Birding Hot-Spots of Israel, continued..
The north-eastern corner of Israel is a very mountainous region, Mount Hermon at 2 224 m, being the highest peak in Israel. It is the only ski resort in Israel which is snow covered in winter . Walking the woods below the snow line or the alpine habitat above it yields species rarely found elsewhere in the region. These include breeding species such as Sombre Tit. Western Rock Nuthatch, Syrian Serin, Crimson-winged Finch, Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting. Most of these can be found during most of the year while Upcher's Warbler, Pale Rock Sparrow and White-throated Robin are only found in late spring and summer. Some scarce wintering species such as Red-fronted Serin and Pine Bunting occur and this is one of the few places where Great Grey, Red-backed, Woodchat and Masked shrikes are known to breed. On the southern slopes of the mountain there is a scenic village, Majdal Shams which is surrounded by large fruit orchards of mostly cherries and apples. Syrian Serin, Western Rock Nuthatch, Black-eared Wheatear, Ruppell's (spring migrant) and Upcher's Warblers, Rock Sparrow and Cretzschmar' s Bunting are regularly observed especially between spring and autumn. We recommend birders to equip themselves with warm protective clothing as snowstorms are regular during winter and may occur as late as April. An entrance fee is charged for access to the higher elevations, most of which is under army jurisdiction so caution is required. Verify at the booth that you are allowed to get out at the top of the ski lift otherwise it is pointless to pay the entrance fee.
To the south of Mount Hermon lies the volcanic plateau blown as the Golan Heights. Driving south from Majdal Shams the area consists mostly agricultural and rocky grasslands, including some military training areas. Calandra, Short-toed and Bimaculated Larks, Isabelline Wheatear and Rock Sparrow are seen in spring to late summer while Little Bustard (Iocalised), Finsch's Wheatear, and scarce species such as Wallcreeper, Radde's Accentor and Pine Bunting are sometimes recorded in winter. The Golan Heights are drained by several large gorges of which the most impressive in the complex is the "Gamla Nature reserve", managed by the INRPA. An entrance fee is charged. The reserve is in the southern part of the Golan and is northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The area was declared a national nature reserve because of the high density of breeding raptors, which can be observed in the two gorges Gamla and Daliyot. The Gamla gorge now hosts the last of once many colonies of Griffon Vulture in Israel, and is perhaps the easiest place in which still to see tens of these majestic birds. These, together with Egyptian Vultures, Bonelli's and Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards, and Eagle Owls add up to one of the highest densities of breeding raptors in the Middle East. In addition to the raptors, there is a colony of Little Swifts around the waterfall in Nahal Gamla. Long-billed Pipit, Blue Rock Thrush and Great Grey Shrike also breed in the reserve.
Further to the south, in Wadi Meizar, a small number of Black Vultures are seen each year. It is prefer able to visit the area in the early morning or late afternoon, which coincides with the birds either departing from or arriving at the roost cliff. The last confirmed sighting of the Brown Fish Owl in our region (1975) was also in the same area, in Wadi Sumakh.
Once one of the largest wetlands in the region, most of it was drained by early settlers and converted to agriculture. The Hula Valley had extensive Papyrus beds and open water swamps. Fortunately, the authorities have now pre served a small area of the marsh, which is known as the "Hula Nature reserve" and operated by the INRPA. The species seen at the reserve are far too numerous to list but White Pelican, Glossy Ibis, Marbled Teal, Ferruginous Duck, and Clamorous Reed Warbler are some of the more notable regular species. Pygmy Cormorants forage in the area and wintering species includes Black Stork, the rather scarce Ruddy Shelduck, Red-crested Pochard, and White-headed Duck. Of particular note is a substantial roost of raptors in the re serve, especially eagles, harriers and Merlins.
North of the Hula Nature reserve is an area that has been recently reflooded, and surrounding this are agricultural fields and fishponds. This area is especially good for the overwhelming sight and sound of tens of thousands of Common Cranes. The grassy fringes to the fields surrounding the lake support concentrations of Black Francolin as well as over 20 Greater Spotted Eagle, with smaller numbers of Imperial and White-tailed Eagle. In fact, recent census work suggests that the entire Hula Valley supports over 60 Greater Spotted Eagles and 30 Imperial Eagles in winter , these being internationally significant numbers. This mixture of fields, reed beds and grasslands provides habitat for tens of hunting harriers (Marsh, Hen, and Pallid), which may take you by surprise when flying low over the vegetation. Scarcer species appearing in recent winters include Demoiselle Crane and Oriental Sky lark. The most recent record of Lammergeier in Israel was in 97/98. A Swinhoe's Snipe was seen in early spring '98, constituting the first Western Palearctic record.
A yearly Winter Birding Festival at the Hula Valley is now organised by the SPNI, and indeed visiting birders can benefit from making full use of the wide range of facilities available while visiting the best winter birding hotspot in the Western Palearctic.
Sea of Galilee
South of the Hula Valley lies the famous Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. Lake Tiberias). Owing to its size it has in the past been difficult to see offshore birds there. How ever, it has become a regular site for Pygmy Cormorant, Great Black-headed and Armenian Gulls. A marsh holds in the northern section of the lake that has good numbers of Squacco Heron, a winter concentration of Whiskered Tern, and breeding Clamorous Reed Warbler. The tamarisk trees harbour a colony of Dead Sea Sparrows. The surrounding hills are good for the elusive Long-billed Pipit. Wadi Amud, to the northwest of the lake, is one of the best known sites for this species and also for the endangered Lesser Kestrel, as well as Eagle Owl, Little Swift, Syrian Woodpecker and good numbers of Rock Sparrow. The cliff:" of Mt. Arbel, west of the lake, are also good for Long-billed Pipit and a regular winter haunt of Wallcreeper, where several individuals may be seen together. Alpine Accentor is an occasional winter visitor and Radde's Accentor has been recorded consorting with this species, along with the more regular Dunnock.
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