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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing