Thursday, January 29, 2009

Acacias and oregano

The two acacias up 'hidden valley'. The pic really doesn't do the rocks justice in terms of the nooks and crannies filled with new sprouting green. I think these are native acacia species rather than the introduced Australian species in our neighbourhood. The one above has leaves like those of Mimosa, the lower one, more similar to those of the wattle tree.

Thurs: ~4.30 p.m.: temp 11.3 degrees C, wind WNW 14.8 knots, 70% humidity. Today's range: just over 9 to 14 degrees C. both evening and mid-day temps down from same times yesterday due to the cooling damp westerlies.

Today we decided to head up over to the 'hidden valley' up just north west of bat cave. The little cave itself obligingly lived up to its name by producing a bat which fluttered out, then vanished, I believe it dived back into the cave through a hole in the cave roof.

6 gazelle up on the hillside today including at least two bucks following females, crisscrossing and running about, quite frisky!

There we found a number of flowers in bloom including Roman squill (Bellevalia) lots of golden drop now (Podonosma) and a wild pink, Dianthus (tripunctata?strictus?) looked just like former but lacked the 3 spots per petal and which amazed me because in either case it's blooming at least two months out of season!) I don't think they ever quit flowering this winter, in ones and twos here and there. Lots more asphodel. In the flat eucalyptus planted area of north valley found what appeared to be flowering heads of the oregano scented spiny cushion like shrub which is everywhere. I was quite surprised at how tiny the flowers are, almost like grass flowers but could see definite stamens.. probably wind pollinated.(?) I'd expected labiate flowers similar to those of the Israeli thyme which often grows close by these bushes.

Several raptor sightings.. several Eurasian sparrowhawks about.. hard to know exactly how many since can't be sure if we're seeing the same individual more than once. One large raptor which had terminal tail bar, fit darkest morph of long legged buzzard. Buteo rufinus. It soared over the north part of gazelle field for a while, then dipped down to the east. No crow bothered it, for a change. Male Greenfinch twittering in the top of a cypress near the bat cave, not quite full breeding song but getting there. Also some alarm calls. They're getting into gear for breeding season, as are hooded crow, one was commandeering another cypress not far off.

Whole family of sunbirds active in the cape honeysuckle today including a male in song. Perhaps these are offspring of last season? They left honeysuckle in small group to forage in the Bauhinia. Feral pigeons and house sparrows about as usual, former around roof rims, latter in Bauhinia. Some laughing dove cooing in there too.

I also wanted to check out the acacias that were scorched by the fires last summer. Most of the upper branches of both were already in green leaf and new leaves was also sprouting along the centre of the fire damaged branches. The earth was totally devoid of any signs of charring and new life cropping up every where. I was ever vigilant for vipers, both because I don't want to get bit, and because I want a pic! I did find the remains of a wild tortoise near the bat cave, not fully grown. From the state of them it had died just a few weeks ago, possibly lulled into wakefulness by the mildness of the weather. It was not even fully grown.

Flower spikes of the oregano scented thorny cushion like plant that I still haven't IDd except that it is one of the mint family. The flowers are really tiny and green with prominent stamens and I suspect they are wind rather than insect pollinated, in contrast to many other members of the family. Just guessing here!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bats, bees, crickets and flowers

Nonea obtusifolia, a member of the borage family. The white 'pustules' on the leaves are normal and not pathological. Picture taken today in the water course in gazelle field.

Husband noticed honeybees today, sipping from rosemary blooms along the snake path. There were also a couple of bats hunting over the north valley trail around dusk. My 13 year old son also noted seeing bats lately.

No surprise that the tortoise had moved on. There was just a compressed dimple in the grass where he'd been and he'd obviously trundled off somewhere.. I looked briefly around but didn't find.

Blackbirds singing in the pines, stone curlews ululating calls from the direction of the bat cave and beyond, both just at nightfall. We had sat for a while to watch and listen. A Eurasian sparrowhawk had made a few passes over the valley and husband was waiting for a chance to photograph it at closer range but we soon lost enough light for that project, and simply enjoyed listening to the birds.. and spotting those bats. Eurasian jays about in the almonds again, several pairs of laughing doves at crumb corner, feral pigeons and hooded crows also aloft.

Gazelle field is beginning to bloom. We saw a few tiny bright orange composite flowers as well as a simple 5? petalled small purple job, both of which we'd noticed last season. That's another two species pronounced 'safe' from fire damage. One more, a beautiful blue member of the borage family growing down in the side of the water channel near the almonds & hawthorn, also noticed it last season also not far from this location. Pic above.

Heading home we heard crickets stridulating, so they're back in action too.. there's a definite feeling of spring now!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

tortoise torpor

Approach to'look out corner' from the east valley. This pic was taken Nov. 13th. Eucalyptus on the left, the three large pines, and favourite hangout of collared doves and greenfinches on the right. The bunker rubble is just beyond them and the cistern another few score yards beyond. Gazelle field, almonds, (still in leaf, though dropped them soon after) hawthorn and the hill beyond is in the background left and centre. You can already see it's streaked with green growth where the rains have drained through and the ground no longer looks charred from the ground fires of last summer, thanks to the mole rats and other natural changes. The pistaccio orchard would be in the foreground immediate right if it were in view, and the pathway left leads back to our neighbourhood via central trail.

Range today: 9-15.5 degrees C. At the time of our walk, about 4.30 p.m. it was about 14 degrees C, humidity ~63%, winds southeasterly, just over 6 kt, skies mostly clear.

Husband was working in his home office today which has the cape honeysuckle right outside his window but not a peep from the sunbirds. I'm not sure if I heard them or not, not definitely. I did hear blackbirds, in or near the garden, house sparrows and laughing doves much of the day, jackdaws further off. White wagtail? If so, very briefly.

