Thursday, May 31, 2007

Regeneration after fire


We noticed this phoenix like phenomenon at a couple of sites. The ground is still charred from a bonfire about a month ago. Life springs from the ashes. I loved it for the contrasts.

(pic taken with a motorola cell phone)



Last night, (29/30th ) some unseasonal thunder and brief rain.

May 30th visibility down to a couple of miles, seems some dust in the air. Mid 20s (dropped from 27 peak) wind SW 10 knots, 63% humidity

Usual residents seen active and foraging. Greenfinches in song. Turtle doves cooing,

Sunbird
calling and foraging right outside my window at various times today.. beautiful sapphire iridescence on most of his body, slight malachite on his head. What a beauty! 7.25 ish p.m. He just gave a wonderful vocal performance again in the Bauhinia, for about fifteen minutes a few feet from my bedroom window - a rambling siloliquy incorporating a fine range of trills and calls..his real song again as opposed to his musical shorter morning calls even though some of those are complex enough to be taken for song .
Hubby's casio digital was not behaving for me.. haven't got the hang of that camera yet and murphy's law was working overtime. ah well.. hopefully other opportunities.

(Murphy's law of electronic gadgets... "it should work now" really means "if it doesn't work I can't tell you why not" )


Thurs. May 31st clearer than yesterday.. temp down to 20 degrees C, just under 70 degrees F, wind in west, falling to 6 knots. 70% humidity

House sparrows
, vocal and active everywhere, buildings and throughout wood, Feral pigeons, active as before, singly and flocks over valley
Hooded crows, active everywhere, relatively quiet. Jays foraging throughout wood, quite quiet. Jackdaws seem to have gone on vacation.
Blackbirds, some song. Syrian woodpeckers, some calls, Greenfinches, relatively quiet. Collared doves, relatively quiet and foraging.
Senegal doves, some cooing, foraging everywhere. Turtle doves, a lot of cooing.
Chukar partridge family with the one 'preteen chick' also foraging in the little field by the saplings. Hoopoe was also foraging there, probing for grubs under the soil. Then he flew low in stages across valley road, up rocky hillside to west. Landing on rocks along the way, raising crest.
Gazelles absent again from gazelle field :( Hyrax alarm chirps heard but 'cypress slum' no individuals above ground. . I expect the dynamics of their colony works a lot like prairie dogs.
Bee-eaters and swifts a 'no-show' though husband saw swifts still about two days ago. They should be leaving us soon to head back to Africa.

After dark the
stone curlews vocal, but not earlier. A single call amongst them, higher pitched 'kip .....kip... kip' possibly a young stone curlew calling for food.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A day for Agama Sunbathing May 29th

Agama Lizard, photo courtesy of Ruti Schueler

May 28th evening walk. Gecko on the valley road, busy ants working overtime after 10pm carrying seed heads, Stone curlew calls, crickets

Today: 5.25- just after 6 p.m. 33 degrees C and falling.. (91+ degrees F ) 20% humidity. Nice and hot!

Heading out along valley road.. Hoopoe flew over the road and out over the north valley. Someone below startled a covey of chukar partridges...they went chokking away deeper into the valley.. we caught a glimpse of 7 or 8 individuals gliding low between the pine trees, almost definitely more.
Orchard was buzzing and shrilling with cicadas, some Hobby calls but birds out of view. Looking out for more than two together to confirm successful breeding..

Very delighted to see a pair of Black-eared wheatears Oenanthe hispanica in the orchard!. We first noticed one individual hunting flies at the orchard end of the creek path. Joined mate at a pile of boulders at the edge of the old orchard. I was hoping they'd find another place to breed in the area that we'd find now the other breeding site was dug up and planted over. Unlikely the same pair of course, just glad to see them again.


Heard some harsh churring sounds over by the east side of the gazelle field where there are two enormous lone pines. The second one was quite busy with bird life.. jays, great tits, a pair of collared dove, a hooded crow.. and there sitting near the end of a low branch on the right facing me.. a Great spotted cuckoo! How obliging. When you notice a bird in a place twice in just a few days the chances are almost 100% you'll find it there again soon after, and that grating churr gave them away. From the direction of the churrs I was hearing there were certainly two in the area.. possibly more. That I'd dearly like to see . Their success would be doubly enjoyable since like some other cuckoos they are brood parasites and young are usually raised by the notorious hooded crows in most cases. Not that I have anything against the crows you understand ;))
Agama lizard Laudakia 'sunbathing' on the bunker ruins. I was hoping we'd find him there this hot day. I spoke a little about them in an earlier blog entry way back, last time we saw one in the same area.


Regulars: Turtle doves purring away, Collared doves, some cooing, flight calls and visible here and there. Senegal doves.. cooing and active all over. House sparrows, vocal and active all over. Great tits, foraging in many locations. Hooded crows.. vocal and active many locations.. one chasing a jay silently in the middle of the wood.. possibly the jay had some food it wanted. Eurasian jays, vocal, active and foraging many locations. Blackbirds singing several locations, Greenfinches in full twittering song.
Sunbird calls in the garden.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hovering Kestrel


May 27 Mid 20s degrees C, westerlies ~9 knots breeze, humidity about 45% 4-5 pm
May 28 same SW 1 knot or less 50% after 5 pm for an hour or so
{Extraordinary story at this link.. an old weak desert leopard Panthera pardus nimr, hunting *pets*, entered an occupied bedroom.
May 27th Sat by edge of gazelle field looking up along tree edge line of northern valley. Edges of fields really good places for shrikes etc.



Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus over hill to east of gazelle field.. hovering into the west wind, gliding, occasionally diving. Famous hunting strategy familiar to British birders. They fly directly into the wind, fluttering their wings a little to hold position. Their head remains absolutely still and scanning the ground below.
(Reminds me of the horribly sad movie, 'Kes', about a poor young boy in the north of England who finds, rears and trains a kestrel, his dearest companion. )
Good to know many kestrels doing well in the world.. they like to breed on our tallest apartment buildings. I have some pretty good pics (taken by a photojournalist friend) somewhere of chicks we took on someone's windowsill in our neighbourhood. I'll dig it up if anyone's interested. Yet another of my favourite falcons.
It's called 'tinnunculus' after its call. Means 'little bell' .. One of the calls is a piercing trill.
May 28th single Greater Spotted cuckoo flying east low over gazelle field
falcon calls over to the east.
Hoopoe - foraging in field near the saplings
Group of 8 large raptors passing very high over our house toward the south east

regular residents report:

House sparrows
- active everywhere incl gazelle field, betw the dry stone walls and ruins
Senegal doves - active, foraging. This years' young fledged, looking almost like adults
Hooded crows - some activity. Flocking on hill to east of west valley
Jackdaws - some calls
Eurasian jays - foraging singly all over woods
Feral pigeons - fly over singly and in small flocks and foraging by gazelle field
Greenfinches - plenty song and 'chee' in young pine grove
Blackbirds - song in various locations in and around forest
Collared doves - some cooing, flight calls. Amusing: 27th One took off from wire over middle of woods, got hit by a blast of wind and changed its mind a second later.
Sunbirds - range of calls from garden including a high pitched hoarse trill in Bauhinia.. I assume it's a social family call, We're watching out for family groups.
Graceful warblers - song and calls and seen foraging in low grasses.
Syrian woodpeckers - some calls on 27th, silent on 28th
Bulbuls - some calls, more vocal and song on the 28th
Great tits- Plenty on 28th foraging at eastern end of north valley, in orchard and along creek path.

