KKL-JNF’s Chief Ornithologist Yaron Charka is the initiator and founder of the Yehoraz Kasher National Database of Israeli birds, which today functions as KKL-JNF’s birdwatching portal and has become the main source of information for Israeli ornithologists. Today some 3,000 registered users employ the free mobile-phone-downloadable Buzz application to send real-time bird-observation updates. The database enables users to receive detailed and up-to-the-minute information about every type of bird, including photographs, videoclips, distribution maps and bird calls.
“Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund has taken a strategic decision to become one of the main factors in ornithology in Israel,” explained the organization’s chief scientist Dr. Omri Boneh. “The establishment of Lake Hula was the turning point. Prior to that, KKL-JNF had developed a great many ecotourism infrastructures all over the country, but Lake Hula was the first site at which the organization implemented its vision by planning and creating a lake together with all the necessary tourism facilities, and since then it has managed it in a remarkable manner that has become a model worthy of imitation. KKL-JNF’s Hula Lake Park has become the number one birdwatching park in Israel, and an important site on an international scale, too. Around it the organization has developed a network of worldwide connections with birdwatching sites and research bodies abroad.
“KKL-JNF has developed a special model for open-area leisure activities. With the help of its network of recreation areas, cycle paths and scenic routes, it invites the public to experience open areas free of charge. Promoting ornithology has added a new dimension to leisure culture and time spent in these open areas. Birdwatching also provides an additional opportunity for raising awareness of the need for nature conservation. People have a soft spot for birds, and this can make them more receptive to explanations as to the importance of conserving nature and habitats, an issue that lies at the very heart of KKL-JNF activity.”
Meanwhile KKL-JNF continues to broaden its ornithological pursuits. Apart from its activities at Lake Hula and the Vickar Observation Deck, the organization, working in conjunction with Tel Aviv Municipality and with the support of Friends of JNF Australia, has established the Rosh Tzippor Birdwatching Centre at the confluence of the Yarkon and Ayalon rivers. It is likewise involved in operating the birdwatching park in Eilat, and is planning to set up ornithological centers on Kibbutz Lotan in the
Arava, at the fishponds of Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh and in Spring Park (Park HaMa‘yanot) in the Beit Shean Valley – and this is only a partial list. KKL-JNF is also cooperating with the Hoopoe Birdwatching Center in Yeruham.
Apart from all the above, KKL-JNF is initiating ornithological research. For example, as part of his doctoral studies, Uzi Dagan investigated the various bird species found in KKL-JNF forests in northern Israel. His thesis, which was supervised by Professor Ido Izhaki of Haifa University, answered a great many ecological questions and proposed woodland management strategies that will enrich the range of bird species in KKL-JNF forests.
But this is only the beginning. KKL-JNF’s Kanfei KaKaL has expanded the database of Israeli birds developed by Yaron Charka to include information sites to spot birds, lookouts, and networking with birdwatching groups and individuals. This is enabling members of the general public to use their mobile phones to access an inexhaustible fund of information on birds and get the very best out of the birdwatching possibilities on offer in Israel’s open spaces.
Together with the Sharon Drainage and River Authority, Hefer Valley Regional Council, the Afikei Emek Hefer Communal Water Company and Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority, KKL-JNF is currently busy in the lower reaches of the Alexander River, where it is establishing a birdwatching park that will make use of Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh’s fishponds.