Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cool weather and rollers

As you can see, we don't get the credit for this pic! We were way too far off for a good one but this shot by Lubomir Hlasck really does them justice.

Cool conditions continue.
Another slight temperature drop.. range from just over 9 degrees C to 16.5 degrees C. It was about 14 degrees C and falling when we headed down to the valley at about 6.20 p.m. Humidity was 65%, winds W/NW 5-8 kt.

Bird of the day today was the roller, Coracias garrulus. Two of them, hunting way over at the north end of gazelle field. They moved about quite a bit, hopping up onto rocks or shrubs or the lines over the field, then returning to the ground, though they didn't stay far from each other. If they are a pair, perhaps they are or will breed in the area though it's far more likely they're just passing through. We saw one individual on the lines about this time last year. Their blueness with a hint of turquoise is visible from quite a distance and my husband was also able to make out the dark eye stripe. These are special birds so naturally I was thrilled to see them here again.

We also watched a Eurasian sparrowhawk heading west towards the north forest pines about sunset and heard many clear melodious calls of stone curlews. Greenfinches were busy in the pines again and Eurasian jays were active. Blackbird song was heard and graceful warblers were vocal. In the garden, white spectacled bulbul, sunbirds, house sparrows and laughing doves were all heard.

Ballotia still not flowering enough for a photograph but capers are flowering now, (Capparis spinosa) (photo in last May in my archives) their beautiful large white three petals with hints of purple and bunch of stamens that reminds me of one of those fibre optic lamps. These are the bushes that grow all over the Western Wall and their pods can be pickled and eaten. Husband pulled up a wild carrot. The root was pale, woody and unappetizing but definitely smelled surprisingly carrotish. There are plenty wild plants in the area which can be eaten. The pine nuts from the Aleppo Pines all over the valley are quite delicious.

The hyrax favour the rather astringent cypress trees for some reason. As we walked along valley road several dropped out of a cypress tree and ran to their dens. They climb up the trunk and along the branches but they seldom bother to take that route down, they simply let themselves drop. I noticed if we keep walking, however slowly, they allow quite a close by-pass but if I stop moving they find that ominous and are more likely to run for cover. Still no gazelle but many boys are still on vacation and are busy scouring the woods for dead wood to be used for bonfire night coming up soon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bridging Rainbow

Castor oil bush Ricinus communis A.Atwood. The most drastic and nastiest solution to certain ailments.

Temps today were 12-17 degrees C, cool, moist and breezy. By the time we headed out on our walk , had already fallen to ~13 degrees and later, well after dark, fell to 10.
Humidity was about 67% but visibility across the rift valley was good, limestone on the upper Jordanian escarpment gleamed in the late afternoon sun like snow. We could even just make out two distant cooling towers of what appeared to be a power plant by a sizeable town on the Jordanian plateau, at least 20 miles off to the north west.

A gorgeous cloud formation arched across the sky from the northern ridge, quite dense and marbled, lit beneath and with visible downward grey streamers as if it were raining though no rain fell where we were, it was just north west of us but it did create a rainbow which arched from the Jewish settlement of Adam across to the Arab town of Hizmeh. We couldn't help but find this natural bridge beautiful and poetic.

Bird life was not tremendously varied today, but interesting. In the gardens we heard white spectacled bulbuls, sunbirds, house sparrows and laughing doves as usual. Feral pigeons and jackdaws were round about their business and in the woods great tits, Syrian woodpeckers, collared doves, graceful warblers and blackbirds were vocal and active. Greenfinches were particularly active, even excited, in the pines by the bunker rubble. There was much song twittering and flying back and forth.

The most interesting bird sighting of the day was a conflict between a hooded crow and a Eurasian sparrowhawk above the new pines, east end of north valley. We saw that the sparrowhawk, by virtue of its superior aerial skill, managed to stay above the attacking hooded crow, thus protecting itself from the worst blows by bill and feet. We were pleased to see that the presence of the hobbies in the area has not caused the sparrowhawk there to abandon its territory. No doubt the encounter we saw between 'Cap'n Jack' and a local breeding crow is one of many occurring there right now, since, unlike the Buteos that are just passing through, the sparrowhawk hunts that section all the time.

Many rock hyrax were out and active today, down just east of valley road. Several of them appeared to be quite young, perhaps a couple of months but probably already weaned, born earlier in the spring.

We took a short cut up the bank on a less used trail which required a little more climbing but rewarded us with a row of castor oil bushes Ricinus communis at the top that I hadn't noticed before. We also noticed that the capers are beginning to bloom and some rather interesting looking plants, Ballotia, are starting to produce white flowers. We decided to wait for more flowers before photographing them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hawks rule the skies today

This beautiful shot by Ferran Pestana conveys the majesty of an old world Buteo in flight.

Centaurea procurrens, a common bright yellow thistle type flower

The cooling westerlies continue. Range today was 10-20 degrees C, almost 16 degrees C when we headed out for our walk just after 6 p.m. Humidity was 62% and rising, winds NNW just over 6 kt. Skies clear.

When we went out for our evening walk at about 10 p.m. we saw intermittent sheet lightning high in clouds way east over the rift valley, perhaps even as far as Jordan.

Several hawks (Buteo) were soaring high over the east valley and gazelle field, at least half a dozen though we saw different individuals at different times.. they were drifting south with the wind. A hooded crow flew high up to harass one of them but the larger bird dodged its attempts quite easily. The Buteos weren't together but seemed to be prospecting as individuals. Long legged buzzards? (Buteo rufinus ) one of most likely. I'm not great at IDing these as they are very self similar esp. at high altitude.. there are quite a few variations between different ages, the more immature birds having more brown in their plumage, the more mature birds generally lighter. Later we noticed one try to settle on top of a cypress just south east of the orchard. Another hoodie had a nesting territory there and chased it off, it barely had a chance to settle, continued toward the south. Then the hoodie stood on the tallest cypress, on guard.

Around the buildings: White spectacled bulbuls very vocal, laughing doves cooing, house sparrows noisy, feral pigeons moving about in small flocks, jackdaws very vocal.

In the valley greenfinches vocal and active, collared doves cooing and active.. we noticed a male coming on to a female on a line over the new pines, east end of north valley.. she flew off into the pines. Syrian woodpecker calls, quite a bit of jay activity and some calls, blackbird song, quite a bit of great tit noise in the new pines, probably busy with a family/families in there. Turtle doves heard by the orchard. Nice chase between two falcons over gazelle valley, hobbies from the look of them. Stone curlews heard towards sunset and after dark.

As we came up valley road toward sunset a group of 14 or so bee-eaters came down north valley from the direction of the quarry, flying quite high over the south bank and the houses at the end of the neighbourhood there, and then headed down toward gazelle valley, calling.

