Nature Archives - Yoni Tours

Wolf in Judean Desert

Wolf attacks in the Judean Desert

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In the past couple of years there have been a number of incidents of wolves attacking people in various camp sites and outdoor areas across the Judean Desert.

These have occurred in the areas around Massada and Ein Gedi which have are visited by thousands of tourists and Israelis every year.

The attacks have almost always been attempts to capture small children, generally in dark areas and only a small distance from adults.

This is alarming because it appears that two things have happened- the wolves have lost their fear of humans and they have begun to view humans as an optional food source.

researchers feel that there are a few things that may have lead to this happening.

It is possible that wolves have started identifying people with food as a result of food not being stored properly or being left in nature.

Another possibility is that these aren’t purebred wolves but a mix of wolves and dogs which would account for them not being scared of humans.

You’re probably asking; is it safe to go out to the desert? how do I protect myself?

It is safe to go out hiking in the Desert although you need to make sure to clean up after yourself and store food in away that animals can’t get to it.

Stay close to children!  Especially after dark.

If you see wolves getting close to people contact the parks authority.

Meteor Shower in the Negev Desert

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With its dark skies, wide open spaces and deep valleys the Negev Desert is known as the place to go for stargazing. The desert brings two major factors to the table when it comes to dark skies;

The first factor is light pollution. The few and far between built up areas bring light pollution to a minimum.

The second and possibly the more important factor is the small amount of humidity in the air. The lack of humidity provides clearer skies. these two aspects make the Negev the optimum location for star gazing.

Over the years, hundreds of youth groups have hiked through the valleys of the Negev at night in order to spend time stargazing.

In and around the Ramon crater there are dozens of locations which are beckoning for stargazers and photographers alike.

At Khan HaShayarot and the Ramon Crater there are guided star gazing activities and they can be organized year round.

In the clarity and darkness of the night skies in the Negev, The naked eye can see a number of planets, the milky way, and a plethora of constellations.

In order to make the star gazing experience complete I suggest looking at a moon calendar, plan to be out on a night when the moon sets early and or is not a full moon.

All of this is true on a regular night. from time to time there are meteor showers!

Every year the Perseids Meteor Shower happens over the skies of Israel.

During the shower myriads of people head to the desert in order to see the meteors in all their glory!

This year the meteor shower will be on the dates of 11,12 and 13 of august. The shower will be at its strongest on the night of the 12th.

There are going to be organized star gazing events throughout the desert. But nothing beats going out to the desert as a family or with a guide!


Grus Cranes enjoying the warmth of the Hula Valley

Birds, migration and the Hula Valley

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Birds, Migration and the Hula Valley

Every year millions of birds travel across the world in order to be in optimal breeding places at the right time. In general, birds enjoy spending the spring and summer months in the northern hemisphere and the winter months in the southern hemisphere where it is warm and where food is plentiful.

Some birds are known to travel as far as 14,000 km each migration. Birds can fly high enough to traverse the Himalayas and other high mountain ranges.

There are two main methods of migration. Smaller birds, such as quail and hummingbirds, “actively” travel the great distances. They fly overnight for long stretches and then spend a couple of days eating and recuperating before their next flight. Because they spend the entire flight flapping their wings, they are able to cross large bodies of water.

Larger birds such as storks and cranes use thermals and glide over large distances. This means that the large birds have to fly during the day and over land.

These factors together result in large numbers of birds at bottlenecks between the hemispheres, in places such as southern Mexico, Gibraltar, the Philippines, and surprisingly enough, Israel.

Now, if you take large numbers of birds and bring them to an area which is relatively warm, quiet and has food and water, the birds will feel as though they checked into a five star hotel. Some birds will stop for a quick bite and carry on, some will stay overnight, and some may decide to stay.

This is what happens at the Hula Valley, which is a paradise for birds and bird watchers alike!

The Hula valley, located in northern Israel, is a large valley between Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights. The valley was originally wetlands which were the perfect place for the birds.

These wetlands were dried up by Israel during the 1950’s to make room for agriculture. This devastated the ecological balance of the area and many of the birds stopped migrating over this area.

In the 1960’s, Israel recognised the depth of the mistake and part of the valley was reflooded. Over time, many of the birds which had stopped visiting started to come back, and only recently a frog which was thought extinct was rediscovered!

Climbing down one of the rock faces in Nahal Dargot

The Hike of Hikes- Nahal Dragot

Posted by | Gems of Israel, Hikes, Nature | One Comment

Even though Israel is such a small country, it has a wide variety of landscapes, regions and hikes. Between the deserts, forests, tropics and other areas, there is one hike which sets itself apart from the rest.

Among the many beautiful and challenging hikes in Israel, Nahal Dragot, or Nahal Daraje in Arabic, is widely recognized as the most extreme hike of all.

