Thursday, August 30, 2007

Heron visitors

Approaching 6 p.m. 26.1 degrees C, , (~79 degrees F) 66% risig, 13.9 rising, W
Two hobbies Falco subbuteo over east valley south of pumping station, quite vocal. Other bird life as normal for this season, much hyrax activity.
30th 25.7 degrees C, 78 and quarter degrees F and falling 69% and rising, WSW 9.6 kt and rising,
Bird of the day would be herons, from the size and markings I identified them as Night herons, Nycticorax nycticorax. Quite remarkable sighting.. a nice flock of at least 20 birds perched in several pines by the dry creek. These are common passage migrants but it was interesting to see them in an upland pine forest. (~800 metres above sea level. They rose in a mild panic at our approach with much "ROK" and "KROK" like calls, wheeled around and headed toward the south. We last saw night herons here there were just 3 perched in the pines but in a different location, at a bend in the central trail, and that was several months back. So far I have been unable to find the exact date of that record but within the past year.
Gazelle - 1 full grown without horns grazing by dry stone wall and tree in gazelle field.
hyrax - some activity.. one well grown let us photograph him, lying stretched out and relaxed by the valley road.
Hoopoes- the regular pair on the trail close to the cistern as usual, alternating between walking around and poking the ground and just sitting in the dust
Calls of a shrike, likely the masked shrike we saw the other day, in the trees by the bunker ruins, but it stayed out of our line of sight.
House sparrows, Senegal doves, feral pigeons, around the buildings as usual :
Hooded crows, Jackdaws- Usual flocks on hillsides and quite vocal and busy:
Eurasian Jays: Usual squabbling vocalisations or foraging singly and scattered.
Greenfinches: Flock of at least 40 took off from eucalyptuses near look- out corner and grove and took off over orchard .. clearly panicked.. soon saw the trouble.. two falcons made an appearance soon after, from the brownness of the plumage looked like immatures and probably hobbies.
Collared doves: Quite a few about, seen in flight and perching but quiet today.
Sunbirds: Song in Bauhinia again
Graceful warblers: Quite vocal yesterday, quiet today
Syrian woodpeckers: Quite vocal and visible
Bulbuls: Song in garden, calls around orchard

Eucalyptuses along the dry creek trail are in flower and have been positively buzzing with honeybee activity lately.. and the bee-eaters moved on! The sunbirds are clearly enjoying them too.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

wasp and bee battle, honey buzzards

6 p.m. 27.9 DEGREES C, 82 degrees F and falling, 3.5 kt W and falling, 43% humidity and rising

Gazelles no show today
hyrax plenty activity, scampering down slopes by valley road to cross to dens on forest side
reptiles small Lacerta lizard in garden
Hoopoes a few around lookout corner and bunker, one in pomegranate tree
Falcons.. pair over windsurfer hill, typical call of hobbies.. nice flight watch, could see mask but not thigh colour but glimpse of back and greyish.. probably hobbies , may not be those with us early in summer but passage migrants, no way to know
Remarkable sight on ground on the dry creek trail.. wasp and honeybee locked in mortal combat, both buzzing till honeybee finally stopped, end abdomen torn, sting expended. Wasp continued attack, removed wings and abdomen. If the bee used its sting how did the wasp survive that? Perhaps it would also succumb later.
House sparrows: houses as usual, Senegal doves: pair by bread zone - some people spread crumbs just beyond fence near the garbage.
Hooded crows: small flock by hizmeh and windsurfer hill, one flew up to peck at hobby but was unsuccessful, hobby dodged
Jackdaws: calls, small flocks about
Jays: foraging and squabbles as usual
Feral pigeons, blackbirds : low profile
Greenfinches: small flock to look out corner
Chukar partridges: chuckling east valley from the slopes to east of pumping station. .
Collared doves:coos, flight calls, around cistern
Sunbirds:song in bauhinia
Syrian woodpeckers:vocal and active as usual
Bulbuls: calls in the garden
Great tits: calls in the pines east valley
Betw about 5.30 and 6.30 p.m. temps now 27.3 degrees C, humidity 50% and rising, wind WNW 11 kt
Walked up to neighbourhood centre with husband and boys, then back down the mountainside scented with tall flowering liqorice scented fennel, food for a second wind of butterflies, medium/small jobs pastel orange upper wing, pale underwing. We've also noticed Saturnid butterflies about again lately. We picked up an outskirts trail and road overlooking east valley. There's at least one small owl resident in the rocks by this road.. almost perfectly camouflaged but has not escaped the eye of the men who use that route regularly and mention him with pride. We didn't see him today but my son believes a family of them was raised this year. What kind of owl? I believe it's a scops.. Otus scops too small to be a Little owl, (despite the name) , face pattern less marked and plumage pale and faint barring. When it's totally still it disappears against the limestone bluff behind it.
Over Hizmeh husband spotted a group of seven majestic raptors. From the thin barring of dark on almost snow white I'd say they were honey buzzards, Pernis apivorus, and clearly soaring on a thermal. A flock of at least forty hooded crows rose up from windsurfer hill to give them aggravation but I guess when they truly realized what they were up against they had second thoughts. As one the flock turned and headed in the opposite direction. That was pretty funny.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Escaped cockatiel, sparrowhawk, M Shrike