Still no sightings of gazelle, cuckoos also quiet but there has been quite a bit of activity in the valley lately due to vacation which has probably caused the gazelle to keep their distance.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cooler spell continues

Yellow millfoil Achillea (?)

One of the many beautiful eucalyptus trees planted in many places along the valley especially near the orchard, which, by the way, we agree is of Pistaccio trees. These are now in full leaf.

Sky was quite clear today, temperatures 12-21.3 degrees C. The Jordanian escarpment was visible with the help of binoculars.
At about 6.20 p.m. when we headed out, temp. was about 15.5 degrees C, humidity 66% and winds WNW 11.3 - cool enough to wear a light sweater again.

Around the buildings white spectacled bulbuls, sunbirds, house sparrows, laughing doves and jackdaws were quite vocal today. The bulbuls' repeated rough call was heard quite a lot in the willow or somewhere else nearby, perhaps taking care of young.

Along valley road rock hyraxes were quite active down on the east side of the road, great tits quite vocal. A Buteo was spotted high over gazelle field to the north. Soon after, collared doves coos, greenfinch twitters and blackbird song were heard.. graceful warblers heard, pretty much the usual residents. Nice stone curlew calls at sunset from the fields round about. Turtle doves and bee-eaters keeping a low profile today.

I was delighted to find a great site for flowers of Israel at http://www.wildflowers.co.il/english/
which covers many more species than my guide and has already been very useful in IDing some of the plants we've already noticed, such as one of the orchids, Ophrys lutea, the beautiful purple Alcea I'd noticed turned out to be Alcea acualis, (Stemless hollyhock) and the prolific yellow small thistle like flower in flower all over the place now is Centaurea procurrens. The 'Pompom trees' (wattle trees) which I knew were some kind of acacia are Acacia saligna (though my husband said he prefers 'pompom trees' . These, like the eucalyptus over much of the valley, were introduced from Western Australia. This site I book-marked since I'm sure I'll be using it a lot!

Today I decided on a typical eucalyptus trunk and a brilliant yellow umbellifer like plant which has been in flower in open spaces in many locations. It's like fennel (which is also in flower here and there, though much more common at higher elevations on our neighbourhood hill) but the florets are brighter and more densely packed and the leaves are pale and hairy. This seems to be a kind of millfoil, Achillea biebersteinii though I'm not totally happy with this ID and intend to keep looking for a plant that looks closer. I did manage to ID a common borage with hair leaves and purple and pink-purple bells in flower now. This is Echium angustifolium. These form low lying dense 'cushions'. One such cushion' of it we found must have been at least 5 feet across.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cooler weekend

Green toad Bufo viridis, in the cistern. A few 'water boatmen' Notonecta also visible.


Daucus carota, wild form of our familiar carrot.. (also known as Queen Anne's lace) many flowering heads out now. We plan to dig up a few just to see how well their roots resemble carrots.. perhaps prepare something. Hemlock is somewhat similar so one has to be careful with ID!

26th April, Saturday

Temperatures have dropped a lot today relative to those earlier this week, just 15-26 degrees C and dropping further on Saturday night to 12 degrees C as potential rain clouds blew in from the west, (there was a little rain before dawn on Sunday) wind picked up and humidity rose to 90%.

Much of the day the garden was active with calls of house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, sunbirds and the coos of laughing doves. A Buteo was spotted high over the valley. Feral pigeons, Hooded crows, jackdaws all heard and/or seen and active.

On our walk a group of about a dozen bee-eaters was sighted flying quite high and calling musically, roughly over the secret valley at about sunset. Swifts heard soon after over east field. Great tits quite active and vocal today and a call that sounded to me like that of a juvenile came from low down in a pine just off valley road.

Collared doves cooing in the valley as well as turtle dove from its usual eucalyptus just across the path from the orchard. Stone curlew calls at about sunset. Two falcons sighted over the valley a little earlier, not together, probably hobbies, not a great view but grey backs. Graceful warblers vocal, blackbirds active and singing. Greenfinches also active and calling and twittering a lot.

Scans for gazelle in gazelle field, north slopes and east field not successful today.. they could be over in the olive grove valley or up north valley to the north west. Rock hyrax, however, were very active and numerous today at and just after sunset, scavenging on the bank between valley road and the buildings. At our approach many scampered down across the road to their preferred boulder refuges. Mostly adults and well grown young, no kits yet.

Checking the cisterns, still green toads in there, including one rather inflated looking individual in the larger cistern. He was floating like a buoy and looked quite alive and we wondered why he'd blown himself up like that, was he sick? A couple of Eurasian jays had been at the cistern a short while earlier.. it's possible he'd inflated himself up deliberately to 'threaten' them with his larger size and dissuade them from attacking him. I'd heard of toads doing this on the land but not in water. As we watched he appeared to very slowly deflate but as it was starting to get dark we had to leave.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More big brown jobs

Patience and persistence pays off, this marbled white, Melanargea titea titania, consented to keep its wings open for a photo.

Most thistles going to seed now

Today was even warmer than yesterday.. 26-35 degrees C range. At about 6 p.m. it was still just over 30 degrees, humidity 12%, winds 8-12 knots in the afternoon, shifting from SE in the morning to SW to westerlies in the afternoon, picking up and bringing in high altitude clouds.

A few Buteo hawks in the neighbourhood again.. the hooded crows are nesting and don't like their territories invaded. I watched one almost alight on top of a pine across north valley but it had barely put down its talons when a hoodie chased it away.

Some swifts and swallows around, greenfinches and blackbirds in song, calls of black- eared wheatears up the hill, chukar partridge spotted on top of the hill, collared doves about but relatively quiet today, Syrian woodpeckers heard. Bee-eaters heard in the distance? Not seen today. Calls of stone curlews towards dusk and one flew right over us at look-out corner about dusk.

Told off the boys because they were turning over rocks in the woods to find scorpions. These are hazardous but will generally just stay put -but sometimes there are vipers under those rocks and they may strike. When we walked to the top of the hill we noticed two large rocks had been turned over.. clear other boys were looking for snakes, scorpions and wild tortoises- (they've been quite good at finding these!) Boys will be boys but this is asking for trouble! Vipera palestinae does not like its rest disturbed. We photographed a black scorpion that had retreated into an indentation and a relatively large jumping spider, black with a bright red on the abdomen. (not dangerous). The boys contented themselves catching toads. I suggested we put a red or yellow tie around the foot so that we would know if any return to the cistern by themselves. The boys also found some spawn, in gelatinous ropes as toads lay their eggs (as opposed to frogspawn which is laid in masses). Plenty marbled white butterflies around.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wild about the Zoo

Cattle egret on nest A.Atwood CC

Spur winged plover - wikipedia


Temps 25-34 degrees C, humidity ~6%, winds E/SE 0-4 kt. Skies pretty clear.

