By Keith Marsh from Bird Forum, Great Britain.
A long-established reserve, Hula (or Huleh) is located to the north of the Sea of Galilee in the Hula Valley and covers one of Israel's most outstanding wetland areas. The reserve consists of fish-ponds, pools, papyrus beds and a reservoir set in an area of cultivated land. The area to the north of the reserve was drained and cultivated long ago but in the mid-1990s it was re-flooded in an attempt to recreate the former bird-rich habitat. The reserve and surrounding area is one of the best birding sites in Israel if not the entire Western Palearctic.
Major birding attractions are the large numbers of White Pelican and wintering Common Crane found here and there are many other Middle Eastern specialities such as White-breasted and Pied Kingfisher, Clamorous Reed Warbler and Marbled Duck. Herons to be seen here include Little Bittern, Cattle and Great Egrets and Night, Squacco, Purple and Grey Herons with Greater Flamingo sometimes present. Ducks are numerous, particularly in winter, and, as well as Ruddy Shelduck, Red-crested Pochard, Marbled and Ferruginous Ducks and the commoner European species, White-headed Duck is possible. White-fronted Goose may winter in the valley in small numbers.
An astonishing range of raptors can be seen here in autumn and winter with Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles among the most numerous in addition to smaller numbers of Steppe, Lesser Spotted, Short-toed, Booted and White-tailed Eagles present. Harriers, including Pallid, roost here in large numbers along with Black Kite and other raptors to be seen include Long-legged Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Saker and Merlin. Many of these raptors come in to roost at the reserve at dusk when the thousands of cranes fly in.
Black Francolin is another Middle Eastern speciality to be found at Hula and often seen from the tracks through the farmland and these areas can also hold Sociable Plover in winter. Waders occur in good numbers during passage periods and in winter and include many of the commoner European species as well as Marsh Sandpiper. A number of rarities have been recorded in the Hula Valley including Swinhoe's Snipe, extremely rare in the Western Palearctic and Demoiselle Crane. Purple Gallinule has been present in winter in recent years.
The Hula Reserve can be reached from Route 90 about 12km north of Rosh Pinna and it is clearly signposted from both directions. Drive through the eucalyptus grove and past the banks of Hula Reservoir to the reserve entrance where there is a car-park and reception center, well-marked trails, hides, boardwalks and observation towers. There is a small entrance fee and the reserve is open 08.00 - 15.00 on Fridays and 08.00 - 16.00 on other days. The newly flooded farmland that has proved to be so attractive to cranes and waterfowl lies to the north of the reserve and can be reached by returning to the Route 90 and heading north for about 4km then turning right towards a cotton processing plant. Shortly after passing the plant the track crosses a bridge and continues eastwards. A track encircles the floods and there are excellent drainage ditches, reedbeds and fields in this highly productive area.
Further north there are more excellent birding areas in the Hula Valley. Return to Route 90 and head north, turning right onto Route 977 at Gume Junction following signs to Kefar Blum. After 1km turn onto a dirt track to the left and explore some good fish ponds to the north and south of the road. Further east on the same road is a turn-off to the left onto the 9778 road to Kibbutz Amir. Take the next right turn onto Route 9779 and there are more excellent fish ponds after 2km. Continue on the 9779 until it meets Route 918, turn right and return to the 977. Follow signs for Lehavot Habashan where there are yet more fish ponds opposite the kibbutz entrance. All these areas hold excellent birds in both numbers and variety, particularly from September to May.
BIRDS INCLUDE: Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe (PM,W), Great Cormorant (PM,W), Pygmy Cormorant, White Pelican (PM), Little Bittern (PM), Black-crowned Night Heron (PM,W), Squacco Heron (PM), Cattle Egret (PM,W), Little Egret, Great White Egret (PM,W), Grey Heron (W), Purple Heron (PM), Black Stork (PM,W), White Stork (PM,W), Glossy Ibis (rare W), Eurasian Spoonbill (PM,W), Greater Flamingo (scarce PM,W), White-fronted Goose (rare W), Ruddy Shelduck (PM), Eurasian Wigeon (W), Common Teal (PM,W), Gadwall (W), Mallard (PM,W), Northern Pintail (W), Northern Shoveler (PM,W), Marbled Duck (W), Red-crested Pochard (scarce PM,W), Common Pochard (W); Ferruginous Duck (PM,W), Tufted Duck (W), White-headed Duck (W), Honey Buzzard (PM), Red Kite (rare PM), Black Kite (PM,W), White-tailed Eagle (rare PM,W), Griffon Vulture (rare W), Black Vulture (rare PM,W), Short-toed Eagle (PM), Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier (W), Pallid Harrier (rare PM,W), Montagu's Harrier (PM), Eurasian Sparrowhawk (PM,W), Levant Sparrowhawk (PM), Steppe Buzzard (PM,W), Long-legged Buzzard (PM), Lesser Spotted Eagle (rare PM), Greater Spotted Eagle (PM,W), Steppe Eagle (rare PM), Eastern Imperial Eagle (PM,W), Golden Eagle (rare W), Booted Eagle (PM), Osprey (PM), Common Kestrel, Merlin (PM,W), Saker Falcon (rare PM), Peregrine Falcon (rare PM,W), Black Francolin, Moorhen, Eurasian Coot (W), Water Rail (W), Little Crake (PM,W), Common Crane (PM,W), Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet (W), Kentish Plover, Sociable Plover (rare W), Spur-winged Plover, Northern Lapwing (W), Temminck's Stint (PM), Ruff (PM,W), Common Snipe (W), Black-tailed Godwit (PM,W), Eurasian Curlew (scarce PM,W), Common Redshank (PM,W), Marsh Sandpiper (PM), Green Sandpiper (PM,W), Common Sandpiper (PM,W), Great Black-headed Gull (PM,W), Black-headed Gull (PM,W), Armenian Gull (PM,W), Whiskered Tern (PM), Rock Dove, Stock Dove (W), Collared Dove, Laughing Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo (rare W), Long-eared Owl (PM,W), Common Swift (PM), Little Swift (scarce PM), Alpine Swift (scarce PM), White-breasted Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher (W), Pied Kingfisher, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Eurasian Skylark (W), African Rock Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin (PM), Meadow Pipit (W), Red-throated Pipit (PM,W), Water Pipit (PM,W), Blue-headed Wagtail (rare Su), White Wagtail (PM,W), Citrine Wagtail (rare PM), Grey Wagtail (W), Yellow-vented Bulbul, Common Wren, Dunnock (W), Eurasian Robin (W), Bluethroat (PM,W), Black Redstart (W), Eastern Stonechat (PM,W), Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler, Graceful Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Marsh Warbler (scarce PM), Sardinian Warbler, Garden Warbler (PM), Common Chiffchaff (PM,W), Great Tit, Penduline Tit (W), Palestine Sunbird, Common Starling (W), Southern Grey Shrike (W), Jackdaw (W), Hooded Crow, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Chaffinch (W), European Serin (W), Goldfinch, Corn Bunting.