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Hula Nature Reserve and its birds and flora

The Hula Nature Reserve is a bit south 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 is not just a repetition of the other. It is worth planning your visit around the time of showing of the. impressive 3-D stereoscopic movie Euphoria.

Good bird watching at both sites is from October to November. This is the time 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. They fly in the opposite direction from March to April.

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 to preserve 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, and this preservation site itself needed preservation. This was all fixed many years ago and this site now nicely fulfills its preservative mission.

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

Time: Allow about 1¼ to 1½ hours to complete the walk.

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 close to the Visitor Center.

 

A unique 3-D stereoscopic movie about bird migration is shown, called Euphoria, that aims to provide a sensory experience akin to being a bird, with moving seats, and the sound of wind and splashing water. It 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 rests of the displays (which are in Hebrew) except by coming back an hour later. Their telephone number is ‎04 693-7069, and for the Visitor Center 04-686 0114. This is their website. 

Public transport: There are frequent buses between Kiryat Shemona and Tel Aviv and between Kiryat Shemona and Afulla that stop at the Shemurat HaChula Interchange. From here is 2.3 Km/29 minute walk to the Reserve. 

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 most 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 often made of reeds, the flute is not a "reed instrument," in which the sound is made by 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. This plant once grew extensively in Israel’s swamps and rivers, but is now found only in the Hula Valley, on the northern banks of the Sea of Galilee and occasionally in the Golan Heights. It accounts for much of the peat in 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 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 collected the stalks from the Hula swamps to make baskets.

 

Another plant found throughout Israel is the Lesser Bulrush (typha domingenesis) (suf motzu in Hebrew). The rhizome is in the soil and from it grows 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 gomé in the Bible and Moses’ ark was made of this (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 to begin 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. 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.

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