Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stonechat: Saxicola rubicola Wikipedia

Oct 29
4 p.m. 20.2 degrees C. wind WSW 13.9 kt, humidity 66% and rising, temp range today16-23 degrees C,
Small job up in the pines along central trail, repeated 'weet!' calls, constantly moving and calling, had a glimpse of yellowish underparts but couldn't get good view of head, still, based on season, behaviour, call and appearance I'd go with Chiffchaff Phylloscopus colybita, or another warbler of that genus. Might even have been a Hippolais warbler with that much yellow but I don't know their calls, and no good view of the head.
Black redstart at the bunker ruins again. Departed as we arrived, heard a high pitched sharp strident and hard to locate 'seet!' from various directions around the bunker. Finally turned out it was 'blackjack', (black redstart) came to middle of rubble, flicking his tail aggressively and calling continuously as if warning us off his territory.
House sparrows: small flock active cypresses next door late afternoon as usual
Hooded crows: some calls
Jackdaws: small group returning from north before sunset
Eurasian Jays:active as usual
Feral pigeons: active around buildings
Syrian woodpeckers: calls
Bulbuls: vocal around gardens, also on approach to look-out corner No gazelle today.
October 30 Temp range 15-23 degrees C, ~4 p.m. ~19 degrees. 70% humidity, winds from west, ~ 9 kt. Skies almost clear, some high cirrus.
Gazelle -1 adult without horns, edge of valley road almost 4.30 p.m. turned down east into the pines at our approach, then looked back at us from a few score feet away. then she made her way north east deeper into the wood.
We were delighted to see some scrap metal dealers load that abandonned vehicle onto their truck today, bless them! They often come down and cart off junk that irresponsible citizens tip, they play a great role tidying up the environment, especially the heavy bulky stuff. We've collected scores of bags of garbage over the last few years and I need to do some more work around look-out corner to clean up the small stuff
We were so distracted by the vehicle removal that we reached the bunker without looking in advance and apparently scared off 'blackjack'. After a short watch from there I decided to look for stonechats with the hope that he'd return, so we set off nonchalantly northward, and after a few score paces, looked back. I heard the bird's distinct whistle and sure enough, there was a black redstart at the corner of the ruins, but my ears told me that the bird calling was NOT the bird I was looking at. Checking the ruins again my suspicions were confirmed.. a second black redstart over at another corner of the ruins, and he was bobbing and flicking like anything as he called, no doubt asserting his territorial rights. The first bird had changed position and was now out of sight, I don't know where he went, either moving in closer for a face off, or avoiding it altogether . At any rate, light was fading and I'd heard some stonechat calls from yonder north east. Hubby spotted a couple moving about in the ragwort and scrub by the barbed wire fence and presently I saw a nice male perched on a lower roll of fence, just above the scrub. At least two others were about in the lower scrub, hard to tell numbers of birds that are very good at diving out of view, could have been many more about, I was hearing calls from a number of directions.
Sunbirds, back in action, one singing beautifully in the Bauhinia outside my window about 7.15 a.m. after some days of quiet. Also busy in the cape honeysuckle.
White wagtail, call heard from the street late morning and early/mid afternoon
House sparrows: active around the houses as usual
Hooded crows: small groups calling and winging their way south to their roost, a little earlier than usual
Jackdaws: Calls heard from the house several times today, so they're back haunting our rooftops more regularly. group of about 20 heading south.
Eurasian Jays: active and vocal as usual
Feral pigeons: quite a number around, in flight, apparently also heading back to their building roosts.
Blackbirds: heard alarm chacking in the pinewood, each side of central trail
Bulbuls: very vocal in the gardens
Great tits, Greenfinches, chukars, collared dove, stone curlews, Syrian woodpeckers, graceful warblers: quiet or absent today

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Small handsome jobs

Beautiful photo of Black Redstart : Rene Demoulin

Temp: 14-23 degrees C , ~19 at 4 p.m. 70% humidity and rising, wind WSW 7 kt. Sky clear but for some small cumulus and some high altitude clouds. Jordan almost invisible.

Gazelles: One fully grown without horns grazing under almond tree, not the usual spot in north gazelle field but not far off, about 100 metres to north east.

Two birds-of-the- day today, two returnees! First was the one in the photograph (though we don't take credit for Rene's gorgeous picture. ) Seen at the edge of the bunker ruins. I was delighted! Husband noticed him first of course. A black redstart Phoenicurus ochruros haunted the ruins all last winter and was gone for the summer. Could be he's the same individual but this is the kind of place black redstarts love and naturally gravitate to- building sites and ruins with plenty insect hunting habitat around. We called him Blackjack last year so whether he's the same little chap or not, Blackjack he is.

Secondly, as I'd intended we headed north on the east edge of gazelle field, carefully because we didn't want to spook the gazelle grazing by the almond tree. Presently I heard a whistle-chack call from up the slope and was determined to find the cause this time. He came up from the scrub and sat on top of the nearer security fence in nice full view, a beautiful European stonechat Saxicola rubicola I've always seen these pretty little chats as the jems of the scrub, coal black heads, bright white collar and topaz beneath. I'd hoped for these but haven't succeeded on finding any in some time. They often winter here and that whistle-chat call gives them away every time, that and the bold sitting up on top of the scrub really helps. Presently he dived back into the scrub, then reemerged a few feet along, where we saw another individual, a female this time, flicking her tail like anything. The male moved along to join her, then flew down the slope to take up position on another cushion of scrub vegetation.

