Hula Nature Reserve
The Hula Nature Reserve is north of the Agamon Hulah Park. Both these 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. This site shows the 3-D stereoscopic movie Euphoria. Good bird watching in both sites are from October to November when birds migrate from Europe and Asia to Africa in the winter with Israel being their last fueling stop before their 5-day journey across the Sahara Desert, and from March to April when they pass 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. This was the first nature reserve created in Israel. However, water escaped from its dikes and the peat soil dried out, such that this preservation site itself needed preservation. However, all this was fixed many years ago and this site now provides a very worthwhile experience.
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. In the visitor center are displays. There is also an audiovisual display about the draining of the valley and its landscape. Also shown is Euphoria, a unique 3-D stereoscopic movie about bird migration that aims to provide a sensory experience akin to being a bird with moving seats, smells, wind and splashing water. This needs to be arranged in advance. Their telephone number is 04 693-7069, and for the visitor center 04-686 0114. This is their website.
Reeds, bullrushes and papyrus
The Hula Nature Reserve contains three types of tall wetland plants – reeds, bullrushes and papyrus. (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 the 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. Because it was long, straight and hollow, it was often used in the past as a measuring rod. It is still used to make flutes.
The papyrus plant (Cyperus papyrus) (papirus in Hebrew) is a tall perennial found in these swamps 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 is now only found 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 its main uses in the past was for making paper. Strips were made from the peeled stalk and glued together to make sheets. This began in Egypt in about 3,000 BCE and spread throughout the ancient world. More recently, Arab villagers collected the stalks from the swamps to make baskets.
Another plant found throughout Israel is the Lesser Bulrush (typha domingenesis and suf motzu in Hebrew). Inside the soil is a rhizome and its long straight leaves grow directly from the rhizome, 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 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 were on the banks of the Nile and this is reported by Pharaoh when he describes 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). Nowadays, papyrus is almost extinct from Egypt. After leaving Egypt, the Israelites crossed the Yam Suf. This is sometimes translated as the Reed Sea or Sea of Reeds, although probably more correct is a body of water full of bullrushes, and not reeds. It is commonly identified with the Red Sea, which is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, but neither reeds nor bullrushes grow in saltwater
A bullrush plant.
Papyrus plant. Once growing extensively in Israel, this plant now grows mainly in the Hula Valley.
Reeds with their silky crown.
WALKING THROUGH THE RESERVE:
Head towards the visitor center for starting the walk. The 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 interesting signs explaining about 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.