Some
hyrax activity

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hyrax kits plus (May 27)

"Cypress slum" - hub of colony activity. Most of it in rocks around that cypress near centre of pic. You can see how close the buildings are.



Adult and Four pups amongst the boulders. Adult is about rabbit sized.
Rock Hyrax Procavia habessinica


Young hyrax. Hard to do justice to his velvety chocolate fur. As they grow older their fur lightens up and gets coarser in texture.



Detail of large cushion shaped shrub by valley road. Not sure what it is.. probably one of the Borages.

Common, edible and attractive plant, the caper. Capparis spinosa This one's stamens are wilted through much of the day (like this) but stand up like a fibre optic lamp when they're hydrated enough. These are the bushes you see growing on the Western/Wailing wall. Many by side of Valley road. Watch out for the sharp spines!

All pics taken with hubby's Casio digital

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Curlews and Cuckoos May 26th

Gazing North over "Gazelle field" - they prefer to graze in the stretch just beyond the trees in the field, just before the foot of the hill. The pines on left are easternmost trees of the north wadi. Note the old dry-stone walls
Stone Curlew (Paul Stone) Creative Commons



Friday 25, Sat 26
Fri 4.15-5.15 pm ish (mid 20s C, humidity 50%, breezy, NW ) & later around dusk
Sat 5.15 ish - 7.15 ish similar conditions, a touch cooler & less wind

Fri: Adult gazelle! Running on wooded slopes to east of creek path
Sat: Female adult gazelle grazing between trees in gazelle field.. nice to see her! Sad to see her alone. Where the heck are the others? None in view. At least she feels secure to graze alone.

Hyrax
: at least 25 individuals prob more hyrax colony cypress slum ::scamper scamper::.. at least 10 adults crossed road to boulders on forest side, on our approach. Most of kits and some adults went for cover in smaller rocks in what we call 'cypress slum' because of some unsightly human littering on that slope. I'd tidy it up but don't want to disturb the hyraxes or accidentally capsize a den )
Saw them both Fri and Sat shortly before dusk. On Saturday at least two dozen babies running around. Some on cypress branches nibbling cones.. spiralling down when they were done. We estimate this colony has at least forty individuals altogether. Saw a mom sitting on a rock, three babies nursing from her while scrabbling for footholds around the sides of a boulder while two more kits engaged in a little horseplay on loose stones below.

Feral dog
family emerging from storm drain under beginning of valley road on friday.. looked back at us with guilty dog look as if to say 'do you think those humans are onto us?'
Hubby is now theorizing that the smallest dog is in fact second wife.

Two really interesting bird sightings today. Late Sat afternoon almost the middle of the valley, not far west of the creek path hubby spotted a stone curlew on a rock under pines. Never saw them so far under the trees before. He verified all ID features but I didn't get to see it which was very frustrating despite his most careful directions, ("2 p.m. the pine tree in front of the shrub by the white boulder" doesn't exactly narrow it down a whole lot in that wood and some strong anglo saxon was expressed, but we were patient. After a drink break and some ranging around and lots of prickles in shoes the bird was nice and obliging and stood up on another rock in the sunlight for me, enough time to get him in extended bino view.
They really do strike me as an amusing cross between a roadrunner and something from doctor Seuss.. it's the staring big yellow eyes. Great to get a good view since these elusive birds are usually heard but not seen, they are so camouflaged, and also interesting that they'd forage all the way into the pines like this.

The other interesting birds were Great Spotted cuckoos, Clamator glandarius handsome falcon sized long- tailed crested birds with spotted black/grey and white upper parts and creamy yellow underparts, and a harsh grating call as opposed to the famous 'uh-oooh' of the European cuckoo. I'd found a pair some months ago near where the north wadi emerges into gazelle field. Today, shortly before seven we were simply enjoying the late afternoon air.
I was seated on a comfortable rock and gazing out over gazelle field hoping other herd members would apppear and idly watching the comings and goings of doves (mostly collared doves with the occasional turtle dove and feral pigeon). I noticed a dark bird with a long tail and different look emerge from the pines of the north wadi. Later I saw another similar bird sweep across the field towards a grove to the east and closer to us. Soon after I found the pair of cuckoos in a pomegranate tree on the east end of the gazelle field, just beyond the bunker ruins, and we had very nice views of them.

and now for reports from the usual residents and summerers:
house sparrows - foraging, relatively quiet for a change
senegal doves- around in pairs, quite quiet
hooded crows - singly, in pairs , flying over and assortment of calls, active all around valley, some flocking on top hill immediately to east of valley.
jackdaws - some calls, relatively quiet
jays - some calls, foraging .. active throughout the woods.
feral pigeons - foraging in field by where saplings planted, with senegal dove, and flying over singly, in pairs and small flocks
greenfinches - twittering song and 'chee' calls in various parts of forest and along part of creek path and young pine grove
blackbirds - some song.. pairs and individuals foraging on ground here and there
chukars - fri : family with the 'pre-teen' single chukarling on creek path. Seemed to be 'visiting' with mom's relative.. mom was interacting with another adult, could be sibling or grown chick from earlier brood. . Further along we heard 'chokking' to east of creek path.. could be that same adult staying parallel with the little family, or a different one.. had gone into cover, so either 4 or 5 birds total.
Turtle doves- yet more cooing. 'Tis the season'
Collared doves - a little cooing and some flight calls. Individuals seen here and there, ground and on lines.
Hobbies - Fri: calls over to north east from orchard- both times immediate response from the stone curlews.. a high pitched 'yik yik yik' call.. A stone curlew is probably too big for a hobby to attack but they would definitely be worried about their young. :Sat: calls over to NE. Brief sighting in flight.
Sunbirds - a range of calls in the garden
Graceful warblers - a little song, some calling
Syrian woodpeckers - some calls, some light drumming from several locations.
Bulbuls - busy foraging and calls, active, vocal, some song
Great tits Several busy foraging around the bunker ruins
Bee-eaters, No show both days.. I wonder where they went? Trying another wadi for a change? Hope they'll be back.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Azure Skies May 24th


