Monday, June 30, 2008

Walk back down the upper valley (owl) road

Fennel/ Wild licorice flower head.

18.5-30 degrees C. ~6.30 p.m. ~27 degrees C, humidity:~60%, wind: W/WSW 6-9 kt

Today we headed to the centre of our neighbourhood to get a treat for Moshe and then headed down the hill by the public park to a road which heads back north to the lower part of our neighbourhood. This is the stretch where the Little Owl lives - pic back in the archives a couple of months ago.

Heading down the hill: plenty capers in bloom as well as some Echium and some pretty impressive wild licorice/fennel, some standing about 8 feet high, towering over husband! We've hardly seen any fennel below about 650 m altitude in the area. Moshe likes to break off the fresh pale green stems and suck the sap, tastes just like licorice.

Husband found a nice gazelle dropping site roughly half way down the hill, quite fresh, which is great news. Probably another territory holding male up this way, at least a half kilometer south of the gazelle field individual and roughly 100 m higher. This could expand population estimates of gazelle in the area if we assume that there are probably another half dozen females and young at least up that way in and around the forest south of the pumping station.

The owl was not in view anywhere along the bluff along the west side of that road, sadly, though we scanned for him and kept watch. We did get a nice view of a male kestrel fly up to some tall buildings up the hill, it wheeled round, almost settled on some window bars then took off and wheeled around again, female or young was somewhere around there and we heard some multinote cries. Greenfinches were around as well as a number of Eurasian jays, vocal and foraging, feral pigeons and hooded crows. House sparrows and Laughing doves around the buildings as usual.

On the road back Moshe found a nicely marked praying mantis.. seems there are quite a lot about right now, he's found a number in the last week or so, and they're quite camouflaged.
We also noticed hyraxes , various ages, foraging just down from a neighbourhood road, a different colony from any I've mentioned, this one is slightly higher elevation and a little farther south.

Praying mantis on Moshe's hand.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mullein and other beautiful sights

Verbascum (galilaeum? or similar) Mullein.

Weather today: Range 18.5-26.5 degrees C, quite a drop since yesterday. Sky mostly clear. We went out about 6 p.m. temp 23.5 degrees C, humidity: already 80%, wind: westerly 13-18 kt.

No luck on gazelles, there was a pack of feral dogs I had not seen before toward the north end of gazelle field just beyond the almonds. One was the biggest I'd seen and seemed to have some mastiff blood, heavy square head though his tail was curled up, Canaani style, tawny yellow/brown. Two were patched brown and white and the fourth mostly dark on the back and flanks, brown and white face and legs. Husband pointed out the big one which was standing, the others were resting on the ground.. he said there was something to see over there, jokingly, a lion. I looked at that big hound and my first reaction was 'what the f**!' because from a distance it really did have quite a lion look about him! We had quite a laugh over that! I guess why that would explain no gazelles in sight over that way!

However there were still plenty birds. Stone curlews very vocal and a few seen over north gazelle field. A group of at least 15 bee-eaters hawking above canopy level, moving up and down north valley. Eurasian jays active and foraging everywhere, some Syrian woodpecker calls, Hoopoe down near north dry watercourse, hoodies about as usual, Collared doves cooing and flight calling and generally active. Blackbird calls, great tit calls, and around the houses, house sparrows, laughing doves and feral pigeons.

The xerophytic plant by valley road finally decided to bloom and this was interesting since it forced me to completely revise my I.D. of a plant that I'd been calling Eremostachys. (desert spike) This looked similar but matched most closely Verbascum galilaeum, a mullein that normally grows farther north. It may have been artificially introduced or another similar plant in the same genus. As I scanned flowers in that genus it struck me that my 'Eremostachys' looked similar to some of the others, in particular V. fruticosum Common desert mullein. This forced me back to the books (and websites) to reassess my earlier I.D. and to see that the flower form of Eremostachys is really quite different, much more like that of Phlomis, whereas the mullein has a more simple 5 petal arrangement.

I was amazed I hadn't seen that before but other aspects of the plant had attracted my attention and the form was not so obvious in the pictures I had. Also obviously different now was the location of the deep red colouring on the flower (centre rather than petal tips. I'd goofed, they weren't even in the same family! (Mulleins are in Scrophularaceae
, the figwort family, whereas Eremostachys is in Lamiaceae with Phlomis and others) It was plain now that *both* were Verbascum (mulleins) though different species. Some of the darker centred mulleins were still blooming over by the pumping station and it was clear that this later flowering Verbascum (in photo above) was similar but markedly different, lacking that red/black centre.
Live and learn. I was glad to get THAT sorted out as I had never been completely settled in my mind about that one. Now I have to go back and add a note on our pic of the other at the quarry!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hedgehog and other sightings.

Eastern European hedgehog, Erinaceous concolor from a site called Nature Pelion

Today's range: 19-30 degrees C. Not sure exactly when we went out but at 6 p.m. temp ~26 degrees, humidity ~60% already, winds pretty much westerly all day and blew betw. 12-15 kt.

Moshe and Avremi came with us but split off at the cistern northwards to show the bat cave to our Shabbos guest, Adam. I gave yet another routine 'watch out for snakes!' . Moshe thinks he caught a glimpse of an Agama in the bunker ruins.

Three gazelles today, a mother followed by young north west gazelle field/lower hill slopes across the north valley water course. (I was hoping one of the little party would just catch a glimpse of movement and look to their right but ach, they missed them! ) A short while later alpha male buck running through the Pistaccio orchard toward eucalyptus orchard. Fresh prints also found edge of centre trail.

Hyraxes heard.

On our way back along valley road close to sunset found remains of a hedgehog, (most probably Eastern European hedgehog, Erinaceous concolor) no head, just part of the spiny back and skeleton of back leg a foot or so from the edge of the road, likely hit by a vehicle while 'frozen'. When I told Moshe about it later he asked me 'no skull?' 'no skull'. 'No school! yippee!' His joke, he's celebrating just finishing 6th grade. We see them from time to time at night, but this was the first I've seen in ages.

