Israel's Good Name

Sites in the Northwest Negev

In Israel, Negev on May 23, 2021 at 9:40 AM

In the middle of February, just over a month after starting work at Eshed, I had a random Thursday off. Capitalising on the adventure opportunity, I planned a nice trip with Adam to visit the northwest section of the Negev, which can be delightful in winter months – quite unlike the bombed and burnt version it is today following days of Gazan rockets and arson. Our main birding targets were imperial eagles and the various falcon species that can be found there, but we also just wanted to just get out and explore a bit. We set off in the morning, thankfully using my company car – a 2018 Dacia Duster compact crossover SUV – instead of the usual public transportation which would have made the trip nearly impossible. It was a long, uneventful – save occasional downpours – drive down towards peaceful Sderot, which is not only almost bordering Gaza, but also a figurative gateway into the northwest Negev region. Our first destination wasn’t too far away, just about 30 kilometres to the Re’im reservoir.

A crane in the fields

A crane in the fields

We turned off Road 234 onto a long agricultural road which took us into promising fields of sprinklers. Creeping along slowly, we scanned the outlying land from the car windows and found a handful of cranes foraging, as well as some songbirds. There was some more rain, which came down in meagre sprinklings, not enough to sour our trip but enough to keep us busy opening and closing our windows. At last, we arrived at the reservoir, located atop a small hill and providing a view of the surrounding area. Quite bleak, the large lined pool was devoid of any and all plant life, yet birds could be seen both in the water and along the edges. Methodical scanning and photography revealed that there was a single crane, grebes, loads of common ducks such as mallards, shovelers and teals – but also a new species for us, Eurasian wigeon!

Gazing into the bleak Re'im reservoir

Gazing into the bleak Re’im reservoir

Behind us was a small grouping of Bedouin huts, with a wandering herd of ragged-looking sheep and a handful of patrolling black kites getting us needlessly excited. There were none of the exciting raptor species that had been reported earlier in the season, but we stuck it out there until we felt ready to try the next site. Our drive back down garnered us a nice view of goldfinches drinking from tiny puddles in the gravel road. From there we continued on towards the famous Urim powerline area, a stretch of large pylons that host all sorts of exciting raptors.

Observation platform

Observation platform

Sure enough, we reached the impressive rows of pylons, yet there wasn’t really anywhere good to stop, what with the dirt roads all turned to threatening mud. Even a brief attempt to drive offroad failed as the Dacia slowly sank a bit too much into the gooey orange-brown mud. So, not seeing any exciting raptors, we kept driving and found another interesting site to visit – an observation platform just near Tze’alim Junction. This lookout provides a nice view of Nachal HaBesor, and is part of a string of lesser sites along the Besor Scenic Route, which is also a part of the ANZAC Trail.

Little green bee-eater

Little green bee-eater

Enjoying the interesting view of the loess badlands, basically a combination of desert and bushy scrubland, we saw more black kites and even a striking little green bee-eater which posed nicely after I stalked it into the bush. Getting back into the car, we continued along the scenic route, passing the picturesque hanging bridge – which we planned to visit on the way back. Our destination was a trio of reservoirs that I’d heard good things about over the past few years, and we were eager to lay eyes on them.

Nachal HeBesor

Nachal HeBesor

As with all adventures, there is always the element of the unknown, and what was unknown to us at the time was the accessibility of these reservoirs. Surprisingly, we could only really see one of them – the particular one that was set low down, lush with vegetation and Nachal HaBesor running sluggishly through it. But that wasn’t all, even the access was unusual with a grated walkway called the Pipe Bridge spanning the marshy waters instead of a prominent rise at the side from which to scan. So, we stood over the quagmire and tried our damnedest to find interesting – or, perhaps any – birds wherever they may be hiding.

The Pipe Bridge

The Pipe Bridge

It was an interesting place to visit, no doubt, but from a birder aspect it was somewhat a failure. What we did find redeeming was that these reservoirs were built in the 1990’s by Australian friends of KKL-JNF in tribute to the British-made reservoir that was made further downstream during WWI. Facing a lack of fresh water along their frontlines against the Ottoman Empire, the British had also constructed a 235-kilometre long pipeline that brought water from the distant Nile River. Visiting the site now, it is hard to fathom all that – but that’s often the case in Israel where history is living, and the past moves swiftly.

The marshy reservoir

The marshy reservoir

We made an attempt to visit smaller reservoirs further downstream but the gravel road turned into a rock road and eventually became unfriendly to our non-4×4 vehicle, so we turned back. Our next stop was the hanging bridge that we had passed earlier along the scenic route, and this time we got out to have a look-see. I quite enjoy bridges, and this one was one of the more enjoyable ones that I’ve been on as of late. It reminded me of the perilous bridge from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but thankfully there were no crocodiles lurking in the waters of Nachal HaBesor below.

