Thursday, May 29, 2008

New national bird, fire observations.

Ragweed/ragwort is in season now, growing like mad wherever it can. Senecio or similar (This is NOT the same plant called ragweed in the Americas, which is genus Ambrosia, though Senecio has been introduced in the east U.S and become a pest )

Today's range: 18-just over 29 degrees C. Temp at about 6.30 p.m. 25.3 degrees, humidity 45%, wind westerly 14.8 degrees. Wind had shifted easterly at about 7 a.m. and back to the west at about 1.30 p.m. which reminded me of the wind shift in the movie 'Massada' which blew the fire at the Roman tower. We see lately that such shifts to the east and back happen regularly here, particularly through part of the morning and early afternoon. (Massada is not far south of here by car, we should take a trip down there to find brown necked ravens and other goodies for this blog:)

As for fires here, no new fires broke out today as far we we know. I checked out the ground again at the west end of gazelle field. Several inches below the surface in an ash sump (seems a tree stump was there) the temps were still hot- this was now 48 hours after the fire went out on the surface. Checking out the pistaccio orchard there is some damage to lower leaves on some trees but most leaves and trees escaped harm. Husband noticed a couple of pines with branches bent almost down to the ground and much of those burned. Seems to me heat generated in the ground could ignite the inflammable resins in the cones and other parts of the tree. Tomorrow we need to check the heat of the ground there.
What could actually cause ignition? The heat alone or theoretically sun focussed through beads of resin exuded from the trees would act as a magnifying glass. Just an idea. That would work for the pines but the pistaccios?

(Husband and son went to the cotel/wailing wall in the morning where they saw lots of swifts. No Tristram's grackles today. (In the past I've seen kestrels and up to 4 Tristram's around the Al Aqsa mosque. They also saw some kind of Buteo near my sons' school, at about the highest point of the neighbourhood and not far from where we saw the long legged buzzards the other day. They also saw quite a few agama lizards today, not surprising noting the temperatures)

As for birds, swifts heard about sunset. Hoopoe seen briefly near the ruins at centre of east valley. (The Hoopoe has just been voted the national bird. I'd have preferred something more local and endemic such as the sunbird, Tristram's grackle or our yellow vented white spectacled bulbul but this is one of the few places in its range where it's resident all year so there's some basis. ) A brief raptor call there again but no views so hard to know what it was, if sparrowhawk or something else.

A pair of stone curlew at the east end of the orchard/west end of east field again, good sightings. I'm sure their chicks must have been nearby but no luck spotting them. Lots of long grass for them to hide in on the field side. Usual greenfinches, Syrian woodpeckers, collared doves, turtle doves around the cistern area. Eurasian jays visiting for a drink and generally foraging, and plenty hooded crows about the forest as usual. Blackbirds, brief great tit call in the orchard area. Bee-eaters quite high overhead grabbing flying insects. Ring necked parakeet heard in the trees along the lower path. We didn't find that Alcea like plant again, perhaps the gazelle had eaten it which was a bit frustrating because I was rethinking my ID on that. There's a local cucumber relative with similar leaves and I wanted to see it develop, not that I'd begrudge the gazelle such tasty leaves!

Pine branch burned where the branch touches the ground. Look at that, hadn't noticed the bottle before! That could have focussed the rays of the sun. We also need to check for ground heat in that bare patch.

checking next day: husband does not believe line-up could have caused ignition from that bottle. Ground not right kind for heat build up there. Burnt sap on surrounding rocks. Must have been some other means of ignition of pine sap. Sunlight through bead of sap?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thyme and spontaneous fires.

A cushion of this was in glorious purple bloom by the west end of central trail. I IDd it as Coridothymus capitatus, a kind of thyme. It's not the same species as the common spiny aromatic scrub but same family I think. It will be interesting to compare the flowers when the latter blooms. Pic zoomed ~ 2x nat size.

Today's range: 16.2-25.1 degrees C. At about 6.30 p.m. it was down to 22.5 degrees.
Humidity 44%, wind NW 6.1 kt, skies clear.

Observations today gave much support to husband's theory about the spontaneous nature of the fires. No new fires broke out today but we went to check out yesterday's fires. The ground cover of the Pistaccio orchard had burned patchily- at least three different patches, each roughly under a set of trees with unburned area between.

You have to look carefully to discern shadows from burnt patches

Fallen leaves and other debris under the trees would build up, decompose and in the constant light of the sun heat further till the dried thorns and grasses above ignited. Ground around the Pistaccios within the eucalyptus grove was unburned. This was usually in the shadow of the first and tallest line of eucalyptus and would receive little sun. A few yards farther north patchy fires had broken out under some of the eucalyptus.

The south west part of gazelle field burned yesterday. Feeling the ground it was still quite warm on the surface, 24 hours after the fire had gone out. Digging a few inches down the ground was quite hot! Could a fire ignited deliberately at the surface have such an effect? Much of the soil in this section is quite rich and alluvial and there's something like a peat build up effect, deeper layers generating and holding heat and the sun beating down on it all day. This makes it all the more amazing that plants can regenerate from this, they're clearly adapted to the temperatures.

Why no fires last year? (the fire recovery pic. was at an old Lag BeOmer bonfire site) That's an easy one. The heavy rains of May 12th dampened the earth and prevented them but that meant TWO years of build up of organic debris and the result being a much greater incidence of fires this year compared with earlier years. It all makes sense now. Then as this year we'd assumed they were caused by man but thinking about that build up it would certainly account for the abrupt increase over earlier fires- we are looking at it all in a whole different way!

Birds today: Garden, much calling of house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls and sunbirds. More distant small calls of something psittacine, the ring necked parakeets probably. Jackdaws. Laughing doves and Feral pigeons around as usual, former, ground and lines, latter, building tops and sky. The Feral pigeons leave street foraging to the doves most of the time, they must wait till it's quieter to forage, they seem a little more timid or perhaps smarter!

Near look-out corner, much cooing of collared doves and turtle doves, A number of bee-eaters over the orchard and eucalyptus grove, hard to tell how many, a dozen to 20 plus, all would return to perch in trees intermittently (probably to remove the stings from their catch and eat them, so they'd be out of sight and we wouldn't see the whole group at once) Greenfinches singing as usual toward sunset. Chaffinch like song heard both in the eucalyptus grove and at look-out corner though I'm actually wondering if it's a creative greenfinch variation as there seem to be greenfinch like sounds in the song too.

Syrian woodpeckers calling and drumming (drumming heard yesterday too, forgot to mention), Blackbird high pitched 'tzeeet' alarm calls and some song. Graceful warblers vocal. Plenty Eurasian jays and hooded crows about, foraging. Masked shrike heard in pine grove, then Pistaccio orchard, possibly the same individual. Stone curlew heard in the outlying fields. We didn't manage to find any gazelle today though I scanned the hillside to the north a few times as well as north gazelle field and east field. Grazing on the hillside not damaged.

More recovery after 3-4 weeks old fire in the north valley. Not sure what this plant is yet. One of many.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Some pleasing observations

Developing grapes on a vine (gefen) and flowering myrtle (hadassim) in a local garden. We photograph them since they are both native species.

