For millennia, the Sodom salt pans have served as an essential stopping point for migratory birds and a nesting site for local wildfowl. In recent years, the salt flats have nearly disappeared as a result of industrial salt ponds, agriculture, and human settlement. Groundwater, which surfaced several years ago from a quarry established by Dead Sea factories, has created a microcosm of these natural, pre-historic salt marshes. The abundance of water and favorable environmental conditions have brought back a variety of winged creatures to the area. Locals have dubbed the site “Swan Lake,” even though no swans are there! Today, the site is being rehabilitated for birds and humans alike. Environmental reclamation and accessible services for visitors will soon turn the area into one of the most important birding sites in Israel.
The Sodom salt pans extend in the area where the Amatsyahu, Tzin, and Arava rivers flow into the Dead Sea. The salt marshes were formed from a combination of saline springs, seasonal flooding of the local rivers, and periodic flooding of the Dead Sea.
Salt pans are unique habitats characterized by high soil salinity. In the saltiest areas, plant life cannot survive. In less salty areas, plants are formed in “belts,” which grow according to the level of the soil salinity. Bluish salty plants grow in the first belt. In the second belt, seepweeds (genus: Suaeda) and Tamarisk trees dominate. The third belt, which largely includes non-flooded areas, abound with seepweeds and rosemary bushes. The fourth circle is largely composed of salt bushes (genus: Atriplex).
Due to industrial and agricultural development, nearly 90% of the salt pans range have been lost.
At the edge of the salt pans, near the road that connects to the Ein Tamar Moshav, there are natural springs. The spring water is relatively salty, but it does support local flora and fauna. Nearby plants have a natural resilience to salinity and include the common reed, sea rush, date trees, and Euphrates poplar trees.
Numerous types of birds can be seen from the Sodom Salt Marshes Observation Point, located by Highway 90 and the Sodom Square complex. The site is delight for everyone, but especially for bird lovers. For example, the purple swamphen, one of the rarest birds in Israel, can be seen in the area. In the spring and fall, the lake fills with a variety of waterfowl, such as dabbling ducks, shelducks, pelicans, black swans, white swans, and even flamingoes.
In the winter, numerous birds stop by for an extended period, such as mallards, cormorants, and hawks and other birds of prey. On any given day, you’ll be sure to see beautiful birds!
Yet, the bravest and most interesting birds are those who stay in “Swan Lake” throughout the year, even during the harsh summer months. The lake serves as a habitat for several bird species. Coots, a rare waterfowl in the rail family (Rallidae), have made the area their home and in recent years have begun to nest in the lake. This may even be the largest nesting population in Israel!
The little grebe, a water bird who dives and stays under the water when in danger, also makes Swan Lake its home. Little grebes build a nest of twigs, which literally floats on the water. When the chicks hatch, they hop on their parents’ backs and sail away! The ferruginous duck, a medium-sized diving duck, whose global populations have declined in recent years due to pollution and habitat destruction, are abundant here. The lake is their largest nesting site in Israel.
The lake is also an important nesting sight for the Dead Sea sparrow, a small bird, native to the region. Sparrows build large and impressive nests on the Tamarisk trees at the lake’s edge since they need a humid environment to give birth and raise their young. On hot days, they moisten their nests for passing winds to cool the eggs and chicks. It seems that Desert sparrows invented desert coolers long before humans hatched the idea!
Directions: At the junction of the Sodom Square complex on Highway 90, turn east to Highway 2499. After driving 200 meters north, you’ll see the sign for the Sodom Salt Marshes Observation Point. Turn carefully and drive on the sandstone road. Follow the signs to the parking lot. You can easily climb up to the observation point.