Birds: Watched a hooded crow chase a small raptor north east of gazelle field, a young kestrel? Shortly after saw a falcon, possibly the same kestrel heading south over the bipass road area. Jackdaws heard from somewhere over east on the Hizmeh hillside, there had been a herd of goats there earlier, yep, they were following the goats again! Eurasian Jays active, one visited cistern. The goldfish someone put in there some time back are still doing well though the water looks awful. The smaller cavity has dried up.

Chukar partridges heard south of central trail several times. Laughing doves cooing around the house, several pairs over by breadcrumb corner, collared doves down in the valley and turtle doves also heard. Feral pigeons small groups flying over head. Bee-eaters heard later toward sunset. Graceful warblers, Syrian woodpeckers and White spectacled bulbuls heard near look-out corner. Blackbirds in song here and there in the forest, and active flying about, some alarm calls. House sparrows around the house as usual.

The boys found a nice praying mantis while showing Adam some fossil structures in the limestone, (probably something like crinoids from back where this area was under the sea)

Spines of the dead hedgehog we found. It's amazing that although they are much smaller and apparently more densely packed (and from totally unrelated animals) they are so similar in form and texture and barring to those of the porcupine.. I notice the end tips on porcs are dark and those on the hedgehog are light. (but I suspect it's a more complicated than that in the porc as it seems much thinner white ended spines overly other broader thicker ones. )

Also the darker bars on the hedgehog are shades lighter than those on the porcs. Hedgehog leg bone lower left.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Windsurfer Hill

Moshe's fox hole.

Weather (thursday 26th June): temp range 20-34 degrees C again. By about 6.30 p.m. it was down to just over 26 degrees, 58% humidity and westerly winds almost 14 knots. Yet again winds had veered north, drooped, then east late morning and early afternoon.

Today we walked up 'windsurfer hill' with Moshe and Avremi. We call it that because we've seen hooded crows spend their leisure time 'surfing' the westerly breezes that brush up against the hillside. They seem to really enjoy this pastime.

We took the long way around, passing by the cistern, then heading south through the eucalyptus grove and then up the hill along a dirt trail by a gradual incline. We found a well grown gazelle (female apparently) grazing up in the north west area of gazelle field. In the 'east field', at somewhat higher elevation Moshe spotted a female and one of this years babies (cheer!) head up windsurfer hill ahead of us and then disappear around the west face. We found some gazelle spoor along the way. Three today then, always nice especially when young are seen. Husband found some other spoor but I did not recognize it, about the same size as gazelle spoor but a much smaller pile and each piece a little longer than wide. Not porcupine, I've seen that and it's ridged and peculiar and not piled. Perhaps hyrax.

The cave near the top of the hill is the biggest in the area we know of and was furnished with an old couch and some cooking utensils and other stuff. How about that! It's possible to drive up there from the Pisgat Zeev side and then just haul the stuff across the top of the hill a few dozen yards or so. We wondered who was using it but I instructed the boys to leave it exactly as found. They came out with a dead oval shaped black cave cockroach about 2 cm long but didn't find me any isopods. I didn't take this find home!

We enjoyed the views from the top till after sunset. While they were in the cave I was just flat out wiped and lay down between the blue thyme cushions just resting and this apparently attracted the attention of a local bunch of 'surfers'. 20 or so hooded crows circled a few dozen feet above me, cawing to each other and taking a look. I could imagine what they were 'saying' in crow speak. 'Well, is that carrion down there or isn't it?' 'no, it moved! It's still alive, we shouldn't risk it!' 'But it looks like meat, why don't we go down and investigate', 'no, I saw it move again, it's alive I say!' I was just hoping they wouldn't poop on me! They didn't.

We descended back to the 'east valley' the fastest way, picking out a trail between thyme and boulders and eventually following the north bank of a dry watercourse down the western slope. I love such watercourses, they are always so much lusher in vegetation than the surrounding hillside and have a special cascading charm even when dry. Just off this trail Moshe made a terrific discovery and called me over, wanting to know if this hole was as he suspected. He'd been looking out for holes the entire distance.

Oh yes, this one looked like a fox earth all right! Size was right, apron of untidy dug out earth out in front and even a few incriminating feathers. Moshe was ecstatic! He had dreams of adopting a fox cub as a pet but I had to discourage this idea, sadly. Such a cub would have to be taken shortly after birth and fed with special formula milk to have any chance of attaching itself to a human being. The season was already well advanced, and this was quite apart from the logistics of reaching anything down that hole which could be many feet in depth, and most likely not a breeding hole but a bolt or food storage hole. Still, it was a pretty good find for a fox fan like my son.

Hyraxes were about and active near the pumping station. The boys decided to climb the hill there to connect with the end of our street while we would take the longer and easier way around but of course we arrived back at the same time since they had stopped to watch hyraxes!

I was too bone weary to really look out for birds today. In passing we did notice stone curlews, bee-eaters, blackbirds, collared doves, , syrian woodpeckers. sunbird in the eucalyptus by look-out corner.

White spectacled bulbul
in the garden, House sparrows, feral pigeons and laughing doves as usual. The local jackdaws are off foraging farther affield today, probably following goats again, we didn't hear a one.

Bat noticed on the way home, fluttering over valley road. We often see one or more these days at twilight on our way back.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Balmy day walk

Warm day! Range 20-34.5 degrees C. When we headed out at about 6.30 p.m. temp had fallen to 26.6, humidity 64%, wind westerly 18.3 kt, lovely and brisk! Again the wind swung to the east around midday, that boosts temperatures it seems, those winds are often warmer though usually lighter than the westerlies.

(Heard a white spectacled bulbul outside the window at 4.55 a.m)

Now I'm even more confused by that Lycaenid butterfly in the photo in the last entry. Comparing underwings the orange dots most clearly match the female common blue Polyommatus icarus, yet the boys observed that the upper wings were clearly blue, which would not be the case in the female unless it's a local variation. In pretty much all similar species across the board in that family the females have the more extensive orange spots. I have to throw up my hands and admit I really have no clue and take back my previous two IDs esp the former, except that it's in that family (Lycaenidae)!