6.12 p.m. 22.3 degrees C.(Today's range 12.5- 24),humidity 40%, wind NNW just over 6 kt

Rock hyraxes in the colony just below buildings north facing slope north valley. Two adults fighting, one repeatedly bit flank of another near front leg. Ouch! The latter ran away, got the point. Probably had strayed into territory of another 'household'. Two mothers with kits nursing on large flattish boulders a few metres apart. They like nursing in the open, usually four or five darker furred kits arranged all around and latching on. When one mother moved off to the side all her babies followed her, eager for another drink.

Adult buck gazelle noticed on the opposite slope of north valley. I don't think the same buck as the one that keeps territory in north gazelle field, this one seems a little smaller and though horns well grown, not quite as long. He was moving in and out of a charred area under the pines, looking for grazing

Tristram's grackle whistle heard in north valley as well as chukar partridge, plenty collared doves cooing and flight calling, turtle doves, Syrian woodpecker. Hobby flying up the valley to NW. Most exciting sighting was a long legged buzzard Buteo rufinus rising from a bluff to the north. A second buzzard rose from the same location, then 5 hooded crows got up to harass them but were they just perching or were they attempting to breed there? The bluff was below the Wall and they'd get slight disturbance from military patrols but no-one else up there. They do breed in such locations and in this part of the country. Female masked shrike noticed in an acacia not far from the dry watercourse. Not far off a bird singing beautifully- a few repeated similar notes terminating with a strident trill. The glimpses we had of it looked like they might be a masked shrike but I'm unfamiliar with its song though we know the call. Need to confirm.

As we returned to look-out corner area at about sunset a group of bee-eaters was swooping busily right above the eucalyptuses and the greenfinches were singing enthusiastically. A falcon flew overhead northward. Eurasian jays foraging on the pathway and a small flock of hoodies already foraging on the -still smoking- freshly charred ground.

Husband has theory and, thinking about it, I'm inclined to agree that most of the fires aren't maliciously set at all. Just too random and sporadic for a pyromaniac. Some may have been caused by carelessly tossed cigarettes (though we haven't found any yet) but today there were several fires in widely dispersed locations and no sign at all of those teenagers. It is possible for brush fires to begin spontaneously and it's a known phenomenon though the mechanism isn't always clear. A piece of glass can act as a magnifying glass though we haven't noticed any (we clear away much litter we find) but there are other possibilities such as heat generated by decomposing wood (known cause of such fires), perhaps also friction in dried grasses in the wind and, though there are no electrical storms right now (last rain was last friday for just about half an hour in the morning) there may be micro electrical discharges due to charge build-up, dust etc. At any rate it's interesting most of the fires start in the late afternoon when heat has had time to build up through the day from direct sunlight and other effects. They also occur pretty much every year about this time of year.

Today new fires sprang up in the east valley and also under the new pine grove at east end of north valley. (all areas of accumulated organic debris) . A tongue was spreading through the grass 'upstream' and the flames were too high for the local boys to stamp out. (Odd flames were flickering in small patches way after dark, probably from pine cones.) Later at about sunset another sprang up way up the slope to the north west. That's when husband began to suspect they were natural.. we'd just been in that direction and no-one around up there!

In an older charred patch (3 or 4 weeks ) in north valley the widespread aromatic scrub was beginning to recover (below), new green springing up from the bases in many places, and another unfamiliar plant with longish simple shape leaves also shooting up again. Lots of mole rat activity as usual!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Life goes on despite the pyromaniacs.

Alcea (a kind of mallow) returns after the fire of the 6th. (by the east valley watercourse)
Pic taken 25th May. Fallen pine needles and eucalyptus leaves round about.

6.37 p.m. temp: 19.8 degrees C (range today- 13-22), humidity 61% WNW 9.6 kt.

Again today we stamped out another fire which the malicious vandals had started on the north facing slope of north valley. Some local boys including one of our sons made short work of the spread and we'd stopped it before the fire service arrived. The culprits had been sighted, a group of teenagers with a car, and we gave the details to the firemen, who, it turns out are already somewhat aware of the offenders. Hopefully they are close to getting caught now. All the local services will be on the alert for them.

We wanted to make sure the flames did not reach the grazing grounds at the foot of the hill. All that was left on the ground were pine-cones, each burning quite fiercely like little torches from the resins within, but the fire caused little damage to the trees themselves.

We checked over the ground in the central gazelle field which was burnt on May 22nd.
Mole rats have been busy burrowing underneath. Nothing growing up yet but some golden thistle plants, mostly sered, still had green buds here and there on the plants after four days. Question is, will these die or is the plant only superficially damaged? We'll soon find out. Golden thistle on the northern edge of the fire was undamaged. The far acacia was clearly hurt but not charred and may recover.

Meanwhile there's plenty recovery evident on older burnt patches and, assuming the gazelles are smart, they'll come back for this second growth, though I don't know how much they'd like the ragweed- probably not, cattle don't eat it. Still, grass and other shoots popping up. I'm sure the fire really does have a revitalizing effect in the long run. That's my main comfort.

Stone curlews heard as well as collared doves, some turtle doves, greenfinches, graceful warblers, Syrian woodpeckers and bee-eaters. Several hoopoes about gazelle field in flight between sections, hooded crows about including a flock of at least 20 on the lower slopes of the hill to the north. Jackdaws also foraging over there. No gazelle seen today. White (Pierid) butterflies and Satyrids still about. Sunbirds and white spectacled bulbuls in the garden.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Pleasant breezes

(Honey) Moon rising over Hizmeh (last week. )

Today's range 13-24 degrees C. When we headed out not long before 6.30 p.m. the skies were clear, temps about 21 degrees C, humidity about 45%, wind 10-12 knots westerly (veering south westerly on and off through the day)

Gazelle spotted running by central trail, husband judged one of last year's young by size.

Collared doves, some vocal. Turtle dove heard cooing along east watercourse path. Hooded crows active foraging and vocal in many places. Jays active and busy foraging. Stone curlews active and vocal. As we emerged from the eucalyptus grove to check out the east field two wheeled around us calling, perhaps alarmed, and headed off toward gazelle field. We wondered if we might be near their nest so we kept a careful watch out on the ground so that we wouldn't step on anything. A falcon, quite light coloured, spotted gliding low over east field very briefly. Hoopoe seen flying into the pistaccio trees. Great tit calls from the pines of east valley, both parents and young. House sparrows are back foraging in gazelle field again as they did about this time last year, probably for grass seeds, though not in great numbers. Greenfinches in song and seen but did not find the chaffinch today. Large family of graceful warblers in the sapling field, using a stand of old milk thistle for cover. Blackbirds active, both high pitched and chakking alarm calls heard (probably taking care of fledgelings) and some song both at 6.30 p.m. where central trail leaves valley road, and later at about sunset near the pumping station. White spectacled bulbuls calling from trees along the bank between valley road and the buildings.

Capers, Echium and some Centauria still in bloom. More Eremostachys noticed on the bank by valley road. The common oregano scented spiny scrub was smelling beautifully aromatic today. Still bearing old berries, the purple flowers not out yet.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tree Tobacco, the 'mystery tree'

If anyone can I.D. this tree (found by central east valley ruins) I'd really appreciate it. Links and scientific name or at least genus name would be even more useful. Thanks and good luck!

