Israel is is a land bridge connecting three major continents; Africa, Europe and Asia. From a naturalist’s point of view, it offers the best of all worlds, a huge variety of birds, plants and animals combined with incredible scenery and diverse habitats, all available in a modern country of manageable size (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 boasts an impressive diversity of birds. From atop the snowy peaks of Mt. Hermon (2,200+ meters above sea level), through the Great Rift Valley and down to the Dead Sea depression (the lowest place on Earth at 420 meters below sea level), each habitat reveals geological phenomena and hosts a unique assemblage of birds and wildlife. Israel is the northern limit of distribution for African bird species like Little Green Bee-eater (above) 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 surprisingly diverse. For birders the figures speak for themselves: 540 species of birds have been recorded in Israel; all this in a country the size of New Jersey.
Israel’s desert habitats hold everlasting appeal. Around 60% of Israel is considered “desert,” receiving less than 200 mm of rain per year. Though the word desert might imply monotonous layers of windblown sand, in truth the deserts of Israel reflect nearly a dozen microhabitats from south to north, each affected by geology and water patterns. From the sandy semi-Mediterranean dunes of the southern Coast, to the jagged Granite peaks of the Eilat Mountains, 11 different desert habitats can be named in Southern Israel, and each of these hosts a different array of bird species. Contributor: Jonathan Meyrav/Israeli Ornithological Center.
The IOC is a non-profit organization that is a part of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). 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.
Eilat is a tourist town with a world-class diving center, so there are plenty of options. We suggest booking with the hotel that hosts the festival if you plan to attend. Often, two meals are included in hotel prices, which means you’ll save money by going back to your hotel to eat, but that means you might miss out on the socializing with festival attendees at dinner.
The 2012 Eilat Festival was centered at upscale The Isrotel Yam Surf Hotel near the Red Sea.
We stayed at the Prima Music Hotel for six nights in 2012 and while it was centrally located with good birds in the garden, it was WiFi-challenged (only available in the lobby when the wind was blowing the right way) and meals at the cafeteria were chaotic and loud after a long day. The Prima is known for its soundproof music room with its mighty selection of dusty LPs featuring Russian pop artists, 60s icons like Bread, and artists such as Tom Jones, whose resounding but crackly rendition of Delilah was nonetheless superb.
Excellent birds can be found year-round but the best time to visit is winter through spring (Nov-May).
Any winter visit to Israel will be a memorable experience full of huge numbers of birds, excellent weather and stunning landscapes. The winter in Israel is very mild, mornings are cool and days are usually sunny with comfortable temperatures.
March is considered by many as THE best month for birding Israel; at this time that resident birds are courting and singing, migration is in full swing, and many wintering birds are still present. A visit in March will ensure visitors a long list of species and awe-inspiring migration spectacles.