Ein Afek Nature Reserve near Kiryat Bialik is a popular site among locals. And today we are going to visit it (official site). Let’s being!
I think that many people love Ein Afek (or En Afek) Nature Reserve because:
- It’s relatively close to the center and very close to Haifa. Thus, there is no need for a long drive.
- It’s one of fewer Nature Reserves that has Wheelchair-accessible trails. 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 Nov. – Dec.) and if you want more flowers that Mar.-Apr. is more appropriate.
Map of the area:
History Of Ein Afek
The site is what remains of the biblical town of Aphik, which is mentioned in the 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: 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).
Longer Round Route
Flour mills were at Naaman Creek at least since the early Islamic period (8th century AD). A massive dam, which is about 625 m, blocked the course of the river, creating a lake behind it. The creek flowed into a human-made canal and triggered the massive millstones.
After the Crusaders conquered Haifa and Acre (in 1104 AD), the area was the center for growing cereals and sugarcane. Crusaders fortified structure of the mill and built south of the riverbed stronghold protecting the site. The mill structure is almost square, made of large stones and few stones engraved characters chipping.
The building was renovated in the Ottoman period (18th century), during the rule of Daher al-Omar and Ahmed Al-Jazzar. This flour mill also supplied Napoleon’s army besieged Acre in 1799.
Inside this building, you can find a permanent display of traditional agricultural tools. You can also watch a 10-15 min video about this nature reserve. Here is the timetable for the film.
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: Hula and Ein Afec.
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.
Birds and Other Animals
When I think of raptors I tend to think of individuals. I don’t 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’s a problem. Coypu doesn’t 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.
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:
Another view of the mill:
Continuing towards the wooden bridge (several hundred meters long):
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’ll 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 Afec 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.
Tel Afek is located in the southern part of the reserve. Archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of human settlements from the Canaanite period, Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Under the hill where the Tel is located an international road linking the port cities of the coastal plain passed. The ancient inhabitants of Tel Afek enjoyed an abundance of water and fertile soil.
Surveys conducted in Tel found evidence of a settlement from the ancient Canaanite period (5000 years ago). One of the income sectors of ancient inhabitants was producing purple dye from sea snails. Another industry was manufacturing glass by melting glass sand.
During excavation at the eastern edge of the mound tombs were discovered. In these tomb tools from the Middle Canaanite period were found. A paved road from the Hellenistic and Roman periods (4th century BC to the 4th century CE), leading from Ako to Tel Geva (near a gate of the valley) and Megiddo.
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 a right spot for a snack, and it is time to end our trip at Ein Afek.
To find out more about birds in Israel visit birds category.
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!