Thursday, December 31, 2009

early flowering

These red anemones were found just at the north edge of the young pine forest, the one just west of gazelle field. There were three of them, none seen elsewhere and earliest bloom we've seen yet (Monday)

A Gagea : Star of Bethlehem.. now sprouting in many places under the pines. (Monday)

Savyon in sapling field. The larger leaves amongst them are mostly those of growing milk thistle. These two views taken late last week.

Clumps of asphodel foliage near east valley watercourse, each bearing spikes of pale pink flowers.. just discernible.. perhaps click on it to see them a little better. The closest clumps are likely actually part of the same plant linked by an underground rhizome system. The whole plant takes up quite a bit of room and reaches up to my chest. Brown patches in the back were done by park authorities not mole rats. Yet more!

Below.. one of the Asteraceae (composites) but not sure which yet.

white flower is one of the brassicaceae.. shepherd's purse or near relative, not sure which.

Apart from these other plants noticed for first time lately.. Thorny burnet flowers! Male, by central trail and beginnings of female flowers too. Some deadnettle (purple labiate) flowers by edge of neighbourhood and more mustard.

Thurs Dec 31st: sapling field a riot of savyon now, quite delightful, as well as the small purple and orange jobs and a tiny white flower that is definitely one of the Brassicaceae.. a nasturtium? More asphodel coming out all over the place. definitely earlier this year.

Gazelle.. at least nine including adult buck, grazing north field area.

Black redstart on rebar at bunker rubble.. we were out an hour earlier than usual and I waited till he was back in action. Syrian woodpecker heard, Collared doves about, flock of feral pigeons over our street, laughing dove soft cooing in the garden. Sunbird in cape honeysuckle as well as house sparrows.

Sunbird singing up a storm in the garden like a robin on caffeine saturday , occasional black redstart, .

Sunday 3 Jan:

Gazelle.. adult buck with a number of females and young, at least 8 counted altogether, possibly more.. grazing in field by north watercourse, buck occasionally getting involved with some of group members.. brief sparring with young males (we'd noticed in the past the young males, rather unwisely, sometime start up with the adult buck and he puts them in their place! A little later he ran after a female for a stretch, straight run, no bounding, pretty level ground, alluvial area.

I checked north facing slopes of north valley in place we'd found cyclamen before.. sure enough plenty leaves by boulders but no flowers yet, not expected. Wild mustard is blooming, however, by valley road and stonecrop leaves already spreading over rock flats area by north dirt road turn off. Great place for little ponds.. some already teeming with life.. fly larvae most visible but I think microcrustaceans and other stuff in there too.. need to get samples for boys to check with microscope.

Two Eurasian sparrowhawk sightings plus kestrel circling over north valley. Laughing doves cooing in the garden today.. seems volume slightly increased, hen chaffinch spotted high in eucalyptus, their calls have been heard around a lot lately especially in north valley.

Birds also about lately: jackdaws, hooded crows, feral pigeons, house sparrows, graceful warblers, chiffchaffs, Syrian woodpeckers and great tits getting more vocal. Hyrax and fox not seen last few days though we were in right places.

Monday: Gazelle group seen almost all the way up the hillslope to the north, grazing peacefully, adult male amongst them, rest females and young. Young male standing on the crest, buck just a little way down from him. At least 8 individuals, hard to tell with their appearing and disappearing act amongst the boulders and bushes at that distance.

Feral pigeons, laughing doves, house sparrows about buildings, Hooded crows and jackaws around generally, lots of thin piping of insectivorous birds calling in the pines, thought we heard chukar just down from Shadiker hyrax colony but we've been fooled before by some kinds of alarm barks of hyraxes which sound very similar to 'chuckles' of chukar. When a small pack of feral dogs appeared down there made it even more likely we'd heard hyrax though I still say they sounded more like chukar. Nice view of a Eurasian sparrowhawk flying over. Blackbird brief song and chakchak pre roost calls.

Monday, December 28, 2009

geraniums etc

These beautiful tiny geraniums I found growing at the edge of the street this afternoon. (monday) I.D.d as Geranium rotundifolium - I'd been noticing the leaves all over the place but these are the first blooms I've seen this season, and a minute from the house.

This interesting insect was right next to me on the wall when I went to the bathroom first thing today! One of my kids killed it later, I think he was concerned about that sharp point at the end of the abdomen! I have never had one of these attack me but it's possible one of my other boys was stung by one years ago.. such he described but we never found the evidence. Unfortunately didn't measure it but it's about 4 or 5 cm long. Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma) on my bedroom wall this evening.

(below) later found, here, on the window blinds.

Below.. growing by our street on a patch of rough ground. Looks like one of the catchflies (Silene) but did not find a definite match and none this early. Earliest blooms in february! I also don't remember seeing them or the geranium this early last year, and neither of us remember as many winter crocuses last year, many places by gazelle field, by north watercourse. Could we have just walked past them last year?

Eager earthworks of the park authorities. They have been busy in many open places, turning over the earth for development, tree planting.. we shall see! I hope we won't lose out on any flora but the way vegetation is coming up there should not be much to worry about. The eucalyptus grove area by the north watercourse has also been ploughed so I shall be watching later to see if the Carmel orchids there can grow this year.

Mon 28 Dec : House sparrow chirps, Sunbird squeaks and laughing dove soft coos in the garden much of the daylight hours. Bulbuls and blackbirds settling to roost in the forest by valley road. Continous hyrax alarm barks over by the Shadiker colony today, perhaps cat or fox upsetting them. No hyrax activity by valley road noticed.

Tues 29 Dec: sunbird active in garden again today, (cape honeysuckle is in bloom), laughing doves soft coos. Jackdaws and Hooded crows swarming over windsurfer hill.. apparently collective nouns for jackdaws include a 'clattering' and a 'train' but I still prefer a 'snickering'! 'Jack' is also not an allusion to the call it makes but is a diminutive- means 'little daw' , 'daw' I assume simply meaning 'crow'. In Hebrew they are called simply 'kaak' קאק which is an allusion to the call.

