Yesterday we took a trip to the Hula Valley – a large, flat, marsh-like area between the Naftali Mountains which borders Lebanon to the west and the mountains of the Golan which borders Syria to the east. Every year an astonishing number of 500 million birds migrate through the valley, an equally astonishing 390 different species. The migration has turned the Hula Valley into a bit of an international event, especially among avid bird-watchers. Tourists come and pay nearly $2,000 to attend a week long event including bird-watching, night-time bird-watching, scientific conferences and bird ringing. For the locals there is just a 3 shekel entrance fee.
We walked towards the Agmon Lake at first, crossing the Jordan River which has been reconstructed as of late. In the 1930s the Hula Valley was a malaria-ridden patch of land filled with birds and water buffalo. Eventually the land was drained and canals were dug to contain and control the waters, especially the abundance of melted snow that runs down Mount Hermon in the spring. Today the land is nice and fertile with water reservoirs and several small lakes which are more than enough for the migrating birds and to support the agriculture of the Hula Valley.
The chief migrating bird is the common or Eurasian crane. 100,000 cranes fly every year from Russia headed down to Africa to spend the winter. However, a quarter of these cranes winter in the Hula Valley and are thus a threat to the crops so food is supplied to them costing about 2 million shekels per year. The 3 shekels paid at the park’s entrance helps lighten the burden of the feeding costs. These cranes are both huge and noisy and fill the air with loud honks and hoots.
Other bird species include herons, ibises, raptors such as eagles, kestrels and harriers, ducks, pelicans, storks and hundreds of other waterfowl. But it is not only the birds that populate the valley. There are nutrias and water buffalo and both live in and around the marsh. The nutrias were introduced from South America in attempts to raise a pelt business but the furs were not so needed in Israel due to the mild Mediterranean climate. They were let loose and now live in the rivers and canals of Northern Israel. The water buffalo were native to the land and were often domesticated for farm work. In the time of the British Mandate water buffalo lived freely in the Hula Valley marshes, today they have become slightly domesticated and live in the marsh but in designated areas.
As I took pictures of the wildlife and the beautiful area in which they found their food and rest I couldn’t help but take panoramic pictures as well. Here are two panoramic photographs of the area taken outside the Crane Observatory:
On the way home we drove up the Naftali Mountains. Midway up my father stopped the car and I snapped this photo of the Hula Valley from the open car window. The collection of buildings on the front left are some belonging to the Hula Lake/Agmon Lake nature preserve. The long white road is what we mainly walked on as we crossed the reserve. The dark strip and most of the green and brown just beyond the buildings belongs to the migrating cranes and of course, the lakes are Hula and Agmon. Beyond the lakes is the continuation of the Hula Valley proper and the mountains that form the lovely background are those of the Golan plateau.
With all that we’ve seen and done in the Hula Valley, we have only just touched upon the full experience. One day I hope to go back and stay for a night tour to watch the jungle cats and the owls hunt. One day… maybe next year.