An internet contact by the name of Verbonica contacted me today with the desired information- Tree Tobacco, Nicotiana glauca.

Weekend round up:
As usual on fridays we're too busy to get out but we did hear the usual garden birds (house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, sunbirds, laughing doves and hooded crows from farther off, as well as a call of a passing ring necked parakeet.

On Saturday (Shabbat) We headed down to the valley toward the end of the afternoon.
Today's temp range: ~14.5-24.5 degrees C, just below 20 degrees on our walk and falling. Humidity just over 50%, winds W to NW, about 10 kt.

At least two gazelle grazing in north west of gazelle field, possibly more over there obscured by the trees. Rock hyrax quite active and many alarm barks heard.

Plenty greenfinches twittering in the pines by the bunker rubble. Yet again (at least third day) I heard a chaffinch like song from somewhere in the eucalyptus grove. After we returned home I played a recording to husband (who is unfamiliar with the song) and he agreed it did sound like the bird we heard. He theorized that it may be a one-off thing, that the bird was injured or otherwise unable to return north and stayed behind. Then, when spring came its natural instinct to sing kicked in. He may be correct, or it and perhaps others may have stayed willingly (and perhaps even attempted to breed) . No way to tell at present unless we can locate others.

Hoopoe seen foraging over near the western edge of the charred ground on gazelle field, (but within the damaged ground, it would be interesting to know if that hoopoe was succeeding. Their bills are very sensitive and it probably had reason to probe there)

Turtle doves, collared doves, syrian woodpeckers, bee-eaters, stone curlews, graceful warblers all heard and some glimpsed. Eurasian jays about as usual, as were feral pigeons.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The land's answer to vandals

Fresh milk thistle foliage rises from the ashes of the fire of May 6th (yesterday by east watercourse)

I noticed another plant springing up there freshly today- looked like Alcea (a mallow) but not 100% sure

Temp range: 19-26.7 degrees C. Temp at about 6.20 p.m. : just under 23 degrees C , 48% humidity, winds westerly 11-15 kt. Sky clear.

Garden: white spectacled bulbuls, house sparrows, sunbirds, laughing doves.

Today: A dismaying sight. This will be called the fire of May 22nd and we'll also be documenting the land's recovery, we hope. A new fire (nothing to do with Lag BeOmer which was this evening, after the damage) had destroyed ground cover from the small fire we put out a couple of days ago, north of central trail to owl glade and back around all the way to gazelle field. The centre of gazelle field (that part partially enclosed by the old stone walls) and the north east grazing ground were all charred. The forepart of the field and the north grazing grounds were still thankfully untouched. The fire service had come and done what they could to limit the spread but the fresh westerlies had carried the flames quickly. We saw the alpha male gazelle in his once favourite patch in the north east, picking his way over the ashes, apparently nuzzling the ground as if there was still some grazing left. What a sad sight. There is still plenty grazing for him but this was a blow to his territory. We reckon well over 10,000 square metres of ground cover lost, hard to tell, perhaps much more. The pines and almonds were fine, too moist to burn apart from the far acacia in gazelle field- might have sustained a little damage. The hawthorns and pomegranates also seemed fine. I posted a bulletin about it in our neighbourhood e mail list. A number of scattered hooded crows and a small group of jackdaws were busy foraging over the burnt ground, possibly picking out some roast mole crickets or other barbecued goodies.

Bee-eaters over the pistaccio orchard, eucalyptus grove and gazelle field, at least twenty. Stone curlew
active and vocal, heard and seen wheeling between east field and north gazelle field. Greenfinches swung into chorus at about five to seven, much twittering and chawing but another little song was really intriguing me from somewhere in the eucalyptus grove. It sounded like a chaffinch! Chaffinches are normally winterers here, The Lebanon and Israel are just south of their breeding range but the last couple of days I've been hearing this song, one I've heard many times in the past, and becoming more sure it's a chaffinch, though we didn't manage to get a sighting. We'll be on the look-out!

Syrian woodpeckers were also vocal and active, a hoopoe was seen flying south quite low over gazelle field. Collared dove and turtle dove active and cooing. Feral pigeon flock on the wing over east valley.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fawn's debut

Mole rat (Spalax) Uriah Yaniv. Unlike moles these are rodents but are blind and burrow like moles though far more vegetarian in their habits. Their heaps are not as neat as those of moles and are wider and flatter.

Nice rise in temps today: range ~19.5-31 degrees C. When we headed out at about 6.20 p.m. temps were down to ~24 degrees, humidity ~55%, winds westerly 4-10 kt.

We headed down a rough trail and cross country into north valley and noticed on the way a good deal of ragweed growing, the leaves already quite lush and rank smelling and some starting to bloom- which would explain a sharp rise in allergic reactions amongst susceptible people we know. Yellow Jerusalem sage was still blooming a little. We watched a very nice masked shrike (Lanius nubicus) in an acacia near the watercourse, heard a great spotted cuckoo call from somewhere in the pines and cypress across the valley, no doubt in contact with its companion, busy trying to con more crows.

As soon as we had any view of gazelle field I raised my glasses to look and was delighted to see an adult female already in my sights! Convenient, and sweet, when it works that way after many times scanning hillside with weary eyes and not finding any. Following her a few paces behind was a much smaller one and the first young of the season. It was hard to know the age for certain, could already be a few months, no new born but this year's baby! This explains the general scattering and lack of sightings of the old larger groups- females with young were probably living quite furtive lives. A medium sized gazelle joined them shortly after, a "teenage" child of the same mother or a random youngster of the larger herd? Hard to know for sure but they grazed peaceably together. We didn't notice the youngster nursing but it no doubt still does as we've seen larger ones nurse last year.

A few swifts and bee-eaters hunted for bugs over gazelle field, collared doves, jays, Syrian woodpeckers, hooded crows, turtle doves, graceful warbler, blackbirds all heard/seen and active.
Great tit fledgeling calls heard from somewhere in the pines of the north end of east valley.

I wanted to check the recovery of the land after the fire on the 6th. In a limited couple of places quite a bit of grass was starting to grow back, fresh leaves of milk thistle were starting to surge from the ground and in one charred patch at the south end of the damaged ground were many fresh mole-rat excavations. This latter we'd also seen in a charred stretch in north valley. The rest of the ground showed nothing yet but black earth and dead leaves.

At the ruins in the centre of east valley a yellow ornamental tree was in glorious bloom- clusters of long trumpet shaped yellow flowers and broad greyish spearhead shaped leaves. Some very nice desert spike Eremostachys grew alongside. A raptor was calling in the trees somewhere nearby but did not show itself though we suspected it was a sparrowhawk from the call. A turtle dove cooed on a line nearby, pumping its neck enthusiastically.

Around the buildings: white spectacled bulbul started up before dawn as usual, feral pigeons, house sparrows, jackdaws also heard from farther off. Sunbirds no doubt active but I didn't make observations of them today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Happy Fledging day!

Ground cover damage by the east valley water course, caused by the fire on May 6th. Casualties include one clutch of at least a dozen chukar partridge eggs. Most plant roots would not have been damaged and we're going to be watching the green sprout up again in its time. The trees did not burn.