Husband heard Tristram's starling as he was coming down the hill midday, (from bus stop to house),

Fox seen just as it was getting dark.. we took ramp path from valley road to the back of the buildings and as we reached the top fox cut just a few feet in front of us from back of a garden and down the bank with a large piece of what looked like bread in his mouth. It stopped on the slope briefly, crunched the bread but did not feel at ease eating there so continued across valley road and into the cover of the pines.

Wed 30th December: great tits scolding in the pines just down from valley road. Collared doves about. Jackdaws and hooded crows as usual. Sunbird squeaking in the garden. Call like that of european robin up the hill just west of the east valley watercourse dirt road. Black redstart at the bunker rubble.. good to see it has not been put off from its usual haunts!

Stone curlew heard from east field as it became dark.

9 gazelle, just east of the bat cave, lower slopes of hill to north.. one adult male buck following but a little apart from a group of females and quite well grown young.

Found the Silene depicted above and photographed the silver Y in my room.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Flowers, snails and other delights

Savyon (Senecio vernalis) now blooms in many places by the edge of valley road, in and about the stream bed. 13 petals on this one! (plus a very small insect which is probably a thrip)

Not sure what this is yet.. one of the very delicate purple flowers growing in mats of serrated leaved ground hugging vegetation. One of the geraniums? Each flower had five petals. The leaves of the round leaf geranium are becoming plentiful now as are those of monkswort.

Toadstools grow amongst young milk thistle and clover, grasses and other foliage. Caps about 4,5 cm in diameter. Akiva. Under pine cover just north of sapling field.

The flourishing of green vegetation in this season is always a delight to me. In this tiny window on sapling field ground cover a nice handful of species can be seen. Serrated pinnate leaves on the left are those of the purple flower.

Nice size snail found in the garden by the boys. It's alive, has just retreated into its shell for now, boy's finger for scale, perhaps hibernating at least temporarily. Right off I'd say it's a Roman snail (or close relative ) Helix pomatia which are used in Mediterranean cuisine though not in Israel as far as I know. (neither Muslims nor Jews eat them)

Wednesday 23rd December: Fox seen pretty much exactly same place as last week, north west lower corner of mid windsurfer hill slopes by treeline, this time heading in direction of Pistacio grove and cistern.
No gazelle today but two yesterday between north watercourse and bat cave stretch of rocks.. adult buck chasing another with shorter horns.. I got impression from sharp facial markings that it wasn't a female but a young male.

Blackbirds heard twice in song, one in gardens near house , another beyond pumping station.

First Asphodel! I don't remember seeing one in bloom so early last year. This was not far from the east valley watercourse in shade of pines just north of sapling field.

Saturday 26 Dec: sunbird singing in Bauhinia outside window early afternoon. laughing dove soft coos, house sparrow chirps.

White spectacled bulbuls just down from valley road as it was becoming dark , musical calls answered by more musical calls in trees down by watercourse, echo effect. Also some harsh social noises. Calls of chiffchaffs many parts of the wood(? ) calls of Chaffinches by shadiker colony. Pine just down from there brown/red leaves all over.. fire, or poisoned by stuff drained down hill? Acacia right next to it looks healthy though.

Jackdaws and hooded crows active as usual. We looked for hyrax all along valley road at the usual time but none about at all. Temps today ~9.5 -17 degrees C (just over 49 -~62.5 degrees F)

Sunday 27th December: Fox seen again. We left the loop where valley road becomes a dirt road and crosses the bridge, and crossed the watercourse where it descends the hillside there. From there we picked our way between the limestone, sprouting asphodel and other vegetation now really growing in. Thorny burnets and thyme filling out with leaves. The fox was down by the dirt road to our left and made its way up the hill ahead of us and up to our right. He looked like the fox we have seen a lot lately but not going on his usual path, south of the pumping station for a change.. he could have been spooked from that by a neighbour moving along the dirt road below, or, of course, his daily route could be complex and variable- or it could be another individual but the colouring was pretty much the same.

What do you call a group of Jackdaws? I'd coin the term "Snicker". A snicker of jackdaws - because that's what they seem to do when they all vocalize at once. Whether it's the correct collective term or not doesn't really matter.. we heard a flock snickering up on the hillside to the north. We also heard Syrian woodpecker, saw a pair of collared doves on a line near the pumping station, male with his thick neck and looking hopeful, heard graceful warblers vocalizing here and there, a group of rather tuneful small birds that may have been linnets but didn't get a good look at them, still, sounded like them, and hooded crows and feral pigeons were also about. Stone curlew heard from east field as it was getting dark and we were heading back up the hill home.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More fox, week's review, area development

Monday 14 Dec:
Fox seen again.. he was up the slope to west of pumping station (near hyrax colony there). Some boys with a dog way up the slope spooked it and it headed down the slope towards us, passed between ourselves and station and continued on down into the sapling field. We noticed he paused briefly at two shrubs, one of them fresh asphodel blades, cocked back leg to mark, and this time I made a point of looking and confirming he was indeed male. He continued down the longways central trail from the sapling field to the ruin. Checked east and north fields, no sign of gazelle today. Hyrax? *

Female chaffinch noticed on top of cypress in east valley, Tristram's starling heard whistling, two flew from hyrax colony area intto a partly built large building (will be a synagogue). Perhaps they hope to nest there in the spring, suits them like the ruin by the quarry. Graceful warblers foraging in low vegetation on the bank, young male black redstart perched on a rebar and flicking characteristically. Husband noticed another bird with orangish breast, darkish head, from that I'd say already stonechat. Great tits heard scolding, blackbird chak call at dusk.

Flock of over 50 feral pigeons on rooftops near house, sunbird singing in Bauhinia mid afternoon.

Tuesday 15th Dec. Temps down today, definite chill in the air. 9.7 -15.3 degrees C today (~49.5-59.5 degrees F) , two sweaters and jacket weather

Gazelle.. group spotted from valley road ascending northern slopes of windsurfer hill.. five altogether, four females and well grown young in front, adult buck following a few metres to the rear.

Great tit scolds, Syrian woodpecker call, Eurasian jay calls.. haven't heard latter two for a bit- jackdaw calls, Stone curlew call from east field as the stars were coming out.