Within a minute of leaving the house I spotted a Eurasian sparrowhawk flying from over our street towards north valley. The local streets are good hunting grounds for them, full of their prey! Feral pigeons were also aloft and Hooded crows were about. Great tit heard in full song just off valley road in the pines and quite a bit of white spectacled bulbul activity around valley road, both melodious and coarse calls. Graceful warblers/Prinia also active by the north curve of valley road. Chaffinch heard by owl glade.. near the 'crossroads'.. that's a branch in the middle of central trail that leads to a ruin in the middle of east valley. Chiffchaff calls also heard all over. No black redstart by bunker rubble but I believe they're still about given our sporadic sightings . Not sure about the stonechats though, haven't seen or heard them in a while. Perhaps they moved on.

My favourite find today was a wild tortoise (Testudo graeca) almost hidden in a patch of deep grass where the flood drain spill drops garbage. The top carapace was 16-17 cm long and it appeared to be fast asleep, but it was not in the deep cover one would expect if it were seriously hibernating. It's possible it came out recently for a munch in the 'lush pasture' of this well irrigated area when the weather got warmer and then drifted back into a torpor when temperatures fell again. Night was already falling when I came upon this delightful reptile. We considered a pic but we have from last season and didn't want to risk disturbing its slumber with the flash, though it might well have been totally oblivious.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunbird back in action

White crocus bud noticed in gazelle field. This caught our eye because most crocuses we've seen are light purple. Pic taken ~ 2 weeks ago.

Today's range 11-16.5 Time of walk, ~16.30 p.m. temp: ~14.5, wind WSW/W approaching 10 kt 48% humidity. Sky mostly clear, just a few patchy clouds.

Today heard a sunbird Nectarinia osea calling and active in the cape honeysuckle by our entrance around noon. Note the rise in temps. We should take note in future, they probably have a cut off point for activity somewhere around 15 degrees C?

Gazelles: 2 bucks grazing on the ridge to the north again, close to where we saw those bucks a few days ago. Fresh gazelle spoor in gazelle field. Hyrax not noticed on the walk today. More mole rat holes noticed at the back of gazelle field. Are they making them from below or is a fox or something else trying to get at the mole rats? They seem to neat for the latter.. perhaps the warmer air is inducing them to come to the surface?

I was happy to see a male black redstart on a rebar of the bunker rubble, good to see he'd not been scared off by the recent activity there.

Three Eurasian jays flying from one almond to another along the back of gazelle field. Three separated Eurasian sparrowhawk sightings, possibly three different individuals. One over east valley, one over north valley and one over new pines.

Feral pigeons, house sparrows, hooded crows and jackdaws about. White spectacled bulbul heard, blackbirds about, their alarm calls heard, Laughing dove seen in our Bauhinia today early afternoon, some cooing. Graceful warbler also heard in or near the garden.

Typical spring ground growth near look-out corner, together with some flakes of eucalyptus bark. Also taken about 2 weeks ago, different parts of the forest are at different stages of growth, those damper are further ahead.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jackdaw Convocation

hyrax up a cypress. We've seen them up in the trees many times but this was the first time we managed to find one posed so conveniently for us! Amazing how he scrabbled up there, up the trunk and along the branch! To leave they usually just jump down from where they are.

Temps: Just over 7 degrees C to just over 14. When we left for our walk at about 4.15 p.m. temp was ~13.5 degrees C, humidity just 35%, winds SE 2-5 knots and clear skies. (Forget to mention yesterday morning there was a mist over the valley most of the morning, couldn't see Hizmeh at all till early afternoon.

Most extraordinary and bizarre behaviour at 5.30 a.m. today. There were calls I don't ever remember hearing before, an excited high pitched 'whickering' call which went on and on, interspersed with the more usual nasal 'kak' of jackdaws! I was wondering if there was something else migrating through that was making the other call and had to go out in the garden to look.

The entire local jackdaw flock was perched on the roof rail around the top of a multistorey apartment building across the street (of the lowest row of buildings in our neighbourhood, back to back with 'cypress slum' hyrax colony) . It looked like something from Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds'! They were perched so close they were uncomfortable with it, often pecking at their neighbours but for the most part facing inwards and bowing and calling that high pitched call as if in intense conference. I counted nearly 80 birds but gave up because of the light but there were probably over 100 in all. What the heck was it all about? Was there a raptor there somewhere? I didn't see another kind of bird but it was still the dark before dawn, very little light. Several times they all took off together with a whoosh and clatter of wings, down , then up to the roof rail of the neighbouring building.. back and forth several times , all this for 10-15 minutes we reckon, until they decided to take off to somewhere else. I wonder how many people they woke up in that building!

Today: Heard soft coo of laughing dove heard in the garden.. not the full coo of breeding season, more of an uncertain warm up. Several pairs at 'crumb corner' across the street. Three hooded crows foraging intently at the northern turn of valley road, allowed quite a close approach. White spectacled bulbuls heard as well as graceful warblers, and alarm calls of great tits in the pines.

No black redstart at the bunker rubble today but as we saw, some curious work around the cistern. The lads had made most of the rocks they pulled out of the cistern into a protective dry stone wall around it. They had also removed the ugly and potentially dangerous rebars that had been sticking out of its inner walls. These had been useful for birds, though, I'd watched Syrian woodpeckers using them to manoevre down into the cistern for a drink. Husband noticed a goldfish down there in the remaining water! One that survived from before or a fresh one? No gazelle today but we did see lots of hyrax activity along valley road, and husband managed to get shots of one up in a cypress tree

We headed over gazelle field, noting nice patches of green, a wide variety of plant life, noticed a number of mole rat mounds behind the almonds that had open holes.. were they airing out their holes or did the vibrations of our footsteps just frighten them inside? They are great ground conditioners, acting like little furry ploughs, keeping the soil turned over and aerated.

