Monday, March 31, 2008

Bear's Breeches and Martins

'Bear's Breeches' (A.Atwood. CC)

Temp range today, ~8-16 degrees C, at about 6 p.m. (start of walk) just under 12 degrees, cool WNW breeze blowing nearly 16 kt and 75% humidity. (though wind blowing from SW earlier in the day)

Bird of the Day is a hirundine, a group of at least a dozen martins, relatives of swallows, moving together as a group and hunting flying insects over east valley. Due to their height and the lighting it was hard to see which they were, and of course I was kicking myself that I didn't get more detail on them. Contrast was not high enough for a house martin, though underparts clearly very pale to white, upper parts much darker and I didn't make out a chest band (which would make it sand martin), but could not be certain with the slight silhouette effect, lighting and distance. Hopefully we'll see them again, not the first time I've seen martins in the area. One of the Ptonoprogne martins is a possibility, such as P. fuligula.

Plant of the day, spotted by husband in the saplings field, was a cool, fearsome looking purple spike of curious blooms surrounded by a wide rosette of large spiny thistle like leaves. Looking it up it seems to be Acanthus syriacus, (or similar) also known as 'Bear's breeches'

At the orchard we spotted some interesting catkin type growths and tiny (developing?_ fruits on a couple of the larger trees at the side which we photographed for further I.D. There was also a heavy infestation of galls on many of the leaves. (galls are often caused by tiny wasps that trick the tree into producing small nutritious growths for their larvae) One of my readers, (Honeybee) as well as one of our neighbours, a professional gardener, thinks these trees may be a kind of pistaccio.

We also saw a couple of swifts up with the martins, heard white spectacled bulbuls, laughing doves and sunbird in the garden. Hooded crows and jays around as usual. Around the orchard saw and heard Syrian woodpecker. Greenfinches also about twittering though collared doves quieter today. We're also listening out for turtle doves that should be returning soon, though none heard yet. Enthusiastic graceful warbler calling and some blackbird song.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Captain Jack, Wattle trees and a lost spider

A kind of mallow.. (Alcea?) the blooms are flush the the ground and the leaves splay out and up from the centre.

Wattle tree 'pompoms' by the western edge of gazelle field. The pompoms were much denser on the tree by valley road but I like the cascade perspective effect on this one.

Winds westerly, wnwesterly bringing in patchy cumulus. At midday a brief shower with thunder, lightning and some hail.

In the garden most of the day plenty house sparrow chatter, I'm sure they're setting up a nest very close to my window. A sunbird was calling in the Bauhinia much of the day, played hide and seek with me amongst the leaves but did get glimpses, nice male. White spectacled bulbuls calling around dusk and Senegal doves cooing much of the day.

Our clocks have changed now, sunset just after 7 p.m. our walk now leaves at about 6 p.m. At that time temp. was 15.7 degrees C (just over 60 degrees F), humidity ~75%, wind~ 16 kt

We got some nice shots of wattle trees, (an acacia) of the two growing at the west side of gazelle field and the gorgeous dense tree by the corner of valley road. On our short cut down to valley road we also took some nice pics of purple milk thistle flowers a handsome mallow plant and a campion like deep purple flower very similar to but darker than the British Ragged robin, Lychnis. Looking at the sepals it actually looks like a composite but with relatively few petals, like a very small cornflower type bloom. Two of these struck our interest for different reasons, one, because it appeared to have not one but two stigmata and the other, because it had a small brilliant yellow crab spider on the underside of the bloom. It was amusing because there was a yellow composite not far away and it seemed if the spider wanted camouflage it had wondered onto the wrong flower!

Gazelles: adult male grazing not far from a female part way up the hill slope to the north of gazelle field.

Bee-eaters: 'dainty dozen' hunting pretty much as yesterday, same area, assumed same birds.

'Captain Jack' (Eurasian) Sparrowhawk, two nice sightings, swept in from hunting over the north ridge somewhere at about 10 minutes before sunset, returning towards east valley at a nice glide. As we returned that way we saw 'him' airborne again for a brief sweep over the south end of gazelle field.

Just after that time betw 20-30 hooded crows were also returning from northern forage to roost, seemed that the dispersed breeding pairs were calling to them, exchanging 'news' , lots of cawings and 'grrokings' around sunset. Graceful warblers, swifts calling about sunset

More calls and twitters of greenfinches, much jay activity and calls, calls of Syrian woodpeckers, alarm calls and some blackbird song about dusk in various parts of the pinewoods, coos and calls of collared doves most of the time we were there.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Return of the Bee-eaters

The beautiful bee-eater, courtesy of Ruthie Schueler. The Jerusalem Bird Observatory rings such birds, weighs and measures them, guaging state of health, and releases them back to the wild.

Pleasant spring day, altocumulus coming in late afternoon. Early afternoon winds veered from southerlies to westerly, 6-12 kt.

In the garden this morning, laughing doves, white spectacled bulbuls, sunbird.
Also, early, about 6 a.m. a distinct 'oop oop oop' that persisted some time, typical of a hoopoe, sounded very close, our garden, next door's garden or on the building itself. Soundly vaguely doving or owlish.

Highlight of the day was the appearance of a group of European bee-eaters, Merops apiaster first of the season! We heard their pleasant contact calls before we saw them as we approached from the south along the stream trail. There were 12 hunting as a group the whole time we were down there. They shifted around from over the eucalyptus grove, the orchard, part of lower gazelle field, look-out corner. Though they constantly changed positions within the group they moved as a group, no bird straying more than a few dozen feet from the others at most.

I found three gazelle grazing in a grassy spot on the hillside way north of us, in line with the top of the pylons. There were probably more in the vicinity that I was unable to see due to the distance and the camouflage effect. Couldn't even be sure if it had horns.

Other birds around, Hooded crows, Eurasian jays, Syrian woodpeckers, greenfinches, collared doves, latter cooing and flight calling. Blackbird calls and some song about sunset, on a small tree just above the drain outlet by the north section of valley road.
Chukar partridges heard down in north valley.

