Tag Archives: biodiversity

Photo of the Week – Kalaniot in Negev

I am intrigued by the desert areas of Israel and find them fascinating places to photograph – I’d be happy to take you to explore and photograph. Rainy and cold all day yesterday in Jerusalem so I drove down to the western Negev to see the kalaniot (Anemone coronaria) in bloom one more time.


The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon 5300 digital SLR camera yesterday just before sunset (ISO 1600, 32mm, F9 at 1/250 sec). Clicking on the image will display it larger.

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Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in buying or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Photo of the Week – Flowers in Judean Desert

The Dead Sea and Judean desert are just a half hour drive down the hill from Jerusalem making it very accessible. It is the lowest place on earth, 409 meters below sea level, an area bordered by mountains on both sides in a desert with running water and in one area geothermal springs. I drove down this week to enjoy the hot springs and float in the mineral-rich cool sea. I can’t remember a time when i’ve seen the hills so green with so many wildflowers blooming.

Flowers in Judean DesertThe technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon D90 digital SLR camera in March (ISO 200, 20mm, F10 at 1/250 sec). Clicking on the image will display it larger.

Please share this post with your friends by clicking on the icons at the end of this message.

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in buying or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Introducing Fallow Deer

Fallow deerPersian fallow deer (Dama Mesopotamica) native to Israel from Biblical times were hunted to extinction in the early 1900s. The fallow deer is mentioned among the eight other kosher mammals listed in Deuteronomy 14: 4-5 — the roe deer, gazelle, addax, bison, oryx, wild goat, wild ox and ibex. Only the gazelle and ibex remained in Israel by the 1960s. In the biblical Book of Kings, the fallow deer is one of the many animals presented to King Solomon as a tithe. Until the late 1950s the species was thought to be extinct in the world — then a small herd was discovered in Iran. Here is the incredible story of how fallow deer have been introduced again into the Biblical landscape of Israel.

In 1962 the Israeli government enacted a conservation law to help restore the wildlife population decimated by hunting and wars and created the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, headed by General Avraham Yoffe. Yoffe had the idea to resettle fallow deer in Israel so he began courting high-ranking Iranian officials. He invited the Shah’s brother Prince Abdol Reza Pahlavi, an avid hunter, to Israel’s Negev desert to hunt the rare Nubian ibex. Months later, he arranged a second hunting trip for another senior Iranian wildlife official, Rashid Jamsheed, who bagged an ibex with 53-inch horns, the world record to this day. It is against the law to hunt ibex but special permission was granted in this case by then Minister of Agriculture, Ariel Sharon (an Israeli army general who became an important politician). In 1978, with the stirrings of the Iranian Revolution, the prince agreed to give Israel four fallow deer.

When Yoffe arrived in Tehran, he suffered a mild heart attack. As he was being airlifted out he left instructions with General Segev, the Israeli military attaché in Tehran to fulfill his mission to bring the deer to Israel. Segev made the rounds to obtain the necessary export licenses. Meanwhile, Dutch zoologist Dr. Van Grevenbroek who was in charge of the project arrived from Israel to capture four deer. He was armed with a blow-dart gun disguised as a cane. Passing burned-out storefronts throughout the city, burning tires, angry mobs and the acrid smell of tear gas Segev reported, “There was shooting all over the streets, and there I was, an Israeli general, going to the zoo”. Van Grevenbroek assembled his supplies, and left Tehran on a 10-hour drive to a game reserve on the Caspian Sea. He spent five days tracking, capturing and crating four deer. He returned safely to Tehran. On December 8th, the deer were loaded on the last El Al flight out of Tehran, packed between piles of carpets and the personal effects of Iranian Jews and Israeli officials fleeing the country. Fallow deer These four deer arrived in Israel at the Hai Bar Nature Reserve where they were cared for and bred. Today there are fallow deer herds in the Carmel Hai Bar reserve, Jerusalem zoo and Neot Kedumim. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo was involved in the initial reintroduction of fallow deer into the wild in Israel in the Nahal Kziv area (the route of the Yam l’Yam hike from the Mediterranean coast to the Sea of Galillee). In December 2009 officials released a small group of fallow deer from their acclimation enclosure into Nahal Sorek in the Jerusalem hills. Since then other Biblical animals, onagers, oryx and roe deer have been acquired and reintroduced into Israel’s wild, as part of Israel’s conservation efforts.

Biodiversity at Jerusalem Botanical Gardens

A human is like a tree, like a human the tree also grows, like a tree a human life can be cut down and I don’t know…

…כי האדם עץ השדה  כמו האדם גם העץ צומח  כמו העץ האדם נגדע  ואני לא יודע

I feel my lifeblood being sapped by the ongoing rocket/missile exchanges between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas. Israel is trying to protect us by getting rid of Hamas’ rockets and weakening Hamas. Hamas is trying to get Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, to improve Palestinians’ living conditions in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Hamas is also trying to make life so stressful and unbearable that we lose hope, with the aim, clearly outlined in their charter (1988), of uprooting us from this land.