Two hooded crows at the foot of an eruv pole at the north turn of valley road. Not simple to describe what an eruv pole is.. the eruv delineates the borders of a Jewish community for Shabbat purposes. for further details. This same ~5 m pole has been a perch for a little owl, common kestrel, European wheatear as well as other birds, always worth checking the tops of them because many birds such as shrikes and black redstarts love to use them as lookouts.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Weekend sightings

The first Gold Drop Podonosma orientalis (last thursday near the 'bbq patches from hell' )

Friday didn't go out but heard some birds from the house: house sparrows and blackbird in the garden, jackdaws farther off, graceful warbler foraging in the cape honeysuckle in the entrance way and senegal dove cooing somewhere nearby.

Today, Saturday: Just took a walk along valley road today shortly after four. Husband has sore foot so we're resting that.

We did see two Eurasian sparrowhawks, one heading over valley road, over the pumping station and the western slopes of east valley, as the other day, heading to his regular roost no doubt. Returning home about sunset we saw another one over Shadiker street again. Great tits were calling in the acacias on the bank and one little bird on top of an eruv pole, bobbed and flicked, then headed over by or near an acacia. I could not really make it out because it was mostly in silhouette but from it's movements I'd say it was a black redstart though European robins have a very similar jizz. A Syrian woodpecker was calling right in back of the buildings- they tend to go for the poles there. Then we saw it fly down into east valley.

A nice size flock of jackdaws and hooded crows boiled up from windsurfer hill at one point, close to sunset.. the jackdaws calling away, the hoodies quiet. It was really two flocks intermingling in the air, keeping with their own but the weaving about with the other.. someone up there had alarmed them apparently. I didn't get a count, they were crisscrossing so much but well over 100- not a huge flock as far as birds are concerned but looked larger because of the size of the birds themselves. Some Feral pigeons seen aloft and white spectacled bulbuls heard, melodious single calls in the vegetation on the bank. Blackbird heard singing in the pines shortly after sunset.

Laughing doves cooing and house sparrows about the gardens again. Stone curlew at dusk from east of north valley? Brief call.

That low yellow broom like plant is still blooming along the sides of valley road. I noticed some plants bear blooms have fine orange lines on the flower like a Lathyrus flower, others are pure yellow but the dark foliage seems the same in both cases. Stalks quite densely leafed with simple, slightly elongated hairy leaves. Two species or not?

weather today: 7.5-11.5 degrees C, at shortly after 4 p.m. ~11 degrees, 65% humidity, 4-6 knots, westerlies veering round to southerlies and back.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Natural rock gardens

Today sunny and almost clear, just wispy high cirrus in all directions. At about 4.15 p.m. 15.8 degrees C (pleasantly mild), 31% easterlies, 3.5 kt

We headed towards the bunker rubble and cistern but since the lads were active there, no point looking for black redstart so we turned onto the north valley trail. We stopped for a while just after the new pine grove to look out north over towards bat cave and the north parts of gazelle field and hill slopes. It was really quite pleasant just to sit there, watching small twittering finches pass over, enjoying all the fresh green between the white limestone boulders and the late afternoon sun on the hillsides. Presently we noticed grazing gazelle on the skyline up the hill.. first two bucks. We wondered if they could have been the two bucks we saw a few days ago with Moshe but watching a little longer a third buck popped his head into view. Watching the heads pop up and down husband thought there might have been five or more up there, but others just over the ridge. It was the bachelor herd! All grazing quite peaceably together. We hadn't seen them in a while since they keep to the hilly area in the north. We're long overdue for a hike up there and to the Jerusalem sage vale.

Laughing dove Streptopelia senegalensis cooing the in the garden yesterday and at 'crumb corner' today. Great tit in song in the pines today not far from central trail. Hooded crows over singly, jackdaws heard, greenfinches & Chiffchaffs. (?) Blackbirds heard 'chakking' , Eurasian sparrowhawk seen in flight a couple of times over north valley.

House sparrows and graceful warblers about the garden. yesterday.White spectacled bulbul Feral pigeons about.

One great pleasure about cleaning up is it gets you up close and personal with an aspect of the forest I find a never-ending delight.. the rock garden nature of gentle hill slopes under the pines. The rocks are almost totally encrusted in lichens of every hue from white, yellow, ochre to emerald and any plant which could take advantage of any earthy niche was busy doing it with enthusiasm. In more open areas most of the Podonosma orientalis (Golden drop) is dried up but in shady areas it's becoming more leafy and I found one flower today! First of the season. This is also supposed to start blooming in February.
Check out for a great pic of this curious plant which is quite common amongst the rocks here.

Nothing amongst the rocks is too humble. I watch out for vipers but keep an eye out for any snails or other invertebrates that want to venture out at this time of year. I'm also hoping to catch a mole rat in the act.. lifting littered packets off their mounds very carefully in the hope of seeing one above ground. They're not really moles but true rodents though they live underground.

lichens with snail shells, spent pine flowers and needles, and a germinating grass.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Roman Squill and Great tit in song

A new sign of spring: Common Roman squill, Bellevalia flexuosa, First bloom I've seen this season. This I found up on the wooded slopes of east valley, the west facing slope, near the tree line. (not far from where I found the autumn squill a few months ago) Early for this flower, they normally bloom February on and we found a lot last spring in gazelle field. Another member of the lily family, you can see its resemblance to asphodel though the blooms are much smaller, the spike only a few centimetres in length. A. Atwood

Range today: just over 7-13.5 degrees C, ~12 degrees at time of our walk, about quarter after 4 p.m. wind shifting around from easterlies back to north/NW, very light. Sky pretty much clear today in contrast to pretty much completely overcast yesterday afternoon. Humidity 65-70%

Two signs of spring today, the first, above, the first blooming Bellevalia of the season, the second, a great tit Parus major in song, somewhere just off valley road. Blackbird also heard singing but they've been singing on and off throughout the winter. Hooded crows about, flock of jackdaws heard from the house earlier in the afternoon.

House sparrows about the houses as usual, feral pigeon flock aloft today, graceful warbler heard in or near the garden yesterday.

