Ein Afek Nature Reserve near Kiryat Bialik is a popular site among locals. And today we are going to visit it. Let’s being!
- I have been to Ein Afek Nature Reserve probably a dozen times, and the photos in this post are a combination of those visits. Thus, on a regular visit, you will probably see fewer animals then mentioned in this post.
- Sometimes Ein Afek is spelled as En Afek.
Why Do People Love Ein Afek Nature Reserve?
I think that many people love Ein Afek (or En Afek) Nature Reserve because:
- It is relatively close to the center and very close to Haifa. Thus, there is no need for a long drive.
- It is one of fewer Nature Reserves that has significant Wheelchair-accessible trails (which cover big parts of the park). This also means that you can also get along with baby carriages. And the routes are not long. You can spend from an hour to a half day at this reserve.
- There is water all year round. This means there are animals and birds at all seasons. If you want to see more birds than prefer migration season (mostly November – December) and if you want more flowers then March-April is more appropriate.
Map of the area:
Plan of Ein Afek:
There are two parts to Ein Afek Nature Reserve.
- Ein means springs in Hebrew and refers to the wetland that appears on the upper part of the plan.
- Tel is a hill created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot (for more info about Tel see Megiddo National Park post). Tel Afek is located in the lower part of the map.
Usually, we start with the swamp path. From the parking (bottom – left corner), we head to the flour mill. Then continue along the outer round route (the longest one) till we return to the flour mill. Afterward, we head uphill to the Tel (bottom – center of the plan). And from the Tel, we return to the parking lot.
This Nature Reserve is not vast, and you can go through all of it within several hours depending on your pace (typically 1 – 3 hours). Thus, you can easily change the route a little since it will not add much time.
Sunday – Thursday And Saturday: 8 – 17 (16 during winter).
Fridays: 8 – 16 (15 during winter).
On holidays usually 8 – 13.
Adults 22 NIS, children 9 NIS, and Students 19 NIS. And free for National Parks annual subscribers.
If you are going to visit several National Parks, then consider purchasing a combo ticket. You can find additional info at National Parks And Nature Reserves post.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated on January 2019. In any case, recheck the official site before visiting.
The site is what remains of the biblical town of Aphik, which is mentioned in Joshua 19:30 as belonging to the Tribe of Asher. The name is derived from the nearby abundant springs (afikim in Hebrew).
In the Hellenistic period the city expanded northwards and grew into a large area that reached the springs, and the town continued to be in use in the Roman period.
In Crusader times, the northern area was fortified to protect the route to Nazareth. A two-story fortress still stands. A water-powered flour mill operated on the lower floor.
Source: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
As with many cities, this location was chosen due to water availability. Ein Afek nature reserve includes the source of the Na’aman Stream. From here it flows next to Kiryat Bialik and meets the sea next to Acre (check out this Akko beach post – where I visited that spot).
Since many birds pass through Ein Afek, usually during migration season, they hold special events at this nature reserve. We joined Bird Ringing at Ein Afek Nature Reserve, and you can click the link to find out more.
Insects, Arthropods, And Mollusks
The springs, swamp, and pools in the Reserve sustain a rich world of fauna. Many species of insects and arthropods, among them aquatic beetles and bugs, live out their entire life-cycle in the water. Alongside them, there are insects which require the water only at the larval stage, among them dragonflies, damselflies and various mosquitoes.
There are also many species of mollusks, among them Melanopsis praemorsa – (a black aquatic snail). Its black shell, attached to stones, rocks and water plants, is easily identifiable. This snail, like other snails, feeds on parts of plants which it scratches off with the help of a special organ in its mouth.
In the waters of the Reserve live some species of arthropods, among them the kfitzon, the turbot (Psetta maxima) and the freshwater crab (Potamon potamios). This 7.5 cm. long crab has thick pincers, and it even dares to climb out of the water on to land. It preys on small creatures as well as on dead animals.
In the pools, there are fish, such as the Yarkon Bream, whose population was restored to the Reserve, Tilapia zillii, a type of cichlid, the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), the western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) and the catfish (Clarias gariepinus). The catfish is a large fish, sometimes attaining 1.5 meters in length and weighing 30 kgs. It is known for its eight “whiskers” growing at the sides of its mouth, used for sensing through touch. The catfish is especially robust. Its respiratory system enables it to absorb free oxygen, and therefore it can live in turbid, oxygen-poor water, and even survive quite long periods in a muddy environment.
The fish in the Reserve share their watery habitat with reptiles – the Caspian turtle (Mauremys caspica), the Nile softshell turtle (Trionyx triunguis), both excellent swimmers. On sunny days, the 25-cm long Caspian turtle likes to warm itself on the banks of the pools and on stones, quickly slipping into the water at the slightest rustle. The Nile softshell turtle is a large animal, with a body length of up to 120 cm, and weight 50 kgs.
