Israel's Good Name

Archive for March, 2017|Monthly archive page

Jerusalem Bird Observatory

In Israel, Jerusalem on March 26, 2017 at 8:16 AM

A few weeks ago, before all the fun of Purim, I took another trip to Jerusalem with my friend Adam Ota, and this time his brother Daniel tagged along. We were headed for the Jerusalem Bird Observatory to watch the morning bird ringing, but unfortunately had a later start then planned. Arriving in Jerusalem, we walked into the Government complex, passing by the Supreme Court of Israel and then one of the entrances to the Knesset when we turned off-road. Right there, nestled in the trees and rose bushes, is the Jerusalem Bird Observatory with its ringing station for bird identifications and record tracking.

Jerusalem Bird Observatory

Since we arrived a tad late the ringing was over but we were shown into the centre by Sara Dudovitz, a friend of my family, where we watched a short film comprised of footage of wildlife in urban Jerusalem. Amir Balaban, the director of JBO and consummate nature videographer (see his YouTube videos HERE), made an appearance and then was off. After the short film I marveled at the minute size of a stuffed little owl and we were then given a short tour of the closed ringing station.

Springtime blossoming

Looking out the big picture windows, I spotted my first lesser whitethroat hopping about on the ground twenty or so metres away. Moments later, a Syrian woodpecker landed on a nearby tree and began examining it – followed by a great tit flitting by. Convinced that this was the place to be, I intended to settle in for some birding, but Sara knew better and took us to an even better spot – the observation room with its open windows to a small nature area with a tiny waterfall and pond.

Peering into nature

Armed with my camera and its 21x optical zoom, I joined Adam and his old Russian military monocular in scouring the outlying views of our post for birds. I was amazed at the sheer quantity of wildlife mere metres away; blackbirds, European robins, greenfinches, a white-breasted kingfisher and two Caspian turtles basking at the waters edge.

White-breasted kingfisher

As I was watching a whole bunch of sparrows, chaffinches and greenfinches feeding in the grass 2-3 metres away, I noticed that there was one who didn’t fit in. It was a bird I had never seen before, and it took me only a few seconds to realise what it must be: a female brambling. Minutes later it was joined by a male brambling, a songbird of striking plumage. My photos didn’t turn out too amazing so I was fortunate to secure a nearly identical (yet far superior) one from talented photographed Ilan Ramati who visited the JBO on the following day.

Brambling (photo Ilan Ramati)

Shortly thereafter, as the three of us continued to notice new birds appearing in our field of view, one of the women who work at the JBO went out to refill the seeds in the bird-feeders and to string fresh lines of peanuts. Keeping my camera focused on one of the bird-feeders I tried time and again to capture a great tit snatching sunflower seeds, but to no avail. I did, however, catch this Eurasian jay perched on the peanut line moment before he wrestled one off for consumption.

Eurasian jay

One of my favourite songbirds, the European robin, was only spotted in the shade to the right side of the observation deck which made it hard to photograph. I adore how despite their dumpiness and overall simpleton demeanor, their warbling song is commendable to say the least. And so we stayed in the observation deck for a couple more minutes before popping on to the living roof – the first one in Israel – and then departing via Gan Sacher, the backside of the JBO preserve.

Almond blossom

We saw an interesting thorny tree and the plentiful blossoming of anemones, Persian cyclamens and almond trees as well as a few jackdaws as we walked out of the park. We were headed for Machane Yehuda shuk (open market) where we had a lunch of pasta before heading to East Jerusalem, in search for archaeological wonders.

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Lifta

In Israel, Jerusalem on March 5, 2017 at 6:27 AM

Continuing from our tour of the Ramot Forest in northern Jerusalem, where we saw gazelles and ancient winepresses, my friend Adam and I headed for the nearby ruined village of Lifta. Located just outside the main western entrance of Jerusalem, between Roads 1 and 50, the abandoned houses and buildings belong most recently to an Arab village.