Wednesday 15th Dec: Felt warmer than yesterday, cloud cover and very light mist over much of windsurfer hill. We had just mounted the shepherd's path to a point that commanded a view of all the northern slopes of windsurfer hill when Akiva noticed what looked like our fox moving by the tree line a little to our north west. Fourth day in a row! Looking down towards the fence we noticed two gazelle, looked like mother and well grown young between the olive grove and the east pine grove.

Birds included: blackbirds, jackdaws, hooded crows, laughing dove (1 flew across valley road into pines). Hoodie on top of tree indicated that they may already be starting to stake out breeding sites.

Sunday morning 21 Dec. early: garden, squeaks of sunbirds, blackbird soft chak chak, calls of jackdaw and hooded crows farther off, white spectacled bulbul and later, laughing doves.

We did not get down to the valley thursday or friday but were down there Saturday. In the woods lately, great tit scolds more frequent, collared doves occasionally seen but quiet this time of year, Syrian woodpeckers about, graceful warblers quite active and the occasional Eurasian sparrowhawk spotted, flying swiftly between groups of trees. Haven't seen black redstart for a while but again, we could be there a little too late, we need to catch him earlier in the afternoon when insect hunting is better - and after Shabbat and Chanukah may not be disturbed so much by people.. though the recent work on the field might also keep him away. Perhaps he moved to other side of eucalyptus grove.

No gazelles noticed yesterday but today 2, mother and quite well grown young down near north watercourse in the open, moved on towards bat cave.

Magnificent cloud scape today, no one picture would do it justice. The entire dome of the sky was traced with a delicate and ever changing pattern of high altitude dappled cumulus/stratus/cirrus variations.

What are they doing to gazelle field between cistern and central trail? Bulldozer has turned over all the soil now. Do they plan to seed it with lawn grass for picnics? I hope much of the Malcolmia and other flowers of that area survive. We shall see.

Monday 21st December, winter solstice!

Akiva spoke with a man from the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) who was down near the bunker rubble with his work crew. They do indeed plan to plant trees over much of gazelle field as well as part of the owl glade and a bare part of the pistacio grove. They have already disposed of the prunings and were applying a liquid to the cut branches to prevent insect infestation. While they were down there the man spotted a gazelle over on the south, more open side of the Pistacio grove.

In the sapling field I noticed the first bright yellow Savyon! Senecio vernalis , also known as spring groundsel. Its smaller flowered relative, the diminutive but vividly orange dandelion type was also already blooming as well as a delicate petalled tiny purple flower with ground hugging leaves. Its hard to find an intact flower of one of those purple jobs, they seem to shed petals at the drop of a hat. Polygonum is also still in bloom as well as the low broom type by the wayside.

Graceful warblers were active and vocal today around gazelle field, Jackdaws and hooded crows heard many times, feral pigeons about, husband heard a Tristram's starling somewhere over east, great tits were busy scolding and sunbirds, house sparrows and laughing doves in the garden. White wagtails heard

It's now about 6.10 a.m Tuesday , and I hear a sunbird alarm call from the gardens somewhere not far off. Hoodies and jackdaws also heard.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fox company

This fox we encountered today, Sunday 14 Dec, on the bank just up from valley road, between cypress slum and the pumping station. It must have been aware of us but acted totally unconcerned.. this was shortly before sunset. It made its way silently along the slopes, like a dog, sniffing here and there investigating everything in its path. Akiva noticed it first this time, pointed it out to me and we both fell silent as we proceeded along valley road, husband taking shots, myself following quietly at a little distance behind. We followed it all the way to the pumping station where it took a turn up the hill and never seemed in any hurry. Akiva got nearly twenty shots of it.

Though thin, it looked in good health and condition. We got as close at 10m or so at times but for most of the walk the distance was between 10 and 20 metres.

Wednesday 9 Dec: Sunbird vocal in Bauhinia outside window early afternoon. House sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls about. Jackdaws and hooded crows vocal on and off all day, flying home south from forage late afternoon as usual.

8 gazelle- in east valley woods three noticed just north of sapling field. Then two noticed crossing east valley dirt road heading up the hill slope, joined by three more individuals .. all females and well grown young. As we reached look out corner saw three heading into the young pine grove, possibly the first three we'd seen and could not have been the three that headed up towards windsurfer hill.. so definitely 8 (with the outside possibility of 11 if the last group were a third group of three but less likely though we didn't see the three progress north through the east valley OR cross the road. )

What else? Syrian woodpeckers quite vocal today for a change, blackbirds, graceful warblers, great tits.

Thursday 10 Dec: 3 gazelle: seen from north valley dirt road.. two crossing watercourse towards trees by bat cave.. a female following an adult buck. (for a change). Another adult buck a few hundred yards farther west ('upstream' under same trees). Far from the first time we've seen two adult bucks in that region. I wonder if they are the same two that used to keep each other's company?
What else? Great tits (including some song in last couple of days, heard from house). Chiffchaff calls, chaffinch calls, small flocks moving between trees, Eurasian sparrowhawk (?), flying into trees by north valley dirt trail, in direction of owl glade from north gazelle field/hill.

Saturday 12 Dec: Hyrax very active along down by valley road late afternoon though didn't see any in the trees today and no very small ones.. not expected.
Akiva heard Tristram's grackles from somewhere up the hill from the pump station. Call of raptor up there, sparrowhawk? Calls of chiffchaffs about and as first stars coming out, stone curlew from somewhere by north valley. Chukar calls? Unless it was a similar hyrax call. Collared doves, two indivs, on two different lines near pump station. Chaffinch calls, small finch groups seen in flight over trees. Jackdaws and hooded crows vocal and active up on windsurfer hill. Small groups of white wagtails heading south to roost. (general note: 'heading south'.. we're NOT talking migration here, just their direction to roost.. which is more towards built up areas=more warmth so tends to be favoured direction for birds returning from forage)

up the slopes just east of east valley dirt road.. adult buck, looking down at us, handsome and looked like hair grown in, warmer, thicker winter coat.

Milk thistle leaves getting longer, more coming up, mustard leaves coming up on the bank below Lev Aryeh,( edible and quite peppery!), some winter crocus seen.

