“Observing the natural world of the Hula Valley calms and strengthens the soul.”


The Winter Bird Festival held in the Galilee, Golan and Jezreel Valley region opened in Hula Lake Park with a formal ceremony and a concert by the Israel Chamber Orchestra. This annual event, which is being held this year for the fifth time, is organized jointly by KKL-JNF, the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, the Galilee Development Authority and other bodies. Throughout the five days of the festival a variety of bird-watching excursions are held throughout northern Israel. At Hula Lake itself visitors can tour the site by bicycle or golf buggy and use mobile “hides” to observe the birds at close hand without disturbing or alarming them.


“Observing the natural world of the Hula Valley calms and strengthens the soul,” declared Yiftah Harhol, Director of KKL-JNF’s Northern Region, at the opening ceremony. “This lake, which protects the waters of the Kinneret from pollution, has become one of the world’s leading ornithological sites.”Many projects at Hula Lake Park have been established with the support of KKL-JNF’s Friends throughout the world, including those in Australia, the USA, South Africa, Canada and Switzerland. Numerous different varieties of wildfowl – around 500 million birds– stop over at the site each year. Most of all, however, the lake is famous for the large and impressive cranes that visit it at this time of year, and over 40,000 of them can be seen at the site at present. Most of them arrive from Russia and stop over on their way south to Africa; some, however, opt to spend the entire winter in Israel.


These birds, that make their way to Israel from colder climes en route to lands where the winters are less harsh, constitute a unique natural attraction. Bird enthusiasts flock to the site in their wake, contributing considerably to the local economy.“As far as Galilee residents are concerned, Hula Lake is a driving force in the local economy,” said Benny Ben-Muvhar, head of the Mevo’ot Hermon Regional Council. “Together with KKL-JNF we shall continue to develop the entire Galilee region.”The Winter Bird festival is being held this year for the fifth time. The event is organized by KKL-JNF in conjunction with a number of other organizations, with the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee and the Galilee Development Authority foremost among them.

Tali Omer, Director of the Galilee Department in the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, described the festival as “a magical celebration of nature,” and added: “It’s good that we’ve got an opportunity to show the general public the treasures of the Galilee region.”Prior to the festival’s opening ceremony, the guests went for a sunset excursion in a mobile hide, accompanied by KKL-JNF’s Chief Scientist Dr Omri Boneh. “The Hula Lake area maintains a successful balance between agriculture, tourism and ecology,” said Dr Boneh, and explained how the presence of bird feeding stations prevents damage to local crops.The sight of thousands of huge shrieking cranes flapping their wings drew cries of amazement from all the onlookers. As evening fell, they were particularly impressed to observe a family of wild boar crossing the site against the backdrop of thousands of cranes landing on the water for their night’s rest.KKL-JNF does a great deal to promote the development of ornithological tourism in Israel, and it recently appointed Yaron Charka to the post of Chief Ornithologist. Charka accompanied the visitors on their tour of Hula Lake and introduced them to the variety of birds that come to spend time at the site, including pelicans, mallard ducks, Eurasian coots – and, of course, cranes. KKL-JNF has recently launched an ornithological portal that provides a wealth of practical information for bird enthusiasts.Giora Salz, head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, spoke about the cranes’ social structure and described how the stronger members of the flock help the weaker birds, who find the flight difficult, and ensure that all members of the flock receive an equal portion of food. “There is no doubt that we could learn from the cranes as far as mutual responsibility and care for the weaker members of society are concerned,” concluded Council Head Salz.Some of the magnificent photographs taken by Eyal Bartov, who has documented Lake Hula since its inception, were on view at the event. The evening concluded with a concert by the Israeli Chamber Orchestra which performed a series of classical pieces inspired by birds and winter: Rossini’s Thieving Magpie, Vivaldi’s Winter (from The Four Seasons), Haydn’s Chicken Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Strauss’s Thunder and Lightning Polka.