White wagtail: Heard over or near or garden early afternoon
Eurasian sparrowhawk spotted flying over valley road from our neighbourhood and down to his usual haunts, I'm sure the sparrow flock in the neighbours' cypress would attract him, would be interesting to see a dramatic hunt literally in our back yard.
Falcon, winging up over the hill to the east of gazelle field, silhouette, not possible to make out species but the shape and mode of flight identified it as Falco
House sparrows: Activity round houses as usual.
Hooded crows: Some calls, small group flying from northern foraging grounds to roost just after sunset, after the jackdaws
Jackdaws: Group of about 50, then group of 20 returning from foraging north of Adam to roost by Hizmeh, about sunset.
Jays: Plenty activity as usual
Feral pigeons: Active around the buildings
Collared doves: a few up on the wire over north east gazelle field, pretty quiet and still
Syrian woodpeckers: Some calls
Yellow vented Bulbuls: Calls in the garden, both melodious and coarse.
Great tits: Alarm calls coming from eucalyptus grove/pine grove area.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Comet, gazelle making holes?

Friday afternoon: Gazelle, apparently without horns, spotted down in the pines just off valley road, just to the north of the central trail. Graceful warbler calls

Friday night went out to spot 17P Holmes, the comet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter that has inexplicably increased in brightness lately. The moon was almost full and quite high in the eastern sky which made eyeballing the comet pretty difficult but with binoculars it was possible. Husband patiently directed me to the right part of the north eastern sky, which can be tricky when so many more stars are visible through binos which are not part of the usual constellations but suddenly after passing the seventh star I came across something unusual and obvious- looked like a tiny bright spider cocoon up there but clearly greater in diameter than any of the stars. Wow! Mars was also visible, just risen above Adam in the north eastern sky.

My 11 year old son was excited to see it, his first comet and we all made the special blessing on such phenomena

'Baruch ata adon-ai elo-henu melech ha'olam, oseh m'aseh breishit'

'Blessed art thou our Lord, Our God, King of the universe, who does the work of Creation'

I like the fact the blessing is in the present tense.. 'oseh'= does, which implies an ongoing process rather than a one-off creation way back.

Saturday: Range 15-23 degrees C, 20 degrees C at 4 p.m. Wind in west, ~6kt

High altitude cyrrus clouds

Shortly before we left the yellow vented bulbuls were very active and vocal in the Bauhinia. Looking, it seemed like a 'chak chak' face off going on in there.. hard to tell how many between the large leaves but from the comings and goings up there and between individuals in the willow, seemed like two families involved. Border dispute between two of this year's families ?

Quiet quiet in terms of birds. In the old orchard we found a few mounds of gazelle droppings and some peculiar markings, at first I took them for small burrows, but a pair of them, like slanted eyes in shape. I thought at first they might have been made by the mole rats but unusual for them to leave such holes on the surface, especially a pair till husband said he'd noticed a couple more of these paired holes. We realised they could have been made by the buck gazelle poking his horns into the ground. Why would he do that?

Hyraxes active. There was a cat stalking nearby. Some of the adult hyraxes are almost the size of a cat and several together could definitely keep a cat at bay and protect babies. No doubt the cat was hoping to get lucky and find an unprotected youngster.

Just before dusk was the crow return to roost flyby.. today just a scattered band of about a dozen hooded crows returning from the north. Some Jackdaw calls, Syrian woodpeckers quite active, some calls and several noticed in flight, and quite long flights between different sections of the area. Jays active as usual,

This evening approaching 10 p.m. sky was clear, plenty stars, moon, Mars out but felt cool drops of water on my face. A dew was settling on me- humidity was up to about 95% at that time and it was condensing in the cool of the evening.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back to usual fall weather

Normal autumn weather has returned and temperatures have dropped.

Range today: 16-25 degrees C, about 20 degrees at 4 p.m. Humidity 70% and rising, wind in the north west ~8.7 kt. Skies clear but for a very few high altitude clouds, Jordan back to being almost invisible, just barely perceptible behind mist like a dull high cloudbank occupying the rift valley far to the east.

No gazelle out today but a small group of feral dogs sighted at the edge of a glade along the central trail on our way back. Led by a big reddish brown job. When we reached look out corner we met a lovely and very friendly white dog with a collar, very like a Canaani but pure white and with a gorgeous coat. He seemed to be off on an exploration of his own in the wilds he accompanied us as we headed up gazelle field. We'd seen a 'hassid throwing stones into a tree and wanted to know what on earth he was doing.

Turned out he was just harvesting almonds, and good ones too it turned out. I knew many of the single trees in gazelle field were almond trees since we'd seen their blossom back in January. Only almonds bloom so early in the year as far as I know. I'm very cautious of almonds since the wild variety are very bitter and the kernels contain prussic acid but these were good and sweet, no doubt belonged to the farm that used to be there. Our new acquaintance gave us a handful of the husked nuts and husband broke one open (the local limestone boulders and stones come in useful) , it was totally clean of any infestation and mmm it was good!

Well, our other new friend, the white dog decided he preferred the hassid's company to ours and stayed with him till his owners arrived in a van down from the dry creek trail and called him back.

Other observations: About forty jackdaws arrived from north shortly before dusk and flew to Hizmeh's hill, where it was met by another group of jackdaws which had been hanging out over there. The whole flock of 70 plus wheeled around in the sky for a while, as if greeting the returnees.