Sunday 13th: No gazelle today but amazing fox encounter.. pics above.

Apart from that: laughing dove cooing in the garden, sunbirds heard, large flock of jackdaws and some hooded crows scared off windsurfer hill by a chopper, milled over east valley for a while, calling. A pair of Tristram's starling flew over east valley, whistling. Sparrowhawk flew over eucalyptus grove area heading over east valley, southward.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Foxes, Gazelles, Toads, winter rains

East valley watercourse- here it widens to spill over central trail and onto gazelle field when it flows. At the moment of the pic (this afternoon) any flow was indiscernible and the whole stream bed is carpeted green. After another rain this evening we could see light reflecting from the look out corner area from the distance indicating that fresh water had washed over.

Last few days on and off rain with cool temperatures, some lightning though mostly flashing up in the clouds, and a roll of thunder. Just under 9.5 degrees C, 49 degrees F (dawn) to 11.75 C 53 degrees F (mid/late morning)

Chiffchaffs heard calling in the pines a lot lately. This pic was taken by Ruthie Schueler and from the plant it's on, great willowherb, I'm guessing it was taken by the pond at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory.

Sunday 29 Nov: Gazelle: (two bucks today as follows) as we were walking eastward along the north valley dirt road husband spotted a buck gazelle moving across the alluvial area towards the bat cave, then heard a snort. I also heard a snort but it was definitely not from that direction but directly across the watercourse. Another buck was right there across the watercourse at the edge of the woods and in rather an uncomfortable looking position... balanced precariously, his back legs stretched way back, his behind as close to the ground as he could get standing on four feet. He held this for a little while then pulled up his back legs and assumed a more normal defacating posture for another minute or so. When he was done he bounced, literally bounced away up the slope and then slowed to a trot, and headed out of sight. I couldn't actually make out if he was defacating but seemed so.

Hooded crow
calls before dawn. Blackbird song about sunset. Sunbird calling in the cape honeysuckle as we left, husband could see some iridescence on it, young male? Harsh bulbul calls heard as well as some very vocal graceful warblers. Twitterings in the tree tops probably greenfinches but too far to make out.

Wednesday 2 Dec:
8 gazelle: 3 and then another three passed behind the cistern into north gazelle field.. running. Had something spooked them up there? A little later we saw another on east valley dirt road crossing over and then heading up the slope towards wind surfer hill. Had horns but poor view. Minutes later adult male gazelle appeared ahead of us on the road, stared at us for a while and then also continued up the slope.

Today and esp. yesterday jackdaw flock very active over neighbourhood, top of nearest hill.. soaring en masse, some vocalization but just milling around up there almost the way bee-eaters do when they hawk, just flying around, cross paths, social? pairing? Husband noticed distinct pairs already within the milling.

Sunbird in cape honeysuckle by entrance, Chiffchaffs calling in pines. Yesterday stone curlew heard from direction of windsurfer hill northern slopes

Saturday 5 Dec: Akiva heard Sunbird again, We heard Tristram's starlings, sounded like two birds whistling over towards pumphouse but didn't see them. Just after sunset near look out corner heard stonechats. Neatest thing happened while I was talking with husband at bunker rubble pines and noticed a fox pass by right behind him just at the other edge of the dirt road! I pointed it out to Akiva as it strolled nonchalantly past, from orchard towards east pine grove. It did not seem spooked by us at all even when Akiva turned and looked. He thought it resembled the one we saw with Colby though possible same one, can't be sure. Coat was greyish with slight red/brown tinge and seemed to have grown in a bit for the winter, quite hairy.Didn't have camera.

Sunday 6 Dec: Fox passed by same place, roughly same time! This time we were at greater distance. Husband took pic but poor definition due to poor light and distance. Group of at least half dozen gazelle grazing in north east gazelle field, water course area, near the snapdragon clump.

Monday 7 Dec: Hid by (sat behind) pile of cut eucalyptus on field side of look-out corner to see if we could photograph fox but no show, didn't pass by.. rain last night and this morning may have caused it to change its plans. We did hear calls of bulbuls, tristram's starling whistles over in the direction of windsurfer hill, graceful warbler calls, white wagtails (numerous calls heard over the last couple of days) but no sign of black redstart or stonechats today. Blackbird chak chak heard on the way back and sound of stone curlews roughly from direction of bat cave.

Also heard today in the garden: laughing dove coos, house sparrows, sunbird from cape honeysuckle. Feral pigeons, jackdaws , hooded crows also about roofs.
Kestrel spotted over neighbourhood recently.

Toad on the road this evening, not surprising with all the rain water on the ground. A big one by the first turn down on valley road.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

foxes, cat and field diggings,

Looking north- eastish at the digging covering most of the ground between the water channel and the young pine grove.

Photograph of some of the numerous diggings in gazelle field, almost half the field is now covered with these square shapes.. husband there for scale. Tree planting soon? This pic facing towards central trail/look out corner. The pistacio grove in the far background.

Feral cat lurks down the bank from valley road, north facing slope on the north watercourse side. It was noticeably warier than the usual feral cat and given its wild type markings it may have been a wild cat Felis (sylvestris) lybica (which could occur in this region and habitat) or more likely a wild/feral cross. It fled into deeper shade. We've already seen feral cats with wild markings particularly the three bars on the tail (photographed a few months ago) and I read that they will interbreed quite freely. The wild cat tends to have a bit more sandy colouring and perhaps not quite so short haired but there could be regional variation.

Tuesday 24 Nov: Around house, sunbird, white spectacled bulbul since dawn, also house sparrow and softly cooing laughing dove.
3 white wagtails calling and flying over the end of our street as we headed down
Jackdaws, Hooded crows seen, heard. Chaffinch like calls in pines just down from Shadiker hyrax colony but none clearly seen. As we entered woods heard calls like chiffchaff, also Syrian woodpecker, blackbird.

Wednesday 25 Nov: Around house, sunbird, white spectacled bulbul and laughing doves as yesterday.
Also about, feral pigeons, jackdaws, hooded crows, blackbirds, Syrian woodpeckers, insect eating birds in the pines which managed to stay elusive but probably chiffchaffs and such.

