Agamon Hulah Park and its wildlife
A visit to the Agamon Lake in the Hulah Valley for viewing migratory and resident birds, ducks and other wildlife is an enjoyable activity for the entire family. About 500 million birds pass over Israel each year, and hundreds of thousands stop off at this lake. Bird-watching seasons are from August to mid-December when birds migrate from Europe and Asia to winter in Africa, with Israel being their last fueling stop before their 5-day journey across the Sahara Desert, and from January to March when they fly in the opposite direction.
Time: Several hours.
Direction: Enter “Agamon HaHulah” into Waze.
Facilities: There is a snack and gift shop in the Visitor Center by the entrance to the park. Buying a small booklet in English or Hebrew on “The birds of Israel” at the gift shop can make viewing and identifying the birds and ducks a fun activity. The only WC’s are in the Visitor Center. Hours for the entire week, including Saturday and holidays, are 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, with the last admission being at 4.00 pm. This is their website.
Overlooking the synagogue from the Short Trail.
Draining Lake Hula - almost an ecological disaster
Because of its considerable wildlife, there has been continuous human habitation in the Hula Valley from early prehistoric times . The tribe of Dan settled in its northern section after the Israelite conquest of Canaan and controlled the Hula Valley for about 400 years. This came to an end when the army of the Assyrian Tiglash Pilezer III exiled its inhabitants in about 740 BCE.
The Hula Valley is in the northern part of the Dead Sea Rift Valley. The steep slopes on either side, namely the Golan Heights to the east and the Galilee to the west, testify to the thousands of meters of land subsistence that occurred about a million years ago when two tectonic plates separated and formed this rift valley.
The Jordan River has three tributaries - the Dan, Hizbani and Banias, and they meet in the center of the Hula Valley to form the Jordan River. The southern border of the Hula Valley consists of hills formed by volcanic activity and these hard basalt rocks impeded the drainage of the Jordan River. The obstructed flow, plus the many springs at the side of the valley, as well as streams from the Golan and Galilee draining into this area, created a swampy wetland north of the former Lake Hula.
Sometime in the past, this area became a breeding ground for malaria-bearing mosquitos. Already by the 1930’s, plans were being drawn up to drain the lake and eliminate the malaria and convert the land into fertile agriculture land. This was eventually carried out by the Jewish National Fund between 1951 to 1958. The outlet for the Jordan River was enlarged in the direction of Lake Kinneret, and the Jordan River was diverted into two drainage canals in the area of the swamp north of the lake. This drainage project was considered a major success. It also led to the creation of 60,000 dunam of agricultural land.
However, within a few years of its completion, major problems became apparent. As the level of the groundwater table fell, air penetrated into the dried peat in the southern and middle parts of the valley. Underground caverns were created and the underground peat started burning uncontrollably. The dried-up peat turned into black dust, and this led to subsistence of the ground, in some places by about 3 meters. Phosphates and nitrates from the microbial decomposition of the peat began draining into Lake Kinneret and polluting the lake. An ecological disaster had been created.
The solution decided upon was to raise the water table level by means of canals in order to slow down the decomposition and subsidence processes from the peat. Part of the Hula Valley was also flooded to create a shallow lake called Lake Agamon, which you are now visiting. This was not in the area of the former Hula Lake (which had in any case now dried up), but in an area of peat erosion unsuitable for agriculture. Green pastures for animals to graze in, such as water buffalo, were planted around the lake with the intention of creating a center for tourism. In addition, pumping stations were constructed to prevent water overflow from peat-rich land going straight into the Jordan River. This water was diverted into Lake Agamon.
This latest project has been a success in providing an area for tourism, saving agricultural land, and preventing pollution of Lake Kinneret. It has also attracted large flocks of migratory birds traveling between Europe and Asia and Africa because of the rich food resources in the lake.
Viewing the lake and its surroundings:
The following can be rented at the Visitor Center: golf carts (4 to 6 people), bicycles, cycle carts, and safari wagons. There is also an effortless bird train.
What should be seen? The Botanical Garden demonstrates the common types of vegetation found around the lake. There are also viewing stations around the lake with considerable information in each. They are also usually manned by an expert who can answer questions.
It is possible to walk around the lake. The total distance from the entrance is almost 11 Km and it will take about 3½ hours. Alternatively, one can do a shortened walk to the first station, the Crane Observatory, and back. At the Botanical Gardens take the left path. (This in the opposite direction to the flow of vehicles, but pedestrians have their own designated path in this section).