Something you may not know about Israel is that it is one of the best places in the world to go birdwatching. Each year more than one billion birds fly over Israel during spring and autumn, and there is an amazing variety of species.
There are numerous locations to go bird watching in Israel and the best times are the two migration festivals. The Hula Valley Birds Festival normally takes place in late November and the Eilat Birds Festival is in the spring. During these times, it is possible to see up to 200 different species of bird, but even off-season it is still possible to see well over 100 species.
One of the best places to go bird watching is the International Birdwatching and Research Centre in Eilat. The area is home to the Nubian nightjar, one of Israel’s rarest breeding birds, as well as white-crowned and hooded wheatears, desert warblers, Spanish sparrows, swallows, wagtails, bee-eaters and waders, and far more. Many different migratory birds have been spotted in Eilat including red-billed tropicbirds, Levant sparrowhawks, rosy starlings, olive tree and Upcher’s warblers, black-headed buntings, broad-billed sandpipers, long-tailed skuas, crab plovers and paddyfield warblers.
The centre itself focuses on research and monitoring the migrating birds. It also has a number of eco-tourism activities for the public and it is well worth visiting while on your gap year in Israel.
As mentioned, the other main place for bird watching is the Hula Valley Bird Watching Centre. The valley is located between the Golan Heights and the Naftali Ridge and the centre there specialises in ringing demonstrations, birding tours and educational activities. While there, you will be able to see black storks, egrets, cranes, spoonbills, Pallas’s gulls, pied kingfishers, black francolin, Dead Sea sparrows, clamorous reed warblers, and more.
If you are spending your gap year in Jerusalem then try to stop by the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. It is located between the Knesset and the Israeli Supreme Court and is home to a bird-ringing centre, conservation and environmental activities, birdwatching tours, and a birdwatching club. It has taught thousands of Israelis about the environment, for which its director Alen Kacal was listed amongst “68 extraordinary women in Israel”. While there, you will be able to spot birds such as wrynecks, collared flycatchers, masked and red-backed shrikes, hawfinches, Palestine sunbirds, spectacled bulbuls and Israel’s national bird, the hoopoe.
Those of you in Tel Aviv can visit the relatively new Tel Aviv Rosh Zipor Birdwatching Centre. It is located on the Yarkon and features a number of diverse habitats and hides. It runs numerous educational activities and tours, and provides shelter for migratory birds in the heart of Tel Aviv. You will find a huge range of birds there including the Yellow-legged gull, Striated heron, Night heron, Little egret, Great cormorant, Glossy Ibis, Grey Wagtail, Pied Kingfisher, White-breasted kingfisher, Palestine sunbird, yellow-vented bulbul, Graceful prinia, Sardinian warbler, Cetti’s warbler, Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Kestrel, Common Myna, vinous-breasted starling, Ring-necked parakeet, monk parakeet, Mallard, Egyptian goose, Moorhen.
It is unlikely that you associate Israel with birdwatching, but while on your gap year be sure to take the opportunity to learn about another aspect of this incredibly diverse country.