Nahal Dragot is a stream which has carved a canyon through the majestic cliffs of the Judean Desert. It is called “Dragot”: (steps, or levels in Hebrew) because of ‘steps’ that it has carved while making its way through the mountains. It covers a relatively short distance of only about 6 km, but the hike can take as a long as 7-8 hours to complete. The stream takes you down almost 380 vertical meters from the Judean Mountains to the Dead Sea!

The hike requires climbing down dried waterfalls, swimming across pools of water, sliding through chutes and climbing ladders. If you decide to embark on this journey, you should take a rope which is at least 10 metres long, as at some points the use of a rope is required.

Nahal Dragot is best to do a couple of days after rain – the pools in this desert canyon will be full of fresh water which allows a much better swimming experience. Entrance to the hike is dangerous on days with a possibility of rain anywhere in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem-Hebron area as there is a danger of flash floods!
Inside the canyon there is no cell phone coverage and no fresh drinking water. You should head out with at least 3 liters of water per person.

Driving on highway 90 from Jerusalem towards Ein Gedi, here is a brown sign pointing to ‘Metzukai Dragot’ ‘מצוקי דרגות’ on the right. Following that road up the cliff you will pass a desert hostel. Approx. 2 Km after the hostel is the beginning of the hike. It is marked by the green trail.

Due to the cliffs, the hike is one way only and isn’t circular. It is best to go with two cars and leave one at the end point. If you have access to only one car you can hitchhike.

In order to be allowed to do the hike you have to sign up ahead of time through the parks authority. this is done to control the number of hikers in the canyon. In addition the parks authority requires that each group bring at least 20 meters of climbing rope!


The most Beautiful of all Flowers

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It is said that when the Queen of Sheba came to visit king Solomon she made a number of tests in order to verify rumors of his intelligence.

For one of the many tests, she put him into a room full of fake flowers and his task was to find the one real flowers. The room had hundreds of flowers made of pottery, wax, material, and glass.

Each of the flowers was dipped in a different perfume so that Solomon wouldn’t be able to sniff an easy answer.
King Solomon walked into the room and after looking around carefully he picked up the one cyclamen and exclaimed: ‘No human could make such a beautiful and delicate flower. This is the true one!’.

On hearing the exclamation- the humble Cyclamen blushed and bowed her head in shame. To this very day she is still bowed and blushing.

The Cyclamen or Rakefet רקפתas it is called in Hebrew, is a relatively common wild flower in Israel.
The flower grows in the rocky mountainous regions. It flowers between December and April making it one of the longest lasting flowers.

In addition to being common in nature the beautiful flower is also grown quite often in gardens.
The bulbs have been known to reach into their 20’s. As the bulb grows they can support more flowers. Older bulbs can sprout over one hundred flowers in a single season.

Of the 23 types of cyclamen only two grow in Israel. The flowers range in colour from white to vibrant pink.
The Cyclamen Persicum grows over the entire mountains range whereas the Cyclamen Coum grows only in the Meiron mountain and parts of the Golan heights making it a relativerly rare flower.

Of Plants and Pillows

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You’ve already been up and on your feet for hours…you see a bush that looks nice and springy, almost fluffy. It is beckoning. You want nothing more than to lie down on it and go to sleep. As you come closer to the bush you realize that it is covered in small thorns… Or maybe at different time while in the army- possibly during an ambush the thorny bush was the most comfortable place to lie and wait….

I have experienced both of these scenarios. Do you know what plant I’m referring to?

It’s called the Prickly Burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum). In Hebrew it is called the Sira Kotzanit סירה קוצנית which translated directly means prickly pot.

Since my military service I have been fascinated by this specific bush. I’m not sure why- maybe it is because of the green bush in a mostly arid region. Maybe it’s the domed shape which helps the plant resist the strong winds in the mountains. I can’t say exactly what it is was but I’ve always had a interest in this bush.
During a course on biblical plants and animals, that I took in Bar Ilan University, my class went on a trip to the biblical gardens/ reserve of Neot Kedumim. At the park we were given explanations of many different plants and their uses.

In ancient times and even up to the present the Prickly Burnet was used as a “mattress”. Thick blankets were piled over the bush to protect from the prickles but the user was able to take advantage of the springiness and the insulation from the cold ground. Basically it is nature’s spring mattress.

If that isn’t enough to give a bush a use- it was also planted as a natural fence to keep sheep from wandering away during the night. as a result of its size and its ability to withstand strong winds it is more permanent than most wooden fences.

I hope that this little post will help bring fame to the majestic Prickly Burnet. If you are ever on a trail and get a scratch from one- just remember- be nice to it because if you get stuck outside at night it could be your mattress.

