Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cap'n Jack and gamebirds

Jerusalem, Israel.
~6-~13 degrees C today, at about 5 p.m. ~12 degrees C, wind 2.6 kt SE. Sky pretty clear but somewhat hazy. Humidity 69%
House sparrows and white spectacled bulbuls vocal in the garden, bulbul, the harsh grating call and the three tone call. Hooded crows calls from farther off.

Taking off down the valley road, no hyrax out but 2 chukar partridges foraging in the cypress slum area. A feral cat alarmed them and they took flight, joined up with three more chukar farther along the bank, Presently all five headed off in the direction of the pumping station. Calls of graceful warbler and black redstarts heard along there. Husband spotted Cap'n Jack (Eurasian sparrowhawk) flying north a few dozen feet over the canopy of east valley. Nice continuous view of the bird for most of his flight.

We were a bit late today and light already too dim for flower photos, indeed most of the smaller birds had turned into roost by the time we got to look-out corner, and struck out on gazelle as well but stopped to admire some gorgeous song of duelling blackbirds by central path near the owl glade. One bird in particular was putting on almost an excessive virtuoso performance we both couldn't resist doing our Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell impersonations. 'Well check it out! Some pitch problems in the higher registers but all in all a very nice vocal performance!' 'I don't know what you're hearing, sounded a bit oversung to me with a hint of desperation..'

Swift scream heard about sunset. Brief Eurasian jay appearance by orchard and Eucalyptus grove.

In Somerset, England today temperatures about the same as yesterday though wind veered to easterlies.
The feeders were as usual super busy with greenfinches, chaffinches, bluetits, great tits, nuthatch, coal tit, long tailed tits, female great spotted woodpecker yet again, marsh tit and a hen pheasant, perched by the squirrel feeder this time. A grey squirrel also came by. I took a few images but have not yet decided which to share.

Meanwhile in South California, James Reserve,
Today the sun is shining, at just after 8 a.m. temp was 37 degrees F, wind 3 kt WNW and a white breasted nuthatch was already on the tray feeder. Those little chaps look quite lethal to be around, with their extraordinary slender stiletto like bill. If I were another bird I'd keep out of swiping distance! Purple finches, mountain tits, pygmy nuthatches and a steller's jay showed up soon after. I see the seed tubes have been refilled but the fat block has not yet been replaced and no sign of those brown creepers again :(
I'm sure if these feeders are watched for much longer than I can spare, the species yield would be much better. I've noticed about 15 species here in all lately and I'm sure there are more.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

After the Rain

Foliage of a common and prolific local thistle, distinct white veining on green leaves, apparently milk thistle, Silybum marianum, or similar. This is a plant that is being researched for its medicinal benefits. Purple (and some white) flowers will appear late spring. Many illustrations of thistles only show the flowering head but both leaves and flower are essential for proper ID, there are over 200 spp here. Most thistles in Israel are purple or white, some yellow.

Jerusalem, Israel

Temp range today ~4-10 degrees C,
4.45 p.m. ~9 degrees C, humidity 77% and rising, wind fluctuating 3-12 kt
Mostly blue skies, some small to medium cumulus

In the gardens, house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, sunbird squeaky call in the cape honeysuckle. Also active: jackdaws, feral pigeons, hooded crows, great tits vocal in the pines, Eurasian jay foraging in cypresses, graceful warblers calling, black redstart on the bunker ruins rubble.

Two flowering plants not in the guide in the field by the saplings.. a small bright orange composite with dark centre and complex filamentous leaves and another low lying plant with small purple flowers, almost bell shaped, ~ 5 petals, with complex leaves.. must get photos tomorrow when better light.

p.s. forgot to mention brief sighting of long eared owl flying parallel to and just east of valley road two nights ago ~ 10 p.m.

SW England
Site does not have its own weather report so I used the BBC SW England weather webpage.
Temp" ~6 degrees C, winds westerly, mostly fine and sunny with occasional cloud & rain.
Female great spotted woodpecker several visits, probably same individual as yesterday. Plenty blue tits, great tits, greenfinches, chaffinches, housesparrows, occasional coal tit, robin and nuthatch. Male and female pheasants strolling around in the background through the afternoon. 2 grey squirrels visited the feeder. We're working on figuring out a way to get clear screenshots of this site, direct copying not an option. I tried photographing with e camera but not clear enough.

P.S. We found a way with a program called 'fraps' so hopefully I'll be posting Denbury farm images in future! I tested it when a badger came out to the badger feeding station some time after 11 p.m. and was satisfied with the image.

Meanwhile in Southern California:
Temps at the James reserve up a few degrees on yesterday and the sun is shining. Since 8 a.m. local time so far I've only seen purple finches, pygmy nuthatches and mountain tits, & oregon junco, mourning dove

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rained out

Jerusalem, Israel. Despite being rained out today there's still enough to report.
Temps were ~6 degrees C to ~12.5 degrees C, winds fluctuating and westerly, averaging about 7 kt with intermittent thunder and quite heavy rain to drizzle most of the day.

Tragedy today at Eyn Geddi, a canyon system draining into the Dead Sea from the Judean Desert about 70 km south of here. (subject of a couple of entries in this blog last August) Na'hal David flash-flooded and a tourist was killed. His girlfriend survived and was found some time later after a search. About 30 other visitors had to be rescued. I wonder what Eyn Geddi could do to upgrade flood warning systems- they had not expected it otherwise they'd have closed the park, but several hikers were killed there last summer too.