1 gazelle noticed today grazing in the middle of the far north end of gazelle field. She noticed us, looked up and simply returned to grazing, unfazed. Hyraxes active today and young above ground by the beginning of our short cut down to north valley from the eastward turn of valley road.

A fair bit of grass has sprouted up in the charred part of the south end of gazelle field, patches here and there. 2 days ago Avremi, our 10 year old, said the mole rats are 'healing' the charred ground by turning it over. I liked that! Plenty fresh excavated mounds there.

Geckoes noticed this evening by the road (and also two nice big ones on the side of field school building at Beit Meir yesterday evening). They are quite active lately, their sharp distinct 'tuk tuk' calls sounding from buildings and rocks in the late afternoons and evenings.

Bird life.. hooded crows commuting to and fro, stone curlews active over the north end of gazelle field, a couple from just beyond the new pine grove took off and flew to the hill - we often see them there and I suspect they bred this year, flew up the field and landed a few flat rocks up from the bat cave. Bee-eaters heard up overhead, just east of look-out corner area. Turtle doves heard just off centre trail. Collared doves cooing as well as flight call heard. (Laughing dove cooing in the Bauhinia at about 7.45 p.m. ) Blackbirds and Eurasian jays active, Syrian woodpeckers, graceful warblers, greenfinches all heard.
I'm sure house sparrows and feral pigeons active too, we walked past those without really registering them, quite unfair of us, they have very good reasons for their success!

chukar prints apparently in the sandy dust at the very south east tip of the neighbourhood.

In bloom right now, squirting cucumber, capers, ragwort, the low pea family plant.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fear and Loathing in the Bat Cave

Indian porcupines, (wikipedia) Hystrix indica

Today we left at about 6.40 p.m, but we still had a good amount of time since it doesn't start to get dark till after 8 p.m.

Temp just above 24 degrees C (today's range, 17-28 degrees C), humidity 67%, winds north westerly just over 4 kt

Gazelle sightings :) 6 today. Husband found mother with young near eastern end of the north valley dry watercourse, grazing on the flat. Young quite well grown already. Female retreated toward the pines after she noticed us and the young one sproinged after her shortly after, much to the delight of the boys. A short time later I spotted 4 more grazing in the north eastern end of gazelle field/lower slopes, beyond the charred patch all quite well grown.

The boys wanted to explore the bat cave again, naturally. I hoped they'd find the jaw bone of the dog but they didn't see it, but did bring out a scapula and one of the leg bones, (a tibia?). They didn't manage to catch me any isopods, those were not scuttling about today for some reason. They did find upwards of 20 porcupine quills on the floor indicating that the place is or was a den for them. (The nicest one we brought back measured 23.75 cm and was pied ebony and ivory, light at the point of attachment to the porcupine, dark band, lighter band, darker dark band, lighter band again, then dark all the way down to the sharp tip. )

There are two low recesses that retreat back into the hill, one on the far back left and one over on the right side where the dog bones are located. Either could be dens, hard to tell how far back they go.

I'd been telling them repeatedly to watch out for snakes, not to take any chances, not to put their hands into any dark places they couldn't see etcetera. They both had flashlights and could see well ahead of them. There was some excitement when they could hear something slithering beyond the bones. They were keen to go in over and over again , 'just five more minutes, just five more' till Moshe suddenly came out backwards at speed! (Avremi was already out at that time)

According to his most sincere report he'd just encountered a viper -(most likely Vipera palestinae ) ahead of him along the left side passage, thick, spear head shaped head and nicely marked, and he was so shaken by the experience he swore he was never going to enter the bat cave ever again! He did NOT appreciate my 'cool!' and 'awesome!' . I commented that he must have had the same feeling of adrenaline I had when I saw a lion fish in front of me by the coral at Eilat.
'It wasn't just adrenaline, it was adrenaline flavoured with fear, and also flavoured with panic, and also flavoured with 'get the ... out of here as quickly as possible!' I had to laugh, I did relate to the feeling, not to mention this was after I'd been saying 'watch out for snakes' like a gramophone record for the past half hour.
'They're probably in all the caves, you know', 'Don't tell me that, mom!'
It's one thing knowing about something intellectually, it's something else entirely actually meeting it.

Perhaps a (this) viper had killed that dog?

I'd seen similar vipers in the south of England (Vipera berus) but those were relaxing and sunbathing on a rock and just didn't seem to inspire fear when they look so laid back like that.

Meanwhile out in the fresh air husband and I had been enjoying a beautiful swarm of bee-eaters over gazelle field, somewhere between 40 and 50 at a guestimate.. I'd say 'swarm' because of the way they constantly changed places in the flock, moving independently as they hawked, probably keeping up with a similarly moving swarm of flying insects we couldn't see. Stone curlews were vocal and active again and husband spotted a hoopoe.

Syrian woodpeckers, collared doves, greenfinches, laughing doves, house sparrows, hooded crows all active in their regular haunts pretty much as usual today.

The boys also found a tiny preying mantis on a stick, no bigger than my pinky nail, and also a beautiful Lycaenid (blue ) butterfly.

Underwing of Eastern Mazarine blue, Cyaniris antiochena. The back is more vivid blue, pic by Akiva Atwood. See

Looking again it may be Pseudophilotes vicrama astabene (Eastern Baton blue) which is found in the Jerusalem hills as opposed to the one above which is found farther north in the country, though the orange spots seem to match Cyaniris better.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Boys in the Cave

Pea family member similar to broom in bloom all over now, grows on soft, hairy leaved shrub which grows barely a foot high

Today's range: Just over 23-30 degrees C. Just after 6.20 p.m. temp ~26.5 degrees C. Winds WNW ~10.5 kt, humidity 28%, skies clear.

Acquired a contour map from the S.P.N.I. for some facts and figures about the area.
Top of 'windsurfer hill' (imm. east of east valley) 671 m, top of north ridge by A- ram 705 m
Gazelle field: (lowest point on my patch) betw 550 and 560 m above Med. Sea level, but this water will drain an additional ~300 m to Jericho.
East valley itself is marked as Wadi el kifa (Arabic, not sure of vowelization) or Eyn Prat/Porat (Hebrew) . North valley is unmarked. Both flow down to Wadi Qelt/Nahal Prat also called Wadi Para.