Acacias in glorious flower, thickly covered rows of little yellow 'pompoms'

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hidden valley and the bachelor herd

Small wild Iris, the bloom is barely 5,6 cm across

Today for a change we decided to strike out north for the ridge beyond the north valley to see what we could find. Naturally as often happens when walking up hills there's another ridge beyond the ridge that wasn't visible before. We still had plenty light so we pushed on by lichen patched limestone, aromatic scrub, mole rat mounds and a large variety of vegetation, much of it with tiny spines and prickles that worked their way into my shoes, not exactly a new experience. Always best to stick to goat trails or flat limestone when possible. Still, on the way we came upon a few pairs of chukar partridges amongst the rocks as well as (later)a nice pair of hoopoe flying back toward north valley.

Then we made three very nice discoveries pretty much at once. The first was a small group of gazelle, 5 females and immatures followed by a grown adult male heading in the general direction of gazelle valley. (later it seemed they looped around to the north west as we saw an almost identical group heading up that way and running. Husband believes it was the same group but since we lost sight of them for a stretch we can't be 100% sure. )

The second, slightly more glorious in a sense, was a hidden valley I had no idea existed, a whole mini canyon/wadi system between the north ridge and the security wall. I'd plainly underestimated how much land there was up here and was delighted. A lark was singing somewhere but we couldn't find it in the expansive landscape. We also kept our eyes open for stone curlew's nests because I didn't want to step on the eggs.. and also of course, because I wanted to photograph one! We also kept a look-out for venomous snakes. Carpet and common vipers and similar reptiles are very possible up there, and very camouflaged on those rocks.
The known potential for wildlife habitat (in our records) rose by a quantum leap by the discovery of that valley since such systems are lush with vegetation and breeding possibilities. It was so beautiful! The photographs we took really did not do justice to its charms as well as the fact that light was beginning to fade and we had to get back to the central trail at least before dark set in but I just drank in the wild tumbled green landscape and tried to picture how enchanting the course would look right after rain.

The third and most glorious discovery was a bachelor herd.. finally! Way up on the highest ridge to the north right up by the security wall in that direction was a group of at least five (visible) gazelle, ALL males! Two had fully grown horns, the others well grown. Two of the medium sized horns were head butting and definitely a more serious contest than those we saw recently between the immature males with the tiny pointy horns. Still, these were still practice matches, not an earnest 'win the harem' match you'd see between the largest bucks. That apparently had already been settled because we'd just seen the winner down with the females heading west.
Over all our observations we now have confirmed at least 15 individuals comprising 9 females and immatures, 6 males, and there are probably more females and immatures in the area that we couldn't determine as separate without colour marking or ear tagging them in some way.

Another discovery on the north facing slope of north valley was a beautiful miniature iris, first I've noticed this season. Cyclamen are pretty much finished already as are most asphodel.

Today we also noticed sunbirds, white spectacled bulbuls, laughing doves and house sparrows around the buildings, Jackdaws, Hooded crows, jays round and about. Great tits, blackbirds in the woods. Brief burst of song in north valley sounded like a blackcap Sylvia atricapilla but we didn't hear it again and didn't find it.

Yesterday we also noticed swifts, syrian woodpeckers, greenfinches (including male in full song by the bunker), as well as a very nice mallow, and a gorgeous iridescent green beetle with bronze highlights on a thistle head. (now blooming everywhere, milk thistle and others, purple and white) Nearest I can find in my insect ref book is Potosia cuprea , one of the Scarab beetles,

We also noticed quite a few mating burnet moths, bright scarlet with black markings.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Snake, poppies and wild food grasses

The snake my boys found, on my 10 year old's hand. The whole snake is ~30 cm long and only about 7, 8 mm diameter. It's very delicate and doesn't bite.

Last couple of days have been quite warm! Today (Tues.) 19-29.5 degrees C,
Sky thinly overcast. Yesterday sky was totally clear, temp. 20-32 degrees C.
Both days seemed to be a heck of a lot of pollen and other particulates in the air, more of the pollen yesterday, more of the dust today.

Delighted to find poppies (Papaver subpiriforme? or similar) along the trail path.. easily confused with the anemone unless you look close and see that the poppy only has 4 petals in opposing pairs and with an obvious black spot at the base. The flowers are also much more fragile in that the petals fall off very easily if you try to open the flower. Today by the bunker ruins we found a number of little patches of wild or feral wheat, barley and oats, with poppy buds and seedpods growing by them.

Gorgeous blue/lilac butterfly spotted briefly along the stream trail, near the sapling field, quite large for a Lycaenid, at least 5 cm span, not one of your tiny blue jobs.

Great tits and graceful warbler singing enthusiastically. Blackbird song yesterday but not today (yet). Swifts between us, both days. Today however we did hear twittering and 'chaw' call of greenfinches, some Syrian woodpecker calls, flight calls and coos of collared doves. Yesterday heard brief chukar call.

Feral pigeons, hooded crows, laughing doves, house sparrows, Eurasian jays active as usual. Early this morning repeated strident call from the garden or close.. I believe a ring necked parakeet.

My preteen boys found a slender snake yesterday. We're not sure what it is exactly but most probably a variant of Coluber najadum, Dahl's whip snake, one of our most common harmless snakes we've found here several times before, though he also resembles Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus, so I really am not sure except that he's definitely not one of our venomous snakes. The other Dahl's we've found had a neck collar as well as the dark on the head but this just has a plain black head.

We've decided it is Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus after comparing it w better photos. It's known as the Kukri snake.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wild mustard and summer returns

Wild mustard Sinapis
on the bank by valley road. You can use these yellow petals to garnish and lightly season a salad or wait for the seeds to get a stronger flavour. They were standing slightly taller than myself and mixed in with milk thistle, vetches and other wild plants, .

Saturday: Lovely warm day today, skies mostly clear but for some stretches of high altitude cirrus.
Last night, due to clear skies and full moon we were able to go all the way down to look-out corner late at night by just natural lighting, which was so pleasant. We only heard various crickets though we were on the watch out for other wildlife.

Still no luck with migrating stork flocks. One of my boys noticed a flock while we were napping, high, dark birds, probably raptors, not enough info for ID.