No gazelle today but husband found fresh gazelle spoor on the hillside where I found the squill. Hyrax also staying 'indoors' last couple of days at time we passed colonies. Eurasian sparrowhawk spotted over east valley today by husband. Yesterday I saw a brief and dramatic encounter between hooded crow and sparrowhawk in north valley, alluvial area planted with eucalyptus. A crow, probably already staking out its breeding site on top of a tall tree there tried to dive bomb a sparrowhawk which had just flown into view. The hawk dodged and manoevred deftly between the eucalyptus at mid canopy level, the crow attempting chase with a deep gutteral 'grrawwk' call. Its attempt was clumsy relative to the hawk and it quit pretty much immediately. Then I heard a repeated 'caw', not sure if same crow or mate. Call might have been related to the hawk encounter or to tell mate that we'd arrived on the scene.

Chiffchaffs, I assume, continue to call in the pines, black redstarts and others keeping a low profile. A melodious call out in north east gazelle field- wheatear, lark? Didn't manage to find it. More pretty yellow savyon blooming along the east valley watercourse and milk thistle leaves growing all over.

People working on the cisterns turned out to be a group of five young men, not teenage boys as I'd thought from a distance. They showed up today in a pick-up truck which I hope means they'll shlep away the garbage they pulled out. They'd totally cleared the smaller cistern of rocks and done more work clearing out the larger.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Peaceful bucks

Not the greatest shot but the two bucks were across the valley near the bat cave, the pic had to be zoomed and cropped, pretty much out of range. Still, you can make them both out, the white tail markings on the one on the right and his horns, and the dark flank marking on the buck on the left. He's gazing back at us, alert but not afraid.

Temp: just under 11 degrees C, 86% humidity on our walk. Much cumulus and cumulonimbus in the sky though half clear. Winds westerly, blowing also southwesterly to north west and nnw today.

Today we took Moshe, our 13 year old son, with us as a 'class' so to speak in wildlife, environmental issues and just lovely fresh air. I love to familiarize him with the trees (pine= oren, cypress=brosh as well as pistaccio, acacia and olive, and flowering plants in season the first blooming asphodel and savyon as well as crocuses well advanced in their season. He in fact found us the first crocus of the tour. Most have now finished on the north facing slopes of north valley but he found one right by the trail. We also found the yellow low broom like plant still in flower though all the ragwort type had gone to seed. A wide variety of vegetation is sprouting up all over the forest especially where water has drained, and fresh erosion obvious in a number of the waterways from fast draining rain. I also wanted to show him where we'd seen the fox at the head of valley road. He also helped us clean up a patch by the east valley water course.

We spotted two gazelle (above) which ran from the new pine grove area across the alluvial flats planted with eucalyptus and on up into the pine across the valley just west of the bat cave. They turned out to be two adult males, both with beautiful well formed horns curved like the frame of a lyre. They were clearly companions.. no signs of aggression, rutting or rival like behaviour at all. They were moving together quite peacefully. Moshe wondered if they were brothers. Possibly.

He was also delighted to spot a Eurasian Sparrowhawk flying over valley road up towards the south west with quick wing beats. At first he didn't realize what it was till we discussed the identification pointers. Hyrax were all 'indoors' today but blackbirds and Eurasian jay were active, the forming both 'chak chak' and 'tzeet' call.

Cistern clean-out is being done by a group of teenage boys apparently, today they were hard at work digging a big hole next to the cistern. I'm sure their project will reveal itself in the course of time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Miscellaneous observations

These nice shiny photogenic leaves were sprouting amongst the rocks on the north valley north facing hill slope we're working on. Husband saw them and couldn't resist, and I don't blame him, they're quite gorgeous. Not sure what they are yet but if/when we find out I'll post a note.

Checking out my Uzi Paz's book of birds in Israel, discovered why we've been seeing so many Eurasian sparrowhawks. I should have guessed! The resident population is swelled by wintering birds. Sparrowhawks from Asia come here for the winter and will head up north again in spring. This happens every year and nice to know! Our frequent sightings make much more sense now.

What else? That wonderful thrush the blackbird has been singing and active in the garden the last couple of days, house sparrows have been chirping as usual, feral pigeons about the building tops. Sunbird keeping a low profile, it has been rather chill for them. Chaffinches heard and spotted on tops of cypress in the valley today. White breasted kingfisher heard somewhere in the middle of east valley late afternoon. Stone curlew warble heard from the north of the area just after dark. Jackdaws heard and flock seen boiling up from the top of windsurfer hill. Hooded crows about. Did I mention the black redstart by the rubble last thursday?

Forgot to mention two gazelle spotted in east valley on thursday. As we headed towards the pumping station along the lowest trail we saw them cross the trail and enter the woods, a little north of the sapling field. Looked like two immature individuals. Today lots of hyrax activity along valley road late afternoon. The damp hadn't put them off at all, they were out and active in droves all over cypress slum area, the rocks immediately to the east of valley road and scampering over the road itself when one called an alarm.

It's been raining on and off most of today with some thunder this evening. Range today: just over 9-14 degrees C, winds SW-W-NW 2-18 kt, humidity 65%-100%

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More of the endless hawk/crow feud

We took about forty shots of the sparrowhawk and crow interacting. This last one shows the relative sizes quite well and the late afternoon sun glinting off their plumage. The hoodies' tail was fanned for most interactions and in some cases wings thrown well forward. The hawk's tail was mostly closed since it preferred to glide but occasionally more fanned.

Temperatures a little warmer today 8-14 degrees C, sky clear but for some faint high altitude strips altocumulus, winds blowing east/south east for much of the day (1-4.5 kt). Time of our walk, 13.6 degrees, humidity low at 10%, winds almost still.

