Hula Valley Nature Reserve's Cranes
The Israeli government last week approved an investment of $10 million (NIS 37 million) to construct new birdwatching centers in the Negev and Galilee. Four new centers will be built in Sde Boker, Ein Gedi, Lotan and Hatzeva. Also three existing centers will be upgraded. The proposal was formulated by Tel Aviv University and the Society for the Protection of Nature’s in Israel (SPNI). SPNI and Tel Aviv University will create a computerized bird monitoring database, accessible through the web. The grand plan is to create a network of centers along the famous migration route. Israel is hoping these new centers will attract 100,000 bird watchers to the region each year.
Israel, with its location at the nexus of three continents, is a bird lovers paradise. The country attracts approximately 500 species of birds. The Northern Syrian-African Rift Valley, provides a resting place along a migration route for 500 million birds that fly each autumn from Europe and Western Asia to Africa and back again each spring. During the migration season it is estimated that Israel hosts an estimated 85% of the world's stork population.
Birds stop for several days' rest in the Galilee among the thriving kibbutz fishponds and farms along the Jordan River before continuing south across the Negev to Eilat. The best time to see Israel’s spring migration occurs between mid March to mid May and between November to December. During the migration season, thousands of cranes, pelicans, storks and other birds set up temporary rest stops along the migration route to build up strength for the last leg of a trip that takes them thousands of kilometers and over three continents every year.
Perhaps Israel’s most famous birding site, the Hula Valley Nature Reserve, is a relatively new birding location as well. Although today, the Hula Valley Reserve holds the distinction of being touted by BBC Wildlife magazine as one of the most important wildlife observation sites in the world, in the 1950’s Lake Hula was drained to create land for farming. The drainage nearly destroyed the ecosystem and drove endemic plant and animal species to extinction. Then in 1994, the Hula Restoration Project initiated a reflooding effort to reverse the ecological damage, protect the Kinneret and build up the habitat as a natural resting place along the migratory flyway, while keeping in mind the needs of local farmers who harvest peanuts nearby. Today, many cranes, swifts and other birds have returned as well as native plant life including reed and papyrus.
Some ancillary benefits of the new ornithological centers being built are to promote environmental awareness and scientific research. Furthermore, the project may hopefully encourage cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as some raptor nest boxes will be placed in areas that the Palestinian Authority control.