First birds I hear in the morning have always been a curious little side interest of mine. If I'm up at that time I like to record who and when.
First prize today goes to ... House sparrows.. Passer domesticus already chipping away right outside my window at 4.55 a.m. those cheeky little chaps who had colonized the entire U.S. in less than 160 years.
Second prize to a serenading Senegal dove in the Bauhinia at 5.23 a.m.
3rd to Hooded crows calling from somewhere across the street at 5.47 a.m. I think the sunbird slept in;).. he must have been wiped out after his masterful sunset performance, but he was back and vocal later in the day. Just kidding, he was probably foraging. A graceful warbler started up a short while later right before I fell asleep.
5 p.m. - 6 p.m. ish, temps about 30 degrees C, humidity a neatly matching 30%, barely a breeze and clear azure skies
Graceful warblers .. vocal and foraging, in grasses, in thistles and one was busy all the way to the top of a pine tree.
Turtle Doves Doing their tribble impersonations in many locations.
Collared Doves. Some cooing and calling but mostly foraging, quite a few pairs seen on the ground around the woods
Jackdaws. A few vocal
Swifts. Screaming and hunting bugs over middle of the valley.. earlier in the day than usual but there were an awful lot of flying bugs about today.
Greenfinches. Some vocal
Syrian woodpeckers. Some vocal and seen working on the pine trunks low down. Forgot to mention some light drumming yesterday.
Blackbirds. Some in song, quite a few seen foraging on forest floor various parts, one place female not far from male, foraging amongst in the pine needles
Eurasian Jays. Foraging and vocal. Four of them having a dispute in the young pine grove.. Some sibling argument no doubt. Much aggressive 'cchhaahhing' and crest raising. their crest is quite short, looks like a punk spike hair-do when raised.
Orange-Tufted Sunbirds, apart from garden, also along the creek path, one calling and flying between top of acacia, then foraging in top of a pine.. Lots of juicy little caterpillars and other bugs on pine for them this time of year.
Feral pigeons - flying over singly and in small flocks as usual.
Plenty bird activity in the orchard.. quite a number of foraging Great tits, also Jays, Yellow-vented bulbuls and such. Calls over east of Hobbies. then we saw the pair gliding together over far end of orchard and road, magnificent as usual. First we saw a kite just above the hill crest to the east.. I first thought that was a raptor, laughed at myself.. it was a kid's kite! Looked higher and saw the hobbies.. looked much higher still and saw a majestic soaring Buteo way up and the hoodies were leaving it alone this time.. too much effort to get all the way up there no doubt.
Some hyrax activity of adults but no kits out. ( just when we bring out the camera for family shots heheh) No gazelles still :((

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hoopoes and others 23rd May




Hoopoe
Upupa epops

Weather: Upper 20s degrees C humidity 70% time walk 6m -7pm

Hoopoes seen down by the creek.. one in a pine grove to the west of the creek, flew west, short time later another on the creek trail ahead of us to the south. He sat in the dust a few seconds and had brief 'dust-bath' as many birds will do, apparently it helps condition their feathers and may help against feather parasites.. then resumed foraging. Took off as we approached, flying west and low, over the creek and into the pines, his beautiful big striped butterfly wings spread wide.

The Bee-eaters (#1 in archives for photo) have become quite predictable. At about 7 p.m. we sat on the edge of the valley road where it turns to the south, looking and listening over to the north valley. 'They'll be coming round the mountain when they come' I couldn't resist humming. In five minutes we could hear them down in the valley, flying amongst the pines.. quite low, at about canopy level. Sometimes they fly up higher and can be seen in a 'swarm' hunting flies high above the valley. Usually in groups of anything from a dozen to thirty, occasionally in larger flocks of a couple of hundred. Many other times they prefer to stay low, zipping between the trees. Yesterday evening we missed them.. we came out at about 7.25 p.m. , husband keen to catch them, but not too late to catch the last flying swifts. This evening we caught both. Several swifts flying high above the valley road, but quiet this time, just hunting, and we're on the watchout for that nightjar or any nightjar passing through.

earlier..

Turtle doves purring away like tribbles in many localities of the forest. Collared doves much quieter though quite a few seen foraging. It makes sense that the turtle dove breeding season should peak later than that of the collared doves since they're summer visitors and don't get here till late April, early May. The collared doves get an earlier start.

Hobby heard calling away to the east of the orchard
House sparrows busy foraging all over the place as usual.
Greenfinches - some calls
Feral pigeons, small flocks overhead
Buteos, a pair, one noticeably larger, that would be the female.. too high to make out much detail. Hooded crows around but not bothering them. Probably that long-legged buzzard pair again.
Chukar partridges, family with the one 'pre-teen' chick again. One of the adults chased away a hooded crow that was showing an unhealthy interest in the chick. I'm guessing it's the same family we saw on the creek path last time. Husband speculated that they might be a different family, just coincidence that one chick. I said that if so the local chukars should set up a support group for chukar families that have lost all chicks but one.. how many can there be?? I still hold its the same pathetic little family we've been seeing every time.. and hope that the parents can protect junior for the rest of its development.
Blackbirds. Some song, activity and foraging
Bulbuls. Vocal, and plenty activity near the bridge over the creek, and along the valley road, and around the pump station.
Some hyrax colony activity.
Eurasian jays active all over foraging. One in the gazelle field looked like he was flapping away excitedly. He might have found an ant hill. Jays like to let ants run on their feathers, and rub the formic acid onto their feathers for a special conditioning effect.

Sunbird.. most of the day vocal in the garden, and the male launched into a long winded song in the Bauhinia tree about 7.30 p.m. (close to sunset) Sweet serenade!

It's just after 10 p.m. and there's a bird calling now that sounds like a laugh-box. At first I thought it might be some unusual hooded crow call (they have a very wide vocabulary I've learned) till I learned the people across the street kept geese !! Sounds just like a carnival laugh box from here, so funny.

oh yes, and today a beautiful green lizard Lacerta trilineata (I think) appeared on my windowsill! He snuck in under the bars.. wrought iron decorative bars on which we tacked a mosquito screen. Hubby On top they're mostly greenish brown with a lateral green stripe but if you ever have one in the hand the underside is an amazing iridescent greenish/blue. Don't catch them by the tail though, it will fall off and they'll have to grow a new one and it's never quite the same:(

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cicada Season May 22

Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopus syriacus pic courtesy of Ruti Schueler

(British birders will recognise that this species is almost identical to the Great- Spotted Woodpecker found over much of the U.K. )

Sunny, pleasantly warm, mid 20 degrees C, over 60% humidity, mostly clear skies and pleasant breeze. We went out a little earlier than usual.. before 4 p.m.

