Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bubble wrap effect and Wild tortoises

That Bauhinia is still popping off its seeds. Pods that were green just a few days ago are now dark brown and split. My teenage girls confessed they'd been out there and deliberately set a few off to see how far the seeds would be projected.. usually takes just a little poke.. almost as satisfying as popping bubble wrap! I used to do that with Himalayan Balsam seed pods when I was their age.. there were a lot of them growing like triffids near the banks of the river Taff in south Wales and they did the same cute trick.

June 26th
6.30 ish -7.30 ish upper 20s C and falling, humidity, over 30% much fluctuation. wind west veering north west 8-9 knots
Gazelles no show
Turtle doves: some cooing
Bee-eaters: several hunting at eastern edge of north valley pines, over the western end of gazelle field, couple over all field, perched on bee euc and then back.
Wheatears: none
Great spotted cuckoos 1 across field to pine grove from behind cistern. Too brief a view to determine if mature or not
Falcon again perched halfway up that pylon. A hooded crow was hassling it till it flew a little further north, to the top of another pylon. The crow didn't bother it further, possibly judged it beyond its jurisdiction. I'm thinking same falcon as the other day and immature kestrel.
House sparrows: on street, around bunker and gazelle field; Senegal doves: street; Hooded crows: gaz field, in ones and twos around valley
Jackdaws: none Eurasian Jays: woods , gaz field, dry stone walls several scattered, at the cistern;Feral pigeons: ones and two overhead
Greenfinches: euc and pines around bunker, twittering and calls.. family interactions; Blackbirds: some song
Collared doves: flight calls, coos, a few around cistern; Stone curlews: calls beyond gaz field;Sunbirds: calls garden
Syrian woodpeckers: one at cistern, calls, alarm calls Bulbuls: in acacia on central path approaching bunker
June 27th
6.20 p.m. 30.6 degrees C, falling, wind SW 2.6 kt falling, approaching 30% and rising.
Gazelles: No show
Sitting at the ruined bunker from about 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. warm, pleasant.. too many flies but none biting. Elderly kaffiyeh wearing shepherd with his pipe and two young men, could be his sons or even grandsons, watching scores of goats and a piebald horse while we watched for gazelle and birds, enjoyed the sound of turtle doves and twittering greenfinches and the comings and goings of jays and doves, all very nice and peaceful.
Repeatedly heard dry grasses crackling not far ahead.. I was watching out for a snake down there till we saw the cause of all the noise. Nice chunky wild tortoise Testudo graeca at least 15 by 10 cm, mostly dark sandy brown with some almost black markings. They're so cute! . Husband had forgotten camera so regrettably we couldn't get a picture of him for you but I'm going to try to find one as similar as possible. We have one in our garden that we found, lives there quite happily munching on weeds and such in corners and occasional salad donations from us. They're used to the natural local foliage
Turtle doves: coos, couple foraging on path by the orchard, couple at the cistern.
Bee-eaters: Several.. first saw by the orchard in the eucalyptus, then went across the field to hunt at the eastern edge of the pines of north valley again
Wheatears: seems they've all moved on. Great spotted cuckoos.. none today
Hoopoes: 1 foraging on creek path, one flying up path earlier.. possibly same bird, though there are at least three individuals around that area.
House sparrows: foraging all over as usual. Senegal doves: some cooing, on lines by our street.
Hooded crows: Foraging on forest floor, ones and twos scattered all around and over valley.
Jackdaws: still absent.
Jays: Quite a few scattered over gazelle field foraging as usual
Feral pigeons: singles and pairs flying over valley
Greenfinches: Small flock foraging on the ground by and on creek trail near orchard
Blackbirds: alarm calls and some song
Chukars: some calls from creek trail near sapling field end.
Collared doves: Flight calls, some coos, at cistern, woods and gazelle field, foraging.
Stone curlews: calls from north edge north valley 7.30 p.m. 7.40 ish.
Sunbirds: It's almost 8 p.m. one calling in Bauhinia. Was there last night at dusk too, distracting me during globals again!
Graceful warblers: songs and calls in grasses descending to north valley by valley road.
Syrian woodpeckers: Some calls, some light drumming.
Bulbuls: some calls.
Great tits: none seen or heard

Monday, June 25, 2007

Heat wave and Gazelle's midnight munchies.

Images hubby took of the young individual the shepherds accidentally spooked towards us through the grove.

(23rd June about 11 p.m. noticed gazelle under the pines just a few score feet from the valley road)
5.40 pm 30.9 down from 37 peak, 25% humidity, ~6kt NW
Gazelles -3 to east of orchard amongst many old dry stone walls. right up by security barbed wire fence, moving south, small group led by horns, then young and a little way behind individual with short thin horns. We stayed in a stand of cypress and observed quietly at a distance of 75 to 100 feet so that we wouldn't spook them. Not the usual place we see them but hubby had glimpsed one through the orchard so we had to go check them out.
In the evening we took a walk on the valley about five minutes to *midnight* we both saw a gazelle break cover on the *west* side of the valley road (slopes between the road and the lowest buildings) - crossed the road and retreated under the pines about the same place as hubby saw it previous evening. They can seem smaller and paler under the trees at this time of night but that's because in low light we mainly see the white underbelly. This is not the first time we've seen gazelles venture up to the neighbourhood at night.. On occasion in the past we've seen up to three gazelles graze those slopes and several times startled a beautiful buck that had ventured almost all the way up valley road to the buildings between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. There's some water run- off there that gives good grazing.
(more gazelles later in this entry>>> )

Turtle doves
: cooing.. pair in top of doubled cypress
Bee-eaters: 4 over orchard
Black-eared Wheatears: around cistern
cicadas v active and noisy
Nice close view of agama lizards by creek trail.. one dark/grey, other greyish brown.. Darker one had more distinct black and white mottlng on chin. This would be very prominent when they do the chin bob. I'm assuming that one was the male of the pair.
House sparrows: foraging around cistern, dry stone walls by grove, pretty much everywhere,
Senegal doves
: in built up area.. I got close to a very nice pair on a fence.. could clearly tell the male by his neck, relatively much thicker than that of his mate.

