Barn Owl flying home to consume its pray.
Finding an explicit title for this article took me time – and why? The background to the article is about the conservation of Vibirds but the essence is how, through cooperation and education, birds can actually serve to bring people together and progress towards set goals. And so it was that on May 17 in the Agamon Hahula some 3,000 children came in flocks from across Northern Israel to share their experiences after taking part in an educational program based on birds for 4th year school students.
Israel is renowned across the world for its rich bird life – it is now one of the largest migration flyways in the world. Over 500 million birds pass over twice a year and they have become excellent ambassadors for conservation efforts. In 1980 the Israel Ornithology Center was established by Dr. Yossi Leshem as part of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, with a continual interest, input and assistance from the Ministry of the Environment. Over the ensuing years the IOC became a leader in the development of conservation, research and the educational activities which are aimed at caring for the ever-enriching avifauna, not only in Israel but also with the inclusion of our neighbors in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Birding centers and sites have been established across the area – in Jerusalem, in the Hula Valley, in the Beit She'an Valley at Kibbutz Kfar Rupin, at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, on the Lachish River beside Ashdod, in Eilat, in Lotan and Chatzeva as well as in Jordan and the surroundings of Jericho.
As those involved in these programs believe, migrating birds know no boundaries and so the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel together with Tel Aviv University launched a program whereby they introduced research and educational programs aided by the development of field stations together with the cooperation of the Amman Center for Peace and Development and the Palestine Wildlife Society. Two examples of specialized joint projects are for the protection of the Lesser Kestrel in Jericho and the widening of the scope in the use of Barn Owls and Kestrels as biological pest controllers in agriculture, thus lessening the use of toxic pesticides.
In August 2010 some 1,400 ornithologists from across the world met in Brazil for their 25th International Congress. A joint lecture was given by Dr. Yossi Leshem, Gen. (Ret.) Mansur Abu Rashid of Jordan and Imad Atrash of the Palestinian Authority in which they reviewed the 15 years of regional cooperation in the field of birdwatching and a comprehensive booklet on this work was also published, titled “Peacemakers in the Middle East: 15 years of Regional Cooperation.” (This can be read and downloaded online – www.birds.org.il).
The program for schools, “Yes to the Bird”, that Dr. Leshem introduced takes place at 95 Jewish and Arab schools and is led by Dr. Orna Simchon, Director of the Ministry of Education in Northern Israel, with further advice and support from the Society for the Protection of Nature and the Green Movements. This initial year using 10 – 11-year-old pupils was to be an experiment which would also add fresh ethics to the curriculum and which hopefully would be developed further. Going by the enthusiasm shown by children, teachers and the band of youthful instructors at the get-together, those goals were achieved. Birds not only brought the children into contact with nature but also encouraged them to produce colorful art work which was on display, and also to elevate their tastes in culture. "How’s that?"' you will ask; well – a number of schools also introduced songs and poems about birds, and indeed one of the teachers from Yafia Village, near Nazareth, matched pieces of classical music to the flight patterns of birds. More than anything, taking an interest in the birds and caring for them brought pupils together in understanding.
Sadly Madame Nature was not on form that day and spoilt the original plans into which much thought and preparation had gone. Severe winds stormed across the valley making outside enjoyment impossible. One of the roads north was closed by a fallen tree, and pupils from eleven schools in the Beit Shean region had to have their meeting en route at Kibbutz HaOn. The best was done to find alternatives that would bring the participants together as much as possible and allow the children to convey their enjoyment and express the desire to continue and to develop the program. At the Agamon HaHula the background of special music played on instruments made from substances of nature brought enjoyment as the rhythm produced on drums, flute, pipes and didgeridoos floated through the air.
In each school the children had to find the bird they thought should be the regional bird. In doing this they learnt what democratic elections were about, as each child had to place his/her vote for a preferred candidate and to fill in questionnaires regarding their choice. Amongst the most popular birds were the hoopoe, the Palestinian sunbird and the swallow.
A guest from over the border was Mr Talal Abed Al-Kahder from Tamun in the Jordan Valley, who since the end of 2009 has been in charge of the Barn Owl and Kestrel program in the area of Jericho and who spoke of the growing interest in the project - over one hundred nest boxes have been set up across their selected area in their resolve to spread the use of biological pest control. Also implementing such a project in the Beit Shean Valley is Mr Sameh Darawshi from Iksal near Nazareth; he is also actively involved in the school project with the schools in the region.
To experience the interest and joy that brings people together through nature during these days of political pressure was a real pleasure that brought a glimmer of hope for the future.