We had no sooner left our building's entrance when I saw a hooded crow harassing a Eurasian sparrowhawk up above the road. It would probably be accurate to say there will be peace in Gaza before hostilities between hawks and crows cease.. they are endless. Their feud has been going for millions of years. We watched several minutes of harassment, the 'dogfight' drifting over Shadiker street, the crow being larger and generally more hostile, the hawk occasionally fighting back but generally dodging the attacks but making no significant efforts to get away. (Size isn't really an issue for crows though. They'll happily harass hawks much bigger than they are. ) At one point it dived dramatically a few score feet, then gained altitude again. After some time the crow gave up and went off to join its mates, the hawk glided away, quite nonchalant. Another sparrowhawk was seen flying over the end of Shadiker but no interaction between the two noticed.

Flocks of the local feral pigeons were aloft and wheeling about, between settling around roof railings and on solar boilers and the rim of a satellite dish. House sparrows also active earlier.
A group of hoodies flew over the same area a few minutes later.

Yesterday: White breasted kingfisher heard again in the eucalyptus by look-out corner and a male black redstart on the rebars of the bunker rubble. Blackbirds, chiffchaff contact calls, the latter today also.

Life always amazes me. I picked up a piece of foam mattress about two inches thick, felt a little resistance and heard a definite 'snap' , then noticed why. A shoot rooted in the ground had grown right through the dense foam and was already emerging in a bud on the upper surface. Reminded me of the famed bamboo torture! I gently pulled out the shoot and replanted it in a handy mole rat mound, for what it's worth, the snap had occurred about five inches farther down in the white upper part of the root. Perhaps it will be able to take root again. Several much smaller grass shoots were already burrowing their way into the foam from underneath.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Molerats and other curiosities.

Mole rats (Spalax )usually leave mounds like moles but this one we found today had an 'open front door' so to speak, a burrow leading down into the darkness. A minute before this hole had been surrounded by soft drink bottles washed down from the storm drain overflow. Those we cleared before taking the pic. The mole rats try to drag litter under. I wonder how many bamba packets are actually underground, lining their burrows or stored?

Just a view so you know what I'm talking about when I refer to places. Here's the bunker rubble behind a dry stone wall.. favoured place for breeding black eared wheatears in the summer and hunting ground for black redstarts & stonechats in the winter and occasionally also European robins and chukars. Beyond, all the way to the hillside is north gazelle field, still rather barren yet unless you look close up, but far less charred than it did, thanks to mole rats and other natural forces. Up on the skyline is Adam, which is actually not on top of that ridge but on a hill much farther back. There's a valley system between not visible from down here. Greenery from left to right: some pine leaves from the trees right by the rubble, two almond trees middle distance, a pomegranate tree in line of sight almost behind a concrete slab which is the preferred sunbathing spot for agama lizards in the hot days of summer. On the right, part of the large pine behind the cistern. It all seems rather bare at first glance but there's always something going on so we've found this spot to be a good look-out point. Altitude here, a little under 600 m.

You can also just make out a network of dry stone walls behind and in front of the almonds. These enclosed small fields and a water channel routed from west valley passes in front of the nearer wall. This area was clearly part of a farm years ago.

A definite nip in the air today. Skies totally clear, Jordan escarpment visible in the late afternoon sun, winds turned from northwesterlies to easterlies about 8 a.m. this morning and light easterlies blowing all day. At the time of our walk, just after 4 p.m. temp. was just under 9 degrees C, 27% humidity and very light south easterlies blowing, barely noticeable.

In the garden today I heard house sparrows, a blackbird and a graceful warbler earlier in the afternoon. Also hooded crows and a flock of jackdaws not far off. White wagtail in the street , mid morning, foraging on the road surface. Always amazes me they can find anything to eat on blacktop but apparently they can.

We were happy to see 'Blackjack' Black redstart, back again on the bunker rubble , perching on rebars and slabs and hunting for insects. We also noticed a chaffinch foraging in a pine along the north valley path and calling. Hooded crows up on the hill to the north and various birds calling, chiffchaffs and redstarts and such. Eurasian jays. Otherwise rather quiet. Pigeons/doves and sunbirds keeping a low profile.

A couple of large feral dogs noticed near look-out corner. They made their way to the field just beyond the cistern, stood there and just barked at us. One very black, seemed to have German shepherd in him, the other more typical reddish brown of the local feral dogs. I don't think this was the same large black dog we'd seen a few days back. Dogs like these would spook the gazelle for sure! None of those noticed today but fresh gazelle spoor spotted near the garbage zone, that depositted by flood waters on the north valley hillside. Quite a bit of work to do there since last rains! Those nosh packets are definitely interesting to the mole rats.. we found an open hole in a mound today with burrow leading down and a packet had been dragged into a mound nearby. Perhaps they like to lick the crumbs! Perhaps we'd just interrupted him and he'd darted underground at our approach.

fox again by the buildings at the bottom of Elias 10.30 p.m. checking out litter in that area.. the teenage boys hanging out around there were admiring it as it headed off back down valley road.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fox chase

Even at fifty feet the retinas of the fox caught the automatic flash and bounced them back vividly. Otherwise you can see how grey the fur is. Tail partially obscured by vegetation but you can just make out the white tip near ground level.

The same fox, a few seconds later. We didn't manage to capture both foxes at the same time unfortunately, they were too far apart when the first came within range and the second braked before the edge of the woods, too far for our lens.

Just after 4 p.m. temp was 8.7 degrees C, humidity 65%, wind NNW 7 kt

I'd heard
house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, blackbirds, graceful warblers in the garden and jackdaws and hooded crows farther off.