Hooded crows
: pine grove, a few up on windsurfin hill..
Jays: quite a few foraging woods, gazelle field as usual.
Feral pigeons: around built up areas, passing over valley in ones, twos, small flocks.
Greenfinches: twittering, busy foraging.. much less song and 'chee' today.
: some lovely song along creek trail not far from sapling field. We saw the male singer, he chose to perch low. Curious how sometimes they'll choose a TV antenna or the very top of a cypress in the evening but in the heat of the day I've often seen them launch into full song on a tree stump. Probably just prefer the shade.
Chukar partidges: family with 5 chicks on dirt track just past pumping station, chicks gangly scrawny stage but can fly quite well, all got up in unison from bank on our approach. Collared doves: on line over sapling field, foraging around, generally quiet today
Stone curlews: hubby heard. Sunbirds: song and calls by look-out corner and calls in our garden Bauhinia
Graceful warblers: some song in grasses by north valley. Syrian woodpeckers: calls and alarms
Falcon perching half way up the pylon in the gazelle field, preening. Looking very brown, and when in flight very pale underwing mottled with brown and underparts, but clearly a falcon, probably an immature.
Shepherds brought about a hundred brown and white loppy eared goats into the gazelle field today which is always quite a pleasant sight, and sound with all their goat bells cunkling away. I call them shepherds because most of them own sheep too and sometimes bring them. In Hebrew they're called 'ro'eh tzon' which means 'herder of flocks'.. which can mean either. (famous in psalm 23- the Lord is my shepherd.. there the word is ro'i which actually has the same root as the word for 'companion'.

June 25th Too funny.. My 'globals' for 'hobbies' took me 105 seconds because a male and female
sunbird were interacting so cutely in the Bauhinia just three feet to my left.. total distraction! Who wants to do a quiz when 'his sapphireness' is sitting there looking flash and whispering sweet nothings into his lady's ear right by me?

by 6.20 p.m. temps had dropped to 33.6 degrees C, (about 92 degrees F) 22% humidity, 7.8 kt WNW, clear skies

gazelle sightings today! A family group of four individuals were grazing as usual just to the east of the north valley trees over on the field. We were speculating whether they might be the same group we saw up by the security fence to the east when events proved that theory happily wrong. A shepherd calling to his friend on the other side of the fence spooked the eastern group and sent them in our direction. We sat very still in the bunker ruins while a young individual came bouncing towards us through the eucalyptus grove and came within fifty yards of us before turning south toward lookout corner and disappearing in the trees by the creek path. The top of his head was quite knobbly, as if horns would emerge there but hadn't started yet.. young male? I believe hes was the individual we'd seen in the centre of the group over there yesterday, assuming the groups were staying at the same grazing grounds. Those two matched. He'll probably eventually make his way back east to his mom via the orchard or woods to the south.
Meanwhile the horned member of the group- thin horns, broke out toward the north east of the field near the cistern, was then spooked by noticing us and continued north, sproinging and running part of the way and eventually just strolling along. After a little while it made its way up the lower slopes to the north directly toward the first family group we had been watching, which was all this time grazing, moving slowly east.
We watched to see what would happen when the thin horned individual met the others.. would they accept it? Would they greet in some way? It was interesting to see so sat down, steadied my elbows on my knees to hold binos with minimum tire and wobble, and watched. The thin horned individual did not push himself on the group in any way but waited for them to move in his direction. He grazed in place, facing them (facing west), just munching on the other edge of an expanse of low cushiony foliage between them. Soon a young gazelle was just below him on the slope but we so no visual greeting at all.. perhaps he was making conciliatory snorts or something but we couldn't tell at this distance. Gradually the family group made its way east till he was simply one of the grazers. At that point the youngest gazelle, who had gone ahead and below a little, sproinged back to join his mom. Likely the thin horned individual was related, part of the extended family and perhaps they recognized him, but I found it interesting that he didn't just stroll into group but waited for them to arrive where he was at their own pace and then was simply one of the group automatically.
Seemed all the group were females and partly grown young, no adult bucks visible at all.

Otherwise, the common residents pretty much as described earlier in this entry. 2
hoopoes near the bunker, a third not far from look-out point foraging on the dirt path. At the cistern, a pair of turtle doves, a collared dove, a pair of jays. A great spotted cuckoo crossed part of the field and landed in tree near middle.. an immature I believe this time, probably the one I called Malfoy the other day or his bro. (or sis) Greenfinches very active and were tuning up for dusk chorus by the time we had to leave. Immature great tits around the cistern. Immature wheatears around cistern and pomegranate trees, they seem much shyer of the bunker now. Bee-eaters heard to west

Saturday, June 23, 2007

June 21, 22, 23 How nature cracks me up sometimes

This afternoon I was hearing repeated cracking in the garden.. was starting to get on my nerves!..At first I had assumed it was the kids playing with some annoying plastic toy but no.. they were innocent this time. Suddenly with a laugh I realised the cause of the strange noises. The 'beanpods' on the Bauhinia tree were drying out and cracking open! They do this quite explosively when they're ready. The pods start green, after a couple of weeks they turn hard and brown and suddenly one day, on a nice hot day like today they burst open and spray their seeds at quite a distance.
Just over 25 and falling tho some cicada in valley (warmer down there?) nw veering w 5-9 kt humidity over 45 % and rising
June 21 With the two boys from about 6 pm to 7 pm. Husband had been in town but joined us at the end.
Gazelles - no show
Turtle doves: plenty cooing from look-out corner, cypress by cistern and other locations in woods. Pair moving between the cypress, cistern and crossing gazelle field to north valley.
Bee-eaters: Several in grove and over south east corner of gazelle field.
Black -eared Wheatears: Several young wheatears around bunker
Great spotted cuckoo.. nice views between cistern, went in, and sat in pomegranate tree.. magnificent full plumage adult, nice to be able to show him to the boys.
House sparrows: Many busy around buildings and many parts of woods, gazelle field, small flock moving around bunkers and cistern area, Senegal doves: Around buildings. centre of forest on line. Hooded crows: gazelle field, east of woods, round about
Jackdaws: none
Jays: woods, cistern, gazelle field, Feral pigeons: neighbourhood, over buildings, still in bobbing and cooing mood.
Greenfinches: small flock between cistern, in cistern, in pine over cistern and flying to other pines where we saw youngsters demanding food from parents up in tree
Blackbirds: singing usual place north valley just down from buildings. Collared doves: pair by and around cistern
Sunbirds: Bauhinia as usual Graceful warblers: by valley road as usual. Syrian woodpeckers: calls and alarm calls
Fri June 22 , clear skies again 27 C ish...60% and rising, ~9 kt W/NW with hubby for about half hour about 6 pm ish. saplings.. Black-eared wheatear just 'other Bob' the subplumage male as usual in his northern eastern corner of Bob's territory. Seems Bob and his family have moved on.. have joined w Bill's?- or are keeping a very low profile.
hoopoe flew west over gazelle field
One female gazelle:) Grazing in favourite spot near tree at distant end of field, greenest area.