Two gazelle down by the almond row bounding along across away from the fence, thin horns, not adult males.

Much work has been done on gazelle field.. patches each about a metre square dug out regular intervals possibly for tree planting, most of west side and area by crossing watercourse. The Pistacio grove has been pruned and various dead branches of eucalyptus sawn off including the dead tree at look-out corner. Thistle patches by east end of north valley watercourse have been mown.

Most interesting sighting today was at about 10.30 p.m. when we took our dog (cairn terrier) out for a walk. Colby was standing pretty much frozen and staring at the start of the central trail. I saw in my peripheral vision what I took for a ginger cat crossing the road right in front of us and heading down onto central trail. (He was running free and since we heard a horse approach behind us we decided to put him on the lead as that horse is a touch nervous I approached to get him).

The boys with the horse approached and we got into a conversation. One of them had raised several chickens and this fox or another had raided his coop, killed the lot.. even been so bold as to approach and try to get one out of his hand. The boy was under the impression the fox was sick- not good since foxes can carry rabies around here, but we are not sure on what he based his opinion- the fact it was bold and hungry or signs that it was out of condition. I need to ask for more details.

As we spoke the fox remained just down the bank a few metres away, watching us. Presently it slipped off parallel to the road down the bank and crossed valley road again on the pumphouse side, and headed up the bank, turned, crossed valley road again and headed back to central trail, completing its circle, then headed off down the trail east. A few minutes later we saw a fox head up the bank by the Shadiker hyrax colony - given timing and a few small details of its appearance we decided this had to be a second fox, and this one Colby wanted to chase.. we had to restrain him! Husband wished he'd brought camera as the fox came so close, up to ten feet at one point.

Thursday 26th Nov: gazelle spotted heading from sapling field into woods between valley road and east watercourse.

Bird life pretty much as yesterday.

This evening husband caught the feral/wild cat pic though of course we were hoping for the foxes again and this afternoon we took some pics of the dug patches on gazelle field.

Saturday 28th Nov: First chaffinch sighting of the season! Male perched on top of one of the trees on the forest side of valley road, not far from the pumping station.

Lots of hyraxes active today by valley road of various sizes though no very small ones. Birds seen/heard: white spectacled bulbul, syrian woodpeckers, blackbird (including brief song), collared dove, laughing dove (coo), graceful warblers, hooded crows, jackdaws.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winter crocuses, Bold starlings

Today, Sunday, I returned to the place where all the crocuses were growing in profusion, just up the bank to the east of the east valley dirt road, found this one open.

This, taken last thursday, pretty much all the winter crocuses were in bud. Below, milk thistle germinating all over the place, the first, seed leaves (cotyledons) are simple in shape with just a few pale markings but the next pair already have the spiny serrations of the future leaves.

Friday 20 Nov: Before dawn, sunbird squeak alarm yet again, early afternoon blackbird SONG heard.

Saturday 21 Nov: Gazelle: No luck on our walk this afternoon but on our way back up from our evening walk an adult male gazelle was ahead of us on the last turn, right between us and the caravan shul. When it became aware of us it ran around the back of the caravan and paused at the end of Elias, then made its way in less alarmed fashion across part of the empty lot beyond and then down the bank.

Lots of hyrax about this (late) afternoon on our walk, on the forest side of forest road across from 'cypress slum', on and between the boulders and nibbling up the trees. a few dropped down out of them at our approach.

Husband spotted two sparrowhawks over towards east field. As we approached look-out corner area from east valley dirt trail I noticed male black redstart on a rebar, always good to see. A little later stonechats heard and one male spotted perched in the fore field just beyond the rubble. Syrian woodpeckers heard. Graceful warblers heard, flock of jackdaws up to the north west today, by A Ram, at least 100 probably more. Hooded crows over, Eurasian jays about the woods.

Sunday 22 Nov: Again before dawn, at about quarter to six a.m. sunbird started off with much squeaking alarm calls. Soon after a white spectacled bulbul called melodiously for a while, house sparrows chirped and farther off jackdaws and hooded crows called. Laughing dove cooed softly later.

As we walked northish along the east valley dirt road we heard chukar partridges from somewhere in the valley, first time we've heard them in weeks.

We ascended the shepherd's trail to look out over east field and were in luck.. 6 today! An adult male gazelle was grazing in the quite close company of a group of at least five gazelles, females and well grown young- just a little to the south of the olive grove in one of the lowest parts of the field. Presently they started to move towards windsurfer hill, parallel to the fence which gives them some sort of cover. I've noticed five paces.. walk, trot, run, a bounding, leaping run when they really want to make speed, and a sproinging bounce.. all we saw them do this afternoon apart from the bounce which is usually used when one gazelle wants to catch up to another gazelle quickly. The buck was quite happy where he was and continued grazing, apparently oblivious to the movements of the others away from him.

Monday 23 Nov: Hooded crows winging home from foraging, white wagtail noticed end of Elias very interested in a dense tree, flew at it a couple of times, seemed quite excited. Wants to roost in there or some interesting forage? Sunbird and bulbul about from dawn again. In the woods: blackbirds, chak chak alarm call at dusk.

A couple of weeks ago my eldest son, Aharon, travelled in the south of the country. Here he is relaxing on the shores of the Dead Sea surrounded by Tristram's starlings Onychognathus tristramii They are numerous down there and have adapted, and even thrive on the presence of man. One is actually perched on his left hand, this I have NEVER seen before. It clearly trusts him and is interested in his pita bread and cheese! At least five forage for crumbs on the ground and three more watch out for opportunities from the backs of chairs.

Below, a female Tristram's starling - you can tell by the brown rather than jet black head.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

week of the new moon

Saturday Nov 14: hyraxes.. 1 up a cypress near the top, Shabbat so no camera but would have been great pic. He carefully started to spiral down on thin branches around the trunk.

: Behind cistern, near the large pine.. strolled along top of a dry stone wall then went into vegetation, pouncing motions.. from the way he looked in our direction seemed he was aware of us but not bothered. Not one of dark patchy foxes, intermediate.. face greyish, paling at the muzzle, flanks grey with hints of russet, dirty white tip to long bushy tale.

