Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Mishmar HaSharon Reservoir and Agamon Hefer

Some weeks ago we drove north for the day to visit the Mishmar HaSharon Reservoir in the Hefer Valley. I had read about the large numbers of pelicans that come to spend time at the reservoir at this time of the year, either to continue their migration to Africa or to stay on to winter in Israel, and we wanted to see them for ourselves.
The Mishmar HaSharon Reservoir is one of many water storage facilities built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the Hefer Valley. With a capacity of around one million cubic metres, it absorbs the overflow from the Alexander River in time of floods, stores recycled water and supplies other reservoirs. The reservoir is surrounded by a garden of ornamental plants and flowers that attract butterflies and insects. In the garden is a disabled-accessible path that climbs up to the elevated Vickar Observation Point, a large shaded balcony that rises above the reservoir which offers a wonderful view of thousands of birds during the migration season. The observation point was funded by a donation from the Vickar family of Canada.
We made our way up the path and, as we reached its end, each of us was stunned as we caught our first glimpse of the magnificent sight before us. Hundreds of pelicans, as well as cormorants, egrets and herons, were gathered around the reservoir. It was truly a sight to behold.
It is not just by chance that such large numbers of pelicans come to spend time at the reservoir. Thousands of great white pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) nest in Europe. This population is largely migratory and, as it overwinters in Africa, all its members pass through Israel during migration, mainly between March and May and then again between September and November. In recent years, however, several hundreds of pelicans have stayed on to winter in Israel.
The pelican is a very sociable bird that lives in large flocks. Unless it is part of a flock, it can’t nest. When they're kept in captivity, they’re given a mirror to keep them company. Pelicans reach adulthood at the age of four, when they turn white, and they are one of the largest species of bird in the world. Their wingspan can be as much as three metres and they can weigh around ten kilos. Their bones are hollow, which makes it easy for them to fly and float on the surface of the water, but renders it harder for them to dive and hunt for fish.
An adult pelican eats a kilogram of fish every day, and they hunt in flocks. A large flock of pelicans can cause immeasurable damage to a fish farm, and they used to be chased from one pond to the next without being provided with an alternative food source.  This exhausted some of them to the point of death. Others, with no strength left to continue southwards, remained in Israel. The dilemma was resolved by providing the pelicans with enough food to allow them to continue their migration. Two "refuelling stations" have been placed at their disposal: one is in the Hula Valley and the other here at the Mishmar HaSharon Reservoir.
These days, the Nature and Parks Authority, working in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture's Fisheries Department, populates the Mishmar HaSharon Reservoir with fish that are not intended for sale. The fish are provided solely for the beaks of the pelicans. Members of staff at the reservoir feed the pelicans with six tonnes of fish three to four times a week, during the three months that the pelicans are flying over Israel, all funded by the Ministry of Agriculture. The ministry at one point said it was going to stop the project, claiming it was not responsible for feeding migrating animals passing through from Europe to Africa but, under pressure from farmers and environmentalists, it reconsidered.
The pelicans start to arrive in Israel from Europe in mid-September and stay here for just two weeks. They stop over in the Hula Valley before continuing southwards on their journey to Lake Chad and Lake Nakuru in East Africa. En route they pause first at the Hula Valley and then once more at the Mishmar HaSharon Reservoir, where they rest and refuel before continuing on to their destination. Estimates of the number of birds that pass over Israel each year range from 75,000 to over 100,000.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from the observation point, but there was more for us to see in the area. In the heart of the fields of the Hefer Valley, near the Alexander River, is a gorgeous new sanctuary for birds, Agamon Hefer. The sanctuary was established with the support of the Jewish National Fund, the Emek Hefer Regional Council, the Sharon River Authority, the Israel Lands Authority, Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh and the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
In the past, Emek Hefer was home to natural swamps that provided a habitat for a great deal of flora and fauna. The pioneers who settled the area almost one hundred years ago drained the swamps and developed communities and agriculture. At the spot where the new sanctuary is now located, there used to be fish breeding pools that were owned by Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh. The pools were abandoned, and the site became neglected and deserted. Now it is a beautiful sanctuary that is a paradise for both birds and humans.
The sanctuary includes an artificial lake, wooden decks, hidden observation points, hiking paths and new trees planted around the lake. Future plans include the building of a new entrance bridge and paving a trail that will be accessible to people with limited movement. The sanctuary covers 350 dunams, most of which is covered by the lake, which is about 300,000 cubic metres. The variable depths in the lake are designed to suit the needs of a variety of birds. 
The day we visited Agamon Hefer we saw large flocks of black storks, a large bird, measuring between 95 and 100 cm in length, with a 145-to-155 cm wingspan, and weighing around 3 kg. It has long red legs, a long neck and a long, straight, pointed red beak. The black stork is a shy species. It is seen singly or in pairs, usually in marshy areas, rivers or inland waters. It feeds on amphibians, small fish and insects, generally wading slowly in shallow water stalking its prey. Like the pelicans, the storks were migrating between Europe and Africa.
Continuing on the circular trail around the lake, we spotted egrets, herons, a kingfisher diving for fish, and other birds and mammals that inhabit the lake. Agamon Hefer is an amazing place for bird lovers. Next time I must remember to take the binoculars!