Probably water underground over there running from north valley out of sight
Immature black- eared wheatear (Bill jr) foraging in road. Turtle doves, blackbird song.. some cicadas.
Sat June 23 heatwave intensifies! Midday temps were in mid 30s C but thankfully down to about 32 degrees C by 6 p.m. ish. winds 6-7kt W/NW, humidity just 30% and climbing.
Cicadas of course.
Beeeaters.. in the grove, then flew over gazelle field about 50 feet up in a lazy criss-crossing gliding formation of about 20 birds, lovely to watch. Many flying insects visible in the air.
We heard a juvenile great spotted cuckoo in the pine grove to our east, we were tantalized because it was staying out of sight so we went to check it out. The bird would let us almost reach the pine in which he perched and called, then slip off to another about twenty yards away, the two adoptive parent hooded crows cawing 'kraawk!' in alarm and staying near. Reminded me of Malfoy with bodyguards Crabbe and Goyle. We followed the threesome to the south, out of the pine grove and into a stand of eucalyptus.. 'cornered' now, they couldn't leave that stand without being obvious. Finally the young Malfoy broke cover and flew strongly in a nice big loop over the gazelle field, soon followed by his escort. Husband asked 'how long does he let them feed him??' 'LOL who knows, when he breaks it to them he's not really a crow and is flying south for the winter?' I wonder what happened to the other juvenile?
At the cistern.. a pair of turtle doves, two collared doves, two jays and a juvenile great tit. Around the cistern.. a greenfinch family flying from the huge pine by the cistern to the pines behind us, juveniles begging food noisily from parents. Several immature wheatears (Bill's family) foraging on the ground, occasionally perching in one of the small pomegranate trees.. all the way from those trees to the rocky slopes by the road to the east. No sign of Bob's family by the saplings today. Agama lizard on the huge pine by the cistern. Gecko calls from inside the bunker ruins. Still quite a few saturnid butterflies around.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Left: Bill Junior , Right: Bob Junior (one each of 'em) (Black-eared wheatears Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca)

Hyrax juniors

June 19th 5.30 p.m. 25.9 falling, 15.7 kt W and rising, humidity 53%
Gazelles- no show
Turtle doves: coos near look-out corner
Bee-eaters: At least half a dozen in the grove, flying for winged insects and perching.
Swifts.. Hubby saw common swifts yesterday over built up areas of neighbourhood so they're still here but not in our usual haunts.
Black-eared Wheatears: Watched Bob's territory by the saplings for at least quarter of an hour and only saw 'other Bob', the spring plumage male.. no sign of Bob's family
Bill's family however were thriving. I was using binos watching individuals, (Mrs Bill still feeds her young occasionally but they're pretty much self feeding now.. mainly hunting up anything small, dark and juicy that moves on or near the ground) They've almost lost their downy earlier plumage.. still some soft grey feathers on head and neck but wings and rest neatly plumaged now) Mrs Bill and junior Bills .. no sign of dad- could be he prefers to forage alone further out in the fields so as not to bring attention to his family, being so conspicuous)
Hubby was eyeballing and taking 'panoramic' counts of all wheatears visible at once.. he was sure he got at least half a dozen birds in view at once which I find amazing.. and would indicate pretty much 100% success for Bill's family unless more than one wheatear family was sharing the territory. All using area around the bunker ruins, south east end of gazelle field up to cistern, west portion of the grove, north west corner of the orchard and end of creek path by the orchard. Where did they nest? We'd noticed wheatear movement around the boulders at the far east end of the gazelle field but rocks near the bunker and at edge of the orchard are also candidates.. unless of course we're talking about more than one wheatear family sharing good pickings. .
Seems unlikely Mrs. Bob and her juniors came over and joined them, her territory is much farther up the creek trail several hundred metres to the south with woods between.. not usual wheatear territory though the trail does provide an artery of sorts.
Chukar partridges.. two families foraging under stand of trees immediately to south of the sapling field and near 'the loop' (see below), one larger, (10 plus chicks) one slightly smaller (6,7 chicks)- this is the third time we've seen two families of size that match this in this area and we can assume they are the same two families that seem to like to forage in fairly close association.. possible that two of the respective parents are siblings. They take wing and move as two separate groups but practically next to each other.
Stone curlews: calls from north of north valley/north gazelle field.
Sunbird, vocal, active Bauhinia in garden, range of calls, eucalyptus on creek trail where heard before and near the pumping station where valley road trails off into path and bridge over creek. That's a good corner for birds, most variety of small trees including acacias, eucalypts and others. Shrikes, bulbuls, great tits, blackbirds and other birds seem to favour that corner which I call the 'loop' because our route loops around from southward to northward at the creek path. The creek path continues southward (upstream) but we rarely go that way since the northward trail leads to the rich 'hunting grounds' of the gazelle field, cistern etcetera.
House sparrows, Collared doves, Graceful warblers, Syrian woodpeckers, Bulbuls, Great tits, Senegal doves:Hooded crows:Jays:Feral pigeons:Greenfinches:Blackbirds: activity as usual as of late. 5 collared doves around cistern
Hyraxes - we spent some time enjoying the sight of at least ten junior hyraxes foraging at the forest edge of the valley road. At least two adults were in attendance and occasionally youngsters would scamper across the road from the cypress slum side to join the little creche. A grizzled old grandpa of a hyrax was sitting out on a large boulder watching. The breeding adults tend to have short neat hair but when the hyraxes get older it starts to look shaggy like wool and the colour lightens to almost blonde.
June 20th Just about half an hour 5.30 ish-6 pm ish v tired today.. temps.. upper 20s C 39% SW 5.2kt clear skies
Can almost tell the temperature by the cicadas.. they were just starting to shut up as we approached the cistern.. it seems they start to shrill when the temperature approaches 30 degrees C and the temperature was just dropping below that as we arrived at look-out corner.
Hoopoe flew to cypress near the cistern and landed on the trunk (I wonder if there's a hole up there? A couple is regular in that area). Another one was seen in the pinewood by the central forest path to look-out corner.
We saw a great spotted cuckoo fly west across gazelle field.
Black- eared wheatears, at least 2 Bob jr near the cistern, ..2 Jays flew into the cistern and a bedgraggled hooded crow was preening himself in a desultory fashion on the ground in the field.. looked like he'd just had a bath. collared doves.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Never-ending Story 17th, 18th June