Today both our younger sons, Avremi (age 10) and Moshe (age 12) came with us to the bat cave, equipped with lights to see deep into the cave's recesses.

Straight away we noticed scurrying of various cave invertebrates. Husband was reasonably sure he saw cockroaches before they scuttled for cover as well as a curious little fellow that looks like some kind of terrestrial isopod crustacean but one I've never seen before, not anything so round and flat. It looked like a grey coat button, round and flat, carapace covered most of the front, back third or so with visible segments. Mostly grey but edge all around (but for head) was darker with light coloured spots. 1 cm diameter at least, sons claimed some they saw were double that, they were all sizes. Upside down numerous legs.. if they're like other isopods I've seen, 14 is a likely number. By the time I decided I wanted one to bring home and photo they'd all scuttled for cover. I've been searching round the net and found nothing quite like it. Another time. Moshe said he's seen that kind in many caves in the area. Unlike crabs and like other terrestrial isopods they can walk forwards.

Avremi discovered a dog's skull which we brought home and cleaned. It would be that of a nice size feral dog, hard to say how long it had been there, just a few months probably based on cobwebby gunk in nasal cavity and under the skull. Length 20 cm, height 8 cm (average), width 9.5 cm (relatively narrow compared to average for domestic dogs)
Upper canine tooth length 2.5 cm, width just over 1 cm. Upper carnassial tooth 2 cm along jaw line. Lower jaw missing.
Did it get sick and crawl into that cave to die? Who knows. Other bones around as well as a couple of short porcupine quills.

Feral dog skull found by Avremi. Bottle cap placed to elevate teeth a little.

Birds: Great tits calling near the cave, 2 hoopoes flew right over us toward the south, heard making a low scratching like call. I also heard a very thin high pitched whistle which also seemed to come from the hoopoes. Plenty bee-eaters were also aloft, at least 20 quite high over gazelle field and slopes of the hill. Plenty stone curlews around in flight back and forth , landing at various spots on the hillside above and below us, calling. Turtle doves calling in the pines, some collared doves, feral pigeons about in flight, Syrian woodpeckers heard often, blackbird song, graceful warblers, some greenfinches. Sunbird by the dry watercourse trail, approx same place we heard one there yesterday, not far from that old porcupine den.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Midsummer observations

Today we had great pleasure exploring the hillside just east of the dry watercourse path where we'd found the porcupine den a couple of years back. Here 'steps' of limestone ascend the hill, all shaded by pine and cypress and all of it gave me the feel of a coral reef- a 'coral reef' over 700 m above sea level but no matter, it was a mini ecosystem and both husband and son recognized the comparison with enthusiasm.

Our son wanted to show my husband, and visit a pit in the limestone to see if it led to deeper caves, and to see if we needed ropes or any other tackle for safe exploration. Turned out we didn't, he could negotiate it easily without any equipment and was somewhat disappointed but still optimistic that other caves might yield more, a fox den or explorable passages.

We couldn't exactly float over the lichen covered rocks, gravity and air compelled us to walk the little trails made by gazelle, porcupine and goat, but this did not impede our delight at all. The lichens themselves were white, yellow and salmon colour and each shelf was festooned with Podonosma and other vegetation. Every crack was stuffed with large snails and an assortment of other invertebrates. One crack was occupied by a beautifully camouflaged gecko which squeaked at us. I emphasized to Moshe that we should never disturb wildlife from its chosen place just because we want to see it better, even though that can be very tempting at times.

Moshe heard a rustle in a young cypress and was startled when a large Agama lizard jumped out! These iguana like lizards could bite but rarely do. As with snakes, a strike is because they are more afraid of us than vice versa, and given the choice, discretion is always the better part of valour from their point of view. He also found a Lacerta laevis, (I assume, or similar), under a rock, a common lizard with dark upper parts, side stripes and beautiful blue/green underparts in the male.

The doves were quiet today but bee-eaters were active and vocal, perching on a dead tree at the other end of the eucalyptus grove. I bet they were after flying ants again, just as about this time last year. Moshe got a great view with the field glasses, best he'd had and was delighted to see that they really are as gorgeous as those he's only seen in photographs till now. Greenfinches active in the pines by the bunker rubble but not as much song as before. Syrian woodpeckers and stone curlews were also active and vocal and chukar partridges were busy clucking up on the hillside just south east of the bridge at about sunset, a regular place for them.

Plenty hyrax activity including lots of kits up by the pumping station at sunset. Some gazelle droppings up on the slopes near the porcupine den, not totally fresh, maybe a couple of days old already. Forgot to mention Moshe also found some interesting spoor up on the north ridge on thursday alongside a ridge of rocks.. like a dog's but smaller pieces, could have been the dark fox's.

Hooded crows about as usual, a flock of jackdaws was also heard chakking over to the east, blackbirds were heard intermittently in song and we heard a sunbird calling up near the porcupine den. That surprised me- I'd love to know how they get enough nectar there. Podonosma and aromatic Israeli thyme (which seems to positively glow blue from the ground approaching sunset), were in plentiful bloom right there and we know they use globe thistle, not far distant. There's also a relative of broom in bright yellow flower everywhere right now, but lower and hairier leaved than the broom growing back in spring.

White spectacled bulbul, house sparrows, feral pigeons and laughing doves active around the buildings as usual from dawn.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Globe thistle near the north valley watercourse. Moshe noticed plenty greenish beetles as well as the red ones we'd also noticed on the globe thistle by the pumping station.

Range today (Wednesday) 20-31 degrees C. When we went out at about 6.30 p.m. ~27 degrees C, just over 50% humidity, winds westerly 7-10 kt though felt considerably brisker up on the hill!

Moshe, our 12 yr old son, came with us today. At first he wanted to go to the quarry but when we mentioned the bat cave we headed up there instead. We had wanted to go up there originally to check if we could see any gazelle esp. this years' young down in the Jerusalem sage/olive tree vale just beyond the first north ridge. Much mole-rat activity on the hill, mounds everywhere and some new vegetation, a delicate spike like plant and a mat like low lying borage, small blue and purple flowers and dense hairy leaves. We did find some gazelle droppings (and had seen a few hoof prints yesterday in dusty earth near look-out corner) but no fresh sightings.