Today we took the two youngest to the Tisch Zoological gardens in the south of the city, about 6 miles south of where we live.
Given the heat we made sure to drink plenty and keep our headwear wet, a good protection we've found against heat exhaustion.

Now, much as we enjoyed the new exhibits and could go on about them at length, this blog is about the wildlife of the city and not about collections. Anyone interested in this excellent zoo can go to http://www.jerusalemzoo.org.il/len/ I love the place, and we go there once or twice a year almost every year for years.. there are always changes and new exhibits.

I also go for the wildlife that visits the zoo, and there's always plenty of that. Wild birds especially are keen to take advantage of the habitats a zoo provides and I'm sure I've only seen a tiny fraction of its wild visitors.

For example, the large colony of cattle egrets Bubulcus ibis that nest yearly in the trees by the lake and on its islands are all totally wild but are quite used to people by now and seem quite comfortable raising their youngsters right over the heads of vacationers taking pictures of the black swans, crowned cranes and other water bird exhibits there. The whole colony gets rather odiferous in the heat!

We were also enchanted to see a parent spur winged plover Vanellus spinosus guarding her chicks in the flamingo enclosure. The long legged little chicks with their camouflaged backs and cute little eye stripes, ran here and there, experimentally pecking at anything in the grass while mom was kept busy chasing away egrets and moorhens that wondered near, lunging at them quite aggressively, head lowered, till they backed off. She didn't seem to care about all the flamingos standing around though, it was as if she didn't take them quite seriously! They were all busy preening and 'cronking' gently and weren't really much of a threat. Because of the heat both the cormorants and pelicans were vibrating their throat sacks. The Pelicans, though wild in Israel, were part of the collection and the cormorants are nesting side by side with the egrets.

Spur winged plovers are probably the most common member of its family in the country and are called siksak in Hebrew, based on their call. I've seen them all over Israel from farmland to hippopotamus enclosure, and of course quite a few were hanging around the Savannah habitat lake not far from the rhinos and the collection's 'handsome' marabou storks. Meanwhile scores of common swifts swooped over the little lake, many dipping down to drink, the occasional swallow amongst them.

Naturally house sparrows and feral doves took full advantage of the food and nesting opportunities all around the zoo, while laughing doves cooed and courted everywhere. Turtle doves cooed in the carob trees on the east facing slopes of the valley. Sunbirds and spectacled bulbuls made full use of all the ornamental trees while chukar partridges skulked a little farther off, under the oaks up the slopes off the beaten paths. We saw and heard all these. Hooded crows and Eurasian jays were also about, specializing in tourist food litter.

Blackbird
(Turdus merula) song was heard in many places and many were noticed foraging on the ground, no doubt looking for delectable morsels for nestlings. One interesting passerine I haven't seen in ages hopped out onto the grass, a rufous bush chat, Cercotrichas galactotes, with her red tail cocked high in the air.. clearly making for the stream issuing from 'Moshe's rock' for a drink. She was timid though, and at first a foraging blackbird chased her back to the shelter of the thicket. I waited and presently she emerged again, making her way over the stream with timid, cautious hops. Birds are always wary approaching water.. they have an instinct that they are especially vulnerable when slaking their thirst.

All in all we had a great visit, and even spotted a Buteo from the taxi, over Pisgat Zeev on the way home!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Toads and other delights

One of the toads my son caught in the cistern. Isn't he cute?

Some kind of bush cricket type photoed on thistle this morning A.Atwood.

Temp. range today was up to 23-31 degrees C. At about 6.30 p.m. when we went down it was down to just under 28 degrees C, humidity just 15%, wind just under 2 kt WNW

Up to 3 Buteo aloft over gazelle field and surrounding land, couldn't tell which, possibly long legged buzzards we had last summer. In the morning husband noticed a hooded crow harassing two of them over gazelle field.

Two hobbies up there over look-out corner near sunset, gliding and circling. Swifts and bee-eaters not about today as far as we noticed. Turtle doves also quiet when we were down and also during husband's morning visit. Perhaps the numbers of people picnicking in the bottom of the valley has made some of the birds timid. We did hear singing male greenfinches and collared doves.

Jackdaws and hooded crows heard and seen around. Graceful warblers heard. Blackbirds in song, This morning about 9 a.m. husband noticed a pair of hoopoes in the pine by the cistern, a great spotted cuckoo, and a chukar partridge in the area.

No gazelle noticed today but we did not spend a long time scanning the northern hillside. Plenty marbled whites on the wing as well as a satyrid.

The smaller cistern pool had a lot of filamentous algae in it and quite a population of toads, looked like Bufo viridis we'd seen on the roads earlier in spring. They dropped in the leftover rainwater to breed, no doubt, but there's no way they or their offspring will be able to escape from there once they're grown. It will be a death trap by late summer, too dried out to supply their minimum moisture. Unlike frogs, toads prefer to stay on land outside the breeding season. Our 12 year old son joined us and was able to reach down and 'rescue' three by hand.. we put them in the grass away from the cistern on the assumption that if they had already succeeded in breeding they would not wish to return. Plenty food for them everywhere. The cistern also had quite a population of water boatmen (bugs) and wasps and quite a few hornets dropped by to get moisture. These hornets were large brown jobs with yellow tails, Vespa orientalis. Some red dragonflies also seen today.

So many of the locals went down there to view the toads and make barbecues we hoped the local doves and others would succeed in getting a drink! That cistern is very important for them in the summer.

The milk thistles have already pretty much gone to seed. There are many large umbellifers out now, probably Daucus carota (related to carrots.), and common mallow are growing up, about to bud. Flower buds are also appearing on the pomegranate trees.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Kites and Wasp moths

Wasp moth (Syntomis mestralii ) on wild oats. Also check out Nir Ofir's pic ref'd below.


Gundelia in flower.. Also A.Atwood CC

April 20/21st

Temp range today: 17-30 degrees C. When we went out.. just after 6.20 p.m. , temp had fallen to ~26.5 degres C, humidity ~19%, wind NW ~3kt.

Two gazelle up on skyline north ridge.

Insect of the day was a wasp moth, Syntomis mestralii , a rather fearsome looking extraordinary insect I'd never seen before. Several were on the wing about sunset where the south end of gazelle field meets central trail. The wings were jet black with 'windows' of pale yellow, the body was metallic blue black with two orange bands, one at about wing level, one further down the rather long abdomen. Wingspan ~7 cm, length ~6cm.
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Syntomis_mestralii.jpg for a very nice image taken by Nir Ofir on Mount Gilboa. This doesn't show the blue tint of the body but the only pic we managed to take which really did convey that hue unfortunately lacked focus. We took a few clear images which I thought boring compared to Nir's but I do rather like this shot on the wild oats.

Bird of the day was Black kite.. Milvus migrans. We were amazed to see a very stretched out procession of 12 of them flying from the north over A Ram and heading south east toward Hizmeh. They flew over in small groups of two or three or singly. Then nine of them circled lazily in the direction of Hizmeh approximately over east field as the light was fading. I've never seen so many Black kite over the area before- most I've ever seen at once here was four individuals last summer.

