Israel: Birds, History & Culture in the Holy Land Nov 05—17, 2017
Posted by Barry Lyon
Rife with natural history, human history, and cultural attractions, Israel possesses that rare ability to satisfy a diversity of interests at once. A significant spiritual center of the three Abrahamic religions, Israel is for so many people an irresistible source of fascination and interest, a place where ancient history is perpetually on display just as geo-political forces continue to shape the modern state. And at the center of an enormous migratory flyway, Israel hosts some of the planet’s greatest avian spectacles. At the time we designed our first-ever Birds, History & Culture tour to Israel, we knew we were onto something special, an opportunity to delve into and share in a single trip the natural and human heritages of one of the most complex places in the world. Even then, it was not until we arrived in Israel and the tour got underway that we could begin to comprehend what this marvelous little country had to offer. Reminiscing on our time together, I feel that the program did a commendable job of achieving our objectives.
First, the birding and natural history were extraordinary. This is not hyperbole. Even for people like Victor Emanuel and me, who have traveled to some of the world’s greatest wildlife viewing destinations, we were treated to sights and sounds that rivaled anything we’ve previously experienced in nature. Of course, we were already familiar with Israel’s geographic position on the great flyway that encompasses the eastern Mediterranean Basin, but to actually be there during the migration period, at a time when so many birds are on the move and resident birds readily “gettable,” brought home the reality of Israel as a wildlife mecca. Among the many highlights were a remarkable 18 species of birds of prey including 6 species of eagles and flocks of Black Kites that numbered in the thousands; fields filled with hundreds of Black Storks; Great White Pelicans passing overhead in the hundreds; 17 species of shorebirds including the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing; an unexpected pair of Macqueen’s Bustards in the Negev Desert; dazzling Green Bee-eaters; and 7 species of wheatears including mega-rare “Basalt” Mourning and Red-rumped wheatears. Nothing, however, could eclipse the sight and sound of an estimated 33,000 Common Cranes in the Hula Valley, viewed at purple dawn in primeval elegance. Add to this list a tableau of special mammals the likes of which none of us had a clue existed in Israel including Rock Hyrax, Mountain and Dorcas gazelles, Nubian Ibex, Asian Wild Ass, and Golden Jackal.
Read Barry’s full report in his Field Report.