When we headed out, almost 5 p.m. I was lucky enough to catch sight of a very nice single alpine swift Apus melba quite high over the east edge of the neighbourhood. These large swifts (almost two foot wingspan) are quite obvious because of their very light underparts and typical swift shape outline. Martins and swallows have light underparts are much smaller and don't have that gliding perfect arc in flight.

We noticed a few common swifts hunting over the orchard later and there were plenty flying insects on the wing, particularly crane flies.

In the garden this morning I heard house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, cooing laughing doves and a great tit in song.

Later in the woods we noticed quite a few hooded crows about, one heading toward the nesting site in the pine grove which was parasitized by the cuckoos last year. We're watching out for them too of course.

At about sunset I was very happy to see another returnee, a nice male Black eared wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca) up on the security fence, and in song. I'd never heard the actual song before and was surprised by its almost lark like quality though it was much briefer. He'd hop down a few times, then return to a prominent position on the wires and sing a few more phrases. (Two families of these wheatears were chronicled in this blog last breeding season)

The most curious thing we saw on a patch of beautiful two-tone purple vetch by look-out corner was a cluster of at least half a dozen bees in a huddle behind a vetch flower, totally still. Husband poked at them gently with the handle of his pocket knife and they all just tumbled to the ground. At first we thought they were dead (and I was busy looking around for a crab spider or something that might have done it but only found an innocent katydid) when I noticed that one by one they were all crawling up the stalks back up to the vetches. Perhaps they were all torpid ('drunk')from a huge nectar sipping binge! They didn't quite look like honeybees, though similar, but a smaller species and slightly fuzzy. (in more ways than one today!)

Anemones and asphodel pretty much spent now and shepherds purse all spikes of little heart shaped seedpods that make such good anti-bleeding tea. (though I wouldn't use them if there's any hypertension). I found a purple Orchis orchid right by the valley road. Rock hyrax were active today up on the west slope by the pumping station, one making a sort of alarm call that sounded like a mini donkey bray. Graceful warblers were vocal, Eurasian jays busy, feral pigeons cooing, collared doves cooing and getting into their display flights in the valley ('falling with style') , blackbird alarm calls and song about dusk. Some stone curlew calls.
Chukar partridges heard 'chuckling' at the bottom of the valley.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Do you know this tree?

Budding trees. Taken yesterday (by A.Atwood) at the small abandoned orchard at the bottom of east valley by the stream trail between the pine growth and the eucalyptus grove.. it definitely looks like a plantation rather than a natural stand but I've never noticed fruits on these trees, perhaps because they need to be tended to produce. The area is pretty much rectangular and the trees themselves are on average about 12 feet high. If these are familiar to you pls let us know, we'd really like to know what they are. We'll try to catch some flowers later in the season.

Gorgeous lush carpet of clover on the open ground between all the trees.

Temps, pretty much reaching ~20 C every day now, usually clear skies, last couple of days winds frequently easterly but it's been varying a lot, even within one day. No doubt the storks want the winds more SE. When the wind veers to westerlies (as today) that doesn't help them, unless they can catch a thermal earlier and glide down, which is an important technique for them. We keep looking out at the skies periodically through the day but no luck yet. A flock can pass in less than fifteen minutes. Cranes are a little more obvious when they pass since they have a beautiful carrying warbling honk and they go by in skeins as opposed to the high spread out silent stork flocks. White storks appear vivid white in the sky, cranes more of a dirty white.

Swifts noticed last few days.. group of about 10 in the centre of the neighbourhood, ones and twos and screaming at the edge of the neighbourhood and over the valley at about dusk.

Chukar partridge vocal and active in the east valley just down from the pumping station last couple of days.

In the gardens: white spectacled bulbuls, house sparrows, sunbirds, laughing dove coos.
In the woods: Chiffchaffs seen and heard foraging, blackbirds* vocal and some song, stone curlews vocal about dusk, Eurasian jays active, some calls, great tits and graceful warbler also about. Hooded crows about.
A couple of rock hyrax noticed on the bank by valley road just down from the school, the smallest colony, (unless they're from cypress slum and on a foray) .

*Just in case you were wondering, yes this is the same blackbird that in some sense inspired the Beatles song.
In the UK they're a very common thrush and well known songster, I've heard them many times singing in the dark before dawn there and Sir Paul McCartney would be familiar with them although the song is actually ABOUT the struggle for the rights of African Americans.

This evening Rabbi Goldwasser told me that he and his wife observed a cattle egret foraging on the ground a few weeks ago by the cistern, mid afternoon. We had seen one passing over back then but none on the ground.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wild Cyclamens

March 16
In the forest: Eurasian Sparrowhawk sighted flying over central trail, several swifts on the wing over gazelle field, chiffchaffs seen foraging, chaffinch on top of cypress by central trail crossroads, I think they must have leased those tree tops for the season. Collared doves active and cooing, as were laughing doves around the buildings.
Also, Eurasian Jays, blackbirds, chukar partridge calls in the pine grove east of the cistern, graceful warblers. In the gardens, white spectacled bulbuls, sunbirds, house sparrows. Flock of about 20 or so hooded crows heading south to roost from foraging, probably this season's non breeding birds since pairs of breeding hoodies are dotted all over the forest and these seem to roost at their chosen nesting sites.

March 17
Range today ~13.5-~22.5 degrees C.
Not long after 5 p.m. temp. still 20.5 degrees C and falling. Humidity, 21% and falling, winds, ENE and very light, skies hazy with particles, you could almost taste the air but even through that the woods smelled lovely in the warm air.

Our best find today was (finally!) a nice crop of cyclamen Cyclamen persicum growing on the north facing slope of north valley. Lots growing everywhere on that trail, lovely! We took a bunch of pics with a cellphone camera as we'd forgotten the other camera at home, and lighting was beginning to fade. Our posted pic is far from the best and we may replace it but just about managed to capture the interesting form of the bloom, the gorgeous purple tint and the variegated leaves. Husband returned on March 18, pic replaced!

We spotted one gazelle in the new pine growth at the eastern end of north valley. I could almost sense her in there before we saw her.. perhaps I'd heard her.. then she broke cover and was sproinging away toward gazelle field under the pines.