At same time we were watching the fox a group of gazelle passed behind, females and well grown young, across the watercourse and into the lowest far east field. Seemed they'd made their way from behind the pine grove from east field. At least four individuals but could have been more, light was fading, shortly after sunset. Adult buck was grazing by an almond a little farther to the west.

White spectacled bulbul outside the window about 5.45 a.m. again followed soon after by house sparrow chirps. On our walk Jackdaws and hooded crows seen and heard, returning from forage to roost, great tits calls, calls of graceful warblers, white wagtails passing over. Some stonechat calls around the cistern but we were too late for the black redstart. Blackbirds heard just after dusk chakking away by central trail.

I looked out for autumn grape hyacinth in other locations (specifically woods trail just north of the sapling field) but did not find yet though crocuses and autumn squill were blooming. As for the saplings, they are not doing very well. One Ailanthus thriving but most are having hard time since surrounded by thistles have not received much in the way of nutrients and are struggling though hopefully will pick up after the rainy season, this is after all a trough in the year for the Pistacios. The new season of milk thistles is already beginning.. their seed leaves are up and the second pair of small but typical milk thistle leaf is now visible esp by the trail to the saplings.

Temps today: 11.25 to just over 17 degrees C ( ~52.25- 62.75)

Sunday Nov 15: First bird I heard in the morning in the pre-dawn dark was the incessant squeak alarm of a sunbird coming from somewhere across the garden.. I'd guess the cape honeysuckle. There's a family of cats around there that probably got it in that state. In the afternoon as we left for our walk we heard a variety of sunbird calls from the honeysuckle, which is now in bloom again, brilliant orange in its upper reaches. Soft laughing dove coos later.

Gazelle luck again.. 3 today.. across north valley watercourse we saw a buck graze and two others, one had bent right thin horn so may be the same two we saw on the trail a few days ago and by the large almond before that.

Ticking like that of European robin on each side of the trail, one coming from the pines, one from the acacias by the watercourse but birds themselves not sighted, they are being very elusive. If they are going to be territorial, please sing!

Crows returning to roost, jackdaw calls, Eurasian jays about and calls.

Monday Nov 16: sunbird actually in SONG in the Bauhinia outside my window today mid afternoon though not sustained for long. Two Raptors flying between trees in north valley, husband saw them better, may be Eurasian sparrowhawks but just a glimpse.
Hooded crows, jackdaws, Eurasian jays heard and seen about. White wagtails heard, as were graceful warblers and blackbirds chak chak about the woods.

Tuesday Nov 17: sunbird heard again since dawn. Blackbird heard in garden or nearby garden in song for a short while. Tristram's starling whistles heard as we set out, then two noticed flying from neighbourhood toward Hizmeh.

Wednesday Nov 18: sunbird again singing in the Bauhinia mid afternoon, soft laughing dove coos. Eurasian sparrowhawk over gazelle field. Much mole rat activity lately.

Thursday Nov 19: sunbird heard not long before dawn thursday and friday morning squeak alarm.

Fox seen on east valley dirt road just across the bridge. Took off up the slope under the trees on the other side till out of view.

Two Tristram's starlings calling and circling over our street and valley road- for a short while apparently chased/mobbed by a pair of feral pigeons. It seemed that the pigeons didn't welcome the starlings on 'their' rooftops. Husband has seen the pair around a few times lately and perched up on rooftop of building with the date palm roost. Perhaps this is why they circled so many times, the pigeons did not want to let them settle?

Syrian woodpecker call and flew over east valley, much graceful warbler vocalization today, brief collared dove coo? (Laughing doves heard cooing in the garden earlier), ticking in the acacia on our way down from buildings to valley road, sounded like European robin but was being very furtive, did not see. Stonechats heard around the cistern towards dusk.

Second crocus species found by shepherd's trail, whitish with fine dark purple veining outer base of petals, a little larger than the pinks. Crocus hyemalis? (winter crocus) Most likely. I think the purple ones we see are Colchicum hieroscolymitanum (Jerusalem Autumn crocus). I think this is also the pale crocus we photographed in gazelle field last year. Will post pic soon along with a few others of today.. probably this coming saturday night.

Ant activity: Busy nest at the edge of the north valley dirt road, brown dirt spread in a ray at least a foot around the entrance holes. Beyond that you can just make out a wider area of influence, several square metres tinged green in contrast with the grey/brown of the dirt road.
Lean back and relax your eyes to see this green 'aura' better.

Area of activity: ants at work busy carting their loads about from several entrance holes.

Green tinge explained: ant housecleaning, unwanted seeds including clover, deposited beyond the brown zone are germinating all over the path, little seed leaves all over. The ants are aiding seed dispersal and the growth of their food plants.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Season of blue/purple lily family flowers

I always delight in finding a species we have not ever noticed before. I always go out with an open 'you never know' attitude but after all this time I don't fully expect to find an obvious unfamiliar species. I almost missed these since they are somewhat similar to the autumn squill at a glance but more towards the blue end of the spectrum and the form and arrangement on the stem clearly different. At home I.D.d them from the pic as Autumn grape hyacinth or Baby's breath.. Muscari parviflorum

Close to the north valley watercourse as it comes out into the open field we found a cypress with this affliction on some of its cones. Husband rubbed a few off with his fingers and found them rather soft and fibrous, like small silky coccoons.

These long 'snouted moths are quite common. I took a few shots but in some the subtle shaded barring at the ends of the wings was clear but head and antennae blurred, in others, such as this, vice versa. Many seed leaves are visible round about.

Wednesday 11 Nov: Gazelles: Two noticed grazing close to the large almond. Female and well grown young? Both had very thin horns and one did seem a little larger than the other. As they became aware of us they made their way back towards the north east corner of the pines but unhurried. We also found many tracks and some scat in the Pistacio orchard esp the east end.

Black redstart present at the bunker rubble when we arrived there. Erasian jays, Syrian woodpeckers, graceful warblers, blackbirds also heard.

Melodious calls of White spectacled bulbul heard in the garden at about quarter to 6 a.m. when still dark. Later, hooded crows, jackdaws, house sparrows, soft coo of laughing doves.

