The Shafir Winter Pond

The Shafir Winter Pond. photo: Rafi Ben Hakon
Situated in southern Israel, this winter pond attracts a large numbers of waterfowl and provides a home for rare aquatic plants whose habitats have been destroyed.

This winter pond, which is situated within the jurisdiction of the Shafir Regional Council, near the entrance to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, was restored and re-inaugurated by KKL-JNF in May 2012. In the winter it attracts large numbers of waterfowl, and in the future it will provide a home for rare aquatic plants whose habitats have been destroyed. Visitors to the site can take advantage of this opportunity to take a break in the Hodaya Recreation Area, visit the memorial to Avraham Dan Stahl and enjoy the view from the Biqat Shafir Scenic Lookout.
  • How to get there

    Take the road from Malachi Junction (Kastina) towards Ahskelon (Route no. 3) and turn southwards at the access road leading to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, at the Paz gas station. Near a road that turns off to the right is the parking lot for the Shafir Winter Pond. If the gate into the parking lot is closed, you can park at the gas station then cross the kibbutz access road in order to reach the pond.
  • Geographic location-

    Northern and western Negev
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Forest-

    The Shafir Winter Pond, Hodaya Recreation Area.
  • Facilities-

    Picinic area, Lookout, Marked path, Active Recreation, Memorial, Water.
  • Other sites in the area-

    The Shafir Valley (Biq‘at Shafir) Scenic Lookout, the memorial to the late Avraham Dan Stahl.

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Eilat Bird-Watching Park was rehabilitated and developed thanks to a contribution from friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, including Scotland.

What is a winter pond?

Winter ponds are a unique habitat of a kind once plentiful throughout Israel. Every winter they fill with water, but in summer they dry up and disappear. Not all species can adapt to the harsh realities of winter-pond life: genuine pond creatures, such as small arthropods, have had to develop mechanisms to enable them to safely get through the summer months. Unlike bears and other mammals that hibernate in winter, these creatures enter a profound sleep in the summertime, with their tough external cuticle serving as a protection again the heat and aridity. When winter comes, they wake up and quickly make up for lost time by mating before the pond dries up again.

The winter ponds of the Coastal Plain provide vital breeding grounds for five of the eight species of amphibian found in Israel: the Hadera frog (Rana levantina), the Syrian spadefoot toad, the European green toad, the southern banded newt and the Middle East tree frog. This species of newt and the spadefoot toad depend more on winter ponds than they do on permanent pools of water.

Photo: Yoav Devir

In the past, Israel was full of winter ponds like this one, which served mainly to irrigate seasonal crops and provide water for flocks. Today almost all these pools have disappeared, some with the draining of swampland, while others have fallen victim to the increasing sprawl of housing developments. The croaking of male frogs and toads, once an inseparable part of summer nights in Israel, has now fallen almost completely silent. As a result, the amphibian population of Israel, which can breed only in an aquatic environment, is now seriously endangered.

These winter ponds fulfill additional ecological roles. They help clean water which penetrates the aquifers and serve as barometers of the condition of the local environment. As they are invariably situated in low-lying areas, the pools collect the surface runoff water from their surroundings; thus an examination of the water quality of such a pond can provide a great deal of information about the ecological condition of the area.

The Lachish River. Photo: Yoav Devir

Adjacent to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, between Kiryat Malachi and Ashkelon, KKL-JNF has helped to restore the dwindling winter pond that lies within the jurisdiction of the Shafir Regional Council. In May 2012, a special ceremony was held to celebrate the rehabilitation of this large pool, which is expected to retain its water at least until the beginning of July.

The Shafir Winter Pond - History

The Shafir Winter Pond is located within the area of jurisdiction of the Shafir Regional Council, near the entrance to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim (adjacent to the gas station), and the site is marked by a number of tall eucalyptus trees. In the past, the pool was used to water flocks and irrigate the crops grown by residents of the Arab village of Sawafir al-Sharqiyya. The name Sawafir may perhaps retain the sound of the Hebrew name of the ancient Jewish settlement of Shafir, which is mentioned in the Bible in the Prophet Micah’s vision of destruction: “Pass ye away, thou inhabitant of Saphir… the inhabitant of Zaanan came not forth in the mourning of Beth-Etzel; he shall receive of you his standing,” (Micah 1:11).

