Israel's Hula Valley: A Bird Watcher's Paradise

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AGAMON HAHULA, Israel -- About half a billion birds migrate through Israel's Hula Valley twice each year. It's a paradise for bird watchers, who come by the thousands to one of the world's major migration routes.

"This is one of the richest sites in the world for bird-watching," Omri Boneh, with the Jewish National Fund, told CBN News.

"Israel is a sort of junction between three continents and birds that are essentially trying to avoid high mountains [and] great expanses of water, they funnel through very specific flyways," Ben-Gurion University Prof. Reuven Yosef said.

Some of these migrating birds fly 2,000 miles in just three to five days without a meal. They fly from Europe to Asia to Africa. For some, Israel is the halfway point -- part of a 3,700-mile stretch from Syria to Mozambique.

The Bible mentions the bird migration as part of a metaphor:

Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush (crane) observe the time of their migration.
(Jeremiah 8:7 NASV)

Some 400 species of birds stop for refueling, and a fraction even winter here, including 30,000 to 45,000 cranes.

Listening to them talk, one can understand why King Hezekiah said he "chattered like a crane." In fact, it's not just noise. Experts say crane parents and chicks can actually recognize each other's voices.

Twenty years ago, there were hardly any cranes here because the natural swamps were drained for farmland. The ground didn't work well for agriculture, so experts restored part of the lake.

"And the answer was essentially to give it back to nature and so the project has gone sort of in a circle and we're back to trying to renovate, trying to sort of reproduce what existed here in the past," Prof. Yosef said.

That and a special feeding project brought the cranes back, along with the visitors.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for us to educate people about birds, about nature," Boneh explained. "I think that you don't need to be a bird lover when you are coming here, but you are definitely a bird lover when you are going out of this site."

Visitors to the Agamon Hahula Reserve can ride the safari wagon into the midst of the cranes. Guides say there's no place else in the world to see so many cranes in such a small area.

Bird watchers come from all over the world to see the phenomenon.

"I don't even care if you like birds, you have to experience this and come and see thousands and thousands and thousands of cranes," Joan Goodman, from Washington, D.C., said.

"I'm an amateur birder," Phil Waldman from Southern California, said. "If you're a birder, I don't think there's a better place you could find to come to see the variety of species, as well as the atmosphere and the beauty of the place; [it] is unrivaled in any place in the world."

For now, these cranes are getting ready for the long flight back to Russia or Finland for the summer. But they'll be back next year, along with the bird lovers.

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Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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