Israel's Good Name

Nachal Metzar

In Golan, Israel on April 29, 2018 at 9:11 AM

When the first day of Pesach (Passover) ended it was time to take advantage of the vacation days and to go somewhere exciting. I had access to a car and was accompanied by frequent guest star Adam, so we decided on a day trip to the Golan. We had just been to the Golan on a university field trip so our appetites were properly whetted, allowing us to leave at an early 4:45am with much excitement. Our trip was geared towards birding and exploring, and, with so much content, will thereby be divided into two posts.

Early morning’s light over the Golan

We drove eastward from Ma’alot and began to see the day’s first light as we reached the valley area between the Galilee and the Golan. Entering the Golan on Road 87, we headed for the first intended site of the day: the mountaintop ruins of Susita. Unfortunately we found that the access road seen on the map is not actually accessible for vehicular traffic and therefore ditched Susita in favour for the next intended destination: Nachal Metzar.

Nachal Metzar

We drove through the very picturesque area of Road 789 – on which I have never been – as the sun began to shine light onto the gentle mountains, and spotted a golden jackal dashing across the road which started our sightings off great. We pulled over at a lookout stop on Road 98, and noticed how unexpectedly cold it was, before making our way to the Nachal Metzar trailhead.

Corn bunting (photo Adam Ota)

There wasn’t any intended hiking plan, we were just going to get out, walk around and see what there was to see. Armed with our cameras, monocular and a bird guide, we stepped into the nature wonderland ready to be impressed.

Black-eared wheatear

From the very beginning, there were white storks crossing the small valleys and corn buntings perched out in the open, singing loudly. We took pictures willy-nilly, not wanting to miss an birding identification or a great photographic opportunity. Progress along the blue-marked trail was very slow, as we turned in circles capturing the scene around us. The tall grasses, thistles and occasional bush provided cover for dozens of species of birds and insects and we wanted to see it all.

White stork passing by at the right moment

If the wildlife wasn’t enough, the view of the green slopes in morning’s light was absolutely stunning. And, as usual with the spring, the wildflowers made for great optical enjoyment. But it was the birds that captured our attention the most. We switched between keeping an eye on the songbirds to scanning the skies for soaring birds of prey. The first was a short-toed eagle, followed forty minutes later by a lesser spotted eagle who circled above us repeatedly.

Lesser spotted eagle

We made our way downhill towards the streambed, keeping an eye out for unsuspecting white storks on the ground. Another short-toed eagle made an appearance overhead, as well as a bunch of red-rumped swallows, and we reached the wooded streambed. Almost immediately we spotted a small warbler that looked a little different than the usual ones we see, and upon verification, was identified as our very first eastern Bonelli’s warbler.

Adam vs. the eastern Bonelli’s warbler

Ten minutes was all we needed along the dry streambed, as we didn’t see anything else of interest and there was still more places to visit. We made our way back up, passing a procession of caterpillars and an entertaining little squabble between a yellow-vented bulbul and a woodchat shrike (with the smaller shrike emerging as the victor). The white storks continued to accompany us, however some of them now on the ground, hunting for small living things to eat.

White storks (photo Adam Ota)

Casting our eyes to the skies, we spotted a lone black kite making its way northwest, and shortly thereafter, another short-toed eagle and then a booted eagle. We made it back up to the entrance and got into the car after some morning praying and food. Our next stop was Ein Pik, just a minute away to the northeast.

Hoopoe (photo Adam Ota)

Pik was originally the site of a Jewish village during the Roman times some 1,800 years ago, which possibly traces its name to the biblical site of Afek where the kingdoms of Aram and Israel fought a decisive battle to stem the Aramean invasion. Today, the ruins that can be seen, are remains of the Syrian village Pik which preserved the ancient name. Archaeological findings from the ancient Jewish village have been since carted off to sit in museum, such as the Golan Archaeological Museum that I had visited towards the end of my army service in 2015.

View from Ein Pik (photo Adam Ota)

We examined the small basalt ruins, and enjoyed the lookout over the valley below, with the famous site of Susita (Hippos) dead centre, backdropped by the Kinneret. Seeking the spring that contributes the “ein” to the name, we made our way down the slope below us where we found a concrete trough filled with spring water.

Ein Pik

Typical of mountain springs, a hardy fig tree was growing on-site and small, unripe figs had met their end landing in the water. Quite unexpectedly, I noticed that there were tadpoles of different sizes feasting on the bobbing figs. A full-grown frog watched us from the end of the trough, kept company by a large river crab.

Tadpoles feasting on an unripe fig

Several steps away we found the main source of the spring, captured in modernity by a large concrete tub which entices hot, sweaty hikers. We stood for a few minutes in the shade, the trickling water sounds mixing with the chirping of the great tits and sparrows.

Silene oxyodonta flower

When we left, climbing back up to the ruins, we were surprised by a black kite that flew right over our heads. With that excitement we got back into the car to drive over to the next location on our list, Gamla, which will be covered in the next blog post.

  1. Great post. About a year ago we managed to get to Susitna by car from a road that goes up from Ein Gev. It’s marked no access but quite usable.

  2. […] Nachal Metzar and Ein Pik, my friend Adam and I drove along Roads 98 and 808 until we reached the access road to […]

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