These restored wetlands are one of the best places in Israel to see cranes, pelicans, storks and an incredible 400 other bird species. To cover the 8.5km path around the site, you can either walk or rent a mountain bike (50NIS), a four-wheeled pedal cart (185NIS for up to five people) or a golf cart (149/199/259NIS for two/four/six people). The entire site is wheelchair accessible.
In the 1980s, the Hula’s cotton fields were converted to growing food crops, including peanuts, wheat, potatoes, carrots and peas. Unfortunately, cranes devour peanuts with as much gusto as Israeli kids snarf their favourite peanut-based junk food, Bamba, so conflict between the birds, protected by law, and local farmers was inevitable.
Happily, an elegant solution was found. It turns out that the best way to encourage the birds to continue on their way to Ethiopia and Sudan is to feed them – if they can’t find nibbles, research shows, they stick around longer and end up munching through even more winter crops. Or they may stop migrating altogether: 40,000 cranes have already decided to become wintertime couch potatoes. From late November to late March, an entire field is now given over to supplying the migrating birds with six to eight tonnes of corn daily, delivered by tractor.
Seeing wild cranes up close is notoriously difficult because, under normal circumstances, the entire flock will take to the sky en masse if anyone comes near, landing in the safety of a neighbouring (peanut) field. A local farmer noticed that the one moving object that the cranes showed no fear of was their great benefactor, the corn tractor. So he had a brilliant idea: the corn tractor could be used to transport not only corn but also birdwatchers – without the cranes paying the least attention. That’s how the 50-seat Safari Wagon was born. Camouflaged and pulled by an utterly unremarkable (from a crane’s point of view) John Deere tractor, it offers visitors unparalleled crane-watching opportunities – you can see the birds without even having to crane your neck. It's a good idea to call ahead for times and reservations.
Other birds that can be seen here seasonally including pelicans (September, October and March to mid-April), 40,000 of whom fly between the Danube Delta in Romania and the Blue Nile and Lake Victoria in Africa; storks (August, September, April and May), at least 500,000 of whom pass by twice a year; and a wide variety of raptors. Don’t expect to see many birds in the summer.
A new visitors centre, named for former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen J Harper, was due to open in 2018.