Israel's Good Name

Jerusalem: Patches of Nature

In Israel, Jerusalem on March 11, 2018 at 10:15 AM

Continuing with a series of Friday trips, this post covers a trip to a number of nature parks within the city limits of Jerusalem. I was joined by two friends, both of whom have been featured numerous times in the blog: Adam and Itamar. Our plan was to start at the Wohl Rose Park, just outside the Knesset building, and then make our way south, visiting more sites along the way. Busing our way from Givat Shmuel, Adam and I took another bus within Jerusalem and began at the aforementioned rose garden.

Rose garden pond

Our mission first and foremost was to birdwatch. Although we knew that this garden is known for its birding opportunities, there were even more than expected, and birds such as starlings, Syrian woodpeckers and chaffinches filled our wide eyes. We were equipped with high-zoom digital cameras: myself with my 21x optical zoom and Adam rocking his hefty 40x optical zoom.

Song thrush

As we walked the park’s paved trails, we kept our birding focus and spotted birds everywhere around us. One bold specimen, a song thrush, perched itself on a branch right next to us and posed pleasantly. All in all, some fifteen or more species were sighted within the half hour or so that we spent there. Moving past the rose bushes, we found a small pond with a small waterfall, and behind it, a Japanese-themed garden. There we found Algerian irises blossoming and ornate Japanese pieces donated by a Japanese businessman that Adam met a few years ago whilst doing translation work.

Japanese garden

Moving onward, we saw groups of people practicing various arts in the grass, including one young man practicing Kenjutsu, one engaging in Japanese swordsmanship. Leaving the garden, we crossed a small street and entered the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Having covered this place in a previous post, just a short summary of our actions there will suffice.

Chiffchaff in the hands of a ringer (photo Itamar Berko)

Bird ringing was being shown to a visiting group and we were greeted by the staff, which include a friend of mine from BIU named Nesia. They informed us that a water rail could be seen from the blind. So Adam and I took up spots in the dark wooden blind and watched the water rail walk along the water’s edge at the tiny pond, hunting for tasty things to eat. Out of the forty pictures I took of this water rail, here is the one I like best:

Water rail

Itamar met up with us while we watched the rail, and surprised us by pulling out from his bag a camera with a whopping 65x optical zoom. It was a delight to see the results on the screen and I feel tempted to get one for myself. Taking photographs of a perched European robin with both mine and his camera really gave me perspective on how much better my photographs can be.

European robin (photo Itamar Berko)

Leaving the observatory, we began our walk southward by way of Gan Sacher. Itamar pointed out what looks to be an ancient burial cave along the path just outside of the observatory, something that was either covered up or missed the last two times Adam and I were there. In addition, the spring blossoms provided a lovely distraction for us, as you can see here:

Almond blossoms

The next site on our list was historical rather than birding-oriented but since birds can be found everywhere, we kept our eyes open. We were to visit the Monastery of the Cross, a large heavily-built structure in the aptly-named Valley of the Cross. The name originates from the belief that the tree from which the cross of crucifixion was made grew there and thus, in the Byzantine period, a monastery was built at this very spot.

Monastery of the Cross

Following destruction in the Persian period, the monastery was rebuilt by a Georgian monk around the time of the Crusaders and the site flourished. Post-Crusader Muslim rule saw attempts to change the monastery into a mosque but with limited success. Eventually in the late 1600s, the ownership of the monastery was transferred to the Greek Orthodox church, to whom it remains to this very day. We approached the fortress-like building from the north, pausing to scan the valley for birds, and then examining the monastery from up close. Above the doorway of the complex we found a Greek inscription, which I tried my best to read. We peered into the inner courtyard where a solemn monk was washing the floors and then continued on to enjoy the view from the southern end. Inside the old monastery are all sorts of interesting things to see, including an ancient mosaic floor, but we continued onwards and enjoyed the company of a spur-thighed tortoise outside.

Photographing the blossoming almond tree

From there we took a bit of a convoluted route southward through the city until we reached a grocery store, where we shopped for nourishment. Revitalised delicious pastries, we made our way to the Gazelle Valley, an urban park famous for its local population of mountain gazelles. I had heard about the park for years, since it opened up in 2015, so it was nice to finally visit.

Gazelle Valley pond

Nearly immediately, we spotted a chukar and several gazelles far off on the opposite end of the park. Bordered by highways and houses, the park is a large triangle of green that provides refuge to a large variety of wildlife. Looking at the site’s map, we saw that there was a stream with a series of ponds that effectively filter the water of pollutants, a really cool method in curbing ecological damage.

Grazing gazelle (photo Itamar Berko)

We lingered around the first two ponds, watching a sparrowhawk fly overhead and a group of moorhens splash around in the water. Perhaps it’s the season, perhaps it’s the heat of the day, but we didn’t see too many species of birds so we prepared to move on.

Almond blossoms galore (photo Adam Ota)

Itamar had to head out, so Adam and I boarded a nearby bus to Malha Mall where we found a trail to Ein Yael, and other sites just outside of Jerusalem. There wasn’t much time so we made our way quickly, but realised when we passed the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo that we had gone too far.

Path to an upcoming adventure

Unfortunately we needed to get back to Givat Shmuel and had to catch a bus, or else we’d be stranded in Jerusalem for Shabbat. We reluctantly abandoned our plans to visit Ein Yael and made our way to the Central Bus Station area. Our adventure wasn’t over yet: our bus began smoking whilst on Road 1 and we pulled over in middle of nowhere where we waited for a replacement bus to scoop us all up. All in all, a very eventful Friday!

  1. Shem, great post. Love the bird pictures. You should get a 65x zoom lens:) What could be viewed as ordinary places and things is made very interesting by your photographs and reporting. When you mentioned visiting the monastery I was excited to see the inside area especially the mosaic floor because I am a stained glass mosaic artist. Were you prohibited from taking pictures once inside? I appreciate you sharing Jerusalem via your blog.

    • Thank you Angela! I’m glad you find so much enjoyment from my blog! In regards to the monastery, there are religious issues for Jews entering churches and monasteries so, in general, I refrain from entering the actual buildings. If I’m not mistaken, the monastery is also closed to visitors on Fridays.

  2. […] Adam and I went on yet another adventure, this time to a national park a few kilometres outside Jerusalem: Ein Hemed. Many years have past since I first set my eyes on the Crusader ruins of Aqua Bella, and […]

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