Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Sheep grazing in the Sky"

Over the last two days cloud patterns changed from mostly clear skies to a vast 'flock of sheep' (a kind of altocumulus) across the sky. Yesterday they were all little white 'lambs' but it's *as if* the flocks have been grazing and putting on weight since today each cloud mass is significantly larger, heavier and greyer in part.

Possibly means rain in a couple of days.

5 p.m. ~22 degrees C (today's range: 18-26 degrees C)

humidity ~80%, wind mainly in the west, ~ 8 knots.

Gazelles. As we approached the orchard from the dry creek path we noticed a gazelle running through the orchard from lookout corner toward the east field. I had a gazelle in my sights a minute later, it had slowed to a walk and was clearly (by the shape and size of his horns) an adult male.

Husband was not sure that the gazelle we saw running was the same gazelle I saw walking a minute later since no gazelle was in sight for a short while, but since no other appeared after some watching we conclude it was most likely the same individual. It had not been possible to discern horns through all the low branches during that swift run of just a few seconds across the orchard.

A short while later we saw a second individual, hornless, again in that favourite spot under the trees by the dry stone walls in the middle of gazelle field.

Hyrax - a blonde shaggy large one on top of a rock making repeated grating barks 'chok-ok-ok-ok'
Just up from valley road and down from a school there, not the cypress slum colony, one further to the north along that slope.

Hoopoe: One perched up in a eucalyptus near look-out corner.
House sparrows: Again very vocal at 4.45 p.m. They've been having quite a chorus at that time lately.
Hooded crows: At least 50 on the ground or flying just above up on windsurfer hill.
Jackdaws: Calls from the east, from windsurfer hill and a small flock over Hizmeh.
Jays: Vocal and busy foraging about the forest and fields as usual.
Blackbirds: Quite vocal and some glimpsed. Usual chack chack calls and some tsreet. The bird that uses the pines by the ruined bunker also ranges over the trees immediately behind look-out corner.
Collared doves: Several individuals seen especially around look-out corner/eucalyptus area but no coos at all.
Syrian woodpeckers: Some calls
Bulbuls: Melodious calls in the gardens by us, and at the other end of the orchard.
Great tits: Some alarm calls.
Sunbirds: Calls from the gardens, one call in the woods, otherwise quiet.
Feral pigeons.
A few around in flight.
Stone curlews, greenfinches, chukars, graceful warblers, hobbies, shrikes all quiet today .

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Blackbird fuss and other stuff

Late friday afternoon three gazelle grazing under the trees by the dry stone walls in the middle of 'gazelle field', one full grown, the other two smaller. Today we just saw the one adult but it's possible that this time, as well as other times we've just seen the female, the younger ones could be in the dip caused by the course of the dry creek or in some other sheltered place out of view. We watched for a while but saw no others. No sign of the small herd and/or buck lately.

Blackbirds (Turdus merula) have been so much more vocal lately. Today at dusk we heard birds from many territories make their 'chack-chack-chack' alarm call plus one thin 'seeet' and quite a few glimpsed moving around in and between the low pine canopy. It seems their voices have returned only in the last week after a summer (moulting) lull. I'm sure some part of the vocal fuss today was caused by the group of hobbies in the neighbourhood, though they're known to make these calls before settling down to roost as a matter of habit.

Four hobbies around at least, two flying up over windsurfer hill, the hooded crows won't harass them too closely and don't have a hope of catching up with them if they tried. Later the group were hunting over the middle of east valley, one alighted on top of an electric post for a while giving us a really nice view of his black 'flying ace' hood. A collared dove flew up to land nearby, noticed the hobby and abruptly changed its mind and flew down.

Shortly before this we heard a brief shrieking cry and noticed a Eurasian sparrowhawk emerge from the pines up the slope east of the creek path, flying swiftly south and pursued by a couple of hooded crows. The crows followed but were careful not to get too close.

By 6 p.m. it was already dark, the harvest moon was not up yet but Jupiter was again clear in the south. Stone curlews called from over beyond the orchard in east field.

We also heard Great tit and hyrax alarm calls but nothing from shrikes or graceful warblers today. Eurasian Jays active and vocal as usual, some Syrian woodpecker calls and Jackdaw calls coming from windsurfer hill. As the light faded some greenfinches flitted about in the branches of the dense large pines by the bunker ruins but were silent. Several collared doves broke out and headed over to the eucalyptus or pine grove.