This week I visited the Jerusalem Botanical Garden on the edge of the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University, a tranquil retreat in the midst of the city, welcoming to all (explanatory signs are being put up in English, Hebrew and Arabic). Their vision statement makes it clear:

Just as biodiversity is a key to a healthy natural world, so human diversity is a cornerstone of a healthy society. We promote and encourage both.

The 30 acre park is divided into six geographical zones, European, North American, South African, Australian, Asian and Mediterranean and has more than 10,000 species of plants. I was delighted to find Sternbergia, a young sycamine sapling and not only the five species of oak trees indigenous to Israel but some 75 different oaks of the 700 species that exist in the world growing at the botanical gardens, a refuge for endangered species. More than just replicating the flora of Eretz Yisrael the botanical gardens teach respect and awe for the biodiversity of our world. There is an African savannah grass maze for children to explore, there is a section on herbs and medicinal plants, a path of Biblical plants, water plants and plants of the desert.

Jerusalem has two botanical gardens (the first planted in 1931 on Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University), two university campuses and two Hadassah hospitals. History explains why – the institutions on Scopus were cut off from Israel for 19 years when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem after the war in 1948. An Israeli convoy under Red Cross auspices delivered supplies and exchanged personnel every two weeks.  Scopus and Jerusalem were only reunited by Israeli paratroopers during the Six Day War in 1967.

In 1947 Tuvia Kushnir, a brilliant young man, was studying and researching the plants of Palestine (under the British mandate, before the State of Israel was declared) at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Tuvia discovered a rare flower, the Galilee fumitory (Fumaria thuretii Boiss) near Kibbbutz Eilon in the Upper Galilee, the southernmost extent of its range. The flower was not seen again for 60 years until Prof. Avi Shmida and other botanists discovered 80 individual plants of Galilee fumitory in April 2012. Tuvia was one of the first iris researchers in Palestine and identified an iris that bears his name Iris tuviae (also known as the King Uzziae iris). And Tuvia identified a kind of crocus that grows only in the desert that was named after him, Colchicum tuviae.

On January 15th, 1948 Tuvia was part of a group of Haganah soldiers given the task of carrying supplies to the defenders of Gush Etzion (on Friday two rockets fell in the Gush, the first fired towards Jerusalem), 4 kibbutzim south of Jerusalem that were under blockade by Arab forces. They set out at 11pm on foot from Har Tuv, making a detour past the British police station so as not to be detected (it was a capital offense to carry arms) and past Arab villages. Three soldiers turned back when one soldier twisted his ankle and was unable to continue leaving 35, the march of the lamed-heh (two Hebrew letters that have the value 35). Towards dawn the group was discovered near the Arab village of Tsurif, the alarm was raised and hundreds of Arabs from the neighboring villages attacked the convoy. Though the British heard the shots they did not investigate until all was quiet. The Israeli soldiers fought until they had no more ammunition – all were killed including Tuvia. When the British arrived on the scene they found the bodies horribly mutilated making identification very difficult. Rabbi Arye Levin performed the rare Goral Ha-gra ceremony, a mystical procedure devised by the Vilna Gaon where the rabbi opened a Tanakh and was drawn to read certain verses which gave hints to the identity of the bodies.

2:15pm Jerusalem time  I’m at home writing this post. By the time we hear the siren there are about 15 seconds until we hear a distant boom. Channel 2 reports that the rocket fell somewhere near Bethlehem, about 6.5 km south of where I am sitting.

At the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens work has begun on a Children’s Discovery Garden that will offer Jewish, Muslim and Christian young people an opportunity to explore and discover the wondrous natural world, to learn that diversity is important and in the process meet each other. Discovery and play will be used to show how plants adapt to their environment and the interaction between the two. Activities will include a canopy walk in the treetops and a descent down to a roots exhibit. Perhaps plants which are apolitical, are concerned less with borders and which speak to us all can show us the advantages of diversity and living together.

Aftermath of Carmel Fire

Mount Carmel rises from the Mediterranean Sea to about 500 meters above sea level, wth the city of Haifa built on its western slope. The mountain is rich in biological, geological and geomorphologic diversity with contrasting landscapes, a mixture of agricultural areas and prehistoric and archaeological sites. In the area we were in there was a Roman quarry and part of an olive press.

Mount Carmel is covered mainly with a natural forest of Mediterranean oak shrubland (Quercus calliprinos) and mixed pine (Pinus halepensis). In 1996 UNESCO desgnated Mount Carmel a bio-sphere reserve in recognition of its specialness.

On December 2, 2010 a fire erupted on Mount Carmel burning for 4 days until fire fighters could get the blaze under control and destroyed over 50,000 dunam of forest. The JNF estimates that 1.5 million trees were burnt in the fire, some estimates raise the total figure to 5.5 million trees and the Carmel Hai-Bar nature reserve was damaged. We learned that pine trees, soft woods with a lot of resin, are usually killed by the intense heat; their survival mechanism is that the pine cones open in the heat and hundreds of seeds are  scattered. The oak trees, being a hardwood, often are able  to live, the  branches are burned and die but the roots survive and send up new shoots. According to officials, nearly half of the 150,000 dunams of the Carmel Forest reserve have been destroyed in the fire and it will take at least 20 years for the forests to grow back.