Right after we found that nest the little ones were already ready to leave! This morning at about 8 a.m, just after seeing off the boys to school, husband noticed a crowd of kids around the seat just outside our entrance. They were looking at a little fledgeling, which my husband could immediately tell was a sunbird from its slender curved bill. It was fully feathered and pale grey in colour, and opened its bill repeatedly to squeak. Husband put it on a safe high place near the nest and went to get his camera but within thirty seconds the tiny youngster flew across and into the hedge of cape honeysuckle and other plants where he was no doubt reunited with its parents. Later in the day there was plenty activity in the hedge, parents and hard to tell how many young flittering around. A successful sunbird family so far, yay!

Range 15-26 degrees C, about 18.6 degrees when we headed out at around 5.50 p.m. (earlier than usual, husband had errand at 7 p.m. ) Humidity was down to 29%, wind almost still (NNW but barely noticeable)

Turtle doves cooing in various places and a pair by the cistern. A pair of collared doves landed there, a male landing shortly after a flight call. He was clearly interested in the female and went into a puffed neck bowing routine typical of his family but she was plainly not interested. He quickly got the hint and flew off to forage farther north in gazelle field while she remained by the cistern.

Greenfinches weren't twittering yet, we were early for their chorus, but one was calling repeatedly in alarm from a cypress. There was a Eurasian jay in there and perhaps the parents were anxious for their young. It's really quite impressive if you think about it, how the greenfinches are able to rear young every season in trees inhabited by jays which would just love to eat the eggs and perhaps young. They must have really perfected nest camouflage, diversionary tactics and other tricks. No doubt they lose a percentage but enough survive.

Blackbird heard singing in the heart of the pines, swifts heard, bee-eaters seen and heard over gazelle field to the north. Unsuccessful spotting gazelle today and we didn't stay late enough to hear stone curlew. Jackdaws, hooded crows, house sparrows and feral pigeons about, including a house sparrow foraging at the bunker ruins where Agama lizard basked in the sun. Geckoes seen and heard later, former running across valley road after 10 p.m. (we've noticed this a few times lately, tiny ones) and heard from a building. Syrian woodpeckers active and female seen, perched on a large pine cone, preening. White spectacled bulbul also preening near the bridge in east valley.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The sunbird nest and other sightings.

View from the north east, you can see the nest hanging down just below the white flowers.

Nest of orange tufted sunbird, Nectarinia osea, a suspended dome woven of many fine materials. The entrance (invisible from this angle) faces the fence to the south.

Today we headed out quite a bit later, it was 6.43 p.m. though still plenty light left. Today, temperature range 14-26 degrees C. , about 22.5 degrees C when we set out. 57% humidity, winds westerly, just over 11 knots. (late morning, early afternoon again turned easterly and dropped, as did humidity)

Heading down one of our shortcuts from the buildings to valley road we heard a parakeet call, then watched a very nice ring necked parakeet in flight over east valley, heading into the largest pines and eucalyptus.

I could not ignore the flames and smoke up the road to the north. We called services then helped some local boys put out another fire by valley road, (on the east side this time and endangering the ground cover of a large stretch). By the time the firemen came we'd already won!

Very little ground cover was lost. Another stretch of bank was lost we noticed, about equal to the earlier patch. Growing season is apparently NOT over and it seems the fires may stimulate the growth of some plants. Much green is sprouting on burnt patches over two or three weeks old and new plants in their season growing up in other places too. Each in its own season.

Then we headed down to the cistern, which still holds some toads and innumerable water boatmen. Collared doves, turtle doves, house sparrows, hooded crows, Eurasian jays have all been noticed visiting it lately. They can't sip from the edges, they fly down and stand on any of the partially submerged car tires inside. Boys no doubt rolled them in for fun but it works out well because they help the birds! Collared doves, laughing doves and turtle doves all cooing today and there's probably also a turtle dove nest in the large pine by the cistern. Greenfinch and blackbird song heard. At least a dozen bee-eaters hunting for bugs over the field and a few swifts. It's a simple pleasure just to follow the bee-eaters in my sights, watch them swoop and turn expertly. Stone curlews heard. Thursday we saw one land over in the north of gazelle field, was in plain sight till I blinked.. when I looked again it had already scuttled to camouflage!

I did not record thursday or saturday's walks separately as they were not so remarkable, (friday we were too busy) and decided to mention any relevant sightings later. The only other I remember is quite a lot of Syrian woodpecker drumming heard from the east valley lower trail. Husband felt the bird was using a pole rather than a tree to make that noise but we didn't find him. Possible he was right, or an older, partly hollow tree would have had a similar timbre.

Two gazelle spotted way up on the northern skyline, grazing close to the fence. One buck, the other I couldn't tell.

Plenty hooded crows about, by their tree-top nests or foraging on the ground. Feral pigeons as usual, lots of house sparrows about the buildings, White spectacled bulbul early in the Bauhinia, sunbirds squeaking alarm on and off through the day. Hobbies again heard but not sighted. Syrian woodpeckers about. Shrike heard somewhere in the eucalyptus grove, probably another masked shrike.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back to the Quarry

A bloom of Eremostachys laciniata (Desert Spike) growing close to the quarry. There was a whole stand of them with many gorgeous flowers. This is the same yellow job that was growing by the pump station.

That was my original I.D. Now after review I believe it's one of the Verbascum genus, a kind of mullein.
probably V. fruticosum Desert mullein.

Today we set out a little earlier, before 5.30 p.m. in order to check out what was going on at the quarry at the upper end of north valley. We'd noticed a few trucks heading there lately.

Many high altitude clouds in the sky, winds north westerly, about 10 knots, had been westerly earlier. Temp: range today 12-21 degrees C, on our walk: 20-19. Humidity 65% and rising rapidly.

I noticed many gazelle tracks in the dust along the way, all heading east.. probably a small group and within the last few days. We also saw plenty feral dog tracks. Later we noticed two gazelle on the opposite hill slopes, one, I think, adult female grazing right near the top almost at A Ram, another young male about half way down. These were the first we've noticed since Thursday when we saw two bucks up at the top just east of A Ram.

Nice sighting of a little owl taking off and silently heading low across the valley north with something in its talons, just at the approach to the quarry area in an area of dirt and rock banks. The most exciting sightings at the quarry itself were a family of common kestrels AND apparently a family of Tristram's grackles. Clearly the kestrels had been using a small cave entrance way up above the north face of the quarry since they often landed or almost landed there. Two grackles were tentatively picking their way up the rock face, foraging apparently, while another two flew more widely about the area, whistling and then repeatedly returning to the two on the rock face. We can't be 100% sure but there's a fair chance that those on the rock face were their young.

As we watched them, a rock hyrax barked alarm repeatedly from the direction of the cave, though we couldn't see it. Other birds heard and seen in the area were chukar partridge (including a nice covey up on the slopes just north east of the quarry) , great tits, graceful warblers, and of course feral pigeons and house sparrows taking advantage of the nesting opportunities in the old quarry buildings. (The trucks had taken a scrap car and probably other scrap metal, and made the area passable to more trucks but otherwise done little. )

On the way there and back we also heard and saw a nice masked shrike in the acacias by the dry water course, call of a great spotted cuckoo somewhere in the trees on the north slopes, collared doves, turtle doves, greenfinches and Syrian woodpeckers in the pines on the south side, and singing blackbirds. Jackdaws and hooded crows were about and bee-eaters were heard, stone curlews later. An excited hobby was heard from the direction of look-out corner but not seen.

