Thursday, October 30, 2008

Are the robins back? Jemima Puddleduck.

Temperature range today: 12-17.5 degrees C. At time of our walk, just after 4 p.m. it was 16 degrees and falling, though sunny, pleasant with scattered cumulus. Wind W/NW 5-9kt, humidity 75% and rising.

Yesterday: much cooler. I wanted to watch, or rather listen, for European robins on valley road but no luck and the drizzle became heavier though not too uncomfortable. There was no flow at the bridge by the pumping station yet but we could see a cascade up the hill to the west so knew it was only a matter of time unless the flow had a new route. It took some minutes but finally it arrived, cascading down the rocks to join up with the main watercourse from the south. The water did not look so healthy though, it was stained almost black and had quite a bit of foam, no doubt carrying residues from the road up the hill and various domestic effluent.. one wonders if this affects the health of the eucalyptus and what it will do to Wadi Qelt in the long term.

To our surprise we met a white duck waddling along valley road toward the pumping station.. no doubt an escape hearing the call of the wet wild.. and risking foxes and feral dogs. No robins though.

Today we were luckier. I noticed honeysuckle in bloom which I thought a good enough excuse to use a shot I took a few years ago. Good food for the sunbirds! Husband had heard a Tristram's Grackle earlier from down in north valley and wanted to head up that way a little.

We heard a grunting barking mammalian sort of noise up to the north and examined the hillside. We did find a male gazelle following a female, followed some paces behind by two more females and then a youngster.. all heading east along a hillside trail. Could the grunting have come from the male? It did seem farther to the north and east when we heard it and the procession farther back west at the time... I was hoping to see males in combat up there but no luck, perhaps out of sight up over the ridge. We need to try again .. this is the season.

Heard some cooing feral pigeons up in the buildings while coiling a length of rusty old eruv wire.. wanted to get it out of the way because acts as a nasty tripwire on that hillside. Kestrel up there in the buildings too, calls and wheeled around a couple of times. Plenty Eurasian jays about and great tit calls. Down in the acacias and eucalyptus in the north water course we watched a foraging chiffchaff Philloscopus collybita for some time, up and down a rather bare tree but busy as anything, flitting about. This leaf warbler is a common winterer here. for photo and description. Also redstart calls from the vicinity but in dense pine foliage they're hard to find.

Some Dianthus still in bloom along the route and the ragwort as enthusiastic as ever. Some spitting cucumber still in bloom.

Then finally I heard what I'd been listening for, way up on the north facing slopes where some shorter trees grew between the pines and cypresses, the sharp ticking characteristic of the European robin Erithacus rubecula. From the directions, sounded like two birds ticking at each other up there, already establishing winter territories (as both males and females of this species will do) Of course I won't be entirely happy until I get a good sighting or hear one sing- which they will do to hold their piece of land.

Needless to say, house sparrows gathering in their roost next door and in the palms at the corner of Elias, and also a laughing dove heard cooing very briefly at dawn today. White wagtails heard. Hooded crows winging home south towards sunset. Blackbirds.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Buck gazelle herds his harem and blackie is back!

This image was taken by Ruthie Schueler in another part of the country, the grass here is taller and denser than it was in the far gazelle field today but otherwise, pretty much the same view.

Gazelles: We were delighted to see seven gazelles today towards sunset, all together in the north end of gazelle field behind the almonds. The adult buck was following his females around quite intently, even running after them. This went on for some time, to and fro behind the trees. He followed two (or he was following one and the other accompanied) and they left the group, heading down to where the watercourse leaves the field, there we lost sight of them. Perhaps they then headed up the east side of the hill to the north. The other four grazed for a while behind the almonds then headed off in the direction the other three had taken. Yesterday we just had a brief glimpse of one, a female apparently, heading south behind the pistaccio orchard, running along the dirt road and heading towards east field or the cypress grove.
hyrax: some active yesterday along valley road. Not today, it was raining for much of the day.