The local birds have finally found our bird table (located between the willow and Bauhinia tree) and today during a brief dry period it was practically mobbed by the local house sparrow convention and a pair of laughing doves peck-pecking away and barely tolerating the sparrows. I now want to rig some hanging feeders suitable for the local greenfinches and great tits etc.

Laughing doves also heard cooing a little, sunbird's squeaky call heard as well as blackbird 'tzeeet' and 'chak chak', white spectacled bulbuls, and also jackdaw flock and white wagtail from farther off. Saw some hooded crows winging home south after forage. Rosemary beds in the public gardens are in full bloom and smelling lovely after the rain, and blackbird singing toward dusk.

Somerset, England: Shortly before noon our usual crowd was working the feeders. Multiple great tits and greenfinches, several blue tits, chaffinches, brief visits by coal tit and robin. A great spotted woodpecker pair appeared.. the male briefly perched on the squirrel box then left, the female (which lacks red on the head) stayed to work at the right feeder.

Meanwhile at James Reserve, California temperatures below freezing for first half of the morning but bright and sunny though humidity high. When I first looked in - 6.39 a.m. local time, mountain chickadees were already at work, a gang of 4 steller's jays showed up and soon after that two pairs of mourning doves, visiting feeders, ground under feeders and the water dish (always a good place to look if you have the time, especially over the hot summer months, because this also gets species that don't come to grain feeders. Camera used to be on a nice stone water dish.. this has lately been changed to a metal dish attached to the side of a pine about two feet above the ground.
Soon oregon junco and purple finches arrived for breakfast followed some time later by American crow, white breasted nuthatch (8.38 a.m) and pygmy nuthatch.
The best surprise early afternoon yesterday was a nice white headed woodpecker on the pine below the fat block (which is of course entirely consumed now)
The other main woodpecker on the reserve is the acorn woodpecker but so far I've only seen this visit the water bowl.
I tend to keep James in another window when I'm messing around on the P.C. and check back there every so often to see what's happening. I'm sure that way I miss some stuff but catch the most frequent flyers so to speak. Today I went in earlier due to weather conditions here.
Here's a screen shot I just took of a pair of pygmy nuthatches.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Blooming almonds and others

Large pic: almond blossom
Small blue flower: alkanet type
4 petalled flower: Malcolmia
White spike: Bellevalia

Sky is covered with cloud ripples like white coral sand on the shore, high altocumulus.
10-16 degrees C, 13 degrees C at about 4.30 p.m. humidity ~60% fluctuating, wind W 3-8 kt

House sparrows, laughing dove cooing softly in the gardens, we watched female or immature sunbird forage in some garden creeper. Into the woods and Eurasian jays active and vocal, much high pitched peeping from elusive softbills, probably black redstarts. There were quite a few chaffinches around, calling their distinctive 'pink!' contact call from the tops of cypress trees. Brief greenfinch twitter and a high pitched call from the pine grove over beyond the cistern which I believe is another goldcrest. Graceful warblers, great tits,white spectacled bulbuls and blackbirds also quite vocal today. Hooded crows around as usual, some heading north to roost.
Due to a loud barbecue in progress near the bunker ruins there was no use checking out the usual residents so we swung north into gazelle field.

We found some new and interesting flora which we photographed. My prime objective was to get shots of the largest almond tree which just started to bloom within the last couple of days but on the open field were other little gems of life. Comparison of our shots at home with Azaria Alon's guide easily identified two of the commonest, a white four petalled flower turned out to be Malcolmia crenulata (one of the crucifers) and a white spiked flower found in quantities was Bellevalia flexuosa, a member of the onion family. I also found a charming small blue 5 petalled flower up against a rock which seems to be one of the alkanets, part of the borage family, but haven't yet narrowed it down beyond that.

Still plenty red anemones around, I found a nice katydid on one of them.. (also known as bush cricket) and there were also a number of hairy brown caterpillars feeding and getting quite large, likely their eggs had overwintered.

Two gazelle grazing north end of the field, one had short thin horns. Some 'sproinging' up the slope.

Brief visit to South West England.. Denbury farm just before noon local time:

A whole little gang of greenfinches, several chaffinches and the 'tit tag team' , i.e. great tits, blue tits, briefly coal tits and marsh tit. Robin also visited. I signed off when a couple of people decided to hang around right there.

The U.K. is only 2000 miles west of Israel and so many species are found in both places where habitats are suitable, at the western and eastern edges of their range respectively. As you see we 'share' great tits, greenfinches, house sparrows and blackbirds as well as chaffinches and robins seasonally. Listening to recordings of UK blackbirds I notice subtle differences in 'dialect'. The UK birds tend to have more long lower pitched tones and the Israeli birds more shorter higher pitched embellishments but both are recognizably blackbirds.

Meanwhile in Southern Calfornia: Over at James reserve the air was misty, snow still on more open ground and temperature just 42 degrees F at 8 a.m. Mountain tits and purple finches already visiting the feeder as well as oregon juncos and a white breasted nuthatch. A Steller's Jay has just arrived and of course he's making for the fat block... a second jay, and they're also using the grain and seed food from the feeders and the plate beneath. Visibility is awful right now in the main feeder cam so I flick from that to the side view of feeders and seed block and the view further back which also includes the ground below. Two more jays have arrived, one down below foraging for dropped seed. Pair of pygmy nuthatches

This camera has a refresh every five seconds which is helpful because each bird is frozen for a short while to enable easy IDs. The Denbury farm cam is continuous, almost like a movie, which makes gives better appreciation of movement but requires a quicker eye for IDs.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

First Swift

Common swift, Apus apus

Jerusalem, Israel
First swift Apus apus of the season seen today at about 4.45 p.m. 23 Feb. A lone individual over north valley. (silent, probably because he had no mates around to scream with)
The graceful archer's bow wing shape was most welcome! I'd just been saying to husband a second before that they should show up ANY time now and he simply said 'up there'. I love it when that happens. These birds winter in Africa and usually return about now.

