More Puddles to be Explored

*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. 

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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.

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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 clamping onto the unfortunate fairy shrimp.
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.
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.  

 

Exploring the Rain Puddles

So, as I mentioned in my past post, I have little to report to at the moment with my sucky situation. BUT! I sure can elaborate on the vernal pool rampage I went on before all the Corona obstacles had laid its abominable tracks. These trips consist of visits to 4 separate locations (there is actually a 5th trip I went on which was not so much water related but I shall save that one for a later date). Each filled with its own story and drama. Let me indulge you starting with my first trip; Beit Zayit water reservoir and its surrounding. The other 3 trips will be written as one post since they are shorter.

A little about this majestic place. Beit Zayit, a town rich in nature, residing next to the Jerusalem Forrest is located just outside of the holy city of Jerusalem. This gives nature enthusiasts like me to go annoy… I mean enjoy! nature to the fullest extent. The date of this adventure starts on the 5th of March. This time I was joyfully accompanied by my dear friend, Shem Tov Sasson. We left our place of dwelling in Givat Shmuel(City in Central Israel) around 5am, before crack of dawn and took the earliest bus heading to Jerusalem. We got off at a bus stop near the highway, next to Beit Zayit after a very sleepy ride. We slithered out of the bus with big rings under our eyes and took out our optics and cameras ready for action. There was a patch of bush next to the road so we decided to do a quick scan of the vicinity. I looked for suspicious movements and unnatural shapes that shouldn’t be part of the tree branches and shortly after the first check we found some Hawfinches gathered on tree branches. This was rather exciting for me as I had never seen one before. We then continued to spot a few Chaffinches along the way to the entrance of Beit Zait.

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Bush next to the road which gave us a pleasant head start with the bird watching.

As we continued down the the road entering Beit Zait, we enjoyed the blossoming of the almond trees. As I attempted to take pictures of the flowers, my loyal friend Shem Tov waltzed down the path forgetting bout me (he was very eager to reach the water reservoir and to be honest that was a good reason). I took a few pics and quickly caught up to him. As we reached some puddles on the path, we begun seeing plankton such as Daphnia (Water fleas) and Copepods.

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A handsome Copepod

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Who’s down for some Copepod porn…

We were getting very excited with the sign of plankton because we had heard the reservoir was home to a unique kind of fairy shrimp. As we got to the bank of the reservoir, we saw a Green Sandpiper. Unfortunately it started flying around rapidly making it very hard for Shem Tov to take a picture… Gosh this little shit just wouldn’t stay still for one second! I put my focus back into the water and to our amazement, we witnessed tens of thousands of fairy shrimp in the water. It was truly a spectacular sight. I had thought of collecting them to take home as pets but the day was still young and we had a whole area to check out. We decided we will come back to the area to collect them on the way home. So as we went, along the water bank eyes peeled eager so as not to miss anything. We saw a Steppe Buzzard on the other side of the reservoir and were happy to see our first bird of prey of the day being other than a Common Kestrel. Moving along we saw more of the usual birds such as the White Breasted Kingfisher, Coots, warblers, Little Grebes and so on…

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View of the reservoir with Shem Tov attempting to snap a nice shot of the Buzzard

Once we hit the central area of the reservoir, our grown men tummies were growling and we needed to eat. We set camp at the bank with an abandoned concrete water pipe and decided to make a fire there. As I scanned the area with my handy dandy Soviet binoculars one last time, I notice some raptors flying over the mountain. I quickly informed Comrade Sasson of the enemy aircraft… I mean birds of prey, and he immediately started taking pictures. We ended up seeing an nice amount of birds for the season it was. We counted a few Short-Toed Eagles, Common Buzzard, Steppe Buzzard and a Sparrow Hawk. As our beloved allies flew away in the distance our focus came back to stopping the stomach sounds. we gathered dry shrubs, twigs and pieces of garbage wood and started a fire. Luckily I had bought packed sausages to cook so there was no need for foraging this time. We both made skewers from twigs and shoved those sausages on the in the fire. Results? Amazing. Nothing beats cheap spicy sizzling sausages in the woods. As we both feasted on those sausages a few walkers passed by with a strange look on their face (must have been a strange scene watching two grown men munching on all those sausages appearing in front of you in your morning peaceful walk). But we didn’t give a rats backside of what others thought of us. We finished the sausages and we had dessert waiting for us. Marshmallows! We guzzled ’em down in no time. Now our tummies full and satisfied we were ready to march on.

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Sausages fest in the wilderness – (photo credit: Shem Tov Sasson)

As we got to the end of the reservoir, we decided to go down pass the dammed area and check out what remained to be seen. We descended down into the bush where there was  what we presumed to be a water pressure regulator of sort which was spraying out large quantities of water in front of us. It was am interesting scene but nothing more than that. We then went down further and encountered some slippery slopes but managed to get down. Again, there was some vegetation but nothing too spectacular to see. Until we found some wild Asparagus. I had gone Asparagus plucking in the bushes near the city of Modiin a week or two before, and had told Shem Tov how tasty they were. With the season already getting warmer, we only managed to find a few storks but it was apparently enough to satisfy Shem Tov and his wife at home who enjoyed eating the Asparagus later on that eve.

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The dammed area with the presence of a curious Humanoid – (photo credit Shem Tov Sasson)

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Foraging the Asparagus is just as fun as eating it!! – (photo credit: Shem Tov Sasson)

After a short hype of the Asparagus plucking, time was ticking and Shem Tov had to report back to his wife and work. I had a test to study for too so we decided to start heading back where we started. As we waddled out of wilderness back onto the path, we saw many people out and about. It was around 12 pm and it came as a surprise to us because a few hours earlier, the whole place was empty. Now surrounded by school kids and a few yeshiva students we paved our way down the path still looking up now and then to see if we missed anything. One last mission was on the way before we left for our journey back home. Collecting the fairy shrimp. We got to the puddle we initially visited. There I took out my net and started the collection. At the same moment there was a bunch of school kids near by monitoring my every move. As I started collecting the fairy shrimp and the rest of the plankton that filled my net into a container, the teachers of the kids noticed our “out of the norm” activities and hurriedly moved the kids away from us.

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Fairy shrimp with an egg sack

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Fairy shrimp to the side

After collecting enough of the creatures, we headed back to the bus stop leaving the fairy shrimp to go back to the massive mating spree they had been taking in before I stuck my net into the water.

We got to the same bus stop as the one we came from and got the bus back to Givat Shmuel. What the rest of the passengers luckily didn’t find out was that I had to open the lid of my container every now and then to settle the air pressure so as not to harm the creatures I had caught (due to the fact that Jerusalem area is at a higher altitude compared to central Israel). With all luck no spilling of fairy shrimps happened in the bus and we safely got home with some time to relax.

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed. Next post will be about the other vernal pool trips I did before things went south with the Corona!