Bird of the day Black redstart! First good sighting of season, bang on schedule, nice male perched and bobbing on top of a rebar on bunker rubble by the three large pines. Pretty much same time as first sighting last season!

House sparrows:usual gathering in the cypress next door after 4 p.m.
laughing doves:still very low profile, not seen or heard.
Hooded crows: very spread out flock heading south toward sunset to roost.
Jackdaws: noisy flock of roughly 125 birds taking up from hill slopes to the north and heading south.
Jays: Heard and glimpsed various parts of woods and fields.
Feral pigeons: brief sightings.
Blackbirds: heard, alarm in woods yesterday toward sunset, quieter today
Syrian woodpeckers: heard calling both days, seen flying over to north valley woods
White spectacled Bulbuls: melodious calls in the garden this afternoon.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Chaffinches are back!

Kestrels love to use Jerusalem's taller buildings for nesting. They tend to favour those at least six storeys tall but on such buildings I've seen them as low down as the second storey as long as the room behind the nest is hardly used. Pic. captured by Nathan Slifkin. Click on it for full page zoom.

Saturday and Sunday

Today, sunday, was the first day in the season I actually wanted to wear a sweater, though too warm for a jacket yet. Range 15-20 degrees C, temp during our walk, (4.30 p.m.) ~17.5 degrees C, humidity ~80%, wind 5.5 to 8+ W/NW.

First chaffinches Fringilla coelebs of the season (!) noticed on top of cypresses just down from valley road. It was a small flock, spread over that part of the forest.

Yesterday we got our first good sightings of stonechats, Saxicola rubicola, up on a trail leading from the cistern up between the scrub towards the Fence. A male was standing actually on the ground in the middle of the trail while a much drabber bird, (his mate?) foraged nearby. After a short time they both took off and hid in the scrub. Today we didn't hear them at all.

We still have not managed to see any black redstarts at the bunker rubble even with careful long distance approach but we might just have been a touch late as we noticed from last season the bird tends to take the to trees about sunset when foraging 'day' is done. Today we did hear repeated alarm whistles in the eucalyptus orchards again.

Yesterday husband spotted a gazelle run out of the north valley pines to the back of the acacia and almonds. I saw it for a short while right behind the foot of the pylon but after that it disappeared, we believe it took to a water channel out of view. (those old fields have a couple of water channels walled with the local stone on each side and 3-4 feet deep, gazelles can dip out of view in them easily) . Today I looked for feral puppies to photograph for dj but no luck yet.

Husband saw a falcon chasing a feral pigeon in Mattersdorf this morning, way over on the west side of town. From the banding of the table seemed to be a common kestrel Falco tinnunculus rather than my hope, a Peregrine! I was amazed a kestrel would take on a pigeon though. The rest of the flock scattered in alarm.

In our street feral pigeons in evidence, white spectacled bulbuls calling in gardens, laughing doves keeping out of sight but house sparrows obvious as usual. Sunbird calls and also one heard by the valley watercourse between the pumping station and sapling field.

Both days heard and glimpsed Syrian woodpeckers and Eurasian Jays as usual, and blackbirds and great tits also calling.

On reflection it seems fewer birds in the woods this summer on the whole. I wonder if greenfinch populations damaged by the fires? Great spotted Cuckoo success not noted this year but that was just luck, it's possible they found hosts in other parts of the woods. We also did not spot good size families of chukars this year but they would certainly have been affected by the fires, as evidenced for example by the eggs we found after the May fire. Woodpeckers, hoopoes and jays did as well as usual though it seems. We didn't see or even hear great tit fledgelings this year either but that could have just been the luck of our small window.

