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Flights of Fancy: Bird Migration in Israel's Hula Valley

Migration season brings millions of soaring and squawking birds to Israel to the delight of camera-clicking spectators.

Mordechai I. Twersky
Mordechai I. Twersky
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Mordechai I. Twersky
Mordechai I. Twersky

To enter the expanse known as the Hula Valley, with its vast plains encased by the steep, sloping mountains of Israel’s Upper Galilee, is to experience nature’s own theater-in-the-round. It is a breathtaking sensory production, a symphony of sight and sound, as the migration season’s show-stealer – Eurasian cranes numbering in the tens of thousands – soar and squawk to the delight of camera-clicking Israeli spectators, tourists, and bird watchers.

“I am shocked by its beauty,” said Uwe George, a natural scientist and bird-watcher, who traveled to Israel from Germany for the second time in nine months to watch the seasonal ritual at the Agamon-Hula-KKL Nature Reserve.

With an estimated 500 million birds from more than 400 species said to fly over Israel’s skies each migrating season, millions among them from Eastern Europe and Western Asia are now touching-down in the 25-square-kilometer Hula Valley en route to their ultimate destination: Africa.

“Israel is the land connection between three continents,” said Nadav Israeli, manager of the neighboring Hula Valley Birding Center for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. “It is the perfect place for them to migrate over because of its fresh water and vegetation.”

According to Israeli, during the current migrating season – which began for some birds as early as July and will continue through March – more than 1 million raptors have already touched down in the valley, in addition to 50,000 white pelicans, 100,000 Eurasian cranes and 300,000 honey buzzards.

At the nature reserve, which operates a park throughout the year and recently held two international bird festivals, scores of visitors on golf carts and tandem bicycles could be seen heading toward the congregation of cranes and its collective chorus of piercing calls. Other spectators stopped in their tracks, looking up at the sky as the cranes flew by in formations from as few as four to the hundreds.

Many of the special guests will remain in the valley for winter, feeding off its pastures that evoke images of perpetually long football fields, or grass-covered airport landing strips. Then they will move on.

“It is an important stopover,” said Israeli. “The birds get to rest, refuel and regenerate their energies.”

Cranes in the Hula Valley. Photos by Yaron Kaminsky, Dror Galili and SPNI.

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