Apart from that we noticed a pair of chukar partridges on the north facing slope, swift just above the buildings. They took off and landed on boulders clear across north valley. As dusk set in we heard stone curlews off somewhere to the east. Blackbirds were also around, we heard some alarm calls and some desultory song about dusk, vying with the crickets. Sunbird in the garden

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More spring flowers and grazers

Spanish/Rush broom, Spartium junceum

Jerusalem, Israel

~7.5 -~14 degrees C. Humidity ~40%-100%,
5 p.m. temp: ~12.5 degrees C, humidity ~55% and rising. Wind: W veering NW, ~ 5kt skies totally clear.

Given the number of people walking in the valley and a dirt buggy tearing up to the cistern and back we weren't expecting to see gazelle, but happily they felt safe enough way over at the north end of gazelle field. I soon noticed the adult male grazing off by himself just beyond the smaller almond trees and then a group of five females/immature off a few dozen yards to the west, also grazing quite peacefully.

Birds: orange tufted sunbird calling in the garden much of the day, the usual house sparrows and brief white wagtail call from somewhere off in the street. Hooded crows around, laughing doves and white spectacled bulbuls heard.

In the valley, greenfinches twittering in their groups in the pines, quite a bit of Eurasian jay activity in the woods and in the far field where the gazelle were, flying to and fro. Collared doves active and vocal, cooing. A European robin 'tick-ticking' near the east valley streambed, some blackbirds around. Still no luck on witnessing a stork flock but they can come over any time and we could miss them if we're busy inside at the time so we don't catch any of the migration every year unless someone notices and calls us outside. That's how it goes!

Along the stream bed path watching out for more flowers, still hoping to find cyclamen in our woods. No luck on that yet but did find some Pheasant's eye (Adonis) which look a little like very small versions of the red anemone. A wide variety of clover has also been coming into bloom lately, especially by gazelle field and in the old orchard, whose trees are also budding now. Various members of the carrot family, mostly very short and medium height types, are flowering, wild mustard is everywhere and asphodel is still doing well, some flower spikes as high as my nose. Some kind of small purple and white relative of savory amongst the clover.

Husband noticed a pair of kestrel Falco tinnunculus, mating on TV antenna on top of storey building in the middle of the neighbourhood (summit of the hill)

Denbury Farm, Somerset was a treat today. About 5 p.m. local time a grazing deer came on screen. From it's colouring and build I'd assume it's red deer, Cervus elaphus

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The lovely White Broom.

White broom, taken by husband today.

By the way, my husband grants 'creative commons' permission on all his pictures. I ask that if you choose to use his photos that you would just pls add 'A. Atwood' to give him credit.

Raining part of the early afternoon, temp range 8-~15 degrees C.

Stone curlews heard from the valley late evening.

We're on white stork alert- this is their migration season, they're coming up from Africa to Europe and many pass over Israel. I received an e mail from a birding friend last night that a nice flock has been seen already. Husband hopped out a few times around the middle of the day but no luck yet.

From the house: sunbird, hooded crows, bulbuls, laughing dove coos, house sparrows.

About 5 p.m. ~10.6 degrees C, humidity 79%, winds westerly ~17 kt. Towering 'mash potato' cumulus over much of the western sky, dark undersides.

On the way husband took some shots of a beautiful small tree we'd noticed yesterday on the steep (north facing) incline down into north valley. Each bloom was barely 1 cm in length and the flowers were profuse and lovely. After some research (between Nogah HaReuveni's 'Tree and Shrub in our Biblical heritage' and a beautiful blog called 'flowers in Israel' I discovered it was white broom. Retama raetum

There's also plenty of the more common yellow (Spanish/Rush) broom (Spartium junceum) around especially by the roadside along the same stretch.

Heading into valley, there were kids around the bunker so we took the path into north valley, glad we did! We surprised a group of gazelle by the new pine grove between the valleys, just south of the north valley course (which is sadly almost always dry). They sprang up from the stream bed and into the field. For a while they watched us, then soon returned to grazing and playing. One of them clearly wanted to play at 'jousting', he butted at the head of one of the others even though he had no noticeable horns at all. He looked like a dog that wanted to play, nudging, then springing back a whole body length, springing forward and nudging with his head again. The other had no interest in the game so soon they were all back grazing again. He tried again a short while later but got the same apathetic response.

We heard a clamorous chatter of something way off in the cypress at the eastern end of the slopes on the northern side of north valley. All we could see was a hooded crow perched near the top of one of the cypress and this call was definitely not from that. We surprised a pair of
chukar partridge from the stream course itself, they flew off over gazelle field. We didn't find the noisy bird but I wondered if it was a great spotted cuckoo returned to parasitize the hoodies. We'd seen some cuckoo activity in that stand of cypress last year (though our best observations of them were in the pine grove just east of the cistern) No luck, we didn't find them but we did come across a small cave on our way up the hill and I was delighted to notice a bat in it! It flew a circuit of its cave and then out into the predusk air. I ducked in there and spent a few minutes checking the cave roof for any others but no luck.

Other birds heard and seen: great tits, blackbirds, jackdaws, feral pigeons, graceful warbler and small finch bands, and a cooing collared dove.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Garden visit

Jerusalem, Israel

Range today- 8.7-16.4 degrees C. (temperature drop as the moist westerlies cooled the air)

Today a Ring necked parakeet visited our garden! I was sitting by my pc mid afternoon when I heard a raucous 'krrurk!' from not far outside. Within seconds I was out the french window and looking around, and there it was perched on top of our willow tree. Husband managed to get one shot before it flew off to neighbouring gardens (I just viewed the pic) but the bird turned his head away that moment and I was not satisfied with the result. That's how it can go! However, the sightings were good and apart from being missing a few of his tail feathers he was a beautiful bird in great condition.

Chiffchaff also singing briefly in the garden mid afternoon. Apart from that, sunbird on the cape honeysuckle by our entrance as well as white spectacled bulbuls. Laughing doves cooing close at hand, probably in the Bauhinia or perched on building. House sparrows.

Jackdaws heard and Feral pigeons seen over the street.

Husband saw two agama lizards out today on a wall just off our street, one approaching the other.