August 25th
Graceful warblers and great tits quite vocal today and chukar patridges heard chuckling down in the north valley but highlight was a nice appearance of 'Cap'n Jack' (Eurasian sparrowhawk) rising up over the eucalyptus grove, magnificent and barred.. then heading east over Hizmeh. Finally it turned to the south and went into a long almost falcon like glide towards a flock of crows on the hillside. Talk about not looking for trouble! From the brownness of its back I'd say it was an immature bird. The crows didn't much like his arrival but I noticed they were very hesitant to take him on, they must know by now he can duel with them very adequately.
August 26th 29 degrees C, (~84 degrees F), humidity: ~38% and rising, wind: W/NW ~6kt
First bit of 'exotic wildlife' we saw was somewhat sad. We first heard him, then spotted him but in silhouette. The calls and long tail said 'parrot' and my experience guessed cockatiel. (we have had three birds, still have a lovely lutino called "Prince". ) I had hoped for a ring neck parakeet- which occasionally hang out in east valley and visit the gardens but no, smaller and single calls rather than the raucous repeated calls of ringnecks. Finally I saw the escape, clinging to the ornamental bars of an upstairs window like Peter Pan wanting to be let in, poor thing. Normal grey colouring but with white outer primaries, nice male. Cockatiels can survive in the wild here a while but don't do as well as the ring necks. I've seen an escaped cockatiel at the *zoo*, in the waterbird section. There it was perched on a fence by the flamingoes and looking miserable. They are strong fliers and extremely hard to catch when escaped. Best bet is for the owner to just keep open window and cage and wait... unless it was intentionally released because it was causing headaches. Happens a lot all around the world, people get one of the parrots and don't give it enough attention, it gets noisy and disturbs household and neighbours and there are complaints. The poor bird gets dumped as a rescue or released into unsuitable habitat. Climate and vegetation is not too bad for a cockatiel here but in captivity many get a limited diet and get so used to that they are reluctant to try anything new. Freedom usually means starvation. Perhaps this one will make its way to us because of the calls of our bird. I couldn't quarter him with Prince since they're both male and may not get along but I have other accommodation.
Gazelles 3 .. one full grown individual in the eucalyptus grove , 2 young in the young pine grove, just north of the central trail, an area that is part of north valley. Perhaps two of the 'teenagers' we saw the other day.
Masked shrike -Lanius nubicus. I heard its grating call in the orchard and figured it was some kind of shrike- out of sight but we were able to follow its calls. It moved through the eucalyptus grove and finally I managed to get a decent view of it hunting in the pine grove just north of there. Characteristically they sit on a low branch and swoop down to the ground to catch large bugs, small lizards and the like. This is what I look for, that downward flash of the white feathers stands out clearly in the lower storey of the woods.. Then I try to follow it back on its upward swing to its perch for a good view. Delighted to see one of these gorgeous birds again.. this means the southward passage migration of these birds is well underway and we'll probably see and hear more.
Kestrel- heard south of the pumping station and up the hill to the west. We've heard this bird a few times in the last few days but out of sight.
Another falcon over hill to north east, just north of Hizmeh, probably a kestrel but just seen in silhouette, gliding along, not hovering.
Hoopoes. on the trail past the cistern .. husband got nice classic shots of 'hoopoe on a boulder'.. very handsome specimen.
House sparrows, Senegal doves: around houses, streets as usual
Hooded crows: Jackdaws: Small flocks to the east, windsurfer hill, north east gazelle field.
Eurasian Jays: all around forest and fields, foraging singly as usual
Greenfinches: Flock of 18 or so flying between pine groves and look out corner area. Now as the juvenile finches grow up I notice these flock flights cover longer
Collared doves: Flight calls and cooing, and plenty about from gazelle field to east field. Small group on the lines. they're starting to flock a little too now.
Stone curlews: yesterday, not today
Sunbirds: Our young male in the bauhinia still practising and another young male on a bush by the valley road before the turn south.. a territory I had hardly noticed before but plenty cover for a nest in those bushes at the head of a storm drain.
Graceful warblers: Yesterday quite vocal, today almost silent.
Syrian woodpeckers: Vocal as usual
Yellow vented Bulbuls: Vocal in the gardens
Great tits: Calls in various parts of the pine woods.

Turtle doves, Bee-eaters,Wheatears, Great spotted cuckoos none seen or heard. I believe the cuckoos have moved on now and the bee-eaters either for the season or temporarily, we shall see yet. Blackbirds, low profile, chukars silent .

Friday, August 24, 2007

gazelle teenage outing, chameleon, dragonfly.

Thurs: August 23rd

Warm and quite humid, (I didn't get around to getting the figures from the station on time)
On our usual late afternoon walk.. gazelles: 5 altogether today.. 2 in a glade toward east end of the orchard, moved to far end when we arrived - 1 hornless and short horned, probably the same mom and young we've been seeing a lot around there..young sproinged off toward the east. Fresh gazelle gazelle spoor right on the dry creek trail by the orchard. (easy to recognize, looks like a pile of almost black peas)
Then around 7 pm to our delight looked like teenage gazelle outing.. three young gazelle in the middle of the pinewood just to south of central trail and to west of dry creek in a burnt ground glade.. leader, young male, short horns, followed by hornless, followed by one with shorter horns. Interesting because we haven't seen them in that section before.

Reptiles: a beautiful camouflaged chameleon in dried spent thistles by pumping station. His eyes were busy moving out of synch with each other in their peculiar fascinating way, often swiveling backwards to peer at us. Very alien and curious they are. This one was showing a moth like tapestry of brownish grey and offwhite, repeating intricate bars and perfect for camouflage at the base of thistle stems.. if it hadn't been loping along like a miniature camel we would have missed it entirely. As it is, I'm sure we do overlook chameleons all the time. They are quite common here and occasionally seen in the garden. Unfortunately we didn't have the camera with and I've been searching the net for an image I can use which resembles it at all. Chameleons we've seen can range in colour between very pale sand to almost black with a wide range of greys, browns and greens in between. There are about half a dozen rough vertical bands down the length of their bodies (with more and more narrowly spaced along the tail) These bands can be made more or less visible and contrasting at will and in a variety of different colour permutations.
Agama lizard on pine trunk, quite still.
reddish dragonfly in vegetation along valley road by turn south.. plenty mosqutoes for them.. there has been a leak from the buildings and a mini marsh formed by the valley road in last few weeks. We call it the bog of eternal stench and hurry past. Cicadas too today.