Crossing the hanging bridge over Nachal HaBesor

Crossing the hanging bridge over Nachal HaBesor

From the rocking bridge we were able to do a bit of birding, which we were thankful for. Loads of swallows, martins and swifts were flying overhead, swooping endlessly as they gorged on the millions of small flying insects that rose unwittingly from the marsh below. In fact, one or more of the swifts were pallid swifts, a new species for the both of us. Likewise, birds could be both heard and seen below us, and we watched one particularly sociable bluethroat dart around the floating dead reeds in search for insects to eat.

Oh imperial eagles, where art thou

Oh imperial eagles, where art thou?

When we finished our exploration of both banks we got back into the car and returned to the pylons near Urim. This time we pulled over in a good spot and gave proper scans of the lofty metal towers, one by one. Sadly, no eagles and no falcons could be seen – yet, in an odd turn of events, when I was looking at my trip pictures back home I happened to notice a raptor-shaped blob on one of the pylons that we somehow missed when we were there. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good enough photo to discern what it is at all so it’ll remain an unidentified blob.

An unidentifiable blob

An unidentifiable blob

It was still a little early in the day and we had already finished exploring all the sites that we had intended to. I checked Google Maps really quickly and entered a new surprise destination for Adam, to help boost our morale after the relative failure vis-à-vis the raptors of the pylons. This destination was the famous Dudaim Landfill, where tens of thousands of black kites winter every year. If that isn’t enough, tens of thousands of starlings also winter there, and both species love to show off their flying skills to all who care to watch. As we got closer to the landfill, Adam began to get more and more excited at the rising numbers of black kites that were becoming visible from the car. A few kilometres away, he implored me to pull over, as there were scores of them perched not too far from the road. I feigned confusion, claiming that I couldn’t find a good place to pull over, and kept driving closer and closer to our destination. Thousands of black kites were visible in the skies; practically everywhere we looked we could see more than we could possibly count.

Black kites swarming over the landfill

Black kites swarming over the landfill

As we were standing beside the parked car, looking up at the soaring multitudes, we heard something hit the car roof with a loud bang. Startled, we looked around and saw a working Arab man standing beside a checkpoint hut laughing. We weren’t quite sure what to make of the situation, and wondered if and why he had pelted us with rubbish, when he pointed up and said that it came from above. That’s when our gaze was cast heavenward and we saw a truly disturbing sight. Chunks of garbage, mostly animal parts, were falling from the sky – dropped by the black kites. Piecing it all together, we watched as a black kite snatched a dangling bit of rubbish and took flight, immediately being chased by a handful of his brethren. An aerial dogfight ensued as the other kites attempted to rob him of his rotting morsel. We watched aghast as the flesh fell from his grip, plummeting to the ground not too far from us.

A discarded fish tail that fell from the sky

A discarded fish tail that fell from the sky

As the grisly bits rained down around us, and a passing garbage truck splashed us with revolting garbage water, we decided that it was time to call it a day. True, this site was fascinating, and arguably the highlight of our adventure, but there was only so much rubbish that one can endure on an ordinary Thursday afternoon. We shook ourselves off the best we could and got back into the car, almost reluctantly leaving this unworldly site as we drove back to the main road, passing absolutely absurd numbers of kites perched literally everywhere for at least a square kilometre or two.

Some black kites perched nearby

Some black kites perched nearby

The drive back was relaxed, although quite naturally we couldn’t stop talking about the ridiculousness of the Dudaim Landfill. Since pictures and words can only do so much justice, I have since taken the liberty of stitching together some of the video clips I took on-site into a rudimentary video that may help one visualise the intensity of the experience. Sadly, I didn’t manage to capture any of the garbage falling from the sky but, at any rate, the video can be found on my YouTube channel HERE.

Let us not forget the starlings

Let us not forget the starlings

Back in Givat Shmuel, I dropped Adam off at his apartment and headed back home where we were to pack for a three day vacation with Bracha to the Golan the following Sunday. Naturally, posts about that adventure will follow this one presently.

  1. Thank you for not forgetting the starlings where history is living, and the past moves swiftly.

    Dave

    Dave Parks

    On Sun, May 23, 2021 at 2:40 AM Israel’s Good Name wrote:

    > Israel’s Good Name posted: ” In the middle of February, just over a month > after starting work at Eshed, I had a random Thursday off. Capitalising on > the adventure opportunity, I planned a nice trip with Adam to visit the > northwest section of the Negev, which can be delightful in win” >

  2. Your adventures are fabulous!

  3. […] Sunday morning after the adventure to the Northwest Negev, Bracha and I packed up the Dacia Duster with our belongings for a three-day vacation to the […]

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