Thursday 12 Nov: Gazelles, two on the dirt road near the shaft. They were aware of us but not spooked, they took it in turns to graze and stare over at us. Both small thin horns, one had one crooked horn, I think the right. I think they were the two we saw at the almond yesterday.

My favourite find today was the autumn grape hyacinth, (above) found just down from the shaft, between the north valley dirt road and north watercourse in the open. There were also many Jerusalem autumn crocus in that area as well as numerous autumn squill but we only found a few of the Muscari. All these were given partial cover by old thistles and thorny burnet. I also found one three spot Dianthus flower emerging through a thorny burnet, many of which now bear small leaves, and a few clumps of Goldilocks in bloom .. late bloomers since so many of them farther west along the watercourse have already gone to seed.

Eurasian jays, Syrian woodpeckers, calls probably of chiffchaffs, hooded crows, flock of about 100 jackdaws foraging up near wall by A Ram, calls of great tits, white wagtails, white spectacled bulbul outside my window again at about quarter to six calling melodiously and husband heard Tristram's starling whistle somewhere off east.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Crocus season

Crocuses everywhere and the usual shade, pale lilac. Where they bloom there are usually also lots of tiny autumn squill, like amethyst studs. I was trying to be careful not to step on any!

Asphodel foliage already surges up in a clump.. I noticed elsewhere where the earth had eroded that they sprout from an underground mass of branched rhyzomes, very much like those of ginger. You can also see evidence of the charring of last summer's fires but that has clearly not damaged them.

Crocus of a deeper shade found just off central trail. There was an area just to the west of the owl glade under the shade of the pines over which spring squill and crocuses were popping up in profusion. Another similar area was found by the trail between east watercourse dirt road and valley road, just north of the sapling field. Most other areas had no crocuses at all, occurrence was notably patchy. Colour range too- this above has one of the deeper shades found but most have a much paler lilac hue.

New flush of green by the east valley watercourse.

Saturday 8 Nov: First crocus of the autumn, one of the pale purple jobs just off central trail. Several autumn squill growing round about. Pleasing discovery. I'd checked this time last year in the blog and was looking out for them.

Graceful warblers active and vocal, blackbird alarm chaks, melodious white spectacled bulbul calls, No luck with black redstart at the rubble but I think we got there a little late.. already sunset and may have retired for the day if there. Stonechats also silent this time.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk seen flying over.

The water that had been flooding over central trail late last week had already pretty much dried up and was passable even in sandles.. not even much significant mud. Earthy mud is more common along the east valley dirt road at this time of year mainly because of the passage of vehicles and we walk along the stubbly edges to keep from getting our shoes clogged up with it.

Sunday 9 Nov: Today I was determined to get a sighting of a black redstart before he retires for the evening. Next year we really have to get that first sighting in early because I'm sure we missed when he came, last year he was already here by the end of October. I say 'he' as if it's the same individual. Possible, but of course, we can't be sure. We got there just before 4.40 p.m. when there was still some late afternoon sun (with very scattered altocumulus type clouds.)

He was there! :) To my delight, there was 'Blackie', perched on top of a rebar near one of the larger blocks of concrete. As we approached he flitted off into the eucalyptus grove for a little while but as we stayed under the pines, keeping still he returned to another rebar, flicking and bobbing and looking sharp.

We scanned both north and east fields for gazelle as well as the hillslopes for as far as I could see but no luck on gazelles today.

Greenfinches heard twittering briefly, Syrian woodpecker calls, blackbird alarm calls and quite a few graceful warbler calls. Stonechats also called from the fields at about sunset.

As we left neighbourhood we noticed feral pigeon flock swirling over the buildings looking agitated. Husband spotted a raptor that had probably upset them, from his description, a sparrowhawk. Laughing dove soft coos heard again, house sparrows and melodious white spectacled bulbul calls. Don't recall last time I heard a sunbird outside, not lately but we did see a bat at dusk and crickets still calling. Also slight increase in black millipedes lately.

Monday 9 Nov: Many autumn squill and crocuses by north valley watercourse, either side of the dirt road, between road and watercourse itself and the north facing hillslopes. Great tit scolding in an acacia, Syrian woodpecker calls, also Eurasian jay and graceful warbler, flock of ~50 jackdaws returning to roost, house sparrows gathering in the date palms as usual. White spectacled bulbul calling melodiously in the garden this morning when still dark. Husband noticed hooded crow flock mobbing something over by the cistern earlier today but didn't see what. Some large raptors passing through lately, could be one of those. Some Leaf warbler calls from pines, probably chiffchaff.

Again, no luck on gazelle but bat seen at dusk over valley road.

Tuesday 10 Nov: Unaccompanied by husband today: Walked down path from corner valley road, heard hyraxes skittering away.. many autumn squill and crocuses studded the new green like amethysts. Calls of jackdaws, hooded crows, Eurasian jays, bulbuls, Syrian woodpeckers, great tits, white wagtails, greenfinch.. latter two in flight over.. quite a bit of bird activity now in the valley, pre roost foraging and socializing. Continued round to look-out corner.. stopped by the flood slope to clean up some litter washed down from the road.. it's that time of year again, saw eldest son Aharon down there with a friend, doing stretches after athletic training.. he mentioned seeing many hyraxes out. No black redstart there as I arrived but I sat on a rock by the eucalytpus grove to wait a little and soon he appeared on rebar very close to where he was the other day. Shortly after heard stonechats in the fields beyond.

'Ticking' call before dawn today outside my window.. European robin again? I'd like to hear one sing here to be certain, as too dark at that time for any sighting! I've heard them sing in other parts of Jerusalem in winter (notably in the grounds of Mount Scopus hospital just before my son Moshe was born), and in the olives in the valley by Mount Zion. They are very territory conscious and will stake out a claim over winter and sing to protect it but I've yet to hear that on my patch. Leaf warblers about from calls I heard, no luck on gazelle.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Water pours onto the land

Late afternoon sun on clouds in the north east.

A white wagtail goose-steps on the grass at Sacher Park.