As we approached look-out corner at about 4.55 p.m. along the central trail husband pointed out something running fast towards us along the edge of the pines bordering gazelle field. Two mammals, but NOT gazelle, and headed pretty much in our direction -
foxes! I'd never seen a fox chase before and it was pretty amazing to see- they were so both fleet and totally silent, and oblivious of us! Was this territorial or about mating? At the southern edge of the pines the trailing fox stopped under the trees' shade and watched us cautiously, then scarpered back northish into the woods behind. The leading fox stood out there in the open on the rocks about 50 feet away, stopped and gazed at us for a few seconds then headed off back northwest. The leading fox had a lot of grey in his fur but was still a red fox, the trailing fox was more reddish brown, especially towards the hindquarters. Both had white tipped tails, trailing behind them. It all happened so fast husband did not have time to turn off the automatic flash before getting the pics, hence 'green eyes' above!

A little while later on our way back up valley road darkness had already fallen and we had yet another fox sighting. This could have been one of the two we saw earlier or a third. It hardly spooked by us at all but walked up the bank by Lev Aryeh yeshiva (a school for young guys) to root around some litter there, then stopped to stare at us about 25 feet away up the bank, before veering off north along the top of the bank. It and/or other foxes probably come up there to scavenge quite often. That one might recognize us by now!

Nice male
black redstart was back at the bunker rubble, great to see. I'm sure he's there most of the day, we just kept missing him! Eurasian jays heard, hooded crows over. Small stuff piping in the trees, chiffchaffs and other such I'm sure. Today I finished cleaning up all the litter around the bunker ruins and husband filled a large bag of recyclable bottles from the flood overflow.

A strange hoarse repeated barking sound from across north valley, a little west of the bat cave. Sounded like one of the hyrax calls though I had never noticed hyraxes in that area.. could be there's a colony there but I'd be surprised not to have noticed it already. Could have been some other mammal but unfortunately light already too dim to make out anything under the trees there.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Brief sunday report, rain

Walk was interrupted by rather heavy rain when we reached look-out corner but not without a sighting of three gazelle vanishing into the new pines by gazelle field. Unfortunately didn't manage to get them into binocular sights due to rain, lighting and their quick move for cover.
East valley stream was flowing a little and will no doubt by flowing nicely well into the evening.

Rain on and off all day, range 8-13.5, though no lower than 9 last night. ( ~8 now and still falling)
Time of walk: ~10.5 degrees, 85% humidity, winds W/NW, 8-14 kt.

Blackbirds heard singing today, house sparrows and graceful warblers heard calling in the garden, husband heard a Tristram's grackle from the hillside beyond the end of our street, somewhere up west of the pumping station. Black redstarts/chiffchaffs heard in the trees, blackbird alarms in the forest and, very briefly, I thought I heard the white breasted kingfisher from up towards look-out corner as we approached from the south, but just a second of call and no repeat. Hooded crows also about.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sunbird back, hyraxes, Cap'n Jack.

Friday: For the first time in a couple of weeks heard a sunbird (Nectarinia osea) in the Bauhinia outside my window, making simple calls and foraging. Later, towards dusk heard a blackbird nearby in song. Put my head to the window to listen to him and noticed a dove silhouetted nearby in the Bauhinia, pecking at the leaves and/or branches. Probably a laughing dove. Graceful warbler heard earlier. That's three insect eating birds in action.
Dove wings also heard from the garden today.

Today, Saturday, went down to the valley shortly after 4 p.m. Plenty hyrax activity by valley road, both sides, nibbling at cypress and foraging on the bank. At one point I was looking down at about ten of them, all fully grown, on the rocks maybe fifteen feet away, all looking up at me. A hyrax somewhere off more than 20 feet away under a cypress close by the road chirped 'seek!' and every one of them immediately popped down under the rocks into their dens. It's as if it said 'don't trust them!'/'get under cover!' .
Not long before we heard a different alarm call.. a higher pitched 'tsrrrk!' from up the bank somewhere which apparently means, "run for it! scatter!" because that got them all running above ground in every direction. A lot also depends on whether they're foraging near their dens or some distance away.

One of the first things we noticed was the harrying of a Eurasian sparrowhawk, part of the ongoing feud between raptors and crows in the area. The crows apparently think they own the entire air space over Mir Forest and surrounding hillsides. Two hooded crows were persistently dive bombing a sparrowhawk, all flying quite high above canopy level about 100 ft, or at least trying to dive bomb it. The hawk evaded them quite easily with a neat flick of the wrist so to speak.. it would dodge them by dropping altitude just a little and to the side with very little energy expenditure, and continue on its way. The hawk's manoevrability was clearly superior and it knew it. They can think of it as the day they *almost* caught Captain Jack Sparrow!

Chiffchaffs and black redstarts heard in the pines. Nice stone curlew call from over towards the bat cave at about 5.15 p.m. already getting dark, as the full moon rose over Adam.
Where are the white wagtails? Perhaps they moved more in towards the city centre where it's warmer. Jackdaw flock heard calling towards the east.

Grass and various dicots growing quite lushly in the stream bed, lots of small low stuff cropping up on the ground in the pistaccio orchard. Must check over the charred area in east from last May. Still looks blackish brown there. The gazelle field appears to be recovering faster, has far more and developed shoots perhaps because the ground is less hard packed and better irrigated.
Some work seems to have been done in the sapling field. Plastic tubes of a number of trees which didn't make it are on the ground and a number which are doing quite well, plastic tubes removed.

Temp range: ~7.25-14 degrees C. ~12 degrees at time of walk and ~60% humidity. Wind light easterlies much of daylight hours switching back to westerlies at dusk, as they were last night.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gazelle activity and more Cap'n Jack

Gazelles today: 7 or 9. As we came east along north valley trail (after some work on the storm drain garbage patches) we spotted a nice little group of four in the young pine grove, grazing and making their way steadily towards gazelle field. Females and young. One I could see had very short but definite horns, perhaps a young male. Horns on the others not visible but in a pine forest the very slender horns of an adult female can be all but invisible. They first ran across the path ahead of us, coming from the west, then walked and grazed in the pines about 100 ft away, then trotted out onto gazelle field. A short while later we noticed three more over by the cistern, appeared to be a female and well grown young followed by an adult buck. They grazed around the pomegranate trees for a while, then made their way into the eucalyptus grove in the direction of east field. Then we saw two more passing across gazelle field but those could have been two of the first four we saw.