Temperatures very mild today, 9.5 to 17 degrees C, clear skies for the most part. Winds light and pretty much easterly all day, humidity mostly under 25%. Temps just coming down from peak when we went out for our walk.

First thing I heard today shortly after dawn apart from distant hooded crows was the strident squeaky toy call of a sunbird in the Bauhinia outside my window. Later around noon male sunbird launched into a long and elaborate song in there, trying to pack in more notes per minute than Mozart. He was definitely in good spirits after surviving being almost frozen last week.

House sparrows, jackdaws, feral pigeons and laughing doves also around, some light coos of the latter. White spectacled bulbuls also quite vocal today.

In the woods great tits very vocal and some Eurasian jays seen about and active. Much high pitched peeping in the woods by elusive redstarts, not one black redstart let us see it today but they were there in force as were graceful warblers and a brief greenfinch twitter. Others, such as woodpeckers, robins and stonechats, silent. Very nice view of a fine adult Eurasian sparrowhawk returning from direction of NE gazelle field toward east valley.

Adult male gazelle grazing over at the foot of the pylons, north gazelle field, he made his way to field in the NE end of the field not far behind the cistern and grazed there for a while. Our sons found 2 agama lizards and a brownish yellow scorpion.

S.W. England, Denbury farm.

Camera is back on the feeders by the path and the 'tit tag team' present in force. Both friday lunchtime and today at about 4.30 p.m. there were plenty blue tits and great tits with a coal tit darting in whenever it could. Today, probably one of my favourites, a long tailed tit was also about. It seems these birds use their tails to change direction in midflight, I noticed some quite elegant manoevres around the feeder.

On friday midday a great spotted woodpecker and for the first time a male blackbird was on the left feeder. These are softbills and in the past I've only seen the female on that feeder though robins visit frequently as did one today a few times. A couple of chaffinches and greenfinches also visited as well as a male house sparrow. Blue tits seem to be the least shy as they returned to the feeder seconds after a boy with his two gorgeous German shepherds walked by, encouraging the other birds to follow.

Meanwhile at James Reserve, California it's still morning over there and already lively. Most of the snow under the feeder has gone though it seems it has snowed again very lightly since, farther off snow still blankets the ground. James (33 degrees N) is similar latitude to Jerusalem (31 degrees N) and actually lower altitude by a couple of hundred metres but the area is much more exposed being on the side of the San Jacinta range as opposed to Mir tucked in a valley as up here.

2 nice glossy American crows came by as well as a pair of mourning doves, using both the feeder, the water bowl and checking out the ground under the feeder for dropped food. Of course the usual purple finches and mountain tits have been coming in and out as well as a pygmy nuthatch and a pair of very handsome band tailed pigeons. A gang of 6 Steller's jays came by, it's amazing there's any of the fat block left after that, they seem to love it as well as everything else the feeding tray has to offer.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Back over the hill

Jerusalem, Israel

Gorgeous day today, mild (7 -14 degrees C) and totally clear skies. Winds light and in the east in the afternoon. House sparrows and jackdaws heard from the house. We had to deal with the chore of taking a trip to the next neighbourhood to sign some bank documents and make clothes purchases for the boys. Happily the compensation is walking back NW cross-country over windsurfer hill, east field and Mir Forest.

We saw plenty laughing doves & feral pigeons on the way through the built- up areas (mainly residential 5-10 storey apt. buildings) and my 12 yr old son was excited to see a falcon fly right over him when he went off for a walk - along the main street there. He saw the light underparts and swept back wings and recognized it as clearly a raptor but he also described a very dark face mask not found on the most likely falcon of the area (kestrel, Falco tinnunculus). This leaves hobby and peregrine falcon as the next likely possibilities (which he didn't know) and it does seem very early in the season for hobbies to be back already. White wagtails around.
Still no swifts.

Heading over the hill we saw a nice group of gazelle in east field, 9 individuals, no sign of an adult male. One of them seemed definitely heavy in the abdomen. They moved on down to graze near the olive grove.

Apart from putting up the usual flock of 50 + hooded crows we didn't see much as light was already fading by then. A small flock of ~20 blackbird sized brownish grey birds took off from the open scrub lower south east side of the hill, frustratingly we didn't get much detail on them but short tail and no obviously long bill or any other clear features, but some quite melodious high pitched contact calls unlike those of fieldfares. Always frustrating not to get enough info for an ID but that's how it can go. Redwing? Seemed too plump.. hard to tell.

were singing in the pines as we made our way back home via central trail and shortly after our arrival home, already dark, some very nice stone curlew calls came to our ears from somewhere down in the valley.

At Denbury farm, Somerset, England:
Late morning their time.. the camera was on a pair of feeders next to a tree branch today and guess what was intently pecking seed after seed? A hen pheasant, comfortably perched (a lot more comfortably than she was yesterday!) on a narrow branch. She was joined by another hen a few minutes later. Great tits, chaffinches, coal tit, blue tits, house sparrows and a robin also seen.