Many species of birds can be seen in the pools of the Reserve and on their banks, mainly in winter, among them glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus), pygmy cormorants (Microcarbo pygmeus), white storks (Ciconia ciconia), various species of ducks, spur-winged lapwing (Vanellus spinosus) and little egrets (Egretta garzetta). Hovering in the sky above the Reserve are black kites (Milvus migrans), and greater spotted eagles (Clanga clanga). In the thickets on the banks of the waterways, there are many songbirds, such as black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), graceful Prinias (Prinia gracilis), common bulbuls (Pycnonotus barbatus) and Palestine sunbirds (Cinnyris osea).
Mammals sharing the water are river rats (Myocastor coypus).
During the day, the common mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) is active in the Reserve, and the swamp lynx (Felis chaus) and jackals go hunting at sundown. Other animals active here are wild boar and porcupines, who dig in the soil searching for bulbs and roots to eat.
The buffalo (Arabic: Jamuss), a member of the bovine family, in the past served the inhabitants of the region as a beast of burden and was also the source of milk and meat. They must keep its body cool, so it loves to wallow in mud and water. Jamusses were brought to the En Afek Reserve from the Hula Reserve because they feed on large quantities of vegetation and help to create low meadow land.
Longer Round Route – Swamp Path
Our first stop is the old flour mill:
The Ancient Flour Mill – flour mills have been in existence along Nahal Na’aman since the early Muslim period (8th century CE). A large dam, 625 m. long, blocked the stream, creating a lake behind it. A channel directed the waters of the lake to the water wheel that operated the stones of the mill.
After the Crusaders conquered Haifa and Akko (1104 CE), the region became a center for the cultivation of cereals and sugar cane. The Crusaders fortified the structure of the flour mill and built a fort which protected the site. Parts of the impressive two-story structure were built in the Roman period, and significant parts, mainly on the ground floor, are from the Crusader period. The flour mill was built as a fortified structure in the format of flour mills that were common in Europe in the Middle Ages. The building is almost square, formed of large stones with diagonal chiseling cuts typical of the Crusaders. Some of the rocks have chiseler’s marks cut into them.
The structure was renovated in the Ottoman period (18th century), during the time of Dahar al-Amar and Ahmed al-Jezzar. The mill also provided flour for Napoleon’s army when he besieged Akko in 1799. At the end of the Ottoman period, the mill and the surrounding areas were the property of the Sursuk family, who was living in Beirut, and the building was rented to people from Shfar’am. The defense position on the roof is made of concrete and was built in 1936.
Inside this building, you can find a small permanent display of traditional agricultural tools. And you can also watch a 10-15 min video about this nature reserve. Here is the timetable for the film.
You can climb the roof of the mill (two floors) to get a view of the nature reserve and the valley around it. Here are several shots from the roof:
After several years of drought, culminating in 1991, decreased the abundance of springs almost completely dried Ein Afek reserve. The ecosystem was severely damaged. Starting from that year Nature Reserve Authority intervenes in the management of water resources in the reserve and developed measures to improve it. Weekly monitoring of water levels, its flow and water quality is done. And in severe cases, water from nearby drilling is brought.
Israel signed the Ramsar Convention (formally, the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat) in 1997. Today there are two Ramsar sites in Israel, they are: Hula and Ein Afek.
In springs, swamp and ponds rich fauna exist. There are many spices of insects, several species of crabs, fish, and turtles. And if I mentioned turtles, here is a common swamp turtle:
There are also many catfish:
The catfish are quite big, most of them grow to 1.5 meters long and 30 kg weight. The biggest caught catfish was almost 3 meters long and weighed 88 kg.
Catfish has a big respiratory system which allows them to survive for a long time out of the water and it also allows them to live in dull water.
Catfish are eatable, but not kosher. Thus, there is no demand for them in Israel.
When I think of raptors I tend to think of individuals. I do not think about birds of prey as groups. But, to every rule there is an exclusion:
On the trees next to the reserve a big pack of black kites rested and from time to time they sprang into the air. There were probably several thousands of them. Here is one of them:
After walking several meters I found a…
those who said coypu (a.k.a. nutria) are correct.
Coypus were brought to Israel in the 1960s from Latin America. The purpose was to breed them for their fur (as it is done in other countries). But, due to the warm Israeli climate, the nutria did not develop a beautiful coat and was left in nature.
Today it is a problem. Coypu does not have any enemies in Israeli nature. Thus, they breed freely and cause damage to existing fauna.
And since they have no enemies, they aren’t afraid of anybody, and you can come as close as one meter.
Here is a nutria eating a branch:
Back view of the mill:
In 1991, seven buffalo were brought to the reserve from the Hula Nature Reserve. They were placed in a pen with electric sensors, to prevent them from wandering into the swamp. Here they are:
Another photo of a black kite:
People walking along the “swamp trail”:
When somebody decides to throw bread into the water, in a matter of seconds dozens of catfish appear:
Continuing towards the wooden bridge (several hundred meters long):
I am not a fish specialist, but this is probably the Acanthobrama Telavi-Ensis:
Acanthobrama telavivensis, commonly known as the Yarkon bream or Yarkon bleak, is a species of freshwater ray-finned fish of the Cyprinidae family found only in Israel, in the Yarkon River system.