As I write 'our' orange tufted sunbirds are calling squeakily in the Bauhinia right outside my window and it will be dusk in a little over half an hour. The tree looks like a string bean tree right now, but not edible beans! It was hard for husband to tear me away from gazelle field today.. as usual I was reluctant to leave the bunker ruins.

Birdwatching, any kind of nature watching is a gradual cumulative process, much is repeated and the changes are subtle but meaningful. The observations that stay constant for a while are as significant as the special sightings, often more so.

There are always discoveries.. even just a little each day:. that the bee-eaters spent part of the afternoon intensely raiding an ant nest and then moved on, that two delightful families of wheatears at opposite ends of our walk are growing up before our eyes is a delight.. that they like thistle is a surprise, that the hobbies nested and then moved on, as apparently have the swifts already, that the rose ringed parakeets didn't show at all this year but were here last summer, but that black kites visited us this year, that buzzards pass through and cuckoos are successful, that jackdaws disappear on mysterious vacations, that one chukar family raises one lone chick and others raise seven to a dozen, all on a backdrop of the regular beautiful blackbird song, endless sparrow foraging and hooded crow patrolling.

They are all characters in a never- ending unfolding natural story

Yesterday's afternoon walk :
5.40 p.m. clear, 22.9 degrees C & falling, humidity 61% rising, 14.8 knots West
Gazelles none
Turtle doves: purring up in pine along creek trail before orchard, prob different male from the look-out corner bird. Would be handy to get maps and plot out territories for all the male singers and cooers. used to do that for the British Trust for Ornithology common bird census.. gives a nice picture of territories over a season.
Bee-eaters: about 10, orchard, grove and gazelle field. We visited the indentation in the ground they'd been visiting the previous day. The presence of large ant holes confirmed my theory they were after ants. We should have checked same day if winged ants had been emerging then or if unwinged ants were active. Bee-eaters normally go for winged bugs and they will certainly eat winged ants. No ants were active when we looked nearly 24 hours later.
Black-eared Wheatears: We decided to call the family near the cistern Bill's family, as opposed to Bob's family over by the saplings.
Other Bob, juv or mom Bob in sapling field. Cistern Mrs Bill 2 juv Bills, (and Billas) pom tree by cistern.. thistle heads by bunker ruins then into grove where Bill joined them.
House sparrows: foraging everywhere seedy as usual, Senegal doves: coos in Bauhinia by my window, and other places in our street, active in many locations as usual, Hooded crows: active as usual and foraging for dropped 'bamba' mid forest - it's a peanut flavoured puffed snack sold in packets popular here. House Sparrows love them too. Jackdaws: still on vacation, Jays: as usual, Feral pigeons: activity as usual, Greenfinches: twittering, foraging on thistle heads by sapling fields and around the ruined bunker.. various plumages visible, adults and juveniles. Blackbirds: song in their usual locations, Chukars: some chuckling over in north - east of grove
Collared doves: some coos, flight calls, 2 in pomegranate tree near cistern, Stone curlews: silent, Sunbirds: one around look- out corner , hadn't noticed them right there before but not surprising, good territory for them. In garden as usual. Graceful warblers: calls, song
Syrian woodpeckers, bulbuls and great tits very quiet today.

June 18
5 30 p.m. ish temp 25.9 and *rising*.. quite unusual for this time of day. Accounted for by wind (about 7 knots) swinging to SW from W most of the afternoon. Warm air from south.
humidity 45% and rising,
Gazelles: No sign both days. Agama lizard on the cypress trunk again.
We watched from the bunker ruins till our two young boys came running down, wanting to join us for a little.. actually they really wanted to go to the swimming pool and had just come to tell us they had made calls and got the schedule, but they were certainly happy to hang out with us for a little and see the bee-eaters, Bill's family and anything else around so for a while my binoculars were changing hands rapidly.
Turtle doves: Purring from eucalyptus and from a tall cypress near the cistern. A pair visited the cistern, hopping down inside, later flew west to the north valley. Birds are always nervous hopping down into that cistern, Water holes are always dangerous .. a drinking animal is vulnerable and must feel sure before drinking that he'll be safe.
Bee-eaters: Several hunting in the grove and over south east end of gazelle field.
Black-eared Wheatears: Mrs. Bill and at least two juveniles about. No sign of Bill himself. Foraging in grasses and thistles again. Our nine year old was happy to get good views of a 'Bill junior' foraging on the path and of greenfinches eating thistle seed under the cypress.
Pair of hooded crows out in the field between the big pine by the cistern and the grove, very tantalizing because we could hear the juvenile (great spotted) cuckoos calling clearly but could not see them. . they had to be in an indentation somewhere over there amongst the cushiony shrubs and rocks. They had been obvious and hopping about when we last saw them but then they were in partial shelter of trees and probably felt more confident .. here they were much more out in the open field and clearly preferred to keep a low profile. The hoodwinked hoodies were still tending them obviously.
House sparrows, Senegal doves, Hooded crows, Jays, Feral pigeons, blackbirds, as usual.
Jackdaws: on vacation. Several hoopoes around,
Collared doves, active, foraging over gazelle field, some flight calls, a little cooing. Syrian woodpecker alarm call. Great tits calling to each other
chukars, bulbuls, graceful warblers relatively quiet. Greenfinches less song than usual but we had to leave before they really got started with the pre- dusk performance.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Black Kite and teams of Bee-eaters

European Bee-eaters (creative commons)