Sunbird family busy in the cape honeysuckle and twice in an hour this afternoon, and not the first times, a black kitten with infected eyes fell out and landed in our entranceway. We put her back with her mom in next door's garden again and mean to speak to the neighbours asap about treating that infection. ( They don't officially 'belong' to the neighbours, they're feral cats but those neighbours feed and encourage them.) We've found warm chamomile tea good to remove the gunk and have used tarocidin to good effect in the past. Melodious calls of yellow vented bulbuls in the garden as usual. Bulbuls also calling and seen in the orchard on our walk.

Feral pigeons and House sparrows about as usual. Saturnid butterfly in the garden and plenty wasps. (yellowjackets) This is the season for the latter. I've also noticed a rise in mosquitoes lately.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Flycatcher, buzzard plus

Spotted Flycatcher- Muscicapa striata

Tuesday: 5-6 p.m. Gazelle seen in the far end of the orchard running south to shelter of trees. Full grown but without horns. Last night at about 10 p.m. husband spotted one retreating into the shadow of the pines just down from valley road.

We also noticed a small bat darting to and fro around a tall street lamp by our street. I'm sure they have been there to see much of the summer, we don't always look for them. There are about thirty species of insect eating bat in Israel, most can only be told from each other in the hand. (There's also the Egyptian fruit bat but not in our neighbourhood. I saw them on a kibbutz not far from Tel Aviv years ago as they roosted in the trees outside our lodgings )

Hyrax activity was up today around 'cypress slum' , plenty adults and quite well grown young around crossing the road to the pines, one sentinel gave a shrill call as we walked by. This may actually have been a cat alert as we soon saw a nice black cat in the middle of 'cypress slum'. He was not hunting hyrax but was fascinated by the small grey job hunting from a near horizontal cypress branch.. a bird I haven't seen in ages.

Husband spotted it first of course.. he can see a hobby at a distance of a kilometre.. which he did a few minutes later, but first we delighted in this small grey job's hunting technique. It was a spotted flycatcher, Muscicapa striata though to my eyes a little less striated than spotted flycatchers I've seen in the past and with a slightly darker crown.. (husband noticed very pale underwing as it alighted) still the jizz was his and we enjoyed watching him take off from the branch, flutter around artfully grabbing insects in the air and returning to his perch, totally oblivious of 'Sylvester' gazing up at him about three feet below. This bird was probably on passage migration.

After admiring a hobby swooping and gliding over the south part of east valley we noticed a flock of hooded crows rise from windsurfer hill. A couple of people up there had clearly spooked them and at least sixty crows were soon milling in the air over the hill. The hobby wheeled around to fly a pass over the hill as if to investigate the disturbance.

Up the dry creek path we noticed a group of about half a dozen Eurasian jays fly noisily over the path - something had upset them and we soon saw what. A large raptor with magnificent long and broad wings was canopy hopping just up the hill. Probably another honey buzzard looking for a good place to roost.

At look-out corner we heard, as yesterday evening (which I didn't record separately) , at least four shrikes calling from the pines by the bunker, the eucalyptus grove, the orchard and some other pines near behind look-out corner. Probably Lanius nubicus again but with the fading light and their choice of perches we didn't manage to see even one of them. Again we heard a blackbird call its pre roost alarm under the pines and some Syrian woodpeckers were vocal. The greenfinches were not seen or heard, I wonder if they are checking out some other location for food? Collared doves were about but quiet but for wing clatter when they moved from tree to tree.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

drizzle, hyrax, tortoises

I actually felt rain this evening! A very light drizzle but definitely water falling from the sky. Patchy cumulus was rolling in from the west. That was between 9.30 and 10.00 p.m.

Our pre-sunset walk was quite interesting today.

4.50 p.m. temp: 21.2 degrees C, 66% humidity, wind WNW 6.1kt.

The hyrax colony by valley road was very active today. Adults and young scampering about on the east side of valley road, many climbing into the cypress trees and nibbling. Normally you can't smell the cypress unless you take the leaves or cones in the hand and pinch or rub them but the hyraxes had been so active in there that the aroma of cypress was clear from several feet. The youngest looked just old enough to be weaned and were busy foraging with the rest.

Toward the end of valley road we heard surprising calls. Bee-eaters! Merops apiaster We hadn't seen them in weeks! We assumed our birds had left already. These birds could be on passage migration from Europe and just stopping over to use the valley for forage. Soon we saw them. There were about thirty hawking for flying insects over the hillside sloping up to the west behind the pumping station. We looped around and headed north along the dry creek path and presently the bee-eaters overtook us, in two groups of about fifteen birds each. One group continued north, the other looped around and hunted insects over the canopy level.