Meanwhile, at James Reserve in California
American crow, purple finches, mountain chickadees, steller's jay, oregon junco so far today. It's late morning there now and temperature just above freezing, air somewhat misty and a fresh fall of snow on the ground. A gang of three jays are using the feeder.

signing off on this one for the day, if anything else shows up at James, I'll report it tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Early borage and Balancing pheasant

Podonosma syriaca

Jerusalem, Israel

Temp. range 2-7 degrees C

There seemed to be a convention of house sparrows in our garden this afternoon but this is not unusual lately. Hooded crows, white spectacled bulbuls, a sunbird and a blackbird also heard.

Laughing doves and feral pigeons seen on top edges of nearby apartment buildings (generally 3 storeys our side of the street)

~4.45 p.m. ~7 degrees C, humidity 85%, wind 3.5 kt N
Plenty tracks of gazelle and feral dogs on the various paths in the forest but no mammals spotted today. Hooded crow about and graceful warblers heard. Nice male stonechat out on the scrub in the forepart of gazelle field, visible from quite a distance. Black redstart and European robin calls heard not far from the rubble but neither made an appearance.
Blackbird song and alarm calls, Distant white wagtail calls and probable chiffchaff but still no sign of swifts.

The main scrub bushes all over the fields around the woods and any spot within the woods that is open enough, are in full leaf, tiny double rows of leaves amongst an intricate lacework of spines. The leaves when crushed smell of oregano quite powerfully. They bear blue flowers later in the season, typical flower type of mint family (photographed in an earlier entry)

On the way down to valley road I found a handsome large and unusual plant in full flower against a wall, a hairy borage type plant with rows of small blue tubular bell type flowers with yellow tips. Looking it up after we found it was Podonosma syriaca, a plant which is not supposed to bloom till March but given this plant's very sheltered location by a footpath between wall and building it was able to bloom early.

S.W. England
The feeders were super busy early afternoon with greenfinches, chaffinches, some house sparrows, plenty great tit, some bluetits and brief visits by coal tits and marsh tits, also a male great spotted woodpecker visited for a while. Nuthatch and robin also visited and a male pheasant strolled behind but the star of today's show was a hen pheasant, as follows:
I posted the following note to the site's comment board.
Here's something I've never seen at the feeder before. Pheasants often stroll behind but today at about 2.18 p.m. a female pheasant was perched on TOP of the middle feeder at camera 1, perched precariously and turning around very carefully,like a competitor in the immune challenge on 'Survivor', and leaning over to take seeds from the feeder. It was hilarious to watch.. she seemed quite successful.
We're talking about a bird over two feet long perched on top of a feeder no more than two inches or so in diameter.

Meanwhile at James' reserve in California: a few degrees colder, and damper than Israel today.
It was about 8.30 a.m. in the morning over there when I tuned in. Purple finches and a mourning dove were using the feeder, soon the usual mountain chickadees and pygmy nuthatches arrived and a little later, oregon juncoes and a steller's jay which surprisingly did not intimidate a mourning dove into leaving. If anything else shows up I'll report it tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cold and Wet

Here part of the water left the usual creek bed and coursed out over the surface of the fore part of gazelle field. It will rejoin the usual water courses further along. This will all be gone in a few hours and the stream bed itself will not be flowing tomorrow already. East end of north valley forest visible to the left, leaves of the pines by the bunker, upper right.

Jerusalem, Israel

Rained pretty much all night though in other parts of the city there was sleet, snow and ice. Temperatures were just above zero, just below taking into account chill factor. When I looked out there was no snow cover anywhere I could see but from reports some roads had ice problems and buses were delayed running a couple of hours (usually they start at about 6 a.m.)

Range today: -1 to 4 degrees C,

First bird I heard about dawn was a sunbird Nectarinia osea right outside bedroom window squeaking away. Later husband saw one sitting on the decorative iron bars outside his office window ruffling and whirring its bedraggled feathers repeatedly for several minutes as if trying to blow dry itself.

House sparrows and white spectacled bulbuls also vocal in the garden, hooded crow from farther off and brief blackbird calls. Laughing dove foraging on the ground just off the main street. (usual for them.. normally in pairs but this one was alone.. and startled into flight by a firework that must have been hundreds of feet off)

~4.30 p.m. temp. `3.2 degrees C, humidity 100%, wind WNW 8.7 kt

Stream was in full flow today, had to jump over the split courses twice approaching look-out corner.

Black redstart on rebar at the rubble, nice male stonechat on the scrub right next to it, first I've seen in days. Jay foraging in the woods, blackbirds also quite vocal in the woods, some song heard. Sparrowhawk glimpsed in the eucalyptus grove region. Graceful warblers heard calling and a few hooded crow around. Otherwise bird life was keeping a low profile as it was drizzling cold rain on and off.

Weather conditions were almost identical at James Reserve in California.

Steller's Jay gang at the James Reserve main feeder

So far the usual mountain chickadees have visited the feeder as well as a male purple finch and a pygmy nuthatch. Yesterday after my report there were also pygmy nuthatches as well as a pair of highly glossy American crows. Right now there's a white breasted nuthatch and more mountain chickadees, the latter by far the most frequent and numerous visitor, purple finches coming close behind. An American crow has just turned up, LOL this is becoming a running commentary! It's nearly 8.30 a.m. over there and already dark here in Jerusalem.... The crow has gone now but A Steller's Jay has just arrived, gorgeous violet/blue tones on wings and tail. Little family gangs of these dudes are common at James reserve.