Black kite: Nigel Milbourne

June 15th
Sunbirds and bulbuls : calls in bauhinia about 5 am
Late afternoon walk 21.3 degrees C and falling 25 plus max, 71% rising, 7 kt WNW
Bee-eaters: at least three in orchard hawking low and successfully between the small trees, perching in lower branches to eat
Black-eared Wheatears: Three between bunker ruins and cistern.. either 3 juveniles or 2 juveniles and mom. One foraging on a thistle head. This is interesting since they are normally insect eaters. Perhaps it was looking for bugs in the thistle head? The seeds are very nutritious though and perhaps it was after the thistle seeds.
Bob's family at sapling field... Other Bob, juvenile Bob
Hoopoe 1 at sapling field .
House sparrows, Feral pigeons, Hooded crows: as usual. One HS with feather as if collecting nesting material; Senegal doves: coos; ; Jays: foraging around and over gazelle field as usual; Greenfinches: chee sounds, not much singing; Blackbirds: a little song, foraging; Collared doves: activity as usual pair at cistern with pair of turtle doves; Graceful warblers: vocal. Great tits: Orchard as usual . 1 agama lizard on trunk of a cypress not far from the cistern.

16th June
20 degrees C and falling, 70% humidity rising, 12 knots WNW
We took both young boys aged 9 and 11 to show them the wheatears and the bee-eaters, much admired by the 11 year old, who of course also wanted to show his little brother the water boatmen bugs in the cistern.
Most exciting sighting was a lone Black Kite Milvus migrans seen at 7.15 p.m. over the creek trail. This is only the second time I've ever seen this species here.. last time was 2 individuals hunting together over the north valley back 27 March. Not high altitude, just over the tree tops. A hooded crow flew up to harass and drive it towards the south.
House sparrows, senegal doves, sunbird and bulbul active in Bauhinia shortly after 5 a.m.
Bee-eaters: between 7.20 pm and sunset Over 25 active over orchard, grove to north of orchard, creek path and orchard field. The group moved around from one area to another and were joined steadily by others coming in from the west. They started in the centre of the wood, just about half a dozen of them, moved east over toward the orchard, where they foraged a while, then shifted north over the grove there. For a while they seemed to be having fun perching at least ten at a time on a bonfire like pile of deadwood.. all facing south, taking off in small groups, hawking and coming back there. Toward dusk they took off west again over the woods of the north valley, though a few looped back and caught bugs over gazelle field, others headed north east at a leisurely pace. We saw a few sweep under the canopy between the pine trees. Lots of great views.
Black-eared Wheatears: One male and Mrs. Bob and a juvenile foraging around the saplings. They seem to like to use the top of the plastic tubes around the saplings as perches. (the tubes collect morning condensation which irrigates the young trees..seems to be working, most are growing quite well)
Turtle doves: coos, House sparrows, feral pigeons, Senegal doves, Collared doves, blackbirds, Graceful warblers as usual: Hooded crows, flock (or 'gang', or 'murder' if you insist ) of over 40 birds low over the valley shortly after 7 p.m. : Not unusual for them to congregate in such numbers prior to roosting
Jays, vocal in woods, busy foraging over gazelle field. Gazelle droppings no doubt provide bugs.
Greenfinches: our usual cheery 'canary chorus' towards sunset, plenty 'chee' calls. Stone curlews- some calling from north east. Syrian woodpecker, alarm call near orchard around sunset. No gazelles either day but plenty hyrax seen, one mom nursing her little ones on top of a boulder.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Gazelle weaning time June 15th

This interesting shot caught by my 11 yr old son shows hoopoe with wings and crest spread.

5.45 p.m. clear skies, 24.4 degrees C and falling, 60% humidity rising, wind 2.6 knots WSW (but generally tends to funnel down the north valley from the NW. )
Out just about an hour.. central valley path to 'look-out corner' and back. 'Look-out' corner is near the 'bee eucalyptus' where path to ruined bunker &cistern, creek path and central forest paths meet and is at the corner of gazelle field, orchard and woods.

6.40 p.m. 5 gazelle in gazelle field today.. One mother followed by a well grown young liked to graze near mom and once tried to nurse, rather awkwardly. He seemed to be leaning over past her left shoulder to reach underneath. It was clear that mom was trying to wean because she soon moved off, young one following eagerly, very amusing. One of the others was clearly a buck.. had horns and darker more distinct markings and he grazed further back from the others.. seemed he wanted a little 'space'. The other two were either very well grown young or females.

- definitely three, possibly four or more judging from direction from which calls seemed to be coming, hawking for insects over orchard and perching in the high eucalyptus next to it.
Hoopoes.. one taking dust bath on creek trail, another pair perched high in eucalyptus near orchard where a pair of bee-eaters had been. Could have been fourth individual in vicinity unless it was the same bird that was dustbathing.
Turtle doves: Cooing from up in the 'bee eucalyptus' or close by.. regular bird.
House sparrows, Senegal doves, Hooded crows (1 by cistern) , Feral pigeons, : activity as usual
Jackdaws: absent
Jays: Two family groups seen near look out corner, one more toward orchard, other back towards woods.
Greenfinches: Much song and seen eating from thistle heads.
Blackbirds: Some song and foraging on ground
Chukars, sunbirds, very quiet today. Our garden bird came to the Bauhinia and called about sunset, no song.
Collared doves: Some cooing, flight calling and one by cistern
Stone curlews: some calls over to north
Graceful warblers: calls and song
Syrian woodpeckers: Quite vocal, alarm calls in a number of locations
Falcon over north valley, flying to north west and clearly struggling against the wind. Hard to ID, young bird I think.. seemed dark brownish on top, not typical terracotta colour of kestrel and not dark grey enough to be hobby. Young hobby? hard to tell.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

12, 13th June

Pomegranate flower and developing fruit (taken same day.. about a week ago)
Now wasp season is gettng underway! Wasps' nest in foliage in park I took July '99

