*Note- I finally finished writing this article in January 2021… Yes, practically 10 months after going around a few more vernal pools and many days of ongoing lockdowns and restrictions of movement… its been so long since visiting these places that I may have accidentally added fictional stories which I wished had happened….
I had visited three locations before the first lockdown in the midst of March 2020. By this point people had become more conscious of the dangers of the Corona virus and barley anyone in their right mind was using public transportation (which in fact made it safer because there was practically no one except for me on the bus).
My first location of interest was the vernal pool located in Tel Michal, an archaeological site located on the seaside of the city of Herzliya, a pleasant picturesque site south of the more famous ancient city of Apollonia with its Crusader castle. As I got off the bus stop on the side of the urban road of Herzliya, I headed towards the bush in a rather rushing manner so as not to miss the planktonic action going on underwater in the vernal pool. After some stomping through the thistle bush pricking my ass every step forward, I finally arrived to my destination. As I popped my head out of the bush I met eyes with the most unwanted company one can encounter on such a trip… Little brats throwing stones into the vernal pool. As I approached them
with my bear repellent in my hand, they moved away with their parents ushering them off to keep distance from the freak that just showed up out of nowhere move on with their endeavors elsewhere.
- My entry point to the vernal pool and the terrified family on the right side of the bank.
Looking around for interesting critters, I put my backpack to the side and prepared my camera to take close up macro shots. As I approached the water, I saw a black blob dash across my feet. I quickly identified it as a type of darkling beetle (Blaps cribrosa Solier). Carefully crouching down to take macro pictures of the restless bugger, I was carful not to annoy it too much because they produce a fowl smell that causes headaches when provoked. I managed to get a few pictures and decided to let it go on with its daily life as it scattered off into the shrubs.
- The handsome mellow face of the darkling beetle.
Now finally to the water. As I looked around to see what was swimming around in the water, I noticed quite a few diving beetles swimming around while occasionally coming up to the surface to refill their air bubble. At this point I had made my designated corner and squatted down, eyes to the water, only focused on the critters in the water. Soon after I found a big juicy water scavenger beetle larva (Hydrophilidae) squirming its way through the water plants. It was in a fairly shallow area so I decided to try taking pictures of it. As I started taking pictures, the larva managed to capture an unfortunate fairy shrimp (which was on its way to feed on some tasty decaying vegetation). Me, all hyped up to see this rare occasion, snapped on non stop to get all the action recorded (turns out I only managed to get 2 OK pictures out of the almost 50 pictures I took). After admiring the tough reality of nature happening in front of my eyes, I felt an eerie sense imagining what its like to be eaten alive while the beetle larva injects enzymes, melting you from within…
- Scavenger beetle larva gorging on the unfortunate fairy shrimp.
After the witnessing of this aquatic drama for about an hour straight in the same position, my legs were getting sore and the sun had started to set. I decided it was time to call it a day and wished fair well to the vernal pool. Over all a pleasant little trip it was and I shall be returning next season for more.
My next destination after Tel Michal was the Holon winter pool. This is a rather unique vernal pool located in the most unexpected place. It is located in the city of Holon, south of Tel Aviv. It resides next to the Holon driving school and ministry of licensing. I found this place one day when I was walking around the parking lot of the driving school while waiting for my driving lesson. Since then it has been on my go to list for a while. I knew a major lockdown was coming and wasn’t about to miss this season. As I arrived, I was surprised how much water had filled up. It had been a very rainy winter and water level of the vernal pool was much higher than the last time I saw it the first time. As I walked around and scanned the water to see if there was anything worthy of scooping with the small net I had brought with me. Just as I was staring into the water, a middle aged ultra orthodox man approached me out of nowhere. Me being caught off guard, jumped up nearly shouting out “It wasn’t me!!!”, restrained my inner feelings and greeted him with a smile and a nod. As he asked me what I was doing here, I told him that I was looking for critters in the vernal pool. He gave me a smile of pity with a puzzled look as if he wanted to ask “who on earth comes to look for plankton during a pandemic?” and slowly walked away in a polite manner.
- The famous Holon winter pool.
Now free of interference, I focused on the water. I spotted may tadpoles, daphnia, clam shrimp and the common backswimmer (Notonecta glauca) and an occasional diving beetle (Eretes sticticus) swimming back and forth looking for some food to consume.
- A peaceful looking clam shrimp
While having a ball of a time scooping into the private life of these critters, I noticed a rather large body floating in the water. It turned out to be an unfortunate chameleon which probably fell into the water during the heavy rain that had been continuing on for the past weeks. As I started wrapping up to go home, I did a little look around the bank to see if there was anything interesting. Surely, I did! I found a few wolf spiders resting in between the large rocks and a sneaky little ground beetle which just wouldn’t stay still while I tried to take a picture of it. After a good few minutes of squatting down and chasing the bugger, I managed to get a picture and this time, finally decided to start heading back.
- Ground beetle contemplating whether to let me take a picture or jumping into the water. It made the right choice.
As I walked out of the vernal pool, I headed to the bus stop with little thought that it would be a while till bus trips would be resumed. The lockdown soon restricted transport of all non essential outings, so I had no choice but to look for places near by to fulfill my planktonic needs.
A few days went past with the regulations of restricting movement. We were however allowed to move around for sport. Which included cycling! I got my backpack, camera and all and went out for a quest of finding vernal pools in the area I live. I heard that there were vernal pools in the north of Peta Tikva within the agricultural fields. After a 15 minute ride to the direction, I soon came to a small rocky road. I kept going keeping an eye out for some water puddles. I found a small pool on the side of the road but didn’t really find anything other than a few tadpoles and daphnia. Back on the road a few minutes, I came to a tunnel leading to further fields. There I encountered two wondering hippies playing strange spiritual music. As I passed them with a small nod and a smile (my usual choice of greeting), one came up to me and asked me what I seek. Me not in the mood of any spiritual voodoo nonsense replied “I seek vernal pools”. The fellow looked up and pointed his sloppy hand to the direction beyond the tunnel saying “You shall find great vernal pools beyond the tunnel!”. The way he said was not so convincing but I decided to go ahead and check it out. As soon as I came out the tunnel, lo and behold! I indeed encounter a large swamp in front of my eyes. Hippie dude was right!
- The big swampy vernal pool.
I put my bike to the side and went to check it out. Unfortunately it seemed that the vernal pools life was coming to an end (getting too close to summer conditions) and didn’t see much aquatic life I was looking for. Hopefully I will be able to come back a bit earlier next spring in time for the boom of life in these magical seasonal habitats where the most bizarre stories unfold.
I came back to this pool a while later when the lockdown was eased only to see a completely dry patch. I did manage to find some cool stuff so I may be writing about in the next post which should be coming soon in the next 2000 years.