Hooded crows, Syrian woodpeckers, Jays, Collared doves and greenfinches active pretty much as usual though the doves are silent now. Feral pigeons, house sparrows and Bulbuls vocal and active along the street and gardens. Husband saw a pair of white wagtails hunting for flies on the street in a higher part of the neighbourhood, which then flew up to the top of the buildings.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

South easterlies continue

Winds from the south and east all day pretty much though temperatures have dipped a little.

Range: 19-29 degrees C, about 26.3 degrees at 4 p.m. when humidity was 21% and falling (unusual), winds ESE 3.5 kt.

Gazelle: Two under the large single tree by the dry stone walls, middle of north gazelle field again. An individual with pale forehead (but not as light as 'Snowcap' and short horns and another with no horns and markings, in other words, NOT the same two individuals we saw a few days ago. We can't assume the same gazelle will always use this spot. Others not about.
Husband has seen no white wagtails about town but we did see one as we were heading out of the neighbourhood. Flew up to a roof, probably busy foraging for flies on the flat top up there. They like to go up and perch on the fences guarding the roof top, and undisturbed foraging up there compared to the roads below.

House sparrows: Active around the houses all day, especially vocal in the cypresses next door toward sunset. These were used as roost for wintering linnets last winter. Will be interesting to see if all these sparrows will yield when they arrive.

Hooded crows: Some calls from the east, a few flying over the valley, small numbers, scattered. Something disturbed them at their roost at about 10 p.m. over toward the south east.
Jackdaws: A group of at least 20 flying somewhat aimlessly over the southern tail of the hill of Hizmeh, seemed to be just windsurfing.
Jays: Usual activity in wood and field, screeches and foraging.
Feral pigeons: Several active on and between rooftops in the neighbourhood
Greenfinches: Some active between pines at the bottom of the valley
Blackbirds: Some dusk alarm calls.
Sunbirds: a few calls, they've been notably less vocal in the last week.
Syrian woodpeckers: Some calls.
Bulbuls: Quite vocal in the garden.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Another heat wave

Today I goggled at the weather readings. Another sharav (hot spell) this late in October! Ah well, not unheard of, but I was kicking myself for neglecting to get the readings yesterday. When this breaks we should get some nice thunderstorms, check all surge protectors in place!

Temps: range 21-32 degrees C, about 29.3 at ~ 4 p.m. Humidity just 19%, wind very light and south easterly.

Gazelles - No show in either gazelle field this afternoon. 1 without horns right at the end of the street this evening, about 10 p.m. On checking out where it was standing we saw that someone had put down a pile of bread. I really want to find out who, and what were their intentions for several reasons.
Reptiles: gecko calling from the bunker ruins
Hooded crows: the return to roost flyover happened a little later than usual, possibly because the wind was against them, or they left a little later. About thirty crows coming from the north west.
Eurasian Jays: Active and vocal throughout the woods as usual.
Blackbirds: Some chack chack calls toward dusk
Collared doves: Several assembled along the lines above north end of gazelle field.
Sunbirds: Sharp 'tack tack' call just off central trail led us to a young male (oragne tufted) sunbird foraging in a pine. Such calls are always worth investigating since a number of Sylvia warblers and small chat like birds make similar sounds, including the European robin which we're expecting some time soon. Though it was our usual resident it's always good to know where their territories are and that they use the pines for forage. We stopped a little to watch and admire him before moving on.
Syrian woodpeckers: Active and vocal
Great tits: Scolding and active in the eucalyptus grove
One falcon seen flying over the valley not much above canopy level to the west but in silhouette, quite low,
Otherwise quiet today, not much activity.

Monday, October 22, 2007

flavours of solitude

Today husband had to travel to the Galilee to visit my second son at his base, which meant I was alone for the afternoon walk for a change. My sixteen year old daughter was home for my boys when they got back from school, so no worries there. You know, much as I really enjoy sharing the valley and the nature watching with husband it did make a refreshing change to enjoy the outdoors completely alone. For one thing, I wasn't distracted by the usual chatter about current and family affairs we get into and could simply soak in the scents and sounds. It was lovely to just take off and walk carefree into the pines, hit the central trail and enjoy the sun and breezes and quiet. Being alone and surrounded by nature is both tremendously peaceful and empowering for me. I spend plenty hours alone in front of the P.C. living in cyberspace but that's not the same at all. It's a totally different flavour of aloneness. The great outdoors with lovely trees filling the air with oxygen, the vast clear porcelain blue skies and the scents of pine and woodsmoke and any other fragrances of the season... delectable and timeless.

Today far to the east the escarpment of Jordan was visible beyond the Jordan rift valley, way beyond the hills east of our own valley. The great valley itself was filled with greyish vapours but the late afternoon sun shone on the mountain sides way in the distance. Teashirt weather for sure, no need for jackets, but good shoes are a must, the way is full of stones and boulders and the waxing moon was already up in the eastern sky.

House sparrows and Senegal doves were active around the buildings as usual and I heard a covey of chukar partridges calling down in the north valley. Graceful warblers trilled like animated alarm clocks. In the woods Eurasian jays and Syrian woodpeckers called, active as ever, especially the jays, they were conspicuous all over the place. Toward sunset it was time for the crow flyby. A mixed flock of over a hundred put up from somewhere on the hills to the north and headed to their arboreal roost to the south. Hooded crows and jackdaws, in their own distinct subflocks but travelling as one broad flock. Many of the jackdaws called shortly after lift off and were answered by those in a smaller flock coming up from the hillslopes around Hizmeh, also heading south to roost. There was a distinct woodsmoke aroma around look-out corner but no smoke anywhere, I suspect it was older burnt ground I could smell.