June 12 max 25 falling to 15, 17 .. 100% after dark and throughout the night. falling to about 40% mid afternoon (typical humidity patterns these day) 8 knots, peaking ~ 18 knots around 7 pm. WSW
No time to go to valley today. An hour or so before sunset we walked to upper neighbourhood (not much on the walk, wind kept much stuff down) I sat and waited for son's transport in the upper neighbourhood which covers a hilltop, typical Israeli suburb, flat roof 3 storey apartment buildings surrounded by gardens and well grown trees. Still quite a few common swifts several : Active overhead till dark. House sparrows and senegal doves: activity as usual. Hooded crows: " kwah kwah kwah". One perched in branches right over my head and called kurak kurak kurak! ! I need to collect a 'glossary' of their different calls.. they're quite extensive. Maybe that one meant 'human below with black tube thing!!' Who knows;). Jackdaws: still none. Eurasian Jays: active around many large gardens in upper neighbourhood. Feral pigeons: on and betw buildings
Greenfinches: didn't hear upper neighbourhood Blackbirds: one on television antenna singing at 7.55 pm.Sunbirds: calling various gardens. They do very well in human gardens all over.. and strings of gardens have practically acted as their arteries helping to spread them all over suburbs everywhere.
Syrian woodpeckers: female on trees outside buildings. Calls. Yellow-vented Bulbuls (btw, also known as white spectacled bulbuls): active in gardens especially dusk
Great tits: some calls
June 13 ~5.30 p.m. to just after 7 p.m. Valley.. valley road> sapling field> creek trail> orchard> gazelle field look-out> central forest trail> home.
22.8 degrees C (72 degrees C), 4.3 knots northerly, 70% humidity and rising.
The black- eared wheatear family. Bob, Mrs Bob, Other Bob & Bob Junior. Today we had four different individuals in view at once!.. all foraging by the saplings, either on the ground or on top of the plastic tubes in which the saplings are growing. (Quite a few leaves visible over the level of the top of the tubes.. the young trees are coming along nicely. )
Bob as usual the most conspicuous of the family because of his contrasting plumage. We were also pleased to see 'Other Bob' , (previously called Bob Jr, but I don't want to get him confused with Bob's juniors of this year ) the spring plumage male that I'm thinking is a first year male, possibly Bob's son from last year. Then (finally) Mrs Bob appeared on the scene foraging just like Bob. Nice to see her. Then, finally an immature bird. There are probably other immature birds around but as I have said these are countershaded and camouflaged and we can't know without colour banding them which and how many immatures we're talking about altogether. Still, we're going to keep our eyes open to see if we can get a count. We'd like to know just exactly how successful Bob and Mrs Bob have been this year.
Turtle doves: plenty cooing. House sparrows, Senegal doves, Feral pigeons, greenfinches: activity as usual. Hooded crows.. a few hanging out on the ground up on the hill. I heard some song up there, and caught a glimpse of adot in the sky hovering over the hill, but sadly brief I'm sure is a lark. Some blackbird song. Chukars quiet but one spotted sitting still on a rock in north valley.. they're amazingly camouflaged for such large chicken sized birds.. obvious in the open but their vivid black, red and white flank bars and countershading blends amazingly well in the terrain when standing still. Only spotted it because I was scanning. Collared doves: Three in pomegranate tree near cistern later joined a fourth by cistern.

Bee-eaters:) : At least two hawking over the grove immediately to the north of the orchard. I know I'm partial to them but they are gorgeous and sound lovely too. husband said they were 'twurbling' which is a good way of putting it.
Hoopoes: several around- on the sapling field, approach to the ruined bunker and near the cistern.
Stone curlews: heard from direction of gazelle field and north valley north edge.
Sunbirds: quiet today
Graceful warblers: busy, noisy and singing.
Syrian woodpeckers: busy noisy, alarm calls especially in the grove next to the orchard.
Great tits: Calls and activity from the orchard and edges of gazelle field.
Gazelle field was as usual busy with activity of house sparrows, Eurasian Jays, Collared doves and the occasional hooded crow. No gazelles today alas.
Jackdaws: Still no sign.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Surfin' Hoodies June 11th

"Bob" the black- eared wheatear, lichen on limestone and an aromatic bushy shrub found all over the hill, fragrance like oregano.. from shape of flowers definitely mint family but this pic doesn't show that.
All pics taken with our casio digital

Today we went out a little after 5 p.m. to- after 7 p.m. humidity 70% and rising, just under 22 degrees C and falling, wind WNW vearing SW at just under 8 knots

For a change we took a hike up the hill to the east of the valley just a few hundred feet above level of valley floor and a nice little work- out up old goat trails over limestone covered with lichens and winding between springy cushions of wonderfully aromatic plants with purple blooms.. fragrance of rich oregano. Lovely and invigorating. I'd hoped for larks but possibly the wind kept them down. We did find a group of Hooded Crows apparently having a lark

I'd seen them from down below but now we were amongst them. I had already come to the conclusion they were just playing but watching them now, a group of about twenty five of them over the western slopes of the hill, we realized they were wind surfing! They were picking up the gusts of wind as they arrived at the hill and then riding on them. There was no survival purpose at all.. they were simply having fun! It was all very Alfred Hitchcockish esp when they started wheeling aobut over our heads cawing. Maybe we'd messed up their game by introducing unpredictable turbulence, or we just alarmed them a little. I had often wondered if crows had learned that black tubes carried by humans are trouble. They're smart birds and could have learned to associate black tubes with guns and I was carrying my binoculars as usual. For a couple of minutes they were cawing and wheeling around above us seeming agitated and annoyed, though too scared to approach closer.. then when they saw we were no real threat they went back to their wind surfing.

1 gazelle female over near the trees as usual on gazelle field.
Turtle doves: cooing in the woods at several locations
At the saplings field near the pump station: Black-eared wheatear 'Bob' busy foraging and active, (not loud but carrying 'chk- tsu' calls and a 4th individual still and silent sat on a rock not far into the field. At first I thought it might be Mrs Bob but clear when the male visited that it was a well grown juvenile, belly nearly white, camouflage russet/grey on top and a hint of yellow flesh at bill corner. As soon as the male landed it begged for food and was fed. Seemed a bit more developed than the juvenile we'd noticed on saturday though much better view this time, hubby had fun getting pics of him, because he went into his 'let's distract tall scarey looking human' act.
House sparrows, Senegal doves, Eurasian Jays, Feral pigeons, Greenfinches, Blackbirds, Collared doves, Graceful warblers, Syrian woodpeckers, Bulbuls, Great tits, stone curlews, activity and behaviour pretty much as previous few weeks.
Chukars, quiet.
Jackdaws: still apparently on vacation

Bee-eaters.. about 7 p.m. back! About half a dozen, hard to know exactly, hunting low over trees over orchard and trees to north of orchard and right by us at the gazelle field look out. As usual we heard before we saw

It was really hard to tear myself away today but we had to get back if we're going to be responsible parents. It was so sweet at that corner of gazelle field, wood and orchard with greenfinches singing, bee-eaters hunting, dancing in the air above us, turtle doves purring and views of gazelle field and the cistern.. .. I could easily have stay there till dark. Ahhhh! not only charming but so promising! Another day....

