Sunday 18 March 2012

Wailing Wall welcome ceremony for returning Swifts

When this hit the news, we thought it worth highlighting and summarising here. As Jerusalem, is much further south and east, Swifts arrive in March, 2 months earlier than our birds, so they have already welcomed their birds back.  

Contributed by Jake

We all know that moment of joy when we welcome our returning Swifts, but in Jerusalem the welcome is huge, formal and very well organised. Every year, a ceremony takes place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where there is a breeding colony of Swifts.

Announcing the welcoming event
The proceedings are led by the Mayor and other local dignatories, together with Swift specialists like Dr. Yossi Leshem, from the Tel-Aviv University and Society for the Protection of Nature and Amnonn Hahn, General Manager of “FRIENDS OF THE SWIFTS” Association.
The Western Wall in Jerusalem is of great historical and religious significance.

Built by King Herod in the first century, the Western Wall supported a huge platform where the ancient Jewish Temple once stood and today serves as the foundation of Islam’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. and only a small portion of the once enormous retaining was still remains today. Still, it stands some 20 meters (65 feet) high and the cracks between the stones and cavities behind them are preferred nesting sites for the swifts.
A Swift approaches its nest in the Wailing Wall
 A special study to map the nests was conducted in 2002 by the researcher, Mr. Ulrich Tigges and by the late Prof. Mendelssohn during which 88 nests were noted. This study map served as a guideline during the work of strengthening the Western Wall, keeping the nests unblocked. "This is one of the most ancient places that you have swifts nesting in the world," said Yossi Leshem, director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Tel Aviv University.

Thanks to his team's efforts, any restoration work done to the wall now must take into account where the swifts nest so as not to disturb them.
Just back from Africa, a Swift returns
to its traditional nesting place

They are also looking to set up cameras on the wall with live video feed from the nests to be broadcast online to help raise awareness. And the birds faithfully return to the same breeding grounds, whether it's the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Bauhaus buildings of Tel Aviv, "By next year we hope to make it into a big international project, in cooperation with the Palestinians, Jordanians and the European Union," Leshem said.
For more information, try these links:
Youtube video of Amnonn Hahn, Yoshi Levi and the mayor of Jerusalem
More press coverage:
A chatty account of the event with photos
TV video clip of the birds and the wall, and an interview with Yoshi Leshem
Photos of the ceremony
BBC video showing worshippers at the wall, Swifts in attendance and an interview with Yossi Leshem
NDTV news feature

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