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.