05/11/2012 03:36
International event aims to raise awareness about the plight of migratory flocks.

Aiming to raise public awareness about the ecological importance of migratory birds, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) is beckoning human travelers to flock to three of its national park sites this Saturday.

This Saturday and Sunday mark the seventh annual World Migratory Bird Day, an international event serving to protect the feathered fleets in transit, as well as their environments en route to their destinations. Initiated by the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), part of the United Nations Environment Program and in collaboration with the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, the annual May weekend inspires events all over the world.

The official theme of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day is “Migratory Birds and People – Together through Time,” based on the concept that the birds have always been integral parts of culture, the economy, science and all types of human activities, according to the international event’s website.

Last year, 205 registered events for the occasion occurred in 64 different countries, with a theme about land use changes, the AEWA said.

The INPA is hosting its own “Migrate with the Birds” events this year at Beit Guvrin, Ein Prat Nature Reserve on the Dead Sea and Nahal Teninim, the authority said. Israel has been involved with the initiative from the beginning and it has become something of a tradition since, Ohad Hatzofeh, an avian ecologist at the INPA, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Avian migration patterns are crucial to understanding the global climate process, and there are growing needs to protect the birds themselves as well as their environments, according to the INPA. There are currently about 10,000 species of birds in the world, and about 5 million pass through Israel on migration routes each year, Hatzofeh said.

To Hatzofeh, heightening public awareness about the plight of migratory birds and their survival needs is the best way to ensure that they continue to thrive. “I can be the best ecologist, the best conservationist in the world – but if the human attitude won’t be in favor of conservation then whatever we do is doomed to fail,” he said, stressing that this awareness needs to translate from the public to the government level.

One problem that migrating birds – and bats – face during their routes are wind turbines, Hatzofeh said.

“People accept them as green energy and very friendly, and would support those projects without knowing the consequences to birds and bats.”

Such projects, which “can be deadly” to birds, need to be managed and assessed much more meticulously, he added.

Since biblical times, birds have taken on a symbolic value to humans – such as the turtledove and the swallow, which signaled the coming of spring, according to Hatzofeh.

Even the less glamorous birds, like vultures who feed on animal carcasses, are key elements of nature, without whom many rural regions of the world would lack proper sanitation, Hatzofeh explained.

Public awareness about migratory birds is definitely increasing worldwide as well as in Israel, according to Hatzofeh.

About a month ago, for example, the cabinet approved an extensive network of bird-watching centers for the Negev and the Galilee, he said.

At Beit Guvrin on Saturday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., information stations will provide facts detailing how migrating birds and humans have combined their fates over time, which will be complimented by observational games for children, INPA said. Meanwhile, rangers will also release some recently rehabilitated injured kites and storks back into nature.

Ein Prat Nature Reserve will feature an array of guided tours, information stations, storytelling and identification games between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Located near the main migration route of the birds as they pass through Israel, Ein Prat also boasts cliffs that contain nesting raptors, as well as a monastery and wading pools. Here as well, some rehabilitated migratory birds will be released back into the wild, and families can also participate in bird ringing with an ornithologist, according to the INPA.

A third event will occur from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Nahal Teninim, where visitors will be able to partake in a morning dedicated to “crocodiles and birds.” Due to the area’s rich riverbank habitat, which attracts many passing and resident birds, the INPA suggested that travelers bring their binoculars for observation.

On the second Saturday in May each year, thousands of people come to participate in these events in Israel, which Hatzofeh said he is happy to see also occur worldwide.“There are amazing events all over the world,” he said. “Birds don’t know political boundaries.”