We heard several woodpeckers around the woods today.. single calls and their stuttering shrill alarm calls.

House sparrows.. scrap the 'house', call them 'ubiquitous' sparrows!... they were active pretty much everywhere we went, foraging all over the woods, some of them in a glade pecking at the charred ground where a small fire had spread a little. Always a hazard in these woods in summer. Fortunately the forest regenerates well

Senegal Dove couple heard from my window early morning, probably same two I saw before.. on the street as usual.. Family on the creek path where we'd seen a pair before, quite well grown chick almost indistinguishable from his parents.

Sunbirds Garden, along valley road.. male singing and calling 'SVEEET st st st very top of a tree and flew, his feathers shining iridescent green in the sun as I followed him with the field glasses. Yet more active in the eucalyptus along the creek road where we'd seen them last.

Hooded Crows active all over as usual, one intensely harassing a Buteo, probably another common buzzard on passage migration, over the north valley. Such xenophobes those crows can be!

Graceful warbler, active and vocal in most grassy areas.
Blackbirds, In song in many localities
Collared doves, some cooing.. seems their breeding season fervour is winding down now
Turtle doves, plenty cooing in quite a number of places in the woods.
Jays. Active, busy foraging all over the woods, some vocal.
Greenfinches. Much singing and cheee calls, especially in the younger pines.
Jackdaw calls and activity around.
Feral pigeons, in small flocks overhead.

Song of something different, hard to know what for sure, sounded like one of the Sylvia warblers. They tend to sing from deep cover.

Chukars, small family on creek trail, Mom, dad, scrawny chick.. I believe it was the family we saw a few days ago though it was several hundred feet away from where we saw them last. I thought it too much of a coincidence that two families should have one chick same age.
Another single chukar was seen up near the end of the valley road, near the pumping station.

Masked Shrike, Yet another shrike sighting for hubby, he is so good at that! It was perched on a low tree not far from where the creek trail loops around to the pumping station, wagging its tail up and down rhythmically but not quickly.. beautiful adult male this time. Then it flew up to a descending branch of a eucalyptus where it had a good view of the undergrowth and ground around him.

At the orchard we heard the calls of a hobby over to the east.

Cicadas
were buzzing away all over the orchard, sounding like a system of high tension power wires. Most I've heard them buzz this season yet. Intense!

Great tits
foraging in a cypress. Otherwise quite quiet today.
Bulbuls
active, foraging and vocal along the valley road.

I've been meaning to say a little about the plants and wildflowers in the area. Most spring flowers are past now.. even most of the thistles have gone to seed (good time to watch for goldfinches). We found a stand of Globe thistles are just about to bloom.
Poppies are just finishing and there are still a lot of mustard flowers all over the place, but it is something of a relief to my ticklish senses that the burden of pollen has declined a lot lately. When we remember to bring out the camera.. (we often remember when we're already ten minutes out of the house lol) I want to get some nice pics of the vegetation for you. I did notice some beautiful caper flowers a few days ago and some interesting purple jobs that perhaps the readers can identify for me. The air on the creek path had a wonderful fragrance of pine today, perhaps with a touch of eucalyptus scent. Must have been a combination of the sun and humidity bringing it out, it smelled wonderful.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Jackdaws and Others. 21st May

Jackdaw pair copyright Ruti Schueler w permission

Warm, (mid 20s degrees C),pleasant and clear skies today, under 30% humidity. We went out about 6 p.m. First I dropped off a plastic bottle at the recycling cage on the corner. A jackdaw standing on the wall nearby watched us curiously. Maybe it was the way the light shone on all those plastic bottles but he seemed fascinated. He let me get within ten feet of him, which is the closest I've ever come to one of these curious crows. They're called simply 'Kaak' in Hebrew, a name which expresses their slightly nasal call quite well.

Forest was quite active, singing blackbirds, some collared dove activity, turtle dove cooing in several locations, Hooded crows foraging on the street, greenfinches quite active in calls and song, bulbuls foraging and vocal, some graceful warbler activity, the usual feral pigeons and hooded crows, flying over and foraging in a variety of locations. In the orchard we saw syrian woodpeckers low on the trunks and the whole great tit family today, the young pretty well grown and almost adult plumage already, parents with their 'hands full', still finding food for them. Hobbies silent and no gazelles in the field:( we scanned several times. Ah well, another day. stone curlews very vocal and tantalisingly just beyond the peripheries of our visual range beyond the forest.

As we made our way up the creek path to the south we met our old 'pals', a family of feral dogs. Medium sized Canaani dogs , these, tail curved over the back and living totally off the land. Dad is polar bear coloured and led the group. When he saw us he stopped, and paused to urinate, then he led his family up the slope to his right. Mom and junior (both offwhite patched with sandy brown) walked several paces behind, and she looked like she still had milk though junior was quite well grown. We'd seen them in the valley before, when junior was stashed in a den near the pumping station and mom tried to distract us by heading off down by the new saplings and it looked like she was willing us to follow her, while dad crouched down near the den doing an impersonation of a rock and no doubt believing we hadn't noticed him.

Now they just flopped down on some convenient rocks on the east slopes and rested, watching us with that 'please don't kick me' look dogs can do so well. Sometimes we see whole packs of these dogs roving the valley, sometimes coming up to the neighbourhood at night to forage. Many of our neighbours are terrified of them but we've been dog owners for years and have reached an attitude of mutual respect for these fine predators. Even when we've met a whole pack on the creek path the leader will usually decide to lead his band off the track to one side or another, they don't care to tangle with humans. I don't know how they make a living down here.. I've seen them nosing in at the hyrax dens and perhaps they manage to catch an unwary hyrax above ground.

(It has happened that neighbourhood boys found dens of feral pups and tried to adopt them. We had not always approved of their methods and had intervened. We raised three of the pups, Angel, Porthos and Tiger, got inoculations and licenses for them and found them to be fantastic pets, loyal, affectionnate and quite strong. Sadly were were unable to keep them all in our tiny place and a new home had to be found but we'll always love them. )

Further along the creek path we found a little Chukar family. One chick.. ONE?? We wondered where all the others were.. was that cat, or the foxes, or even those dogs caused that much attrition, or were there other chicks under cover? I hoped so. Well this one was grey and fluffy and somewhat scrawny looking and had a long way to go to reach his parents mass but he was beyond the adorable stripey stage.. into more the 'preteen' partridge stage you could say.

