Birds and flora at Hula Nature Reserve

The Hula Nature Reserve is north of the Agamon Hulah Park. Both sites are attempts to preserve aspects of the former Hula Lake and its swamps. Given a choice between the two, the Agamon Hula Park provides a more interesting and comprehensive experience. Nevertheless, this reserve has something to say and a visit here is not just a repetition of the other. The impressive 3-D stereoscopic movie Euphoria is also available for viewing and it is worth planning your visit around the time of its showing.

 

Good bird watching in both sites is from October to November when birds do their winter migration from Europe and Asia to Africa, with Israel being their last fueling stop before their 5-day journey across the Sahara Desert, and from March to April when they fly in the opposite direction.

The draining of the 15,000 acres of the Hula Lake and swamps began in 1951. At the urging of nature conservationists, 800 acres of the swamp were left as a nature reserve for preservation of its unique flora and fauna - minus its malaria-bearing mosquitoes. This was the first nature reserve created in Israel. However, water escaped from the dikes and the peat soil dried out, such that this preservation site itself needed preservation. However, this was all fixed many years ago and this site now nicely fulfills its mission.

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Directions: Enter “Hula” into Waze and click on “Hula Valley Nature Reserve, Hula Valley.”

 

Admission: This is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Summer hours are Sunday to Thursday and Saturday 8.00 am-5.00 pm (last entrance at 4.00 pm), and Fridays and holiday eves 8.00-4.00 pm. Closing time in the winter is 1 hour earlier. There is a gift ship that sells hot and cold drinks. There are WC’s. There are shaded picnic tables near to the Visitor Center.

 

There is also an audiovisual display, Euphoria, with a unique 3-D stereoscopic movie about bird migration that aims to provide a sensory experience akin to being a bird, with moving seats, wind and splashing water. This is highly recommended. It is shown every hour on the hour. The 15-minute movie can be shown in English but this needs to be requested in advance and there is no opportunity then to see the Hebrew display except by coming back on the hour. Their telephone number is ‎04 693-7069, and for the visitor center 04-686 0114. This is their website. 

Reeds,  papyrus and  bullrushes

 

The Hula Nature Reserve contains three types of tall wetland plants – reeds, papyrus and bullrushes. There are also reeds and bullrushes in the Agamon HaHuleh Lakes, but only a small amount of papyrus.

 

The common reed (kaneh matzu in Hebrew) is the most common plant found at the water edge of the Jordan River and its reserves. It is a tall plant, reaching up to 20 feet. It is usually green in the summer, in contrast to much other vegetation which usually looks dried up at this time of year.  When in full bloom in the spring it has a silky crown. It is long, straight and hollow, and was often used in the past as a measuring rod for long measurements. It is still used to make flutes. Although it may be made of reeds, the flute is not a "reed instrument" in which sound is made through actually blowing through a reed.

 

The papyrus plant (Cyperus papyrus) (papirus in Hebrew) is a tall perennial that grows to a height of 15 feet. It dies in the winter, although its stems do not rot. Growth of this plant was once extensive in Israel’s swamps and rivers, but it is now found only in the Hula Valley, on the northern banks of the Lake of Galilee, and occasionally on the Golan Heights. It accounts for much of the peat of the Hula Valley.

 

One of the main uses of papyrus in the past was for making paper. Strips were made from its peeled stalk and they were glued together to make sheets. This technique began in Egypt in about 3,000 BCE and spread throughout the ancient world. Nowadays, papyrus is almost extinct from Egypt. More recently, Arab villagers here collected the stalks from the swamps to make baskets.

 

Another plant found throughout Israel is the Lesser Bulrush (typha domingenesis)  (suf motzu in Hebrew). Its rhizome is in the soil and from this grow its long straight leaves, up to 2 meter in length. It flowers from June to October on a single leafless stem. The flowers are brown and arranged in a thick spiral at the top of the flower spike, almost to its tip. This inflorescence is dense and almost like a broom. The plant's leaves can be used to make baskets and mats.

 

There are interesting connections of these plants to the Biblical story of the Israelites in Egypt. There were reeds on the banks of the Nile and this was reported by Pharaoh when he described his dream to Joseph (Genesis 41:18). Moses’ ark was rescued from the reeds on the River Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2.5). Papyrus material is called gome in the Bible and Moses’ ark was made of gome (Exodus 2:3). After leaving Egypt, the Israelites crossed the Yam Suf. This is sometimes translated as the Reed Sea or Sea of Reeds, although given its Hebrew name it was probably a body of water full of bullrushes, and not reeds. The Reed Sea is sometimes identified with the Red Sea, which is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, but neither reeds nor bullrushes grow in saltwater.

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A bullrush plant.

Papyrus plant. Once growing extensively in Israel, this plant now grows mainly in the Hula Valley.

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Reeds with their silky crown.

WALKING THROUGH THE RESERVE:

 

Head towards the Visitor Center for beginning the walk. Its 1½-Km path is short relative to the size of the reserve. The nature of the swamp is clearly apparent as you walk past by the dikes, and there are signs explaining its plant and animal life. A wooden walkway projects into the lake and is set up for bird observation. There is also an Observation Point near the visitor center and an Observation Tower. Allow about 1¼ to 1½ hours to complete the walk.

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