Birds and Camera

Frank Moffatt 15/05/2019 00:00

ISRAEL: 40 Years with Birds and Camera

By Klaus Bjerre

Published by Gyldendal, Copenhagen.

Hardback. 177 colour photographs spread over 154 pages. Available in Danish and English.



I first met top bird photographer Klaus Bjerre in Israel around 30 years ago and since then we’ve become very good friends. We both share a love of Israel, its landscapes and its birds. Although our time together in the field has been limited, our base of choice in the south - Kibbutz Lotan – has given me the opportunity to see some of Klaus’s superb work close up.

When he told me he was working on a book to illustrate his time observing the birds of Israel over a forty year period I was excited. When a copy of his recently published book unexpectedly arrived at my house you won’t be surprised when I tell you I couldn’t wait to open it. I wasn’t disappointed.



Honey Buzzards, early May in the Eilat Mountains - the authors ‘photographic workspace’.


This book is the culmination of Klaus’s 40 year journey covering the length and breadth of Israel and embraces the four seasons. His stated goal is ‘to inspire current and future generations’ - through the lens of his camera. The emphasis is very much on migration and the 500 million birds that pass through Israel twice each year. There is particular focus on the south and especially the Eilat Mountains, which are what he describes as his ‘photographic workspace’ but several other areas are included.



Late March, Steppe Buzzard passage in the Eilat Mountains.


The front cover is gorgeous: colourful European Bee-eaters set against a desert background. It does what it’s supposed to and draws you in and has you wanting more.


European Bee-eaters, spring Yotvata, the Arava.


The foreword is by his good friend, legendary Finnish raptor biologist and wildlife photographer Dick Forsman, after which come the acknowledgements. It’s in the short introduction that follows that Klaus explains how it was by chance his interest was aroused after being invited to watch a cine-film in 1975 by Danish pioneer Martin Lavard about birds in Israel.


After seeing footage of the incredible raptor migration in the Eilat Mountains he knew he had to go there. His first visit followed shortly afterwards, in 1978, and he’s continued visiting to this day.





Photographer Klaus at work in Elot date plantation, Eilat, March 1978.


As a senior Danish bird photographer with an addiction for ‘capturing’ the local fauna in Israel he’s developed a strong feel and love for the place which is clear in the text and which is illustrated magnificently in his stunning photos. He talks about his move from film to digital photography in 2004 and refers to working with the desert light and the subject matter which is often within ‘touching’ distance.



Honey Buzzard late April in the Eilat Mountains. ‘Touching distance’.


The book is not a guide to the birds of Israel, just short of 90 species are included, nor is it a site guide. Although the south is covered in some detail the north is a little ‘thin’ e.g. Mount Hermon is represented by a single, impressive, distant photo and central Israel is left out completely. Rather this is Klaus presenting his personal selection of the birds of Israel and related experiences from a variety of habitats in a diary type format all within a medium-sized coffee-table book.  As a consequence there are winners and losers.



Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Tirat Tsvi, Beit She’an Valley late August.


He does his best to follow the seasons and to follow a south to north and return path, but it meanders a little. Photographing raptors is his first love and it’s that family that receives special treatment throughout the book in a series of superb images. Originally written in Danish it was his friend Paul Sterry that assisted with the translation into English. I spotted a few typos but I’m being picky and they don’t detract.



European Roller, Neot Smadar late April.


He begins his story in February in the Eilat Mountains with migration well underway. He drools over March and April there, when the migration is in full-swing and which he describes as a photographer’s ‘paradise’.



Migrating Black Stork flock, late March in the Eilat Mountains. A photographers ‘paradise’.


He moves to the Central Negev where he pays particular attention to several iconic breeding species at Ein Avdat and the Zin cliffs then U-turns to the saltpans at KM20 in the Arava, a haven for thousands of migrating waders, wagtails and hirundines (and others) before discussing the Kibbutzim phenomena in the Arava Valley. The latter provide green oases for the migrating hordes and Kibbutz Lotan gets a special mention as it’s served as his base on many visits and which is ideally positioned to provide easy access to several excellent birding locations nearby.



