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!"
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