Yarkon Bream was almost extinct from nature following the worst drought winter of 1999. Last remaining population of wild fish taken from the river, and raised in aquariums at Tel Aviv University. With the recovery of water levels, the fish were returned to the Yarkon National Park, Ein Afek nature reserve and Ein Tut reserve. A special breeding pool was made in Ein Afek. The survey conducted in the summer of 2010 found a stable population of Yarkon bleak in Ein Afek.
Just before returning back to the mill you will see a semi-covered trail to your right. On the right of this trail, there is a palm tree. I’ve probably been to Ein Afek 5-6 times during different seasons but I’ve always seen cormorants on this palm. I’ve previously tried coming closer to the palm (using the semi-covered route), but they always spotted me and flew away. This time they didn’t, and here is what I got:
The only difference between this time and previous ones was that I came late and there were many people. Probably because of that they shortened their safety distance (otherwise they’d have to fly away every couple of minutes).
Cormorants can be called super fishers with their propelling and waterproof feathers:
They dive from the surface, though many species make a characteristic half-jump as they leap, presumably to give themselves a more streamlined entry into the water. Underwater they propel themselves with their feet, though some also move with their wings. Some cormorant species have been found to dive to depths of as much as 45 meters.
After fishing, cormorants go ashore and are frequently seen holding their wings out in the sun. All cormorants have preen gland secretions that are used ostensibly to keep the feathers waterproof. Some sources state that cormorants have waterproof feathers while others say that they have water permeable feathers. Still, others suggest that the outer plumage absorbs water but does not permit it to penetrate the layer of air next to the skin. The wing drying action is seen even in the flightless cormorant but commonly in the Antarctic shags and red-legged cormorants. Alternate functions suggested for the spread-wing posture include that it aids thermoregulation, digestion, balances the bird or indicates the presence of fish.
From there we will continue to Tel Afek, the southern part of the nature reserve. And since it is Feb, on our way we saw a lot of flowers:
Here is Tel Afek from a distance:
The area of the Tel is about 70 dunams, and it lies at the top of a low hill, at the bottom of which passes the international high-road that connected the ports along the coastal plain. The ancient inhabitants of Tel Afek benefited from an abundance of water and fertile soil.
Studies conducted on the Tel discovered evidence of a settlement that existed there already in the early Canaanite period (about 5,000 years ago). A row of unhewn stones uncovered here are apparently the remains of the ancient wall of the town from that period. One of the sources of livelihood of the ancient inhabitants was making purple dye from marine snails. Another industry was glass made from sea sand.
A rescue excavation conducted on the eastern side of the Tel uncovered graves containing tools from the middle Canaanite period (16th-19th centuries BC). The remains of a paved road from the Hellenistic and Roman periods (4th century BC to 4th century CE), leading from Akko to Tel Geva (near Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’Amakim) and Megiddo, were also found there, as well as a temple and a governor’s house from the time of the Egyptian rule in the region.
The Origin Of The Name
The name “Afek” existed already in the Canaanite periods, and it appears to have been connected with the term “Afik” (channel or river-bed in Hebrew). That is a true description of the town’s proximity to Nahal Na’aman. The name appears for the first time in Egyptian documents of the 18th-19th centuries BC. The town of Afek is also mentioned in the description of a military campaign led by Pharaoh Thutmose III in the 18th-19th centuries BC, which gives the names of the 132 Canaanite towns he conquered.
Afek In The Bible
In the Bible, the town of Afek is a Canaanite town belonging to the tribe of Asher which was not conquered (Joshua 19:30, Judges 1:31). During the time of the Kings, the region was included in the “Land of Cabul” – an area given by King Solomon to Hiram King of Tyre in exchange for the cedars he received to build the Temple (Kings I, 10:19).
In the 2nd-3rd centuries CE the town was also called Beit Paga (Paga in Greek = springs). The Crusaders called the place “Curdana” or “Racurdani”, which is the source of the town’s name in Arabic – Kurdani.
Here are several views of Kiryat Bialik and Haifa from the top of the Tel:
Going down from the Tel towards the mill:
On that day graceful prinia males were very active and during those several hours in nature, I heard them sing several times:
Near to the mill, you can find a picnic area with beautiful olive trees:
It is the spot for a snack, and it is time to end our trip at Ein Afek Nature Reserve.
This Ramsar Wetland is close to Haifa. Moreover, big parts of this nature reserve are accessible. Thus it is the perfect place for a few hour family hikes. The animals and the greenery is a big plus. And for all the mentioned reasons, I keep coming back. What about you?
Have you ever visited Ein Afek Nature Reserve? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
To find out more about birds in Israel visit birds category.