We do not have active volcanoes, neither huge canyons which stretch beyond the horizon nor mountain tops which touch the sky, strongly flowing rivers, dark jungles or fierce predators in Israel. But twice a year, even the calm nature of the Holy Land becomes a place for pilgrimage (or migration- depends on your species). This is the great birds’ migration which covers the Israeli sky every autumn and spring with multitudes of birds which have chosen it as their favorite route on their way to happiness.
Numerous words were already written about the birds’ migration- which species are migrating, why they are migration, how and when. But even with all these words, there really is nothing like seeing it with your own eyes. Because when the sky fills with pelicans which fly above your head in great numbers, especially toward sunset, no words can really describe it. One just needs to come here and experience this personally. One of the best places to greet these visitors from out of the country, some of which stop here for the winter and some move on, toward great Africa, is the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula). During autumn days you will be able to see here countless birds of numerous species. A short and casual list would include, among others, great cormorants, black storks, mallards, buzzards, pelicans, little grebes, yellow wagtails, starlings, yellow-legged gulls, bluethroat thrushes and more. In short, binoculars, birds guide (both can be rented on location) and you are set for a few hours.
Eco all the way
What many are not aware of is that the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula) is actually an artificial lake. It was created as a result of a planned flooding of the land where the original Hula Lake which was dried up was located. And why flooding? Because it became clear that one cannot really grow thinks here. So it was better to flood it and turn this beautiful green area into a migration tourism area. And that is what happened on a big scale. Two and a half years ago even the prestigious British magazine, BBC WILDLIFE, chose the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula) as one of the ten leading animal watching sites.
In order to experience the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula) in the best way, it is very much recommended to do the classic tour around it, which passes along 8.5 kilometers and introduces the visitors to the various attractions and stops.
What is nice about this place is that vehicles are not allowed in. it is eco all the way. The solution is walking (if you have the time and energy), bicycles of different types, including family or group bicycle with seven seats (the best option) or cruising around in a silent electric vehicle (the energy saving option). But the absolutely best way is to pretend to be nature researchers and go along a special tour inside a concealed bird watching station which is connected to a slow tractor. It is as cool as it sounds. Also, as the birds do not learn their lesson (or because they keep changing), they are not aware of the fact that the innocent looking towed bird watching station is full of curious human eyes, and thus one can get close to the birds almost within a touching distance.
It is important to know that the entrance to the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula) is free of charge. You only need to pay if you rent bicycle or an electric vehicle. This is the same for the tour inside the concealed towed bird watching station. And if we are already speaking of tours, one can book in advance two unconventional nature tours, such that you will be remembering for a long time.
One of these tours is a night safari: a fascinating glimpse into the wild nightlife of the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula), watching predators that search for their meal in nature, watching bats, swamp lynxes, barn owls and other nocturnal birds of prey. The night tour ends with star gazing and a bonfire with snacks.
And in the early hours of the morning, you can go on a sunrise tour in the moving concealed bird watching station, which also includes a short walk, information, and of course lookouts toward the awakening valley with its abundance of birds which fill the sky.
Either way, the full route at the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula) includes the acclimation area, where one can find orchards and different areas where various species of plants are cultivated. Later one gets to the "Restaurant” which, as befitting its name, is a feeding station for the cranes. The idea here is to feed these big birds so that they will not ravage the agricultural fields. After that beautiful Paulownia tree groves await you. The Paulownia trees are new comers which were brought here from China only ten years ago. Beyond their beauty, these groves also serve as a vibrant hiding place for small song birds.
The first lookout that you will reach is the "water birds lookout”. From here you can watch ducks, kingfishers, charadriiformes and other fishing birds. The next lookout is the "pelicans lookout”, from where the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula) is seen in all of its beauty. It is most beautiful here during sunset but it is also beautiful here during the rest of the day. From here you will continue toward the "cranes lookout”, which honors the most prevalent birds here. The rulers of the realm if you will. And among all of this you will find orchards, water channels, areas shaded by trees and other elements that cleanse the soul and clear the mind.
Additional details: the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula) is located on road number 90, between Rosh HaNikra and Kiryat Shmona (turn east between the 457-458 kilometer markings according to the signs). Opening hours of the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula): Sundays – Thursdays 9 am – 6 pm (one can stay inside until 7 pm), Fridays, Saturdays and Holidays 6:30 am – 6 pm (one can stay inside until 7 pm), telephone: 972-4-6817137.
And do not forget the Hula Nature Reserve
Someone once said that if the small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula) is an amusement park for nature lovers, then the Hula Nature Reserve is a safari trip. And indeed everything is calmer and more natural and relaxed here. Before beginning your tour of the Hula Nature Reserve, it is recommended to visit the relatively new "Oforia” Visitors Center which presents a magnificent display of scenes from the historic natural world of the Hula Valley, as well as a 3D film that simulates birds’ flight and includes moving chairs, smoke clouds, squirts of water and other interactive special effects. Do not miss out on it.
The Hula Nature Reserve itself offers walking trails next to the big lake, with the highlight being walking on floating wooden paths, while underneath you everything is teeming with life: lazy stream turtles, wild silurids, cheeky coypus and other animals. There is also an exciting lookout tower here, a lookout station in the heart of the lake and a great chance of spotting buffalos.
Additional details: the Hula Nature Reserve is located about 3 kilometers to the north of Yesud HaMa'ala Junctuion (on road number 90). Opening hours of the Hula Nature Reserve: daily 8 am – 4 pm (one can stay inside until 5 pm), telephone: 972-4-6937069.
Written by: Eyal Shapira