Winter migration provides dazzling spectacle for birdwatchers

A number of Israeli beauty spots offer the perfect backdrop to watch the birds fly south.

Bathers enjoy a visit to Einot Tzukim nature reserve (photo credit: ERAN KRUZEL / ISRAEL NATURE AND PARKS AUTHORITY)
Bathers enjoy a visit to Einot Tzukim nature reserve
November is a wonderful time to go north, where you can watch multitudes of fine feathered friends flying overhead as they migrate from wintry Europe to warm Africa. If you’d like to see this up close, there are a number of sites throughout the area that turn birdwatching into a fun and interesting activity. Here are a number of suggestions.
Hundreds of thousands of birds are currently flying over Israel on their way south, and many of them will stop here for a visit on the way. Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve, also known as Ein Feshkha, is an extremely important stopover, since the birds tend to fly over the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. Ornithologists will be busy carrying out bird banding, in which they attach a small, individually numbered metal or plastic tag to the leg or wing of a wild bird to enable individual identification.
The public is invited to join guided tours of Einot Tzukim, which is closed to visitors most of the year. In addition to enjoying the breathtaking views, visitors can also enjoy the wading pools and shaded areas that are perfect for spreading out a picnic.
As you walk along the circular path that winds through the reserve, you pass by a number of pools, the water from which eventually empties into the Dead Sea. As you walk along the path, you’ll see archaeological remains, including an ancient farm from the Second Temple period, alongside a wading pool. The first one you’ll pass by is Tamar Pool, which is a deep, round pool that you can swim in. Until this point, the path is wheelchair-accessible.
Later on, you will reach Tzaftzafa Pool, a narrow spring that runs alongside the plentiful desert poplar trees. Nearby the second pool there are picnic tables, and you can see lots of fish swimming inside the water. The trail takes about one hour to complete (not including time spent wading in the water).
Dates: Friday, November 29, and all Saturdays in November, 9 a.m-2 p.m.
Details: Bird-banding tours will begin at the entrance of the reserve at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.
General tours begin at the entrance to the reserve at 12 noon and 2 p.m.
Price: No additional fee for the tours on top of general entrance fee.
Directions: Drive on Road 90 toward the Dead Sea. About 3 km. after you pass Qumran, turn left into the Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve.
If you look up into the November sky while you’re standing in Kochav Hayarden National Park, you’ll probably see a few pelicans, storks and cranes crossing overhead as they fly south for the winter. Located in the lower Galilee between Beit She’an and the Kinneret, Kochav Hayarden is home to one of the most interesting archaeological sites in Israel, including an impressive fortress that lies directly under the path of birds migrating to Africa.
Throughout November, the park will be holding special seasonal activities surrounding the migration. Every Saturday at 1 p.m., visitors can watch as a bird of prey that was brought injured to the wildlife hospital and now is healed and able to deal with the dangers of living in the wild is released back into nature. Guests will hear a professional ornithologist talk about bird migration, and afterward, kids can join fun games, participate in art projects and solve bird riddles.
Visitors can also join a walking tour of the Friendship Path located next to a Crusader-era fortress, during which they will encounter rare plants that grow out of the basalt stones. At the beginning of the trail, you will enjoy an amazing view of the Lower Galilee and the Jezreel Valley, including Mount Tabor, and the mountains surrounding Nazareth and Givat Hamoreh.
If you pay close attention, you’ll notice how your surroundings slowly change as you walk along the path, and then just after you make a northward turn, all of a sudden you will have a clear open view of the entire Kinneret, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights. Soon after, you will come upon the Crusader fortress and sculpture garden, comprising 40 works created by Yigal Tumarkin. In addition, you will pass by a basalt stone monument dedicated to Charles Wingate. Length of hike: 1.2 km., about 2 hours.
Dates: Saturdays in November, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Price: No extra charge other than entrance fees.
Directions: Drive on Road 90 and turn west onto Road 717, which leads toward Kochav Hayarden National Park.
Not far from Kiryat Bialik is the Ein Afek Nature Reserve, one of Israeli families’ favorite parks. Declared an official nature reserve in 1979, Ein Afek is home to a number of natural springs, an archaeological site and an ancient flour mill. Many wild animals have made this area their home, and it is quite common to see storks, pelicans and herons hanging about.
The circular trail leading through the reserve passes over a wooden bridge, where you’ll have a great view of the unique aquatic plants that grow in the water and along the riverbank. Occasionally you’ll also get to see indigenous animals and birds.
Throughout November, special bird art workshops will take place in the nature reserve, as well as lectures for the whole family, guided tours, a video, and a station where visitors can look through telescopes and binoculars to view buffalo grazing in the fields.
Dates: Saturdays (November 16 & 23, December 7 & 14), 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Price: No additional charge above entrance fee.
Directions: Drive on Road 4 and at Ein Afek Junction, turn onto Road 7911 toward Shfaram. Soon after, you’ll see signs for Ein Afek Nature Reserve.
Another site where you can see birds migrating to Africa is Nahal Na’aman Nature Reserve, located in the Zevulun Valley. For many years, the river was neglected and sewage and industrial wastewater was dumped there. Thankfully, in recent times, great efforts have been made to rehabilitate the region, and due to ecological restoration activities, the river and surroundings are beautiful and therefore a wonderful place to go for a hike. There’s a 1.6-km. trail on site that is accessible to baby strollers and bicycles, as well as lots of nice shady places to picnic.
Directions: Drive on Road 4. At the northernmost tip of the Kiryat Bialik Industrial Area, turn right (if you’re coming from Haifa) onto a paved road. Drive 500 meters and leave your car at the point where the road is blocked.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.