A generous natural environment.
Haifa offers a lavish amalgam of sun,
earth, rocks and sea.
Spell of the pines spreading their
shadows on the vivid streets and on the
stairs running down the slopes...
The stony wadis go back to the deep blue
sea and to the golden sand of the
No wonder that Mane Katz, the leader of
the Ecole de Paris artists, set up his
studio here, to illuminate his paintings
with this stunning light.
One admires Haifa's panoramas
tirelessly, and marvels in front of the
Carmel Mount, cradle of this town where
man has tamed the nature and the sea,
while respecting their power and
This city, called by Theodore Herzl town
of the future, is also one of the greenest
and cleanest town of the country.
Haifa built along the slopes, spreads
between mountain and sea, up to the top
of the Carmel, where the mild breeze
privileges the development of residential
The Hai-Bar, Carmel natural reserve
Haifa: Beauty of nature
Oleh Hadash in the Hula Reserve
After several rare Iraqi birds moved to Israel last spring, even last summer's Katyusha barrages on the Hula
Valley failed to budge them from their new home. And yesterday, it became clear that the Basra reed
warblers were here to stay: The birds have returned to the Hula following their winter migration to east
Last spring, Yoav Perlman, a researcher for the Israel Birdwatching Center (part of the Society for the
Protection of Nature in Israel), discovered evidence that some of the warblers had nested in the Hula. That
was the first time these birds have been known to nest outside Iraq. Over the ensuing year, four warblers,
including one fledgling, were banded by Birdwatching Center researchers, who hoped to see them again this
year after their winter migration.
For the past few weeks, the center has been trying to determine whether the birds had indeed returned.
Yesterday, researcher Nadav Yisraeli finally spotted a pair of the warblers in the Hula. Upon consulting the
records, he discovered that one of them had been banded at the exact same spot last year.
According to Yisraeli, this sighting "increases the chance that the bird has decided to reside and nest
permanently in Israel." Noting that this is the start of the warblers' nesting season, he explained that "their
presence at the same place where the fledglings were discovered last year provides another significant piece
of evidence that the warblers have immigrated to Israel."
Over the coming months, researchers hope to find the conclusive proof - a nest containing eggs or chicks.
The Basra reed warbler is a small bird, some 15 centimeters long. Its name comes from its traditional nesting
site in the marshes of southeastern Iraq, near Basra. It is an endangered species, and its population is
thought to have declined by about 90 percent over the past few decades, due to former Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein's efforts to drain the marshes as part of his war on the tribes that lived there.
Perlman explained that in recent years, the warblers have been following Iraq's rivers out of the marshes in
an effort to find new nesting grounds, "and that may be how they reached us.
While the Hula is the warblers' first known nesting site outside Iraq, Perlman stressed that "neighboring
countries, such as Syria, have not conducted orderly surveys, so the Basra reed warblers could be nesting
there as well."
Now, the researchers are trying to ensure that the warblers do not lose their new nesting site - a fish breeding
pond - as well, by asking the fish farmers not to cut the pond's reeds yet. "We are in contact with them and
hope that they will cooperate, at least until the end of the hatching season," Perlman said.
Five eagles answer the call of the wild Haaretz 10/07/07
By Eli Ashkenazi
Five eagles were set free from the Carmel wildlife reserve yesterday, including among them Mendelssohn,
the first eagle chick to hatch in the reserve after 53 years. Named after the late Heinrich Mendelssohn,
one of Israel's leading zoologists, Mendelssohn had been returned to the wild over a year ago and settled
on Mount Carmel. But the rocket volleys during the Second Lebanon War - which caused many bush and
forest fires on the mountain - scared him away, and Mendelssohn was believed to have left the country in
search of a more calm nesting area. The transmitter attached to Mendelssohn's body stopped working,
and all contact with him was cut off. Mendelssohn returned to the reserve two months ago, and was
observed sitting on the roof of the cage in which he had grown up. He was captured and examined, then
joined the four eagles that had been brought to the reserve for fitting with transmitters. All the eagles
received special wing tags to help identify them from the ground during their flight. "Monitoring eagles is
part of our work to preserve and nurture the eagle community in Israel, and helps us to prevent attempts
to harm the eagles, like poisoning," said Eli Amitai, director of Israel Nature and National Parks
Protection Authority. Amitai said the eagles in the north suffered over the past year from the war and
poisoning. "We hope to restore the eagle community and return to the time in which many raptors,
especially eagles, were seen in Israel's sky," he said.
