Tweeting, but Not on Twitter: The Birdwatching Groups of KKL-JNF Wings (Kanfei Kakal)

By: Yaron Charka, KKL-JNF's Chief Ornithologist

If you have a soft spot for birds and a great love of nature, the KKL-JNF Wings birdwatching groups offer children and adults contact with the outdoors that will make you happy as a lark. From the anatomy of birds to identifying the special birdsong of each species – this activity will cause you to spread your wings to the world of wonderful creatures, which are an inspiration for all of us.

Is it a plane? Is it Superman? No, it's a bird! And another! And another! Israel's skies are packed with species of birds, far more than people imagine. In fact, Israel is a paradise for bird lovers, people for whom catching a heron in their camera lens or hearing the song of a titmouse makes their day.

KKL-JNF Wings birdwatching groups hitch a lift on the wings of birds to fulfill the goal that is behind them: to connect children (and adults too) to what is nearest to their homes and their hearts – nature. And who are more suitable for this than birds, which hold sway over the space from horizon to horizon, from heavens to earth? On the whole, we associate birds directly with the freedom to ascend to the heavens, but at the same time they are connected to the earth, fed by its fruits and its water and the prey on it, and they rest on the ground and spend their feathered lives in the space between the two.

Did we say "nearest to us"? Yes. Here's the catch, because sometimes we take precisely what is under our beaks for granted, and enable it to pass us by. KKL-JNF's birdwatching groups, which combine theoretical study in classrooms with practical experience in nature, solve precisely this problem. The proposed track is spread over ten months of a structured program, and each month focuses on a different subject, in a format of three lessons in the classroom and a monthly field trip – a winning combination of intensive frontal teaching and a genuine field experience.

In the lessons in the classroom, the participants learn in detail about the bird's anatomy, about species of birds and their colors, their song and their habits, with the help of varied tools, carefully-thought-out study materials, and experienced instructors who are just in love with birds. The students assimilate the theoretical materials by means of games, quizzes and enjoyable and challenging activities, and afterwards they go out to the field, to feel the wonder with all their senses.

Photograph: The Chief Scientist UnitPhotograph: The Chief Scientist Unit

A uniform? Yes! A professional bird book? Yes! High-quality binoculars? Yes! A file to record and count species of birds? Yes! An experienced KKL-JNF ornithologist who accompanies the instructor and the participants in the group? Yes! Equipped from head to toe, the young ornithologists go outdoors, from Metula to Eilat, where they tour habitats, meet winged surprises that fly overhead, and go to the places richest in birds, according to the migration season. As well as traveling throughout the country, the participants do not neglect their flying friends in their near surroundings, and also pay attention to getting to know the birds right next to our homes, on the neighboring tree tops.

The ten field days included in the groups' activity reach their peak in a three-day trip to Eilat. This year the journey began in Jerusalem and made its way south by way of different birdwatching stations of which the most fascinating was Yeruham Lake, where the Tzapartron birdwatching marathon took place. During the contest, which took place in a group format, the contestants were asked to identify and count different species around the lake. The children displayed impressive knowledge, as if a little bird had told them all the answers.

KKL-JNF Wings' birdwatching groups, run by Yair Fishman and Meir Breuer, are intended for two different age groups: fourth to seventh grades and adults. This year no less than 400 birdwatching enthusiasts took part, from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Beersheba in the Negev. For those people who after ten months have fallen in love with birds and don't want to say goodbye and return to the nest – KKL-JNF offers the opportunity to join a second year of activity in the Birdwatching Reconnaissance Unit. In this framework, the participants get to know additional species of birds and learn more about subjects such as photography, record-keeping, and touring. And we haven't yet mentioned the satisfaction you'll feel, when on the next school trip someone says, "What a beautiful bird" and you say with a smile, "Yes, that's the most beautiful African crake I've ever seen"...