Lifta from afar

Lifta from afar below modern Jerusalem

First, the village was a Jewish one by the name of Mei Neftoach during the time of the First Temple, and was subsequently destroyed by the Romans under Titus and Vespasian. During the Byzantine period settlement resumed, the village going by the name Nephtho – changing to Clepsta under Crusader rule. Lifta reached its peak in the late 1880s and since the 1950s the ruins have just been a part of the landscape, good for both tourist and research purposes.

Almond blossoms

Almond blossoms

Walking down from the Ramot area, we passed a few blossoming almond trees as well as a few startled gazelles and some songbirds. After the Tur Sinai farm we made our way across the land bridge over Road 1 with a vantage point of the stone ruins of Lifta on the opposite hillside. Winding down the backroads, we passed a playground park and then found the offroad path to Lifta, with its blue trail marker.

Interesting trail marker

Interesting trail marker

We stopped every so often to take photographs of the beautiful blossoming almond trees dotting the hillside. Shortly we were walking below the houses and buildings of the northern end of Lifta, yet we continued on until we found a better place to climb up.

Lifta

Lifta

We started with a house and then the olive mill – unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a straightforward source to identify what the different structures are, although some are obvious. In my searches for site identifications I found a really interesting collection of 3D scans of a handful of Lifta’s structures (see HERE).

Inside the olive mill

Inside the olive mill

Standing at the northern end of the old village’s nucleus, we were surrounded by stone walls, almond trees, cacti and an abundance of green grass growing everywhere. Within the village we explored the lower street heading north, so overgrown that we passed over, around and even through houses to progress further.

Exploring the ruins

Exploring the ruins

Pausing every now and then to marvel at the magnificence of the ruins, as well as the spotting of a black redstart perched on a nearby tree, we eventually made it to the end of the lower street area and climbed up to the upper street area, where a formidable building with ornate lintel inscriptions commanded our attention. If I’ve understood the Israel Antiquities Authority’s report correctly, the building is Ottoman era built on more ancient wall foundations, perhaps Crusader.

Looking out the windows

Looking out the windows

Entering the upper floor of the building we found the encampment of a homeless, but no homeless in sight. One of the things that we noticed in many of the two-floored structures was a large hole in the ceiling/floor – probably intentional to discourage potential dwellers. Reading antiquity reports, I learned that most of the two-floored houses in Lifta were of the “traditional rural house” design: the bottom floor for storage and livestock, the upper floor for the human residents.

The view from Lifta looking west

The view from Lifta looking west

Making our way back to the village nucleus along the upper street, we explored the various structures and then headed for the other half of the northern end of village. We looked down at one particularly interesting building with a grassy roof, which may have been the village’s mosque. With so many more impressive buildings it seems unusual that this would be a mosque, but the village mosque is described as a one-story structure with a walled courtyard, such as this one. We didn’t venture inside, so I wasn’t able to confirm with the presence of a mihrab (prayer niche).

Interestingly overgrown building

Interestingly overgrown building

Bearing in mind that it was Friday afternoon and we still had to get back to Givat Shmuel before Shabbat, we decided to put some pep in our step and breezed past many interesting – and curiously impressive looking – structures.

Too sunny for proper smiles

Too sunny for proper smiles

At one point I commented that it felt like we were walking through a medieval village, just without the people, the noise and the most likely offensive smell. One grassy set of stairs going uphill really found favour in my eyes.

Grassy stairs

Grassy stairs

Before long the dirt trail turned into one of stone tiles and we noticed water gurgling to the right of us. Up ahead we set eyes on the famous Lifta spring, with its two pools. The outer pool was covered in a green layer of duckweed, with floating trash here and there. The inner pool was relatively clean with a small stream of water emanating from a walled spring, where some youth were preparing to swim.

Spring of Lifta

Spring of Lifta

We didn’t have enough time to explore the western side of the village, but thankfully the bulk of the interesting sites were where we were. From the spring we took the road up to Jerusalem, climbing at a rather steep angle to reach the road. Feeling a mite peckish, we then walked to the Central Bus Station and got schwarma wraps before catching the absurdly packed bus back to Givat Shmuel an hour of so before Shabbat began. Stay tuned for our next Jerusalem adventure!