We met a neighbour coming from the direction of the cistern who told us he'd seen the gazelle group but when we reached look-out corner they had already retreated under the pines of north valley. We could make out one female in the shade between the trunks but that was all.

By the time we got to the orchard we were hearing hobby calls and a single bird in flight and from look-out corner we had a fine display of aerial acrobatics as three hobbies flew up over the pines at the east end of north valley. Two seemed to tangle in the air, a fight that seemed semi serious but not in earnest and broke within a second. The birds called shrilly before launching into each aerial manoevre.

Apart from these we heard blackbird alarm calls, heard and saw Syrian woodpeckers about, heard shrike calls in the orchard, eucalyptus grove and the pines across the path from the orchard. Sounded like there were at least three shrikes in the area. Eurasian Jays were noisy and active as usual, three cautiously vying with each other for possession of a breadroll left on the path. Hooded crows and Feral pigeons flying singly overhead, greenfinches and collared doves quiet today. Some graceful warbler calls.

In the garden the yellow- vented bulbuls have been particularly vocal, quite a range of calls heard, I believe from the same family we've been hearing from some time though they are maturing now. Sunbird squeaks also heard much of the day and a flock of house sparrows particularly vocal in some handsome cypresses in a nearby garden at about 4.45 p.m. Those trees are used for roost by flock of linnets that usually winter here so I do hope this flock of sparrows will not get in the way of that.

On our way home a neighbour came to us concerned that a clutch of tortoise eggs Testudo graeca laid in her garden had still not hatched. (male and female both originally wild) I thought it somewhat late in the season but to leave the clutch alone, not uncover, interfere at all and hope for the best. Considering the tortoise activity we'd noticed a few months ago this is about the right time for hatching and indeed I confirmed this with a little net research so she needn't worry but she should also be careful that the male not interfere. She was eager to be a tortoise granny:)

They'll hatch just in time for the first rains, providing fresh vegetation in the last warmth of summer before the winter torpor.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

sunbird family and sundry

Here follows a post I wrote for the 'garden birds' thread in our team noticeboard "The great outdoors"

Delighted to say "our" sunbirds (orange-tufted, Nectarinia osea) definitely bred this year:) We saw the whole family busy foraging in the cape honeysuckle between our entrance steps and passageway and the neighbour's garden. They are not very afraid of human beings and I was standing about two feet from one of the juveniles though it might have felt safe since there were quite a lot of tangled twigs between! Cape honeysuckle is a pretty orange flowered honeysuckle from South Africa. It doesn't have much of a scent but provides good cover, nectar and insects for the sunbirds and they love it. It grows as a woody vine and can easily become quite a tall hedge. The neighbours have already cut it back at least three times this summer.
The sunbirds also use our Bauhinia and I noticed two male sunbirds having a little 'duel'/duet in it earlier, alternating singing and calling. It didn't get to fight level, calls not frantic enough. Could be two young males or a young and adult male.

Valley before sunset. Well grown hornless gazelle walking through the orchard toward the eucalyptus grove and pines. Went into a light canter a few paces, returned to a walk.

We've seen them do all four classic 'horse' paces.. walk, trot, canter, gallop/run as well as a leaping run and the sproinging/stotting bouncing gait.

Beautiful masked shrike Lanius nubicus in the orchard, hawking for small prey.
Four hobbies again today, calling and flying over east end of north valley, gazelle valley, and that general area.
Collared doves.. some about, flight call heard. Blackbird alarm call heard. Hoopoe
noticed. Syrian woodpeckers calls and seen in various places in the pines.
Feral pigeons, house sparrows, senegal doves, hooded crows activity as usual though flocks of hoodies not seen in some days. Acting singly or in twos and threes. No jackdaws
noticed near look-out corner back toward the pines. noticed in the valley though husband did find some in the upper part of the neighbourhood

Monday, September 17, 2007

Clocks back for winter

The clocks have been turned back for winter.. we are no longer on Israel summer time. Now our regular walk will go from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. though it's pretty much the same time window. The sun has just set by 6 p.m. now which gives us a good activity window in terms of roosting behaviour and last hour foraging.