2 or same.. one foraging on the ground on trail by orchard, one in eucalyptus branch in that grove
House sparrows: bauhinia, around houses as usual
Senegal doves: street, houses
Hooded crows: calls.. around small flock from hizmeh, bangs
Jackdaws: calls.. and small flock from hizmeh both fanning west in alarm
Jays, feral pigeons, greenfinches : as in past few weeks
Collared doves: pomegranate tree and around
Stone curlews: calls from north valley
Sunbirds: calls from eucalyptus grove, song and calls in bauhinia as usual, the young male again I think
Syrian woodpeckers: calls, quite active and visible.
Bulbuls: calls garden. Some song in the Bauhinia at about 7.30 p.m.
Great tits: calls?
Great spotted cuckoos, Turtle doves, Bee-eaters, blackbirds, chukars, graceful warblers, not seen or heard
Wheatears, not sure, calls? None seen.

It's Friday 24th as I write.. I've been hearing the bulbul family in the garden, calls from the sunbird in the Bauhinia and a senegal dove cooing in there earlier.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Orange Tufted Sunbird, Nectarinia osea this photograph is property of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory and ringing station.

6.30 -7.30 p.m. ish
1 Gazelle.. hornless, behind the giant pine behind the cistern.
Sunbird, much singing in the Bauhinia lately, and calling, one day calling the 'squeak' well over a hundred times in succession with just a couple of very brief pauses. That must take some doing vocally but a bird's breathing system is very efficient, one way circular track through all the air passages with associated air sacs.
Seemed whole family flitting about high in a eucalyptus along the dry creek trail. The tree is in flower and they are probably getting nectar
21st August
6 p.m. - 7 p.m. 27.5 degrees C and falling, humidity 45% and rising, wind NW veering W, 6-7 kt
4 gazelle today in two groups of two each, not male/female, two appeared to have very short horns, one slightly longer horns but still thin. Other hornless. Making their way west through the eucalyptus grove. One crossed the path about 50 yards in front of us, toward the cistern and headed off into the field behind there, the others stayed in the grove. This is probably their regular route from the east field to gazelle field, we've seen them come down this way several times now. Of course we'll be looking out for a/the buck, I'd like reassurance he returned safely from inside the fences.
feral dogs - barking toward evening down from the creek trail, could be pack or the family, hard to tell. We have heard barking down there in the middle of the night lately, enough barks to be the pack.
reptiles. A number of gecko young noticed lately
Bee-eaters: some calls today
Hoopoes: pair in the path near the cistern.. standing so close together that when they moved apart it looked like they had just multiplied by binary fission. Just a cute effect.
House sparrows: Senegal doves: feral pigeons, around houses as usual
Hooded crows:Jackdaws: calls heard but keeping generally low profile
Eurasian Jays: plenty about, foraging in woods and fields as usual
Greenfinches: Twitters and movement between trees of small groups around look-out corner as usual and then suddenly at least 50 erupted from the eucalyptus above us and flew over to the eucalyptus grove.. We soon saw the trouble. A sparrowhawk was sweeping in close above the canopy, made a couple more passes, then landed on a eucalyptus branch over the path by the grove. Husband's sharp eyes caught the three bands on the tail which confirmed I.D. because it was either that or a young hobby.. these birds not so easy to tell apart when in swift gliding action and seen briefly. It then took off and flew across gazelle field to the pines of the north valley.
Blackbirds: One short call.. they really are keeping a low profile.
Collared doves: still about but quieter.. flight call heard yesterday.
Sunbirds: some calls around look-out corner. Our garden bird is in a very amorous mood.. much singing in the Bauhinia again today and today, eureka! I finally managed to witness him in display mode, orange tuft clearly visible on his side, I could hardly believe my eyes. Finally! The leaves of the tree are so large one alone can hide most of him from view so spotting him can be a game of hide and seek even though he's just a few feet away the whole time. Nectarinia osea has several names.. Palestinian Sunbird or Orange Tufted Sunbird the most used. In Hebrew he's 'tzufit boheket' tzuf=nectar because that is his favourite diet item, and boheket
meaning glossy/iridescent.
Syrian woodpeckers: Calls, and one flew from north valley pines to look-out corner eucalyptus shortly after the sparrowhawk went over there.. feels threatened?
Bulbuls: Calls of young birds in the garden, quite a lot though not as intense as they were a few days ago.
Great tits: Calls yesterday, briefly glimpsed today in the pines.. they're there in some numbers I'm sure but most concealed in the green of the canopy.
Turtle doves: Wheatears: Great spotted cuckoos, chukars, stone curlews, graceful warblers none seen or heard today

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Eyn Geddi outing

Eyn Geddi, ~1p.m. -4 p.m. Here freshwater streams run out of the Judean desert toward the Dead Sea. Wonderful place, one of my favourites in the country for beauty and special wildlife. Impossible to do justice to this canyon oasis in one blog entry but I hope to give you a taste. Temperatures were about 100 degrees F, humidity high and since we had to be there in the heat of the afternoon we took it easy and kept cool, and of course, drank plenty.
We saw a number of Nubian Ibexes up the face of the canyon including a family picking its way down the south wall, mother and couple of kids grouped close making their way down south wall. We marvelled at how their hoofs could grip the treacherous sandstone trail. Some way back male, possibly the father, and then more males spaced pretty evenly about 30 m from each other. If one male paused the one behind it would wait till it moved on before it moved on. In this way they kept the distance pretty constant.

Plenty hyrax live in this wadi but we did not notice any on this visit. We noticed the old leopard warning signs were gone. This saddened me.. it seems any desert leopards must stay far from the trails we used.
Blackstarts Cercomela melamura, a small thrush like bird, was quite common as we approached Shulamit waterfall. They are not so afraid of people and flitted through the giant reeds, alighting on boulder tops just over the heads of passing hikers.