At Denbury farm, SW England, approaching noon a little gang of great tits competed at the one feeder just one third full and two robins made an appearance, one dive bombing the other (ducked down just in time) which had landed on a squirrel feeder. A couple of wild rabbits foraged on the grass behind, one chasing the other briefly. A handsome male pheasant strolled by a few times times. A pair of charming long tailed tits came by as well as brief visits by both coal tits and marsh tits. The tits (chickadees) are very well represented in the UK! About noon the farmer came by to refill all the feeders. In less than a minute a blue tit, then great tits, then a whole gang of greenfinches descended on the feeders as well as a grey squirrel and a brief visit by a female blackbird followed by a number of chaffinches and brief house sparrow visits. This far into the country the sparrows have to compete with numbers of true finches! The feeders seem to be right by a rough public footpath since I've seen people walk their dogs right by it several times, but I've also seen red foxes and other delights on this webcam when people aren't around. I love this set of feeders, one of the busiest I've seen. This above was all within about half an hour.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Before the next storm. Mir and James.

Today, heard from the house- house sparrows, blackbird in song in the garden and some alarm calls, white wagtail from the street, some white spectacled bulbul calls, hooded crow from farther off, some low laughing dove coos, great tit from farther off? briefly.
We stepped out about in front of the house between 4 pm and 4.30 p.m. ,the wind was gusting and greyish cumulus sweeping in from the west and south west at speed, at least 20 kt up there bringing cold rain, temperatures falling rapidly from about 7 degrees C.

Birds were busy and active finding last minute forage and moving towards shelter, the house sparrows seemed excited, quite a few birds on the move including small groups of finches, some definitely greenfinches moving from cypress in our neighbour's garden and the east forest pines. Husband spotted a flock of ~50 european starlings doing its amoeba act over the buildings to the west. A flock of feral pigeons settled on their favourite roof rail nearby and a few jackdaws passed around over the buildings as well as the odd hooded crow. Plaintive black redstart call from direction of the bank by valley road.

We were on the look- out for swifts, (Apus apus) as these tend to arrive this time of year, betw 15 and 20 Feb pretty reliably and Alen Cacal at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory has already spotted a small group across town. No luck with those though this time though we constantly scanned the skies and listened for their screams.

As a post-script I shall now add my daily little list at the two webcams I regularly visit though my window of observation is small due to time constraints.
this gives a choice of sights but I've found Denbury farm the best and busiest for birds.

I generally check out Denbury farm, Somerset, UK for half an hour or so about noon and James Reserve California on and off throughout their day (PST).

Denbury farm: (mixed habitat, fields, deciduous trees, hedgerows, nearby river)
Today: robin, blue tits, great tits, greenfinch flock, marsh tit, house sparrow, chaffinch.

James Reserve: (pine forest, in many ways a New World parallel of what we have here in the Mir Forest, similar latitude and habitat and probably altitude too, fairly similar climate though James seems a touch cooler and damper) Yaar Biriah in the Galilee may be a closer analog.
Yesterday: American crow, mountain chickadees, purple finches, Steller's jays, mourning dove, pygmy nuthatch.
Today so far, it's still morning there yet, purple finches, white breasted nuthatch, oregon junco (western race of dark eyed junco), mountain chickadees.
They only seem to replace the fat block once a week and the jays finish it in short order.. pity because a pair of brown creepers were using it just within the past few weeks and now they are discouraged:(

It's easy to see the birds that fill similar niches in Mir forest and James' reserve, for example
Israel: middle eastern race of Eurasian Jay, Calif: Steller's Jay
Israel: collared dove Calif: Mourning dove
Israel: great tit Calif: mountain chickadee
Israel: greenfinch Calif: purple finch
Israel: Syrian woodpecker Calif: white headed woodpecker
Israel: Hooded crow Calif: American crow
Israel: orange tufted sunbirds Calif: Anna's hummingbird
There are other examples particularly amongst the softbills that don't come to the feeders but these are the most obvious parallels.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The smallest bird

Goldcrest, (Wikipedia) Tiny little bird ~9cm with very high pitched repeated calls,

Thursday(feb 14): Walk cancelled due to rain. Heard from the house, house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, laughing dove coos, hooded crows, brief great tit and plenty beautiful blackbird song. Often heavy cloud cover mimics dusk conditions, a blackbird's favourite singing time.

Friday (feb 15) : Heard from the house, house sparrows, laughing dove coos, blackbird, great tits and hooded crows. Regular blackbird song in the garden these days. Too busy with Shabbat for a walk.

Saturday(feb 16): afternoon before sunset: house sparrows, laughing dove, white spectacled bulbul, hooded crow, jackdaw, jay, (black redstarts?) graceful warblers, blackbirds (song), stone curlew, great tits and a very definite chukar partridge call just down from the pumping station, a clear rhythmic 'CHUCK-uk-kuk' that is probably a male's call.
In addition we saw an excited feral dog all by himself evidently on the trail of something. It was ranging down from east field, through the orchard, almost running, nose to the ground, then along the damp stream bed into gazelle field, going at quite some speed. We wondered what he was onto, perhaps a fox's trail? Was he just trying to pick up the trail of the other dogs, or perhaps a female?