Labyrinthine cave uncovered in North Haaretz 11/07/07
By Eli Ashkenazi
A 500-meter cave, one of the largest in Israel, was discovered in the western Galilee recently. It has the
most stalactites and stalagmites of any of the known karst (porous limestone) caves in the Galilee.
Seeing the cave is like undergoing an "experience of creation," said cave researcher Yinon Shabtiel, one
of two people to discover the cave. The other is Vladimir Boslov from the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem's cave research unit. "You're essentially the first person to enter the cave since it was
created," said Shabtiel, a lecturer at Zefat Academic College and doctoral student in Land of Israel
studies at Bar-llan University. "I really feel as though I were included in the writing of the Book of
Genesis." The cave, located 62 meters under the ground, is of the karst variety, meaning that it is found
in slightly water-soluble rock formed by water that eroded porous rock underground. The cave includes
a network of underground passageways and halls, each of which is dozens of square meters large and
full of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as rock formations that - unlike those hanging down from the
ceilings (stalactites) or up from the floor (stalagmites) - tilt sideways. Shabtiel and other researchers are
currently mapping the cave, the full extent of which they have yet to discover. The entrance to the cave is
hidden and small - only one meter in diameter - and professional rappelling equipment is needed to get
down. A warren of tunnels branches off from the first hall reached from the entrance, where there is
"an astounding wealth of stalactites and stalagmites," said Shabtiel. Shabtiel has been mapping
Galilee caves, both natural and manmade, for two decades. About 100 of them are stalactite caves, of
which 20 are around the same size as Absalom's Cave outside Beit Shemesh, which is open to the
public. He noted that aside from their value to researchers, such caves can be tourist attractions with the
potential of drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Galilee from around the world. A cave-rich
area of France that he recently visited attracts 7 million tourists a year, he said. Although not all cave
researchers are eager to open up their discoveries to the public, Shabtiel said the alternative is that the
caves will be destroyed due to construction and development. "I'm worried that there won't be anyone to
safeguard the caves after we, the four cave researchers in Israel, are no longer able to safeguard them,"
said Shabtiel, expressing concern that something like a quarry blast "could destroy a stalactite cave that
was created over thousands and millions of years. "The unique stalactite caves discovered recently,"
he said, "require the authorities to treat them seriously, beyond pure scientific interest."
A true hike in the hills
Oct. 12, 2008
Jacob Solomon , THE JERUSALEM POST
Some diehards may view this hike as an accessible (though unofficial) extension of the Israel Trail. It
leads through demanding terrain in natural Mediterranean forest, leading right up to the University of
Those who started from Kibbutz Yagur take the Israel Trail to where it crosses Route 672, just north of
Usfiya. Turn right, and follow that road for just over a kilometer to Damon Junction - the beginning of
There is ample parking space for those who prefer to treat this excursion as something to be savored in
its own right. Though short by Israel Trail standards at just seven kilometers, it puts a wide range of
quality hiking skills to the test.
They include "walking intelligence" - knowing precisely where to put your feet on a sharp, difficult,
and often slippery descents, and keeping an eye on the trail markers which are easy to miss once
distracted (as did during my iPod's rendering of Haydn's Symphony No. 46). That is vital. Ignore one,
and you might splatter into a rocky abyss below dry rapids. Not recommended.
Though slow work, the trail has the attraction of being in the shade of natural Mediterranean forest.
Gentle wind rustling through the trees becomes amplified, giving the subtle, if erroneous, message that
you'll not be walking alone. But far from a mere walk in the woods, the trail follows paths
painstakingly blazed through dense thickets of buckthorns, arrow-woods and laurels flourishing under
the native, rather small, kermes oaks. Many of them are regenerating after being swept by the fires of
1989 and 2005.
Start walking westward along the north side of Route 721. After a couple of minutes, a blue sign
sandwiched in white beckons you away from the road downhill into Nahal Kelah - the Kelah Valley.
Follow it, and it slowly becomes narrower, more wooded and difficult underfoot.
The kelah plant, which gives this valley its official name, is the giant fennel. Widespread throughout the
country, cattle and goats pass it up, preferring tastier pasture. In folk medicine, the seeds serve as a
remedy for kidney stones.
Locals nicknamed this area Little Switzerland. I'm not sure how they make the connection. Though
nearing the Haifa suburbs, the valleys are so narrow that you would have to go deep into Switzerland to
feel quite so secluded. And few if any of the Mediterranean trees and flowers make it that far north.