At about 5 p.m. 14.2 degrees C. skies clear, 53%, winds WNW, 9.6

In the woods, roving bands of finches, greenfinches, also almost definitely chaffinches. Calls and some sightings of graceful warblers, chiffchaffs, Syrian woodpeckers, blackbirds. Eurasian jays, hooded crows

The large almond tree has almost lost her bridal gown already and is pretty much fully in leaf. Unfortunately we had to get home earlier today which curtailed our viewing but saw no gazelle in north or east fields, we looked. Probably off to the north west.

At Denbury Farm England, pretty much the same 'gang' showed up at the feeder:

Yesterday about 2 pm local time: Great tits, chaffinches, greenfinches, house sparrows, blue tits, coal tit and two great spotted woodpeckers as well as grey squirrels and rabbits

Today: Greenfinches, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, coal tit, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, robin in the brief time I looked.

James Reserve, California

11.30 a.m. ~60 degrees F.

There is still some snow on the ground in some parts of the reserve though none around the main feeders and the sun is shining.

Yesterday: band tailed pigeons, purple finches, steller's jay, mourning doves, mountain chickadees, pygmy nuthatch, oregon junco.

Today so far: American crow, mountain chickadees, purple finch, mourning dove.

A hummingbird at the nectar feeder not long ago as I see from an earlier update so I kept that cam open and waited. Another just showed up at 11.45, just managed to get a couple of screenshots. It was there ~ 10 seconds. Probably Anna's.

Steller's Jay on the fatblock holder. 2 now. 3 Band tailed pigeons at the large tray feeder.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Seek one treasure, find another.

Jerusalem, Israel.

Weather changed 180%! Temperature range dropped to 12.8-23.8 degrees C. winds have varied widely throughout the day from 0-18 kt increasing in the afternoon, bringing moisture laden air from the WNW. Humidity was 100% and we could feel droplets alighting on our skin as we walked, the cloud base was below the level of A Ram.

Another new bit of wildlife I forgot to mention.. several times in the last week we've been hearing geckoes calling, a loud 'tok tok' from boulders and buildings. These 'velcro footed' lizards seem to like to hunt their insect prey around window and door frames.

Chiffchaff sang again about 6 a.m. in the garden, house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, sunbirds and cooing laughing doves also around.

Feral pigeons on top of buildings and hooded crows roving the area as usual.

First call we noticed heading down one of our shortcuts to valley road, were intermittant sharp, piercing parrot like calls from the pines and cypress. Husband mentioned that our teenage son's friend had lost his African Grey so of course we wanted to check if this could be it. I'm not so familiar with African Grey calls but have kept budgerigars, cockatiels and lovebirds and this bird did not sound quite like any of those.

We circled and watched for some time till I finally got a sighting. Sadly not our young friend's bird but a feral ring necked parakeet! (aka rose ringed parakeet) Psittacula krameri, out in clear view most of the way up a cypress. I haven't seen this bird in the area for many months so was delighted to see it again and so close to human habitation. These birds have established many populations throughout the country and are seen and heard even in built up areas. In Jerusalem I've seen them in the eucalyptus in the bottom on the valley in previous years, also at Gan Sacher across town and once right in the centre of the city at Mamilla Park.

The next treasure I wanted to find was cyclamens. While looking up other plants yesterday I noticed that cyclamen should already be in bloom. We have found these in abundance in Jerusalem Forest a few miles south west of here but I had not noticed any in our valley at all yet. I sought in the shade of the pines where I expected them and instead came across not one but two species of orchid!

The first was a kind of purple orchid, each flower covered with tiny spots. Probably one of the Orchis genus. However close by I found numerous blooms of one of the Ophrys orchids, a type I'd only ever seen in photos in books and online but had not found for myself till this day, so I was naturally thrilled. These are often called fly or bee orchids because the bloom resembles a fake insect and fools other insects to visit the flower. It was not the same species as any in Azaria's guide but we managed to get a fairly decent shot of one of them, shown below.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Chamomile tea ,anyone?

Chamomile daisies

Temperatures in Jerusalem, Israel, have experienced yet another rise. Range today has been 20-28 degrees C. (~82.5 F). Sky overcast, air again heavy with particulates (tough on people with allergies.. I can taste the air and I'm sneezing a bit more than usual though not so uncomfortable) though humidity between 12% and 24 % throughout the day. Winds SE varying 0-8 kt

Sunbird in the garden started the day even earlier today, he was chiming away at about 7 minutes before 5 a.m. I noticed the cape honeysuckle blooms are pretty much gone but there's a lovely ornamental tree in the garden on the other side with large peach coloured bell shaped flowers and we watched a male take nectar from those for a while.

When we went out not long before 5 p.m., temp was ~25 degrees C. White spectacled bulbuls, house sparrows and laughing doves were soon vocal and later at about 6.20 a.m. a definite song pattern of a chiffchaff from somewhere in our or a neighbouring garden. This confirms my suspicion I heard them also sing a few days ago though at that time only brief snatches almost drowned out by the local sparrows. In past years I've heard them sing this time of year before they head north again.

Syrian woodpeckers active and vocal today, graceful warblers heard, small greenfinch bands about foraging but no chaw sound. Collared dove perched up on a line but no cooing heard today. Hooded crows about, still some flocking on windsurfer hill lately but they're dispersing to various parts of the wood to breed and are spotted on many tall trees. Eurasian jays spotted flying between trees though mostly quiet. Blackbird calls heard and some song just after sunset. Stone curlew calls heard north gazelle field about five to 6 p.m.

No gazelle show today though harsh alarm chitters of rock hyrax were heard down on forest side of cypress slum colony shortly after sunset.

Gazelle field today became a wild flower treasure hunt. I spotted several unfamiliar species blooming amongst now rather bedgraggled red anemone, shepherd's purse turning to seeds and lots of bellevalia and alkanets. Tall asphodel were everywhere the pines gave a little shade but not out in the open. The almond trees were a little out of phase with each other.. the largest more advanced, already about half the petals shed and leaves half grown. The smallest almond trees were at peak flower and just budding leaves. A couple of hawthorns in the field were heading towards full leaf, and there were small purple dead nettle blooming in many sheltered spots. The most familiar and beloved new flower out were the chamomile daisies now sprouting in many places in gazelle field in the open.