Plant of the day was a beautiful flowering Gundelia, all the more delightful to see since some young mischievous arsonists had burnt all the ground round about, laying waste patches of woodland here and there, (including the place where we found the Ophrys and other orchids, so I hope some underground part of those orchids survived) - The Gundelia stood here and there on the parched ground, apparently unscathed. Perhaps because of its partially succulent nature it was just too moist to catch fire.

This morning and yesterday morning a ring necked parakeet visited the garden.. 7.30 a.m. yesterday, ~ 7 a.m. today on top of the willow. Not the same individual as "Squeaker", this one had a complete tail. We also saw one in the pines on the bank between our street and valley road both today and yesterday late afternoon.

Sunbird/s very active in the Bauhinia both days. White spectacled bulbuls heard in gardens and down from valley road. Laughing doves in the garden, around the street. Collared doves active and cooing and flight calling in the valley. More turtle doves have arrived.. (more heard in the new pines east end of north valley). Great tits vocal and active in the pines, greenfinches in song approaching sunset, as were some blackbirds. Graceful warblers foraging, active, calling. Syrian woodpecker calls. Two great spotted cuckoos seen in the top of a pine near east end of north valley, vocal. Hobby over gazelle field. Chukar partridges heard from somewhere along north valley. Bee-eaters heard, a couple seen. A number of common swifts hawking for bugs over the trail from central path to north valley around sunset. (Plenty insects on the wing). Stone curlews also vocal around sunset.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Daily Round up

A tiny plant growing in gazelle field, looks like a dandelion clock but less than 1 cm across. They were just too cute to pass over:)


Small relative of the cornflower, a composite.. season just about over for them now. 
Crupina crupinastrum   False saw wort   quite common by roadsides.



Today's walk was relatively brief.. busy with Passover preparations but never too busy to smell the flowers. Sometimes the breeze brings me a whiff of the Bauhinia outside and now and again as I sit here at night a gecko calls 'tok tok' from the walls just outside the window.
Temp range: 9-18 degrees C. At about 6 p.m. : some high altitude cloud, ~16 degrees C, humidity ~65%, wind NW veering W, 4-8 kt.

Bee-eaters: Group of about 25 hunting over middle of woods and part of gazelle field.
Turtle doves: again cooing in eucalyptus behind look-out corner.. pretty much same location they were at last year.. probably returned to same nesting site.

House sparrows: active as usual, laughing doves: cooing as usual, even long after dark
Sunbirds: very vocal and active in the garden, as were white spectacled bulbuls.

Hooded crows: active as usual Jackdaws:some calls Eurasian jays:active as usual
Greenfinches: much activity, twittering around pines by bunker, small groups flying between trees.
Blackbirds:quite a bit of activity, some song, Syrian woodpeckers: some calls
Collared doves: plenty activity, cooing. 3 down by cistern & around pomegranate trees. We were waiting to see if any turtle doves would join them as they did last year but not while we were there.
Stone curlews: Very vocal just after dark from length of hill slopes just north of north valley

.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Turtle doves are back:)

Perhaps not the most pleasant image but zoologically significant nevertheless.. gazelle dung. This was photographed close to the quarry but we also found fresh scat like this in the sapling field today.

A common composite in open areas at the moment. Also A.Atwood CC

Temps have dropped quite a bit since yesterday- 16.5-21 degrees C. today. When we went out, at about 6 p.m. temp was ~17.3 degrees C, humidity 59%, wind WSW ~7kt (sunset, 7.15 p.m.)

Delighted to hear that the turtle doves Streptopelia turtur have returned from Africa on schedule. . they usually get back just before Pesach (Passover). We heard their purring coo up in the eucalyptus a little behind 'lookout corner at about sunset. This is the first record of this season, 'shehechyanu!'

All the other representatives of the dove family are also active and busy, feral pigeons and laughing doves cooing and busy around the houses, collared doves also very active and cooing down in the valley. I wonder what happened to that barbary dove that we heard a couple of days last summer?

Husband spotted another swallow Hirundo rustica over the neighbourhood today.

Bee-eaters: about 20 over fields and woods today.

Two apparently somewhat immature great spotted cuckoos in a dead tree close to the north valley streambed.. calling intermittently, and from the direction of calls seemed there was another one off farther east in the direction of the cistern. After a little time these two birds headed 'upstream' to the west, over the north side as yesterday, probably same two.

Also active, vocal and around in their usual places: Hooded crows, jackdaws, greenfinches, Syrian woodpecker, house sparrows, sunbirds, white spectacled bulbuls, graceful warblers, Eurasian Jays, blackbirds (some song again from the individual holding territory around the turn off from central trail to north valley).

Since it's vacation there's plenty human activity in the woods lately, kids and teens, which make it not worthwhile to linger by the old bunker.. nothing will visit the cistern while any young folk are around there, but this doesn't usually stop activity in north valley or up at canopy level. Several dragonflies noticed along north valley in last week.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Millipedes, poppies, Marbled whites and others.

Swarms of black millipedes about lately, many reach 5 inches or so in length.


Poppies
had second wind it seems, quite a few blooms noticed in past week.
Gazelles
: Bucks glimpsed on the northern ridge skyline. Two individuals or one counted again later.

reptiles: On the central trail we met some boys returning from the with three wild tortoises. It's permitted to keep them as pets but not to harvest for trade.
Bee-eaters: Again lined up on the wires over the hillslopes north of gazelle field alternating with hawking flying insects over the area, fewer than yesterday, up to 40 birds.. other sub-group elsewhere this afternoon apparently.
Two great spotted cuckoos seen flying up north valley, then heard calling shrilly and loudly.
Swallows, at least 3 spotted briefly low over north valley.
Buteo on the ground lower slopes of hill to north, just stayed put, literally low profile, preened itself a little. Mostly chocolate brown with paler looking chest band. Staying put no doubt since there was a small flock of hoodies foraging a little farther up the slope and it didn't want to attract their attention.
House sparrows: very active around buildings as usual.Laughing doves: active cooing around buildings
Hooded crows: Active, some vocal Eurasian Jays: Active, relatively quiet today.
Feral pigeons: some activity around and between buildings.Greenfinches: plenty song and 'chaw calls' in the newer pine grove east end of north valley.Blackbirds: song, Chukar partridges: some calls north side slopes north valley
Collared doves: Plenty activity, coos and flight calls. Still no turtle doves
Stone curlews: some calls from fields east of north valley.Sunbirds: very vocal, plenty activity garden, Bauhinia.
Graceful warblers: calls, Syrian woodpeckers: calls, Bulbuls: some calls valley road area, Great tits: calls in pines

Plenty butterflies around, marbled white , which I first took for a Pierid but with a bit of research discovered is actually a Nymphalid though similar to a white in its colouring, drove us a little crazy since they'd land (usually on thistle heads) and open their wings tantalizingly then shut them whenever in view for a photo. We did get some nice side pics, by comparison same species as the one we used a few days ago so replacing that pic. Also saw a small blue Lycenid type which seems to disappear when it lands because its underwing pattern is a delicate tapestry of little ocellations which provide so much camouflage they almost seem to disappear when they land.. the gorgeous almost iridescent blue winks out of existence.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Warm spring day

Delicate butterfly sipping from a thistle. Melanargea titea titania, also known as Marbled white. Back is quite strongly marked black and white but would not keep its wings open long enough for a pic. Looks like one of the white butterflies but is in fact a Nymphalid


A white squill type flower, very similar to the bluebell but pure white and growing in many locations in fields and woods over last few weeks.