Totally clear skies today(Sunday, Feb 17) though snow forecast for later in the week. Calm before the storm?
Today: Range 4-13 degrees C,
temp: 12.8 degrees C and falling, humidity 40% and rising, wind WSW very light house sparrow and hooded crow, though window closed much of the day. (Combination of reasons, pollution from a diesel engine across the road, fireworks, etc)
Heading down to the valley in the afternoon:
Group of 7 gazelles grazing in north east corner of gazelle field, they moved over to the northern area by the pylon, their favourite spot, and grazed there for a happy while

Apart from the (always welcome) gazelle, best sighting, or rather, hearing, of the day was the call of a goldcrest Regulus regulus high in the pines near the middle of east valley, just off central trail. These are occasional winter visitors but this habitat is perfect for them. I was used to seeing them in South Wales where they were regular winter visitors but have had very little experience of them in Israel.

At the bottom of the valley we heard black redstart calls but the bird/s themselves were elusive, the regular did not make an appearance on the bunker ruins. However, numbers of Eurasian jay were active and foraging, a few vocal. Husband spotted a brownish plumaged falcon fly from the eucalyptus grove over gazelle field and into the north valley woods. I caught only a brief glimpse of it. Great tits and graceful warblers also busy and active, foraging and singing. Feral pigeons and jackdaws about. Other various small jobs brief calls heard and glimpsed, probably greenfinches, linnets, chiffchaffs and white wagtails.

Sitting here, just after 6.00 p.m. I just heard the sound of a stone curlew coming from over east valley somewhere.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wintering thrushes

Fieldfare - Turdus pilaris

Tuesday, drizzling/raining on and off all day.
Range 5-11 degrees C, winds wsw over 18 kt in late afternoon.
House sparrows, blackbirds, hooded crows, laughing dove coos, chaffinch (on cypress top by valley road), jackdaws, feral pigeons, white spectacled bulbul, graceful warblers.
Stream flowing well late afternoon, fed mainly by the cross forest stream which brings run off from roads higher up the hill

Today, Wednesday range 5-11 degrees C,

Heard from the house, house sparrows very active and vocal, white spectacled bulbul, feral pigeons on buildings round about.
~4.45 p.m. 7.8 degrees C and falling. Humidity 92% and rising, wind WSW 4.3.
Black redstart calls but none seen. Again about dusk several small flocks of white wagtails flying over from north to south to evening roost, 'chipping' as they flew. A small number of prob linnets flew over, a more pleasant twittering. Syrian woodpeckers and graceful warblers heard.
Blackbird in song along valley road. Hooded crows about.

Most interesting sighting of the day was a number of thrush sized birds leaving eucalyptus tree and the field next to it from edge of eucalyptus grove/east field. Up to 20 individuals heading towards orchard and east valley, not in one mass flock but quietly in small groups at a time, with a lazy intermittent flapping style. Much too large for finches, too greyish/brownish and thrush like for starlings and clearly all of a type. I received a report last night of a fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)seen across town and this is a strong possibility. These birds appear in centre or north of the country in unpredictable years - sometimes none seen at all, sometimes in good numbers (termed an eruption). Too bad I didn't get a good sighting, light was poor and all birds seen in flight, but given Gerda's sighting at the botanical gardens I think we have very good reason to think this flock too is part of the eruption. To my knowledge no other birds of this size and general appearance are likely to appear in such flocks at this time. Husband also reported hearing a grating call which is another fieldfare trademark, though I missed this myself.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Another fine spring day

Gazelle hoof prints, several days old in dried ground. These prints are tiny, ~2" in length.

Last night another toad found crossing valley road about 10 p.m. , this time from forest side to bank, a smaller leaner individual than the one I caught a week or so ago but also Bufo viridis.

Another lovely early spring day.
Range: 7-13 degrees C, at about4.30 p.m. 11.9 degrees C. humidity ~50%, wind 9.6kt W

Heard from the house, plenty house sparrow activity in the garden, white spectacled bulbuls very vocal and a little light laughing dove cooing.

Heading down into the valley, saw an adult hyrax apparently on sentry duty on short cut down to valley road. Good to see it here as this is the most northerly and probably smallest of the three colonies on or using that bank. (the other two being the Cypress slum and Pumphouse colonies) We don't often see individuals out here, probably because this one is just down from a schoolyard and most regularly used shortcut to valley road, and gets most human disturbance.

Adult male gazelle up in the north field, grazing just beyond the row of almonds.

Male black redstart bobbing, flitting about foraging at the bunker ruins. Calls of white wagtail, sounded like flock went over though a bit further east behind the trees. Hooded crows fly-over about sunset, a large spread out flock of up to 30 individuals returning south after day's forage. It was almost amusing to see them all simultaneously at least double in flying speed when some kid let off a loud firework. I hate those fireworks! Makes the gazelles nervous too, we saw the male stand at attention when he heard one.
Graceful warbler
calls, blackbird singing on the bank by valley road. Glimpse of a sparrowhawk crossing central trail from the owl glade area. The pines had a number of birds settling down to roost, heard one repeated alarm call, I think a chiffchaff up there but small stuff was hopping in and out, settling down for the night, very hard to see in the foliage and against the sky.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Mr. molerat (Spalax) was here. If you look carefully you can see the mounds extending all the way to the trees in a jagged line. They also extend a few dozen metres behind us.. He was busy! These excavations are already a few weeks old.

Absolutely gorgeous spring day today. Temperatures up, a slight haze and sun and a sense of burgeoning luminosity in the forest that really lifts the spirits, a sense of life happening, the earth quickening, a thrill in the air.