What else? Towards dusk a Eurasian sparrowhawk flew north south from gazelle field over east valley. Earlier, at about 4 p.m. husband had seen one over our road just before I came out.
Blackbirds 'tzeet calls' and chakking in the pine grove behind look out corner and further south, near the sapling field. No kingfisher. Plenty contact calls from small birds concealed in the pines, redstarts, chiffchaffs, small finches, but being frustratingly elusive, pine needles and cypress boughs provide very good cover!

Plenty feral pigeons about, ranged around the tops of roofs in the neighbourhood as usual. White spectacled bulbul in the garden mid afternoon as well as house sparrows, calls of more distant jackdaws. Not a peep from white wagtails or sunbirds but still definitely a more bird active day than yesterday.

Much hooded crow calling around the pump station around dusk, various calls, a whole pre roost conversation going on.. wish I knew what information carried by all the different combinations of 'groks' and 'graws' they do, but definitely seems to be a simple language. They were heading off to their tree roost in east valley in dribs and drabs.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First asphodel

Asphodel, first noticed bloom of the season. None of the others open yet. If you grow onions you'll notice the individual florets are very similar to those in an onion flower head- and they're related. The Asphodel plants do have a slight onion/garlicky aroma. A.Atwood, taken today.

Temp range today: 9.75 -14.5 degrees C, time of walk: just after 4 p.m. 12.5 degrees C, just over 55% humidity and rising, SW/WNW ~ 6 kt

First blooming asphodel of the season (prob. Asphodelus ramosus) found today.. by the north valley trail, east end, just by the start of the new pine plantation.

Woods very quiet today. Eurasian Sparrowhawk flying up north valley mid canopy level, all brown, probably a female. Yesterday sparrowhawk over our street about 30 feet, veered to the right just up our row where feral pigeons were sitting around the roof rail as usual, that made them take off in a fright!

Calls of chiffchaffs and/or black redstarts in the pines but none seen. Blackbird 'tzeet' alarm at dusk. Otherwise eerily quiet, even woodpeckers, jays, crows and jackdaws. Hooded crows at dusk making their way quietly to roost. House sparrows chipping in the garden as usual earlier in the afternoon and some melodious white spectacled bulbul calls. Only other birds heard sounded like someone's captive cockatiels not far off.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rockpools and cisterns

Savyon, probably Senecio vernalis, growing in the east valley watercourse near look-out corner. Quite a few others spotted today as well as purple crocuses, and, in the middle of gazelle field , a pure white crocus bud about 2.5 cm long, just about to open.

Today's range: 6.75-12.5 degrees C. Time of walk: just after 4 p.m. ~12 degrees, humidity ~ 57%, winds easterly, almost still. Sunny, clear again, nice view of Jordan across the rift valley.

Hooded crows aloft, jackdaws heard much of the afternoon as well as the crows, and house sparrows.

The white breasted kingfisher was there again today, three days running now! We were already half way along east valley trail, between the cistern and the pump-station at dusk, when we stopped to listen.. husband thought he'd heard chukars. We heard various blackbird alarm calls and then the kingfisher sounding back towards look out corner. When we got up to valley road we heard it again but sounded farther to the south, perhaps in the other group of eucalyptus along the trail.

Eurasian jays about, the regular syrian woodpecker in the pine grove just east of the cistern called again. Seems someone has been working on the large cistern, cleaning it out. Great! Wonder why? Is this the city or a private individual? Rubbish and a couple of tires have been taken out .. tires are nearby but rubbish taken elsewhere, stones transferred to the other smaller cistern. We shall see...

No gazelle today but we did watch a lone large black dog, romping about on the slopes of the hill to the north. Looked like he might have some Doberman in him but tail not docked. Neither was it over his back like the usual local feral dogs. Looked like he was just enjoying himself, running and sniffing about. We don't remember ever seeing him before.

From the bunker rubble we decided to do a circuit of the gazelle field. The water course by the large almond tree is a delight to me. I love descending into these like a kid rock pooling on a beach, the more rugged and irregular the better. There were little pools left here and there and it's always fascinating to see what might be growing by the water side or living in the water itself. Plenty foliage of all sorts of miscellaneous plants, cranesbill types and others, but too deep in winter for anything in the water itself. It's partly walled each side with natural rock and some amount of ancient dry stone walling.

Presently I climbed out by the hawthorn and we continued on to the row of almonds, noting asphodel shoots everywhere amongst others. A black redstart was found bobbing and foraging in one of the hawthorns, hard to make out in there but once he descended to the dry stone wall I could see the thin white lines on his dark wings and know for sure. There was a hoopoe on top of a eucalyptus at look out corner yet again.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Mole rats and the BBQ patches from hell

range: 4.5-11.5 degrees C today. Time of walk, just after 4 p.m. , ~10 degrees C, winds SW/W 2.5-5 kt & ~55% humidity.

Well, we finally solved the 'BBQ patch' mystery today. When we went to clean up where we'd been working before we found to our dismay a number of new patches of garbage on the lower parts of the north facing slopes towards the east end of north valley- almost exclusively 1 and half litre soft drink bottles and nosh packets, and it's definitely not BBQ season though that location is desirable in the summer, and the actual distribution was wrong for BBQs. Husband was the first to figure it out, based on the streaked distribution of moss I'd noted a little earlier on that part of the hillside. Of course! It was simply roadside litter brought down from storm drain overflow from way up the hill. That hadn't been obvious earlier since the water overflows only briefly. We need to find the outlet and rig it with some kind of net to prevent this in future. Dismaying but as much as road side littering is disgusting it was nice to know people weren't deliberately sullying the forest, not directly. We took a deep breath, sighed and filled our bags, making a mental note to bring extra tomorrow. Great!