At the bat cave Moshe found some bones (hyrax thigh bone?) and we theorized that a fox may use the cave as a lair. (The dark one?) There were two places within the cave that may extend down to an earth. He was keen to find any animal remains and by keeping a sharp eye managed to find a couple of pieces of wild tortoise carapace on top of north ridge.

Up there were also black eared wheatear, some young families about up there, juveniles sighted. (We also found a wheatear family where the dry north watercourse enters gazelle field yesterday, as well as a young shrike, probably masked) . At the top of the ridge we heard some melodious whistles and spotted a lark on the ground, probably crested. In the air, in flight to and fro from time to time, were collared doves, feral pigeons, hooded crows and bee-eaters hawking and calling melodiously.. seems to be the regular flock of two dozen individuals, also seen yesterday. Stone curlews were also vocal.

Also active and vocal: blackbirds (song), Eurasian jays, greenfinches, Syrian woodpeckers, hoopoes (not vocal but several seen between north ridge and the new pines east end of north valley. where we also heard turtle doves and great tits yesterday)

Today around the houses: white spectacled bulbuls, laughing doves, house sparrow,
Spikes of these delicate greenish white flowers were in bloom along limestone 'steps' in many places on the south facing hillside.

This dense hairy plant with borage like flowers was also found on the south facing hillside.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mid-week round-up

Monday and Tuesday: Weather very similar, range 15- just over 26 yesterday, 27.5 degrees C today. ~23 degrees C both days when we set out for our walk.
Also at that time (~6.30 p.m. ) Humidity: 50% yesterday, 65% today.
Winds westerly both days, 8-10 kt yesterday, 7-12 kt today, brisk and pleasant.

Hyrax activity both days esp. yesterday, two mothers nursing on boulders on the rocks just down from the north stretch of valley road- we hadn't noticed a colony there last year though the feral dogs were poking their noses into holes then, perhaps there was.

No gazelle sightings either day.

Hoopoes both days: today 4 on the path, turn-off to north valley. Amusing to watch one take a sort of dust bath. It would sit in the road, poke its bill into its feathers a bit,scratch, ruffle the dust into their breast feathers, quiver wings rapidly, shuffle around maybe a quarter turn and make another sequence of similar moves, did this a number of times. They seem to really like the stimulation of dust in their feathers.

Bee-eaters both days from look-out corner all the way to north gazelle field, at least a dozen, probably the usual two dozen but always a number perched. They often like a low dead tree for that, and company.

Eurasian jays active and vocal both days, as were collared doves, hooded crows, greenfinches (some chaffinch like singing (?) today as well as the usual greenfinch twittering), Syrian woodpeckers (some drumming also yesterday), stone curlews. Turtle doves cooing both days.

House sparrows and laughing doves around the houses both days. Husband noticed a male sunbird in the tree across the street. Jackdaws heard. White spectacled bulbul calling in the Bauhinia early this morning.

Husband heard a Tristram's grackle today from somewhere over to the east. We also heard one from that direction two days ago, forgot to mention.

In bloom at the moment: globe thistle, desert spike, capers, Israeli thyme, ragwort, broom, golden thistle, Ballotia.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Dark Fox

The sapling field near the pumping station, freshly mown. Approx. 100 plastic tubes with Ailanthus, Bauhinia, Pistaccio and some cypress emerging from many of them. The planted area is on the eastern side of the field close to the dry water course. The rest of the field between the saplings and valley road is still good habitat for wheatear, chukar, hyrax and hoopoe though it seems the wheatear did not breed here this year, sadly.

Range today: 18 (this evening)-31 degrees C. When we headed out shortly after 6.30 p.m. ~27 degrees C. humidity ~30%, winds westerly 10-12 kt increasing through the evening. Easterlies much of the morning.

The most exciting sighting today was a really good view of a
patchy dark fox, this time sighted in the new pine grove at the eastern end of north valley but too far for a good pic with our digital. Much of its flanks were so dark they were pretty much mat black. The rest of the flanks were dark brown with not the slightest hint of the russet of a red fox. The face and inside of the large ears were also very dark though the edges of the ears were slightly lighter and the muzzle was lighter still. His tail was longish and bushy, dark brown with a dirty pale tip and the face was foxish rather than doggish. He did remind me of pics of jackals but the tail and head were those of a fox and it was smaller. As far as I've found there's no known hybridization of foxes and jackals.

Turtle doves and collared doves cooing. Pairs of each visited the cistern. Several hoopoes around south part of gazelle field. Nice view of stone curlew flying low over the field and landing on a charred area close to the north valley pines. Quite a few bee-eaters hunting over gazelle field. Blackbirds in song. Syrian woodpeckers active and calling, flying about . Also seen and/or heard, feral pigeons, hooded crows, jackdaws(just heard), house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls and greenfinches. Our local sunbirds have not been heard lately, I suspect they've moved on to other gardens with nectar bearing flowers since the cape honeysuckle is not blooming right now.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sapling field surprise

Bauhinia tree in in our garden in 'bean' phase... lots of pods visible, two already popped apart and seeds visible. Many leaves have also fallen lately while many others are still large and green.

We were delighted today to see that park authorities had come by and taken care of the dense thorns that had surrounded the saplings in the little field near the pumping station. The space between the saplings was nicely mown and the plastic sheaths generally tidied. We had a little discussion about whether this was actually permissible this year which is a 'shmitta' year, i.e. a year in which fields etc. are meant to lie fallow and not get special attention, though work may be done if survival of trees and crops depends on it- very possibly the case here. Since this area is not agricultural would that make the work less permissible or more permissible? Academically these were interesting questions of Jewish law but on the whole we were quite pleased to see that Yaar Mir is not at all forgotten but receiving ongoing care from the 'powers that be'.