Lower parts of the wadi were less frequented by people since they lacked the attractive pools and here the birds were most active in wadi side trees, particularly Acacia and Moringa. There were plenty of our familiar yellow vented bulbuls and senegal doves, and of course, house sparrows but I was also happy to notice an Arabian babbler Turdoides squamiceps, and if there's one there are no doubt others around since they tend to live in small communities. No sign of the Little Green Bee-eaters special to the area though we kept constant lookout, no doubt the local flock/s were using a different area at that time. I also heard the loud harsh call of a kingfisher but sadly did not see it. I believe it was a Pied kingfisher, Ceryle rudis.
At the car park we noticed a lot of tufts of cotton like material flying on the breeze - I recognized them as the hairy seeds of the Sodom apple Calotropis procera a tree with a green fruit which look deceptively fleshy but when opened reveal empty space and seeds like dandelion. Why so much flying through in the air ? That mystery was soon solved. A turtle dove was sitting on top of one of the trees, intently and methodically pulling out the fluff. I found it interesting that these doves would find these seeds nutritious.. they are tiny and the dove must go through an awful lot of fluff to get enough nutrition from them.
The airspace over the wadi and upper canyon was clearly 'owned' by the fantailed ravens Corvus rhipidurus
They soared on updraughts and thermals in small groups and at one time in a loose flock of at least 60 individuals. Beautiful to watch. My son was delighted he found a primary feather. Most of the rest of the airspace through the canyon was dominated by Tristram's starlings, scores of them, coming and going and whistling about their business, and settling in cool underhangs along the sides of the cliffs. Many of these underhangs were dripping with moisture, mossy and decorated with maidenhair fern and the occasional rough stalactite.

The starlings will approach people quite closely and at the picnic area just outside the gates of the reserve the boys and I had fun luring the local birds to us with crumbs of our sandwiches. The house sparrows were most aggressive of course. These birds are quite bold here, sometimes alighting on people's laps to get food, or entering kitchens. A rock pigeon tried its best but had difficulty competing with the faster sparrows, and finally, as I had hoped and expected, a Tristram's starling joined the melee and managed to get some of the goodies. Rock pigeons here may not be entirely feral. They're the same species as town pigeons but rock doves are native have been nesting in the wild in the Judean hills back to prehistory. At any rate, now they are quite tame wherever man lives. Wild rock doves here have the same grey wings with black striping and iridescent neck as European rock doves but have grey rather than white rump.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Frustrated gazelle

6-7 p.m. 24.7 degrees C (~76 degrees F)and falling, 62% and rising, NW 11.3 kt and rising

Gazelles -3 today.. from the valley road we could see the third of a mile or so across the valley and the east field to the security fence where we noticed a handsome buck gazelle.. even from that distance we could clearly see his horns through binoculars. There were also two gazelle without horns in east field near the fence. The adult male seemed to have made his way into the army patrolled strip by accident .. there are actually two parallel fences with a security road and strip of ground between.
An army jeep was coming down the road from the south. Seemed likely the buck had tripped the motion sensors, probably trying to reach the gazelle in east field. All the buck really has to do is go back south and pass through the gap the shepherds use but of course the poor animal may not realise that and continue north in a futile attempt to reach other gazelle. There may be another place he can cross further north, I'm not sure. I doubt he can jump that fence. We hope he'll find his way out in the course of time. The fence won't hurt him meanwhile and there's plenty grazing for him. The army will certainly know he's there by now and will want to get him out safely so he won't keep tripping alarms. They're a protected species so he won't be shot and the army have cooperated well with the S.P.N.I. in the past (Society for Protection of Nature in Israel) . I really hope it all works out well for him. Those bucks will wander off on their own;)
Darn waste of investment that fence in my opinion, does more harm than good all round.
Hyrax. Plenty chitterings and a whole litter of young noticed on the west hill slopes near the pumping station.. can't be more than a few weeks old..
Feral dog family lounging by the edge of valley road, near the hyrax colony. When we came down the road mom and junior crossed the road and headed down the slope to the woods a little way, dad stayed put, reserving their seats as it were. After we'd passed mom and junior crossed back to join dad. Could be they were on the lookout for a hyrax nabbing opportunity there.

Bee-eaters: swarm of at least 50 high over the orchard. When many of them criss cross catching insects they do really seem to be swarming.
Nice view of sparrowhawk.. over the pine copse east of the cistern again.. clearly in the middle of moulting and looking a bit bedraggled. Flew up toward the swarming bee-eaters though not with a hope of catching one I'm sure, just gaining altitude to look for easier targets, or else he's very ambitious.
Hoopoes: One foraging on the path near the cistern
House sparrows, Gardens and street as usual. The wind was stiff over the valley today.. we watched a feral pigeon make three approaches to our neighbourhood before it was able to make a safe landing on a rooftop. Plenty other feral pigeons active, in small flocks and singly flying over.
Senegal doves: Street and valley road
Hooded crows: Small flock and calls
Jackdaws: some calls
Jays: Plenty foraging wood and fields and some squabbling behaviour.
Greenfinches: some calls and twittering, movement from tree to tree in small groups.
Blackbirds: Almost 7.30 p.m. and an individual is singing in the garden for a very short while, more of a tentative subsong than a full blooded display song. 1 male seen flying over valley road earlier
Collared doves: Flying over gazelle field and around eucapytus copse
Stone curlews: calls to east, other side of pine grove
Sunbirds: calls and song in bauhinia, some calls from eucalyptus along dry creek trail.
Syrian woodpeckers: Plenty calls and several seen here and there. One by the cistern, seemed to be trying to pluck up the courage to make its way down the rebars to the water but loud noise (firework probably) from the north west made it lose its nerve and fly off
Great tits: Some calls
Turtle doves, wheatears, cuckoos, chukars, graceful warblers : none seen or heard

