Watching Wildlife in Israel's Migratory Bird Mecca
As we pulled into Hula Nature Reserve, two Vs of pelicans soared overhead. It wasn't even the right time of year for what we were told are jaw-dropping numbers of fowl – tens of thousands of over 200 species, including ducks, herons, cormorants and those pelicans – that make this green corner of northern Israel a spot not to be missed during the bird migration seasons.
Hula is a wetlands and lake – all that's left of what was once 15,000 acres of one of the most important resting places for birds traveling between Europe and Africa. After early lobbying by environmentalists, the reserve's 800 acres were set aside in 1951 when the new State of Israel planned to drain the whole thing. Terrible deterioration of the area was reversed starting in 1971 with massive nature-rehabilitation efforts by what is now the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Park access is along a 1.5-kilometer walking trail, the best parts of which are the observation tower (with double-helix staircase), the Swamp Trail (a rasied wooden walkway through a papyrus thicket) and the Hideaway (pictured), a lakeside blind. They're a perfect way to take in the riverbank vegetation and 50 species of animal, such as water buffalo, turtles, huge catfish and, of course, birds.
Don't skip the fun, sensaround AV presentation with moving chairs, water spritzes and air puffs. And don't confuse the Hula Nature Reserve with the Agamon Hula Ornithology and Nature Park, an equally alluring nearby site well worth a visit.