To my delight and astonishment my boys found (the location of )the sunbird nest in the cape honeysuckle. It was right in front of us all along! I'd been looking into the densest part of the honeysuckle assuming it was well hidden but it was not, it was dangling in plain view, a web covered pale dome, right over the stairs leading to our entrance! We'd watched the male and female squeaking about in the honeysuckle earlier but both had been smart enough not to return to the nest while we were there and we had not recognized the mass for what it was. The boys were given strict instructions not to try to reach it or touch it with anything because we wanted every success for the little family developing inside, and both are nature lovers enough to comply.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Latest C.O.N.E. project and local goodies

A handsome little jumping spider type.. Those of you who are not at all arachnophobic, click on the picture so that it (more than) fills the entire screen, and scroll to the spider to really appreciate him. This image file has enough definition for a very nice zoom.

Check out
for a really nice game/online birdwatching experience. Effectively it has been a tutorial for me for birds of south east Texas. You share guidance of the camera, take pictures of the birds and ID the species to get points. There's a simultaneous chat room to communicate with the other users.
Free, you just have to register and log in, which is simple.

I had participated in the C.O.N.E. project this time last year when it was based in Sutro forest in the San Francisco Bay area, and learned a great deal there.

C.O.N.E. = (Collaborative Observatories for Natural Environments)

So far we've seen plenty brown headed and bronzed cowbirds, great- tailed grackles, red- winged blackbirds, northern cardinals and green jays as well as ruby- throated, black- chinned and buff bellied hummingbirds as well as some surprises. White tailed deer, raccoons, feral swine and javelinas also visit the site. Fun to watch, you never know what will show.. and if transmission isn't working (as it isn't for me for many hours), I just try again later- I can always catch up with what's been seen in the gallery.

Meanwhile here the temps took a slight upward swing again: Range 16-28.5 degrees C.
When we went out some time after 6 p.m. it was just over 26 degrees, humidity just 24%, winds westerly 4.3 kt (winds had veered to the east several times earlier in the day)

Garden: White spectacled bulbul calling in the Bauhinia from just before dawn. House sparrows and feral pigeons as active as usual, the latter noticed up on roofs and solar boilers, busy preening.

In the valley: common swifts over many parts of east valley and gazelle field. Bee-eaters over north valley and the hill slopes, stopping to rest in a nice row on the line there- about 15 birds, perhaps more. Large Buteo seen soaring over the hill slopes and then southward over east valley. Syrian woodpecker calling shrilly in north wood pines, turtle doves cooing in several locations, collared doves also active and vocal as were graceful warblers. Great spotted cuckoo low churring call heard in the pines east end of north valley. Plenty hooded crows about.

Two gazelle noticed on the middle of the north ridge on the skyline up there and near the fence in that direction, both seemed to have well grown horns- probably the rest of the bachelor herd not far off but out of view.

Some boys came by with a dead snake, at least two feet long and an inch thick, and pretty uniformly grey (not sure which species but not one of the venomous ones) . They said it was actually a young one and they saw a larger parent with similar colouring. (I don't know how much I could rely on their report, a parent of a snake that size and colouring would likely be a black whip snake). I told them there had been no need to kill it at all, given that it wasn't particularly dangerous.

After some days of no fires we returned to find a section of the bank between valley road and our street merrily ablaze. After ascertaining that the fire was already pretty much spent and would not spread to south and north, we decided there was no reason for us to call the fire service that time, and save water. Limited damage, just superficial ground cover, no tree loss. Still a pity but not too bad. Plenty kids were spectating on the outer edges and I strongly suspect one of them was the mischief maker this time but no-one knew who.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The "famous" local owl

I was delighted that husband managed to get some shots of "Owl" mid/late morning on the back-road up by east valley. Seeing his face mask now he does look like the Little Owl, (Athene noctua), no doubt one of the local races, likely indignea or perhaps lilith. Husband reckoned it stood about 10" tall max, kept bobbing forward and stretching up alternately. This bird is called 'Koss' in Hebrew and well known to all who take this route. He also 'posed' briefly on top of a nearby lamppost. He seems somewhat used to people looking at him.

Weather seems to have changed its mind about the brief upward trend. Westerlies blew pretty much all day, range 16.5-24 degrees C, ~21 degrees when we headed out about 6.30 p.m. Humidity between 45-50%, wind blowing between 8 and 10 kt.

From the house the usual crew, house sparrows, sunbirds (husband saw male with female in the cape honeysuckle. Now we're on the watch out for a family group) , white spectacled bulbuls heard and jackdaw and hooded crow farther off. Laughing doves heard cooing.

In the valley turtle doves cooing nicely, collared doves quite active and cooing, greenfinches calling, singing, twittering, a group of bee-eaters over gazelle field toward sunset, always a delight to watch in flight. Graceful warblers very vocal and active, Syrian woodpecker calls, Common swifts on the wing over east valley. Over by the cistern a group of three Hooded crows, one seen feeding another which solicited for food. Pretty much same area that hoodies were nurturing the cuckoo last year.. same pair? Did they learn this time around not to fall for the cuckoos nefarious schemes, or just lucky this time? Quite a few other hoodies foraging on gazelle field for food, (probably large invertebrates such as mole crickets, grasshoppers/locusts) as well as Eurasian jays. Blackbirds also about.

Ripening fig in one of the dozen or so fig trees, east end of olive orchard to the north. This pic was taken late last week on our longer hike, most of the figs still green at the time.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Golden Thistle

Golden thistle. Scolymus hispanicus. Found in the open toward east end of north valley.

Temperatures are back on the rise. Today's range: 15-29 degrees C, between 25 and 26 when we left for our walk at about 6.15 p.m. Winds were westerly, approx. 6 kt (though from about 6.30 a.m to 1 p.m. easterlies prevailed) Humidity was just below 30%

Around the buildings: House sparrows very busy around the buildings as usual, no doubt dealing with family issues. White spectacled bulbuls vocal, sunbirds heard calling in alarm. Usual feral pigeon activity, hooded crows and jackdaws about.

Husband has been trying to photograph an owl which inhabits a rock face on a back road between east valley and the centre of the main neighbourhood. Scops I thought though many have been calling it a 'cos' (little owl), does not have the 'jizz' of little owls I've seen before. seems smaller, paler and irises much darker. Pale could just be a regional variation. At any rate it retreated to its little niche, like a tiny cave two thirds the way up the rocks and husband did not want to disturb its home. Hopefully we'll get pictures of it soon.

Ring neck parakeet/s very vocal in eucalyptus along east valley path. That yellow flowering plant by pumping station looks like it might be an Eremostachys of some kind though its buds tantalizingly part closed, it must have already flowered a little this season since some petals had fallen onto the scrub below. Perhaps a very brief flowering. Petals bright yellow with large black spot.