On the way back we saw a pair of house sparrows eh, how can I put this delicately?.. strengthening their pair bond, noticed a team of common swifts above the valley.. it was about 7 pm and I knew we needed to get back to the kids or we would have stayed to confirm bee-eaters.. as it was we both thought we heard calls in the north valley, just barely enough. Time to call it a day..

Ah except the sunbirds in the bauhinia tree earlier in the afternoon, quite vocal today.. saw a female from this very chair I'm sitting on.. she was right outside, had a nice view of her long decurved bill, like one of those surgical suturing needles, no doubt hunting insects amongst the bauhinia pods that already look like string beans, and another bird, probably her mate, was also in there somewhere.

A List of Birds Identified In Neighbourhood/Valleys

This list only includes birds definitely identified in or over our neighbourhood of North Jerusalem and the wooded valley right next to it over the last fifteen years and does not include any others seen in other parts of Jerusalem or Israel. Most of blog is about walks in area where these birds seen.


European goldfinch Carduelis carduelis occasional

Greenfinch Carduelis chloris resident

Linnet Carduelis cannabina winter

Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs winter

House sparrow Passer domesticus resident

Tristram's starling Onychognathus tristramii sporadic

Hooded crow (Hoodies) Corvus corone (cornix ) resident

Jackdaw Corvus monedula resident

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius atricapillus resident

Great grey shrike Lanius excubitor occasional

Red backed shrike Lanius collurio occasional

Masked shrike Lanius nubicus sporadic

Orange tufted sunbird Nectarinia osea resident

Great tit Parus major resident

Pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca occasional

Spotted flycatcher Muscicapa striata sporadic/resident?

Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita sporadic & migrant

Graceful Warbler Prinia gracilis resident

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla summer

Whitethroat Sylvia communis occasional/summer/migrant

Blackbird Turdus merula resident

Stonechat Saxicola torquata sporadic

Black eared wheatear Oenanthe hispanica summer

Northern/common wheater Oenanthe oenanthe occasional

Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus occasional/migrant

Black redstart Phoenicurus ochrurus winter/occasional/migrant

European robin Erithacus rubecula winter

Nightingale Luscinia (which, thrush or common?) occasional/summer

Spectacled/Yellow vented bulbul Pycnonotus xanthopygos resident

white wagtail Motacilla alba alba winter

House martin Delichon urbica occasional

Swallow Hirundo rustica migration seasons

Crested lark Galerida cristata occasional, resident?

Bee-eater Merops apiaster summer

Roller Coracias garrulus occasional

rose ringed/ring necked parakeet Psittacula krameri sporadic

Hoopoe Upupa epops resident

Alpine swift Apus melba occasional

Common swift Apus apus summer

Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus passage

Syrian woodpecker Dendrocopus syriacus resident

Scops owl Otus scops sporadic

Barn owl Tyto alba resident?

Great spotted cuckoo Clamator glandarius summer

Laughing/Palm/Senegal dove Streptopelia senegalensis resident

Collared dove Streptopelia decaocto resident

Turtle dove Streptopelia turtur summer

Rock dove/Feral pigeon Columba livia resident

Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus resident

Common crane (passing over) Grus grus passage migrant (flocks)

Chukar partridge Alectoris chukar resident

Hobby Falco subbuteo summer

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus resident

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus resident

Common buzzard Buteo buteo, passage migrant

Long legged buzzard Buteo rufinus sporadic

Honey buzzard Pernis apivorus passage migrant

Black kite Milvus migrans occasional

Hieraaetus/Circaetus/Aquila (migrating eagles) Not qualified to identify passage migrant

White stork Ciconia ciconia (passing over) passage migrant in large flocks

Night heron Nycticorax nycticorax occasional


Identification of many of the larger migrating birds of prey requires considerable expertise as there is quite a range of species that pass over here, often stopping to roost. All are somewhat similar, there is usually more than one colour morph per species, often male/female variations and many of these take several years to mature and have slightly different plumages each year as they mature. I am usually satisfied to lump them into 'aquila/eagle type' (going on 2 metre wingspan) or 'buteo/buzzard type' (about one and half metre wingspan). Otherwise known as 'big brown jobs'

sporadic = better than occasional but unpredictable occurrence & not known if breeding in area

Pleasant Sunday May 20th

View to the south, up the east valley
Hyraxes live in the boulders immediately to the left and right of the road here.

Weather a little cooler than yesterday and humidity has doubled to more than 60%. Jordan Rift valley no longer visible and sky visibly paler though clear

This morning the first calls I heard were the usual house sparrows, followed at about 5.20 a.m. by the pleasant, though sharp notes of a sunbird.
Something like 'tc tc tc TSUU sk sk sk sk' with variations.

Later two senegal doves joined in with a duet, or rather, more probably, a cooing dual, followed by some distant hooded crow conversations. Soon after that I fell asleep:)
I like to be up at night, best time to write and use the net in general, and I sleep when the kids are in school.

Early afternoon.. about 4 p.m. (husband had a wedding to attend later) we walked down to the valley to take some vegetable peels down to the porcupine den. I really don't know if they still use that den but I'm sure something around could eat the peels.

Two beautiful turtle doves were foraging on the creek path, two senegal doves further along. A small field by the creek has been planted this spring with new saplings. I have mixed feelings about that planting. I do hope this time they planted something native to the land. The introduced flora (eucalyptus and acacias) are not the optimum environment for our wildlife at all, even though the eucalyptus have been valuable all over the country for draining surface water and thereby controlling malaria. Still, the area lacks the olives, almonds, carobs and figs found in some other woods around the city, trees that are very important for our local biodiversity. Great tits, Syrian woodpeckers and blackbirds do thrive here but we're missing many of the smaller 'brown jobs' and other variety that fill out the ecological balance of this region. This is why I was so happy to find the pomegranate trees.. all native trees are a vital asset to the local fauna.
The planters also didn't know they had planted over a section of field which had been the breeding site of a family of black-eared wheatears last year, though I'd expect the wheatears could find alternative breeding sites. Still, that was a nice sheltered field for them, and predictable for me.
Blackbirds were singing beautifully, greenfinches twittering and 'cheeing' pleasantly and we saw some chukar partridges near the new saplings.
Feral pigeons, Jackdaws, and collared doves were also active as usual.

Close encounters of the Scorpion kind & nightjar 19 May

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Friday evening shortly before 8 p.m. we decided to take a walk to see if we could catch the evening's aerial insect- eating birds. We were a little too late for the bee-eaters but we did find a number of Swifts - Apus apus, screaming like banshees over the valley.