Temps warm today, reached ~30 degrees C (~86 degrees F) and was only a little below that when we headed down for our walk. Humidity 19%, wind light and ENE. Plenty fine dust noticed in the air last few days, casts a light haze in the sky at times.

Gazelles: No show today
Rock hyrax: A number active on the slopes near the pumping station including juveniles (born past winter)

Summer birds: Bee-eaters: As yesterday- we could see them lined up on the wires over the hillside to the north, at least 60.
Swifts: Quite a few aloft, hunting bugs and chasing each other.
We're listening out for turtle doves which should be back very soon now.. none heard yet though.
Rose ringed parakeet: Heard as we came down shortcut to valley road, he was up in a pine. Nice long tail visible on this one so clearly not the same individual as the one which visited the garden.
House sparrows: Very active around the houses
Laughing doves: Cooing and active in the gardens and street.
Hooded crows: All over the place, foraging, flying about, perched on treetops, generally singles or pairs, not as flocks. Jackdaws: Some calls.
Eurasian Jays: Plenty activity over forest and trees, also singly, not in groups.
Feral pigeons: Some activity, Blackbirds: song, some activity
Collared doves: coos, some activity
Sunbirds: Calls and activity, especially around the cape honeysuckle which has grown quite thick again and likely has a nest. Graceful warblers: Quite vocal
Spectacled Bulbuls: Quite vocal and active in gardens and generally.
Great tits: Vocal and active

Sunday, April 13, 2008

hobby, flowers, butterflies, mole cricket

Oxalis? Taken today, east end of north valley flat area.. we found several stands.

Temps 19-29 degrees C, at 6 p.m. it was still 26.4 degrees C and quite warm. We walked around in the lower part of north valley and secret valley where those streambeds approach gazelle field, and on the south facing slopes just beyond. Humidity down at 19%, winds ENE, betw 1 and 2 knots.

We watched a hobby circle over north valley for a while, nice views! Blackbirds active, graceful warblers heard, night insects already chiming most of the time we were out, collared doves cooing, (laughing doves in the garden, as well as sunbirds)

Bee-eater numbers have stepped up yet again! I noticed them lining up on the power lines crossing north ridge.. they ride in their flocks over the valley and return to those lines to perch. I counted 66 in a (uneven) row and some were still airborne so we have about 70 in the area now if not more. I'd noticed birds perched up there in a row yesterday too but then I couldn't make out what they were from that distance and sometimes collared doves use the lines.. but likely this behaviour yesterday too. Some common swifts also airborne.

House sparrows, some broody feral pigeons, hooded crows,


As we approached gazelle field we noticed a large adult female gazelle make her way alone into the field ahead of us, she seemed to have a very slight limp back right leg. We kept our distance, didn't want to spook her. A little while later we noticed two bucks, no doubt of the bachelor herd, way up on the north ridge on a pile of dirt near the wall. Some time after that we saw two hornless gazelle up on the skyline of the nearer north ridge (between secret valley and the olive glade) , so today altogether at least 4 individuals, probably five if we assume the first female we saw wasn't one of the two latter.


I shall have to get those leather bedouin socks or make some of my own to protect my feet against the prickles on the hill! Some of them cause a slight histamine reaction. Foliage was otherwise gorgeous today.. lots of composites of various kinds, many of them yellow, various yellow headed members of the carrot family, a gorgeous tall purple labiate with leaves that smelled like geranium, and a stand of yellow 5 petalled flowers similar to primrose or Oxalis. Today I decided on a white scabious (which have been out last few weeks in gazelle field and seem to be coming to the end of their season) and those yellow 5 petalled flowers which have just appeared. Many beautiful Pierid butterlies with dark grey patterning, working on ID. possibly Euchloe ausonia (eastern dappled white)



Speaking of insects, my boys have just walked in with a very nice mole cricket Gryllotalpa in a plastic cup! This is one of the favourite foods of the lesser kestrel which breeds in the gables of old buildings in Jerusalem this time of year and commutes to fields where these juicy large insects can be found, to feed its young. (Our pics available on request or google http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_cricket)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The busy, beautiful Bauhinia

Bauhinias have recently started blooming again in the neighbourhood in various shades of pink and purple but in the case of the lovely tree outside my window, pure white. This bloom was photographed a couple of days ago. This is not a native wild tree but it is a popular ornamental tree and many local gardens and parks have them. They are also planted along some streets.

I've mentioned this tree many times in previous entries as it's quite busy, a regular venue for house sparrows, (pretty much constant), laughing doves, (their coos seemed to have stepped up in intensity lately), white spectacled bulbuls, (at least a passing visit today), orange tufted sunbirds (heard about 8.30 a.m. this morning squeaking and 'tut-tutting' confidently ), and this morning by 'Squeaker' as we've dubbed him, a ring necked parakeet who woke us all up at about 8 a.m. squawking and squiking loudly. He stayed up there for at least three quarters of an hour, nice bright caterpillar green and coral red bill, as my 12 year old son and I observed him. My son had the impression there was another across the street it had been 'talking to' earlier but had departed. This was the same individual we'd observed not long ago as it had the same messed up tail.. seems at some stage it had a sight tail feather accident.. I'm sure they'll grow back.

I also heard intermittent rhythmic hoarse squeaks from somewhere out of the window, probably house sparrow nestlings from a nest shoved into the side of the building somewhere.

Sparrows weren't the only birds producing young, the graceful warblers had obviously been busy as we noticed a family in the high grasses just off valley road today. The parents were foraging in the area and returning as often as they could and the little downy chicks popped up their tiny heads now and again, at least three of them, probably quite a few more down and out of sight.

Down in the valley today we made quite a few pleasing sightings. Poppies are having a second wind and are blooming everywhere as a is a purple hyssop/oregano type plant, by the roadside.
We also noticed three groups of bee-eaters, each group about 20 individuals, and two of these groups merging to hunt quite high over east field. Chukars heard calling briefly from the trail. Stone curlews also vocal about sunset, as were plenty blackbirds, (song), some great tits, Eurasian jays, hooded crows and collared doves.