Lots of hyraxes were out by valley road today at around 7.15 p.m. scores scampering about, whole families visible. One group took my attention on a boulder. A mother was crouched there, facing me and two young were busy nursing- there may have been more on her rear right side but couldn't see that angle. One was steadily nursing from her left while another was trying to get milk from the front, between her two front legs. There was room, she had them bowed somewhat apart, but seemed the trouble was supply up front had pretty much dried up for now. It was amusing and a little pathetic to see the youngster switch back and forth. left, right, left, right, repeatedly, clearly not getting that there was no point alternating two options that had already proved fruitless. I wanted to send a mental message, 'walk around and try one at the right back!'

I scanned the hillside and north gazelle field methodically from look-out corner but no gazelle today.

Lots of bee-eaters over gazelle field today, hunting very low over the ground and often stopping to perch so hard to see how many there were but probably at least our regular 20 or so.
A few hoopoes in the vicinity. Syrian woodpecker calls, some greenfinch twittering, some stone curlew vocalizations from farther off north and east. Collared dove coos and flight calls, turtle dove coos. A Tristram's grackle 3 tone whistle from somewhere along east valley, south of the pumping station. Interesting, we hadn't heard one from up there before. Could have been flying over but we didn't see it. Lots of graceful warblers in the grasses and scrub between sapling field and dry watercourse, at least one family busy foraging. A sunbird call from somewhere around look-out corner. White spectacled bulbul in our Bauhinia and by the sapling field, hooded crows about. Eurasian jays about, active foraging and some vocal.

Husband noticed a nice bunch of common swifts by our road this morning at about 9.30 a.m., 8-10 in the air at once in a small area.. fledged families from nests on local buildings? House sparrows as usual in the area.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

North Valley Walk

Ecballium elaterium, 'Squirting cucumber', Yerukat ha'hamor (hebrew name literally means 'expectoration of the donkey' ) When the fruit pod is ripe it squirts a mucilaginous liquid containing tiny seeds, a quite explosive action for a plant.

Another relatively cool day: range just under 16-22 degrees C.
At about 6.30 p.m. temp ~20.5 degrees C, humidity 70%, , winds W to WSW ~8kt.

We headed up north valley today. Sun was already pretty much behind the hill to our south and not in our eyes.
2 kestrels flew across the valley toward A Ram.

2 gazelle without horns noticed across the valley amongst the pines. Small enough, I judged to be last year's young.

Husband spotted an adult male gazelle sproinging up the hillside to the north, just below A Ram. He bounced till he gained the security road, then headed east along the contour.

A little back and down below a very interesting fox was moving quite quickly in the same direction, parallel. Maybe it had spooked the gazelle, though it would be hardly likely to take on such a larger mammal, still the gazelle would not want to risk a bite. This was not a normal red fox, that was plain, but a patchy looking job, mostly grey but quite variegated well camouflaged against the hillside. The tip of the tail was whitish but not so clean as that of the red. I'm sure this is the same kind we've seen around here before that I had taken for the Ruppell's but after checking out more information we think it's too big for a Ruppell's or a Blanford's. Yoav Perlman is probably the closest, that it's a strange variation/subspecies of Red fox. Vulpes vulpes even though the 'jizz' is so different. It does seem to slink lower and longer. I still wonder if we in fact have a sep. species here though I don't know what else it could be. We've seen typical red foxes in the forest quite a few times though not lately. This patchy job we've seen a few times, once as far south as Look-out corner hunting along the dry water course. It does make sense that this strange variation hunts the hillsides out in the open while the more typical red stays under tree cover since the former is so perfectly marked for the rocky hillsides. The red fox has many variations including a black variety.

Another gazelle without horns then appeared a little further down the slope farther back to the west but heading in the same direction.
Husband wonders if a stand of larger older pines up on the south facing slopes might act as a refuge and home base for the gazelle. We'll have to keep an eye on it, esp. for this year's young.

On approach to the quarry I challenged myself to try to find the Little Owl (Athene noctua) that we'd noticed there on an earlier visit. It was fair to assume we might find it again in the same area, such birds tend to stick to their haunts.
'Hmm, now if I were a little owl, where would I stand?' I searched the east facing boulders and slopes just to the north of the waterway path with patience and optimism and presently found him! There he stood, perched on a boulder. Unlike many owls, Little Owls typically hunt during the day. Presently it flew around the rocky mass on its broad soft wings and took a south facing position. A few minutes later it flew up a little westward and stood up on top of the mass, giving it the broadest field of view.

It was almost sunset, husband was eager to get back before dark. The moon was high but only at half phase so wouldn't give much light. We had a brief look around the quarry. I whistled and we soon found a pair of Tristram's grackles. They flew from the quarry and landed up on the abandoned buildings south of the path, one with black head, a male, the other grey headed, female or juvenile, probably former and his mate. She gave a three tone whistle from time to time and was answered immediately by a pretty much identical whistle from a third bird somewhere in the quarry. Perhaps she was warning the rest of the family humans were here.

Plenty chukar partridge tracks on the ground. Then we saw a covey of them, at least ten, erupt from a hopper shaped section of the quarry building. Good place for them to camp, they'd be safe from foxes up there. They headed up the hillside to the north east, no doubt our talking had made them nervous, or the grackle whistles had tipped them off.

Other stuff around: collared doves, cooing and flight calls; plenty active Eurasian jays, Graceful warblers vocal, blackbirds in song esp. about sunset. Hooded crows, feral pigeons, house sparrows in predictable places.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The 'Hamsin has broken

Clouds on the brisk westerlies at sunset.

Yesterday's high temperatures broke, today's peak was over 10 degrees C lower. 'Hamsin is Arabic for 50 because it is said there are about 50 such days of heat and easterly winds spread over the summer. In Hebrew we call it a Sharav though the term 'Hamsin is well known and popular. In Jerusalem we get them in quite a mild form since we're up in the hills but peaks in lower altitude parts of the country can be up to 10 degrees higher than yesterday's peak.

Today's range: ~16 -23 degrees C. Humidity 63% (over 90% before midnight), winds westerly veering wsw. By sunset some cumulus was rolling in from the west. A hamsin in the fall is often followed by a thunderstorm but the cumulus at this time of year seldom release their load.

The Bauhinia in the garden is already in 'bean mode' and those beans starting to pop, a sound that sounds like someone cracking a twig or a sunflower seed.