13th,14th,15th August

Gazelles No show 13th, 14th
hyrax, dogs,reptiles none
Bee-eaters: Hard to tell how many, scattered over gazelle field & eucalyptus grove, at least 20 probably more.. was interesting to see how evenly they spaced themselves along the power line, about six inches between each bird apart from two pairs, the members of which sat right next to each other.
Hoopoes 1 foraging on the trail winding past the cistern and giant pine over into gazelle field after a visit to upper branches of pine.
House sparrows: Senegal doves, coos.. around houses as usual
Hooded crows: At least a dozen on ground and in air on windsurfer hill.. a small raptor, about two thirds size of crow, brown and light, crows harried it, several times it twisted in the air and stood up for itself, pecking back.. a couple of times it dived aggressively at the crows. Same bird I think we saw a couple days ago doing similar.
Hard to tell what raptor it was.. falcon of some kind but wings a little more fingered.
Jackdaws: Large flock, the 70 or so bird flock, roaming between upper gazelle field, east field and lower slopes of Hizmeh Hill.
Jays: Much squabbling, population quadrupled.. sibling dispute over land and resources.. foraging in wood and esp over fields.
Feral pigeons: Flock over Hizmeh hill, others about as usual
Greenfinches: Small flocks up high canopies eucalyptus, cypress, pine. to and fro
Collared doves: Coos, flight calls and flying around over gazelle field and eucalyptus grove
Sunbirds: Mid dry creek trail territory.. several up in eucalyptus, more than one not iridescent, indicated family, successful breeding this year
Syrian woodpeckers: Numerous calls and alarm calls
Bulbuls: Numerous calls in gardens, family, social
Great tits: Calls around bunker ruins, seen high up in canopy
Wheatears:Great spotted cuckoos, Turtle doves, the barbary dove, blackbirds, chukars, stone curlews, graceful warblers no sign
August 15th
28 degrees C, (82.4 degrees F) 51% and rising, NNE 1.7 kt,
Gazelles: 1 female apparently, grazing under trees by dry stone walls.
hyrax, dogs, reptiles no show
Turtle doves: One beautiful individual in pomegranate tree near the cistern. Nice to see they're still around after no coos for some time
Bee-eaters: Plenty scattered foraging over whole gazelle field
House sparrows: Senegal doves: street and houses as usual
Hooded crows: Around, and up on windsurfer hill. Jackdaws: heard
Jays: Busy foraging in fields as usual.. given their population has probably at least quadrupled over the summer, the frequent sqabbles we hear are due to the increasing pressures of shared resources and the difficulty of dispersal over habitats already populated by jays.
Feral pigeons: One in the cistern today, otherwise overpasses as usual
Greenfinches: small groups high in tree canopies, twittering
Collared doves: Several individuals about, some coos
Stone curlews: some calls, husband noticed at least one in flight
Sunbirds: Calls from a couple of the valley territories, active in Bauhinia tree, calls and song.
Syrian woodpeckers: Alarm calls, calls and busy on various trees
Bulbuls: Incessant calls from young ones in willow
Great tits: Some calls in pines
Wheatears:Great spotted cuckoos, Hoopoes, blackbirds, chukars, graceful warblers, no sign

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Trip notes

5th, 6th August on our way down route 90 to Eilat I requested a brief rest stop at Eyn Geddi, a gorgeous reserve right by the Dead Sea where a stream (Nahal David) flows down through a canyon. Humidity and temperatures are pretty high there, usually about 40 degrees C and 100% through much of the day but the wildlife is great. The family wasn't interested in disembarking, not even for a picnic so they kept engine and air conditioning running while I took a brief look around. On the way down I noticed a few Fan tailed ravens soaring over the canyon. (Corvus rhipidurus), easy to tell from common and brown necked ravens by their shorter fanned tail (as opposed to wedge shaped tail) and slightly smaller size. Fan tails live in small communities but only in wadis such as this, so I didn't want to miss them. Easy to see, you just have to be in the right place.

A group of half a dozen or so Tristram's grackles were perched low in the branches of one of the almost tropical trees by the parking lot, not shy birds at all in these parts, they hang out there to take advantage of picnickers scraps. Hornets the size of small hummingbirds worked higher up in the tree. No time to see more the family wanted to move on.

On the way back we saw a sizeable bachelor herd of wild ibex Capra ibex on the move with some of the biggest horns I'd ever seen.

Check out

for some info and pics on mammals in Israel.

Husband also glimpsed a bee-eater that seemed to him different from the ones familiar to us, both in appearance and call. In this part of the country it would have been a little green or blue cheeked bee-eater but unfortunately we didn't see it again to get any confirmation.

The Arava south of the Dead Sea reminded me of African Savannah in the dry season. Miles of flat topped acacia with the mountains of Jordan rising behind, and a shimmering heat haze. The heat was baking, hits you like an oven if you leave the vehicle for a moment. You half expect to see a thirsty giraffe. Indeed when you pass the Chai Bar reserve you do see ostriches and herds of Oryx in the shade of the trees. We didn't glimpse a roaming camel though there were warning signs of 'camel crossing road' all the way down. These either belong to or were released by Bedouin.

As I mentioned, I stayed home the day after the Eilat trip.. we had several pets that needed me.. our 18 year old son had been caring for them while we were gone but I'm sure he was itching to get out and about and our terrier was overjoyed to see me again.

After a night stop-over, husband took the younger kids north to the other end of route 90.. all the way to Metulla for ice skating, a promise we made to one daughter who has just turned sixteen. After that they camped by one of the upper tributaries of the Jordan and then boated for a couple of hours down the river, (with cool river water drenched hats and large bottles of drinking water.. essential for a trip there) . They found White breasted kingfishers, Halcyon smyrnensisand Pied kingfishers Ceryle rudis, common cranes Grus grus, Spur winged plovers, Vanellus spinosus, (probably the most abundant plover in the country at lower altitudes) larks, and some other birds that I could not help to identify later due to lack of information. There were other birds husband wasn't sure about, various egrets and probably pygmy cormorant.