A little later it when it was almost dark, husband noticed a black scorpion with brown legs, about a man's hand's width long and with quite elegant black pincers, just standing there close to the edge of the valley road.

It was so still I thought it might be dead. Not ever something to assume with scorpions. It was very much alive. Hubby nudged him gently in the rear with the tip of his shoe and it immediately rotated to face him as if ready to attack, though it did not move its tail. A minute or so later he gave it another nudge in the back (hooking his leg around a little). This time it retreated a little, rotating away, facing him side on, then stood and waited. At the third nudge scorpion decided hubby was not a being to be easily intimidated, and made for the cover of the grasses at a nice clip, pincers swaying as it went.


After consulting our Pin'has Amitai guide to Arthropods of Israel we agreed it was most probably Buthotus judaicus, a common scorpion of the region and not particularly dangerous, though still quite nasty if it stings.
The other significant sighting was an interesting looking bird husband referred to as a 'weird flying thing' that he first believed to be a bat but not quite. Silent, it swept across the road and then seemed to twist in the air as if hawking for insects, then dived into the cover of the pines and cypresses. Two big to be an insect eating bat, wrong for a fruit bat and they're not so often found at this altitude.. and it was alone .. and didn't appear again. Wings too long and narrow for an owl. After some consideration we decided it had to be a nightjar.. (Nighthawk) Caprimulgus europaeus, a bird you might get if you imagined a cross between a swift and an owl, though of course you couldn't do that. They're common passage migrants in coniferous forests in late spring and fall. Right time of year, right habitat, right look. All I needed was right sound and that would take luck and patience to hear. I knew their churring song.. learned it many years ago in a forest in Wales and would love to hear it again.

Saturday was clear skies.. sky above a lovely shade of azure and temperature about 30 degrees C throughout most of the middle of the day. Visibility was pretty good all day, we could see beyond the desert hills clear across the Jordan rift valley to the Jordanian escarpment beyond.

This afternoon while lounging on my futon after lunch digesting and hearing the pleasant calls of sunbirds, senegal doves and of course house sparrows in the garden, I decided to go at the age old problem of Buteo identification. 'How hard can it be?' I thought to myself, pulling out my much beloved Uzi Paz 'Birds of Israel'.. great for descriptive accounts, and my wonderful field guide by Lars Svensson and Peter Grant, 'Complete guide to Birds of Europe and the Middle East'. (Hebrew edition). Original is Swedish, I don't know if it was translated into English.. (In the U.K. I used the Collins or Hamlyn guides.)

I studied a bunch of illustrations of different morphs, sexes and ages to sort out in my mind some generalities I could use to tell the species apart. Paz says that the long- legged buzzard and common buzzard can be hard to tell apart in the field.. well that's just what I wanted to hear:) and the guide also pointed out that the other main Buteo, the rough- legged is a much scarcer passage migrant so they can usually be eliminated. Honey buzzards are easier because they're very pale and have a definite dark barring underneath, and they also usually pass over in flocks.

I'd made some significant headway when my little boys yelled 'eagles!!' from the garden and the game was on. Two beautiful large raptors were soaring steadily higher right above us.. nice of them.. toward the sun, giving me plenty glare, a crick in the neck and making the subjects increasingly harder to see.
However, after much quizzing, comparing and discussion we decided on Long- legged buzzard, Buteo rufinus, ekev 'ayti in Hebrew ( 'eagle-like buzzard', so my sons can be forgiven). Probably a breeding pair nesting not far away in these here hills. I also came to the conclusion that most of the other buzzards we've been seeing were common buzzards, Buteo buteo on spring passage though some of them were also long-legged.

This evening ( Saturday) we went out a little earlier and at about 7.15 p.m. we did indeed hear the bee-eaters down in the 'north wing' of the valley. There are actually two valleys, one drains from the west .. that one we call the 'north wing' (since it's north of where we live. I'll call it 'north valley' from here on. The creek seldom flows unless there has been a strong rain, but it's likely there's some subterranean flow there. The other creek drains from the south.. this is the 'east wing' (east valley) since it's to the east of our street and parallel, (and continues on to the south 'upstream' when it's actually flowing) and this is the one we usually check out. Both drain towards the gazelle field, and then head north- east toward Wadi Qelt. That was probably hard to visualise. Try this.. lift up your right arm and point your fist to the left. Your lower arm is the north wing, your upper arm is the east wing and your elbow is at Gazelle field. If you didn't follow any of that, don't worry about it. I may include some kind of a map in the future.

We also heard quite a few turtle doves cooing down in the north valley forest as well as blackbirds singing, a call of a chukar, graceful warblers, stone curlews and quite a bit of vocal activity from the hyrax colonies by east valley road, and later at least four kinds of cricket one of which seemed to be going for the graceful warbler's singing job and sounding pretty good at it too.

Sunny Afternoon and the 'Chukarling'. 18 May

Chukar chick


Today we went out early.. 3 p.m. lovely clear skies, light winds, humidity dropped to about 30% and temperatures in the pleasant warm upper 20s celsius.

Sunbirds, calling in the garden and from the cape honeysuckle by our entrance.
Graceful warblers chiming noisily in the grasses just about everywhere.
Feral pigeons
in flocks and foraging on the ground. They've taken to scavenging outside the pumping station.. husband theorizes that when the garbage truck comes to collect from a hopper down there it may drop some crumbs for them.
There's a patch of ground just outside a fence across the road where some people throw a load of breadcrumbs regularly.. it's usually haunted by a small flock of house sparrows and several pairs of Senegal doves.
Across the valley and above the hill to the east two Hooded crows were harassing a Buteo intensely. I had no idea from this distance what kind it was. One crow attacked the larger bird repeatedly while its mate glided back and forth lower.

(I stay with Buteo since in the U.K. birds in this genus are known as 'buzzards' but buzzards are something quite different in the U.S. Birds in the Buteo genus in the U.S. are known as 'hawks' but in the U.K. this word is usually used for the smaller hawks in the genus Accipiter. )

Chukar Partridge crossing the dry creek trail. Others probably around. At this time of year it's not unusual to see mom, dad and up to fourteen chukarlings. O.K. I made that word up;) The female will lay a clutch of eggs, let the male sit on them and take care of the brood then with hardly any delay go and lay another clutch and take care of that second brood. Then they pool the chicks, which can walk around pretty soon after hatching. My 11 yr old son found a tiny 'chukarling' a few weeks ago, I think it imprinted on him but he could not be available for it 24/7. Sadly, despite all our efforts and all my previous experience (in pet bird breeding and chick rearing of about half a dozen different species), it didn't thrive :(

Unlike domestic chickens, chukar chicks need a lot of live food, sawfly larvae, tiny green caterpillars, that kind of thing, and they also need the stimulus of other chicks feeding at the same time. Also, unlike fledgelings of songbirds, chicks even this age can feed themselves. Though we added protein to his feed (chukars need about 25% protein) he didn't seem to want to feed himself though he showed no signs of illness. (and there are limits to how much you can use gentle persuasion such as fingers, droppers and such) ::sigh:: we tried.

