Yeruham Park Birdwatching Station

Yeruham Park has become a very important stopover point for migratory birds. Here, you can observe songbirds, waterfowl, and bird-ringing activities.


Geographic location: Northern and western Negev
Access:
Water: Drinking fountain
Arrival map:
Restroom: Wet
Notes:
Site size:
Picnic
Information center
Lookout
Marked path

Identification Card

Walkers and other visitors have long ago discovered this park, which, apart from serving as an excellent starting point for excursions in the area, provides residents of Yeruham and the northern Negev with a venue for leisure time activities in natural surroundings. It is appropriately equipped with recreation areas, toilet facilities and drinking water.
 
Region: Northern Negev
 
Geographical area: Negev Mountains
 
Special attractions: Lake, orchards, birdwatching, bird ringing station
 
Opening hours: Open all hours
 
How to get there
Yeruham Park can be accessed from the traffic island at the entrance to the town of Yeruham (Route no. 204).
Projects and Partners Worldwide
The development of the Yeruham Park and lake was made possible by KKL-JNF's Friends in England, Switzerland, Australia, Mexico and Canada.

A lake, a forest and birds

The oasis of Yeruham Park greens the Yeruham Plain, which expands between the yellow peaks of the Negev Mountains. In this park that covers an area of some 4,000 dunam (approx. 1,000 acres), KKL-JNF has developed recreation areas, extensive lawns and 600 dunam of woodland, all donated by the organization’s Friends in England, Switzerland, Australia, Mexico and Canada. In the center of the park, like a mirage, lie the glittering waters of a large lake.
 
Early in the morning on most Fridays throughout the year, a small group of very busy people can be observed sitting at a little table in the shade of the trees. They are from Duchifat (“Hoopoe”) - Yeruham’s Ornithology and Ecology Center, and we met up there with Avihai Almo, a high-school student who has become an enthusiastic birdwatcher; with the Hoopoe Center’s Director Yoram Zvik; and with his daughter Ela Zvik, who appears to have inherited the birding gene.
 
We’ve all heard about the wealth of bird species that visit Lake Hula, about the Eilat Birdwatching Center and even about one or two other sites – but Yeruham? What has Yeruham got to do with birds? Director Yoram Zvik explains: “Since the lake was constructed and KKL-JNF planted trees and vegetation around it, Yeruham Park has become a veritable oasis. There’s plenty of drinking water here all year round, there are trees that provide nectar and fruit, and there’s an abundance of insects. All these attract a rich variety of birds, in large numbers. Yeruham Park has become a very important stopover point for migratory birds, and it has become even more vital in view of the construction underway all over Israel, which has greatly restricted their natural habitats. It’s good that people have taken the trouble to recompense them and pay back a great debt that we owe nature.”
 
At this point Yoram Zvik astonished us with some surprising data. When he talks about a wide range of bird species, he’s referring to no fewer than 270 different types of wildfowl that have been observed in the park and its environs. That’s how it is when desert birds, aquatic fowl and songbirds all congregate at a de-luxe stopover point to take a break from their long and exhausting migration flight. “If KKL-JNF continues to vary the forest and adds fruit trees and other trees that will prolong the flowering season, I imagine that the variety of bird species found in the park will increase even more,” he said.
 
Members of a number of particularly rare species spotted in the park became instant mega-celebrities, and birdwatchers from all over Israel hastened to Yeruham to observe the common grasshopper warbler (Locustella naevia), the dusky warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus) and the pied bushchat (Saxicola caprata), a beautiful bird that makes its way to Israel only on very rare occasions. The magnificent blue and purple swamp hen (Porphyrio) can also be seen at the lake.
 
On the other hand, surprisingly, no ringed birds from other countries were among the visitors. The coming year (2015 as of date of writing), however, may herald a change: “In early September 2014, after 12,700 birds had been caught, we found a lesser whitethroat that had been ringed in Sweden forty days before its arrival in Yeruham after an amazing journey of 3,191 kilometers.

A respite for migrating birds

Small songbirds are monitored by being caught in special nets that are spread in the early morning hours and checked subsequently several times: the researchers approach the nets every so often, release the trapped birds, collect them in cloth bags and bring them in to be ringed.
 
The researchers bear this booty back to the little table at the ringing station where they check the birds to see which species and sex they belong to. They then ring and weigh them and assess their age. There is no need for concern for the safety of the birds that undergo this process: if it is performed properly by a qualified person they suffer no harm, and, indeed, the information collected thereby can ultimately benefit them.
 
The Duchifat Ornithology Center is taking part in research to investigate how long birds take to recover during their “pit stop” along the migration route. One measure of this is the comparative weights of birds caught at the site more than once.
 
“We believe that birds digest more efficiently at a waystation where there is water, and so gain weight relatively fast,” explains Yoram Zvik. “The more quickly a bird recovers, the sooner it continues onward to its destination. If it can’t regain its strength, it may stay here for several weeks, or even throughout the entire winter.”
 
Activities around the small table are slightly reminiscent of Tel HaShomer Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Avihai places a red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) in a jar and weighs it. “Three days ago he weighed 24.2 grams and now he weighs only 23.2,” says Yoram Zvik anxiously. “He’s lost weight, he doesn’t seem to have found much to eat.”
 
One particular willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) has been caught three times within two weeks. On the first occasion it weighed 7.2 grams, then 7.3 grams two days later, and, after an additional eleven days, its weight had gone up to 8.8 grams – which means that during its stay at Yeruham Park the warbler had increased its weight by 20% – and yet it still chose to stay on and rest at the site. This example clearly illustrates the vast effort that these tiny creatures need to expend in their struggle to survive. But for the Yeruham Park waystation, many of the birds that land there today would probably have reached total exhaustion and come to grief.

Research and community

The Duchifat Ornithology Center is distinguished by the way it combines research with community: it conducts research in conjunction with academic institutions while including the community in its activities. Anyone who chooses can come along free of charge and observe work at the ringing center, which takes place on Fridays from 7.00 until 10.00 a.m. It is best to coordinate visits ahead of time, as activities are suspended both in the depths of winter and when summer is at its height.

Groups can arrange for a guided tour of Yeruham Park and its surroundings, for a fee.

At Sukkot visitors have an opportunity to observe one of the center’s activities.

Further information:

Yoram Zvik, Duchifat Ornithology and Ecology: 054-4761761; e-mail
Dr. Eyal Shohat: 050-8345789; email

Acknowledgements:

We should like to thank KKL-JNF of the Negev Mountains and Arava Community and Forest Coordinator Ornit Ginat for her help in preparing this article.

Text and photography: Yaakov Skolnik
Published: 1.10.2014