonging to the sea knotgrass. “This is a very interesting combination. To sit there and see it is a magical moment,” Balaban said.

Amir Balaban