The First International Jerusalem Symposium on Green and Accessible Pilgrimage all this week was very educational and downright inspiring.
Here are some of the experts and lecturers, who came from many different countries and faiths.
On the last evening we walked from the International YMCA (the conference venue), through the Old City, down to the Western Wall.
As you see from the sign [enlarge the photo with a click or two], Jerusalem makes an official ceremony every year at this time to welcome the Common Swifts back to Israel and back to their nesting places inside the Wall.
Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, the prime mover of the Symposium, told us that these birds have been returning to Jerusalem for thousands of years.
In fact, they usually come on exactly the same day every year.
Prof. Yossi Leshem, champion of nature and birds in Israel, enthusiastically told how the swifts fly north from southern Africa, nest in the wall and raise their young for about three months, then fly south again.
They fly incessantly for the next three years, never stopping, even mating on the wing.
Enlarge the photo and look for two sickle-shaped swifts in rapid flight.
I'll be sharing lots more about the conference and about the swifts in the coming days, but meanwhile please see this video of the swift welcoming ceremony of 2012.
You can see the birds circling around and around above the Western Wall Plaza.
See the map of the nesting places inside the Wall here.
Care was taken not to block the entrance holes when the Wall was cleaned and fixed recently.
See also the abstract of Yossi Leshem's conference lecture about birds as pilgrims without boundaries.
The swifts also nest in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity!
Exciting! -- Just a few days ago Common Swift chicks hatched in the Schieff House in Tel Aviv. Watch them through a LIVE webcam.
UPDATE: A Franciscan Media Center video of the Symposium's opening night gala is now available in English.
(Linking to Camera Critters and Sky Watch Friday.)