Syrian woodpeckers very vocal, stone curlew calling north end of gazelle field towards sunset, turtle doves cooing from various locations, collared doves active and very vocal, graceful warblers very vocal today also. Blackbird in song at sunset in north valley, bee-eaters, at least a dozen quite high over the hillside to the north. Great spotted cuckoo calls heard in north valley near the valley road turn south, greenfinches very vocal and active in the pines by the bunker and look-out corner. Eurasian jays busy and somewhat vocal. Hooded crow already starting to moult ! Missing both inner secondaries. Perhaps that one isn't breeding this year, or just done- does seem early. Two falcons flying high over east side of east valley. Common swifts about.

Husband has seen agama lizards lately, last couple of days. A son mentioned he saw a skink (a snake like lizard with tiny legs) when he was fighting the fire last week.

Four gazelle seen up on the northern skyline, pretty much together, two adult males and two without horns at all, which really makes me wonder about fluidity in cohesion of bachelor herd with the group of females and young these days. Could be the bachelor herd don't mind the females grazing in their area since they're not really defending it in the way an alpha male servicing the females, defends his territory. Likely the females moved a little to the north to avoid the kids collecting wood. There was some running about going on, could have been the alpha letting the others know not to take liberties.

Fruits of a kind of wild arum, also called 'cuckoo pint', a peculiar plant which attracts flies for pollination by smelling slightly of rotting flesh. Several were found out in the open in the hills to the north, this one growing up between two limestone boulders. Fruit NOT edible! May 8

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Feeding the chicks

Above: the peculiar white orchid like flowers of Ballotia

Forgot to mention, great spotted cuckoo call from east valley yesterday.

Sky pretty much clear. Temp range today: 12-23 degrees C. At about 6.15 p.m. when we headed out it was just under 20 degrees. Humidity 43%, winds WNW 6-8 kt. Winds easterly latter part of morning and early afternoon.

House sparrows active in the garden as usual and several pairs of laughing doves on the line over 'breadcrumb corner' on our street. Jackdaws and hooded crows heard from the house as well as white spectacled bulbuls and sunbirds in the cape honeysuckle hedge by our entrance.

Husband told me that common swifts were very active over the road and even the garden this morning about 7.30 a.m. about a dozen of them swooping down to catch flies quite low. There were also plenty about on our walk over east valley and gazelle field. We heard bee-eaters somewhere up in the north valley or hillside but they didn't interfere with the swifts.

Two falcons flying together, ascending over Hizmeh, fanning tails to help with flight. Couldn't tell if kestrels or hobbies from that distance.

Graceful warblers vocal and active, as were blackbirds. Brief call of Syrian woodpecker near eucalyptus grove. Turtle dove coos in eucalyptus by the orchard and in the pines over the bunker rubble where a number of greenfinches were singing very energetically, probably because more than one male is holding territory over a small area. Communal nesting behaviour here? Some great tit calls heard. Hoopoe noticed flying from look-out corner area to pine grove east of the cistern and that or another flying across north end of gazelle field where the almonds are, towards the north valley pines. As it crossed over, heard grating call like that of a shrike, probably was another masked shrike because, though the hoopoe was about that place at the time we heard the call, I have not found a record of hoopoes making such a call. Collared doves active and vocal, coos, flight calls and a pair foraging on the burnt part of east valley. Single ring necked parakeet call from east valley. Chukar calls? Not sure.

Along valley road Eurasian jay seen feeding a juvenile pretty much its own size and already fully feathered, soliciting noisily for food. Five jays in the same cypress tree, no doubt same family. Feeding bird had raised crest, fed bird raised part of the time also. Loud calls of a number of nestlings/fledgelings heard along east valley path area. Hyrax out, active and foraging at the pumphouse colony.

At about 7.05, pretty much the same time we heard bee-eaters over to the north west, we also heard shrill call of stone curlews and had yet another sighting of one in flight, wheeling around and landing by some boulders north end of gazelle field.. similar to yesterday's observation but did not land in the same place, not necessarily, but possibly, the same bird or nest site.

That interesting plant with the fuzzy large round leaves and bright yellow buds by the pumping station is still not flowering. Husband suspects its just waiting for the next hot spell and he's probably right. These things are often exquisitely timed, could be the kind of insects that pollinate it aren't out and about till the temperature is optimum for them. About this time last year we heard the cracks of pine cones opening. Today they were heard again though not as intensely as that hot day last year. It's likely they're 'timed' to crack open about this time every year but how fast it happens also depends on the temperature, and at the moment we're in a cooler spell.

We found this pretty blue job on top of the hill to the north last thursday. I haven't managed to ID it yet but I'm pretty sure it's one of the borages, (similar to purple gromwell, Lithospermum) The leaves are very hairy, well adapted for moisture retention. As husband was photographing it a swallow flew right over his head!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Underneath a Rock

Watch out under large rocks! This pic was taken back on April 24th. My boys turned over a large rock just out of curiosity and found this nice black scorpion hunkered down in its cavity under the rock. It made no attempt to attack, no doubt it was just waiting for us to 'turn out the lights' and go away. It was only about 3" long. Of course, we didn't touch it! With those large size pincers it probably did not have a very dangerous sting. Delicate pincered scorpions, such as one of the local yellows, tend to be more dangerous, since they depend on their venom more than their pincers to catch prey, whereas heavy pincered scorpions rely more on brute strength and don't need so much poison to subdue their prey. Still, even this probably has a very painful sting.. not something we'd want to put to the test!

We have not YET had a scorpion in the house, though it could happen any time since we have a french door opening to our little garden. We have neighbours who had scorpions climb into the washing machine and our neighbour had a very small one, under two inches, on her bed! (third storey of an apartment building) I caught it very carefully with a glass and card, then husband stomped on it. Its skin was so leathery it took three good stomps. Not true for all scorpions.. husband killed a yellow with one good stomp and it proved to be quite brittle. We will only kill them if they pose a possible immediate danger to others in the neighbourhood .. that yellow was on a public footpath in summer where many wear open toed shoes (I almost walked into it wearing sandals myself) . If we see them in the forest we leave them alone.

Mostly clear skies, some cumulus off way east. Another quite cool day: range:11-21 degrees C. When we headed out about an hour before sunset it was ~18 degrees C, humidity at ~55%, wind westerly and 6-8 kt.

Usual four active in the garden early morning: house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls vocal, sunbirds very vocal, laughing doves cooing. Jackdaws and hooded crows heard farther off.

Turtle doves visiting the cistern for water. Stone curlews very vocal towards sunset and nice view of one seen in flight, from somewhere by the east security fence, wheeled over gazelle field and finally came to rest on the ground at the northern end of field behind the almond trees.

Great tits heard vocal in east woods, probably feeding young. Collared doves, blackbirds also active and vocal. Some Buteo aloft over the north ridge. No gazelle or hyrax noticed today. Lots of Eurasian jay active, foraging. Turtle doves cooing, bee-eaters absent today

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Snapdragons and Mystery Crop ID

Above : Wild snapdragon Antirrhinum majus , by watercourse east edge gazelle field

The 'mystery crop' revealed: a purple variety of Jerusalem sage. (Phlomis )  both pics: A. Atwood CC
Temps today: 10.5-20.5 degrees C, still ~19.5 degrees when we headed out at 5.20 p.m. Humidity was just 36% , wind was westerly, ~12 kt. We left early

Today we headed north east along the dry watercourse, then skirting the first hill to the north round its east end near the fence, finally reaching the lower end of the hidden olive grove. There were about a dozen fig trees also not far from the fence, some of the fruits already turning purple. From there we climbed the next hill to its crest to get a really great view over the bipass road across to Adam, and beyond that, the desert hills and the Jordan rift valley just visible through the haze in the distance and 1100 m below.