I teach my kids to leave fledgelings and chicks where they're found, (This is the standard advice of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds of which I was a member for many years) The parents are usually not far away, though often out of sight, and do a better job of taking care of the young than we would. Unlike mammals, our scent on them would not cause the parents to reject them, but they certainly should not be brought home. In this case however, my son found him wandering completely alone and disconnected from his family, up the road and into our neighbourhood. Perhaps a cat or something split them up.

Well, the situation did prompt me to put my yearly reminder on our neighbourhood e mail list to leave fledgelings well alone.

Chukars are abundant but protected birds at the present time.

We also saw and heard Collared doves, Greenfinches, Syrian woodpecker, (alarm)
a Eurasian Jay must have been uncomfortably close to a blackbird family because we heard the shrill alarm of blackbirds close to Jay activity.

Shrike, buck gazelle plus 17 May

Today's featured bird: Masked Shrike Lanius nubicus Windrush photos

Lovely sunny weather warm, not hot. Gusting westerly wind, variety of clouds
Afternoon in forest , sample hour or so.

Hubby spotted a gorgeous ~18 cm Masked Shrike in a tree overarching the dry creek as we walked along the creek trail. One quite convenient feature of shrikes is their boldness and fearlessness. Their markings make them easy to identify and they often like to hunt from a post, line or obvious branch where they can get a good view of the terrain below. They're on the lookout for large insects or small lizards.

Like owls and other birds of prey they cough up pellets of undigestible material such as small bones, beetle wing cases and such. I watched a great- grey shrike produce such a pellet a couple of years back, which was an eye opener for me as I hadn't realized they do this and as far as I know they're the only family of the small perching birds that do.

It's always a good idea to check the tops of known posts and poles as many birds use these for look-outs. I've seen a common wheatear hunt flies from one, as well as spotted flycatchers, shrikes and kestrels.

Hobbies. Beautiful view of one sweeping and gliding over the orchard. I enjoy the challenge of keeping them in binocular view ( I use Bushnell 10 x 50s) as they fly because they're simply so beautiful on the wing. A short time later an angry sounding hobby chased a hooded crow out of the huge lone pine by the field. The hoodie emerged with an almost hand-in-the-cookie-jar 'krwaak!' , then the hobby erupted from the foliage in hot pursuit with a 'ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki!!' and chased the crow over the orchard.

Sunbirds were active today. I didn't hear any yesterday and was quite concerned. I believe they nested in the cape honeysuckle near our entrance as usual and was very concerned that they might have been rained out, though they are wise enough to use the east side of buildings, out of the prevailing winds and to some degree in the shelter of the building behind them.

Today they had swung back into action. I heard calls and a little song from the garden, and down on the creek path watched a little squabble high in the eucalyptus branches over the path. The males can be quite pugnacious in the breeding season and little aerial fights and squabbles are common, the males will even start up with their own maturing male offspring and encourage them quite aggressively to set up home elsewhere. After the squabble one of the males sat on a high eucalyptus twig and postured stiffly as he called, no doubt asserting his rank. It was good to see them all the way down there because now we know they breed in other locations here, apart from the rows of gardens.

Feral pigeons. Active in many locations, in pairs and small flocks

House sparrow. Active especially quite close to buildings but also along creek path and ruins. Interesting that those commensals of man, senegal doves, feral pigeons and house sparrows should be found all around the bunker ruins though no people have lived there for a minimum of half a century, could be much longer. Birds establish strong nesting and regular haunt traditions

Senegal dove. Active along street, some along creek path and ruins.

Collared dove. Active throughout forest and orchard. Turtle doves silent today.

Graceful warblers. Active, singing, calling in all low scrub and grasses by street and fields.

Blackbirds. Some song, alarm calls in several locations in forest, quieter than yesterday.

Greenfinches. Song and plenty 'chees', and foraging in lower storeys of forest with great tits.

Stone curlews. Vocal just beyond northern and eastern peripheries of forest

Great tits. Calls, family activity and foraging, less singing than yesterday

Jays. Active, busy foraging mainly, quite quiet.

Jackdaws. Some activity, congregations on ground hillslopes to east and north east.

Syrian woodpeckers. Some isolated 'kim!' calls and alarm calls

End of field, before lower slopes of hills to north a handsome lone buck gazelle was grazing in the field, not far from the shelter of a tree. We could tell he was a buck because of his fine horns, quite thick at the base, curved in the shape of a lyre frame. Females have very slender horns when at all and young have no horns or very short thin horns.

Activity varies during the day.. as I'm sure you've noticed, some birds, such as greenfinches prefer to sing when the sun is bright whereas blackbirds prefer lower intensity light.. later in the afternoon, early mornings or cloud cover. Our experience can differ quite dramatically if we go out at 6.30 p.m. instead of 4.30 p.m. Probably one of the main reasons why I've not been recording bee-eaters and swifts lately is because they tend hunt for flies right at the end of the day and lately we've been out a little earlier than that.

Busy Birds after More Unseasonal Rain, 15 May

Today's featured bird: Great tit Parus major Copyright Steven Round
I
n Hebrew Yargazi from the Hebrew word rogez = anger, because of their strikingly bold features and scolding alarm calls. We heard several in song in different locations around the forest and some heard feeding young, and of course very active searching for food. Their song is a strident repetition of two notes. (pretty much any two notes.. they vary a lot)

Lightning, thunder last night and rain most of the morning, quite heavy on and off.
Took a walk late afternoon, not raining but overcast, cooler than usual but pleasant.
Stream had standing water in many places but had already ceased flowing by the time we go there. Many birds active and vocal

Husband briefly saw a falcon in flight in silhouette.. was probably a hobby since it was near their nest, though since common kestrels are found around here we don't rule that out
Hooded Crows : As usual vocal and active all around the valley
Jackdaws : Ditto
(Eurasian) Jays: Active and vocal in many localities all over the forest
Feral Pigeons: Flying over in small flocks and foraging round the edges of the fields and in some of the forest glades
House Sparrows: Active along the street as usual. these are usually the first birds I hear in the mornings, busy with their families. Large flock congregating in some of the pines along the valley road and foraging underneath throughout the past week. There was a bonfire there last week and the sparrows seem to really love the *charcoal*. They actually eat it. Other birdwatchers have also noticed this phenomenon. I mean to look into this more. Perhaps they're also checking out goods amongst the charcoal.. roasted grass seeds, barbecued grubs, who knows what other delicacies could be found?