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bikers of the Sky

Honey Buzzard M. Panuccio

Temp rose a lot since yesterday.. 35 degrees (95 deg F) C peak, still 32.2 (90 deg F) at 7 pm. We were out from about 5.30 p.m. to 7 p.m. We took some water with, naturally and in this climate it's always wise to keep the head covered.
Sunny, plenty high altitude clouds. met office said westerlies 6 knots 17 % humidity.
18 magnificent raptors made their steady way from SE to NW at a steady leisurely glide and only between 100 and 200 feet up. How did they make their way north west with the winds against them? They rode thermals to take them to higher altitude, left the thermal and glided in the direction they wanted downwards. They passed through in a long string.. husband said they seemed like bikers passing through a town, dark, threatening, ominous enough to keep the crows in low profile.
From the wing shape and barring nearest ID I can get is dark honey buzzard Pernis apivorus. (so actually dangerous mainly to bees) We're right at the very tail end of their spring migration when the more immature birds fly north, which would explain the dark colouration. Peak is mid May.
The two black-eared wheatears (summer and spring plumage males.. Bob and Bob jr I'm calling them for now ) we saw yesterday in the field by the saplings were still busy there hunting for insects on the ground. No sign of any young and female, must be under cover. In some birds such as wagtails, offspring from the previous year help out with the brood.. that may be what we're seeing here. Bob Jr. helping out with the folks before he homesteads for himself.
Turtle doves: Cooing in various places including the eucalyptus with all the bees, and a cypress close to the cistern .. that one was on tip top side 'wing' currring right out in the open. It was wonderful to hear the turtle dove coos blend with the sound of many cicadas in the orchard at different pitches - quite a natural orchestra- strings with a tremolo woodwind thrown in. Makes up for the annoying habit of flies playing hopscotch on my fingers while I'm trying to keep field glasses steady.
House sparrows: active all over especially gazelle field after grass seed as usual.
Senegal doves: coos and foraging in many locations.
Hooded crows: Active as singles in many locations, some vocal
Jackdaws: still absent
Jays: Active and vocal.. active especially in gazelle field.
Feral pigeons: active overhead as usual. They're always on top of buildings in our street but I don't usually give them much attention. Today I looked up and was amused to see a male into his bowing and strutting and cooing routine while the two other nearest pigeons had their backs to him and were fascinated with something happening in the exact opposite direction.
Greenfinches: Twittering away like canaries in many of the pines.
Blackbirds: Some song and foraging on forest floor. My son called me from Switzerland. "Mom, can you hear that bird singing in the background?" "yup, it's a blackbird!" He laughed. Some constants remain true for quite a distance! He went on an alpine hike today, saw plenty ravens, eagles and alpine choughs. (a glossy black crow with yellow bill, red feet and superb aerial control) I'd described them to him and told him to look out for the choughs and get pictures if he could. He told me he encountered them. Awesome! they were fearless and he could get very close. Now I'm just counting on our communication being good re descriptions etc and eagerly awaiting those photographs. I saw a gorgeous flock of alpine choughs at a beergarten on top of Mount Tegelberg in Bavaria many years back and those did seem to have little fear of people.
Chukars: Party of at least one adult and at least ten chicks left creek area and headed up slopes to east. Shortly after another group, again at least one adult and seven or so chicks crossed creek path close to previous crossing, also headed up east.
Collared doves: Quite a number cooing away, foraging, one visited cistern
Stone curlews: calls
Sunbirds: calls in tree and on valley road
Graceful warblers: song and calls in grasses
Syrian woodpeckers: Calls in several places. Forgot to mention, husband noticed family group yesterday, at least two young flying between trees.
Bulbuls: First bird I heard today before 5 a.m.
Great tits: Foraging in many places especially edges of field and orchard.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Pessimistic Predictions Crumble

Pessimistic Prediction #1 - that the planting of saplings in the field near the Pumping station would put off the wheatears.


We saw (part of) a whole family there today and absolutely gorgeous. A magnificent male Black eared wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca) in summer plumage hopped and chirped on the rocks quite close to us, often not more than twenty feet in front of us.. for all the world looking like he was attracting our attention. I believe he was, he put on quite a performance, enchanted us with calls, posturings and posings for some minutes. The photograph above shows a male in spring plumage. In summer plumage the black has retreated further from the bib revealing more white, and his feathers are mostly snow white all over. He was enchanting! .. we could see the silky white and cream of his breast plumage.

A little while later he crossed the field and visited a mound of earth and boulders. On it, perched, still and almost totally camouflaged was a juvenile wheater. Dad visited it quite briefly, no doubt hoping us humans wouldn't notice. These humans were equipped with 10x50 Bushnells and we did :) It was very likely Mom and other juveniles were around but under cover of grasses. He then flew down by the saplings and visited a third wheatear that had a much more extensive dark chin and black and brown wings but pretty much white everywhere else but the centre and tips of tail, which were black. Plumage contrasting too much to be a female I thought.. first year male? His son from last year? The two interacted several times though socially, not aggressively.

(I'm sure the dad of the family was attracting our attention at the start to distract us from the rest of his family. I'm also sure that he was exactly the same kind of wheatear we saw at the cistern a week ago although almost definitely not the same individual. Back then I claimed that other black- eared wheatears we've seen were likely O.h. hispanica. Now, given the amount of variation I've seen in their plumage, especially in younger birds and the fact that O.h.h. occurs more in west mediterranean and O.h.m. occurs over here it seems that we've been seeing the latter all along , but only this summer we've seen the male in all his glory. Surprises me that we missed such an obvious bird in earlier years but that's the way it can go.. nature shows you what it will, when it will. )

My second pessimistic prediction was that the sunbird would not bother to visit the Bauhinia now the blooms quit putting out nectar. Wrong again! He's in there every day, calling and today a little song again just after 7 p.m. Perhaps he has a nest very close by. Now his usual nesting haunts in the cape honeysuckle are plagued with cats he could have moved to a different location close to the Bauhinia or possibly higher in the thick of the canopy above my window. I prefer not to hunt for nests because I don't wish to disturb the birds at all. I simply wait for evidence to show itself to me.