(Time in Israel is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and seven hours ahead of E.S.T. Since most places in U.S. and U.K. also put clocks ahead an hour in summer the difference remains constant except over a week or so in spring and autumn due to differences in time change conventions. )

Weather: clear skies. Temp: 22 degrees C and falling, humidity, 70% and rising,

wind: NW, ~5 kt. I have not mentioned rainfall since this has been consistent zero since the freak storm I mentioned in May but rainfall figures will feature within the month hopefully:)

Lone gazelle female by the dry stone wall and trees .. pretty much her usual patch. No sign of the buck or the group. We walked out onto gazelle field some dozen or so metres which did not spook her at all, she probably recognizes us by now. She was watching us though. On our return we saw two quite young gazelle in the orchard. One retreated east when it saw us, at a light trot which looked as if it were to break into a run at any moment but didn't. I'm sure it was ready to if we would advance too threateningly. The other crossed the creek path and headed under the eucalyptus behind look-out corner, then crossed centre trail to head under the pines, moving north.

We'd headed into the field to try to get a closer look at an interesting looking bird flitting around behind the field trees. It was hard to make out, long winged , swift, but quite mid to pale brown and lighter underneath. Then I had a slightly better view of it flying into pines of north valley.. from what I could see I'd say it was an immature kestrel. There were also shrike calls from that direction and in the orchard but didn't manage to see any. A couple of hobbies made an appearance and from the calls the other two were probably about. They made circuits over the field, visiting north valley pines and the taller trees around the orchard. The ones that passed over us was so thickly streaked underneath, looked like a young bird. Couldn't make out rusty thigh feathers but very dark there.

Btw when the hobbies were flying a couple of days ago we heard an interesting call we hadn't noticed before during some of their most excited manoevres.. something like "kee krkrk" . Today the call was not the ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki we've heard in the past but more of an insistent kieh kieh kieh kieh

Eurasian Jays in woods and foraging singly over the gazelle field as usual. Calls of jackdaws and hooded crows. Syrian woodpecker at look-out corner. Husband thought he glimpsed a hoopoe but I missed it. Pre roost alarm call of blackbird and some calls of great tits and graceful warblers around and in gazelle field. Several collared doves around and visiting the cistern. We listened out for the stone curlews but they were silent today. Family of yellow vented bulbuls over in the orchard from the calls we could hear. Sunbird song in the Bauhinia as usual and activity in the cape honeysuckle in the entrance way.

We're noticing more fallen branches of eucalyptus and a general unhealthy browning of some of the tall eucs on the orchard perimeter. When the branches fall you can smell the rotting eucalyptus oils in the air, almost a camphor odour. Sad. On the flip side the orchard trees are showing a normal pretty range of colours now from green to copper red. Not many trees do this in Israel since many are evergreen as an adaptation to the climate, particularly the pines and cypress. I really don't know what the orchard trees are since they are untended for a long time and we haven't noticed any fruits yet.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Four hobbies

Sept 13-15th

Today's weather at about 6 p.m. (time of our walk) : 22 degrees C and falling, humidity ~80% and rising, wind 7-8 kt, W veering NW.

Gazelle group of far north field with the buck not noticed last couple of days but a female was grazing by the dry stone walls ( about 70-80 yards from look-out corner) on thursday afternoon, and female with well grown young was in the same place on friday afternoon. We also noticed gazelle hoof tracks along the centre trail under the pines on thursday afternoon and husband said he'd noticed one well after dark in the woods near there wednesday evening.

Several sunbirds in the cape honeysuckle between our apartment and our neighbours' indicating definite immediately local breeding success. The presence of the young male in our Bauhinia also indicates that, though of course that could be from the other side.. not clear where the territory edges are. Sometimes that can be seen if one sees two males fighting but that was not noticed. Sunbird sqeaks also heard well in the pinewoods in east valley so they seem to be doing quite well all over the place this year. The dry creek path middle territory was definitely successful.

Good to hear stone curlew calls late thursday afternoon. They've been quite quiet lately.

Four hobbies have made themselves quite obvious over the woods over the last few days, flying together, seemingly playing, play fighting, testing out their flight abilities. Probably a family, I'd like to think from the couple that tried to breed here earlier in the season but couldn't prove that.. still, could be though that pair seemed to disappear for while, could just have been keeping a low profile or simply not active in our window over a span.

Friday afternoon: Large bird of prey over hill to the east, very light underparts, dark wing tips. Could have been one of those long legged buzzards but hard to tell more at that distance.

