The stunning Hula Valley became Israel’s first nature reserve back in 1963. The Hula Valley Nature Reserve is one of the premier spots in the world for migrating and wintering bird species, offering stunning sights of these migrations. Over 500 species and a billion birds fly over this major migration path between three continents bi-annually.
Located North of the Sea of Galilee and nestled between the Golan Heights to the East and the Upper Galilee to the west, this is a magical and underrated destination. It is also an extension of the northern Great Rift Valley which stretches all the way through Africa to Mozambique.
Start in the visitor center to explore the area’s history and development. Guided tours are available, as well as walking and hiking paths. Those looking for more adventure can rent a jeep or go kayaking in the River Jordan.
The park is open at 8 am daily. Closing time depends on the season. Walk to the floating bridge to get a glimpse of water buffalo, deer, wild boar, otters and other animals congregating by the marsh. Telescopes dot the preserve for visitors to get a closer look at the wildlife.
The most visible of the birds in the reserve tend to be cranes, storks, and pelicans, who winter here.
Waterfowl, herons, egrets, ibis and more are also common. There are endangered species here as well.
Reserve authorities are concentrating on the rehabilitation efforts of several species while attempting to rid the area of invasive species such as catfish.
In addition to the wildlife, plant species also abound in this rich habitat. Well over 300 species of wild plants have been documented, such as lily, clover, and cattail. Controlled grazing in addition to other control measures is enacted by authorities.
Euphoria, as the visitors’ center is named, offers a sensory experience that is unique to Israel. A 3-D movie and audio visual displays delight the senses, as visitors are given the feeling of being a bird and flying amongst a flock through wind and weather.
The area was a malaria-infested swamp of over 15,000 acres up to the early 1950s. Then, it was decided to drain it for fertile farmland, but there were multiple issues that arose with this.
However, the main lake was kept intact and is the central gathering point to this day.
The deterioration of the land and the balance of the eco-system grew worse after the site was drained, leading to the decision to re-flood the area in 1994. This sustains the many bird varieties visiting the reserve, and many species returned to the lake they had abandoned after it was originally drained. The lake is again alive with flora and fauna.
The lovely springs and the River Jordan give the area a green, verdant look, unique in the deserts of Israel.
The annual November Hula Valley Birds Festival celebrates this hidden gem as birders from many countries come to see as many species as they can of the hundreds of millions of migratory birds. Lectures and demonstrations are scheduled, as well as time with bird experts.
Though a niche area, it is a rare opportunity to see a completely different side of Israel.