Quite a few plastic blags had been blown down to into the woods and fields. I filled a medium sized plastic bag with them as well as some other litter. A few plastic pop bottles we tossed in the cage for recycling.

Gazelle noticed on the skyline to the north and a nice pile of fresh dung at the north end of gazelle field just beyond the pylon line and short of the lower slopes, probably left by the alpha male guarding the area.

At least two dozen bee-eaters over look-out corner area hawking just above canopy level, possibly also after flying ants. We also saw one perched on the dry stone wall near the large cistern pine, and another actually on the ground in the charred area just beyond the cistern, probably after emerging ants on the ground.

Plenty stone curlew vocal on the slower slopes and one spotted on the ground (it was walking, otherwise I wouldn't have seen it). 'Chee' call of greenfinches in eucalyptus of look-out corner, turtle dove coos, collared dove coos and on the wing here and there, syrian woodpecker calls. Blackbirds about as well as Eurasian jays, graceful warblers and white spectacled bulbuls. Chukar partridges heard down in north valley.

The squirting cucumber is still pretty much in bud and there is another amazing xerophytic plant along valley road, so we're anticipating their opening. There are several species of mint about and the Israeli thyme is still in gorgeous and fragrant bloom. I'm reminded I should look for cinnabar moth caterpillars on the ragwort. These I raised in the U.K. and have seen the larvae here too. The adult moth is crimson and dark grey, not large but striking, and the caterpillars are striped like tigers. Black millipedes are very plentiful right now, gliding along like pieces of animated thick black boot-lace.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Morning garden.

Another gorgeous shot by Ruthie Schueler. Our 'national' hoopoe.

By 5.20 a.m. had already heard the first four birds through the window(house sparrows, hooded crow, white spectacled bulbuls and laughing dove but a little later, around 6 a.m. decided to sit in the garden, have a little wine and cake for the Holy Day it was, and see what else I could see.

Feral pigeons on the neighbouring roof and winging about, hoodies also landed there. Plenty house sparrows in the top of the willow and on a power line hawking for flying insects. Not quite such fancy fliers as flycatchers but brief flight from perch, grab attempt in flight, then return to perch. There are a lot of flying ants around, maybe they're after them. Three falcons over Hizmeh or a little nearer, perhaps another one, winging around, hard to tell. A couple of 'dive bomb' encounters, easily dodged. Monotonous 'oo oo oo' most of the time I was out there, from a hoopoe not far off somewhere over to the east. Stone curlew calls way over to the east briefly. Blackbird in a garden not far off.

Temp. reached just over 93 degrees F today, (34 degrees C)

Heading down to the valley later, turtle dove calls, two gazelle spotted up the slopes to the east of the dry watercourse path, close to the tree line. (gazelle also spotted in the pistaccio orchard last thursday). Plenty hyrax activity just after 7 p.m. in cypress slum area, though pretty much all adults. Quite a few lounging about on boulders and disinclined to move, allowing closer than usual approach. Must be the heat. Some long harsh barks heard.

Ring necked parakeet noticed in pines on bank by valley road, graceful warblers same area. Swifts over our buildings, bee-eaters somewhere in the valley, Buteo over north ridge, stone curlew calls from the fields, Eurasian jays in the pines, some blackbird song.

This evening close to about 10.30 p.m. heard geckoes from the pumping station. Usually I don't look for them since they're generally undercover but in this case two were out in the open by the sign on the pumping station building, nice size and gorgeously marked, one fat mamma, quite dark with short tail, must have lost it and regrowing. Would have been camouflaged on a tree bark but on the light Jerusalem stone I could even make out the round toe pads very easily. The other one was a lot paler and smaller and might have missed it entirely if I hadn't already seen the first. This one walked up and right OVER the dark one, which didn't seem to mind, and then took position just under the edge of the sign.

Found a blooming Squirting cucumber Ecballium elaterium (or similar) near the beginning of valley road. I was delighted to see this confirmation this is their season , since this is the plant whose leaves I'd mistaken for Alcea in the charred ground after the May 6th fire and later suspected they were this. I should have guessed Alcea would not come up again this year but early leaves did look very similar. Globe thistle has bloomed nicely near the pumping station, flowers packed with a rusty red beetle. Capers and Eremostachys still in bloom. Bats near the crossroads on central trail just after dark.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Gazelle, green meteor and other nice stuff.

Interesting shot. This is in the young pine grove at the east end of north valley. The unburnt path meandering through the wood is actually a dirt road taken by service vehicles on their way to the pylons at least twice a year. The ground there is very hard and compacted. Surface vegetation is pretty much the same as it was in the charred area but as you see the burning pretty much stops dead at the hard earth line. This shows me that the fire was propogating not just on the surface but through the top few inches of relatively loose dry humus. You can see where the fire managed to ignite the relatively looser earth between the tracks in one place. (This fire was on May 27th)

The other observation of interest today was a gorgeous meteor coming down about NNE in the northern sky roughly 10.15 p.m. It started white but burned a brilliant green before it burnt out, a phenomenon I've seen occasionally. This is usually due to nickel, occasionally copper in the meteorite. I've seen green meteors a couple of times before though most of those I've seen have been white. I have also occasionally seen reddish meteors, these coloured by iron, and high meteors with a faint but definite bluish hue.

Gazelle 5. An adult buck sighted on the skyline, first ridge to the north, grazing and keeping watch. Four adults without noticeable horns (but sadly no kids) slowly ascending toward the north west, grazing then moving on. Interesting that, they usually prefer the wind to their back but at that time it must have been pretty much blowing in their faces unless of course the shape of the valley swirled the wind around from the south, which it seems to do to some extent. We get two funnelling effects through the valleys, one from the south, one from the north west, usually prevailing, and what happens in gazelle field and the slopes of the hill just to the north of it can be unpredictable. Three ahead, one behind, the latter gradually caught up as they ascended.

falcon like sound heard from up north valley, one of the kestrels at the quarry? We didn't see it. Blackbird high pitch alarm call and song heard about sunset. Collared doves very active and vocal, dueling cooers and flight glides but not flight calls. Graceful warbler vocal. Plenty greenfinch twittering in pines around look-out corner towards sunset. Chukar partridge heard somewhere along north valley. Eurasian jays active and quite vocal, foraging individually in many parts of wood and field. Hooded crows also scattered about. Syrian woodpeckers very vocal and active today, some drumming heard in the pines by north valley. At least four hoopoes active around south gazelle field and eucalyptus grove area, more along north valley. Turtle doves cooing in the pines and eucalyptus. Bee-eaters swirling over look-out corner, orchard and eucalyptus grove, occasionally landing to deal with their prey. They were also using a dead small tree along the north valley watercourse for the same purpose.