(Nor, for that matter, does the same density of garbage left by thoughtless hikers.)
You are now in the heart of the Carmel Range, whose summits exceed 500 meters. Geologically
speaking, it is very young. Evidence currently available indicates that it actually formed underwater. A
series of subterranean eruptions covered the bottom of the sea with lots of volcanic ash. That became
plastered by layers of hard limestone and chalk, made up from the shells of countless generations of sea
crustaceans. It was folded out of the water into the present Carmel Range by more recent horizontal
movements of converging underlying magmatic material.
Fast-flowing seasonal rivers incised deep valleys into it, including the one in which you are now
standing. The weaker and more heavily jointed rocks were eroded, leaving the more resistant stretches
to head seasonal waterfalls and rapids.
In practical terms, all that means you will have to bypass five sets of seasonal waterfalls and rapids. In
each case, the blue markers show you where to go. They interrupt your leisurely meander downhill
with a sudden scramble up a steep bank, and then a longer and generally more severe drop down to the
riverbed, below its unexpected plunge. Those markers are abundant; however, I would gladly trade in a
few of them for some thoughtfully placed metal handholds, like those on Mount Arbel - especially on
limestone rocks in wet weather.
By the time you've successfully negotiated five of these progressively difficult riverbed diversions, the
reward of the trail presents itself. You are entering a wider, very scenic and more level stretch as the
trail hugs the eastern side of the Kelah Valley at a height sufficient to clear all obstacles.
Now is the time to sit down and take in the surroundings. The Carmel Range is dedicated to nature
conservation and especially to maintaining the Mediterranean habitats of Israel; indeed, this is one of
the few surviving such natural forests in the country.
Look for the carob trees with their moon-shaped fruits carpeting the trail. Native to this part of the
Mediterranean coast, their pods were a most important source of sweetness for the region before cane
and beet sugar became widely available.
By all means, munch a few as you roll along. Carob powder and carob chips are sometimes used as a
substitute for chocolate in cakes and cookies; though they do have an acquired, sharpish taste.
The numerous narrow-leafed trees native to the area are Aleppo pines. Their resin flavors retsina, a
favorite Greek wine. Their distinctly delicate appearance makes them popular ornamental trees in hot,
dry areas such as southern California, where its heat and drought tolerance is highly valued. However,
they are considered a feral weed in South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, where they are being eradicated.
The wildflower brigade should book this area for the spring. On sun-exposed stretches, aromatic herbs
and other plants with very short life cycles, such as anemones and cyclamen, germinate during the
winter rains, flower in spring and lie dormant (inactive) during the summer.
Also look out for the Madonna lily, one of the prettiest and largest wildflowers in this country. At
one-and-a-half meters tall with flowers that measure 10 cm. across, its odor is especially powerful at
night when the flower opens to be pollinated by moths.
Today it is one of Israel's most cultivated flowers, and its oil is extracted for perfume manufacture. In
Christianity it symbolizes purity, therefore the local monks during the Byzantine period often dug up its
bulb to ship home to Europe - bringing that plant to the verge of extinction in the Holy Land.
Do not pick the flowers! Assume that anything you'd like to take home is legally protected.
The two-thirds point of the hike, time-wise, occurs where the Kelah Valley (blue-marked) meets the
Galim Valley (green-marked). Follow the green markers up the steep, but highly picturesque, valley,
which will knock the wind out of all but the fittest hikers. Take frequent breaks.
Sadly, the upper slopes as you near the university suffered two devastating forest fires (in 1989 and
2005), where the population of the university and the nearby Denia residential area suffered emergency
evacuation. Though the native species of pine and oak are naturally fire-resistant, they failed to bear the
blaze's intensity caused by low humidity and the wind speed of the hamsin, the dry summer wind. Your
testimony will be the scattered charred burnt trees and shrubs, many bravely reestablishing themselves,
though current estimates place full recovery at 50 years.
Looking back, Little Switzerland appears as an undulating green carpet, softly folded into waves. But by
now you appreciate how deeply they are dissected with deceptively demanding hiking country. Where
the footpath suddenly becomes paved, turn left and follow a fairly level course for about a kilometer
until it comes out opposite the university. Cross Route 672, and complete the hike with an elevator ride
to the top floor of the university tower, with its 360-degree view of the Carmel region and far beyond.
Grab some solid and liquid refreshment at the university's numerous outlets, and hop on bus 37 to get
you back to the parking lot at Damon Junction.