Cistern.. Eurasian Jay hopped in briefly for a drink. Soon after a party of two pairs of collared doves arrived. The two males were in an amorous mood, strutting, cooing and inflating necks maximum size, apparently too much for the females. They took off and headed off west across the field, males in pursuit. Shortly after another collared dove appeared by cistern, couldn't know if one of the earlier party or another.. there are a LOT around.
Calls of great tit heard so I predicted 'there'll be a great tit by the cistern in a minute'.. and there was. I love it when that happens. Then a group of youths appeared to play 'kerplunk', followed by a group of children on a saturday afternoon stroll so that curtailed that 'cistern-watch' as far as the birds were concerned.
Calls of great spotted cuckoo juveniles over in pine grove immediately to our east both on 8th and 9th but not visible.
2 hoopoes in the field by the saplings.
Turtle doves: Cooing in many locations.. pairs in flight here and there.
House sparrows, Hooded crows, Jays, Feral pigeons, stone curlews, sunbirds, great tits : Usual activity
Senegal doves: Coos and usual activity
Jackdaws: still mysteriously absent
Chukar: 9th .. one in dry stream bed.. then crossed trail and climbed up slopes to east
Greenfinches, quieter on 9th
Plenty swifts active around 7 p.m. on -9th. No show on bee-eaters.
No gazelles 8th or 9th.. some hyrax activity.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Double Hoodwink!

Hoodwinker: Great spotted cuckoo Hoodwinked: Hooded crow

Walk.. a little after 5 p.m. to after 6.30 ish pm.
temp 20 ish degrees C falling, humidity over 70% and rising, wind less than 5 knots and from west,
Gazelle - 1 adult female in the field 6.15 pm ish .

Double hoodwink!
Hooded crow feeding two quite well feathered Great Spotted Cuckoo fledgelings on the ground over by the east grove, just down from the bipass road. Awesome sighting! As you know if you read earlier entries I've been hoping to see success for those cuckoos and the calls I'd been hearing in the grove indicated that it was happening but this was our first visual confirmation. I was attracted to the scene by the calls which sounded vaguely cuckooish and baby birdish and then noticed the birds on the ground near the edge of the trees, so we focussed binocs on them and watched for a few minutes.
European cuckoos normally only leave one interloper in a nest but they are brood parasites on much smaller birds. This hoodwinked hoodie had two pretenders to rear! I saw it poke the ground repeatedly with its bill, possibly for invertebrates in the soil, while the cuckoos hopped around and called. Several times they approached the crow, the pitch rose, calls came closer together and crow fed the young ones. It was interesting how often we've noticed the adults fly over there.. as if they still take an interest in their chicks ? Husband felt a little sorry for the poor hoodwinked hoodie but I couldn't help noticing the poetic karma in it all.. the crows harass the Buteos flying through simply because they're seen as competitive strangers, and ironically end up rearing strangers themselves! The crows are not exactly an endangered species. Yes they were fooled by the cuckoos but sometimes I think the universe has a sense of humour, thought it seems dark humour at times....

This could well be the second or third or even later crow family that the cuckoos had managed to fool this season but it will probably be the last unless I'm wrong. Several weeks ago we discovered many wing feathers, both black and brown, on the ground below the trees near the eastern end of north valley. From the size and colouring and markings on those feathers I believe these to be evidence that the other adult cuckoo was killed. I failed to record the time of this discovery and the date I last saw the two adults together but for sure I did NOT see two adults together after we found those feathers. I hope I'm wrong but we shall see.

A few minutes before we found the crows and young cuckoos I saw an adult G.S. cuckoo emerge from the cistern where it seemed to have been bathing a little as well as drinking as its plumage seemed damp. It took off west to the woods in the north valley. Shortly after that an entire charming family of seven great tits assembled around the edge of the second smaller pit in the cistern which had been filled in with stones and boulders. They seemed to be picking at insects on the ground there. Then they all took off to one of the pomegranate trees. Three collared doves assembled around the larger water containing cistern for a little while.

Earlier on the creek trail we noticed a common kestrel (I think a female) Falco tinnunculus taking a nice dust bath on the ground.. even rolling on her back in the dust and getting it all over her feathers. I never saw a kestrel take a dust bath before so this was quite a cute sighting. Another kestrel had been noticed earlier hovering over the ridge of the hill to the east-
(not the same hill as we saw the kestrel a week or so ago.. probably a different territory .. that was further north. Also earlier husband had noticed calls by the school of one of my teenage daughters.. up to the west of the valley this time.. a different territory again. The pickings are so good for the kestrels around here that territories can be quite small, and they are not shy to breed right on windowsills of high rise apartments.

It was likely though that the hovering kestrel was the mate of the dust bathing kestrel because those two were not very far apart, though not the same bird )
Turtle doves: Cooing in many locations in woods.
House sparrows: Busy foraging everywhere.. gardens, all around bunker ruins and grassy fields as usual.
Senegal doves: Some coos.. one literally getting into a flap in our Bauhinia lately..
Hooded crows: Small groups on the hills and singles here and there
Jackdaws: none
Jays: Busy foraging througout woods and on gazelle field
Feral pigeons: some overhead
Greenfinches: Plenty singing and calling in the pines, cypress and eucalyptus
Blackbirds: A little song
Chukars: nothing
Collared doves: Foraging, coos and calls in many locations throughout woods
Stone curlews: some calls north of woods north valley
Sunbirds: some calls in the garden
Graceful warblers: foraging in grassy areas near start of valley road as usual, relatively quiet
Syrian woodpeckers: Some calls.. feeding on eucalyptus trunk
Bulbuls: Calls in garden, calls and foraging in the orchard
Great tits: mentioned above re cistern.
One large dark raptor flying over the east edge of the valley to the south but didn't get more detail before it went out of sight. Probably a Buteo.