Photo: Yoav Devir

The Sawafir villagers would appear to have created the pond by damming a local stream and allowing the winter rainfall to collect behind the dam. Later the village school was built at the site. After Israel’s War of Independence, when the village was destroyed, the dam, too, disappeared. The pond, however, persisted, and continued to fill up with rainwater each winter. It was a charming spot, popular with local residents, who referred to it as “the lake.”

But nothing lasts for ever. A gas station and a cluster of prefabricated homes sprang up to the east of the pond and blocked the area’s natural drainage system, causing the pool to dry up. In 2006 members of Kibbutz Ein Tzurim and biology teachers from the regional school adjacent to the pond requested that Shafir Regional Council rehabilitate the pool, and their request was granted.

Photo: Yoav Devir

The rehabilitation of the pond

KKL-JNF got behind the plan and provided funds for the job, and, with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the restoration project got underway, under the direction of Moshko Rom of the Sorek-Lachish River and Drainage Authority. In January 2012, the pond was reconnected to its drainage basin and ten days later, after a significant amount of rain had fallen, it began to fill up. When the quantity of water in it passed the upper red line – i.e., when the pond was full to capacity – the surplus flowed into the nearby Lachish River. When the pond is completely full, it creates a substantial lake some two and a half meters deep that covers an area of 100 x 50 meters.

From the parking lot opposite the gas station, a surfaced track some seventy meters long leads to the jetty, which is a wooden platform overlooking the pond and the eucalyptus trees whose trunks bathe in its waters throughout the winter. All around the site, explanatory signboards provide detailed information about the pond and descriptions of its vital role and the habitats it provides.

Shafir Winter Pond inauguration. Photo: Yoav Devir

From these signboards, we learn that in winter, the pond is visited by large numbers of waterfowl, including coots, glossy ibises, moorhens, grey herons and little egrets, all of which feed off the insects and other small pond life. In the future, these waters will also provide a home for the aquatic plants that suffered serious damage when their habitat was destroyed.

The path leading to the site is completely wheelchair-accessible. It encircles the pond and takes the visitor to a wooden deck leading to the bird-observation point – a concealing “hide” that provides an excellent view of the waterfowl that frequent the site in wintertime.

Photo: Yoav Devir

Hodaya Recreation Area

Visitors looking for an additional picnic site in the region are invited to visit the Hodaya Recreation Area, which lies to the south of Hodaya Junction, some six kilometers to the west of the Shafir Pond, at the point where Route no. 3 (from Kiryat Malachi to Ashkelon) meets the road to Sderot (Route no. 232).

KKL-JNF has equipped the Hodaya Recreation Area with picnic tables for visitors, and its foresters maintain an orchard at the site, which also includes a ruined well and the tomb of Sheikh Muhammad of Julis, who once lived in the area. The traveler Victor Gren, who visited the region and wrote about it in the second half of the 19th century, mentions that he observed a number of marble pillars lying over the mouth of the well and around the nearby troughs and basins. Water cisterns can still be seen at the site today, together with the remains of a road dating back to the British Mandate and the ruins of the embankment that once carried the Ottoman railway line to Beersheba.

Photo: Yoav Devir

Biqat Shafir Scenic Lookout

Any trip to the Shafir Pond should include a visit to this scenic lookout, which, although as yet incomplete, nonetheless provides an enjoyable view of the landscape.

How to get there: From the gas station, drive northwards on Route no. 3 for around a kilometer and enter Moshav Shafir. Drive southwards all the way across the moshav, and about 600 meters from the community’s edge, turn right (westwards) along a dirt road that makes its way through farmland for about 1.6 kilometers, before reaching a small hill only slightly higher than the fields around it (72 meters above sea level). When viewed from below, this hill appears unpromising, but, surprisingly, its summit commands a magnificent view in all directions and on a clear day, the whole area between Gush Etzion and the coastal cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod is visible. The hill is situated in the middle of the Shafir Valley, where some 30,000 dunam (approx 7,500 acres) of land are farmed intensively.

The Avraham Dan Stahl Memorial

Slightly to the west of the pond is a group of picnic tables, and those who wish to stretch their legs a little more can continue westward for around half a kilometer along a surfaced trail. After passing a small amphitheater, the path moves closer to the Lachish River and continues upstream for a short stretch before arriving at the memorial to pilot Avraham Dan Stahl, who was killed when his Mosquito helicopter crashed at the site in 1956. The small bridge adjacent to the memorial offers an excellent view of the Lachish River.

Photo: Yoav Devir