Sunbird calling in Bauhinia in the garden. White spectacled bulbul (first heard about 4.55 a.m. in Bauhinia). Feral pigeons, laughing doves and house sparrows about the street as usual.

Yesterday's sightings very similar though we didn't see/hear kestrel, chukar or turtle doves then.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Wild plant pics and brief bird report.

Low lying mat of vegetation by valley road. Appears to be another member of the mint family, tiny spotted delicate light purple flowers. . Hairy leaves are adapted for heat and since this plant is peaking in June that makes total sense. Magnified about 2x natural size.

Range today: 19.2-28.4 degrees C. When we set out about 6.30 p.m. had dropped to 24.3.
Humidity: 29%, wind westerly and ~9.6 kt.

Gazelles: none sighted today. Rock hyrax: some activity by valley road, mainly adults, one half way up a cypress tree. Some chittering alarm barks.

Bee-eaters: Small group hawking for flies around look-out corner, over orchard.
Turtle doves: All cooing in various parts of the forest esp. look-out corner
Common swifts: A few active over orchard
Hobbies: call over orchard area.
Hoopoes: 2 near look-out corner, foraging and in flight.
Ring necked parakeets: Very vocal up in eucalyptus by look-out corner. Then flew off south.
House sparrows, laughing doves: Around buildings/garden as usual.
Hooded crows: Around generally, from the sound of it, a flock beyond pines, east end of north valley. Seems jackdaws have gone on their yearly vacation, following goats?
Eurasian Jays: Activity throughout woods, foraging individuals, some calls.
Feral pigeons: Around the street as usual.
Greenfinches: Some song, 'chaw calls' in pines.
Blackbirds: Some alarm calls but no song.
Collared doves: Some cooing and flight calls
Stone curlews: Vocal toward sunset.
Graceful warblers: some calls
Syrian woodpeckers: some calls and activity
White spectacled Bulbuls: Plenty calls and activity in the garden
Great tits: Some calls from the pines.

Differences noted from last year: Presence of the parakeets (absent last year though they had been around previous year) Absence of wheatears breeding in rubble and sapling field.

These tiny plants had managed to germinate IN the remains of a burnt tree stump since May 6th, found close to east valley dry watercourse. Both pics taken by A. Atwood.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hyrax population explosion

Today's range: 19.5-28.5 degrees C. ~24.1 degrees C when we headed out- clear skies and pleasant. Humidity 39%, winds northerly ~7 kt. No new fires over the weekend.

Sitting on this chair late afternoon witnessed a nice sight- parent white spectacled bulbul feeding a young bird on the branch of the Bauhinia, the young following the adult about and squeaking like a budgerigar. That accounts for some of the psittacine like calls I've been hearing in there over the last week, I was thinking maybe a neighbour had acquired a few budgies! Laughing dove calls also heard as well as the usual house sparrow chirruping. Feral pigeons about the street.

Hooded crows scattered about the woods, adults moulting, young pretty well grown and flock behaviour starting up again though groups at only about 12-20. Wing feathers found on ground.

Turtle doves and collared doves cooing energetically. Jays, Syrian woodpeckers active.

Seemed to be a whole family of hoopoes about look-out corner today- 6 in view at once, perhaps 7 individuals, moving about around the forepart of gazelle field, between paths, hawthorn tree and other locations. On the paths we saw them alternate between walking about poking their long bills in the ground and squatting down for a quick dust bathe.
Now we know why this bird got the vote for national bird (from about a third of the voters!). Our son in the army told us that the only batallion named for a bird in the Israeli army is called for the Duchifat - the Hebrew word for the hoopoe. This is so well known that anyone in the army past or present is likely to vote for it! (
For a photo and info it's worth checking out We spent a little time admiring the family, as it appeared to be though they didn't stay together as a group but moved about in groups of two or three though all active at once. Their broad black and white wings gives them a butterfly like appearance when they take to the air.

We also saw a dark falcon fly and wheel over gazelle field, dark, probably a hobby. I had it in view till another falcon swooped in to chase it and both zipped fast out of my view flying at high speed just over ground level. Ring necked parakeets in the eucalyptus near the east watercourse bridge, many small insistent calls, (juveniles?) then one with rather ragged plumage(moulting) flew alongside us and landed in the top of an acacia where it appeared to be nibbling something, finished flower heads/fruits? Sunbird heard later near the watercourse. Blackbirds seen and heard, greenfinches in song and a couple of chaffinch like songs.

Gazelle spotted on the northern skyline, on the dirt pile by the wall just east of A Ram.

The other mammal of the day was the rock hyrax- plentiful! Looking down at cypress slum at a glance we could see over 40 and at least three quarters of them this years' kits! We saw a young one climb into a cypress and nibble so they're clearly beyond just milk. We wondered if they have some kind of creche arrangement since we saw a parent herding at least 7 and in one instance about 7 appearing to nurse from the same mother, taking turns. It's possible mothers share nursing of the kits and will nurse kits not their own since each mother generally doesn't produce more than four at once.

Plants we saw in today: still some mustard, Echium, broom, Centaurea, capers and globe thistle is just beginning to flower. Checking out the charred area of the fire of the 6th of May: Fresh sprouts of aromatic scrub everywhere, more grass, centaurea and a fine leaved flower shown below. Fennel? Also some tiny leaved plant growing from a niche in a charred tree stump. That and a hairy leaved mint family member I hope to post tomorrow. Good grass growth in one spot exactly coinciding with a patch of fallen eucalyptus leaves. Husband theorized the long slender simple leaves served to collect dew for their