Hula Valley Park in Israel
The ancient history and fascinating culture of Israel make it a popular tourism destination. The spectacular birdlife is another draw card, particularly among seasoned birders who travel the world in pursuit of their hobby. There have been reported sightings of more than 500 species of birds in Israel, which is on the migration route between Western Asia/Europe and Africa. Studies conducted over the past decade reveal that around 500 million migrating birds travel through Israel twice a year, and work is currently underway to develop a network of birding centers along the migration route, as well as upgrading some of the existing facilities, including Eilat, Kfar Rupin and Ma'agan. The new centers are planned for Hatzeva, Ein Gedi, Lotan and Sde Boker and will be overseen by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).
Among the many spectacular sites birders can visit is the Hula Valley Park and Nature Reserve, located in the world's longest and deepest rift valley – the Great Rift Valley. It is listed by BBC Wildlife magazine as one of the world's most important wildlife observation sites. In the 1950s most of the lake was drained in order to be cultivated, not realizing at the time the devastating results this would have on the entire ecosystem. In 1994, part of the lake was flooded in an effort to restore the balance, with much success. Today it is teeming with wildlife and is an essential resting and feeding site for migrating birds, as well as being home to large numbers of permanent feathered residents.
The park is home to the largest wintering population of gray cranes, and of the more than 500 species to be seen in Israel, at least 390 have been spotted in Hula Valley. Of the more than 75,000 cranes that migrate between Europe and Ethiopia, an estimated 25,000 birds choose to spend the winter at Hula Valley. While for bird lovers this offers the opportunity to view the cranes in large numbers, local farmers were less than thrilled as their crops became a bird-buffet. Authorities have resolved the problem with strategically placed feeding stations for the cranes. Special walkways with hides offer birders the opportunity to view the birds without disturbing them and large numbers of birds can be seen circling on the thermals above. Entrance to the park is free of charge and its network of trails is only accessible on foot, by bicycle or by electric car.
The Great Rift Valley stretches through twenty-two countries, including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, across Africa and ending in Mozambique in South East Africa. The ultimate goal of birding associations is to develop at least one reserve modeled on Hula Valley in each of these countries, providing much needed stop-over points for migrating birds.