I may have posted this one last season but worth it again as they are such charmers! Male chaffinch, taken by Ruthie Schueler.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another lovely image from Ruthie Schueler. White wagtails Motacilla alba alba, winter in Israel in great numbers, arriving from their Asian breeding grounds at the beginning of the rainy season. They are familiar birds because they favour human habitation.. streets and rooftops are their usual foraging grounds for small insects. They run on the ground, wagging their tails distinctly at the moment they stop to rest, hence the name, have a distinct undulating flight and sharp 'chik chik!' which makes them easy to tell that they're around.

Thursday: temp range: 19.5 -21.5 degrees C, at time of walk about 18 degrees, humidity ~75%, winds W/NW 5-7 kt

Gazelles 2 heading up from north field up hill slope)
Thursday: 1 gazelle up on north hill skyline grazing along near the wall. Two running north by the fence, emerged from behind the east pine grove and making good speed along the bank there.

Most notable..
Bee-eaters Merops apiaster heard over bat cave area though not seen, musical prrp prrp calls known to us both. Probably a group on their way south.

White wagtails: heard from the house earlier by the street and also approaching sunset in flight over the neighbourhood, heading to roost, both days.
House sparrows: as usual, increasingly intense noise after 4 p.m. in gardens both days.
laughing doves, collared doves: very low profile lately.
Hooded crows: seen, heard over valley both days, particularly sharp caws today. Large vocab.
Jackdaws: calls heard
Eurasian Jays: heard, seen around woods both days quite active
Feral pigeons: around building rooftops as usual.
sunbirds: song in garden again. Also seen foraging in the cape honeysuckle
Syrian woodpeckers: calls.
Blackbirds: chak chak calls approaching dusk as usual.
glimpse of Eurasian sparrowhawk flying up north valley.

This stuff still in bloom by valley road. If anyone remembers we captured an image near the pumping station back at the end of July. It's not an obvious plant because each flower is tiny, barely half a cm across, but a delicate candy like yellow and pink. Still not sure what it is yet. Like a Limonium or some Heliotropium but have to get back to this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Winter stuff returning.

It's almost 4 p.m. on Wednesday and a short while ago a male sunbird was singing not far off outside the window, probably in the Bauhinia, perhaps in the willow. For this reason I include an interesting photograph from Ruthie Schueler of this spunky little bird.

Yesterday I heard our first definite stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) of the season. He was singing briefly somewhere in gazelle field, actually at least two.. there was an answering bird from the cistern area but we didn't catch sight of them , just heard a sequence of whistles and 'taks'

'Maybe' black redstarts but not actually spotted though we approached the rubble with care not long before sunset, no bird appeared to be using it. We did hear redstart like whistles in the eucalyptus grove and also earlier from somewhere down in the east part of north valley. Graceful warblers:

: One, well grown female, moving from behind the hawthorns and over towards field behind the cistern. They often use the old water channels so can disappear out of sight in those quite easily, I think that's what she did. I wonder if they will eat the hawthorn berries themselves? They need tough mouths to deal with the thorns but they might have that.
hyrax, plenty activity in the cypress slum area including youngsters.

House sparrows:around the houses as usual.. afternoon chatter begins before 4 p.m. and is already quite lively by 4.10 p.m. increasing in intensity as I write.
Hooded crows: windsurfing up on the hill.. some dive bombing like behaviour.. part of play or aggression towards jackdaws that are also joining in the play to some extent?
Eurasian Jays: active and vocal throughout the woods as usual.
Feral pigeons: about as usual
Blackbirds: about the woods as usual, 'chak chak' and glimpsed.
Collared doves: occasionally seen flying between eucalyptus, being very quiet.
Graceful warblers: some calls but much decreased in intensity of late.
Syrian woodpeckers: quite vocal in the pines and cypress
white spectacled Bulbuls: vocal in gardens and various parts of the woods.
Great tits: vocal in pines and on bank by valley road.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Nutty gazelle and ragwort

Ragwort is everywhere. I had taken it for one of the Senecio genus, because of it's similarity to the British species, Senecio jacobaea, but checking my sources it much better matches Inula viscosa (tavyun davik) It seems the rains have brought on a second major blooming even though they'd gone to seed at the end of the dry season.