A blackbird was singing outside my window for much of the afternoon, light laughing dove coos heard, much house sparrow activity and some white spectacled bulbul vocalizations. Also to my delight the squeaky calls of a sunbird. Husband also saw a sunbird active on the cape honeysuckle. These delicate birds would probably have had the hardest time over the snow but they had evidently found a way to survive.

Range today 8-16 degrees C, at about 4.30 p.m. humidity 61% and rising, winds that had been light south easterly for much of day changed, picked up and became westerlies about 3 p.m. and onward.

Nature was not wasting any time getting moving. We found a caterpillar nest on the ground already with a small pile of scores of tiny larva under a gauze awning.

We took fresh photographs of red anemone and asphodel which I posted in relevant earlier entries, replacing the photographs I'd posted before. The asphodel flower spikes are generally about two and a half feet high growing from a radiating 'star' of long narrow green leaves typical of the onion/garlic/lily family. We're always on the look out for new flowers in bloom and the new one today was a small brilliant yellow six petalled flower growing close to the ground. The closest I find in my guide is Bongardia chrysogonum. Savyon are still everywhere and broom is still flowering by the roadside.

The bunker rubble was inhabited by at least one black redstart as well as a European robin, the two species briefly sharing the same rebar or very closely adjacent ones. No skirmish, looks like they have no territorial problems there even though they pretty much fill the same niche.. or do they? Any slight difference in food preferences would make tolerance more likely but perhaps there are so many invertebrates available right now it's not an issue. A robin would chase off another robin.

Husband briefly spotted a sparrowhawk fly behind the pine and eucalyptus groves to the east and I was delighted to notice again another cattle egret (3rd for the patch) pass over from north to south, quite a bit higher than canopy level but not very high. Then we noticed a small musical group of finches, probably linnets soon followed by a small flock of white wagtails. More groups of wagtails followed at intervals, all coming from forage in the north and heading south to roost, probably some nice warm big communal roost in the city.

Hooded crows, Syrian woodpeckers, great tits and feral pigeons were also active.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Wild Red Anemones, The Calanit

From the house heard house sparrows, soft laughing dove coo, jackdaws and a blackbird in song.

~4.30 p.m.
Just turning down toward valley road noticed a falcon (probably kestrel) wheel round land in the top of a tall palm in a corner garden, startling some feral pigeons.. saw its talons lowered, quite dramatic, but it left the crown of the palm directly away from me so we didn't see it go.

I had forgotten how soon red anemones (Anemone coronaria) ('Calanit') appear here so I was delighted to find quite a number of them blooming just off valley road amongst the asphodel, the latter putting out more blooms per spike now. The 'calanit' is a very popular flower here and protected, with beautiful brilliant soft scarlet petals, always good to see these fine flowers.
(They are often confused with poppies though those have only four petals each and come out much later in the season. )
Yellow wild mustard flowers (Synapis arvensis) already high and blooming and the leaves of a variegated thistle are already quite large and lush though the flower stems won't rise till later in the season.

Husband pointed out a sparrowhawk winging its way from north to south over east valley. Valley road itself was busy with late afternoon activity. Great tits, white spectacled bulbuls and graceful warblers calling, a regular blackbird in his acacia, hooded crows patrolling, and plenty rock hyrax activity. One fine adult on the road side let me get to about ten feet distance , we just eyeballed for a minute or so before it scampered off to the boulders (honestly I was thinking how cute it was and how I'd like to find out how soft its fur is, take it home and make it a pet, just a fantasy as they are too wild and it'd probably sooner take off my finger!) .

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Plenty spring activity

Chaffinches: Female top, male below.. courtesy of Ruthie Schueler.

Range: 5-12 degrees C

Heard from the house: house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls.
5.40 p.m. (on our return) 9.2 degrees C, 28% humidity, wind 1.7 kt SE Sky mostly clear, a little scattered cumulus.

Friend and neighbour Avraham Broide joined us today to share with us his extensive knowledge of the valley from his own walks and to become better acquainted with the local birds. To that end we brought along with us my Lars Svensson guide, (and then was kicking myself that I hadn't already tagged the pages I'd be likely to be using. Always a good plan when showing what we're looking for or at, saves a lot of time)

Look out corner.. most notable, flock of white wagtails returning to roost from north to south calling as they flew, at least 50 followed by a couple of smaller groups.

Quite a few hooded crows around in tops of cypress, probably prospecting for nesting sights. Eurasian jays, some calls. A few chaffinches noticed on tops of cypresses just off valley road. Feral pigeon flock in flight and ranged on building roof top edge as usual. Great tits active and vocal in pines, near look out corner and along the bank, some song. Graceful warbler heard in a garden on from our way down, briefly glimpsed by Mr. Broide. Male blackbird alarm calls heard at dusk just south of central trail.

Some Hyrax active. Group of gazelle noticed running behind the old orchard from north to south, headed to cypresses by east field, at least four individuals.

Calls of black redstart heard by pumping station.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The hardiness of wild animals constantly amazes me

Tues: Range 8-14 degrees C
Late afternoon, high cirrus clouds over much of the sky, very beautiful.

House sparrows, hooded crows, laughing dove (cooing), white spectacled bulbuls, jackdaws, white wagtails, blackbirds (some song) , feral pigeons, great tits, the immature male black redstart again the the patch between buildings. Today we first noticed him perched up on a gazebo frame.
No gazelles today though hyrax and feral dogs active. Looking north just beyond eastern edge of trees noticed mammal and delighted to see it was a fox! Stopped to sit on its haunches and scratch, returned to forage then seemed to melt frustratingly into the hillside and didn't find him again.