Senegal doves: foraging in pairs in many localities
Turtle Doves: Some cooing, quieter than usual
Collared doves: Plenty cooing, some display flights and calls
Graceful warblers: song and calls in most open areas of low scrub, very active
Blackbirds: Territorial singing in many localities, active and foraging and a charming pair drinking together from a thin stream running down the hill.
Greenfinches: Many 'chee' calls in pines
Tristrams grackle: flight contact calls.. flying low over trees from east to west, at least 2
Syrian woodpeckers: A few calls, some light drumming
Stone curlews: active and vocal just beyond northern edge of forest/hill slopes
(yellow vented) bulbuls : quite active in some of the pines, in pairs as usual. One down by the creek bridge had particularly well developed musical and strident song for his kind.

some 'tack tack' calls, probably a blackcap or similar Sylvia warbler.

Hyrax colony very active today, several adults scampered across the road.. looking down onto their den, whole families out to forage and generally hang out.

Keeping Records


Keeping records

15 May



Late afternoon and Greenfinches Carduelis chloris were just twittering outside.. pleasant canary like birds which breed in tall conifers in the valley.. seems cypress as first choice since the foliage is denser and good cover for nests. The ones I heard just now were probably on next door's cypresses or perhaps our willow tree.

Lovely clear sunny warm day with a good breeze . Blackbirds singing away as usual, Turtle doves cooing pleasantly..

Earlier we noticed two hooded crows in disagreement about something, probably territorial. They were extremely vocal in a huge pine tree by the gazelle field, then emerged, one chasing the other and jabbing at it in the air, the other keeping ahead and dodging.

I keep a record of all the birds we see each day on a simple table.. days of the month along the top, a list of the birds I expect to see down the left side with spaces to add more birds I hadn't expected. Husband printed up a batch he laid out on his p.c.

It's a visually easy way to keep records over the years.. and I made a simple code.

H = heard it (alarm calls, contact calls etc) S= singing (indicating territoral/breeding behaviour) , circle = saw it. H, or S circled = both

red ringed= first of season. Numbers given if occasional visitor, (flocks of cranes, raptors etc

I take a small notepad out into the field with me and jot down in shorthand abbreviations for the birds I notice, any notes about behaviour or anything I want to write about later.

I'm sure the birds I mention are not familiar to everyone who visits this blog. This is why I often include the scientific names. There is also a separate post amongst the blog entries which is simply a list of all birds seen in this area with their scientific names. Best way to find out more is to type scientific name (to avoid ambiguities) in a search engine, such as google. I usually go to straight to Wikipedia, which provides excellent coverage of many birds and other animals.

I also usually include a 'feature' picture ofr two of notable birds or other wildlife seen that day. Since I see at least a dozen interesting critters a day and I intend to write many more entries, they'll all get their turn sooner or later;) I've tried to find the best pics I could to really showcase the bird in question without exaggerating any of the colours, and to find bird pictures in creative commons or I contact the photographer to get permission to use his/her photographs. .

Eurasian Jay, Middle-Eastern race

Copyright Ruti Schueler with permission

Sunny windy day and flash floods

May 12



Despite the rain of a couple of days ago the creek was already dry by yesterday. In limestone hills like these water quickly seeps through the rock and collects in Gollum lair like lakes and channels deep beneath the surface, eventually emerging in Wadi Qelt and other springs at lower altitudes. We're at 800m up here, on the watershed so to speak. Groundwater like this provides at least 40% of Jerusalem's water supply, the rest piped down from the Sea of Galilee.

Wadi Qelt winds down from just north-east of Jerusalem all the way down to the Jordan rift valley near Jericho, a walking distance of over 30 km though much less than that as the crow flies. (It's a fantastic hike for a naturalist and an amazing contrast to the desert above, lush and fascinating vegetation, birds, insects, frogs, reptiles and small fish, and believe it or not, crabs, yes, just like the ones you get in rock pools by the beach. )

Flash floods in the desert are an extreme hazard for hikers .. an out- of- season rainfall like this can suddenly burst into a wadi and sweep away or drown anyone hiking down there.. feeling safe and dry till the last minute.

This recently happened to a team of hikers down in the Judean desert near Qumran (where the Dead Sea scrolls were found). A photographer, aware of the imminent flooding, had gone down there to capture the event on film. He noticed four rapellers in a wadi (deep valley/gorge, canyon) and of course tried his best to warn them of their danger. If they'd listen to him they'd have time to get out. A park ranger also tried to warn them. Despite the fact that the rapellers must have known about the latest weather, they dismissed the warnings with a 'we know what we're doing' . The photographer watched helplessly as a massive wall of mud and water hit them! (the water in the gorge scene in 'The Mummy Returns' comes to mind). The hikers had believed they had done their homework and had been assured much earlier that flooding was not expected in that area. The breakthrough there was unprecedented. It does show that with such freak rainfall one cannot be too careful when attempting such hikes.

Now for our observations of today. Late afternoon, the sky was clear, warm and quite windy. Birds busy feeding young.. We saw a whole family of the local Eurasian jays , Garrulus glandarius parents feeding a group of three slightly scruffy looking young, almost full grown and brattier than Jays are normally, if that could be possible. I like our local jays.. chunky birds a foot long, mainly salmon , black and white but with a gorgeous blue striped section of wing. I have a feather here.. each feather is striped white/blue /indigo/black up to twelve times along its length , on one side.

We saw the hobbies again, first one individual hunting flying over near its nest and later the pair heading up the north/west south east wing of the valley. Otherwise, Greenfinch song and repeated 'chee' calls, great tits feeding young, Collared dove males showing off with their display flights, flight calls and coos, Syrian woodpeckers calling occasionally but quite a bit of knocking and tapping at the pines for grubs, blackbirds and graceful warblers in song and the latter foraging busily in the low scrub and grasses. We can see where theyr'e up to by noticing where the grass suddenly bends unnaturally. Stone curlews vocal around the foot of the northern slopes.

A few adult hyraxes lounging and scampering on the valley road (this road is a simple paved access road to a pumping station along the length of the western slope of the valley, not lit at night) . Another creature that we often see strolling across and along this road has many more legs and generally disgusts everyone. It is a very common shiny black millipede. These are usually at least half a centimetre in diameter and often over 12 cm ( 5 in long) and are just about everywhere. They can invade gardens in plagues but at least they don't bite. I've seen the jays throw them around a bit but I don't think they would eat them as they're quite toxic and unpleasant. I don't pick them up and stroke them myself !