Before that I heard plenty yellow vented bulbul and great tit calls in the orchard as well as greenfinch calls all around there. A few collared dove put up, silent but for the whistle of their wings. Blackbirds chacked away in the woods as usual but no gazelle put in an appearance at all, I checked all their usual places.

Husband was busy driving rather than looking but he did notice a family of Pied kingfishers Ceryle rudis and an egret near Jericho, as well as plenty Senegal doves, domestic goats, cows and several dromedary camels along the Jordan valley road.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Another lovely walk

We head out just after 4 p.m. these days as sunsets are getting earlier. This gives us about an hour. Clear skies yesterday, clear skies, sunny and quite warm with some high altitude cirrus and other small clouds today.

Temps: Range 18-27 degrees C, 4 p.m. 22 degrees C and falling

Humidity: 75% and rising. Wind: NW ~ 5kt

About a half hour before sunset two gazelle made their way from north end of gazelle field, about the pylon, to the single trees by the stone walls. They picked their way to the shelter of the largest tree, which seems to be their favourite. Leader was slightly larger hornless with pure white on top of her head. I'm calling her Snowcap for future reference. The gazelle following her was slightly smaller, had short horns and much darker face. After a short while Snowcap led the way back to the north valley pines, 'Little prongs' bouncing after. Probably mom and yearling.

Shortly after, an adult buck emerged running from the pine grove just east of the cistern, made his way just down from the security fence, made his way north, partly running, partly walking. I believe he was spooked by the shouts of a goatherd on the other side of the fence. The shepherds seldom use dogs to control their sheep and goat flocks here, preferring to direct them mainly by voice.

It's good that these beautiful mammals are protected throughout Israel. The Arabian gazelle has have been hunted heavily in other parts of the Middle East and has disappeared from large parts of its range. I've seen gazelle running free and wild over many parts of the country, in the Golan heights, the Galilee and here. It's good to know that these are unlikely to ever become trophies on someone's wall. Down in the deserts of the south the Arabian gazelle is replaced by a more desert adapted gazelle, the Dorcas gazelle. Two herds of the mountain race of Arabian gazelle, as far as I know, live within Jerusalem boundaries, the tiny herd we record and a much larger herd in the south of the city in a valley known as Gazelle valley (Emek HaTzvayim) by Katamon. The gazelle valley herd has a smaller but lusher range than ours (bordered by major roads and a housing estate) but is predated by a pack of jackals that attack it from the south. As far as we've seen no jackals bother our gazelle, though they do serve to keep a herd healthy, picking off the old and diseased. I don't know if the pack of feral dogs ever try to hunt them or simply scavenge, probably the latter. There may be a third herd over on the west side of the city between Jerusalem and Ramot but I know of no records of it. Good habitat for them, though.

We made our way north up the field to see if we could find birds in the pomegranates, almonds and low scrub by the walls. We'd heard some melodious whistles but the callers were very elusive. We came to a walled channel that had been built long ago to guide the creek alongside the old walled fields. The walls were just over three feet high and now filled with weeds, the ubiquitous ragwort and a beautiful blue dragonfly hunting up and down its course, even though there was no water, still enough small bugs for it to catch.
I noticed some other fall flowers today.. a kind of low lying broom, also yellow. No more painted ladies but some white butterflies still about. Light was fading and muezzins were calling for maghrib from the mosques of A Ram and Hizmeh, both serving as a call for us to get back to the family and prepare supper! We must check further up that way tomorrow because I'm sure interesting song birds are in that scrub.

Small flock of jackdaws passed over us to the south, probably on their way to roost. At about same time yesterday about 30 hooded crows did the same. Birds seldom have exactly the same habits every day, especially larger flocking birds. They need to rotate their resources and visit good hunting spots in turn. Alarm calls from blackbirds and Syrian woodpeckers, and of course, Eurasian Jays, plenty of those seen as usual. Greenfinches twittering and active last couple of days. A few collared doves about but quiet. House sparrow flocks noisy late afternoon around the buildings. Yellow vented bulbuls vocal in several locations.

Friday, October 19, 2007

crow interests

Out a bit earlier today. No more rain since downpour the other night but plenty small size scattered but quite low altitude cumulus and cool light breezes. Sunny and pleasant, no need for sweaters and jackets, just wore blouse as top. Yesterday was too hot for my jacket, I was soon tying the sleeves round my waste kid style!

2.30 p.m. adult buck gazelle in the pines just down from valley road again, same spot as last time. Bold fellow! Good to see him. I don't know if it was just faulty memory but this one's horns seemed shorter than the horns of the buck we saw the other day. Would be great to ear tag these guys to tell individuals apart so we know how many and who we're dealing with! We could get a real 'meerkat manor' *style gazelle 'soap' going on! (That would be even potentially doable with the hyrax at cypress slum too but would be difficult to guarantee undisturbed cameras. ) At any rate I can't confirm it was a different buck and is more likely it was the same individual, could just have been the perspective.

