Nature During Lockdown

Avishag Eylon |

We’re driving along Route 90, our eyes are drawn to the landscapes that stretch far and wide, without interruption. Occasionally, a fox passes or a bird flits by in the sky, and the desert silence embraces us, gently. Desert silence has an unusual quality… it’s not at all oppressive – it enters our bloodstream inconspicuously, but then courses through our body, perceptibly.

We set out to discover what took place in the wilds of nature during our time in lockdown. We found that, in a strange way, a lot happened and yet… nothing happened. We promise that this statement contains logic!

Dead Sea. Photograph: Avishag Eylon

“Because of wildlife conservation in the reserve, also during ‘normal’ times, there’s actually not much difference between lockdown-days and regular days. The reserve opens at 8:00 and closes early, so that the wildlife can go down to the creek for much of the day. During darkness, entry is prohibited, so the entire area is reserved for animals only. It’s their kingdom, first and foremost. During the lockdown period, we certainly saw them, even at unusual hours. But, overall, visitors who come to the reserve know that you can see Ibex and rock-rabbits (Hyrax) wandering around freely all the time. Moreover, night predators always come to the Ein Gedi Spring.” This is what Dudi Greenbaum – Director of the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve – tells us.

To the Spring

Every community has its center, where everyone comes to run errands, for recreation purposes and to meet up. In the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, the ‘center’ is the Ein Gedi Spring. A small pond enveloped in vegetation, with water emanating straight from the rock-crevices. During lockdown, the Nature Reserves and National Parks Authority positioned a camera at the spring, that operated 24/7. It gave us an intriguing and thought-provoking glimpse and perspective. On normal days, this site is popular and well-travelled. However, during lockdown, throughout the day, it became a private kingdom of wildlife. So – what did the camera lens catch? A pack of 7 wolves, some lone wolves, a hyena with a tracking-collar and another hyena with no collar. Also, a young male Ibex who arrived at noon, surprised to find the place completely free for him and the many other animals. Eyal Ben Giat was responsible for the camera, and gave us a glimpse of some of these exciting visions:

Young male Ibex drinking from the spring. Photo: Eyal Ben Giat

Seven wolves at Ein Gedi spring. Photo: Eyal Ben Giat

a Hyena with a tracking-collar (you can see the transmitter on its neck). Photo: Eyal Ben Giat

A lone wolf enjoys a dip in a private pool. Photo: Eyal Ben Giat

Weather Changes

Autumn is the season of changes in nature. The two major events that take place at the Dead Sea during this season, are bird migration and Ibex courtship. For the first one, you only have to raise your eyes skyward to see it. For the second, you usually have to ascend the cliffs. This time it was a lot easier – it took place right next to us…

Stork Migration. Photo: Matan Bogomolsky

When a male Ibex falls in love with a female Ibex

The peacock spreads its spectacular tail feathers to impress the peahen. Some birds bring gifts to the nest of the female they’re interested in. And the male Ibex? He just sniffs the female’s nether-regions and then locks horns with his male adversaries and fights it out!

This year, the strange and spectacular mating ceremony took place right in front of our eyes, and there was no need to climb up the cliffs. The male Ibex fight by repeatedly slamming their giant horns at each other, and the coveted prize is leadership of the herd and the right to mate with the females. The other males in the herd must hold back. These famous battles are a spectacle abounding with intensity and drama, and the privilege of seeing them take place only a short distance away, is incredible. This year, thanks to the lockdown, these battles took place right inside the reserve, with the rangers watching the extravaganza unfold, from only meters away.

Male Ibex Battles. Photo: Eyal Ben Giat

In Nahal Ein Bokek – which is right next to the Ein Bokek hotel complex – Ibex aren’t usually seen, as they tend to drink on higher ground up in the mountains. During lockdown, however, one alert Ibex noticed that the area was deserted, and was brave enough to go down to the water’s edge. He even posed, obligingly, as one of the rangers photographed him!

A Male Ibex at Nahal Bokek. Photo: Gazit Agassi

Counting Migratory Birds

Israel may be a tiny country – but as far as bird migration is concerned, we’re a superpower! Thanks to our unique location, between Europe and Africa, huge flocks of storks, birds of prey, songbirds and others, pass over our heads twice a year. Some migrate by day and some at night, some just pass by and others will stay a while. One way or another, it’s an amazing natural phenomenon that provides spectacular sights. This year, spring and autumn migration took place during periods of lockdown. Surveys conducted by the Nature Reserves and National Parks Authority showed, during the spring migration, a greater variety of birds than usual, as well as a greater number. The songbirds recorded an increase of more than 30% over usual volumes! During the last migration in autumn, the results were less pronounced but the viewings were thrilling and exquisite – flocks of European Honey Buzzards, Buteos, black and white Storks, common Bee-eaters, and more.

Migratory Songbirds. Photo: Matan Bogomolsky

Migratory Storks. Photo: Matan Bogomolsky

A Deer in Trouble

One of the sad stories from the lockdown period is related to a small and special population of Negev Deer. The Negev Deer live in the south of the country, but there is a small herd of about 30 units present in the Dead Sea region. This is the northernmost point where they can be found. While the Negev Deer tend to wander over great distances, this small herd is basically trapped in the small area between Nahal Rahaf and Nahal Hever. During lockdown, despite the low number of vehicles on the roads, one of the males from the herd was hit by a car. He broke his pelvis badly, and even though his rescuers succeeded in bringing him to the wildlife hospital, he didn’t manage to survive. A reminder that, even during lockdown, it’s important to drive safely. That will help to preserve wildlife and allow us all to enjoy driving in this beautiful place, with its abundance of nature.

Negev Deer in the Judean Desert. Photo: Eyal Ben Giat

Human Nature

Everything seems to have continued as usual in the Dead Sea Land. The male Ibex courted the females, the birds migrated, the water flowed in the streams – only we were missing. The upcoming period is expected to be particularly beautiful. The first rains are followed by the winter vegetation, the sky and the sea change their colors, which become deeper and brighter. It’s also the season when Eagles born in captivity are released into the sky, when the water caverns and cisterns become filled and the desert throngs with life. We hope you’ll be here this time, too, to get a closer look at this breathtaking beauty. Breathe in the desert ambience, the tang of the salty sea, and return home brimming with new experiences.

Salt Pearls at Ein Gedi Beach. Photograph: Avishag Eylon