Wed: Range: 6-14 degrees C
~4.30 p.m. 12.9 degrees C, 28% humidity, wind very light NE totally clear skies.

Heard from the house: House sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, blackbird, white wagtails. Feral pigeons on roof rails as usual. Hooded crows about.

Approaching look-out corner along the central trail we saw adult male gazelle on the grassy west bank of the creek sproing across the trail, then head north under the eastern edge of the north valley pines. Looking north we saw a nice group of gazelle without horns (as far as we could make out from that distance, tiny horns would be pretty much invisible) grazing in the open behind the row of almond trees. The buck joined them and briefly chased after one of them, which spooked a third.. perhaps she thought he was after her so she also ran ahead.
After that they all settled down to grazing, generally facing away from the very light winds and gradually moving back towards the north valley woods and away from us. I recounted them numerous times as they drifted behind the almond trees, had to keep changing our position to try different vantage points. Often my count reached nine individuals but once reached ten including the buck. I did not notice any that seemed definitely pregnant but, as I kicked myself later, I wasn't really looking for that, really should have.

The hardiness of wild animals constantly amazes me. These gazelle have very short hair, seem to have minimum body fat, long delicate limbs and present a huge surface area to the elements relative to their weight and yet survived conditions which would make a human perish from exposure in far less time. Their temperature regulation mechanisms and efficiency must be fantastic! They tend to keep to the most sheltered parts of the valley but even so they are always out in the open.

Several Eurasian jays crossed over gazelle field to the north valley woods, graceful warbler heard calling, black redstarts heard as well as great tits, jackdaws and blackbirds (some song) but birds generally keeping a low profile.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Asphodel bloom

Beautiful clear skies today. Range 7-15 degrees C,

~4.30 p.m. 11.8 degrees C, humidity 42%, wind ENE 0.9 kt

Heard from the garden: House sparrows, white wagtails, white spectacled bulbuls, senegal dove 5 note coo, though quite low volume, great tits very vocal, calling, a little singing, jackdaws.

Heading down to the valley.. black redstart immature male on a low wall right by an apartment building, graceful warblers vocal on the bank betw. buildings and valley road, beautiful blackbird song near the pumping station at 4.45 p.m. Group of greenfinches seen to land in the top of a cypress, Eurasian jays, between the bank and east forest, one lurking in the depths of an acacia on the bank. Great tits active in the pines and more black redstart heard
Rock hyraxes active foraging and vocal along valley road, hearing quite a few calls in their repertoire from the pumping station hillside colony, the low slow rhythmic bark and high squirrel like chatter amongst others.
Flock of at least 70 hooded crows up on windsurfer hill, either settled or in low milling flight over the hilltop from time to time, not windsurfing today though of course, wrong conditions.

Jordan rift valley quite clearly visible, late afternoon sun lighting the west face of the Jordanian escarpment a rosy hue. We tried to get some pics but our camera does not adequately convey the panorama at this distance, sadly.

Asphodels still putting out only one or two flowers per spike, most buds closed and dark, plenty savyon still out and in gazelle field noticed quite a lot of flowering shepherd's purse, tiny collections of white flowers.'s_purse
I've made extensive use of this herb in the past after childbirth to limit bleeding after delivery.

We went to check on the almond trees, now in bud but still not quite ready to bloom.
Heard and briefly glimpsed stonechat there.
Noticed a few gazelle hoofprints but they weren't showing today.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Small stuff

Sat 2nd Feb: Blackbirds, (1 in magnificent song at dusk on top of pine by the southward bend in valley road), also in the garden occasionally last few days, laughing dove (rooftop), syrian woodpecker, stonechat (by valley road, looked to be an immature), hooded crows, great tits, graceful warblers.

Two collared doves broke out of the pines at the bunker rubble about dusk and headed over to the giant pine by the cistern with a whistle of wings.
'shhhh let's shift over to the other tree when the humans aren't looking, over their heads, count of two, one, two..' whoosh! 'do you think they saw us?!' 'nah, I think we're ok now'

Flock of at least 30 small finches between buildings and north valley close to sunset.. from the way they were moving and calling, probably linnets.

Sunday 3 Feb: Temperature back up to spring like norms, very pleasant out.
Range 7-13

From the garden: house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls; from further off: hooded crows, jackdaws, white wagtail

at ~ 5.45 p.m. (just after our return) was still 8.9 degrees C, humidity 69% and rising, wind 1.7 ENE

Down in the forest: Eurasian jays about, some calls, graceful warblers, calls of black redstarts but none spotted.

In the field by the saplings: mats of a small flowering bright orange composite quite extensive as well as numerous savyon. Broom like flowers still blooming alongside valley road. Pile of fresh gazelle droppings out in the open, quite a lot of gazelle tracks as well as feral dog tracks. Fresh gazelle hoofprints and dog prints noticed on most of the trails which were pretty muddy today.

We saw a group of 5 feral dogs arrive at look-out corner from north valley. The dhole coloured dog took it upon himself to thoroughly mark a small tree at the crossroads, the others moved on ahead a little, leaving that job to 'boss', then continued when he was ready.. they then headed out to east field. Another separate group of feral dogs up on the slope above the pumping station.

Several hooded crows along valley road perched in various cypress, probably already on the look-out for good nesting trees and staking out their breeding grounds. Great tits active and vocal. White spectacled bulbuls very vocal and active lately, some near look-out corner and at the ruins in the middle of Mir Forest. Feral pigeons on buildings and in flight here and there.