Birding in israel

Jonathan Meyrav 19/04/2014 00:00

Birding in Israel overview

 

Israel has been perceived from the dawn of history as the “center” of the world.  Explorers, Crusaders and religious figures over the years were drawn to Israel searching, exploring and thriving to unveil the mysteries of this unique land.

Israel’s unique position on the globe contributes greatly to this perception, being a land bridge connecting three major continents; Africa, Europe and Asia.

 

From a birder and naturalist point of view Israel offers the best of all worlds, a huge variety of birds, plants and animals combined with incredible scenery, diverse habitats  and all in a modern country less than 300 miles long.

 

Because of Israel’s strategic position on the globe it serves as a meeting point of several zoo-topical zones and as such boasts a variety of birds rivaled only by the tropics.

 

 

 

 

 

Israel’s incredible Biodiversity is due to its geography and varied habitats.

From the snowy peaks of Mt. Hermon at over 2200 meters above sea level via the Great Rift Valley and down to the Dead Sea depression, the lowest place on Earth 440 meters below sea level, each habitat hosting unique birds and wildlife and special geological phenomena.

 

Israel is the Northern limit of distribution for African bird species like Little Green Bee-eater and Namaqua Dove, the southern limit for European species like Finches, Jays and others and the Western limit of distribution for fascinating Asian species like Kingfishers, Bulbuls, Babblers and more.


 

It is not just birds of course, the flora and fauna in Israel is so diverse that visitors are sometimes amazed at the biodiversity to be found in rather small areas.  For us birders the figures speak for themselves, 540 species of birds have been recorded in Israel, for comparison the ABA checklist for the US is 976 species. Quite impressive, especially when we remember that Israel is about the size of New Jersey.

 

 

To many visiting birders the real appeal lies in Israel’s desert regions.  Around 60% of Israel is considered to be “desert” regions, receiving less than 200 mm’ of rain a year, these regions are fascinating and diverse. From the sandy semi Mediterranean dunes of the southern Coast, to the jagged Granite peaks of the Eilat Mnts, 11 different “desert” habitats can be named in Southern Israel, each of these hosting fascinating bird species.

 

Birders planning a visit find themselves find studying Intriguing bird families like Larks, Sandgrouse, Wheatears and more. Israel’s deserts are home to enigmatic species like Macqueen’s Bustard, Cream Colored Courser, Hume’s Tawny Owl and Nubian Nightjar, which are nearly impossible to see anywhere else.

Besides the large number of fascinating resident species, Israel also lies on one of the biggest migration “flyways” in the world.  Millions of birds of hundreds of species migrate through Israel twice a year. Complete populations migrate through Israel in the fall on their way to the wintering grounds in Africa and back again in the spring. During these months migration is evident everywhere, bushes tzicking with Warbler calls and the skies fill with soaring birds, Hirundines and Swifts.

 

Many species only use Israel as a “stopover” and refueling site on their journey but hundreds of thousands of birds remain in Israel for the winter months. From October to February Israel’s Eastern Valleys (like the Hula and Bet Shean Valley) host incredible numbers of wintering Cranes, Gulls, Pelicans, Raptors and Passerines, including some highly coveted and rare Raptors like Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagle, Saker Falcon, Pallid Harriers and more.


 

So when is the best time to visit Israel?

 

Excellent birds can be found year round in Israel but the best time to visit is anytime winter to spring (Nov-May). Overall March is considered by many as the best month for birding Israel, it is at this time that resident birds are courting and singing, migration is in full swing and many winterers are still around.  

 

A visit in March will ensure visitors a big list of species and memorable migration spectacles. Despite the above a winter visit to Israel is a memorable experience. Huge numbers of birds, excellent weather and stunning landscape. The winter in Israel is very mild, mornings are cool and days are usually sunny with comfortable temperatures.  Detailed itineraries for different times of the year, suggested programs and checklists can be found on the IOC websites.

The Israel Ornithological Center operates several Birdwatching centers at key sites in Israel like the Hula Valley, Eilat and the Negev highlands. The Birdwatching centers main goal is scientific and conservation oriented, but they also offer excellent birding tours for visitors, from short introductory tours to full multi day packages.

 

Israel is an easy country to “do your own thing”, it is a very modern country with an excellent infrastructure of roads and facilities. Nowadays Wi-Fi is available everywhere and it is easy to stay connected to the local birding community.

 

 

If you are more of a tour group kind of birder then many companies, mainly European based offer regular trips to Israel during the migration seasons. Another option for those wishing to enjoy a full birding program combined with excellent facilities and other like-minded birding “freaks” are the Israel Ornithological Center Birdwatching Festivals.

 

The IOC has two major events every year, the Eilat Birds Festival in the spring and the Hula Valley Bird Festival in the north.

The IOC is a non-profit organization that is a part of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, therefore all the money that is raised from the festivals and tour groups is channeled directly to various bird conservation projects in Israel.

 

Due to the growing birding tourism branch in Israel we are now able to run multiyear projects to the benefit of Israel birds and habitats.

 

Bird on.

Jonathan Meyrav

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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