Husband caught sight of an otter in the river at dusk which was a very nice sighting. We'd heard they're there and there's plenty trout and other good fish to eat for them.

Today (August 13th) on our usual walk we saw no gazelle but did see that feral dog family, about 100 delightful bee-eaters around gazelle field and the usual (of late) flocks of greenfinches, jackdaws and Hooded crows. We also noticed Sparrowhawks, Accipiter nisus both over 'windsurfer' hill and, a much better view over the pine grove immediately to the east of the cistern. The latter appeared to be a male. These are not large hawks, about the same size as a hobby, but with broader wings and obvious barring on tail and underparts. They're not rare, we just haven't seen them in a while in our window of observation, so it was good to get sightings and confirm they're in that area. Much other birdlife is as it has been over past week or so.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

August 9th, 11th

August 9: Temps 6 pm ~ 24 degrees C and falling, humidity, about 65% and rising, W veering WNW, 10-12 kt,

No Gazelles or hyrax today
Feral dogs pair, seem to be same pair we saw a couple months ago, a brown and white and a white, with new puppy, off white speckled.
Reptiles quite a few young Lacerta lizards around the garden lately

Bee-eaters: several hunting quite high over east valley, eucalyptus grove. Calls heard many times lately, from house early morning and today early aft.
House sparrows: calls house and street
Senegal doves: Several pairs foraging for crumbs, coos.. house and street.
Hooded crows: Flock of at least 50 flying from hill to east over east valley
Jackdaws: Flock of at least 70 over east field
Jays: Several in woods, gazelle field and east field foraging on ground, walls
Feral pigeons: Small flocks over Hizmeh to the east, around buildings and about as usual
Greenfinches: Twittering in eucalyptus by orchard
Collared doves: one flying over east field

Sunbirds: Active in Bauhinia as usual, high pitched excited song of male in there. Looked out for tufts but just silhouette visible
Graceful warblers: relatively quiet
Syrian woodpeckers: alarm calls, active and about
Bulbuls: Parents feeding noisy young, at least three fledgelings in our willow

Some human disturbance, cyclists and hikers.

No sign of great tits, stone curlews, chukars, blackbirds, turtle doves, wheatears, cuckoos or hoopoes

August 11th ~ 6 p.m. - 7.45 p.m. 26 degrees C and falling humidity 50%, wind, 7 knots and falling, west veering WSW

Gazelle - We'd been watching for some time when a young one sprang into view behind the young pomegranate and the large pine behind the cistern. He had the same knobby head I'd seen on the young one from the east field (that group of three) and seen around the fore part of gazelle field before, so I believe it might be him. Apparently he had been grazing where the ground dipped, perhaps in the sunken dry stream bed over there. He ambled over further back, evidently seeming quite secure about grazing all by himself. Calling him 'Knobby'.
hyrax. Some high pitched contact calls around dusk

Bee-eaters: Plenty about, hunting for flies over the dry creek path, over east valley, over the gazelle field .. at least 20 in a group at any one time, probably more scattered

House sparrows, Senegal doves, Feral pigeons: Around buildings, street as usual
Hooded crows, at least a score flocking up on the hill. It's as if they were a self appointed police patrol.. if anything is going on they come to investigate. We heard some jay screeching in the middle of the pine woods for some minutes... presently we started to hear crow caws coming from the same direction.. as if they couldn't resist coming along to see what all the fuss is about.
Jays: Vocal and active as usual in woods and fields
Greenfinches: Small flocks moving between pine trees, twittering.
Collared doves: Some coos and flight calls, pair down by the cistern.
Stone curlews: Sharp calls coming from east field, then we saw one fly from there over gazelle field and on up the hill slopes toward Adam.
Sunbirds: Calls coming from eucalyptus grove near bunker and also from eucalyptus in middle of dry creek path.. two known territories.
Bulbuls: Calls from the garden

Turtle doves, wheatears, cuckoos, hoopoes, jackdaws, chukars, blackbirds, graceful warblers, great tits: not seen or heard

Monday, August 6, 2007

Finding Nemo

Eilat - Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba, a 'finger' of the Red Sea, which is in turn an 'arm' of the Indian Ocean. 40 degrees C, 27 degrees C at night , 25-29% humidity.
Eilat is on the extreme southern tippy tip of Israel with border crossings to Jordan and Egypt at east and south ends of the city respectively.

Coral reef swimming was not as good as I expected it to be. It was several dimensions *better* than I expected it to be! If you ever get the chance to visit any coral reefs I strongly suggest you seize the opportunity. No photograph or even movie can really convey the beauty of coral reef wildlife. To share the same waterspace, to watch as they move languidly about the reefs 'kissing' the coral.. to see the iridescence or pearliness of their scales change with every movement. A mere flick of pectoral fins and tail send them sailing magestically by you, around you, below you. You don't even need scuba diving gear.. I just used simple goggles and snorkel.. something I haven't done for about three decades but as long as nothing leaks it is wonderfully easy and allows you to view everything clearly for as long as you wish. You soon learn to pace yourself with the fish .. no huge effort, just a twist here, a little skulling there and allow yourself to sail by or simply hang over the habitat, watching the delights from above. I haven't identified everything I've seen yet but I'd like to share a few of the characters.

The most obvious and common fish we saw all over the place were Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf saxatilis) a large damselfish, mainly yellow above, pearly offwhite below with several vertical dark bands along the flanks. They seem totally unafraid of the swimmers and appear in a range of sizes, most about the size of two hands.