Today temps moderate: 15.5-27.5 degrees C. At the time of our walk.. starting about 4.45 p.m. it had dropped to a pleasant 22 degrees, humidity upwards of 80% and rising, wind 3.5- 6 kt, W/WSW

: Just one yesterday (saturday), late afternoon, a young one apparently, could not make out any horns at all and seemed relatively small size. It was foraging under the large almond tree in gazelle field and as I'm pretty sure there's almost no grazing there right now but there are fallen almonds, seems it came for them as I'd hoped. It was certainly munching constantly off the ground and walking to and fro.

Plenty active today by valley road including some young, down on the rocks just to the east of the road. It was a delight to us to talk about these and point them out to a mother and her kids who had come down for a walk. Always a pleasure to share with people we meet who want to know about the nature down there and occasionally we get this opportunity.
feral dogs. Sounded like a family barking down by the pumping station. Last night high pitched barks from across north valley indicated feral puppies that way too, by the bat cave?

White wagtail: seen and heard flying to a roof, lower part of the neighbourhood. They like to forage on rooftops, for some reason the surface attracts enough flies for them.

yesterday and today:
House sparrows:congregating in the cypresses next door from about 4.15 p.m. onwards as usual, gathering more numbers towards sunset.
Hooded crows: about the skies, over the valley as usual.
Jackdaws:Some calls over to the east.
Eurasian Jays: quite vocal in the pines in various places.
Feral pigeons: in the skies and about the buildings as usual.
Blackbirds: 'chakchak' and 'sreet' alarm calls in the pines towards dusk.
Stone curlews: single call across north valley.. quality of stone curlew but could also have been a little owl.
Graceful warblers:Heard from scrub beyond fence across the street.
Syrian woodpeckers: Heard from the pines
white spectacled bulbuls: Heard in various parts of the woods.
Great tits:some calls heard in the pines .
Some musical calls in gazelle field,

chukars, greenfinches, laughing doves, collared doves, sunbirds all quiet. Glimpses of hoopoes flying over north valley a couple of times.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

North valley stroll

Temps down on yesterday. During our walk only about 19 degrees C and not exceeding 21 degrees all day, humidity 75% and rising, wind W/NW 7-12 knots
Today we headed up north valley a short way.

We found autumn squill, the yellow aster, plenty ragwort and also some more pink three spot dianthus growing on and by the path and just up from it on the north facing slopes.

Here's the common oregano scented spiny scrub that grows in cushions all over the place. Old berries and new leaves visible. The old spines are grey whereas the newer growth is yellowish

Mother and young gazelle seen up on the north (south facing) slopes.. the pair made their way down ahead of us out of view because a few minutes later we saw a mother and young heading UP the slopes just south of us.

A good size falcon headed up towards the top of a triple residential high-rise, putting up a group of feral pigeons on its arrival. It did seem darker than a kestrel but I would hesitate to I.D. a falcon as a peregrine or other (such as Barbary falcon which also occur here) without a really good view. More raptor sightings heading down the valley, much faster, had the wind with it that time, and around and over the trees. Again, too little info in silhouette and poor lighting but Eurasian sparrowhawks and common kestrels most reasonable. Frustrating.

Plenty Eurasian jays, high calls which may be redstarts, Blackbirds heard, hooded crows about, jackdaws heard.

Moon rising behind owl glade shortly after sunset.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Unseasonably warm. Walk in the woods in harvest moon.

Unusually warm today considering there were very brief showers during last night.. I'm talking about a spattering of large drops each lasting just a minute or so. Much altocumulus of various types drifting in from the west.

