Israel's Good Name

Archive for October, 2022|Monthly archive page

Poleg Marshes

In Central Israel, Coastal Plain, Israel on October 27, 2022 at 4:11 PM

At times, updates on this travel blog become a rarity, usually when life gets busy, keeping me otherwise occupied. This past lull in posts is no different. After nine long months, on September 10th, my dear wife Bracha gave birth to our precious firstborn son, Amir. He is a handsome young fella who keeps his parents busy during the days, and sometimes awake during the nights. I’m sure that sometime soon he, too, will join in on some memorable and, perhaps even bloggable, adventures.

Our first sight of the Poleg marshes

Our first sight of the Poleg marshes

However, not writing blog posts as of late is certainly not for want of what to write. Harkening back to the end of January, when the winter’s plentiful rains had essentially flooded the country, fellow adventurer Adam and I decided it was time to visit some seasonal wetlands. There had been much commotion about one particular site which began to attract birders in the preceding months, and we felt an uncontrollable urge to explore the site as well. Located just south of Netanya is the open wetlands of the Poleg Marshes.

Resting waterfowl

Resting waterfowl

Still vehicular-less back then, we bussed to a nearby junction and walked our way to nature. It wasn’t long before we crossed a bridge into the natural area, and noticed a sign announcing Poleg Forest, surrounded by a whole slew of peeling eucalyptus trees. Yonder, just beyond the so-called forest was the first body of water – a large flooded area that formed a picturesque pond.

The marsh backdropped by Netanya

The marsh backdropped by Netanya

Scanning the water and waterline with both binoculars and camera, we were not disappointed. A good number of ducks were both traversing the pond, and dabbling along the edges. We identified a few species, including gadwalls, pintails, wigeons, shovelers, mallards and teals. A lone common buzzard sat pensively on some denuded branches, and a variety of songbirds flitted about here and there.

A hooded crow terrorising a marsh harrier

A hooded crow terrorising a marsh harrier

We continued down the muddy trail, dodging puddles and cyclists as we kept our eyes and ears peeled for signs of wildlife. A marsh harrier materialised overhead, as did a flock of rooks and a valiant robin, singing from the low trees. Up ahead was a large flooded field, hosting a variety of birdlife including waders such as northern lapwings, wood sandpipers and a black-tailed godwit.

The tranquil flooded field

The tranquil flooded field

It was tranquil watching the birds dip and dab in the shallow waters, largely ignoring our presence from the safe distance that we were. The only disturbances were trains that came thundering by, blowing their ear-piercing whistles in hopes to keep us off the tracks. These very tracks, built on an elevated ridge, split the marshland in twain, the water joined by culverts, underground aquifers and, most naturally, Nachal Poleg.

Walking along the train line ridge looking southwest

Walking along the train line ridge looking southwest

After seeing a small flock of skylarks feeding in the lush, wet grass, we crossed over the tracks to see the other – eastern – side of the marsh. Lo and behold, our efforts and wet feet were rewarded by a number of raptors, both perched and flying, before us. First, a greater spotted eagle swung by, and then a few more marsh harriers. A peregrine falcon whizzed by too, far too fast for me to photograph successfully.

Greater spotted eagle

Greater spotted eagle

Back on the western side, Adam decided to take a long look at the marsh water, hoping he could find some interesting molluscs or aquatic insects. I took the opportunity to wander off on a dirt road that traversed the flooded field.

Some old Israeli coin

Some old Israeli coin

Upon finding an old, oxidised Israeli coin, I felt inspired to keep walking. Much to my excitement, I chanced upon a female kestrel catching a mouse – if only I was able to get some proper photographs of the moment.

Friends at play

Friends at play

Some time passed before we crossed over once again to the eastern side, and so we enjoyed watching the wildlife carrying on before us. The herons squabbled in the channel, some Spanish sparrows clung nonchalantly to waving reeds, and some black-headed gulls passed overhead. Then, a shrike popped into view and revealed itself to be a moderately rare isabelline shrike – one which had been previously reported upon in local birding circles.

The isabelline shrike

The isabelline shrike

Looping back, walking back from whence we came, we crossed back over Nachal Poleg and made our way to the first flooded area we had seen. From there we followed a trail going north, and passed by a small nut grove, where handfuls of chaffinches were milling about. The trail continued westward, encircling the pond from the north. A few ferruginous ducks, spotted in gaps between the bushes, were an excellent addition to the day’s figurative checklist.

Muddy Nachal Poleg

Muddy Nachal Poleg

We scampered around the sludgy flooded bits, exploring the marsh’s northern extents. There wasn’t too much to see, but it was adventurous and that is what mattered most. When we had sufficiently wet our boots, we turned back around and began the hike back to a bus stop, this time choosing one further along the road to the north.

Ferruginous duck floating by

Ferruginous duck floating by

One thing about the Poleg marshes which interests me so much is the fact that this area, similar to others along the coastline, is essentially a basin in the sandstone bedrock infrastructure. With the coast being hemmed by a kurkar ridge, the winter’s rainwaters and surface runoff makes its way to the sea only to be trapped by the impervious ridge. This essentially turns the land east of the ridge into a seasonal marsh, which, throughout history, had hampered settlement opportunities.

Practicing safe crossings

Practicing safe crossings

In efforts to alleviate the backed-up waters, a hole in the ridge along the course of the stream was carved out in ancient times. The Romans improved upon the structural work, and the site became known as Sha’ar Poleg in recent times. However, other neighbouring coastal regions still remained flooded. About ten kilometres to the south, in modern day Herzliya Pituach, the Byzantines had actually hewn an underground drainage passage in the ridge, thereby draining that area too.

Our final views before boarding the bus back home

Our final views before boarding the bus back home

While this trip only really focused on the marsh, I still hope one day to be able to get a closer look at both of these man made engineering feats of old. But, for now, I just have the memories from this episode and an excellent video produced by Kan (see HERE), which explained the water saturation issue that I had outlined above, as inspiration for future adventures.