Flower of the day was a small but glorious stand of snapdragon, Antirrhinum majus growing by the eastern watercourse in gazelle field. Usually wild flowers are smaller and daintier than the garden cultivars but these gorgeous purple pink blooms were considerably bigger, standing something over a foot tall.. we really have to measure them next time. They are native to the Galilean hills farther north and introduced by man in these hills some time back.

The other plant mystery was the ID of the field growing up the slope east from the olive grove, (clearly visible in the landscape shot two entries ago). Our visit today revealed flowers and showed that these are another Phlomis! They're not the same species as the bright yellow jobs we photographed by the north valley watercourse but have smaller, partly purple blooms. Why would a whole field be planted with this variety of Jerusalem sage? They don't have the same fragrance as regular sage but probably do have some local culinary value and are drought resistant. The only other theory we had is that the field was originally used for something else and these took over, except that I didn't find another wild Phlomis quite like it.. there is another purple one.. (P. pungens) but its flower is a deeper purple than these.

Birds today: A gorgeous adult masked shrike on the security fence where the watercourse turns north east and exits, a juvenile shrike farther along where there was also a beautiful male black eared wheatear in full song. A female wheatear up the slope on a boulder, no doubt near her nest. Others heard about.The tumbled rocks and shrubs up on top of the hill is prime (crested?) lark real estate and we noticed several in the area, one female flew on top of a line, alarm calling and scolding at us. Chukar partridge up on top of the hill by the wall, swallows about, as well as common swifts. Bee-eaters heard. Great tit in song.

In the woods, blackbirds, (song about sunset), graceful warbler, great spotted cuckoo, turtle dove (cooing softly about sunset), collared dove, plenty activity. Jackdaws and Hooded crows busy foraging on hillslopes hear and there. Eurasian jays about, stone curlews vocal towards dusk.

In the garden, plenty sunbird activity in the cape honeysuckle as well as the usual white spectacled bulbuls, crowd of house sparrows especially noisy in the dark before the dawn.

I can't believe I almost forgot! We had good sightings of several gazelle on those hillsides, saw very nice sproinging, as if they have springs in their hooves. Amazingly fleet footed on rough country where we could only move slowly. Five individuals, unless we saw one twice. At least one adult male but views towards sun made horns hard to make out. One east end of hills had tiny horns and one we saw in J sage field appeared to have no horns.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Back to the Bat Cave

The 'Bat cave' partly lit by the late afternoon sun. Pale Ballotia grows before the cave and Podonosma like eyebrows.

This maidenhair fern (Adantium capillus-veneris) was growing in the back of the cave, about 20 feet in at least. The back is lit by the camera flash. The cave mouth faces south, allowing enough sunlight to penetrate to the back for growth.

Range today: 10-just over 20 degrees C, Just over 15 degrees C when we headed out a short time after 6 p.m. Humidity was 69% and rising, winds WNW just over 18 kt.

Today I decided we should go back to the 'bat cave' to get photos of the maidenhair fern. We called it that because the first time I put my head in there a small bat flew around it a couple of times and then flew out- perhaps it had been hibernating in there, we haven't seen it since. It lies just to the east of the cypresses and pines on the north bank of north valley. There are many other little caves in the area, it being a limestone region. The largest one we know of is up near the top of 'Windsurfer Hill' . This one appears to have the beginning of a passage way in the back and possibly goes way back into the hill if some sediment and accumulated debris is removed. The mouth of the cave is ringed with Ballotia and the strange yellow rimmed, blue bells of Podonosma.

I wanted to check out an unfamiliar plant near the pumping station which is beginning to bud yellow blooms. (turned out they were still not out yet). On the way we kept a watch out for birds. We had a nice view of a great spotted cuckoo which called and flew from somewhere in the north valley into the new pine grove at the east end of the south bank of that valley, no doubt prospecting for crow's nests. Hooded crows were intent on guarding their nesting territories, including the air space above them and particularly from raptors. Several Buteo types were flying about quite low, some alighting on the taller trees from the eucalyptus grove and along the eastern slopes of the east valley, and causing quite a bit of upset amongst the raptors. We watched one of them take off somewhat heavily, the gusty westerlies were not so easy to fly across today, though once aloft they were able to ride them with more ease.

My favourite bird today was a masked shrike Lanius nubicus that we found in the Pistaccio orchard right by the path. Husband saw it first and I knew it was a shrike as soon as it called. When I had it in my binocular field we confirmed its ID. I've always liked this character, he looks like a little magpie with ginger trimmings and a bandit mask. Very handsome.

Other birds today included all the doves.. Feral pigeons and laughing doves around the buildings, plenty collared doves and turtle dove cooing in the eucalyptus by the orchard. Bee-eaters were heard, blackbirds were busy and vocal as were greenfinches, graceful warblers, white spectacled bulbuls, Eurasian Jays and jackdaws. Bulbuls and sunbirds active in the garden.. sunbirds especially about that cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) and more alarm calls heard, probably a cat alert again. Swifts were heard over valley road as we returned home about sunset but no hyrax out today as far as we saw. Gazelles also not about, (btw some spoor found in the bed of secret valley while we were up there)

My boys went out this evening to watch the Independence Day fireworks and came back with ... a hedgehog! (cradled in his upturned teashirt) These are quite common though not so often seen because they trundle around after dark after slugs and worms. They're not worried about being quiet since their spines give very nice protection. I had the boys put him in the garden where I'm sure he'll find adequate food and our dog will not dare to bite him, and I could hear him just a minute ago foraging under the Bauhinia.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

First Anniversary!

Landscape view from 'north ridge' looking south: The dark area is the east valley of Mir forest, our neighbourhood on the right (west). Part of the city of Jerusalem in the distance.

Wow, today is the first anniversary of this blog. How the year has flown! The year has come full circle. This time last year I was commenting about the heat opening the pine cones and a flock of bee-eaters over the garden.

Temps ranged from 11.5 -20 degrees C, about 17 degrees on our walk. Winds westerly, 9-12 kt and humidity betw. 60-70 %

Today some observations are similar, others different. We've noticed that the pine flowers have spent most of their pollen and new green growth has sprouted from the same sprigs apparently.

Other news in the pine woods is not so good. Another fire was started in east woods near the crossroads. The firetruck came and took action, also issuing smoke masks and beaters to a bunch of local youths that were eager to help, including our sons.. who came home stinking of charcoal yet again. I'm proud of them, though! Thanks to all their efforts the fire did not spread far. Sadly,they also found a scorched clutch of chukar partridge eggs that had been caught in fire, at least ten eggs. These birds are prolific, they'll no doubt lay another clutch elsewhere, hopefully safer. My son told me the police had taken a few suspects back to the station.
I also wonder about the fate of nests in trees above the smoking ground.. all the collared doves, great tits, blackbirds and others trying to breed.. would they abandon? Seems likely.