Very dark raptor flew low over woods late afternoon today (saturday), coming toward me, then veered and landed in a pine in north valley. I believe this one was a black kite, unfortunately did not take wing again to give me a more typical profile but I did see a slight fork to the tail and it was being manipulated in kite like fashion.

Other birds.. group of greenfinches foraging around the cones in the pine tree by the ruined bunker, vocal graceful warblers, vocal syrian woodpeckers, vocal and visible hooded crows and jackdaws, Great tit calls, Hoopoe perched in the top of the look-out corner eucalyptus, Jays vocal and visible as usual. Blackbird alarm calls in the woods near dusk on thursday evening. Senegal doves, House sparrows and Feral pigeons around the buildings as usual.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rut and raptors

Clear skies again.

~ 6 p.m. 23 degrees C and falling, humidity 67% and rising, wind from west veering north west at 8 rising to 12 kt.
At about 6 p.m. we were able to see about half a dozen gazelle in the north field all the way from the turn in the valley road. Through binoculars we could also see that the buck was making definite mating attempts, his female making little effort to resist. However, by the time we walked the loop and reached look-out corner down below the group was not in sight, either wandered further east toward the pine grove and on to east field or back behind the pines of north valley. Husband said 'they must have got a room' .

Hobbies were lively in the area.. a sharp 'kee kee kee kee kee!' from the eucalyptuses on look-out corner and there was Cap'n Jack (the sparrowhawk) in the air over the orchard, winging south. I expected the hobbies and the sparrowhawk would feel competitive over the area. Cap'n Jack was outnumbered today, it turned out there were three hobbies if not more in the area. We saw them all flying over the end of north valley, splendid to watch as usual like a but over the next hour they winged over gazelle field, the pine and eucalyptus groves and the orchard.

About a dozen collared doves were perched on the lines over the north part of gazelle field. Husband noticed them suddenly take wing as four brown jobs crested the hill to the north east and headed for north valley. Large dark brown patchy raptors, with the fading light I couldn't make out well what they were but one of the buzzards for sure. At least one was still in moult, we could see a loose wing feather trailing. The hobbies have also not quite finished their moult, we noticed a flight feather drop off in flight a couple of days back. The buzzards weren't really much of a threat to the doves - hobbies would be more so since they can manoevre far better. One of the buzzards came low and passed over the field at just 10-15 feet which was one of those 'wow' moments because with more background you can see how big the wingspan really is. Again, I'm sure these birds are going to roost overnight there and move on south in the morning.
Apart from the raptors we noticed small flocks and groups of greenfinches, calls of Syrian woodpeckers, Jays, jackdaws, hooded crows, but hardly anything else- I'm sure the hobbies kept them all in low profile. Around the buildings, Senegal doves, House sparrows, bulbuls and sunbirds.. I'm still being serenaded many times a day by the male about two feet from my window. Do you remember some weeks ago when I mentioned so many flocks of house sparrows gathering grass seed in gazelle field? I didn't stop mentioning them being there because they were commonplace, but that they had changed their activity patterns and no longer bother ranging all over the woods and fields, at least, not where we go

Monday, September 10, 2007

Randall's release

There was a little cumulus in the sky yesterday but back to clear skies today.

Randall the chameleon (pic of him at #66) was released today, close to where we found the other chameleon on our walk (#66). He immediately turned yellow and stalked off at a fair clip. Son is sad, naturally, but understands the decision. Husband had consulted with pet shop owners about possibly obtaining a culture of wingless fruitflies and was informed that conservation laws on chameleons are stricter than those on tortoises in that they're a protected species and may not be legally taken from the wild as pets. We were quite surprised because they are quite common but on consideration it is not so surprising. Probably many have perished due to improper feeding. We looked up chameleon feeding on the web and discovered that mealworms are too chitinous. The kind of insects we can readily find that are suitable is limited and the boys are busy with school and cannot be expected to hunt and gather adequate feeds every day. We decided to release him without further delay. I'm sure he had not shown us all his repertoire.. yesterday some of his side spots moved into the turquoise zone - I had no idea he could manage that.

The walk was interesting today. Four gazelle were up on windsurfer hill, first time we've seen them up there in ages but hardly any surprise since that's just up from east field. We did see a buck up there many months ago. These had no clearly visible horns. A short while later another gazelle was noticed in the centre of east valley woods, crossing the creek from the east and heading under the pines. Soon after that two were seen running along the central trail and moving on under the pines toward the north. They were no doubt spooked by the police vehicles which I shall get to in a moment.