On Friday I went up to the Carmel on a tour organized by Israel’s Green party, where experts from the Technion and Ben Gurion universities taught us about the forest ecology. There were a lot of differences of opinion among the experts – some experts said that authorities had been warned about the situation, Israel had a very long, hot summer and almost no rain this winter and a drought for the last 3 years, that there were not enough resources put to addressing the problem. Other experts said that fires are natures way of clearing old forests and that a fire every 20 years is a good thing, that with the very dense underbrush, once the fire broke out, it was impossible to contain, no matter what resources would have been applied. Unfortunately, it seems clear that climate change and human intervention is accelerating the number and size of fires.

The fire damaged 74 buildings in Kibbutz Beit Oren, Ein Hod, Nir Etzion and Yemin Orde and  forced the evacuation of more than 17,000 people. Tragically, at least 44 people lost their lives – a falling tree trapped a bus carrying police and prison services personnel on their way to evacuating the Damun prison in a fireball. Beit Oren and the youth village of Yemin Orde where our daughter Tiferet had volunteered in 2002 sustained damage, the library was badly damaged and the young people, mostly Ethiopian and Russian students, lost most of their possession and homes when they were forced to evacuate. For more information about Yemin Orde and the work they are doing check their website at http://www.yeminorde.org.

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Agamon Hula Lake

I just guided a group in the north of Israel and can report that Agamon Lake received rave reviews. Matt, steering the 7-cycle that we rented, said “This is the greatest day in my life”. Aunt Ruth who had just come from the birding festival in Eilat helped us identify the many birds that we saw. Some of the younger at heart rode bicycles, the older people drove in an electric golf cart (all available for rental at the site).

Matt steering the 7-cycle, photo Steven Browns

Agamon Lake is in the Hula Valley (עמק החולה‎, Emek HaHula) an agricultural area in northern Israel in the Syrian-African Rift Valley with abundant fresh water. The Hula is bordered on the east by the Golan Heights and to the west by the Naftali mountains rising 400 to 900 meters above sea level. Basalt hills about 200 meters above sea level formed during late Pleistocene volcanic activity along the southern side of the valley impede the Jordan River flowing into the Sea of Galilee, referred to as the basalt “plug” formed the historic Hula Lake about 20,000 years ago and the surrounding wetlands. It is an important route for birds migrating between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The Hula Lake existed until the 1950s, a shallow, pear-shaped basin 5.3 kilometers long and 4.4 kilometers wide, extending over 12-14 km². It probably contained the richest diversity of aquatic life in the Middle East (south of Lake Amiq, Turkey which was drained at about the same time as the Hula). Based on research 260 species of insects, 95 crustaceans, 30 snails and clams, 21 fishes, 7 amphibians and reptiles, 131 birds and 3 mammals were noted.

Between 1951 and 1958 draining operations were carried out by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The declared objectives of the Hula draining project were two-fold: the addition of arable land and the eradication of malaria; additional perceived benefits were more water (by reducing evaporation losses) and peat as fertilizer. Hula Lake was drained by deepening and widening of the Jordan River downstream and digging two peripheral canals diverting the Jordan at the north of the valley (to bypass the plug).

In response to environmental concerns a small (3.50 km²) area of recreated papyrus swampland in the southwest of the valley was set aside and in 1963 became Israel’s first nature reserve.

Unfortunately, what originally seemed like a good idea over time created severe agricultural and ecological problems due to peat sediment degradation: uncontrollable underground fires, formation of dangerous caverns within the peat, proliferation of field mice, release of nitrates and sulfates into the Kinneret, 119 animal species were lost to the region, 37 totally lost from Israel, many freshwater plant species became extinct. So from 1980 to 1994 under the auspices of the JNF a program for the Hula’s rehabilitation was inaugurated.

In 1994 a small area in the southern part of the Hula Valley, in the area that once served as the transition between the original Lake Hula and the surrounding swamps was reflooded to create Agamon HaHula (אגמון החולה‎, literally: “Little Hula Lake”).  It has an irregular shape, covering an area of 1 km², several smaller islands were created in the middle of the lake to provide protected nesting sites for birds. At least 120 species of birds have been recorded in or around the lake including large flocks of migratory pelicans, storks, cormorants, cranes, and other birds en route between Europe and Africa that spend days to weeks in the vicinity of Agamon HaHula. Also, new nesting colonies of various species such as herons and plovers have been established. As well, water buffalo and donkeys have been introduced and a small furry rodent called a nutria (also called a coypu), which was brought to Israel from South America for its fur, has made its home here.

You can check out the Agamon website at http://www.agamon-hula.co.il/

7-cycle, photo Steven Browns