Paul Winter soothes the natural habitat in the north of Israel during his visit last month.

Four-time Grammy Award winning American musician Paul Winter has just wrapped up a successful tour of Israel even though not one concert ticket was sold.

That’s because Winter was here on a birdwatching tour, not a performing one.


Hard to believe, but professional musicians do have interests other than their music. But, it just so happens that Paul Winter has the ability to combine two of his great passions – music and the environment.

Known for his unique blend of world music that celebrates the planet’s diverse cultures and creatures, including the voices of whales, wolves and eagles, Winter’s next album, entitled Flyways, will pay tribute to the millions of migrating birds which pass through Israel each year on their way from Europe to Africa and then back again.

According to the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun, some 500 million birds representing 300 species, including storks, pelicans, lesser-spotted eagles, lesser kestrels, honey buzzards and many others, migrate across Israel’s skies twice a year in the autumn and spring. Some even stick around Israel for the winter in search of good food (fish ponds) and weather (Eilat).

“I had the privilege to fly in a glider with thousands of migrating storks from the Galilee in the north of Israel, over Jerusalem and then south to the Negev Desert ten years ago while I was here performing several concerts,” Winter told ISRAEL21c from northern Israel where he was touring several bird sites. “Anybody who would have that amazing experience would feel their life was changed.”

Inspired by the bird migration, Winter has been collaborating with biologists and musicians alike to finish his Flyways composition. “We are still in the envisioning stage of this project, and my research work and composing should begin early in 2004.”

As part of his preparations, he has been touring the country as a guest of the Israeli Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI) and the Israel National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). During his weeklong trip at the end of November, Winter, together with a group of other committed environmentalists, visited the International Birdwatching Center in the Jordan Valley, observed flocks of cranes and pelicans in the Hula Valley, and witnessed barn owls at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu being used for biological rodent control.

“It’s been great to learn about this whole other reality of Israel, which people in the States don’t always get to see,” Winter said. “It’s been amazing to the see the variety of habitats.”

Many of the birds Winter ‘met’ on this trip will play a starring role in his next musical debut in what he likes to refer to as ‘wilderness musicians.’

“The vision for this album is to celebrate the great bird migration,” he said about the Flyways project. “Through an international ensemble of musicians, we hope to chronicle the long journey that the birds make along the Great Rift Valley each year, using the vocalization of the migratory bird species together with music from twelve cultures in which the birds fly over.”

The Great Rift Valley, stretching some 7,500 km. from the Taurus Mountains in Turkey to central Mozambique, represents a main ‘highway’ for millions of migrating birds each year. The northernmost part of the Rift forms the valley of the Jordan River, which flows southward through the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret) to the Dead Sea. From the Dead Sea, the Rift follows the Aravah Valley into the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea.

“My project is about spreading the messages of peace and co-existence to listeners and is also integrally related to the international campaign to have the Great Rift Valley declared a World Heritage site,” Winter added.

There are currently 754 sites of international cultural and natural importance under the UNESCO World Heritage List. Masada and the Old City of Acre were listed in December 2001. The White City of Tel Aviv, an area known for its modern movement or Bauhaus architecture, was listed more recently in July 2003.

There are now plans to have the Great Rift Valley and other significant sites in Israel listed as well.

“We want to announce that the entire Great Rift Valley from Turkey to Mozambique should be listed as a World Heritage Site,” said Yossi Leshem, Director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration.

Of the 754 sites, there are only about 12 that are transboundary in nature, with two countries sharing the same listed site.

“If accepted, this would be the first time that there will be 23 countries listed under one site,” Leshem added.

Israel’s National Commission for UNESCO, housed within the Ministry of Education, has already submitted the proposal and will be considered at the next session of the World Heritage Committee – the statutory body responsible for selecting new sites for the World Heritage List – at its next session scheduled for June 2004 in Suzhou, China.

“In the meantime, there are other sites here in Israel that we would like to see listed,” said Michael Turner, Chairman of Israel?s World Heritage Committee.

“Israel only signed on to the World Heritage Convention four years ago so we have a bit of a backlog in terms of places we think should be listed.”

This includes some 25 potential sites, including Caesarea, Jerusalem, Timna, the Kinneret, Crusader fortresses, the Ottoman railways, and ancient synagogues in the Galilee. The Great Rift Valley is also on the list, not only as an Israeli site, but also as a transboundary site that includes the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat, as well as a transboundary serial site that includes the migratory bird routes throughout their range.

“The goal of the Great Rift Valley listing is to reinforce the idea that migrating birds know no boundaries,” said Winter, which is the official motto of Israel’s international Center for the Study of Bird Migration, as well as the unofficial motto of Winter’s Flyways project.