Today temps reached *33 degrees C in the early afternoon.. yes you read that right. We were eating lunch in the Succah (on the patio) and heard an
orange tufted sunbird sing in the cape honeysuckle. As tropical birds they probably love this hot humid weather.
During our walk temps had fallen to about 28 degrees, humidity fast rising to 80% so rather muggy. Winds brisk, 6-12 knots, mostly westerly but also veering to WSW and NW at times.
Gazelles: 3 seen against the skyline just up the hill to the east of the stream trail late afternoon. One was grazing, head down mostly. An adult buck was following a female to and fro just behind, very interested, she's probably in oestrus.
hyrax: some activity lately by valley road and quite a lot at the colony just below houses up from north valley.
feral dogs: family encountered previous evening just up from the stream path.. we went for a walk in the light of the full moon some time late, not sure when now, around 11 p.m. Male (we think) kicked up barking and moved along rocks away from the female. She sat very still on a large flat rock, blending in very well with the limestone due to her very pale colouring, and her puppies close near by, out of sight under or round the back of same rock. They had moved out of sight at our initial approach and their father's alarm.

Woods lovely in the (full harvest) moonlight. Owl glade looked particularly enchanting as the spread of limestone on the surface gave the impression of a light cover of snow over that whole area.
We did hear an owl or something down in north valley not long after.
Sky had much patchy altocumulus but nothing to conceal the moon much or for long and lighting was very good.

reptiles: some geckoes on and by the road.
Still plenty cricket activity. At night the woods sound as if they're filled with abandonned cell phones and marakas.

Spitting cucumber still blooming and putting out pods, ragwort still flowering and going to seed, depending on which patch. Some common mallow sprouting up by valley road. Low broom continues to flower. Watching out for crocus now, none yet. Cape honeysuckle making new flowers lately. Eucalyptus by stream path raining down old dry seed pods like hail when the wind blows through tree.

*Redstart calls in the woods already? Not sure, not glimpsed. A few *white wagtails heard and seen flying over but no really good sightings of foraging birds yet.
Swallow: Hirundo rustica a few days ago just over the beginning, northerly stretch of valley road.
House sparrows: making much fuss as they begin arriving and settling into the cypress next door soon after 4 p.m.
Jackdaws: numerous calls, quite active and visiting rooftops of the neighbourhood again, possibly after pigeon eggs.
Eurasian Jays: vocal and active throughout the woods and over gazelle field as usual
Feral pigeons: winging their way home back to roost in the 'hood late afternoon.
Blackbirds: 'chack chack' alarm calls in the pines by centre trail as usual.
Collared doves: a few spotted flying in gazelle field area but quiet.
Syrian woodpeckers: some calls, brief sights
White spectacled Bulbuls: calls especially around the pumping station area.. also gardens.
Great tits:calls in pines just down from valley road.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tiny purple lily and other delights

The new flower we found, just over twice natural size. Haven't IDd it yet, seems to be a member of the lily family. Found it some time later... Autumn Squill: Scilla autumnalis

Gazelles: group of six grazing on the hillside north of the west end of gazelle field, one was adult buck. A further two in east field, from relative sizes, mother and quite well grown young, ran up windsurfer hill along a track as we approached
hyrax: not seen active today

House sparrows:already flying to roost as we took off shortly after
laughing doves: about the street
Hooded crows: up top of hill by A Ram, grating call
Jackdaws: flying over, and calls from the east
Eurasian Jays: vocal, and foraging as individuals or pairs about woods and olive grove as usual,
Greenfinches: flying between trees at canopy top level
Blackbirds: 'chak' alarm calls
Chukars: heard from down in north valley
sunbird: heard hard 'tack' call and seen foraging in the Bauhinia, a female
Syrian woodpeckers: calls various places in the pines and cypress
White spectacled Bulbuls: calls

Ragwort continues to bloom and seed at the same time and its easy to sense the pollen in the air from them. The low broom still blooms, I found a single tiny purple flower on the tip of an Echium spike and the mullein by the pumping station is still producing a few perfect yellow flowers on new shoots grown just this season. The main shoots have already dried up as have the mulleins growing by valley road.

