Early morning in the Hula Valley, it is still well before sunrise. The air is surprisingly cold and crisp as our small group assembles at the water’s edge.
It takes a few moments for our eyes to adjust; in the meantime we focus on the sounds of the awakening lake, ripples, splashes and the soft humming of insects. A slight commotion on the water draws our attention to a medium-size raptor that drifts silently over the dark water. Is it a Marsh Harrier? Or maybe an owl? It is hard to say at this junction of night and day…
The darkness is slowly replaced by soft morning light. The fog is thick and stubborn, reluctant to lift. All around us birds are starting to move. Small groups of Common Cranes dip in and out of the fog; more and more of these majestic birds rise from the water and pass low overhead, some so close that droplets of water tap lightly around us. It is truly a moving experience as thousands of birds surround us, and the air is filled with their calls.
The rising sun is now well above the plateau to the east and the valley is filled with patches of golden light. The lake and fields around us are buzzing with activity. Huge flocks of Skylarks and swirls of Starlings dance above the green fields. On the water, hundreds of ducks and waders dot the shallows, and small groups of Spoonbills and Snipes forage along the shores. A short scan around reveals a couple of Greater Spotted Eagles quarreling with a Marsh Harrier over a fresh crane carcass. Several hundred White Pelicans quietly preen in an open field, completely oblivious to 3 young jackals bewildered at the large white birds that showed up overnight. As I set up my scope a curious Bluethroat nearly pecks at my boots.
Every morning is different in the valley, and each is special in its own way. There are not many places where one can enjoy such great numbers and such a variety of birds in a small, easily negotiable area. This is what makes birding Hula Valley so magical.
For more information, check out The Happening Hula Valley — A Northern Israeli Birding Destination and The 3rd International Hula Valley Bird Festival.