Some of the lesser known ‘tourists’ that visit Israel by the millions each year, are the 300 species of birds, which use Israel as a rest-stop as they migrate en route from Africa, Asia and Europe. For international bird watchers attending the Second International Hula Valley Bird Festival in mid-November, it is common knowledge that northern Israel’s Hula Valley is one of the most important stopovers and wintering sites for southbound birds.
In late autumn, up to 40,000 Common Cranes visited the Hula Lake to refuel, according to Dan Alon, the director of the Israel Ornithological Center.
“Israel is an ideal location for migrating birds because it is located along the Great Rift Valley flyway, one of the world’s most important bird migration corridors that links Europe, Asia and Africa,” explained Alon. The flyway is a kind of aerial highway that birds use as they fly between breeding grounds in the north to wintering areas in the south, and provides an array of habitats that are needed by the migrating birds as they travel.
“The birds stop around the vicinity of Hula’s Lake Agamon, to rest, eat and drink, much like human travelers who use hotels, restaurants and pubs,” said Alon. “We have up to 500 million birds and 500 million tourists who come to visit the Hula Valley each year,” he added.
For Thomas Krumenacker, a Reuters journalist from Germany, visiting Israel gives him the opportunity to see another side of the country as a birdwatcher.
“It’s an opportunity to be here and to see the beautiful side of Israel beyond the conflict,” Krumenacker told Tazpit News Agency. “I come to Israel at least three times a year to see the birds. Since I was a child, I’ve loved watching birds in Germany and have always been amazed by what birds go through during migration,” said Krumenacker who is working on a book about birds in Israel. His favorite bird is the Hoopoe Lark, or the Alemon in Hebrew, voted Israel’s national bird in 2008 and one of the rarest breeding birds of Israel found in the Arava Valley in the south.
“Israel is a country of immigration and migration,” quipped Krumenacker. “When I go back to Germany, I share with my friends the fascinating bird life that I see here.”
Other international bird enthusiasts at the Hula Valley Bird Festival, organized by the Israel Ornithological Center of the SPINI, the Israel Ministry of Tourism, the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration in Latrun and the Hoopoe Foundation, were first time visitors to the Holy Land.
Tristan Reed, an ecologist from northwest England, who is also known as the inked naturalist because of 24 species of birds tattooed on his arms, told Tazpit News Agency that “it’s been fantastic to be in Israel.”
“To see thousands of cranes leaving their roosts in the morning was a very emotional experience for me,” Reed said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to study birds at more natural and personal range.”