A Storm Called Alexa

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Last week Israel was hit by a snow storm the likes of which hasn’t been seen in over 100 years. In all honesty, usually when there is snow in Jerusalem it is barely a centimeter. The entire city shuts down and i laugh. After all- growing up in Canada- I experienced my fair share of snow storms and cold. But this storm was bigger than most of the storms that I remember…

This particular storm started with torrential downpours on Tues. Dec. 10. The next morning I travelled to Ein Prat which is a nature reserve in one of the valleys of the Judean Desert. The rain was falling non-stop, and it was cold- cold enough for me to wear a jacket, pants and closed shoes- all three of which I rarely wear.
While I was at Ein Prat I had the opportunity to see a shitafon (flash flood) from a safe location. From a slow moving shallow stream of clear water- I could hear the water rumbling in the distance- the stream suddenly rose about a meter in depth and the clear water was replaced by brown muddy water. I always find it awe inspiring to witness the strengths of nature..

That night (Wed. Dec.11) I stayed with friends in Jerusalem on the off chance that I may get to see some snow in the night. I had gotten messages from family in the mountains of Samaria that they had snow, so I woke up at 6 which was supposed to be the coldest point of the day expecting to see snow.
There still wasn’t any in Jerusalem, so I went back to sleep.

At 7:20 my friend woke me up because the snow had started to fall. After two hours there was more than enough to have a snow ball fight- so we did.
Untill the mid afternoon the snow continued to fall. Jerusalem doesn’t really have snow plows nor do cars have winter tires- so the city came to a stand-still. I began to worry about how I would get out of Jerusalem back to my family as the roads to and from Jerusalem were blocked by snow.

The roads were opened for a few hours during a lull in the snow fall and I managed to get back home. Soon after I left Jerusalem the snow began falling again and continued to fall until Saturday.

The storm was so severe that it was even named! It’s name is Alexa.

Many houses were cut off from electricity, cellular towers fell and roads were blocked leaving many towns and cities completely isolated.

My family in Samaria was stuck in their house without electricity for 3 days until jeeps were able to evacuate them. Almost a meter of snow fell in their settlement.
The city of Tzfat was also blocked off from the rest of the country for a few days. Jerusalem saw around 50cm of snow. Only now, 3 days later, are people in Jerusalem starting to go to work and children starting to go to school.

3 days after the storm more than 14 thousand houses still don’t have power. That’s a bigger problem than you may think because houses in Israel have very little insulation. Even when heaters are on the houses are still cold.

My extended family with whom we had lost contact with for a few days are O.K..

For my part- I got to play in the snow. All of us are still cold and wondering if we’ll see any more snow this year….


Hula Valley Reserve – A bird watchers dream come true

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This post is especially for the bird lovers and the nature photographers among us.

The Hula Valley Reserve and Agamon HaHula are without a doubt the most surprising sites in Israel.

Why surprising? Surprising because they are large wetlands in a mostly arid country!

The story is a bitter sweet one. The newly founded State of Israel drained the wetlands in order to change swampland into usable farmland. At the time the government didn’t realise how important the wetlands were to the ecology of the area and to the migration of birds from Europe and Asia.

Draining the Hula Valley caused the complete devastation of wildlife in the area. All the birds that had migrated through Israel found alternate routes. A species of endemic (a plant or animal which is specific to one place) frogs was believed to have become extinct.
In the 1960’s a section of the valley was re-flooded and became Israels first nature reserve. Every year that passes more birds return to their original migratory pattern, and two years ago the frog which was believed extinct was rediscovered.

Every year over 200 species of birds fly through the valley on their migration. In the fall they journey/ migrate towards Africa and in the spring to Europe.

In the reserve you will find Indian water buffalo( locally called jamus), otters, catfish, turtles and birds. There is a covered walkway over the open swamp which facilitates spotting some of the 200 beautiful species of birds flying overhead. There is Visitors’ Center with a great 3D movie which tells the tale of the migrating birds.

The Hula Valley is a great place to take the entire family!

Ein Gedi

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Last week I took a family to Ein Gedi park. I was there long enough to be reminded of why I love it so much. The park is a desert oasis which is fed by the ein gedi springs. The springs get their water from rain that falls over the mountainous regions of the country and then seeps into the aquifer . The park has a number of different trails and has a large variety of sites. The different paths lead to waterfalls, pools of water (some of which people are welcome to swim in) and various archeological sites.

In addition to the nice cool and clean spring water- there is an impressive variety of animal and plant life. The heat and abundance of water result in tropical plants growing alongside dessert plants. The animals most likely to be seen include the Rock Hyrax, Ibex and a bird called Tristrams Starling. Nocturnal animals include foxes hyenas and from time to time leopards.

The park is a great place for children (and adults) who enjoy nature, playing in water and seeing wild animals!

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