Just past the orchard and approaching 'look out corner' our watching was disturbed by a circling police chopper. It seemed to be circling us three times though I hardly thought we were suspicous. It was more annoying than anything because it made it difficult to hear birds and made wildlife more inclined to stay undercover. A short while later a police van, car and zaka vehicle of all things showed up. Turned out they were actually interested in a vehicle that had been abandonned near look-out corner though it had been abandonned several days ago- perhaps they suspected someone was hiding in it. It was a whole operation! After asking us if we had any connection to the vehicle and husband telling them it had been there about a week they turned their attention to their operation and we didn't feel like sticking around. I must admit we were curious, but we had to get supper on the table and it was nearly 7 p.m. We also knew there was nothing in the vehicle of any interest to anybody because we'd already checked it out, lol. Still, they have to do their job and in the relatively unlikely event that there was a terrorist hiding we didn't exactly want to be near any gun battle.

Heading back up the trail where we saw those last two gazelle running we heard a hobby calling from the east. It soon came into view gliding swiftly over the pines over the middle of east valley. Beautiful falcons, I always enjoy the sight of them. We also saw several collared doves, heard and/or saw plenty Syrian woodpeckers, Eurasian Jays, Hooded crows, greenfinches and Jackdaws, some great tits. We heard hyrax alarm chitters just up the hill to the west of the pumping station and noticed the feral dog family up there

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Buck gazelle back in the herd

Sept 06

Patience and persistence.. not to mention positivity, pay off yet again. How's that for alliteration?

Temperature 22 degrees C and falling, humidity 70% rising.. wind from the west varying 12-16 kt
To our joy and relief a fully grown male was seen with the herd today which caused interesting and lively behaviour, but I'll get to that.
The first gazelle we saw was standing under the pines at the far north east corner of north valley. This one had medium length thin horns. I check out the view to the east regularly to see if any are over in east field since they seem to love the little stand of olive trees over there. A well grown gazelle emerged from the eucalyptus grove at a run and headed north to the hillside, and didn't stop running till it was about a third of the way up the hill. This is way beyond their usual comfort distance, something other than ourselves must have really spooked her. Shortly after, two quite young gazelle together emerged from the eucalyptus grove, saw us, ran up the trail by the cistern till they reached their comfort distance of over fifty feet, then ambled casually back into the grove again, grazing nonchalantly and slowly making their way back to east field. We were amazed such young gazelle seemed so unafraid away from other gazelle and hope that the feral dog pack don't get to them like this.
A little later a small group emerged onto the lower hill slopes north of us and not far from the trees of north valley, we're talking several hundred feet, and we watched a couple of chases. It was wonderful to see how fleet they can be when they really move. Usually it's 'lope lope munch munch' but when they run they seem to leap like dancers. I know how rough that hill slope is in terms of rocks and thorny scrub but that doesn't slow them at all. The first chase we noticed involved the full grown well horned buck in the back. Husband postulated he was chasing a female but it could also have been a young buck that got a little too fresh with him and alpha male just wanted to let him know who was boss. Behaviour after that tended to support that idea, though husband could have still been right.. I need to do some research on gazelle behaviour.
The group then settled down to grazing but a few times we noticed a pair engaged in head butting behaviour.. face on and sparring as if they were in a serious challenge though they didn't have any serious horns to speak of. Again I believe these were just well grown youngsters practising the kind of behaviour they'll take more seriously later. Teenage horseplay, or in this case, gazelle play. This could get interesting, even difficult for the herd when the males grow older, with all the new field boundaries they may need human intervention in dispersing properly assuming plenty males survive. Still early to be concerned about that yet, but we shall be watching.
Hard to get the count today because of their movements (turning about more than yesterday and because of the camouflage effect if you so much as blink you have to start all over again) and we weren't sure we were seeing all of them. There were definitely at least eight in that group (not counting the two young that headed back to east field and the one that headed up the hill to the east, which as far as I could see did not join the others.) - so at least 11 individuals today. Very nice!
Between sparring episodes they stopped to graze, again all facing east as usual. This probably gives them maximum security.. they receive the most visual input from the east and plenty from north and south and since they face downwind they'll get the scent of anything behind them to the west and are already in position to run from it.
Birdlife is pretty quiet today.. blackbird alarm calls heard, they have been keeping very low profile lately. Quite a few hoodies and some feral pigeons on the wing, Collared doves about, one was chasing another- they're evidently still in that mood, plenty jays about as usual and syrian woodpeckers vocal. Sunbird singing in the Bauhinia a little and 'playing peek a boo' as it were amongst the Bauhinia leaves.
Murgatroyd the chameleon has been renamed Randall (from Monsters Inc. ) and put on his prettiest coat yet of a repeating autumn leaf design, that's how I can describe it. Sons are busy making a fruit fly culture for him (great!