(The other most common fish was very similar in shape and size all pale but with 'sparkles' on the flanks. Haven't found that one yet. )

Next in frequency would probably be the famous forgetful 'Dora' of Nemo fame though Dora doesn't do this gorgeous fish justice at all. The Yellowtail surgeonfish zebrasoma xanthurum is a gorgeous velvety indigo blue colour with vivid yellow wings and tail and about the same size range as the sergeant majors. There are several similar fish that have this name but this is the species that lives in the Red Sea. Be careful! They got the name because their fin can cut like a scalpel. Rule one in coral wildlife ... touch nothing!

Another fish I was delighted to see up close, only because I'd seen so many photographs, was the Picasso Triggerfish. I followed a few of these around a little because they are so extraordinary in appearance and tickle the sense of humour.

Then there were numerous species of grouper, wrasse, angelfish and parrotfish, each one more delightful and gorgeous than the last if that were possible. The range of colour and design on these fish was just a total delight to witness. In our section of beach was one huge rock with several types of coral and numerous sea urchins, and all the above were seen around it.. that was before I even got to any more serious reefs. I passed over that rock I don't know how many times and almost every time found something new and fascinating. An awesome huge damselfish type.. black as midnight with two great emerald bands down its flanks.. I saw those several times sailing by majestically.. A delightful little brilliant yellow chap covered with scores of tiny rings of shining blue, 'kissing' the fence separating the public beach from the reserve stretch.. numerous parrotfishes of various sizes with a pearly pastel rainbow design, mostly swimming in open water or foraging on the sea bed.. wrasse working the rock and coral coloured rose wrapped in light green lace. Good stuff was passing to and fro, between and around that fence all the time, it was worth scanning regularly. The fence was encrusted with barnacles and some coral that also attracted the attention of the passersby.

I swam out and around the coral reserve.. that part of the beach is protected, entry only permitted with a guide.. the first time I accidentally swam under the marker line and entered the zone, and swam around the first reef mass in absolute wonder.. (I didn't get caught, but husband and daughter wagged their fingers at me.. I don't think they quite believed it was an accident;) The second time I knew better and respected the boundary line . you can see the reefs perfectly well without actually entering the zone.. and at the second reef mass saw something that totally filled me with adrenaline. There, lurking by the reef right ahead of me was a lion fish! I had seen these magnificent orange, black white fish countless times in photographs but to actually be face to face with one, give or take a few metres, is a different thing altogether. There it was, spreading its fearsome array of spiny fins, loaded with venom. My first impulse was to swim away as quickly as possible. When I had calmed my nerve a little I made another pass and took a longer look, from a respectful distance of course. It still frankly terrified me but it was obvious it was not interested in swimming in my direction and was quite happy where it was by the reef, and that was fine with me. By the by I noticed a bunch more fish I hadn't seen earlier including a few delightful Red Sea Anemone Fish Amphiprion bicinctus (Nemo, yeah I found Nemo!:) How could I leave a reef without seeing at least one of these delightful orange clown fish.?

Later my husband took one of the boys to look at the reef masses .. I told them where to find the lionfish, and my 11 year old son found an octopus! He grabbed me to show me and we watched it swim and spread fleshily on the sea floor. If they weren't so fascinating, they'd be loathsome.. there is something about the way they 'shloob' along that seems almost obscene but were were utterly enthralled, especially as it was adjusting its skin colour constantly as it went along to blend in. Amazing. Husband took a series of pictures of it and I'm not sure of what else yet. This was all just over twelve hours ago. It was my 11 year old who had persuaded me to go down there in the first place and I'm so glad now I went!

As for birds, Eilat was a bit of a strike out.. not migration season and the local bird population is quite sparse, and we found nothing new, but who cares after all the above! Feral pigeons, House sparrows and Senegal doves were common along the waterfront.. as in Jerusalem. Collared doves were the first coos I heard in the valley and several pairs of yellow vented bulbuls were foraging and flitting amongst the acacias quite enthusiastically in the early morning. We noticed some graceful warblers and I heard a jackdaw. I also heard some Tristram's grackle calls before dusk. Familiar beloved birds, I don't take them for granted at all.. I just hoped to see something new. No fish eating birds at all.. not one.. that amazed me.

A pleasant breeze blew down the dry wadi all night which was just barely enough to cool us down.. we all slept almost naked in our tents with no covers. Despite all this none of us suffered ill effects from the heat but for a mild sunburn, and we used copious amounts of factor 30.. now we're using aloe vera. We're all very fair skinned, and I was on to everyone all the time to wear hats, drink, stay cool. The Red Sea helped a lot, it was gloriously cool.

To compensate for the relative dearth of birds I insisted on dropping by my favourite wadi.. Eyn Geddi, a constantly flowing stream by the Dead Sea with an abundance of wildlife. We didn't have time to go into the reserve but even outside we noticed a bunch of Tristram's grackles and some soaring Fan tailed Ravens high over the canyon. On the way back husband noticed a bee-eater which did not match our local birds in colour or call. Probably a Blue-cheeked or a Little Green Bee-eater but dang it, I missed seeing it! We did see a bachelor herd of wild ibex, every one a big daddy with horns that must have been quite a headache to carry around!

