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Watching the birdie:
By BARRY DAVIS
06/18/2014
The Jordan Valley makes Israel a vantage resting point for migrating birds.
 
When it comes to matters of the feathers we have a head start of many locations around the world. Our biggest geographical advantage is that we have the Jordan Valley along our eastern border, which forms part of the Great Rift Valley that stretches from Syria all the way down to Mozambique and provides a conduit for millions of birds flying north and south in the spring and fall.

Even for the most durable of birds it is a long way from Africa, where the migratory species spend the northern hemisphere’s winter, to Europe, and they find all sorts of vantage points to take a breather. One of the favored stopover regions is the Negev, where the birds zoom in on spots with plentiful water supplies.

One might have assumed that, as the Negev is a desert region, the birds would give it a miss. Apparently that is not the case.

“There are even birds that live here all year round, which is something you don’t find in places like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv,” says Meidad Goren, director of Ramat Hanegev Birding Center.

Progress has made a difference to the feathered-friend presence.

“There used to be fewer places for the birds to rest,” says Goren. “You would find them at oases and springs, but with the establishment of kibbutzim and other communities, with reservoirs and other places with water, the birds now have more options in the Negev while they are migrating.

They often get to the Negev on their last legs after crossing the Sahara, and they refuel here before continuing north.”

Goren says the watering holes around the Negev are the perfect places to catch a glimpse of a wide array of birds from all over the globe.

“Members of the public can get close to the birds. And it is relatively easy to find them because they gather where they can find water.”

Thousands upon thousands of birds cross the Negev each year, including some rarer species such as the sand grouse, the Sinai rose finch and the striolated bunting with its distinctive head stripes. The latter two can be regularly spotted near the idyllic spring location of Ein Salvador in the Judean Desert.

Around this time of year, after the nesting season, they can be seen there in greater numbers.

You don’t need to schlep loads of special equipment with you.

Just find a shaded spot a reasonable distance from the spring, observe and enjoy.

Another frequent visitor to the Negev skies is the whitetailed wheatear, which has a black body with a white crown and rump, and was recently dubbed “the bird of Ramat Hanegev.” The region also hosts a wide variety of birds of prey, including the Egyptian vulture and the black falcon.

Members of the public interested in learning about the region’s bird population first hand can join in the various guided tours and other related activities laid on by the Ramat Hanegev Birding Center. More information is available at www.birds.org.il.

The Israel Ornithological Center (IOC), which operates under the auspices of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, incorporates facilities up and down the country. The Jerusalem Bird Observatory, for example, offers guided tours as well as engaging in research and the preservation of urban nature sites.

The Hula Valley in the far North is one of the most important locations in the country for bird-related activities. The area forms part of the Great Rift Valley and offers all kinds of nesting spots and domiciles for millions of birds all year round, in particular during the migratory seasons. Rare species, including some that are in danger of extinction, such as the Basra reed warbler and the marbled duck, can be spotted there during the nesting seasons. Visitors to the Hula Valley can marvel at the voluminous great white pelican, cranes, pratincoles and the greater spotted eagle, which pass through in their thousands.

Meanwhile, back East, the International Bird Watching Center of the Jordan Valley, at Kfar Ruppin a kibbutz in the Beit She’an Valley, operates a bird ringing station and a variety of tours and training activities. The coastal strip offers plenty of ornithological fun and games, at the Ma’agan Michael bird-watching center in the Western Galilee, which lays on extensive activities for the public on weekends and holidays. In addition, the bird watching site in Ashdod runs a delightful observation spot near the Lachish River.

The IOC also operates a birdwatching center in Eilat, as well as related activities at Lotan and Hatzeva in the Arava. Among the rare species to be spotted down South are the black bush robin, the multicolored red phalarope and the Caspian plover wader.

For more information about bird-related activities for the public go to www.birds.org.il. This article was made possible with the help of the Tourism Ministry (www.goisrael.gov.il and www.goisrael.com).
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