Nature Studies: In the turmoil of Jerusalem who would have suspected this tiny oasis?

The tranquil Jerusalem Bird Observatory is is bang in the middle of one of the world’s great bird-migration route and has recorded more than 200 species

A A A

The Jerusalem Bird Observatory is by no means easy to find: it is down an anonymous lane behind the car park of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. It is a tiny urban oasis – basically just a pond, surrounded by olives and tamarisk trees – yet it has recorded more than 200 bird species in the 20 years of its existence.

The reason is that Jerusalem is bang in the middle of one of the world’s great bird-migration routes, the Great Rift Valley, that mammoth trench which starts in Syria and ends in Central Africa. Twice yearly, millions of birds crossing between Europe and Africa are funnelled up and down this flyway at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, just as, at the Med’s western end, millions more are funnelled across the Straits of Gibraltar.  The Great Rift itself runs down the Jordan Valley 20 miles to the east, but many of the migrants prefer to travel along the cooler ridge of the Judaean hills, with Jerusalem, 2,500ft up, right on its edge. As they cross the city they spot the green island in an urban sea which the Bird Observatory represents, and drop in to refuel. (Something similar happens with New York’s Central Park.)

When I was there last week, spring migration was long gone and autumn migration still a long way off, so there was no spectacular “fall” of exhausted travelling songbirds, but I still appreciated the resident species I saw. In fact, it was only when I had left Israel that I realised how deeply I had enjoyed the experience.

For Jerusalem overwhelms you. In the Old City, sacred to all three Abrahamical religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims, history and tradition are overpowering, as are the assaults on the senses: the sunlight flashing on copper coffee pots, an Arab flute being played somewhere, the bewildering mix of languages, the smells of cumin and cardamom and coriander.

But the politics is the most overpowering phenomenon of all, and the anguish of two hostile peoples struggling for one land is never more than a glance away. It’s seen above all now in The Wall, the 25ft-high separation barrier the Israelis have built between their citizens and the Palestinians of the West Bank, and whether or not you agree with the argument for it – that the Arab suicide bombings of the Second Intifada became an intolerable burden on Israeli civil society – there is no doubt that it now appears, snaking over the hills, as something monstrous.

It reinforces the ominous sense that this conflict is intractable; and so to drop down into the Jerusalem Bird Observatory and encounter the natural world again, after five days of being overwhelmed by tourist and political Israel, was suddenly a blessed relief, not least to hear the Israeli warden, Alena Kacal, saying: “People leave their religious and political differences at the gate. We’re here for nature.”

It’s a terrific place, despite its teeny size. Mainly, it’s a thrilling focus for wildlife in the heart of a metropolis, with great birds appearing, from the Smyrna kingfisher to the Syrian woodpecker. I watched from the hide with Alena and saw a couple of things you’ll never see in Britain, such as the graceful warbler and the yellow-vented bulbul, and the species I think of as the Jerusalem bird par excellence, the palm dove, which has a lovely call, an atmospheric cooing which goes, woop-woop-hoo-hoo-hoo: a supremely soothing sound.

But even more than a wildlife showcase, the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, I realised later, is a place of escape; for listening to the palm dove there, you can almost forget your fear, if only for half an hour, that the quarrel outside the gate is one that does not admit of solution.

News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Life and Style
fashionThe Secret Angels all take home huge sums - but who earns the most?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery NurseI am currently...

Nursery Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Breakfast and after school club wor...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

£33000 - £34000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Technology Teacher (Resis...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?