I found an unfamiliar purple flower growing in a few small clusters amongst the rocks up the hillslope just east of the lower east valley trail and not far below the tree line. Each dainty flower, just half a centimeter across, had six pointed petals of a lovely purple hue, 6 short dark topped anthers. They were waving in the wind on stems about six inches long which made it tricky to get an unblurred shot though we shielded as much as possible. Top of page.

In searching for ID on this, managed to ID a few other flowers we've seen lately. The yellow star flower we found on the way to the quarry turns out to be Chiliadenus iphionoides though haven't found English name for it. A member of the Aster family. The white forget-me-nots we found some time ago are members of genus Heliotropum, (borage family)
The pink we found seems most likely to be Dianthus tripunctatum, told by the three spots on each petal.

nice fungal growth on a tree stump in the eucalyptus grove

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tiger Moth Euprepia oertzeni photographed in our entrance way. Its colouring was black and white, the yellow is due to the lighting

Last few days have been relatively uneventful

Gazelles: Not in the last couple of days, though spoor noticed esp. in east field.
hyrax: Some activity along valley road especially by the cypresses.
feral dogs: A pair has had puppies recently just down from valley road and near the cypress slum colony. The pups must be about a months old or more. They are holed up in a boulder den down there at the base of some cypresses with low branches, giving them very good cover. The local feral cats seemed to have had kittens about the same time and whole family parties are roving around, scavenging, parents out hunting for food now the rains have come while they were relatively much lower profile tail end of the dry season.
Bats quite regular lately, two just after dark fluttering around us along valley road, the other day we watched one fly around the lamppost repeatedly as last year, catching moths, amazing to see it swoop down at the moth when it gets it in its sonar. Or we see them various other parts of the woods, random places, crossroads, look-out corner, every night or every other night just after dark.

reptiles: Quite a number of
geckoes about, spotted on valley road and on walls lately, of various sizes.. seems they also had young lately. Anticipation of wet season, food availability.
Bee-eaters: a small group heard a few days ago roughly over the pistaccio orchard area. Haven't seen them in a while
Swifts: husband spotted five alpine swifts, Apus melba, quite high over the buildings. Not unusual this time of year, and another couple of sightings a day or two ago.
Hobbies: Still about, occasional sightings over east valley and calls from the east end of north valley. More kestrels noticed lately, up towards Hizmeh and near our neighbourhood, Brief sparrowhawk glimpse?
House sparrows: very vocally active in the gardens approaching sunset, they have a roost in the cypresses next door and another in a couple of date palms where Elias meets Shadiker. Birds can be seen flying to the roosts in small groups.
laughing doves, feral pigeons : about the street as usual.
Hooded crows: between windsurfer hill and the 'hood as usual.
Jackdaws: nice size flock usually coming and going between hoodie hill and Pisgat Zeev, using the TV aerials of the latter as roost or pre roost gathering.
Eurasian Jays: vocal and plenty seen singly flying between trees and foraging through woods and fields.
Greenfinches: some small groups spotted between pines, flying top canopy level, low level twittering.
Blackbirds: chack chack and tzreet calls various places in the woods
Chukar partridges: group of four spotted on trail up east field toward hoodie hill a couple of days back, others heard clucking down in north valley.
Collared doves: occasionally glimpsed quitting trees but keeping a very low profile, no cooing.
Stone curlews: occasional calls, very few.
Sunbirds: regular in the Bauhinia tree in the garden, not singing in last few days though.
Graceful warblers:calls various places along valley road and around bunker area.
Syrian woodpeckers: a few heard and spotted flying top canopy level between trees and also using posts at top of the bank by valley road.
white spectacled Bulbuls: hoarse chuk chuk calls and melodious calls heard various parts of the woods lately
Great tits:some calls heard from the pines below valley road and off central trail
Still no definite white wagtails.