One in particular caught my interest nestled by the boulders in the north west corner of gazelle field, not far from the pines - a particularly beautiful brilliant yellow flower with spots, one of the labiates, and leaves like small succulent needles, found most similar to a plant in Azaria Alon's guide as Ajuga chia. It has no common name but is being researched for its medicinal properties especially in wound healing. The flower we found didn't look quite like the one in the guide but no doubt a cousin.

We also found a large kind of yellow buttercup in the shade of the pines and one of the local white catchflies, a campion with five almost totally divided petals as well as a curious red growth, almost like seaweed on the limestone rocks.

Ajuga type.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

collared dove courtship season underway

Jerusalem, Israel. Weather was rather overcast and 'muggy' today. Temp range: ~19-~26 degrees C. ~4 kt SSE, humidity actually lower than it feels, only 22% max and falling throughout the day, probably particles in the air, fine dust and pollen, feels heavy.

Around the gardens, the predictable laughing dove coos, house sparrow chatter and some sunbird calls.

Plenty white spectacled bulbul vocalisations as well as graceful warbler calls and blackbirds. Jackdaws heard, hooded crows seen and heard. Quite a number of Eurasian jays active in the pines though quiet today.

Most noteworthy observation today was the renewal of the collared dove Streptopelia decaocto breeding season down in east valley.. a number of doves much more conspicuous today.. individuals following others giving the coarse flight call, and coos heard from various quarters. No actual obvious display flights noticed.

At the same time greenfinch vocalizations have returned.. the 'chaww' call heard and some twittering. Chaffinches also about, top of cypress again, very predictable position for them, and heard their sharp 'chink' call.. similar to that of a sparrow but more 'chipped' . Several finch bands about, probably both chaffinches and greenfinches.

Waited for a while at look-out corner for black redstarts and others. None appeared on the bunker rubble though it was getting rather late. We did hear the rather urgent piping of one somewhere nearby. Earlier we had seen chiffchaffs about foraging up in the trees and heard their contact call which is a touch shorter and lacks a slight upward inflexion at the end, but similar pitch and just as carrying as the BRS alarm call. The CC alarm call itself is quite different, a little coarser and more like 'weeit'

Loud cricket in the orchard already calling about 5.35 p.m.

From look-out corner just about sunset, (muezzins calling maghrib) far north west end of gazelle field/lower slopes, again two sparring young male gazelles, locking tiny horns and sproinging backwards and forwards. I handed husband the binoculars so he could see the 'dance' but they must have run off behind the trees to the north west because he missed them, they weren't there a minute or two later when I had the next chance to view. Nice though, to see them.

Other mammals about were a nice adult hyrax grazing and staring at us at 'cypress slum' colony and another calling harsh alarm bark from pump station colony shortly after sunset.

Just after 6 p.m. repeated stone curlew calls from northern fields and slopes of north valley. Husband noticed an answering call from the direction of windsurfer hill. I'm sure they breed on all the open ground to east and north of the forested valleys.

Visiting Denbury Farm, Somerset, England, briefly at about 5 p.m. local time, several blue tits, and chaffinches as well as repeated great tit, robin, coal tit and marsh tits. Then the camera was turned to the badger feeding area. Can be entertaining to watch the badgers come out to eat peanut butter and bread put out for them. Sometimes a red fox sneaks in to grab a piece or two.
It's about 7.30 p.m. local time right now.. no badgers around but it seems to be raining quite heavily. However, a few mice are running around the feeding area.

Meanwhile it's about 11.30 a.m. at James Reserve California, bright and sunny, temps already about 60 degrees F. and there's a fresh fat block in place. Based on a delayed image a band tailed pigeon and some mountain chickadee were there a short while ago and a nice big glossy American crow has arrived at the feeder. Now there's a pygmy nuthatch upside down on the fat block feeder, a female Carpodacus finch and a mountain chickadee. A short while ago a male finch was on the feeder. Carpodacus finches can be tricky to tell apart.. purple and (the very variable) house finches can look quite similar though purple finches generally have a more 'mulberry' hue and are abundant on the reserve but the male I just saw looked very similar in colour to many House finch males I've seen in the bay area. Could just be the bright sunshine on it. There are now three nice plump band tailed pigeons on the feeder. Chickadee at the fat block.

Still no badgers. Signing off for now.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Insect revival

caterpillar activity also up.. this pic was taken south edge of gazelle field one day last week.

Another lovely warm day in Jerusalem, Israel up a little on yesterday.. range today 15-24.5 degrees C.

Earliest birds ( just after 5.30 a.m. ) again house sparrows, clear, sweet sunbird calls, laughing dove coos with white spectacled bulbuls joining in shortly after.

At almost 5 p.m. almost 22 degrees C, 26% humidity, wind very light from the south east. High cirrus clouds, Jordan rift valley hazy, barely visible.

No swifts around at all today though more insects seen on the wing. I was very gratified however to see both 'blackjack' male black redstart and european robin active foraging at the bunker ruins.. in the course of time we were watching they swopped use of their rebar look-out posts from end to end of that zone.

Some largish raptor glided crossed the field toward the north valley pines but had only edge on back view the whole time.. seemed too brown for the sparrowhawk from the angle I saw but could be wrong.

Plenty chiffchaff activity in the east valley pines, along with fair sightings, alarm 'weet' calls as well as a high 'seet' call which seemed also to come from the chiffchaff and could be a contact call? Not as thin as that of the blackbird but quite similar to that of the black redstart though the BRS's sounds a touch more urgent and strident. Now I'm thinking that most of the 'seet' calls in the pines this season were from chiffchaffs all along which shows how careful one has to be about contact calls and how it's important to get sightings whenever possible. This is one of the reasons that I insist on trying to get obs of 'Blackjack' at the rubble as my main confirmation that they are still around.. as well as the fact that black redstarts prefer more open ground rather than in the dense parts of the pines though we have seen them go into the trees by the wood edges and call like that.

