Archive for February, 2017

Paradise for Birds and People

Friday, February 17th, 2017
photo by Andy Schmookler

photo by Andy Schmookler

 

Greetings from Israel!  My husband and I are exploring this fascinating and beautiful country.  Here is a short piece I wrote recently:

It is late afternoon now.  Andy and I just spent the last few hours glorying in the sights and sounds of thousands and thousands and thousands of cranes.  These graceful birds, with their long and very slender necks, made quite a scene in an agricultural field in the Hula Valley in the northern Galilee.

This field is part of a broad, green, marshy area called the Agamon HaHula. “A Paradise for Birds and People” reads the sign at the entrance, and that certainly is the case.

Clearly, the birds were in paradise.  As we stood watching, open-mouthed, thousands of cranes whirled around and around in the sky a few hundred meters from us.  And the object of this hubbub was a plain, simple-looking red tractor.  We watched it inch along a dirt road, stirring up thousands of squawking, flapping cranes as it went.  The giant mass of birds moved slowly along, continually mobbing the tractor.

And why do the cranes love this tractor so much?  It is the Corn Tractor.  As the Corn Tractor makes its regular rounds, it dispenses corn, which the birds love to eat.  The Corn Tractor feeds these birds well, dispensing 13,000-15,000 pounds of corn for them every day!  

Certainly the Agamon is a paradise for people too.  Smiling, excited tourists like us walked, biked, and drove golf carts around the 8.5 kilometer paved trail  that surrounds the fields, enjoying not only the cranes, but the many water fowl and small birds who are also attracted to the reserve.

Since the only moving object that evokes no fear in the cranes is the Corn Tractor, our LONELY PLANET book tells us, some clever person came up with a way to use a tractor to offer tourists a great way to watch the birds.  We saw several tractors pulling long trailers that were open on one side.  These trailers were filled with auditorium-style seating–three rows, with the back row highest and the front row lowest.  This mobile auditorium faced sideways.  The people riding in it  could get a close-up view of the cranes, who were not at all disturbed by their friend The Tractor rolling past.

The corn tractor is actually at the heart of what makes Agamon a grand and creative experiment.  In providing regular and abundant food for the cranes, the corn tractor is working hand in glove with the humans growing peanuts in the fields.  By devoting one field to the cranes and feeding them plenty of corn every day, the birds leave the nearby peanut fields alone.  The birds are happy, and so are the farmers.

This successful experiment, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, represents an important restoration.  The Hula Valley was once a vast wetlands, far, far larger than it is today.  It was vital to the lives of millions of birds who migrate between Europe and Africa every year.  With the development of Israel as a nation in the 1950s, the Hula Valley wetlands were rapidly drained to make way for agriculture.

But the dramatic loss of wetland habitat proved devastating to the cranes and the many other birds who depended on the Hula Valley to provide nourishment and a safe resting place during migration.   In the late 1950s, conservationists sounded the alarm.  Efforts were launched to protect the remaining Hula Valley wetlands and the birds who depend on them.  And in 1964 Israel’s first national nature reserve was established, here in the Hula Valley.

This is a wonderful win-win-win story—for the birds, for agriculture, and for all of us who love birds.–April Moore

 

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