We noticed a falcon hovering right over windsurfer hill.. with that hunting strategy would be a common kestrel, I've never heard of hobbies doing that. We did hear raptor like calls in the valley, both sparrowhawk and hobby like (even their typical calls sound quite similar, atypical calls are not so easy to tell from each other) though no definite sightings of either. We also heard great spotted cuckoo calls, and some of their calls sound raptor like too, though others more obviously grating and more obvious GS cuckoo in quality. We heard some hooded crow 'grok grok' calls coming from the direction of windsurfer hill and noticed a hoodie harassing a Buteo not much bigger than itself. The raptor continued on its way unmolested as soon as it was far enough away from the crow's 'territory', not in migration, just passing over, likely looking for a good roosting spot. Common swifts were screaming high overhead, sounded like they were having a wild party up there.

Searched for gazelle but none found. Some Hyrax active near the pumping station.

Humidity low today.. reached a peak of 70,80% late afternoon/sunset but fell quickly after that and was down to 33% after 10 p.m. , as it was early afternoon. Temps peaked at 23 degrees C early afternoon, already down to 18 degrees C approaching sunset. Winds N, NW approaching sunset, N, NE early afternoon.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Birds, flowers, butterflies

This starry clover like plant is common in the fields now. They look spiny but are actually soft in texture. These were taken by the hidden olive grove.


These mallows are growing everywhere right now. I spotted this crab spider on the eastern edge of the abandoned orchard.

I neglected to mention the presence of a Buteo of some sort quite high over the orchard toward sunset yesterday, couldn't tell what sort, mostly mottled brown, no distinct markings at all, it was being harried by a hooded crow and headed off over the trees south.

Earliest birds today were the usual house sparrows, laughing doves and white spectacled bulbuls but then I heard a peculiar psittacine call in the Bauhinia that pulled me out of bed to investigate. Husband had also heard it and was on his way out the french doors to check. It was a ring necked parakeet which took flight south over the gardens when it noticed him. The Bauhinia is in glorious white bloom and I wondered if they like pollen and nectar too.

At about 6 p.m. skies were mostly clear and weather pleasant, temps peaking at 24 C but already down to 22 on our departure and falling steadily, winds were south westerly having switched from roughly south easterly early in the afternoon, just ~2-6 kt most of the day, picking up in the evening. Humidity had hit a low of 10% about midday but was steadily climbing through the afternoon.

We heard a hobby call somewhere in the forest, blackbirds were active and vocal, some song, common swifts were heard and then a nice flock of bee-eaters came into view, hunting in their usual melodious drifting flocks over east valley, gazelle field and orchard area. They can be tricky to count for sure because they constantly change their relative place in the flock, but certainly in excess of thirty birds today. A smooth dark grey bird with raptor contours flew swiftly over the central path and then up onto a pine branch north of the trail, possibly European cuckoo again and we listened for a while to see if it would call but it did not oblige.

We did get a nice view of a European sparrowhawk some time later over gazelle valley and a brief view of a hobby.

Stone curlews heard from open ground just beyond north edge of woods, possibly disturbed by the hobbies. Great tit calls from orchard. Graceful warblers heard toward dusk.

Again no show of gazelles though we checked the hillslopes to the north, extremities of gazelle field and eastern field.

Butterflies picking up, I noticed a saturnid on our hike to the quarry, quite a few whites and marbled white types are about and today we saw a small preying mantis as well as a crab spider on a mallow bloom.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Cuckoos cackling in the wattle tree.

A common low large cushion like thorny plant found all over the woods and fields. Purple flowers appear later in summer. Many bear green or pinkish berries now.


Paronychia argentea, no common English name I've found but its Hebrew name, Almavet hacesef translates roughly has silver immortal/'everlasting'

This is now common over much of gazelle field.

Temp at about 6 p.m. (summer time) 14.9 degrees C and falling, (58.8 degrees F), humidity 66% and rising, wind WNW 7kt

great spotted cuckoos.. about 6.30 p.m. 2 individuals noticed on branches of a blooming wattle tree by the path leading from centre trail to north valley, cackling repeatedly, (possibly courtship?). one quite nice mature plumage, one much less vividly marked. After some minutes they flew west into the pines where they continued to vocalize, rather a wicked sounding laugh!
bee-eaters, at least 14 in the group flyingtoday though we didn't see them all at once, blocked by trees.
common swifts, quite a few high up, heard screaming from the sky
hobbies: calls from orchard area.
Hooded crows: small flock foraging on the ground just outside of the young pines north west end of gazelle field, some jackdaws there also.
Eurasian Jays: active, busy foraging throughout woods and fields.
Greenfinches: 'chaw' calls from pines. Graceful warblers: calls
Blackbirds: heard some song, Collared doves: active and some cooing
Stone curlews: some calls north end gazelle field, Syrian woodpeckers: calls , seen
Sunbirds:

Around the house: House sparrows, laughing dove coos,

Gazelles: no show, hyrax: did not pass a colony, feral dogs not heard.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Threatening rain and more bee-eaters

This pic of shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) was taken a couple of weeks back. Now the seedpods are turning yellow and brown and we've already seen ants carting them away. These seeds are used by women to limit bleeding after childbirth. I have drunk plenty S.P. tea after my babies were born:)

Gundelia..prickly relative of the sunflowers. This one was taken on the northern slopes north of the mystery field and hidden orchard grove but today we saw one down in the eastern end of gazelle field.

Neglected to mention yesterday pair of falcons flying over north valley from A Ram to our neighbourhood, probably common kestrels. Also rock hyrax noticed around the quarry.
Husband also noticed a single wagtail, apparently white but he thought it looked a touch smaller than the na'halieli we've been seeing over the winter.

From the house, heard
Temps 9-16 degrees C today, at about 6 p.m., humidity 61%, winds WNW 7 kt
Threatening cumulus rolling in around sunset, possibly rain soon.

First birds we noticed flying together high over Hizmeh were a pair of hobbies.. hopefully this summer's main breeding pair.. they flew lazy circles around each other gradually gaining height, occasional flap to keep position but mostly gliding on air currents, not using a thermal I don't think, not really warm enough for that but using the winds to tack and glide around.

Heading down into the valley heard graceful warblers, blackbirds, some song, a flock of ~20 bee-eaters hawking over centre woods, part of gazelle fields and eucalyptus and pine groves. Jackdaws, Eurasian jays, swifts, collared doves active. Black eared wheatear calls from east end of gazelle fields and the hillslopes just beyond the fence. Falcon hunting over hill just south of Hizmeh, I think kestrel but didn't get good view. Stone curlews calling north gazelle field toward sunset.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The quarry

Amazing how much the quarry mimics their favourite desert canyon habitat, they'd feel right at home here! perhaps they'll attempt to breed. Taken today, April 7th, ~6.30 p.m. by A. Atwood.

