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!
Two Traveling Texans
Sunday Snap

26 comments:

VeggieMummy said...

What a great post. I love your pelican photos and was fascinated to learn about them needing a flock or a mirror in order to nest! I'm glad that the decision was made to keep feeding them. xx

Tom said...

...water is precious in your part of the world.

An Aussie in San Francisco said...

Woah, that is a lot of Pelicans in one place. I can't even imagine, it must be breathtaking to watch them all from that vantage point! #WanderfulWednesday

Peabea Scribbles said...

Great photos to accompany your history of the Pelican, which I would have otherwise never known. Thanks for sharing. How awesome to visit at that time and get to see and photograph them.

betty-NZ said...

I am so enjoying these images! Don't tell anybody, but I've had a 'thing' for pelicans since I saw Pelican Pete on Flipper!

Tamar SB said...

How gorgeous! Love all the birds.

ps linky is live now!

Annsterw said...

What an amazing post! Thank you for all that information! I love pelicans and I support any nature reserve areas! This place is fantastic! Thanks for sharing all the beautiful photos as well!! I am now following from random-ocity - fallow back if you wish at Annster's Domain

Aritha said...

Fascinerend! Fascinating. They are really white and so nice to see more than one. Sometimes rosy pelicans get lost in the Netherlands during the migration, but this is "sometimes". So I have never seen this bird. Thanks for sharing your photos.

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

I love pelicans; they are my favorite bird. These European pelicans looks slightly different around the beak from our Florida pelicans but I love them too. Wow, that is a lot of fish to feed the birds. Wouldn't it be easier to populate the reservoir with fish so they reproduce and the birds fish for them?

Miss Val's Creations said...

This is my kind of day trip! What a neat place to visit. How wonderful the effort has been made to preserve the pelicans through providing fish. I don't believe I have ever seen a pelican in its natural environment but now that I live in a warmer climate it is possible!

Lydia C. Lee said...

Gorgeous! I love Pelicans. #WeeklyPostcard

likeschocolate said...

What a beautiful bird. I love the touch of pink on the beak.

Rambling Woods said...

Welcome to Nature Notes Lisa...In all the years I have been doing Nature Notes...about 8 now, I have not had a blogger from Israel so I was very happy to see your post. So much interesting information and I love that the pelicans are being provided for in that way and how beautiful that area is... Michelle

Anisa said...

So nice you saw so many birds! I love the photos. I can see how you could stay at this place for awhile, watching these birds would be fascinating. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

Brooke of Passport Couture said...

I enjoyed reading your stories about the Pelicans and other birds migrated to the area and now flourish here. It was interesting to read how Pelicans have been preserved with the help of the fisheries. #WeekendWanderlust

Rambling Woods said...

Hi Lisa....The linky list needs to have the page refreshed to see the entry and sometimes it takes a minute or two to go to their server and show up. It was a very small group this week probably due to the holidays. ..Michelle

FeetDoTravel said...

So many pelicans, but lovely to photograph - what a wonderful sight, great to hear how the migrated birds are doing so well here #feetdotravel

Jill said...

Very nice photos of such an interesting place. So many pelicans and so much food to feed them! #weekendwanderlust

Jayne said...

What beautiful birds! And that is a lot of fish that they get through!
I love the observation point where you can stand back and watch them.

Thanks for sharing your visit with #MMBC. Hope you have had a good weekend.

italiafinlandia said...

Hello, what a beautiful place for nature lovers...
The pelican is so amazing bird!

Shona said...

Such graceful birds. I love pelicans. I spend a lot of time on the Murray River in South Australia and have observed their quirky behaviour from a kayak in the backwaters. It's obvious you are also a fan. :-)

Jeanna said...

You've got a great eye spotting that little guy in the last photo. Have never heard of a black stork and I love pelicans. We get them on the WI River and they're fascinating although they look out of place.

junieper2 said...

How wonderful you could visit this place.Didn't know pelicans ate so much fish! We saw them always hanging out near the beach in Southern California (if I'm not mistaken any time of the year with the sea lions and other birds). Many thanks for sharing the pelicans where you live with All Seasons! Hope to see you back at the 30th of Dec.!

Jibberjabberuk said...

What an amazing place. I love going to nature reserves to go bird spotting and it is so much easier when they are sitting on the water! Thank goodness they decided to keep feeding them.

Sharon said...

What graceful, lovely birds! And so many of them in one place. I've seen one or two on the lake near my home, but not this many at once. I'm sure you will return -- with binoculars!

Stephanie 139a said...

Wow - I wasn't expecting to see quite so many - what a fab place to visit. Thanks for sharing with #PoCoLo

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