An iconic Bonelli’s Eagle, Ein Avdat, central Negev.



Greater Flamingos, KM20 the Arava, early March.


Wow! Male Caspian Plover, mid-April, Yotvata agricultural Fields, the Arava.


Eilat’s famous North Beach - gateway to the Red Sea - is a must for inclusion, not just because of the many rare and scarce birds that visit, but also as the place where birders have historically gathered each evening to discuss how things are going and to receive info on what’s around. Plus it’s just a nice place to unwind.



Little Terns, mid-April, at the famous North Beach, Eilat.


Several gorgeous photos attempt to convey the incredible spectacles of the Levant Sparrowhawk and Honey Buzzard migrations – the latter being his absolute favourite (and mine) – I remember one particular morning in the Eilat Mountains with Klaus strategically positioned on a mountainside and me standing opposite Mt Yoash when we were the only persons present to witness an estimated 60,000 passing through in three hours during the morning. Incredible experience.



Levant Sparrowhawk, late April in the Eilat Mountains.



Honey Buzzard, early May in the Eilat Mountains.


The book moves on to late summer and early autumn when, inevitably, the focus turns to the magnificent spectacle of the return migration. There are several excellent images highlighting how the northern valleys act as migration routes and the important role the Bet She’an Valley and the numerous fishponds there (and elsewhere) play - including in winter.  



White Storks, early September, Tirat Tvi, Beit She’an Valley.



Black Stork, late September, Neve Eitan, Beit She’an Valley.



Lesser Spotted Eagles, early October, Kfar Hahoresh close to Nazareth, northern Israel.



White Pelicans over the Jezreel Valley, northern Israel. Photographed from a motor glider.



A scene from the incredible autumn return Lesser Spotted Eagle migration.

Early October, Jezreel Valley, northern Israel.


There is special mention of Celia Friede’s waterhole in Ezuz in the Western Negev. The drinking pools here have photographic hides and provide birders and photographers with great opportunities to enjoy several sandgrouse species (fingers crossed).



Celia’s drinking pools. Crowned Sandgrouse, early September, Ezuz, the Negev.



Realising a dream. Klaus in the cockpit of a motor glider preparing to fly with the birds.


The superb, bird rich, Hula Valley including the Agamon Hula and the spectacle of several tens of thousands of wintering Common Cranes is introduced. The place is a paradise for many wintering species and is a must visit.



Wintering Common Cranes in the Agamon Hula.


The book ends with a section called Photographers Notes. It’s here that Klaus stresses it’s not the end of the story for him in Israel and that he will continue to visit for photography and birding as long as he can. Israel and especially Eilat are ‘in his blood’, says Klaus.



Dramatic scene. The Arava Valley with the Jordan Mountains in the distance. Taken from route 40.


Although the text is concise, no doubt to provide space for more excellent photos, I found it interesting and informative. The photos are stunning and illustrate superbly what separates the professionals from the amateurs. Numerous landscape images convey the atmosphere of Israel as do many of the soaring bird shots. Just one mammal is included - plus a few tasty but unfortunate prey items.



Nubian Ibex, Ein Avdat, central Negev.


There’s a single image of his close friend, German photographer, Thomas Krumenacker who published a similar book at around the same time and with which comparisons are inevitable. They’ve worked on projects together but on this occasion decided there was plenty enough for two books and they’re not wrong.



Gorgeous Cretzschmar’s Bunting, late March, Yotvata, the Arava.


Does Klaus achieve his goal to inspire others? It’s a resounding ‘yes’ from me. I find it hard to believe that any birder/photographer having read through Klaus’s memories and having feasted their eyes on his superb photos, won’t be adding Israel to one of their places to visit real soon. And if you’ve already been to Israel I’ve no doubt this will bring great memories flooding back and have you wanting to return ASAP.



Corking Rock Thrush, Neot Smadar, mid-April.


The book can be purchased at the IBRC shop in Eilat or from the publisher Gyldendal, Copenhagen.

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