Small mixed flock of crows, both hooded crows and jackdaws foraging down in the pine woods for a change rather than on the hillslopes. They seemed to be concentrating on a raised section of forest floor near the edge of gazelle field just north of the central trail. The earth is damp, loose and flaky now, easy for them to find any insects and worms just below the surface. There's a lot of damp pine needles and fallen spent pineflowers and the earth is further loosened and excavated by molerats. We spotted one tiny baby lizard in the mulch. The crows were certainly succeeding in their intensive foraging, we watched a hoodie grab and swallow something almost every peck, probably small invertebrates in the leaf litter and loose earth, they were hardly digging at all.

Senegal doves, House sparrows, Yellow vented bulbuls and sunbirds all active. No more white wagtails yet, the ones we saw last saturday must have really been in the vanguard. Plenty jays about, many looking very smart now they've got their fresh plumage, but the occasional more bedraggled one, perhaps immature or ones not doing too well in all the turf battles. Syrian woodpeckers calling and active.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

The air is so wonderful and invigorating after the rain, just makes you want to stay out longer and breathe it all in. Main wild flower out is a LOT of ragweed which has a slightly acrid almost fennel like aroma but the other woodland scents released by the rain made up for that. We walked up into east field and took a look around. The lower parts of east field are divided by dry stone walls.. As with the north field I believe this was a farmed mini alluvial plain which received run off coming down from the south east. The olive tree grove is in one of these walled sections. There is still an occasional surface stream running through the eucalyptus grove but I suspect much of it is underground.
The field slopes upward to a nice patch of upland moorland covering most of 'windsurfer hill', clumps of aromatic heather- like bushes have now died back to cushions of what looks like tangled mini barbed wire, all interspersed with limestone boulders and plenty more fresh mole rat excavations. Instead of continuing on up the hill we turned west and hit an old shepherd track down back into the pines to hit the dry creek trail below. Still dry, last night's rain wasn't enough to make it run into the next day.
Gazelles: 2 by the single trees and dry stone walls, north gazelle field. 1 well horned buck grazing under the pines just down from valley road, only a few dozen metres distant.
Hyrax: Active, youngsters out too. There are at least three colonies along the length of the valley road or just off it. By the pumping station, by the cypresses (cypress slum, the biggest one we believe and probably expanding due to at least three rounds of litters this summer, four or five pups each and several breeding females. A third off the turn on the slopes of north valley and apparently a smaller fourth just down from some school buildings between the turn and the cypress slum colony.
dogs: Some barks down by the fences
Reptiles: Agama lizard on the bunker ruins. Nice size wild tortoise by the old shepherd trail at the tree line coming down into east valley.
House sparrows: Active on street and garden areas as usual
Hooded crows: Flock of at least 60 on windsurfer hill, foraging
Jackdaws: 60 or so on the slopes of hill below Hizmeh, most left and flew to join the crows foraging.
Eurasian Jays: Much activity and squawking in the woods
Feral pigeons: Small flocks and individuals active around the buildings
Greenfinches: Twittering and quite active today down by look-out corner
Blackbirds: 'Chack-chack' around dusk as usual lately
Sunbirds: relatively quiet
Graceful warblers: Quite vocal toward sunset
Syrian woodpeckers: Quiet, in contrast to yesterday's activity
Bulbuls: Active by old orchard and gardens, quite vocal
Great tits: Vocal and active, alarm calls heard various parts of the wood

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Temp range 17-26 degrees C, at 4.30 p.m. ~21 degrees C and falling rapidly. Wind, west veering northwest and north, gusting up to 8 kt, humidity, ~35-40%

Finally! Nice big grey cumulus ominous towards the end of the afternoon.. didn't stop us going down to gazelle field. One gazelle sighted running, then stopping to graze at far north end of the field. Our faces splashed a little with raindrops on the way back.

I was checking out some pieces of masonry by the edge of the abandonned orchard when I noticed fresh mole rat (Spalax) mounds, at least ten of them within a few square metres and another couple not far away. Probably a whole little colony there. They're very like molehills but larger diameter, flatter and more coarse grained dirt.

As for the masonry, I was looking for clues to the past of the area. We reckon that some time before the bunker was built most of the gazelle field must have been farmed, though it's impossible to tell how long ago. The dry stone walls separated small fields that were probably worked with animal drawn ploughs. The pomegranate and almond trees in gazelle field probably benefitted the farm, as did the abandonned orchard just south of it. The bunker area was probably built on or by old farm buildings though the cistern seems more recent given the iron in it, but I really couldn't date it. The ruined buildings a few hundred yards to the south under the pines could have been the original farm house or associated buildings. They had been standing a year ago and had been used to house a donkey owned by some people on our street, then later taken over by some young squatters. That whole structure was then torn down probably to discourage the squatting there, but the original structure could have been very old.

Most active bird we noticed on our walk were the Syrian woodpeckers, several individuals calling and in flight between trees. The harsh calls of bulbuls and dusk 'chacks' of blackbirds sounded under the pines but most other wildlife was silent. Crickets have still been singing shrilly every night up till now, sounding like scores of abandonned cellphones.

At about 5.45 p.m. already quite dark and thunder began to roll almost continuously for the next hour or so. 7 p.m. we heard the first real rainfall since May. This is something you really notice, living in a country with a long dry season! Kids can hardly wait to get boots on so they can splash in the puddles they haven't seen in quite a few months. By about 9.45 p.m. it was back to drips so we hazarded a walk down the valley road, almost called it off but went anyway, and got caught in a nice downpour on our way back! We didn't get too wet though, we ran! When it pours it really buckets down with plenty lightning as a chaser, which gives extra motivation to get into the cover of buildings.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Getting Cooler

Tuesday, and still no significant rain, just barely a couple of incidents of brief light drizzle. Clouds reverted to altocumulus, winds in the west and north west. It's getting definitely cooler though. I've been going out in a teashirt and blouse up till now but yesterday dusk was cool enough for a sweater or jacket. I've only started wearing a jacket on our evening walks over the past week.