Sept 5th

Shortly before 7 p.m. we found gazelle.

It is truly amazing how well a whole group of these beautiful antelopes can camouflage themselves. We found a group of eight on the lower slopes of the hill just a few hundred feet north of 'look-out corner' but pretty much invisible even to husband's sharp eyes. They were clear with 10x binoculars- once you've seen them. Finding the first is the trick. Once the eye picks out one, the brain recognizes 'copies' of the search image and they seem to materialize out of the scenery. I had decided to check out a part of the slope where we've seen them before and to my joy, there they were. My husband confirmed the count and we both recounted to make sure we hadn't missed any, as they were strung out in a loose line. To my unaided eye they were invisible unless I happened to notice one take a couple of paces forwards. Their white bellies look like the semi-submerged limestone rocks all along that hillside and their coats blend into the soft red-brown earth. Their dark flank stripe just looks like a rock shadow. If they're facing directly away the striped black and white tail pattern stands out much more and helps make them visible, but these weren't, they were sideways on and the effect is brilliant. They were all grazing, head down most of the time and steadily working their way east.. for the most part stationary and just munching on the sparse scrubby vegetation at their feet, each moving on a few paces every few minutes. No adult buck:( My mind won't rest easy till I see him again. We tried looking through the east part of north valley where we'd seen him before but he wasn't there.

Earlier, not long after 6 p.m. we noticed interesting aerial manoevres over 'windsurfer hill' . No less than six falcons present, most probably hobbies. Most seemed immature from what we could tell of their plumage, and practising their flying skills over the hill. I was inclined to think they were playing and practising but some of the play looked a little rough. We watched two falcons duel in flight, rise, almost tangle, fall, over and over again. There were another two raptors.. due to distance, speed of movement and silhouettes it was hard to make out what I was seeing but these were somewhat heavier birds than the falcons but not the wingspan of a crow so I took them for a pair of sparrowhawks. At one point one of the falcons entered into a 'duel' with a sparrowhawk for some minutes. This did seem slightly vicious but not violent and both parties rose, sparred, tumbled and twisted in the air quite impressively. Perhaps both were immature and even though different species, not a serious fight. Two of the hobbies left the 'party' and headed off west over us at good speed.

Apart from these wonderful sightings the woods were pretty quiet. Collared doves, Jays, greenfinches and syrian woodpeckers were active as usual but chukar partridges, blackbirds, stone curlews and hoopoes were keeping a low profile. Great tits and bulbuls were heard calling and our sunbird was singing in the Bauhinia earlier. The cistern is almost empty, the doves can perch on the stones piled on the bottom now, which they do regularly. Most of the pomegranates on the trees by the cistern were already torn open and partly devoured though they can't be fully ripe yet- probably by jays and such. We've been watching them ripen and I was hoping to enjoy one or two but the wildlife beat us to it.

posted by Yaarbiriah at Sep 05 07, 4:54 PM

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Chameleon, hobby and jay encounter

My 11 year old found a nice chameleon in his way home from school and decided to keep it as a pet. He's just over 20 cm long, hard to measure him because much of the time he hunches up and curls his prehensile tail. I called him Murgatroyd for no good reason, he just looks like a 'Murgatroyd'. He and his little brother put together a 'terrarium' from a spare cage complete with earth and pruned Bauhinia branches. The boys have been catching flies and moths to feed it.( I instructed them about washing hands after handling flies of course). Murgatroyd was quite happy to take them from my son's fingers with his long sticky tongue and has been slowly phasing through his colour repertoire for us from pretty uniform dull greyish green to his leopard patches to matt green and almost white. I'm switching the chameleon pic I posted a few days ago to a pic husband took of Murgatroyd.. it's back a couple of entries at #66.

Meanwhile.. our six o'clock walk was pretty quiet today, as it was yesterday but for a very nice hobby sighting which I'll get to soon. Collared doves still active and cooing, flight calling and visiting the cistern. Greenfinches active around bunker area as in days past, hoopoe on the trail by the cistern, Syrian woodpeckers active and vocal as usual and an upsurge in graceful warbler noise. Probably the young males are now making themselves heard. Bulbuls, Jackdaws, Hooded Crows, House Sparrows, Feral pigeons, Senegal doves also seen and/or heard.
No show on the gazelles, hyrax alarm screech by the valley road but otherwise they weren't out and about so much.

