I think the number one question I’ve had about my recent trip to Israel for birding has been, “Is it safe?” If you look at its location in the Middle East, it can seem a bit intimidating.
But I can honestly tell you, I felt incredibly safe–even when looking for Finsch’s wheatear at the Valley of Tears outside a minefield on the Syrian border (that’s what is going on in the above photo). Actually, I think that could be part of the appeal of visiting Israel for some people–how many times in your life will you be able to get horned larks on both your Israel and Syria bird list and how badass will it make you sound at parties?
You get a lot of bang for your birding buck in Israel because it is a HUGE migratory hotspot. You can get flashy Mediterrainian species like the above spur-winged lapwing.
You can also get some of the European and Asian species like white wagtail. For a North American birder, you are going to get a lot of different species jam packed into this tiny country.
Some areas are easy to check out on your own. If you flew into Tel Aviv and grabbed a rental car you could drive to the Agamon Hula and walk/bike/golf cart the trails and get some great species and be perfectly safe. Every place our guide Jonathan Meyrev took us can be accessed by the public, even those visiting from other countries.
Although, I think hiring a guide is the best way to go for most of these areas. Not for safety issues, but Israel is so full of history–even if you don’t count the last 50 years, you still have all the Biblical history. It also helps to have a guide say, “That over there, is the Gaza Strip.” In the above photo is the Hula Valley itself where did a majority of our birding. Jonathan had some extra time with us and took us here for quick stop for the view. I noticed the decaying building in front of us and asked Jonathan what that was a tomb about 300 years old. History and archaeology is everywhere and you don’t want to miss out on that as well as the great birds.
Most speak English very well so even if you don’t know any Hebrew beyond “shalom” you would be fine to visit and travel around the country.
More will be coming. I’m in the process of sorting my photos and story ideas for the blog and for publication (some publications get understandably irritated if you pitch them an article but then scoop them by blogging it).