Still, turtle doves were cooing in their regular eucalyptus nest site by the orchard and collared doves quite active. Many Eurasian jays about, foraging and some calling. Stone curlews heard about sunset in surrounding fields, both east and north. Nice surprise, a Tristram's grackle whistle heard from somewhere along the Ramallah bipass road. Come to think of it, that road with its (probably) artificially cut 'cliff' in the hillside immediately east of it is like a wadi for them.. the road is like a dry watercourse, no surprise we've heard them along that stretch so many times.

What else? A group of bee-eaters heard and partially seen over the Pistaccio orchard, a raptor seen briefly flying south.. didn't get a good view of it. Larger than falcon or sparrowhawk.. smallish Buteo type. Jackdaws and Hooded crows active today. Syrian woodpeckers and graceful warblers heard as well as blackbirds and greenfinches in song.

White spectacled bulbuls, sunbirds, house sparrows, laughing doves active in the gardens as usual. At the moment plants in bloom include myrtle, bougainvillea as well as Bauhinia, common honeysuckle and morning glory.

Chukar partridge eggs that got caught in the fire. A. Atwood.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Pleasant day

Leaves of the delicate tree by the 'secret valley' , Acacia tortilis or similar. Some of the fire damage is visible behind. Most of the leaves have turned yellowish brown , these were some of the few we found still green.

Detail of a larger acacia growing by the dry watercourse of 'secret valley'

Range today: 15-26 degrees C. When we headed down to the valley, a little after 6.30 p.m., temp was just under 25 degrees C, nice and pleasant. Wind under 3 kt, westerly. Skeins of detached small fleecy clouds heading across the sky towards sunset.

A number of common swifts were catching flying insects over valley road, some flying very close to us and wheeling around like bats. As we headed down central trail we heard plenty activity: Eurasian jays foraging, some vocal, Syrian woodpeckers, collared doves. A shrill broken call of some raptor sounded a little to the north and we saw three falcons take flight, hobbies as far as we could tell. No doubt the breeding pair was having an interloper in the territory.

Another fire had been set under the pines in east valley, many square metres charred. A fire truck was there and some local boys were assisting, including two of our sons. (We have already instructed our boys about the necessity to avoid smoke inhalation.) Thankfully it was already well under control, just smoking in places. I should add these stupid fires happen every season and the next year there's barely a sign of them. There's a scorched patch near the cistern about three weeks old and already grass shoots are popping up through the charcoal even though growing season is pretty much over. Life will not be suppressed.

Greenfinches sang lustily in the pines over our heads as we stopped for a 'cistern watch' . We saw Turtle doves, collared doves and Eurasian jays visited for a drink and a hoopoe was seen up in a tall cypress just across the trail from the cistern. Turtle doves and collared doves were also heard cooing and blackbird song towards dusk. Stone curlew was heard and another one seen in flight over gazelle field. No gazelles today though. Bee-eaters were in flight over north valley quite high and calling, hard to tell how many at the distance they flew.

Feral pigeons, house sparrows, laughing doves, hooded crows active around as usual, Jackdaws were quite vocal today, heard from the house as well as white spectacled bulbul and sunbird- quite distracting when I'm at the P.C. and there's a gorgeous iridescent male sunbird barely four feet to my left, calling as if he wants me to look at him.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Fire and Phlomis

Phlomis: Jerusalem Sage. Akiva Atwood

Today temperature ranged from 14-23 degrees C. For much of the day winds were westerly, averaging 8 knots- but for a few hours in the morning they came from the east and dropped. By the time of our walk they were back westerlies, veering somewhat northerly, temp. ~21 degrees C, humidity 27%.

The garden was busy with white spectacled bulbuls and sunbirds.. this time I saw for myself that the sunbirds repeated 'toy squeak' coincided with the passage of a Garfield like cat.

Today local boys were scouring the woods for dead wood for the Lag Be'Omer bonfires. (In another three weeks or so) Those fires will be well tended and supervised but it was clear that some other boys have different ideas .. some mischievous youngsters, not from our immediate neighbourhood, have been setting fires at random here and there for the sheer fun of it, and though police and others have been trying to catch them, so far they have not prevented the burning of a number of patches of ground here and there, wood and hill. It is good that most of the growing season is over and most of the land remains undamaged , and these patches will themselves act as fire brakes for other fires later in the season. Still, the loss of any valuable grazing land is painful to see and it's hard to know how deep the damage goes. It is good that the land does recover from fire surprisingly well even though such wanton destruction is so saddening.

Our first discovery was a number of a newly blooming stands of gorgeous Jerusalem sage, Phlomis, close to the dry watercourse of north valley. The plants are about as tall as I am and the blooms as big as my thumb. Honeybees were visiting them and a number of clouded whites and brown satyrid butterflies were on the wing. We also had nice views of great spotted cuckoos calling to each other between eucalyptus and acacias along the watercourse, a low churring call back and forth, not as grating or shrill as other calls they use.

We headed up the hill on the other side of the valley to cross the low ridge and check out 'hidden valley' just beyond. On the way we passed the 'bat cave' .. a very small cave which at least one bat used/uses as a roost. At the back of the cave I found a patch of the only maidenhair fern (Adantium capillus-veneris or similar) I've noticed in Jerusalem. There's a lot of it at Eyn Geddi in the wadis to the south and I've also seen plenty in the upper tributaries of the Jordan (especially Nahal Dan) but this is the first time I've seen it growing here.. and fittingly, right at the back of a damp cave)

Plenty flowering Ballotia were growing right outside the cave so we took that photo-op, then went on our way. Up in the rocks we found a gorgeous purple thistle type quite unlike the milk thistle in form, (season mostly over for them) and heard quite a few musical notes from black eared wheatears calling in the boulders round about, now and again one would hop out on a rock and give us a view. I watched a nice female individual for a short while. They must do quite well here. Husband also noticed chukar partridge on the hillside and we saw and heard a group of at least 20 bee-eaters fly together over the hill like miniature Chinese kites.

The 'secret valley' enchanted me as it did before.. it was fun clambering up the dry watercourse and picturing the tumble of water on the rocks in the rainy season. Up here pretty much on top of the watershed we were in no danger of flash floods but generally walking up such courses is inadvisable! The rocks were stuffed with cushions of the familiar spiny aromatic labiate scrub that grows everywhere, its berries pretty much at their end now, as well as finished oats, Ballotia and more Phlomis, as well as many black millipedes. Finally we reached the place where a handsome acacia grows.. not saligna but some other I think, perhaps a native this time. This one looks like the acacias that grow down in Eyn Geddi. The ground all around there had been fired and was char for dozens of metres around. Just up the southern bank from that one was a mimosa ( Acacia tortilis) but most of its leaves had turned brown.. it was hard to know if they were simply spent or if the earlier fire had damaged them.

As saddening as the charring may be it is localized and each did not spread far.. and we were delighted to find the Jerusalem sage and maidenhair fern in particular.

A purple Centaurea type thistle up in the boulders on the north ridge