by Yael Adar
"Tread Lightly" and "Back to Basics" are two terms that are at the heart of the activities at The Jerusalem Bird Observatory (JBO), a haven of wilderness, tucked away between the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) and the Supreme Court. If it's manicured gardens you want, just stroll across the way to the Edith Wohl Rose Garden (another of Jerusalem's true Gems or visit the Botanical Gardens). However, this small prime plot of real estate, just over an acre (five dunam) has been left as a natural green habitat for birds and therein lays its beauty. JBO is a project of the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI). The site was co-founded seven years ago, by Amir Balaban, a nature artist and Dr. Gidon Perlman.
Twice a year, more than 500 million migrating birds cross Israel's skies. The country is situated at the convergence of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, making it an ideal spot for birding enthusiasts. The migrating seasons during which birds can be seen Israel, are March-May and August-November.
Co-founder Amir Balaban At the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, there is a synergy between plants, wildlife and the humans who come to visit and learn. The observatory functions as a banding (ringing) station. Co-founder, Balaban said, "Bird banding is the oldest method for following birds' movements and a good way to study their habits and biology." He also noted that in the seven years it has functioned, more than 30,000 birds have been banded at the JBO. Two hundred different types of birds have been seen at the site and 120 different types have been banded.
Nightjar - photo by Avishai Shoesh
In the early morning hours, mist nets are spread throughout the site. It is in these nets that the birds are caught. The nets are black and contain small pockets. Against the background of the surrounding greenery, the birds can't see the nets and are caught in their small pockets. They are then placed into a small bag and taken to the banding station. There they are weighed and banded, the whole process takes less than 10 minutes, until they are once again released, to fly freely. Up to 20 nets are used and during the migrating season, as many as 200 birds per day are banded.
Levant Sparrow Hawk
As you enter the site, on the right you will see a wooden structure known as the hideaway (mistor in Hebrew), which is outfitted with benches. The whole length of the wall has a long slit in it. This is the place to come and sit and quietly watch the birds as they descend onto a nearby fountain.
The observatory works closely with schools and many of its activities, including a summer camp, are geared at children. In fact, many of the 150 volunteers that help maintain the site are children. The observatory is manned from 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM during the week. However, the site is open 24 hours a day and can be visited during all hours.
Co-founder Gidon Perlman with children at the JBO
The JBO, whose mascot is a Yellow Vented Bulbul, conducts a variety of special events, such as nighttime Safari's, special bat and owl sightings and even nighttime porcupine viewings (the porcupines dwell in a Second Temple burial cave which is located on the site). Guided tours are offered by prior arrangement only.
JBO is currently seeking funds to renovate an old structure and turn into a classroom, with a library and video materials etc. as well as build an artificial pond. JBO is a tax-exempt non-profit organization. Those willing to donate may contact Amir Balaban directly.
The Jerusalem Bird Observatory's is located adjacent to the Knesset.
Directions: Drive up to the main entrance to the let the guard know you are visiting the JBO. As you enter take the first left and drive until you see the JBO sign on the right and a small parking lot on the lot. Park the car and take the short walk down the hill to the observatory.