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Ori and Benjo

Ori's mum asked me to make a 21st birthday card for her son showing him holding a large bar with huge weights on over his head. I pointed out to her that I had actually shown him with weights on last year's card, but this year she wanted the bar to be over his head! It was going to be slightly different.
She told me that Ori wears black adidas shorts and a black adidas T-shirt for the gym. He has grown a beard since last year. I needed to add a 21 to the card as well.
I really captured his likeness on this card - I think it was the beard - and Ori himself replied to my own birthday greeting by saying "Great card by the way!".
Benjamin (or Benjo) turned 7. Last year I showed him kicking a football on his birthday card and, when he turned 5 it was all about his new bicycle. This year mum asked me to show him with a football and his darbuka, or goblet drum as it is also known.
I have shown Benjamin, below, with his black and white football under one arm and his darbuka tucked under the other. I  managed to make out the brand of his drum from the photo mum sent me, so added that to the skin of the drum. A big red number 7 marks his age.
I love these photos that mum sent me on Benjamin's birthday. He seems pretty happy with his card.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Ella and Galia

Ella recently turned 18. I have made many cards for her over the years. Her mum tells me that they cannot celebrate a birthday in their family without one. This year mum requested a picture of her daughter at the school prom on the card.
I have shown Ella in the beautiful black dress she wore and with the school in the background. Ella went to the same school as my eldest son, so I was able to use one of my own photos from their end of school ceremony. The bunting matches the colours of the school logo and also the colours that the school was decorated in that the evening.
Galia's mum asked me to make her daughter a card with a pilates theme. I found a photo of her doing pilates on Facebook and copied the pose. I added a stability ball and big 24, on mum's request, to mark Galia's age.
"Love it!!!" mum messaged me. "It looks like Galia!"

