Growing up in London, I was fortunate to live close to a country park which meant that many different species of birds would occasionally land in our garden. I have no clue about names of species, I just appreciate beauty. However, the Hula Valley is a whole different ball game.
It seems that many local Israelis do not know that Israel is a major stopover for birds migrating between Europe and Africa and most stopover in the Hula Valley. The climate and terrain of the Hula Valley make it particularly attractive to water birds. The area was originally marsh land but was drained in the 1950s to combat problems with malaria. This led to the establishment of Israel’s first nature reserve. During the migrations seasons, 500 million birds from 400 species migrate in the skies above and thousands remain during the winter and nest in spring and summer.
This was my second visit to the Hula Valley and only at the end of our day there, did we learn that there are actually 2 nature reserves with virtually identical names offering different viewing options and activities.
The first is Agamon Hula which is the one most people know about and the second Hula Nature Reserve, the less known little sister which was about to close by the time we discovered it so I will have to go back again to see what lies inside (last entry at 4pm, closes at 5pm). Apparently this site is smaller and therefore you can explore it all by foot and it also includes water buffalo, deer and a long covered bridge which allows you to observe the birds directly on the lake. There is also an interactive 3D video which we tried to go and see the next morning but the same rude unhelpful woman from the night before had failed to tell us that the video is only shown in English at certain times so I recommend calling beforehand to get all the details (04-693-7069). Here is a link to a map of the area which shows both sites clearly marked.
Agamon Hula is the larger of the two sites and although you can walk around the reserve yourself (no entry charge), the circuit is about 8.5 km so it is much easier to get around by hiring bikes or golf carts. There is also an option to take an organized Safari Wagon tour that takes you into the field where the cranes are fed but we opted to whiz around the park in the golf cart instead. Annoyingly, there is a time limit of 2 hours on the hire of the golf cart, which is not really enough time to see everything, especially when there are lots of other visitors getting in your way.
The walking and bike paths are very well organized and as well as passing various birds and other wildlife along the way, there are several observation points which allow for optimal viewing of the birds and some have specialist bird watchers with telescopes to help explain what you are seeing.
The first stop was the botanical garden which does not have many birds but is still very pretty to walk around.
The main attraction in the winter months are the 40,000 Common Cranes that spend the winter (choosing to stay in Israel, rather than continuing onto Africa). The park provides the optimal conditions for the birds and feeds them regularly (eight tons of corn a day) to prevent them from feeding on the crops of in the surrounding fields (more details of the Crane Project here).
In the video below you can see the cranes in the fields and some start to take off to fly to where they are fed.
We were too late in the season to see any White Pelicans who also winter here, but did see plenty of Egrets and various ducks including Moulards (ironic considering my dinner the night before at Ahuzat Dobrovin).
We passed several water rats known as Coypu or Nutria- a cross between a beaver and a rat which roam around the grass banks of the lake.
We were very lucky that it was a beautiful sunny day which definitely made our visit even more enjoyable. If you are looking to get out of the big smoke and be surrounded by beautiful scenery, then I highly recommend a trip to Agamon Hula. The fact we could see the snow topped Mount Hermon, from wherever we were, certainly makes for a stunning backdrop.
The most convenient place to stay in the area, is Hotel Galilion which overlooks the park. The hotel was busy with a large conference that week and the prices were high, so we opted to stay in Nofesh Baharim, a lovely B&B in nearby moshav Ramot Naftaly – (full review here). We did pop into Hotel Galilion to look around. The hotel is well designed with a lovely pool area but there was a very strong smell of manure wafting from a nearby farm which is not ideal. We enquired about having lunch (my father has a theory that you cannot go wrong with lunch at a hotel, I don’t agree but sometimes it is easier not to argue) and were greeted by a very snotty nosed receptionist who informed us that the dining room (meat buffet) was for hotel guests and pre-booking only but they would soon be opening Agamon Market which she equated to Sarona Market (in her dreams).
Here is post about the first day of our trip Exploring nature with good food along the way.