The most amusing part of it was a soft drink bottle stuck neck first into the side of a mole rat mound at about a 45 degree angle. This reinforced my suspicion that mole rats were trying to pull some of the garbage under, and gave us a smile! I was about to suggest a pic of it for fun but husband had already bagged it before I could speak. Of course, we could have stuck it back in and taken a pic but it just wouldn't be the same.

Must be a mole rat holiday today, we found new mounds all over the forest.. esp. along north valley trail and on the west facing hillside of east valley too. Gazelles had also been very active in the orchard earlier.. lots of spoor and many hoofprints between the pistaccios esp. at the east side of the orchard. No sign of either on our walk however.

At dusk caught a brief snatch of song in the acacias up on the bank between buildings and valley road, sounded like European robin? but didn't repeat to my frustration. MUST listen out there again. Song birds like those acacias, we've heard nightingales and blackbirds singing in them, great tits and bulbuls hang out in them and I've seen robins in that vicinity before but this is the first time I would have heard robin song in them and really want to hear it again.

Blackbirds in the forest chaking at dusk, white breasted kingfisher called again from direction of look-out corner, audible all the way from valley road- loud bird! Hooded crows about, feral pigeon flock aloft over neighbourhood buildings, others perched around the roof rails, jackdaw calls heard. Syrian woodpecker calling from pine grove again. Small finches (linnets, greenfinches?) and insect eating birds such as chiffchaffs and redstarts calling hiding out in tops of pines and twittering between.

The other item we collected today was a strange rock on the slopes of east valley which resembles an alien skull from one angle. We'd photographed it long ago for fun but left it there. It was a curiosity and it suddenly dawned on me when I got home it would make a great decoration for my son's iguana terrarium.

Presenting Randall :

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The 'king' is still around.

Weather at time of walk (shortly after 4 p.m. ) Temp: 9 degrees C and falling rapidly, (Today's range:4.5 -10), humidity rising to 50%, winds E/NE almost still at that time of day. South easterlies that morning.

Gazelles: 1 seen without visible horns entering north valley pines from gazelle field at a trot.. from big almond?
hyrax: Plenty activity by vally road today.
dogs: Some barking lately.

The king is still around! At dusk the white breasted kingfisher started a nice ruckus in the eucalyptus by look-out corner, usual old haunts. Nice to hear him again!
black redstart and stonechats.. no sign at bunker ruins.. I think we need to go much earlier in the afternoon when the hunting for insects is better, they probably quit there early in this cold and take to the trees.
House sparrows:activity in the gardens as usual. Still no peep from sunbirds. Harsh time of year for them. I put crumbs out on the bird table.. house sparrows appreciate that. Laughing doves too, I know they like the sesame seeds on the bread. I tried plain peanuts hanging in the willow tree in the hope of enticing great tits some time ago.. no luck with that yet but the house sparrows go for them.
Hooded crows: Some calls.
Jackdaws: Many calls today and yesterday of a flock active over to the east.
Blackbirds: Some dusk calls near pistaccio grove again, another regular, regulars I should say, at least two voices chakking.

Graceful warbler, heard, and spotted foraging in clump of ragwort on the bank near north end of valley road.
Syrian woodpecker: calls in pine grove just east of cistern again.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Coldest day so far

Today's range 2.7-5.7 degrees C. Forecast said it may reach 0 degrees tonight.

Brrr! When we went out it was just over 4 degrees and I was glad I'd put on an extra chunky sweater under my jacket, (extra in both senses of the word) , as in fact I've been doing last week or so but thinking of moving to quilted coat on next walk. When we went out sky was totally clear and Jordan visible across the rift valley in the distance, lit by the afternoon sun. Boys were naturally disappointed no clouds in sight (they're hoping for snow) but given these westerlies more could blow in and there has been plenty rain yesteray and last night. East valley stream ran yesterday but not today.

Wind NW/N 4-14 knots though light in the valley, humidity ~ 65% and rising.

After seeing that green lichen I'd asked myself, where's the moss? Not much to be found in the forest, except perhaps base of boulders but must watch out for that, but we did find a nice expanse of it growing on the bare ground at the top of the north facing slopes of north valley today. This above is just a small patch of that.

From the house could hear house sparrows and white spectacled bulbuls in the garden and white wagtails and hooded crows farther off. Husband was working in his home office all morning and the cape honeysuckle is right outside his window there but not a peep from the sunbirds today. Perhaps they're in a torpor from the cold, semi hibernating the way hummingbirds do.

At the neighbourhood shopping center today (at the top of the hill) he did get a good view of a common kestrel in flight and heard Tristram's grackles late morning. The kestrels favour some multistorey apartment buildings up there. Pigeons and doves keeping a low profile.

Valley was very quiet but for some probable chiffchaff calls and Syrian woodpecker calls in the pine grove just east of the cistern. Stonechat up on the security fence? Hard to tell, silhouetted. Eurasian jays about and hoodies heading to roost. Blackbird alarm at dusk, at least two individuals near the pistaccio orchard.
Did good clean up work, moved a nice little load today, more plastic bottles for the recyclers and also very happy that there's now a local repository for glass bottles finally.

Two Eurasian sparrowhawks yesterday over east end of central trail area, brief interaction? Didn't see details, we just looked up when they were already splitting, then headed in different directions.. territorial boundary about there? Possible.

later this evening (thursday, 10.30 p.m.) on our walk in the valley we had a good sighting of a fox (red fox, Vulpes vulpes, though we couldn't make out any colouring but could see much white at the end of its tail) as we came back up valley road. It crossed the top of valley road next to a tiny synagogue just a few metres ahead of us and on up a bank towards a small school, no doubt looking for crumbs left behind by the kids that day. We stayed still while it sniffed around for a few minutes, then finally noticed us and made its way across the end of Elias to a spare patch of ground at the top of the bank. There it turned and stared at us for maybe ten seconds before heading off for the bank at a trot.