Drama in the eucalyptus grove, repeated hobby calls 'ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki!' and another call, a single kee! at a slightly lower pitch, and brief glimpses of a hobby flying very low, just above the ground in the grove and northern part of east field. Sounded like either two hobbies having territorial dispute or perhaps a hobby and Captain Jack.. we looked out for the sparrowhawk but no sightings. Finally a hobby, very streaked and with some brown, flew off south. Seemed to be an immature.

A little while later, at least a quarter hour but I didn't check, more hobby calls in the grove. We both noticed it alight on a high side branch of a eucalyptus. Through binoculars I could see it had caught something but couldn't tell what, it was mostly in silhouette, but probably a smaller bird, such as one of those greenfinches. It held it with its talons and started to feed but within moments it had company. A Eurasian Jay was perched right below and clearly interested. Then the Jay flew up and flapped at the hobby, possibly with the hope of alarming it into dropping its kill. The hobby took off and flew south, undercarriage down, still apparently gripping its supper.
Possibly it was this bird that had chased the younger hobby out of its territory earlier.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

raptor arrival

1st September.
Shorty before sunset a large dark bird crested the hill to the north and headed into the northern valley. At first I took it for a hoodie, then realized it was something else. Soon after, three more similar birds arrived and again made for those pines. Big brown jobs, raptors for sure but I wasn't sure which yet. They were the vanguard. We looked up to the north east to see a whole nice flock of about 80 of these magnificent birds coming in to land at a nice glide, probably on a leisurely descent from thermals high over the Jordan rift valley with a mind to roosting in the pines. We noticed smaller birds evacuate from that section of the woods, hastily moving over to make way. Some of the flock flew up the pine valley, dropping quickly into cover, others wheeled round and settled into the central area. We walked softly back up the central trail not wishing to disturb them but managed inadvertantly to spook a couple. They went lumbering under the canopy like aerial bears to look for a further and undisturbed perches.
When we got home we hit the Uzi Paz and the guide books to try to figure out exactly what they were. In the fading light it had been difficult to see markings and since they were coming in at a glide their tails and primaries were not fanned and their wings were angled stiffly to maintain control. They made it look easy. Honey buzzards were the most likely candidates in terms of timing and numbers though these seemed a lot darker and less barred. Of course that could simply have been the poor light. I'd have said regular buzzards from their underwing markings though according to Paz these normally return down the east side of the Jordan valley.
Earlier in the afternoon, just resting after lunch and about to plunge into some Robert Jordan fantasy, I heard a familiar chirrup in the Bauhinia. I couldn't see the bird from my window so went out into the garden, and there it was, baby blue right in the middle sitting on a perch and chirruping at me merrily, an escaped blue budgerigar. My son tried to catch it to bring it into our care but without success. Meanwhile apparently that cockatiel still roams, last heard a couple of days ago.
We noticed quite a few sick eucalyptus along dry trail. Major branches of one fell on the trail about a week ago but on looking more critically we noticed that many had dead or dying branches. One at the lookout corner is pretty much all dead. Sad. Many others seem healthy enough though. We wondered if there is a local bug bringing them down.
Gazelles 1 in pine grove to east of the cistern glimpsed briefly running through the trees. Chose to remain in deep cover there unfortunately, did not emerge to field.
hyrax activity around dens along valley road, plenty young about
Feral dogs some barking lately esp night
reptiles: Nice pale gecko noticed on the wall near the front door in the evening, Husband also found two baby geckoes in his bedroom, I can't imagine how they got in, he has screens and no holes we know of.
Wheatears: not sure.. calls from at least 3 around cistern but not seen
House sparrows and feral pigeons, around the buildings as usual
Senegal doves: in the Bauhinia and around street especially where bread is left.
Hooded crows: around as usual
Jays: foraging in woods and fields as usual, several visiting cistern to drink
Greenfinches: small flocks to and from trees by bunker, cistern and pine grove
Collared doves:quite a few around field, cistern euc
Stone curlews:brief call
Sunbirds: calls in cape honeysuckle by entrance
Syrian woodpeckers: calls
Yellow vented Bulbuls: calls in the garden especially in the evening
Great tits: calls in pines