There's a trail leading from the cistern area, up through the eucalyptus grove, behind (east of) the old orchard, through a grove of cypress and then up to the top of windsurfer hill. Usually we don't take it, or take it part way to check out the east field and the little olive grove there by the security fence. Day before yesterday we saw adult male gazelle cross this trail and head east into the field where he soon vanished behind the dry stone walls there. Last couple of evenings (between 9.30 p.m. and 10 p.m.) we've noticed single gazelle in the woods right by the valley road, and crossing valley road from the west slope right behind the buildings. They probably head up there for damp grazing and water.

Yesterday we noticed a hornless but somewhat knobbly headed young gazelle actually on the valley road as early as 4.40 p.m. it crossed to the west side, then crossed back and headed into the pines, making its way with quickly alternating half walk/half trot gait, (nervous and ready to put on speed, but not wanting to move faster than necessary, conserving strength) It seemed a little lame, dragging its left hind hoof slightly. We saw it emerge a little later from the north valley pines and make its way to that favourite grazing spot in the middle of gazelle fields under the single trees by the dry stone walls.

No more wagtails heard or seen yet but the usual yellow vented bulbul calls, both harsh and melodious today, sunbird in the cape honeysuckle quite vocal and a senegal dove coo briefly this morning. House sparrows, Hooded crow (flocking on windsurfer hill). Greenfinches and collared doves in the thick pines by the bunker ruins relatively quiet. Calls of Syrian woodpeckers and Jackdaws. Blackbirds, some graceful warbler calls and feral pigeons about. Hoopoe perched middle and high eucalyptus look-out corner

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Feathered Harbinger of Rain

Bird of the day, (Saturday) was the White wagtail! Motacilla alba. Finally! I include a photo courtesy of Wikipedia. These birds classically come here for the winter from central/Northern Asia just before the rainy season begins. Indeed the sky was showing some serious cumulus clouds for a change and we actually felt a few drops blown down on our faces. I'm sure the birds hitch a ride so to speak on the winds preceding these clouds.

Husband and son came in shortly after 1 p.m. to let us know they had the first sighting of the season and I quickly changed out of my house robe, eager to see one within the same hour. We didn't bother going down to the valley for this bird. Instead we simply walked around the block because wagtails like to hang out around human habitation, hunting for small insects on the ground on sidewalk and road. After a few minutes we noticed one in flight, a very characteristic rollercoaster flight path like a large sine wave with an accompanying sharp 'chissik!' call.


Thursday just after sunset, 1 gazelle noticed in the abandonned orchard. We'd been looking out toward gazelle field at the usual grazing spots and it snuck up behind us!:) Good thing we turned round.

Friday: ~2.30 - 3 p.m. A few degrees warmer and somewhat sunnier than our usual window. Turning off the valley road noticed new gazelle hoofprints in the sandy dust on the central trail. A few minutes later saw two gazelle cross the trail to the north. The trail winds somewhat and we noticed them cross again a short while later, possibly a third involved. One was hornless, second had thin shortish horns.

Saturday Dusk. I heard a kick of a hoof as we came up central trail back to the valley road and we spotted a gazelle in the fading light making its way south along valley road, then turning off and heading back into the pines.

Other birds

Returning to Friday early afternoon: - Approaching the bunker ruins I noticed a group of greyish birds alight in that area. Looking with binoculars noticed chukar partridge standing like a sentinel on the ruins. I suspect the rest of the covey was nearby but out of view and that that was the flight I saw. Not far from the chukar an agama lizard was sunning itself.

Senegal doves, (also known as Palm or Laughing Doves) At least 16 foraging on the ground outside the shops at the end of our street, just across the road from crumb corner on Friday. Numerous house sparrows also around. Several noticed today same general area and around neighbourhood in general.

Jackdaw and Hooded crow calls from the east, flock of at least 60 Hoodies up on windsurfer hill today. No sign of hobbies last few days, seems they've moved on, which would explain why Captain Jack has stepped up his profile in the bunker area.

Eurasian Jays their usual loquacious selves, Spotted flycatcher in the eucalyptus grove, possibly same individual staying on a while, Great tit calls last couple of days in the pines, Blackbirds more in evidence, 'chack-chack', 'tsreet' and stepped up their visibility a lot. Sunbirds quite vocal in gardens, neighbourhood in general. Graceful warblers calling and small family groups noticed.

Insects of interest

On friday iIn the pinewoods and on a kind of ragweed growing by the valley road we noticed several Painted ladies, Vanessa cardui a butterfly which sporadically migrates through Israel. More noticed in decorative foliage along a neighbourhood path. Dragonfly also by the valley road and another noticed over the dry creek road approaching dusk on saturday. It might seem as a surprise to find dragonflies up here but they can easily breed in the cistern and they're found all the way up Wadi Qelt, plenty of suitable pools for them. Mosquitoes, their favourite prey, are also plentiful.

My 11 year old son captured a handsome tiger moth Euprepia oertzeni (probably) last night, brought it home to ID and then we released him. About 2 cm long, pure white with black markings like those of a giraffe. He was amazed at its shrill alarm shriek it can make. At first it made him alarmed, which was of course the idea, but then when it became clear to him it was a harmless moth he brought it home.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

8,9 October, Sparrowhawk chasing jays!