Sunday, 25 November 2018

From the Gadot Lookout to Mitzpe Shalom

Day 2 of our trip to the Golan started at the Gadot Lookout and Memorial. We had actually stopped there briefly on the way to our kibbutz accommodation, but it was getting dark and we preferred to see it in daylight so that we could enjoy the stunning views that we had read about.
Situated on the western edge of the Golan Heights overlooking the Hula Valley, the lookout served as a fortified Syrian military outpost complete with communication trenches and concrete bunkers surrounded by barbed wire and minefields. From this base the Syrians were able to fire down at Kibbutz Gadot just below the post and command the Bnot Yaakov Bridge (the name of the bridge is based on the belief that Jacob's daughters crossed the River Jordan at this point on their way to Israel). At the end of the Six Day War the Syrians fled from the onslaught of the IDF’s Golani Brigade and the site now serves as a memorial for the soldiers who fell conquering the Golan Heights.
A path from the car park lead us to a triangular monument naming the soldiers who fought here. The monument is built of concrete in the shape of a wing which faces east and symbolises the departure of the troops fighting in the Golan. Beyond the monument, there are a few decaying military vehicles left in place, along with a fence warning visitors to remain on the path. This area was heavily mined and is not safe to wander about beyond the fences.
At the crest of the hill we were treated to the panoramic view of Hula Valley we had waited for. The view was captivating and a clear reminder of the military importance of the location.
En route to the Gadot Lookout we made brief stops at two smaller war memorials. The Golan Heights is an area which has seen many battles between Israel and Syria, primarily during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.
Our first stop was at the Memorial to the 679th Reserve Armoured Brigade, below. The memorial features a black turret of a Syrian tank, surrounded by the names of the brigade's fallen soldiers. The turret has been placed on a sheet of metal supported by stones, with a Hebrew inscription which means "We will remember and not forget". The tank gun, to which metal wings have been fixed, juts high into the air.
We listened to a recorded account of the events surrounding the 679th's actions during the Yom Kippur War, their arrival in the Golan Heights and the battle that followed. I'll skip to the end and say that the 679th won, despite having to fight as unprepared crews in unprepared tanks.
Next we stopped to view the 212th Artillery Corps memorial, above. This monument was established in memory of the fallen soldiers of Artillery 212 who were killed in battles during the Yom Kippur War. The monument consists of a concrete base on which are resting metal boxes placed on top of each other to create a spiral. At the centre of the monument are several aluminium poles that rise to a height of six metres. It was designed by the artist Hillel Pesach of Mishmar Ha'emek, who was the commander of the artillery battalion during the war. The monument was erected in 1976 alongside Highway 91 on the road from the Jordan River to the Golan Heights.
Then it was time to move on from war memorials. Our next stop was at Mey Eden Springs, also known as Einot Salukia, in the centre of the Golan Heights. Eden Springs is a collection of springs named after an ancient settlement that existed during the Second Temple period. The name Salukia is probably named after the Seleucid Empire that ruled over many lands in the Middle East for hundreds of years, up until about 2500 years ago.
Eden Springs is a lovely park which encompasses the Salukia Spring, which was the initial source used by the Mey Eden (Eden Springs) mineral water company. The spring is still plentiful, clear and cool and the park includes lovely pools where the water flows, shady areas, and easy paths, as well as information about the animals in the surrounding area.
The park is sheltered under the shade of Eucalyptus trees and river vegetation typical to the area: raspberry, common reed, willow and Nerium oleander. Between the trees are the remains of the Syrian village houses of Katsaviya El-Jadidah (New Katsaviya), which were abandoned during Israel's conquest of  the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in June 1967. The name of the village is derived from the word "kasab", which in Arabic means Common reed. Between the houses of ancient Katsaviya, old relics of an ancient synagogue were found. It was believed to be one of dozens of Jewish settlements established in the Golan Heights after the forced exile of the Jews by the Romans from Judea to Galilee and the Golan Heights following the great revolt that ended in 70 AD.
Our next brief stop was at the 31 metre high Ayit waterfall (in Hebrew the word ayit means eagle) which unfortunately only flows after heavy winter rains. When we visited in September it was really just a trickle. In full flow the waterfall is one of the most impressive in the Golan. It falls into a deep canyon that stretches for 4 kilometres and flows into the Yehudiya River.
We followed a path from the car park for a few minutes, until the path forks. The left fork took us to a lookout where a sign explained the rock formations in the Golan. The basalt hexagonal pillars which we could see in the deep canyon are a unique geological phenomenon and can be seen on all the canyon walls of the Golan.
And then there was time to see just one more place before we headed home. Mister Handmade in Israel and I last visited Mitzpe Shalom back in 2014 but I knew that my dad would really appreciate the view from the lookout, so it was time for a return trip. Mitzpe Shalom, also known as the "Peace Lookout" or "Peace Vista", is situated on the high basalt cliffs of the Southern Golan Heights. The lookout offers what is hands-down the most spectacular view you’ll find in the area. Located next to Kibbutz Kfar Haruv, the members of Kfar Haruv designed the Peace Vista to signify their longing for permanent peace in the region. From the lookout you can readily spot the coastline of the entire Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Across the Kinneret lies the city of Tiberias, easily viewed from Mitzpe Shalom. Up in the hills, it’s also possible to point to the city of TzfatMount Meron, Kibbutz Kinneret (where the songwriter and the "First Lady of Israeli song and poetry", Naomi Shemer, was born), Yavne'el, the Jordan Valley and Mount Tavor are all visible from the panoramic Mitzpe Shalom lookout point. It is quite a comprehensive view! (Please make sure you click on the photo above to appreciate just how incredible it is).

* This post has been shared on All Seasons, The Good. The Random. The Fun. and Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday).
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