Today we headed up north valley as far as a stone quarry that was abandoned about ten years ago, partly to explore and partly to check out gazelle activity as per Amir Balaban's recommendation. We didn't see any gazelle at all but did find a fresh mound of dung close to the quarry.. the kind of pile that's usually made by a territorial male. (and seems to me perhaps too far away from the male holding court at gazelle field and east field, but that can only be determined by spotting lone adult males and noting any subtle differences between them.

On the way we passed plenty acacia wattles and hawthorns in bloom as well as a lot of Ainsworthia,



The old quarry buildings were almost eerie and desolate, could have made a great movie set. The quarry area was inhabited by chukar partridges (to my amusement I saw a couple scamper into the buildings, at second storey level, there was a ramp of dirt or concrete outside on the roof of a lower level), a number of feral pigeons, house sparrows and graceful warblers. We were particularly rewarded by quite close views of two Tristram's grackle/starling flying around between rocks, rebars and a large roll of barbed wire, and whistling at each other. They seemed to be a pair (the female has a greyer head) They're nice sized birds, (24-27 cm long) like small crows, allowing approach of 15-20 feet. We enjoyed watching them for quite some minutes.

Along the way we also saw and heard swifts, Syrian woodpeckers, a small group of bee-eaters, some blackbirds. Husband believes he glimpsed a sparrowhawk

At the house we heard sunbirds, senegal doves, white spectacled bulbuls. Bauhinias are starting to bloom again, providing more nectar food for sunbirds.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Cuckoos, 'May' and 'blood'

'May blossom' in April, blossom of the hawthorn, Crataegus in gazelle field. A.Atwood.

'Maccabees' blood' Helichrysum sanguineum, also known as strawflower or Red everlasting.

Bird of the day today was also a cuckoo, but not the same cuckoo we saw yesterday. I wanted to get some photos of the Hawthorn in blossom, (Crataegus- as a side-note, in the British Isles, hawthorn blossom is called 'may' because that's when it usually blooms. In Israel however, at least 20 degrees of latitude south, it's normal for hawthorns to bloom in April)

The hawthorn I had in mind was right next to the largest almond tree and I was in no hurry to approach because there was a very nice great spotted cuckoo Clamator glandarius in plain sight on one of its lower branches. This individual looked like an immature bird, not in full breeding glory but had a rather dusty greyish cast- It was facing us for most of the time till it decided to take off and fly into to the eastern end of the north valley pines where it soon started to call harshly and excitedly. In retrospect I think I was hearing that call yesterday a few times too. Another individual crossed gazelle field,heading into the east valley trees where it started more noise over near look-out corner. Clearly AT LEAST two individuals in the area and did make me wonder if that European cuckoo we saw yesterday might actually have been chased by one of these birds.. they may not tolerate each other's presence. As I said then, I did not get a good view of the pursuing bird.

See last years' spring entries for a photo and the saga of 'Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle'.. a very nice example of successful brood parasitism of hoodies by these handsome cuckoos. This is another summer visitor, migratory and wintering in Africa.

After photographing the May blossom, I mean, April blossom :) of Crataegus as well as a few gorgeous white scabious like flowers nearby, we headed off to east valley. We photographed some very nice Ainsworthia (trachycarpa?) by the stream bed there, a handsome white umbellifer, members of the carrot family.

We heard bee-eaters and saw a few hawking for flying insects over the eucalyptus grove and the orchard, and heard some stone curlews from the north end of gazelle field as well as a few notes of a black- eared wheatear somewhere to the north.

Hooded crows, the chosen 'prey' of the great spotted cuckoos, were busy everywhere, as were Eurasian jays and collared doves. Blackbirds, graceful warblers and greenfinches were also active. Some swifts hunted and screamed way up over head. No hobbies noted today though husband did see a pair of kestrels by the pumping station earlier in the day, one in pursuit of the other.

We decided to continue along the path south after the bridge near the pumping station, to see if we could find the chukar partridges we could plainly hear. They sounded so close, just down in the stream bed, but they kept to cover and camouflage very well and seemed to be almost chuckling at us as they maintained a fifty yard lead. They headed up the south east facing slope and we followed, watching out for snakes, till we found ourselves clearly amongst the rocks of a huge hyrax colony. Several times rock hyraxes called a warning 'psssst!' like a shrill high whistle, under the boulders and out of view. We'd heard the shrill alarm barks at our approach and now they were keeping 'indoors' and safe, just 'hissing' at us. At a few places on that slope away from the colony, I found the strange Helichrysum sanguinum, known as strawflower, red everlasting or Maccabees' blood, a plant I haven't seen anywhere else in Mir forest so far but this slope.

Finally we hit a trail that led to the other end of our street and decided to call it a day since the light was fading. We noted increasing numbers of black millipedes swarming everywhere including over some blooming comfrey like flowers.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cuckoo!

European cuckoo: Monte M. Taylor

Two birds were rivals for the unofficial award of 'bird of the day'.

First.. I was delighted to see the first hobby of the season. These falcons are migratory, breeding here and wintering in Africa.

I had wondered if the excited sounds I'd heard on thursday might indicate they're back and today, as we walked along the trail path a falcon flew over us, and headed off toward gazelle field. We heard quite a few excited calls, over the east end of north valley and again near the central trail crossroads later.

As we emerged by look-out corner a rather dramatic chase approached us, low over gazelle field. The bird ahead twisted and turned almost acrobatically , then gained height, flying over my head and just clearing the top of the eucalyptus behind me. At that point I had it in my glasses view and, though the general shape was somewhat similar to a falcon it was clearly something different.. the bill was pointed ahead and not curved down.. and first thing that came to mind quite strongly was cuckoo!

I did not get a good view of the second bird, and though husband thought they were both the same species it all happened so fast he could not be certain. Was it one cuckoo after another for territorial or mating reasons, or a falcon chasing a cuckoo? A hobby's back would look a lot darker but he didn't see the back well, and I was busy following the first bird w the binocs.

As we were discussing this and wondering if it was the great spotteds back we heard a loud and clear 'UH-OO!' from somewhere back over the dry streambed, probably less than 100 yards or less in that direction. He called several times and we were struck by how loud and clear the call was. We looked at each other and laughed. It was classic! Clearly European cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, and the first we've seen and heard in our patch. Wonderful! Shortly afterwards I detected a quick movement over the central path..and a minute or so later the cuckoo was calling over on that side in the new pines.

As well as these two marvelous birds we also heard stone curlew, bee-eaters, greenfinches, chukar partridges (latter up on the slope east and south of the bridge), collared doves, blackbirds, graceful warblers.

By the houses, sunbird, white spectacled bulbuls, house sparrows, jackdaws.

Eurasian jays, hooded crows about as usual.

