The Hula Valley Nature Reserve lies north of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and south of the Lebanese
border. Driving through the Lower Galilee to the Hula Valley Nature Reserve, one gets the impression that this entire region
of Israel is totally covered with either green vegetation or tan limestone. This is an agriculturally rich region. In addition
to the tan pieces of limestone lying on the ground or used to construct buildings, nearly all other buildings are constructed
with cement. Very few buildings in Israel use wood in their construction.
Some 60 years ago, the Hula Valley was drained to get rid of the swamps there. Since then, it became
clear that the draining adversely impacted the ecology of the valley, which is a major stopping point for birds on their
twice-a-year transits between Europe and Africa. The nature reserve is now being re-flooded to return it to its earlier
condition. A small portion of the Hula Valley has been retained as the Hula Valley Nature Reserve for people to visit and
view the semi-annual arrivals and departures of the birds to the valley.
My visits to the Nature Reserve were always in the winter – in between the Autumn and Spring bird
migrations. My first visit to the Nature Reserve was in 2011. We started our visit by watching an immersive 3-D movie that
told about the birds and the Reserve. The theater contained seats that shook, vibrated and rotated during the movie. The movie
was accompanied by blasts of air, sprays of water and other effects that produced ooh’s, ah’s and some screams from the
From observation sites on the nature trail, we could clearly see the snow-covered Mount Hermon at the
northeast corner of the Golan Heights, several species of birds, water buffaloes and a furry animal which I took to be a
muskrat. During the winter, there is little bird migration but many birds, particularly cranes and flamingos, still were in
Agmon Hula is located in the southern part of the Hula Valley, north of the Hula Nature Reserve. In
the early 1990s, part of the valley was flooded in the wake of heavy rains. It was decided to develop the surrounding area and
leave the flooded area intact. The new site has become the second home for some millions of migrating birds in the autumn and
At Agmon Hula or Lake Hula, we rode in a special “bird hide” pulled by a tractor that enabled us to
reach the roosting areas of the migrating cranes and other birds that stop there on their annual migrations to and from Europe
and Asia to Africa.
The lake covers an area of about 0.4 square miles, interspersed with islands that serve as protected
bird nesting sites. It has become a major stopover for migrating birds flying from Europe to Africa and back, and it is also a
major bird-watching site. In 2011, Israeli ornithologists confirmed that Lake Hula is the stopover point for tens of thousands
of cranes migrating from Finland to Ethiopia every winter. In Israel, farmers near the lake set out food to keep the
cranes from damaging crops.
The Hula Valley is bordered on the east by the Golan Heights and to the west by the Naphtali Mountain
Range. It is critically located in the center of the Afro-Syrian Rift and is one of the most significant bird migration routes
in the world. During every migration season, over 500 million birds from more than 400 species migrate over Agmon Hula.
Thousands remain there during the winter and others nest there during the spring and summer.
Lake Agmon is man-made and is shallower and much smaller than the original lake – its depth is mostly
less than 3-feet.
During the first 3-years after re-flooding, at least 120 species of birds were recorded in or around
the lake. Massive flocks of migratory pelicans, storks, cormorants, cranes, and other birds flying between Europe and Africa
spend days to weeks in the vicinity of Lake Agmon. Also, new nesting colonies of various species such as herons have been
established. Birds are attracted not only by the lush nesting sites, but also by the rich food resources in the
The Hula Restoration Project intended to populate the areas around the lake with grazing mammals.
The water buffalo was an obvious choice due to its history in the area and because a small population was already present in the
Hula Nature Reserve.
During my visit in 2017, there were over 30,000 cranes at Agmon Hula, as well as numerous other birds
and mammals. In addition to the cranes, we are able to observe, pelicans, ducks and other small birds. Also seen were coypus -
a small beaver-like mammal - wild boars, and jackals. The tens of thousands of cranes kept us serenaded with a cacophony of
shrill calls. Our tour of Agmon Hula was conducted in a tractor-drawn wagon, which the birds are used to having in their
midst. Visitors can opt to take the guided tour as we did, or they can walk, bicycle or take other pedal-powered vehicles
through the reserve.
A three-story observation tower is one of the principal attractions along the walking trail in the
Reserve. The tower gives an unobstructed view of the marsh and the lake, enabling bird watchers to observe the activities of
the migrating birds who winter in the region. There is also a floating bridge – a wooden walkway about 1,800 feet long, built
like a long, covered bridge – which provides a concealed observation platform (hide) over the lake.
A water buffalo (Jammus) herd lives within the Reserve as do a herd of Persian fallow deer (Dama
Mesopotamica) in a fenced-in area.
On 6 November 2019, a new state-of-the-art visitors’ center was opened in the Hula Valley Nature
Reserve. In this new facility, visitors are able to experience the sensation of flying like a bird.
Covering 32,300 square feet, the center includes virtual reality stations where you can imagine you’re
a bird in flight; a 194 square foot interactive digital wall featuring a live feed of the birds visiting the reserve and trivia
questions answered by a device that recognizes your hand movements; a 3D digital model of the Hula Valley, dynamically updated
with terrain data; and a 220-seat auditorium with a 4K projector.
Taking ten years to complete, the state-of-the-art structure is named for Stephen Harper, who served
as Canada’s prime minister from 2006 to 2015.
The protection of nature takes high priority in the State of Israel. The Hula Nature Reserve and
Agmon Hula are prime examples of this concern. While visitors to Israel spend much of their time in the country’s main
cities and in visiting sites of religious significance, some time spent in appreciating its varied scenery and wildlife
would be time well spent. Its scenery and the animals there - particularly the birds that pass through it twice every year –
deserve a portion of the tourists’ time. A visit to the Hula Nature Reserve and Agmon Hula would be appropriate.
- Hula Nature Reserve, www.parks.org.il, Accessed 21 October 2021.
- State-of-the-art visitors’ center opens at Hula Valley Nature Reserve, Sue Surkes,
The Times of Israel,
7 November 2019.