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.


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.


A handsome Copepod


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…


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.


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.


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


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.


Fairy shrimp with an egg sack


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!

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