Mon oct 8
Weather today was warm and muggy, overcast haze. Air felt quite still along most parts of our walk especially at the bottom of the valleys.
The winds did do an interesting switch today. They were very gentle north- easterly to south- easterly for most of the morning bringing in that dusty haze I'm sure. Not favourable for migration and bringing in a very fine dust that has made husband slightly hoarse and me sneeze!
Early afternoon switched back to westerlies veering northwesterly , and picked up from 6- 8,9 knots
(Along the valley road we almost always get a definite breeze funnelled down each of the valleys themselves, from the south along east valley along the greater part of the road, and from the north west along north valley at the first part of the road.This complicates the overall prevailing winds. )
4.30 p.m. ~25 degrees C, (Today's range:19-28 degrees C)
Humidity just 55% though felt more than yesterday, must have been warmth.
Gazelles: no show. Hyrax some high pitched alarm barks
shrike: calls in pumping station area
Nice Spotted flycatcher, Muscicapa striata, hawking from a high twig of the dead eucalyptus at look-out corner. Perch, fly out, flitter about for airborne insects almost bat like, then return to its perch.
House sparrows: very active in cypress next door, small flock late afternoon. Also small groups taken to visiting our lawn lately, half dozen
Senegal doves: 1 near the buildings on the way down to valley road. They seem to have been keeping a low profile lately
Hooded crows: small number on windsurfer hill, apparently mock fighting , duals
Jackdaws: some calls, flock 30 plus on slopes by hizmeh
Jays: all over woods and fields as usual, Feral pigeons: several about,
Greenfinches: in thick pines over bunker as usual.
Blackbirds: several heard and seen throughout pine wood
Collared doves: 1 from bunker pines across field to north valley, broke out
Graceful warblers: some calls valley road area
Syrian woodpeckers: some calls
Bulbuls: calls valley road and gardens, first bird shortly before 5 a.m. melodious calls
Great tits: calls in pines just down from valley road
Tues Oct 9
Again that misty, slightly dusty mugginess.
temps 18-27 time of walk, ~24 degrees and falling, humidity ~75% wind west, but veering south west earlier in the day. low in the morning, rising to 7 knots and more as the afternoon progressed.
1 gazelle, without horns, again by the large tree and stone walls centre of gazelle field. She didn't seem to be there earlier but was there just about sunset. No others around.
Most amazing sight of the day was of a sparrowhawk chasing jays! Two jays and a brown (immature or brown morph) Eurasian sparrowhawk perched on a low tree close to where the central trail emerges from the pines to gazelle field. The sparrowhawk got up and started chasing a jay, twisting and showing off its manoeverability beautifully, flying low. Both jays took off toward look-out corner. The sparrowhawk continued to follow and harass the jays all the way up to the cypresses at the other end of the orchard. He's probably tired of so many loud omniverous jays on his territory and wants to teach them a lesson. He's not really bigger than they are but he's a much cleverer flyer. The jays didn't team up and go against him as far as we saw today. (Eurasian jay 32-35 cm bill to tail- just over a foot long, Sparrowhawk, 29-34 cm)
Spotted flycatcher top of eucalyptus in the euc grove.
Bee-eaters: Husband heard some about midday.
Hooded crows, Jackdaws: Calls from direction of windsurfer hill and other hillslopes to east, some flying over
Jays: Much activity, scavenging wood and fields
Greenfinches: some twittering and movement of small groups, 10 from thick bunker pines to look-out corner
Blackbirds: alarm 'chack' various parts of the pinewoods
Sunbirds: vocal, Graceful warblers: some calls, Syrian woodpeckers: some calls
Yellow vented Bulbuls: vocal in the garden and in the abandonned orchard. Melodious and harsh calls from a number of individuals both locations.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

swallow stopover

Gazelles - Just one today, hornless and usual spot under the largest of the single trees in gazelle field by the dry stone walls. Feral black and white cat sitting nearby, obviously not perceived as any kind of threat. Cat continued east. Good luck to that cat, we've seen it hunting in north valley before, or trying. Sticks out like a sore thumb against that terrain.

Bird of the day would be European swallows, Hirundo rustica
flying every direction, at least a dozen, probably quite a few more, flying over north and central east valley and quite high over hill slopes north of gazelle field and just over tree canopy level, in loose association with each other. Probably on passage and just stopped by for some good late afternoon fly hunting.
Always a delight to see their easy grace in flight. We'd glimpsed a couple yesterday but today we got to see more and much better views

Hoopoe one flying by near the bunker.
House sparrows: Around the houses, busy and active late afternoon.
Hooded crows, Jackdaws: Calls but no significant flocks noticed today.
Jays: Much squabbling, continuous screeching heard over several minutes around sunset, north valley.
Greenfinches: More active than yesterday, a little twittering and going to and fro between their favourite thick pines by the bunker and the eucalyptuses.
Blackbirds: Numerous alarm calls heard throughout woods
Bulbuls: Harsh calls in the garden
Raptor calls today and yesterday, I think the sparrowhawk in the pine grove, Repeated ki-ki etc call but sounds a little harsher than the hobby call. Unfortunately didn't see it either time.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Walk 6th October

Walk starting about 4.30 p.m.
Temp range today 15-24 degrees C. Start of walk: ~21 degrees C
humidity: over 60% and rising, wind west veering northwest ~6kt

- At about sunset adult buck emerged from behind the pine grove by the security fence on the east and made his way west across the far end of gazelle field.. not grazing, just taking a few paces then stopping still, head raised at full attention.. probably trying to pick up scent of the group. At one point he squatted, then moved on. By the time he got to the single trees at the far end of gazelle field where the group usually graze he stopped to graze himself. At that point light too dim to watch through binoculars and time to go back.

hyrax- some high pitched alarm calls from colony by the valley road/cypress slum area- probably a cat alert.
feral dogs. Much barking from the security fence by east field area, sounds like the pack were around there somewhere.