Not quite sure what this is though I figured one of the cotoneasters. I checked in the native flowers list and only cotoneaster has much rounder leaves. Growing at Jerusalem Bird Observatory.

Tuesday, Nov 4: Rain on and off all day and cool.

Much water in east valley watercourse , spilling into the L shaped channel across the fore part of gazelle fields, part of it surging across the field itself between the channels and the bunker rubble and another stream alongside the dirt road towards the cistern. The cistern itself is full up to the level of the drainage hole (less than a foot from the top edge) and at least one green toad was noticed swimming in the water.

Gazelle noticed, adult male, other side of owl glade.. taking the north watercourse dirt road east.

laughing dove coos in the garden again, house sparrows, jackdaw calls heard, hooded crows.
Interesting hooded call sound coming from up the slope to the east as we walked along the east watercourse dirt road. Sounded agitated, several coarse grrok type calls and seconds after we saw Eurasian sparrowhawk fly over. Sparrowhawk sightings have increased notably lately.. probably some wintering birds involved. Husband saw two fly together earlier.
He also noticed two Tristram's starlings earlier perched on roof of building at corner of Elias/Shadiker, the one with the date palm house sparrow roost.
Collared doves, a few seen flying about between lines and eucalyptus.
Syrian woodpeckers and white spectacled bulbuls heard but no stonechats and black redstart still not back. .

Wednesday Nov. 5th

Good start to the day.. clear ticking noises outside my window not long before 5.20 a.m. (still dark) such as those typically made by European Robin. I still want a decent sighting though!

Next excitement came at 2 p.m. when Moshe called me to the garden .. a group of black kite Milvus migrans were soaring on thermals high over the valley. Moshe told me he counted 14 individuals.

On our walk I found at least two gazelle grazing on the hillside a little east and up from the bat cave. Could have been more but hard to make them out at that distance (from north valley dirt road ) amongst the rocks and with their camouflage.

Apart from that, laughing doves cooing again in the garden, Eurasian jays (amongst the pines) , jackdaws (returning over the neighbourhood from foraging somewhere north west) calling and active, a few hooded crows winging their way home solitarily, calls of blackbirds and white spectacled bulbuls.

Thursday: Trip to Sacher Park, naturally the boys were thrilled. They went to the skateboard park as usual while we checked out the JBO. The lawns of the park are frequented by many foraging hooded crows, now joined by droves of white wagtails everywhere, foraging through the grass or flying about in small groups, uttering their sharp twitters. European robin like calls heard several times in suitable habitat at the edge of the park but not glimpsed. Blackbirds about, Eurasian jays and a great tit actually in SONG. First this season.

Around the house: Both melodious and harsh calls of white spectacled bulbuls and more cooing of laughing doves, though more toned down than their spring cooing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A collection of days

Image from Wiki of Stonechat, Saxicola rubicola - now just returned to the patch.. see below.

Grasshoppers still abound in the fields. This is a Pyrgomorphella again, a very common though strange looking type with its elongated eyes and knobbly antennae type. A second grasshopper was nearby, more typical, green and pale brown longitudinal stripes and a fraction of the size, but was apparently camera shy...

'Everything comes down to poo..' We found several mounds of scat like that on the left, far more elongated than regular gazelle poop (and much too small in proportions to be porcupine poop, similar in shape) and here we found both kinds side by side. Why the change in form? More moisture due to the rains? If so, why does other gazelle scat stay spherical? One grazing near the watercourse, the other up on the hill? Perhaps that on the left is a female's and the male deliberately deposited his right next to hers?

Tuesday 27 Oct: Lots of hyrax on valley road, variety of ages.

28 Oct: Two large flocks of jackdaws at least one hundred individuals each returning from forage in the north towards sunset, shortly after followed by about 40 hooded crows.
Syrian woodpecker calls, blackbird chak chak calls at dusk, bats?

Thursday 29 Oct: Gazelle,
lone male buck north field/lower slopes just east of bat cave about sunset. No other gazelles seen today.

feral pigeons about, house sparrows, sunbird in the garden singing early afternoon briefly. Eurasian jays, some hooded crows and jackdaws flying home to roost but not in numbers as yesterday

Some rain today, cooler but still mild.

Saturday 31st Oct: Most significant.. the return of the stonechats! Numerous individuals heard by bunker rubble, around cistern, around dry stone walls and almond row in general.. one spotted in fading light perched on top of thorny burnet.. just after sunset they call to each other from every direction.

Gazelles: Mother and quite well grown young lower north slopes of windsurfer hill. We walked up shepherds hill, over part of the lower slopes and surprised a female that had been behind some boulders just off the path.. she ran down towards the olive grove where she then caught the attention of an adult male who was grazing there. That caught his interest and he chased her southward alongside the fence. Poor girl, from one thing to another! So 4 gazelle in all, all in east field. None spotted in north field though didn't scan lower hillslopes extensively. certainly none in gazelle fields.

Hyraxes by roadside. Jackdaw, flock of at least 110 with small group of hoodies amongst them, flying from north west over neighbourhood, heading towards windsurfer hill. From house main birds heard today house sparrows, hoodies and jackdaws) Rain on and off.
Eurasian jays, Syrian woodpeckers, graceful warblers, active and vocal.

Sunday 1 Nov: Laughing dove coo joined the house sparrows early morning. Chaffinch calls late afternoon in the trees near Shadiker colony? Birds in flight seen were some kind of finch..
Four gazelle on slopes of hill to the north, one young, rest females/well grown young.
Eurasian sparrowhawk over hill ridge to north briefly. Otherwise, blackbirds, white spectacled bulbuls, jackdaws, hooded crows, Eurasian jays, graceful warblers, Syrian woodpeckers.

Monday 2 Nov: Not much time for much of a walk, the skies opened again as we approached the pumping station along valley road. We did see a mature hyrax scamper across the road earlier. It has rained non stop since then and it was raining on and off during the afternoon. In the intervals when the sun peeked through the local birds hurried to forage, the sparrows, jays, bulbuls and such and various more furtive passerines.

Temps today: 9.5 (now) to 15 degrees C (early afternoon) ( 49-59 degrees F) as you see, quite a drop since Mid October!