A pair of blackbirds foraging in a shrub just up from the stream trail. (the stream itself of course already dry again) Good to see they're pairing up again for the season. I don't know if blackbirds keep their pairing through the winter. By about 5.45 p.m. a blackbird in fine song by the sapling field. Brief Syrian woodpecker call, some strident graceful warbler calls and some distant chucking calls from chukar pheasants coming from somewhere in the east valley. Plenty great tit vocalizations all over the woods and around look-out corner. Hooded crows about in tree tops and a few chaffinches up in the same cypresses in north valley as we saw them yesterday. Feral pigeons about. Collared doves heard and seen in the woods, not cooing, but when they break from the trees the whistling of their wing feathers is obvious, and we also saw one up on a line. Small flock of greenfinches flew into eucalyptus. Briefly a lovely lark like chiming call from above, heading from gazelle field to south east. We've heard larks before up on windsurfer hill.

Also at about 5.45 p.m. an amazingly shrill and beautiful stridulation of a cricket from somewhere at the north end of the sapling field. They're back in action! Other evidence of insect revival was a patch along the stream path where there were literally scores of ant excavation mounds over several dozen square metres.

On our way back north along valley road we noticed a nice big mature shaggy rock hyrax staring back at us, probably on sentry duty on a boulder just a couple of metres or so back from the road.

As I write 6.12 p.m. it's already dark and I hear a whole sequence of 'seeweet!' calls reaching me from the valley, from stone curlews. 6.30 more stone curlews 'seweetit! and seweet!'

Looking in at Denbury Farm, Somerset, England at about half past noon today:
Plenty chaffinches, blue tits, greenfinches, house sparrows and great tits with visits by coal tit/s, long tailed tit, robin, maybe marsh tit briefly and a female great spotted woodpecker, prob same one.

It's sunny at 8.30 a.m. James Reserve in California though temps just above freezing and still actually a little snow left on the ground in places. A pair of pygmy nuthatches are at the tube feeders. The fat block is down to a smallish lump. An American crow has shown up and the nuthatches beat a hasty retreat. Now its mate, foraging on the ground below, now joined it on the feeders. They moved off for a minute and an oregon junco and mountain chickadee came by but departed again quickly when a crow returned. Now a pair of mourning doves is on the ground below scavenging for fallen food. This is a really great set of feeders to watch if you have the time, you never know what's going to happen next. That's the main thing I love about birdwatching. A Steller's jay is at the feeder now, moved up to the fat block, displacing a mountain chickadee, one of a pair that just came by.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Temperature jump

Lovely warm day in Jerusalem, Israel, Temp. range ~ 11-21 degrees C,
Heard the first birds at about 5.30 a.m. , a laughing dove cooing just outside the window, at about 5.40 a.m. an orange tufted sunbird chimed a few times, shortly followed by calls of white spectacled bulbul, hooded crow somewhere off in the distance and house sparrows.
Mid afternoon heard more house sparrows, hooded crows and jackdaws.
It was still about 20 degrees at 5 p.m. when we left the house,
clear view across the rift valley, sky mostly filled with beautiful high altitude cumulus types pushed into waves by the winds. Humidity just 23% and rising, wind SE and very light. Laughing doves and feral pigeons seen on top edges of buildings.
Several swifts flying over east valley, one chasing another, then one hawking for insects. Not calling though.

Chiffchaffs alarm calling and foraging in the pines. Snatches of song in the garden earlier? Small snatches of chiffchaff song can be easily mistaken for some house sparrow calls. Much thin black redstart type piping but none seen. Eurasian jays foraging between trees, hooded crows noticed in cypress tops, no doubt prospecting
for nesting places. No gazelle or hyrax seen but feral dog pack noisy somewhere behind the eastern pine grove, yipping and almost howling.
Chaffinch on top of a cypress eastern end of north valley woods. Other birds apparently prospecting for nesting sites today were a pair of collared dove up in a eucalyptus near look-out corner. Presently they broke out of cover and headed off toward the cistern. Another darker bird broke cover soon after and seemed to be in pursuit, only a brief glimpse but from what we could make out, likely 'Captain Jack' Sparrowhawk. Collared doves would be pretty big for him to take on but not impossible. The Syrian woodpeckers have started to drum, we heard a couple of drums today and another brief one a day or so ago. Brief Greenfinch twitters.

A short visit to Denbury Farm, Somerset, England at about 1.15 p.m. local time yielded busy feeders with plenty great tits, blue tits, green and chaffinches and house sparrows with brief visits by a European robin and a hen pheasant on the ground. 2 Grey squirrels and wild rabbit also seen.

Meanwhile at James Reserve, California there's still a little snow on the ground, much reduced over the week. Temperatures just a few degrees above freezing. It was 8 a.m.ish local time when I looked in and a mourning dove was on the table, closely followed by a white headed woodpecker come for the fat block. Pair of mourning dove keep returning or foraging for fallen food on the ground beneath. Oregon juncoes, mountain chickadees, and pygmy nuthatches visited soon after. At one point an American crow was at the fat block, perched up on the side of tree rather awkwardly. A short while after 3 Steller's jay appeared.

Below, screen shot of white headed woodpecker.
Picoides albolarvatus)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Headbutting Adolescent gazelles

Jerusalem, Israel

Tuesday March 4
~8 degrees C-~17 degrees C. At about 5 p.m. ~15 degrees. Humidity 66%, wind light and SE
sky totally clear.

From the house: House sparrows, a vocal white spectacled bulbul, distant hooded crows. As we headed out a sunbird called from one of the gardens along the front of the terrace, a party of sparrows erupted in terrific clamour from the cape honeysuckle, a laughing dove cooed from another garden close by and the usual feral pigeons were perched up on the building tops. Hooded crows winged home singly as the afternoon progressed.

Heading down shortcut to valley road spotted a new flower out, a largeish vetch, dark salmon coloured and veined, growing by the rocks on the bank. Plenty yellow savyon and wild mustard, red anemone and shepherd's purse still blooming there.

Heading into the woods chiffchaff calls, great tits, small groups of finches, probably greenfinches, perhaps also chaffinches but didn't get clear view. Piping calls probably black redstarts but didn't get good views. I'm not sure when they leave but probably within a month which is why I'm trying to get in the last sighting of the season soon. Still no more swifts in the neighbourhood but since breeding season not in full swing yet there's time. Plenty Eurasian jays foraging about. Blackbirds and graceful warblers heard though no blackbird song today. (Yesterday pretty much the same assortment but with addition of white wagtail from the street)

Sitting on a dry stone wall under the pines near look-out corner watching the rubble for black redstarts. None appeared, could they have moved off already?
Heard plenty active great tits, Syrian woodpecker call from north valley pines.

