coast at Ma'agen Mikhael has long been associated with the huge and
highly attractive Great Black-headed Gull, but few birders are prepared
for the overwhelming abundance of storks, herons, shorebirds and gulls
that concentrate around these fish ponds and along the Mediterranean
shore. A little further north, an excellent sea watching site at Tel
Shiqmona could give close views of Cory's and Yelkouan Shearwaters over
an azure Mediterranean Sea.
Moving east into the heart of the Jezreel Valley,
a particularly well-hidden reservoir regularly supports hundreds of
wintering White-headed Duck. Since the early 1990s, this valley (along
with the Bet Shean Valley)
has been home to the annual autumn survey of migrating soaring birds,
organized by the Israel Ornithological Centre. Over the years, the
survey has collected internationally important data on many threatened
soaring bird species. Details on how to take part in this survey are
included with this guide.
25,000 Cranes spend the winter in the Hula Valley,
their numbers being swollen by migrants in late November, when up to
35,000 of these magical birds fill fields and wetlands. Globally
threatened raptors such as Spotted and Imperial Eagles are present
throughout the winter and early spring. The Hula Valley
also hosts highly localized species such as Black Francolin and
Clamorous Reed Warbler, and provides a fine base for exploring the
adjacent Mount Hermon and Golan Heights region. Here, a range of bird
species that breed nowhere else in Israel can be found, including Shore
Lark, Sombre Tit, Crimson-winged Finch and Syrian Serin.
the 2000 m-high and often snow-capped peak of Mount Hermon and heading
south along the volcanic plateau of the Golan, spectacular views of the
Sea of Galilee provide a stunning backdrop to search for Black Vulture.
Also known as Lake Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee
is a vast freshwater lake harbouring impressive numbers of wintering
grebes, Pygmy Cormorant, breeding Squacco Heron and a spectacular winter
concentration of Whiskered Tern. The surrounding hillsides are full of
birds, including Eagle Owl, Little Swift and Long-billed Pipit
throughout the year. Patient scanning of the steep-sided wadis in winter
may well produce a major prize in the form of a Wallcreeper.
Late spring is an ideal time to visit breeding sites for Orphean and Olive-tree Warbler in the upper reaches of the Galilee
region. The glorious atmosphere of a Mediterranean spring has wider
appeal to all, with a breathtaking display of wild flowers in these
than an hour south-east of Lake Tiberias in the Rift Valley basin, the
essentially semi-arid steppe climate of the Bet Shean Valley is of major
interest to birders. The ornithological and archaeological riches of
this region provide an ideal focus for three of four days of the highest
quality birding, with an opportunity for an enjoyable break around the
ancient Roman Amphitheatre in the town of Bet Shean.
The fields, fish ponds and plantations around Kefar Ruppin offer a
lush, magnetic attraction for hundreds of thousands of birds, and
produce some of Israel's
most exciting records of rare and scarce birds. Sometimes referred to
as the Eilat of the north, Kefar Ruppin offers fine facilities and also
operates a ringing station which birders are welcome to visit.
hope that the following pages will provide a valuable travel companion
when planning a visit to northern Israel. There is something here for
everyone to enjoy the experience of bird finding in this fascinating
region of the Middle East.
north beach, at the head of the Red Sea, offers the opportunity for
observing a range of species rarely encountered elsewhere in the West
Palearctic region such as Brown Booby, Green-backed and Western Reef
Herons and White-eyed Gull. At peak season, birders gather here in their
100s and a great deal of information is exchanged. It is also an
excellent place to see rare tubenoses and terns, which penetrate north
along the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean and beyond.
Inland, the southern Arava Valley
possesses a rich mosaic of salt pans, fields and plantations that not
only support highly localised species such as Namaqua Dove, but also
attract millions of migrants each year. Thorough exploration of all the
habitats around Eilat can absorb many rewarding days of birding.
north, the now famous lark site at km 33, will hopefully provide you
with views of such sought-after species as Hoopoe Lark, Bar-tailed Desert
Lark, and Desert Warbler. Sadly, the alluvial sand-blown flats here are
under constant threat of development, engaging local organisations such
as the International Birdwatching Center Eilat (IBCE), Nature Reserves
Authority (NRA) and Kibbutz Lotan in a constant battle for the area’s
Lotan and Neot Smadar (aka kibbutz Shizzafon) feature strongly in this
guide as a new, exciting destinations in which to go birding. Both sites
are rapidly developing a reputation for attracting rare and unusual
species, and also as reliable places to see species such as Barbary
Falcon, Crowned Sandgrouse, Long-eared Owl, Mourning Wheatear and Desert
The vast expanse of the Negev plateau covers more than half of Israel’s land surface area.
Mizpe Ramon and its famous geological crater, virtually in the centre of the Negev,
provide a range of facilities and a convenient place to explore several
locations for Golden Eagle, Chukar, Cream-coloured Courser, several
sandgrouse species, Trumpeter Finch and House Bunting.
Further north-west similar species can be expected in the area of the Zin Valley
and Sede Boqer, which is a rather more reliable place to see Griffon
Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Sooty Falcon (summer / autumn only) and
northern Arava supports fewer sandgrouse than formerly, but is still
worthy of a visit for its breeding raptors and Eagle Owl. The Acacia
scrub at Hazeva is now the most important stronghold for the declining
Arabian Warbler in Israel.
region is magnificent in many respects, especially historically and
geologically. World renowned for being the lowest place on earth (400 m
below sea-level) and the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls,
it is rich in birdlife, supporting several internationally important
habitats, including an area of Suaeda / tamarisk saltmarsh that supports
a tiny relict population of Nubian Nightjar. While the future of this
bird remains uncertain in Israel and the Jordan Valley, there are moves
to develop an international nature reserve to preserve the unique
habitat of this fascinating species.
highly sought-after species, the Houbara Bustard, can still be found in
small numbers at Nizzana, in the extreme western Negev.
Here, the steppe-like plains also harbour large flocks of sandgrouse
and larks, and serve as an important migration route for several species
of raptor rarely recorded further east at Eilat, such as Lesser Spotted
A winter visit should produce Finsch’s Wheatear, and this is also the season to visit the fields of the north-west Negev,
particularly the Urim area. Here, feral doves, larks and sometimes
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse gather in 1000s, which in turn attract 100s of
raptors. Saker, Pallid Harrier and Imperial Eagle occur in greater
concentrations here than anywhere else in Israel.
If this was insufficient, regular wintering populations of Sociable
Plover, Cream-coloured Courser and Dotterel should keep you enthralled.