I must admit that, until recently, I did not have much time for birds in my life - I would even go as far as to say that I was antipathetical towards them. Perhaps it was the result of spending most of my time in urban environments, where the main avian representatives were those aerial rodents known as pigeons. I have recently however - perhaps following on from a trip to the Galapagos Islands - come to include birds among those features of the world that I try to mentally catalogue and assimilate into my schema.
This year - within the span of two months - I have had the chance to observe two different species of storks - one in Israel and one in Belize - and my life is richer for it. Israel is on the flight path of millions of birds migrating between Africa and Europe via the the Syrian-African rift valley. Israel's wetlands - which have, over the last few years, been enhanced by the partial re-flooding of the Hula valley in the north - often provide a birdwatcher's spectacular. The white storks seen in the Hula in April were some of the many hundreds of thousands that flock there twice yearly.
On vacation in Belize, Central America, two months earlier, we had been taken to see the nesting site of a Jabiru stork. In contrast to the modest 3-4 feet height of the Old World white stork, the male Jabiru may stand as tall as 5 feet, and have a wingspan of 4 feet. The Jabiru is a resident in the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina. It lives in large groups near rivers and ponds, and eats prodigious quantities of fish, mollusks, and amphibians, and occasionally small mammals. A breeding pair will return several years to the same nest. We were told that they typically have two eggs, but often raise just one of the chicks; so we felt particularly privileged to see three little ones alongside the male bird who was on duty at the nest while his mate was off getting food. (To put the size of the Jabiru in perspective, the photo was taken with an 18x optical zoom, at a distance of about half a mile.)