Then I noticed adult buck gazelle grazing by himself in the north east corner of gazelle field a hundred feet or so beyond the cistern.

Soon after, husband noticed a small group way off in the north west corner of the field, on the lower slopes. Four individuals, two, undoubtedly young males, involved in a lively head butting contest. They were really going at it, sproinging, tackling one another, leaping backwards, and engaging again. Every few minutes they'd take a break, have a leisurely graze, then go in for another tackle. These are probably just practice spars, 'play' as their hormones ready them for the serious jousting they'll do when their horns are much more developed.

I looked into Denbury Farm, Somerset, England in the early afternoon. The feeder was as usual super busy with great tits, blue tits, greenfinches, chaffinches, house sparrows, a European nuthatch, a coal tit, long tailed tit, female great spotted woodpecker and two hen pheasants. One flew up on top of the squirrel feeder again, then realized she couldn't reach anything from up there and had to gingerly hop down to the ledge in front of the feeder. This was rather precarious and awkward for her (relatively) enormous frame so she soon hopped down to the ground and settled on hunting up seed and grain that had fallen. Grey squirrel and wild rabbit also came into view.

Yesterday at James Reserve, Calfornia were mountain chickadees, a couple of steller's jay (no surprise, one of the fat blocks had been replaced), pygmy nuthatch, 3 mourning dove, a white breasted nuthatch, an American crow and oregon junco about sunset.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Almond trees as Brides, jewel flowers

Jerusalem, Israel

Last night heard stone curlew through open window at about 9.15 p.m.
7.7 -11.7 degrees C
At about 5 p.m. temp. just under 10 degrees C. 90% humidity, winds 15.7 kt westerly.

Garden: house sparrows, a blackbird singing beautifully about dawn, laughing doves some cooing, white spectacled bulbuls. Heading toward the valley- jackdaw calls, hooded crows winging home to roost, graceful warbler calls, Eurasian jays foraging. Other various calls in the pines, probably black redstarts, greenfinches and chiffchaffs. Surprisingly no swifts, nor did husband see any on his trip into town and back. Where are they?

Gazelle field had a lovely assortment of flowers including the small blue alkanets, savyon, a yellow vetch, the small bright orange dandelion type, small purple jobs that may be one of the small mallows, shepherd's purse, some red anemone and no doubt others. The almonds were decked like brides. In one place the bright yellow savyon formed a perfect circle about a metre in diameter, the way mushrooms form circles, but more lush, like a natural wreath, it was really quite delightful. The field seemed strewn with jewels, amethysts, rubies, topaz, sapphires together with the pearl of the white blooms. You had to get on your knees and look to see this but it was all there for anyone who pays attention to the beauty of it.

Denbury Farm, Somerset, SW England. About noon Greenfinches, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, robin, house sparrows, coal tit, great spotted woodpecker female, male and female pheasant strolling behind. 2 grey squirrels and wild rabbit also seen.

James Reserve, California. Brief viewing there, mountain tits, pygmy nuthatches, pair of band tailed pigeons, oregon junco.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Partridge season

A small Deadnettle bloom (one of the Labiatae) found north end of the sapling field, just under the pines. Some of the brilliant orange small daisy types around it.

Deadnettle is so called because it resembles a nettle a little but doesn't sting.

Thursday 28 Feb
Jerusalem, Israel
Thursday 28 Feb
Range ~9-~18 degrees C. At about 5 p.m. temp was just under 17 degrees C, sky was beautifully patterned with fine herringbone cumulus.
House sparrows in the garden as usual. In the valley we noticed Eurasian sparrowhawk heading from gazelle field towards the orchard. Quite a few Eurasian jays foraging though quiet. Beautiful calls from stone curlews at 5.30 p.m. while still light, coming from direction of hillside just north of gazelle field. Great tit, black redstart, blackbird calls from the pines. Syrian woodpecker calls from north valley pines. Chukar partridge walking on the ground under the young pines just north of central trail. He probably had company but it was out of sight.
Feral dog pack noticed in the pine grove just east of the cistern. One quite well grown white puppy just sat and barked at us.
Thursday evening after 10 p.m. stone curlews heard.
Sat 1 March
Range: 8-15 degrees C
Garden: all day the usual quartet of house sparrows, white spectacled bulbul/s, a rather noisy and excited sounding sunbird and a cooing laughing dove. Brief 'tzeet' of a blackbird
Walk late afternoon: Quite a few small finches on the move between trees, from the sound of them mostly greenfinches. Graceful warblers vocal, black redstart calls, 2 chukar partridges broke cover from slope into the woods just east of valley road, they flew off over east valley. They had been quite vocal just prior to that.. a repeated call something between the coarse call of the bulbul and that of a jay but couldn't quite place it.. very likely part of the chukar's courtship calls. This raised in pitch when they broke cover. Great tits vocal and active. blackbird in song in north valley toward sunset. Jackdaw call, hooded crows winging to roost, feral pigeon flock
Alarm calls of hyraxes up on the bank west of valley road.

Denbury Farm, Somerset, England
Thursday: At about 1.30 p.m. .local time, grey squirrel visiting feeder, at least two rabbits behind the feeder, watched a couple of chases. Watched one making several quick digging movements with his forepaws, digging for some kind of plant roots it likes?
At the feeders, great tits, greenfinches, chaffinches, blue tits, coal tit, house sparrows.
Friday" greenfinches, bluetits, great tits, chaffinches, female great spotted woodpecker, house sparrows, cock pheasant (ground), coal tit, marsh tit, cock blackbird (ground), robin, brief.

James Reserve, California, U.S.
At about 11 a.m. local time. sun was bright, temp ~63 degrees F. For a while the feeders were deserted, then slowly mountain tits, then oregon junco, mourning dove, at least 3 pygmy nuthatches,, white breasted nuthatch. Later had connection problems.