It was overcast and cool yesterday, perfect weather for a quick toot to the Negev and the Dead Sea before heat and tourists make it less than perfect. Besides, we wanted to see the spring flowers that we've heard so much about. We drove south through hilly forest and farm land, enjoying the fields of bloom, marvelling in the long green views of deep valleys.
What we didn't expect at all were the birds along the way. I wonder if there is a Roger Tory Peterson for Israel because I recognize none of them. Most exciting was a swirl of fifty or so large birds high above us when we reached Mitzpe Masua, an area of open farmland just past the Keren Kayemet forests south-west of Jerusalem. I immediately thought of vultures and figured they were gathering the clan for a feast of dead cow or sheep. But they didn't look quite like vultures...
When we got home I found several excellent websites for birders in Israel, compared my fast digital snaps out of the car window - and concluded that what we'd seen were migrating storks on their way from Africa to Europe. (Black storks or white storks, we couldn't tell - they were too high.) We learned that Israel sees more bird migrations than any other country because it is in the centre of bird migration from Africa and Asia to Europe and back. March is one of the best times to see these birds in flight and what we caught were storks riding the thermals on their way to Europe for the summer. Eilat, at the southernmost tip of the country, is one of the most famous birdwatching centres in the world and birders come here just for that, ignoring the historic sites entirely.
The Negev itself surprised us; greener by far than we remembered from previous trips. It looked like Manitoba or Saskatchewan for a long while ... and then, finally, the miracle of massive drip irrigation ended and the real desert began, where the only inhabitants were flocks of sheep and goats along with occasional camels, kept by impoverished Bedouin tribesmen living in shanties and plastic tents or leans-tos of corrugated metal scraps.