All in all I was highly satisfied with the trip.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

2nd, 4th August, Buck gazelle, GG Shrike

6 p.m. - 7 p.m. 41% humidity, 27.3 degrees C, wind SSW 13.9 kt.
Today we left the valley road early and went down a path into the northern valley for a change. We were delighted to find sunbirds, bulbuls and quite a number of hunting bee-eaters in the acacias along the course of the creek bed, which is almost invisible in this valley.
The path heads through a grove of pine trees before joining the central path on its way to the bunker. On this stretch we surprised a fine buck gazelle, first we've seen in a while. We knew him from his thick based horns, curved in the form of the frame of a lyre Aha, so this is where he's hiding out! He bounded across our path and under the pines, later emerging out onto gazelle field. We saw him a few minutes later grazing with six other gazelle, females and well grown young on the lower slopes of the hill to our north
hyrax - some activity, alarm chitterings
no dogs or reptiles noticed
(In the evening about 10 p.m. ish we took a walk along valley road and found a hedgehog crouched in the middle of the road. He didn't roll into a ball but stood perfectly still, his snout poking out in front and visibly twitching nervously two and fro. On our return walk he was already gone.)
House sparrows, Senegal doves, Feral pigeons along our street, the latter flying overhead here and there as usual. Hooded crows as usual, Jackdaws, some calls, Jays, greenfinches, Syrian woodpeckers behaviour as usual. Graceful warblers calls, JaysCollared dove coos. visiting cistern.
Turtle doves, Bee-eaters, Wheatears, Great spotted cuckoos, hoopoes, chukars, turtle doves, stone curlews, great tits no sign today
Too much human disturbance in the forest today- nothing harmful, just enough to cause the shyer birds to keep a slightly lower profile.
August 4th 6 p.m-7 p.m. ~ 26 degrees C and falling, humidity ~65% and rising, wind W ~13 kt
Gazelles - no show, hyrax - plenty out and about, dogs - barks heard but pack not seen. reptiles:- gecko calling from within the bunker ruins.
*Great Grey Shrike! Long time no see.. in tree in gazelle field.
Turtle doves: Shy individual by the cistern, did not venture in. Seemed a juvenile, back scalloping not fully formed No coos
Bee-eaters: Many hunting over the field, east end of north valley and in eucalyptus grove. Hard to tell how many because scattered.
House sparrows, Senegal doves, Feral pigeons: around houses as usual. Pair of bulbuls in the garden and vocal.
Hooded crows, Jackdaws.. flocks of 70 plus far north gazelle field picking ground.
Jays: Numerous busy and vocal, scattered foraging on gazelle field and in woods.
Greenfinches: Small flocks, social calls and flying from tree to tree around bunker and cistern area.
Collared doves: Several active in bunker and cistern region, coos, visiting cistern
Stone curlews: calls about 6.45 p.m. from approx favourite gazelle grazing area
Sunbirds: Visits to Bauhinia as usual, squeaking and ticking calls, and female noticed.
Male noticed on a roll of barbed wire by the pumping station. Not fully glossy, possibly a young male?
Graceful warblers: calls and song heard from garden
Syrian woodpeckers: Calls from woods and grove area
Wheatears, Great spotted cuckoos, hoopoes, blackbirds, great tits, chukars silent or absent.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Dove Surprise

August 1st
~6.20 p.m. - 7.20 p.m. 24.8 degrees C, humidity 67% Wind SW 7 kt
Nice to start the month with a couple of surprises. One 'long time no see' and one complete surprise.
Just setting out on the valley road two Tristram's Starlings flew over us, coming down the north valley from the NNW and heading south, calling as they went. Easy to tell in flight from their whistling calls and orange wing flashes on black. We haven't seen or heard any of those since May. Nice birds, lots of character.
The other surprise was at 'look out' corner.. a dove cooing high on a bare branch of the bee eucalyptus.. I think that particular branch is dead, just hasn't got around to falling off yet. A good storm will bring it down, but I digress. I'd heard this dove in the same area a few days ago but couldn't place it so I didn't record it. Its coo sounded almost tauntingly familiar but not like anything that is normally there.
Now I had a clear view of it I was more baffled. It looked a lot like the local collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto and back in good voice today.. ) but the coo was completely different. I'd describe the coo as a sort of a strange quiet cross between a turtle dove and a rooster. Could it be a young male trying out? No, the coo - and the bird, were too well formed. I was not satisfied with any of my conclusions and stood there staring at it for minutes till suddenly the truth dawned on me.
It was a Barbary dove! I had owned two of these birds years ago and now I remembered that distinctive coo, I'd heard it hundreds of times back then! Four hours of sleep is not enough! Also known as the Ring Neck dove, Streptopelia risoria, the Barbary dove has been domesticated for millenia and bred for docility and is readily available downtown for dove fanciers here. The pure white form of this dove is known as the Java dove and is the familiar small white dove used by magicians or at weddings. Its pedigree is complex and uncertain .. I recommend the link
I checked my books when I got back.. this bird was clearly an escape or part of a feral population though I had never heard them in the wild till this week - apart from my own aviary. ( I'd sold my own birds way back, the only bird I keep these days is a beautiful lutino cockatiel called Prince. I won't part with him) .
Gazelle - 1 grazing on the lower slopes of the hill to the north of gazelle field.
hyrax - plenty of activity.. chittering persistent alarm calls and lots of adults and young abroad at 'cypress slum' and some climbing up into cypresses.
Turtle doves: brief coo at about 7.15 p.m. from pines along central trail.
Bee-eaters: Flock of perhaps twenty or more birds hunting low in the eucalyptus grove amongst the trees.
Hoopoes: A pair on the trail near the cistern, dustbathing and poking the ground.
House sparrows: Senegal doves: around buildings as usual
Hooded crows: Fields, hill, flying over, some vocal Jackdaws: calls heard; Jays: quite vocal, foraging over field and in woods as usual
Greenfinches: family groups active up in eucalyptus by look out corner and pines by bunker.
Graceful warblers: active and vocal by valley road and around bunker area.
Syrian woodpeckers: Active and vocal as usual.
Bulbuls: Active and vocal in gardens and along valley road, foraging
Great tit calls in pines.
Sunbirds.. vocal and active at pumping station and on dry creek trail territories. Active in the cape honeysuckle between our entranceway and our neighbours. They may be trying to build a new nest high in it, good luck with that project with all the cats around! They're like wrens in their passion for building multiple nests.
Wheatears: Great spotted cuckoos, blackbirds, chukars, stone curlews, none seen or heard today