Starting this Shabbat, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) will be conducting guided tours for viewing the hundreds of thousands of birds, especially cranes, that spend the fall and winter in the Hula Valley.

Israel in general and the Galilee in particular are in the middle of the main migration route from Europe and Asia to Africa. Twice a year, in the spring and the fall, some half a billion birds pass through Israel's skies.

A large number of these birds stop over in various places in the Galilee, foremost among them being the Hula Valley. Hundreds of thousands of birds from close to 350 different species even spend most of the winter here.

Particularly prominent among these many kinds of birds are the cranes. Throughout the fall and winter months the Hula Valley hosts one of the largest concentrations of cranes in the world.

Dan Alon, who heads the SPNI's bird-watching center, 20,000-30,000 cranes winter in Israel, accounting for more than 20 percent of all the cranes in the world.

In the middle of December the cranes are expected to migrate southward, with the last of them leaving Israel by the middle of March.

The guided tours will take place in the flooded area of the Hula Valley and will include telescopic viewing of the thousands of birds and detailed explanations. The tours leave at 10 A.M., noon, and 2 P.M. from the entrance to the flooded area of the valley. The cost for participating in the tour is NIS 10 per person.

From the end of November until the middle of December the SPNI is offering special weekend packages in the Galilee and the Beit She'an Valley, with a special focus on birds and bird-watching. The tour packages include overnight accommodations at the Hermon field school, the hotel in Kfar Blum, the rural guest houses at Kfar Ruppin, Neve Eitan, Tirat Zvi (for the religiously observant) and other locations in the north, plus a variety of activities connected with birds: guided tours, lectures, children's activities, workshops for building nesting boxes, ringing and registering wild birds, etc.

For further details about the tours in the Hula Valley, call Gil at the Golan and Hermonim field school at 04-6801382 or 053-689835.

For information about the weekend bird-watching tours, call Yosef Engel, head of tourism at the SPNI at 03-6388672 or 052-440704.