Birding in Israel

Reporting on The Hula Festival

The Hoopoe. Israel’s national bird, photographed yesterday fanning everything (crest, tail and wings) in the grounds of the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament).

Only flew back in this morning from Tel Aviv after a really stunning 10 days. Surely Israel ranks as one of the THE top birding spots in the world. I have many stories to tell on the amazing Birds, the amazing Animals, the amazing Places and the amazing People.

For now a little flavour:

The Birds and the Light make taking photos a lot easier even for a duffer like me. This young male Hawfinch was at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory yesterday.

Smyrna Kingfisher. one of 3 species often seen side-by-side whose core ranges are the 3 major continents of Africa, Asia and Europe. Birds know no boundaries, and have already played a role in helping to bring peace initiatives in a divided region.

The sheer numbers and variety of species provides a genuine wildlife spectacle. These are White Pelicans which soar daily, in large flocks over the Agamon Park, Hula Valley.

The sight of up to 40,000 Cranes at dawn. Not only are the numbers staggering, it is the views of the birds that is unbeatable

Birds of Prey were amazing. Eagles,  Harriers, Kites, Vultures- and never-ending! The ID challenges and questions were there too, like: is this a Black Kite, a Black-eared Kite or what…?

and I personally made a big thing of looking at the Stonechats (4-5 different types occurring here)- with some surprising observations… What do you think this one was?

seeing this juvenile Masked Shrike was how Tristan Reid and I ended our visit. Now I need to start going through the pics and telling the stories!

For now a special moment for me was watched orange bellied Swallows (of the subspecies transitiva) over the Sea of Galilee at sunset. Stay tuned!

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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9 Responses to Birding in Israel

  1. Nice birds and all that, but not sure everyone will agree regarding the political leadership!

  2. Chris Lansdell says:

    Whilst I wouldn’t want to ‘politicise’ birding many many birders are boycotting Israel because of the ongoing Gaza/Palestine situation. Not because of fears over their own safety but because they simply don’t want to contribute in any way to what they see as a nation persecuting the Palestinians in such a ruthless and barbaric fashion. In the past I’ve spent many happy times in various parts Israel and it’s true, the birding is amazing. Like many others though I won’t return unless the situation is resolved in what I see as a fair way. Regardless of the fact I still need Saker and Pharoah Eagle Owl!
    With the current situation over there I do see the ‘bigging up’ of Israel as an amazing place with amazing people etc a little insensitive.

  3. Tristan Reid says:

    I am not surprised by the comments written as a result of this post given the political/military events ongoing. These are tragic and sad events. The political situation was not a focus for our visit and although I have spoken with people living out there I would not profess to be an expert on the complexities of the situation. However I can say that things are not as clear cut as some commenting from the sidelines seem to suggest. Let us be clear, no-one wants a war situation in any context. By visiting Israel we can promote the valuable wildlife and conservation efforts actively happening there; these projects are of global significance effecting many of the birds visiting the UK and Europe during the breeding season.The people I personally engaged with were ‘amazing people’ as Martin intimated. Their approach to wildlife and wildlife conservation is something that we can certainly learn from here in the UK. Many of the people I met were some of the most welcoming and caring that I have ever engaged with.

  4. Martin Garner says:

    Ok. Thanks for the comments, certainly made me think. I can see that the blog post header may have sounded insensitive. Not intended- at all. What I can say is unreservedly; I did meet some amazing people, saw amazing birds and visited amazing places. I can’t pretend like I didn’t. I did. In fact ‘we’ did.
    The kind of comments pages on blogs and Facebook are often the least helpful in having a sensible dialogue. I would much rather sit down and have a conversation with anyone who has expressed views and who considers my position to be unreasonable. I can’t articulate my views and reasons for them in a few words- and there is always the danger of the internet ‘forum’ of not listening and entering into fingers in ears online point scoring debate. So I am up for buying a coffee and sitting down to listen – anytime I am passing near you or you’re near me. Just send me a private message or email please.

  5. Tony Disley says:

    I can understand both sides of this ‘political’ argument, I have always thought that deciding one country was off bounds for political reasons is a hard one to be consitent with, why boycott Israel but quite happily go birding in the US, it would be hard to see Israel surviving as a country without the ongoing help of the US and others. By going to China do you condone the Tibetan invasion and ongoing assimiliation of the Tibetan culture into China? By visiting Nigeria do you condone the death of Ken Sarowewa, you can go on and on, surely we should go birding in any country because of the birds rather than the political regime?

  6. Mick Cunningham says:

    I used to go to Israel a fair bit but ‘boycotted’ it for years. Then I decided to go this year. I am sure I could be criticised as it’s not a clear cut decision. What swayed me was the work done by bird conservation workers in Israel on a non-partisan level which includes work across community and political boundaries. This is all the more important precisely because of the political context. As the Israeli birders say “birds know no borders”. There is a need to preserve habitat in Israel and its neighbours. There are only c30 active birders in Israel and only their tenacity and resistance (including court action) stopped the Hula being turned into a tourist theme park. Reportedly, the local community has been won over to the idea that the birds will bring the money in if the Hula Valley is marketed properly. But if birders don’t go, I doubt this will last. And the birds will suffer accordingly.

    As Tony says, it’s complicated. There are some great birding places in Asia in my experience. But are we sure each country’s inhabitants are treated well, especially the children of the poor? I can’t say I’m too proud of some of what the UK has done/does either (including historically in Palestine). And some of the most racist, sexist and homophobic nonesense I hear comes from British birders both at home and abroad. Maybe there is no right answer that works for all and we have to make individual decisions, albeit ones that will always be ‘on balance’ and always up for review.


  7. If birders want information on those countries which might be better avoided on human rights grounds, the FCO provides quarterly updates on the 28 ‘Countries of Concern’ (i.e. those about which the FCO has the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns) at It is obviously up to individual birders to make up their own minds, but the FCO updates at least outline the current concerns and should enable people to make a more informed decision on a country-by-country basis.

    The last three quarterly reports for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) are at:

    The main concerns include: the demolition of Palestinian homes in the OPTs, the continued presence of illegal settlements within the OPTs, the demolition of homes and forced relocation of Bedouin in the Negev, numerous indefinite administrative detentions (without charges or presentation of evidence), and the large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries due to Israeli military activity. For me, these are enough to mean I wouldn’t visit Israel.

    It’s good to see this being discussed, it would be interesting if the birding community talked about ‘ethical travel’ a bit more. Of course, there is also the environmental part to ethical travel, but then I would hope birders are at least off-setting their flights, supporting local conservation efforts, etc., already.

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