A buck gazelle sighted up on the skyline of the hills to the north, probably one of the bachelor herd, though I didn't see the others around him. After reporting a few details of the local gazelle population to naturalist and JBO administrator, Amir Balaban, he told me that a breeding buck gazelle will not leave its territory.

The one we've seen around the end of gazelle field probably holds territory there as well as in east field, though we should look out for any subtle differences in horns and colouring to work out if more than one gazelle is holding a territory at the moment and how large the territory/territories are. We've seen a buck coming all the way up to the top of valley road and it's important to try to figure out if its the same individual.

We spotted a shaggy big blonde (well matured) hyrax doing sentry duty on a boulder just to the east side of valley road.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Contentment in Solitude

A burnet moth on a milk thistle bloom. Though this pic was taken last year, there are a lot of burnets active and mating now and the milk thistles are blooming- mostly purple but almost every stand has at least one perfectly white bloom.


Today my husband was with my youngest son on a school gaming tournament trip, playing the regionals so I was alone for our walk, which is fine by me once in a while. I enjoy the quiet solitude, doing things my own way. I love to just take a seat on the dry stone wall under the pines, near look-out corner and simply wait and listen for things to happen. I also like to linger past sunset and walk through the forest in the near dark, watching for owls and bats and simply absorbing the essence of the air. Husband loves to forge ahead.. which is one way we make discoveries, but sometimes the discoveries come to you.. there's not always a rush to meet them.
The sky was totally clear and the air cool/mild and pleasant, about 18 degrees C and falling, humidity was about 30% but rising rapidly. Winds westerly, about 12 kt.

I noticed the hawthorn Crataegus trees were now in white bloom across the fields.. we must get pictures of those soon. Almonds in full leaf, the acacias almost glowing bright yellow with pompoms. There was a gecko in the bunker ruins, I heard his 'tek tek' call.

Some hooded crows came over to the cistern for a drink and bee-eaters hawked for flying insects over the eucalyptus grove immediately east of me. I heard plenty coos and flight calls of collared doves, calls of Eurasian jays in the pines, the song of a blackbird. I scanned the fields and hillslopes repeatedly for gazelle but none seemed to be about. Stone curlew called from the distance and greenfinches twittered not far off in the pines. A Syrian woodpecker called behind me somewhere. At about sunset a black eared wheatear sang a few melodious notes beyond the cistern. An excited chatter in the Eucalyptus trees alerted me ... sounded like an upset sparrowhawk. The hobbies are due back from Africa soon, and I can't help wondering how that will affect the sparrowhawk's activities. Last summer he seemed to keep a very low profile while the hobbies ruled the area.. perhaps he'd moved off temporarily. Their calls are very similar, though the hobby's sounds a little higher and sharper. While looking for the sparrowhawk I also checked the east field and the stand of (about 25) olive trees over there for gazelle but no sign.

Even though I didn't see much I heard plenty and sensed a great deal.. enough to utterly fill me with contentment at the beauty and peace of the area, and I took my time returning home under the pines and the first stars.

At the house I'd heard a sunbird in the garden much of the day, calling in the Bauhinia, and house sparrows and laughing doves were vocal. Jackdaws also heard.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The hidden olive glade

wild gladeolus. A. Atwood CC

Today husband wanted to hike north to check out a mysterious field we could see on the hillside just down from A Ram. We figured it would take us two hours to get out there, have a good look round and get back by dark so we took a bottle of water and headed off about 5 p.m.

The sky was totally clear, weather pleasant ~18 degrees C, winds light, shifting to and fro much of the afternoon, humidity also low, between 30-40% which helped visibility a lot.

We crossed north valley, headed straight up the opposite bank to the first crest and headed toward the little secret valley. There we found a very nice stand of more mature 'bear's breeches' (Acanthus) already putting out the white florets. We also surprised a patched white bitch feral dog, which evidently had a den somewhere in the gully. She burst out of cover, climbed the opposite bank, turned and barked back at us. Her mate, a dhole coloured dog watched us silently from higher up the slope. She was clearly nursing and we didn't want to disturb her pups so we circled around that part of the gully, crossed and made our way up the slope to to the summit. Immediately to the north west was the wall between us and A Ram. Ahead and slightly below was the field that was the object of our quest. We decided to circle to the north and east to get the highest vantage point, and to see what was beyond, between our position and Adam, and then descend to the field.

On our way we surprised the bachelor herd of gazelle and this time counted 8 individuals, three of them headed down and across the field, the rest stayed on highest ground, one group heading off north east. Only the most impressive individual stayed his ground and stared back at us. He was more magnificent than the male that has been seen around the females lately.. perhaps this one is too old to breed? A veritable grandfather of a gazelle, beautifully marked and horned. After regarding us for a while he headed off away.

Up there we finally had lark sightings, looked like crested lark Galerida cristata conveniently perched on top of a boulder at the summit, as well as numerous sightings and calls of black eared wheatears. We heard song of both wheatears and larks as well as a few bee-eaters.

Up at the top was a rough amphitheatre like bay of limestone, tiered white rock with much scrub, garigue type vegetation, all stepping down from the summit. We found and photographed a very nice Gundelia... a thistle like relative of the sunflower with a head a spiky ball of yellow florets, as well as a few arum types that I was quite surprised to find so out in the open.

To the north east we had an awesome view of the rumpled tawny desert hills between Jerusalem and Jericho, and our own valley system continuing down into it. Already by the fourth bend the rock walls were rising significantly each side. This was the beginning of the canyon of Wadi Qelt. Due to the relative clarity of the air we could see the dramatic backdrop of the Jordanian escarpment miles off to the east, unfortunately one of those vistas best visited personally as our photographs would not do the whole panorama justice.

Turning south it was time to head down towards the mysterious field and try to figure out what was grown there. We were none the wiser.. the crop was obvious, dense ranks of an unfamiliar dicotyledonous plant, leaves paired and opposite, leaves much longer than wide, and smooth edged. We took pics to send our botanical acquaintances. Growing in the midst of them we found a gorgeous wild gladeolus.

Just down from the field was a glade, totally hidden from view from gazelle north field because of the hill between. In this glade were upwards of 100 olive trees we had not known existed! It amazes me how much we had to discover just within an hours walk of our home.

From the lowest (eastern) end of the olive glade we merely had to walk round the eastern end of the hill cross country to get back to the north east corner of 'gazelle field' . Along this stretch we surprised several small game bird types.. consulting the guide book husband believes they were quail, Coturnix coturnix which is a possibility.. they are common passage migrants and would occasionally breed in such habitat. My first impression was snipe but they were darn fast and we didn't see the long bill. A pair in the glade itself between the mystery field and the olives, and another one ascending the hill. The olives were also the haunt of collared doves, and we saw a pair of sparrowhawks passing over low. We also heard and glimpsed stone curlews at the east end.