Several swallows Hirundo rustica, noticed flying low at the beginning of valley road next to north valley. When swallows pass through that spot seems a favourite spot for them to stop by and hunt

Immature shrike, Masked, Lanius nubicus, I believe, perched low outer edge of a large acacia just up from valley road, not far from the large hyrax colony. Still mostly greyish.

Hoopoes. One flew from cistern area to the pines and eucalyptus of the east valley.
House sparrows: Around houses as usual
Senegal doves, Feral pigeons: quiet lately, not noticed.
Hooded crows: Around and vocal, flock of 60 spooked and rose from 'windsurfer hill', settled back soon after.
Jackdaws: Some calls.
Eurasian Jays: Very vocal and much activity in the pines and on the fields, small groups and singly
Greenfinches: Group in the large pine by the ruined bunker, keeping quiet, chirped and moved around in there a little when we arrived.
Blackbirds: Alarm calls heard, both the 'chack chack' and 'sreeet' calls along the dry creek trail.
Chukars, stone curlews, graceful warbler :silent during our walk.
Collared doves: At least a couple deep in the pine foliage over the ruined bunker some vocalisations similar to the harsh flight call, another flying between trees
Sunbirds: Beautiful full song of iridescent male, violet and green, in flowering shrub next door's garden, then he flew into the cape honeysuckle
Syrian woodpeckers: Some calls in various parts of the pine woods.
Bulbuls: Harsh calls in the garden. 4 in the abandonned orchard.
Great tits: Calls along valley road, harsh alarm call and a musical three tone call a few times. First musical call I've heard from them in some time.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

4th Oct Walk, brief birdwatching history

Sky quite quite clear today though a couple of days ago appeared overcast with a kind of light dusty mist. Some of that today and on and off over the past week or so.

Temp: range 17-26 degrees C. For our ~5 p.m. walk it was 22 degrees C and falling. (~71.5 degrees F) Humidity: 70% and rising, wind, west veering north west, ~ 6 kt. No rain yet.

We noticed 1 gazelle, (no horns) walking into the north valley woods from the field. Only one around though we scanned every likely place visible on our walk over an hour. I suspect the group retreated further west along north valley.

Blackbird alarm calls approaching dusk, after which the stone curlews voiced their beautiful mournful calls. Some hooded crows were about, Feral pigeon winging over the valley, a hobby heading up over north valley against the wind, a shrike, (probably masked) calling in the eucalyptus grove but by then light too dim to find it. Graceful warbler calls from the orchard area.

We're looking out for winter arrivals now, particularly white wagtail and European robin but none noticed yet. Any day now..

@ @ @

Just a little background on my experience. I've been interested in birds since I was a kid and first noticed pied wagtails picking for bugs and flies in the school yard. My teacher then (Mr. James Fearick) was always very supportive and encouraged me to join the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in particular the Young Ornithologists' Club- that started a lifelong interest in conservation and wildlife in general.

Most of my early birdwatching was in the U.K. of course, more in South Wales than in England. I was a volunteer reserve warden at the Ouse Washes, a great experience and enjoyed many great trips with Cardiff Ornithologists' Society. The members were fantastic and showed me my first Slavonian and Black necked grebes amongst other delights. In college I majored in zoology, doing my third year project on winter birds of a park in South Wales. No lab work for me, I was out spotted redwing and fieldfare over the winter months including blizzards and freezing temperatures. Loved it of course. I also did a few years of Common Bird Census work for the British Trust for Ornithology which mainly involved plotting birds' territories on maps of my favourite haunts, a stretch of the river Taff and surrounding habitat.

After college I moved to Israel, first volunteering on kibbutz where I spent as much spare time as possible learning the local birds. I was very fortunate to meet the elderly and saintly Mrs. Keti Levi, both my spiritual mentor there and my local guide since she knew the birds well. Over a year and a half I was finding my first short toed eagle, stone curlew, bluethroats and white breasted kingfisher amongst others. I'll never forget a saturday (Sabbath) afternoon listening to Keti expound on the Torah. I heard an interesting distant bird call which I knew but didn't want to interrupt her. An hour or so later she finished and then turned to me and said in Hebrew, 'did you hear the redshank?' We shared a smile over that. She was amazing, and a wonderful teacher.

Later in Jerusalem I finally discovered the Jerusalem Bird Observatory and learned much from them as they organize trips and have a ringing station on site where I observed many local birds in the hand as the people there. The wonderfully enthusiastic Amir Balaban and excellent teacher Gideon Perlman explained everything to us as they worked and Alen Kakal gave us walks around the site and the Wohl Rose gardens 'next door' teaching us about the local birds: the resident raven of that area (Linda) and other locals. She is a teacher who has shown and taught me and many others much to see about Jerusalem. A birdwatcher can find much on his own but there is a lot to be said for the old 'apprentice system' . With a good teacher one makes quantum leaps.